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Major Arcana: The Hierophant (V)

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Slogging through the shifting sands, while the sun blazed overhead was taking a toll on the Shepherds. Each step was a struggle, as warriors and horses alike sank into the dunes. Chrom had lost track of the exact number of days they had been marching through the arid desert. His hot burning rage had left him numb to the world around him, but now it had ironically cooled somewhat in the dry heat around them. The Prince had pushed the Shepherds into rushing into Plegia practically blind, and now he was sorely regretting his rash actions. But he had been desperate. They all had.

The kidnappers had come in the dead of night, and snuck their way into Emmeryn’s chambers. His sister and the royal guard had tried to fight back but they were outnumbered and taken by surprise. The commotion had alerted the nearby Shepherds who rallied quickly. Chrom led the charge, Falchion in his hands and his heart in his throat. But it was too late. His sister was gone and so was the Fire Emblem.

From the bodies of kidnappers the guards had managed to take down, they quickly discovered who had sent them. They were unmistakably Plegian, with their tan skin and dark clothing. In Chrom’s mind there had been no doubt as to the culprit. The king of Plegia, Gangrel, was behind the plot. He had been stirring up trouble on the border for months now, but they hadn't anticipated such a bold move. Grangel had taken his sister and he didn’t care what she said said about maintaining peace anymore, he wanted the Mad King’s blood.

Shaking with rage and restlessness, Chrom had ordered the Shepherds to mobilize at once before the trail could be lost. They loaded up two supply wagons and set off before dawn had even come. Luckily Fredrick, prudent as every, had made sure they were well stocked on supplies for the most part. However, what they sorely needed was information. They had no idea what had become of the Exalt or where she even was. Did she still live? Had they tortured her? Killed her? The questions haunted Chrom’s every waking moment.

His clothes hung to his sweat drenched skin, and his boots were full of sand. The Prince glanced back at the other Shepherds through the heat haze. Miriel and Ricken seemed to be doing okay in their light robes and hats that shielded them from the sun. Vaike, Viron, and the new recruit Gaius, were also keeping up well. They were even talking animatedly with one another. Lissa’s pigtails drooped in the heat, and she had taken up a spot behind Maribelle on her horse. Beside them Sumia rode on her grounded pegasus, with the poor creature letting out the occasional sad snort.

Stahl, Sully, and Frederick were struggling to keep up with their weighty armor in the rear. Kellam and Panne seemed to be doing the worst, Chrom couldn’t imagine how hot it was inside that suit. And fur was not the best for such a hot climate. But what was almost worse was that at night the desert cooled into freezing temperatures, forcing them to huddle together for warmth. Yet despite himself, and his worry, Chrom found the shifting sand lovely and calming under the moonlight. Although it didn’t make up for the scorching sun during the day.

Some time later, after the sun had climbed even higher, Sumia's pegasus landed next to him after a quick scout of the area.

“There’s a small walled village up ahead, over these sand dunes.”

“Alright Shepherds, this is it.” Chrom told them as they came to a stop.

They perked up instantly as the prince addressed them. Their eyes burned with determination despite how the march had worn on them. These were his brave Shepherds, they had followed him into Plegia for Emmeryn and the Halidom. His heart swelled with pride. Chrom could not ask for more loyal companions, and he swore to himself that he will see them all through this.

“Okay, here’s the plan. Fredrick, Sully, Gaius, Sumia, and myself will sneak into the village and see what we can find out.” Chrom decided. There was a chorus of affirmation from his troops. Well, most of them.

“Hey! No fair! What about me Chrom?” Lissa stomped forward.

“Lissa, it’s too dangerous. You don’t even have a weapon.” he said exasperated.

“You’re going to need a healer if things go bad in there!” his sister protested.  

“Lissa dear, Prince Chrom is correct-” Maribelle started before Lissa cut her off sounding close to tears.

“No! I want… I want to help Chrom. Emm’s my sister too.”

He could see her eyes shining with wetness. Chrom was a bit dense at times when it came to people, but he knew that Lissa often felt as if she wasn’t good enough. He didn’t understand this as, he knew his younger sister was a very talented healer. All she wanted was to prove herself, and she was as desperate to save Emmeryn as he was.

“...Alright Lissa. But you stick to Fredrick’s side, got it?” Chrom relented.

“Yes! I promise!” his little sister cheered.

The great knight looked like he wanted to protest, but he just sighed and shook his head.

“Everyone else, I trust you to keep our supplies secure, and stay safe.” The prince ordered as the group turned to leave.

“Don’t worry about us, the Vaike is here after all!” Vaike boasted as he flexed.

“Yeah we’ll keep the wagons safe while you’re gone, so hurry back.” Ricken said with a wink.

“Indeed, any ignoramus combatants that come across our encampment will be met with swift retribution.” Miriel assured.

“Oh, I’m here too guys-” A disembodied voice started before being cut off.

“The archiest of archers will not fail you!” Viron said in his heavily accented speech with a dramatic bow. Behind him, Panne gave a loud sniff, and shot them a glare that clearly said ‘don’t do anything stupid man-spawn.’

“We’ll return soon.” Chrom declared with a grim smile as he and the small group set off.

* * *

On Frederick's insistence, they had all dawned plain hooded robes. Their pale skin would stick out like a sore thumb in Plegia. Chrom’s hair and brand were especially distinctive, and he had no doubt Grangel had told his people to be on the lookout for them. It felt stifling and embarrassing to hide himself under the robe, but he made no complaint. They could not fail in this task. They had to get Emmeryn back. Chrom motioned for his small band of Shepherds to follow him, and they began sliding down the dunes to the city gates. To his surprise, they snuck past the two guards without notice and quickly entered the city proper.

It was the first bit of civilization they had come across in the desert. The small village was not at all as he expected. His father had told stories of nearly feral citizens, who mugged and killed their neighbors. Stories of children dying in streets, of sand stone roads stained red with blood. He had grown up horrified of their western neighbors on their father's bigotry and propaganda. Eventually after his father's death, Emmeryn had told him this was not true at all, and he had fully believed her over the lies he had told. But seeing the truth of it was something else.

Tidy shops and houses made of weather battered stones stood along the main path. Children ran gleefully through the crowds as mother’s called after them. People shouted to one another in greeting, and stopped to have conversations. Vendors lined the main street displaying colorful wares such as brilliantly colored textiles, jewels, and gleaming weapons. Exotic spices filled the air, and the smell of roasting meat made his stomach rumble. Even the other Shepherds seemed taken aback by the sight. The village reminded him so much of Ylisstol, and homesickness rose up in his chest. He quickly pushed the feeling down. They needed to focus.

Chrom quickly realized they had a problem. None of the Shepherds knew much Plegian. Gaius knew some, but was no where close to fluent. Miriel was capable of reading Plegian texts for the most part but not only was she not with them, the written language was much different than the spoken one. Chrom’s lessons on Plegian had stopped as soon as his father started his “Holy Crusade”, and Lissa had been too young to even start her’s. Chrom doubted he could even ask where to find the washroom in Plegian, much less where the Exalt may be. And trying to ask if anyone spoke Ylissean would likely get them caught or killed. He had not thought this far ahead.  

“Scatter and see if you can overhear anything. Try to stay out of sight and meet back here. Lissa, remember, stay close to Frederick.” the Prince ordered them, already knowing it would probably be pointless.

The Shepherds nodded uneasily and broke off, dispersing into the crowd. Chrom scanned the street and found an empty wall to lean against, where he tried to act as casual as possible. He strained his ears desperately, for any use of Ylissean. He stayed like that for nearly ten minutes, his nerves fraying as his eyes took in the people around him. Even with the cloak, he felt horribly exposed. And it was terribly hot under it.

All at once, Chrom felt eyes on him.The heavy gaze made a chill run down his spine despite the heat, and seemed like it was coming from every direction. It felt like the eyes had pierced his chest and seen right through him. He looked around wildly, throat constricting. No matter how much he looked he couldn't locate the glare’s source. As quickly as it came, the feeling was gone and the prince let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Perhaps he was even more on edge than he realized.

As he calmed down, he soon felt a different pair of eyes on him but they were much less intimidating. His gaze flickered up on instinct and met the suspicious stare of a Plegian guard across the road. He looked away swiftly but the damage was done. The man shouted something in Plegian, which grabbed the attention of the rest of the soldiers nearby. Many of the citizens stopped and started looking around fearfully. Cursing quietly, Chrom pushed off the wall and began to wade his way through the crowd in an effort to get away.

The other Shepherds saw what was happening and began squeezing their way through the Plegians in an attempt to reach the prince. Barely ten minutes into information gathering and he had blown it. Chrom had never been much good at solving problems that didn’t include swinging a sword, but this was a new level of failure for him. Fear spiked through him at the thought of their group getting captured. What would the rest of the Shepherds do when they didn’t return? What would Grangel do to them? He shouldn’t have let Lissa come with them. She was the youngest of the Exalted line. If none of them lived there would be no one to rule Ylisse or wield Falchion.  

“This way!” someone hissed, grabbing his wrist, and jarring him from his maelstrom of panicked thoughts.

Chrom looked down to find a short hooded figure clutching his arm. Before he could react, the stranger started to drag him through the throngs of people. The cowl covered their face almost entirely and all he managed to see was a glimpse of familiar tan skin. He was surprised by the hooded stranger’s strength as they managed to actually pull him bodily. Fear returned. He didn’t want to start a fight in the middle of a crowd of unarmed Plegians, but he couldn’t let their mission end here. The prince dug his heels into the sand and wrenched his arm out of the person’s grip.

“I am trying to help you.” the figure whispered as they stumbled away. Chrom grabbed for Falchion, and the stranger held their gloved hands up placatingly.

“Please Prince Chrom, I know you are here trying to rescue your Exalt. I wish to help, but you and your men must not let the Plegian army find you here.” the stranger whispered hurriedly.

They knew who he was then? Chrom glanced back and saw that the soldiers were growing closer, shoving their way roughly through the citizens in an effort to get to him and the other Shepherds. Panic surged in his chest. They were outnumbered, surrounded, and caught between innocent citizens. It was unlikely they could fight their way through this one. He couldn’t let himself and the Shepherds be captured here. It would mean the end of the Halidom. What choice did he have?

“Alright.” he said and grabbed one of the hooded figure’s outstretched hands.

They jolted at the sudden contact, but quickly gripped his hand back. Chrom motioned for the other Shepherds to follow him as the stranger started weaving them through the crowd and off the main road. As they escaped the throng of Plegians, the Shepherds began to close the distance between themselves and the prince, as the hooded figure continued to guide them through the twisting back alleys. Soon the shouts of the soldiers faded away, and Chrom’s panicked thoughts receded somewhat.

A heavy hand came down on his shoulder, stopping both him and the stranger. The robbed figure actually almost fell backwards from the sudden stop. It was Fredrick, who had caught up to them before any of the others despite his bulky armor.

“Milord, who is this person and where are they leading us?” he asked, glaring at the hooded figure.

“Yeah what’s the plan Chrom? They totally saw us.” Lissa panted, stopping beside him.

“Well...um…” he started, and quickly dropped the stranger’s hand when he realized he was still holding it.

His answer did not impress Fredrick who drew his axe and leveled it at the hooded figure. Slowly the stranger raised their hands in supplication once more.

“Who are you and what business do you have with Milord, Grimleal?” the knight practically growled.

Now that Chrom was out of immediate danger he finally noticed the patterns on the robe the figure was wearing. Trimmed in gold with Grima’s purple eyes decorating the sleeves, the black cloak was sinister and unmistakable. He had seen other Plegians with Grimleal robes throughout the city, but the stranger’s hooded cloak was far more decorated than any he’d seen so far. Underneath the robe they were dressed more casually in a loose fitting shirt and trousers, but with a rather ridiculous set of belts.  

“Sir knight, please lower your weapon I mean your company no harm. I know of you, Shepherds. And I know that you seek to rescue Exalt Emmeryn.” the stranger said, and this time Chrom heard the slight lilting accent in their speech. Their voice was soft and calm, but Chrom realized he could not tell if it was a man or woman. Not that he had ever been to skilled at knowing either way.

The stranger’s answer seemed to only put Fredrick more on edge as he gripped his axe forcefully. Sensing his mood Chrom quickly stepped in front of the hooded stranger.

“Peace Fredrick! This person saved us from those soldiers. They lead us to safety, and want to help us rescue Emm. There’s no reason to draw steel!” Chrom interjected hurriedly. Grimleal or no, an axe to the head would be a poor way to repay their savior.

“Hey, yeah Fredrick! Chrom’s right!” his sister piped up coming to stand next to him.

“Doesn’t seem very honorable to run em’ through after they just saved our hides.” Sully added.

“Blue’s got a point Freddy, if not for the short stack-” the stranger made a sputtering sound at that, “we’d be on our way to the Plegian dungeons by now.” Gaius said swirling the lollipop in his mouth.

“Please, Frederick.” Sumia said quietly putting a gentle hand on his arm.

The delicate contact pulled the knight’s stare away from the stranger and onto the kind eyed pegasus knight. Grudgingly, Frederick lowered his weapon, and the stranger put down their hands.

“Very well… I suppose we can follow this… person… for now.”

Chrom may have imagined it but he thought he heard an irritated sigh from under the figure’s cowl.

“Now that that’s out of the way, we should move. The soldiers will soon find us if we stay here any longer deciding if my head will roll or not.” the hooded stranger said, their tone noticeably clipped.

Frederick bristled at the comment, but the prince put a warning hand on his shoulder. Huddled closely together, the Shepherds began following the stranger once more. Chrom lost track of how long they snuck through the narrow streets, occasionally stopping when the hooded figure signaled that guards were coming. It was a very tense trip, and the Shepherds grew more anxious with each passing moment. Finally their guide stopped at a dead end alley and placed their hand on the wall.

“They’re practically on us! What in blazes are you doin’?” Sully demanded.

She was right. Chrom could hear Grangel’s soldiers closing in on them, and they were standing at a stone wall. Had this been a trap all along? Was their rescuer actually leading them to this dead end to be unable to maneuver in a fight? Before he could voice his concerns however, the stranger held up their other hand for silence.

Looking at the wall closer it was faint, but Chrom recognized Grima’s insignia etched into the stone. Their rescuer leaned close to the wall and whispered something. The hair on the prince’s arm stood on end as a familiar buzz of magic filled the air, and an array of runes glowed softly on the wall. A split appeared down the middle of the wall, and the stranger stepped back as double doors swung open to reveal a dark stone staircase leading under the earth.

“Quickly, Ylisseans.” the robbed stranger urged a note of panic in their voice now.

Without looking to see if they followed, the figure began to descend the stairs into the gloom. The Shepherds hesitated for a few moments as the footsteps of the Plegian guard grew louder. In spite of the obvious danger closing in, none of them seemed to relish the idea of entering the passage. Sully was the first to shake off her doubts.

“Ah screw it. We better get busy move’n or get busy die’n.”

“I’ve seen worse holes.” Gaius smirked following the cavalier.

“C-Chrom…” Lissa whisper shakily as they stepped into the dark stairwell after the others.

“We’ll be fine.” he tried to assure her despite the uneasiness he felt.

Sumia let out a soft squeak as she stumbled slightly on the steps, only to be thankfully caught by Fredrick's quick reflexes.

“Milord are you sure about this?!” Fredrick hissed behind him, usual composure gone.   

But before Chrom could make up his mind about whether they could really trust this hooded stranger or not, the great stone doors swung shut behind them leaving them in darkness.

Chapter Text

The darkness pressed in on Chrom and the other Shepherds, suffocating them. Lissa clung painfully to his arm while his free hand gripped Falchion’s hilt for peace of mind. His sister had always been afraid of the dark and the prince couldn't blame her for it, especially in this situation. Beside him Sully let out a low oath, and her nearness made him jump. Somewhere behind him, Sumia whimpered softly and he heard Frederick’s armor shift in response. And damn him, despite the danger, Chrom could still hear Gaius sucking on that lollipop. They stood close together, tense in the unending blackness. Ahead of them, the echo of what could only be the hooded person’s footsteps stopped.

“Oh of course, my apologies-” the stranger's voice rung out and suddenly torches flared to life along the stairwell. “I am rather familiar with this path and often do not make use of the light spell.”

Blinking in the sudden brightness, Chrom saw their hooded guide standing several steps below him on the stairway. He thought he caught a somewhat amused, if apologetic, smile under the cowl before they turned away. Glancing back at the pale faces of the Shepherds, he nodded stiffly and they began to follow the hooded figure once more. They descended the stairs in silence for some time. The lit torches threw ominous dancing shadows along the dark stone walls, and it was surprisingly cold in the passage compared to the world above. The prince wondered if this is what it would feel like to descend into the realm of Hel. His anxiety was getting the better of him, and he considered again if he had been too rash in following their rescuer.

“We are safe now. Only certain members of the Grimleal can open that door, and the king’s men have no love for Grima.” the stranger reassured, breaking the tense silence, obviously catching Chrom’s uneasy glances over his shoulder. That didn’t really make him feel any better.

“Wh-What is this place?” Lissa managed to ask.

“A secret entrance left by the Grimleal of old to the temple below the town, Princess Lissa. There are less… eccentric ways in, but it would not do much good for the royal guard to watch me lead you all through the front entrance.” the stranger told her.

“You would have us follow you to a Grimleal temple?” Frederick stopped walking, completely aghast.  

“Is there a problem sir Frederick?” the stranger asked, an edge to their voice.

“Milord you cannot seriously be considering following this stranger into a Grimleal compound! Gods only know what terrible fate we would meet!” the great knight exclaimed ignoring the hooded figure entirely.

“What are you trying to say here Frederick?” the prince was becoming uncomfortable. He’d seen Frederick suspicious, but this seemed to be something else entirely.  

“I know you and Lady Lissa are quick to trust others Milord, but it is my duty to be wary of attempts on your life. Can you not see the danger here? How easily this could be a trap?” Frederick almost pleaded.

“A trap? You truly think I would risk myself to save you all from the Plegian guard just to lead you into a trap?” the stranger asked completely baffled.  

“Who knows? Perhaps you intend to gain our trust and stab us in the back later, or perhaps you plan to sacrifice us to your god? If you think us easy prey for your barbaric rituals, you will find yourself on the end of my blade!” Frederick snapped suddenly and harshly surprising Chrom with his venom.  

The stranger stood stiffly, their posture moving into something more wary. As they shifted, Chrom noticed that their right hand drifted down to the hilt of an oddly shaped sword hanging from one of their belts. On instinct, he put his own hand on Falchion’s hilt once more. The stranger obviously saw him, and they stiffened further but removed their shaky hand from the blade. Guilt bubbled up in Chrom’s stomach and he let go of his sword. The robed figure seemed to have been holding their sword hilt for the same feeling of safety he does, and he had acted without thinking and clearly upset them further.

“Even with your current Exalt’s call for understanding, even after all that your country has done to my people... You still think us monsters who would do such things?” their hooded guide asked, a disbelieving undertone to the question, and Chrom tried not to flinch at the mention of his father’s crimes. A heavy silence met the question as the Shepherds exchanged uncomfortable glances. The prince felt like he should say something but words have abandoned him in the face of Frederick’s outburst.

Truthfully Chrom did not know much at all of the Grimleal faith, other than that it was Plegia’s official religion. The prince had heard that they worshiped the fell dragon and prayed for his return after his death at the hands of the first exalt. Chrom had been exposed to Ylissean tales and anti-Plegian propaganda since he was young, and didn’t know what was truth and what was fiction. Most of those stories told of Grimleal making sacrifices of themselves and others in an attempt to strengthen the fell dragon for his return, when he would destroy the world.

“Your people have been crossing our borders and burning our villages. Rampantly killing and stealing across the country side. And now you have kidnapped our Exalt! How could we possibly trust you?” Frederick’s accusing tone broke the heavy atmosphere.

I have not kidnapped your Exalt, and my people have nothing to do with the men pillaging your villages! Those are King Grangel’s soldiers and they act on his orders alone! The Grimleal do not bow to that savage, and the Plegian people fear for their lives under his rule!” the robed figure was shaking all over now. From fear of Frederick’s bad attitude or anger at his words, Chrom couldn’t tell.

“So you say. All of that could easily just be lies meant to trick us.” the great knight retorted, stubbornly.

“My words mean nothing then?”

“I trust nothing when my charges’ safety is at stake.”

“Is that so?” the stranger asked, almost nastily.

There was another wake of silence in which Frederick and the robbed figure glare at each other. None of the other Shepherds said anything, only looked on with worried or weary  expressions. Before Chrom could interject, their hooded guide stomped back up the stairs to stand on the same step as the prince.

“I can let you out the way we came in and you can run desperately around Plegia once more, or you can attempt to look past your preconceptions and work with me to save Exalt Emmeryn. The choice is yours Prince Chrom.” the stranger spoke softly, but even with the hood he could feel their eyes burrowing into him.

Chrom, Lissa, and Emmeryn had grown up hearing that, “vile Plegian heathens spread nothing but doom and ruin”. The prince was old enough now to see his father’s crusade for what it truly was, and be ashamed of the horrors that had been inflicted upon both Plegia and his own country. The guilt laid heavier still when he thought of how little he had cared to know of the truth about the people of this country until now. But still, regardless of what the Grimleal were truly like, Grima was the god of annihilation and Naga’s opposite in every way. And he couldn’t say that as a son of Naga he didn’t feel extremely nervous walking into a Grimleal temple. But what choice did he have?

“You haven’t lead us astray yet. I’ll place my trust in you.” Chrom told the robed figure. The stranger nodded to that and wordlessly started down the steps once more.

“Milord!” his retainer seemed to explode in the small space.

“Enough Frederick!” Chrom shouted before the great knight could further antagonise their savior.

His guardian shut his mouth with an angry snap, and Sumia moved closer to murmur something to him. The prince could understand the knight’s suspicions, but found himself horrified of Frederick’s accusations and rudeness. He had never heard the knight express such negative opinions about their western neighbors before. The man was usually stern but kind, and Emmyern’s kidnapping might be playing a role, but Chrom thought there was something deeper to his outbursts. The prince resolved to speak with him about it later.

Chrom quickened his pace to catch up to the robbed figure. He didn’t know quite what to say, but he did know he couldn’t just let the exchange go.

“I-I’m sorry for Frederick. We call him ‘the wary’, but I’ve never seen him quite like this. I don’t know why he’s being…” Chrom tried desperately to apologize to the stranger in a whisper.

“I will be fine Prince Chrom. I have been treated and accused of far worse. It’s regrettable… But it is what it is.” they mumble back softly. That didn’t make the prince feel any better either.

The stairs finally came to an end at a wall ornately carved with a relief of the fell dragon. It was worn with age, but the details of the stonework still remained sharp. Grima was displayed in flight, mouth slightly open to reveal rows of teeth and all six eyes staring at them. Getting up on the tips of their toes, the hooded stranger reached up ran their hand from the top of the dragons snout down to swirl of its feathered tail. Chrom felt another tingle of magic and the carved wall slid away to reveal a doorway with a well lit room beyond.

The large space they stepped into was clearly a place of worship. A dark stone altar stood at one end of the room on a slightly raised platform. Intricately stitched tapestries displaying the fell dragon and his insignia were draped periodically around the room, and purple cushions sat in neat rows on the floor. Overhead, the stone ceiling stretched high into the gloom making the prince wonder how far underground they were. Black candles burned away in small nooks carved into the walls, while torches casted even more light higher up. It was significantly different than the chapels he had seen back in Ylisstol, with their pews, statues, and stained glass windows, but it was much more normal looking than he had expected.

Their hooded companion stopped in the middle of room and called out what Chrom vaguely recognized as a greeting in Plegian. Suddenly a head of messy white hair popped up from behind the altar and called back excitedly. He looked young with a wide smile on his face, but he was a few inches taller than the prince. The boy’s skin was a bit of a lighter shade of bronze than their guide’s, but his outfit was unmistakably that of a Plegian dark mage. He spotted the Shepherds and asked the stranger a question, to which they quickly responded. Chrom caught a few words, such as Shepherds and his and Lissa’s names. The Plegian boy laughed and bounded forward to meet them.

“Oh wow, I can’t believe you guys made it this far into Plegia! I thought for sure you’d be carrion by now! Awesome! It would have been boring if you’d died before we found you!” the mage said in Ylissean and then laughed again, unsettling the Shepherds further. His accent was a bit thicker than their hooded rescuer’s, but not enough to muddle his disturbing praise.  

“Henry.” the stranger warned.

“Right-o, my name’s Henry and I’m our resident hexpert !” the boy, Henry, placed his hand over his heart and bowed.

“Henry now is really not the time.” the stranger groaned.

“Haha alright, sorry I’ll save it for later.” the dark mage turned to the Shepherds expectantly.

It took them a moment to realize what he wanted, and even then no one was in a hurry to step forward. As usual, brash Sully took the lead holding out her hand to Henry. He looked at it curiously. The stranger said something to him in Plegian and he giggled then took her hand in his.

“The name’s Sully. Ain’t you ever seen a handshake before?” the cavalier introduced herself by giving the boy’s arm a firm shake.

“Nope! Can’t say I have. We don’t do that here in Plegia. It’s pretty fun though!”

Gaius was the next to take Henry’s hand.

“Nice to meet you, Junior. Call me Gaius.”

“You’ve got sticky fingers!”

“Yeesh, was it that obvious I’m a thief?”

“No, I meant your fingers are actually sticky,” Henry laughed again and held up his hand which was covered in stings of gooey honey. “Oh, that was a good one!”

As the boy wiped his hand cheerfully off on his robes, Chrom caught a faint huff of laughter from under the stranger’s cowl. He was glad to see their mood had improved after what had happened in the tunnel. But then Henry turned expectantly to Frederick. The great knight did not offer his hand, instead opting to keep them behind his back.

“I am Frederick, and I protect the members of house Ylisse.” his stare was meant to be intimidating, but it didn’t seem to bother the boy at all. In fact Henry’s smile grew wider. Perhaps sensing the that trouble was brewing, Sumia scurried forward to introduce herself. And landed flat on her face in a spectacular fall.

“Sumia! Are you all right? ...Those boots of yours again?” Chrom asked leaning down to help her back up.

“No! I mean, yes! I mean... My name is Sumia…” the pegasus knight stuttered, her face red and hand held out to Henry.

“Wow that was a pretty impressive fall! It almost looked like a stumbling hex! You haven’t been cursed have you?” he asked taking her hand.

“N-No I don’t think so. I’m just a bit clumsy.” Sumia sighed, and stepped back to allow Chrom to introduce himself.

“My name is Chrom- but then, you already knew that,” the prince said with tentative smile aimed at the hooded figure before taking Henry’s hand. “The delicate one here is my little sister, Lissa.”

“I am not delicate!” Lissa huffed indigently. “But it’s nice to meet you Henry.”

“Likewise!” the dark mage said cheerily.

“In any case, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintances, now if that’s everyone-” the stranger started, but then suddenly Chrom remembered.

“Ah wait! The rest of my men are waiting for us on the outskirts of the city. We were supposed to try and gather information in the town but…”

“You got spotted by the Plegian guard.” their rescuer finished with a sigh. “We’ll have to send someone out to retrieve them. Once the soldiers are done combing the city streets they are sure to branch out into the sands.”

Fear spiked through Chrom at the thought of the others getting ambushed in the desert without him or Frederick. They weren’t helpless, but the Plegian soldiers had been out in full force. Seeing his stricken expression the stranger gave him a soft smile from under their cowl.

“Peace Prince Chrom, they will still be sweeping the city for some time. I will send one of my mages with you to lead them here and out of harm’s way. Henry, would you be willing to do so?”

“Okey Dokey! You want me to go tell Tharja about all this? She’s been obsessively counting her toad eyes since you left.” he asked.

“Yes, please. We will need her help and I want both of you here while we discuss our plans moving forward.”

Henry gave the shepherds a wave and hurried to leave. He stopped just short of the doorway to ask the hooded stranger what sounded like a question. At that, their guide chuckled and called something back. The mage gave them another disconcerting smile and disappeared down the hall.  

“I apologize for Henry, he tends to make most people nervous. He’s a bit… Unique. However he’s a very talented mage, and a long time friend.” the stranger told the Shepherds.

“He seems… young.” Sumia offered.

Their hooded savior laughed fully, and Chrom found himself thinking it was a pleasant sound.

“Do not be fooled lady Sumia. Henry is only about a year younger than Prince Chrom, he just behaves like a child. He’s actually a rather infamous hexcrafter among the Grimleal.”

“Oh… Um…”

“Do not worry, lady Sumia. He listens to orders well and I think he finds you all amusing. So I doubt he would turn anyone into toads again.” the stranger said teasingly.

“Turned people into toads?!” Lissa asked equally horrified and fascinated.

The hooded figure sighed. “I meant it as joke... but in truth he did turn an entire class of first year mages into toads once as a ‘prank’ as he put it. I made him and Tharja spend the better part of two days changing them all back.”  

Lissa looked as if the Winter Festival had come early, and the prince knew he had to step in before his sister began asking how exactly one turns someone into a toad.

“Ah! So, um, then what is Tharja like then? Is she as cheery as Henry?”

“Oh gods no, Tharja not cheery at all. I suggest you never let her hear you say that either,” the stranger told him. “She’s rather… possessive and brooding. But she cares for those she considers friends a great deal, even if she is not particularly adept at expressing it. She’s also rather skilled in hexes and rune magic, but thankfully not prone to mischief as Henry is.”

Before they could continue, a silky voice called out in Plegian from the doorway, and Chrom turned to see a beautiful black haired woman saunter into the room. He felt his face heat slightly as he saw she was wearing a tight set of dark mage robes and large sections of her dark skin were exposed. The woman’s face was sharp and alluring but her eyes shone with malice, and Henry followed after her with that happy smile still on his face. The woman, Tharja the prince presumed, stopped in front of the hooded stranger and gave a low bow before turning to smirk at the Shepherds.

“Prince Chrom and Shepherds, this is Tharja. She’s one of my most trusted allies and another talented magic caster.” their hooded companion introduced.

“A pleasure.” Tharja purred in Ylissean. But rather than move to introduce herself as Henry had, the sorceress simply turned and started talking to the stranger in Plegian once more. They spoke back and forth for a bit, and Tharja began to look less and less pleased. Eventually their hooded rescuer turned back to address them.

“Prince Chrom, perhaps you and a few Shepherds can go along with Henry to fetch your other men, while everyone else can stay here and rest. I imagine you are all very worn from today. In the meantime, Tharja and I can work on preparing a place for you, your horses, and supplies.”

“Yes, that’s fine. Gaius, Sully, are the two of you okay to join me? And Frederick you can stay here and take care of Lissa and Sumia.” Chrom affirmed, with a warning glance to the great knight.

“Sure Blue, I don’t mind but I hope there’s some candy waiting for us when we get back.” Gaius said with a wink.

Sully snorted. “You only asked me to come because no one else is stupid enough to try to get my horse moving.”

“Very well then, be careful. Henry, keep them safe please.” the stranger said.

“You got it!” the dark mage gave two thumbs up.

“Don’t worry we’ll be fine, but don’t you do anything stupid bro!” Lissa hugged him.

“I know and I will, Lissa.” he chuckled patting her head.

As he and the others left, he could feel Frederick’s disapproving stare on the back of his head. Chrom couldn’t stop the uneasiness that whispered in the back of his mind as he followed Henry back up the secret passage, but he pushed it away. From what he had seen the Plegians  were sincere about helping them, and they were in desperate need of their assistance. He had decided to place his trust in their hooded savior and he would stick to that.

Chapter Text

To Chrom’s surprise, the mission to retrieve the rest of the Shepherds went smoothly. Henry lead them out of the secret tunnel and through the town with ease. The sun had started to go down so they were less hindered by the overbearing heat. Although not as bad as earlier, the prince couldn’t deny that he was exhausted from the stress of the day. He, Sully, and Gaius were very clearly worn and parched, but Chrom kept pushing, desperate to reach the rest of his men. Using whatever magic or knowledge he possessed, Henry was able to direct their small party away from the still roving bands of soldiers all while letting off a near endless stream of morbid puns.

As soon as they climbed the dune where the Shepherds waited, Panne jumped out in her beast form and pinned Henry to the ground thinking it was an enemy attack. There was a heart stopping moment where his men drew steel and were about to gut the boy, until they caught sight of their captain. Chrom wasn’t sure how he would have explained the murder of the dark mage to their hooded rescuer, although Henry didn’t seem to bothered by it. It took some time and another round of strange introductions, but Chrom managed to convince Panne to release the dark mage. Once that was over with, the Shepherds stood together and looked at Henry with varying levels of suspicion. They liked it even less when the prince told them that the Grimleal had offered to hide them in their temple.

Unsurprisingly Miriel was fascinated by the description of the magic passage, and was interested in studying Plegian dark magic. Ricken was less excited than his mentor but he trusted Chrom’s judgement, and like Miriel was curious about new magical disciplines. Maribelle was distraught at the idea of trusting the Plegians, but she also insisted on being taken to Lissa immediately. Virion, Kellam, and Stahl exchanged uneasy glances but agreed that it did sound like the best plan. But despite Chrom’s best efforts to get him to behave, Vaike continually glared at Henry the entire way back to the temple as he palmed his axe.

When they arrived back at the dead end, there were other members of the Grimleal waiting for them outside the secret door. Like Henry, they seemed friendly enough and greeted the shepherds politely. They told the prince that they were ordered to take the supply wagons and horses, promising to take care of them. Despite his uneasiness at not being in control of the situation, Chrom knew they had little choice but to trust the hooded stranger, and by extension the other members of the Grimleal. However those feelings quickly turned to embarrassment as Sully’s stallion almost brained one of the stable hands as soon as they touched his reins.  

Down the secret staircase, Ricken and Miriel marveled at the ancient spells, and Henry’s complicated sounding explanation of old magic. Moments before entering the temple once more, Chrom’s stomach fluttered nervously. A very small part of him was terrified that he would find the Shepherds and his younger sister dead or missing after having left them at the mercy of the hooded stranger and Tharja. He quickly found his fear unfounded as he walked in with the rest of the Shepherds, and saw Lissa and company seated comfortably on the temple cushions. The hooded stranger was sitting with them, laughing at some story his sister was telling. At their entrance, the group looked up and Lissa gave him a cheery wave while Frederick’s stare assed him for injuries.

“Did everyone make it safely then? I assume Henry was helpful?” their hooded rescuer asked standing to meet them.

“Oh yeah it was awesome I got-” the dark mage started before a shriek interrupted.

“Lissa, my treasure! Are you alright? I’ve been on pins and needles!” Maribelle rushed forward and grabbed the princess in a crushing embrace.

“Oh, hey, Maribelle!”

“Oh, hey yourself! I've sprouted fourteen gray hairs fretting over you! Tell me have any of these brigands laid so much as a finger on you?! If so I will run them through with my-”

“I’m fine Maribelle!” Lissa interjected, “The Plegians have been super nice and besides, we’ve been a lot safer than the rest of you.”

“W-Well that’s good then I suppose.” the noble woman looked slightly distrungled as if she hadn’t expected such a response.

An awkward silence ensued as the rest of the Shepherds looked anywhere but at the Plegians in their midst.

“These are the rest of your Shepherds then Prince Chrom?” the hooded stranger asked, clearly trying to smooth over Maribelle’s rudeness.

“Yes, uh, this is Maribelle. She’s a very talented healer.” the prince said stepping aside for the troubadour to introduce herself. To his horror, the noble woman turned up her nose and pulled Lissa closer.

“Charmed.”

“Maribelle! There’s no need to be rude!” Lissa gasped.

“A noble Ylissean lady is never rude darling, but I see no reason to waste time on pleasantries.” the troubadour narrowed her eyes at the Plegians.  

Tharja all but growled from her spot next to their rescuer. Chrom covered his face with his hand. This was not going well.

To Chrom’s relief, Virion stepped forward and made an extremely low bow. So low, the prince was sure his nose was touching his knees.  

“Allow me to introduce myself to our valiant saviors. I am myth and legend! I am he who strides large across history's greatest stage! The man who puts the "arch" in "archer"! My name is Virion dear friends!”

“That accent… You are from Rosanne aren’t you?” the hooded stranger asked, tilting their head to the side.

Virion straightened at this, looking mildly impressed. “Oh, so you know of my lovely little country? I did not think that anyone on this continent knew of our fertile little slice of land.”

Chrom had known Virion was a foreigner of some sort, but he had never even heard of Rosanne. It must have been a rather small territory then. He wondered vaguely what had brought the archer to Ylisse.

Miriel and Ricken stepped forward to speak with the Plegians next. Chrom was still distracted by his thoughts and missed most of the conversation, but from what he heard (and could understand) Miriel was already badgering their rescuers for information on their foreign magic. The hooded figure seemed to be stunned into silence at his mages’ vocabulary and rapid fire questions.

At that point a very loud growl interrupted Miriel’s interrogation, and Sully let out a gruff of laughter. She slung her arm around her fellow caviler’s shoulder and drug him forward. Stahl looked very sheepish and mumbled something about missing lunch.

“This hungry one here’s Stahl. And there’s some half invisible guy in armour around here named Kellam, but good luck spotn’ em.” Sully said jerking her thumb behind her where she thought the phantom knight might be hiding. He was in fact in the opposite direction, but didn’t speak up to correct her.

Just then, there was a loud belch, and Vaike shouldered his way forward. “Don’t go forgetting about Teach!” he flexed at that shooting Tharja a suggestive look. “The name’s Vaike.”

Lissa and Sully both burst out laughing, and Maribelle made a disgusted sound followed by a string of her usual insults. The Plegian sorceress's expression grew evens stormier if that was possible. Chrom felt his face go red. His Shepherds certainly didn’t make for a very professional picture at that moment.

“Hey Panne, are you okay?” the prince turned around to see Ricken looking at the taguel woman with concern.

Panne stood rigidly eyeing their hooded rescuer fearfully, like a frightened animal. Chrom had never seen the stoic taguel so terrified before. The robbed figure let out a small noise of surprise and moved to get a closer look at the shapeshifter.

“Oh. A taguel… I was under the impression that your people had died out.”

“You… What in the world..?” Panne looked absolutely stricken at their approach, and sensing this, the stranger backed off.  

“Hmmm… I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you..”

“Your smell… I have never…”

“I think that you may have mistook me. I am sure I carry a number of strange smells on me from the temple.” their hooded rescue said easily.

“Perhaps.” Panne mumbled, her fur began to lie flat once more but she did not take her gaze of their hooded companion.

With introduction out of the way, the Shepherds began to talk amongst themselves, and Chrom found himself drifting towards their robbed rescuer.

“Quiet the interesting bunch of warriors you have collected.” they murmured as he reached them.

The prince laughed softly. “I could say the same about your mages.”

“Yes, they are rather strange as well. I suppose we’ll all get along somehow.” the figure  sighed sounding drained.

Chrom let out another chuckle. “I’m sure it will work out.”

“Well, as I said to your companions earlier, it’s my pleasure to welcome you all to Plegia.” their robbed rescuer said offering a small smile from under their cowl.

“Um, yes, thank you…” Chrom trailed off realizing they have gone on this long and the stranger had not introduced themself to the Shepherds.

“Ah yes…” they started, and Chrom swore he saw pink blush under the hood. “I suppose I forgot to introduce myself earlier. I am the High Hierophant of the Grimleal, I apologize for my lapse in manners.” the hooded stranger bowed low with their right hand over their heart much like Henry had done earlier.

Chrom stared, wide eyed. The hooded stranger that had saved them from the Plegian army was the head of the entire Grimleal religion? Suddenly the prince felt his stomach turn with anxiety. A Grimleal devotee is one thing, but to be standing in front of their leader as one of Naga’s Blessed filled him with a deep uneasiness. Not only that, but in Ylisse the High Priest or Priestess of the Church of Naga is addressed very formally with stature close to that of the royal house, and he assumes that it is similar for the Grimleal. The High Hierophant's position clearly required a level of respect that they have not been giving.

“Oh, no, I’m sorry I had no idea you were... Please don’t worry about it.” Chrom stumbled on his words, slightly embarrassed. Politics had never been his strong suit.   

“Good hierophant, I would ask you lower your cowl. In Ylisse, it is a courtesy expected of one in the presence of royalty.” Frederick suddenly took an aggressive step forward and demanded, as if the revelation of just who they were talking to was irrelevant to him.

In response Tharja stepped in front of the hierophant, tome clutched to her chest, with a smile that promised violence on her lips. It suddenly dawned on the prince that the two mages were likely bodyguards of sorts for the High Hierophant, and they were sure to be powerful.

“Frederick!” Sumia exclaimed grabbing the great knight’s arm before Chrom could even react. A tense moment followed where the prince was sure that someone’s blood was going to end up on the floor. His companions tensed around him, Sully and Vaike even bold enough to put hands on their weapons. Two heartbeats passed, then High Hierophant put their arm out, and the sorceress grudgingly relaxed.  

“You are a long way from Ylisse sir Frederick, and I am afraid that I have no obligation to follow your customs while in my own country,” the hierophant's expression was completely hidden by the hood as they spoke to the great knight. “In fact, it would be safest for my face and name to remain a mystery. There are many both here and abroad that would kill and torture for such information. I assure you there are less than a handful of people who have seen beneath my cowl.”

Silence met those words. The Shepherds exchanged curious glances, probably wondering why there would be so many people out for the hierophant’s blood. Frederick looked even more suspicious now, but held his tongue no doubt catching Chrom’s warning glance. It was strange, but as royalty, Chrom felt he understood to an extent. Positions of power make you a target. Clearly, that’s exactly what had happened with Emm. But still, how lonely that must be, to never be able to show your face to others because of it.

“Enough about me, this is about you and your mission Shepherds. As I said before, we wish to help you save Exalt Emmeryn. In all honesty we were going to attempt the rescue ourselves, but there are few members of my Grimleal capable of combat. I am glad I was not wrong to assume that you would lead the Shepherds into Plegia, Prince Chrom. It was no coincidence that I found you in the village, I was looking for you in fact.”

“Why offer help? Would this not be considered treason?” Chrom asked. He wanted to trust these people but this almost seemed too good to be true.

“Grangel is not the rightful ruler of Plegia. He staged a coup a few years ago and has been pressing the people into his service with threats and bribes. The Mad King desires vengeance against Ylisse for your previous Exalt’s atrocities against us.” the hierophant explained, “Although his rage is justified, his methods are despicable and hypocritical. Plegia and her people still bare deep scars from the last war with Ylisse, and few wish to reopen such wounds. Your sister stands as a hopeful symbol for both our peoples. In truth it has been a great many years since Ylisse has had such an open minded Exalt.”

This information surprised the prince. He had been under the impression that Plegia’s people were fully behind the Mad King. Chrom had vague memories of grumblings across the border over a coup a few years back, but he had not realized that Grangel was the usurper. It made sense when he thought about it however. He doubted that the people of Ylisse would have taken kindly to a leader that immediately plunged them back into war. Emmeryn had been a strict passicifist, and even then it had taken some time for the citizens to accept her rule.

“You mentioned that you had planned to rescue our Exalt, does that mean you know where she is?” Frederick asked, eyes narrowed.

“We have a few agents out gathering information on her condition and whereabouts.” their host told the great knight but did not rise to the accusation in his tone.

“D-Do you have any word, hierophant?” Chrom asked, not caring that his voice cracked and feeling like he had swallowed sand.

“I know you are desperate for news Prince Chrom, and I am sorry but all we know for now is that she is still alive.”

“Alive?! You’re sure?”

“Yes, but for how much longer I cannot say. We have reason to believe that Grangel intends to publicly execute her, but we have no idea when or where as of yet.”

“E-Executed?!” Chrom choked out, his knees suddenly wobbly. His younger sister’s legs did give out and she fell to the stone floor with a gasp. Maribelle and Sully were quick to grab her and hoist her back up as she shook between them.

“A terrible crime, we will not allow him to get away with I assure you.” the High Hierophant said in rage and disgust. “I know it will not mean much to hear this now, but we have time yet to plan her rescue. So for now, the best thing you can do is remain here and rest while we gather information.”

“But we can’t just-”

“Peace Prince Chrom. I understand your rage and anxiety, but you must accept that nothing can be done yet. I do not mean to say we will do nothing, just that we can, and must do it carefully.”

Chrom gripped Falchion’s hilt with a white knuckled hand. He wanted to protest further, his body itching to seek out foes and strike them down. It felt like every second he wasn’t pushing to save his sister, he was failing her. But the hierophant was right, there was nothing to be done. Patience had never been one of his skills, and he knew this would be an insane test of his endurance.

Finally he let out a shuddering breath and let go of the sword, “Yes, you're right.”

The robbed figure nodded, grateful for his understanding, and motioned for the Shepherds to follow them. They were lead down a narrow stone hallway carved with bold Plegian designs, and past many rows of doors. Eventually they went down a short flight of stairs that ended in an ornate stone door.

“You and your Shepherds are welcome to stay with us here in the temple while we plan the assault to rescue your sister. We will see to your needs.” the hierophant told them.

That didn’t sit well with the prince. He had never been one to take handouts, and the Shepherds were not a small group. “That’s very generous of you High Hierophant, but I’m sure your supplies here aren’t unlimited and I would hate to impose such a large group on you.”

“Please do not worry, we will all be working towards the same goal, and it would not make any sense for us to not provide for you as hosts.”

“Surely there must be some way to repay you for the trouble.” Chrom insisted.

“If it troubles you so much Prince Chrom, you and your Shepherds are welcome to help with the temple chores during your stay as way of repayment.” the hierophant told him, shaking their head at his stubbornness.

“Gladly.” that arrangement seemed fair to Chrom.

“I am sure that your days of travel through Plegia have not been easy… And well, I do not mean to be rude but… to be frank, you all smell like camels.” the hierophant informed them, then gestured to the door. “This is the washroom. You’ll have to take turns but, please take as long as you need.”

***

Of course they allowed the women to bathe first, with Maribelle and Sully still comforting the princess with soft words. About half an hour later the women exited the washroom freshly cleaned and his sister looked much more her cheerful self again, which the prince was grateful for. The hierophant had left them all loose billowing shirts, robes, and trousers to wear while their clothes were taken to be cleaned, and no one but Maribelle and Virion seemed too bothered by the loss of their clothes.  

Inside the torch lit room was a waist deep pool, with a spout of water rising from the center. From what he could tell it was constantly renewing the pool with fresh water. He and the men quickly scrambled out of their sand soaked clothes and into the water. The chill was bliss on the prince’s slightly sunburnt skin, and he didn’t even realize how much the sand under his clothes had been irritating him until it was swept away. He stood in the pool alongside the other Shepherds who let out the occasional contented sigh as they washed with the fragrant soap the Plegians had given them. Afterwards, they quickly dried and dressed. Outside, the hierophant and their Plegian guard was waiting for them.  

“Better, Prince Chrom?” they asked him.

“Yes, much. Thank you.” he said brushing his still damp hair from his face.

For some reason the High Hierophant looked down, and Chrom thought he may have caught a red tinge to their cheeks. Before he could comment on it however, Lissa bounded forward excitedly.

“This place is huge! I would have never expected to find an underground bath like that! What else does this place have?”

“Ah well, we have a library, a small training area, and an alchemy lab among other things. Grimleal temples have traditionally been almost small villages in their own right for centuries.”

How interesting. Chrom found himself wanting to explore the compound and see for himself. But it did leave the prince wondering why the temple seemed to be a fortress on it’s own. He vaguely recalled history lessons about Plegia being a country with nearly a thousand years of uninterrupted turmoil. It could be the Grimleal felt the need to hide their places of worship for protection.

“We also have a large amount of others living in the temple right now. I have told them that a group of Ylissean mercenaries will be staying with us, as this is their home. You may find that many of them are fearful or resent your presence here… Ylisseans are still not popular after the war. And now with Grangel…” the hierophant said tightly, the levity of the last few moments gone, “but regardless, I promise that they will not bother you. Still, I ask that you and your sister keep your Brands of the Exalt covered here.”

“Oh... okay.” Lissa said softly.

For a moment Chrom had forgotten the troubles between his people and those of Plegia. It all came crashing back in rather quickly. Of course their being here would cause problems. It was only natural after the last war and Grangel’s recent agressions. He was sure his people would feel the same way if their situations were reversed.

After that, he and the rest of the Shepherds followed the hierophant and their retainers in silence. As they went, Chrom felt the mood of the group shift into something heavier. Ahead of him, the hierophant's body language became stiffer, and agitated. Henry and Tharja seemed to pick up on it too and moved closer to their charge. Chrom was thinking of asking if something was wrong when suddenly they came to a stop in front of a large pair of wooden doors.

“Before I allow you further into the temple, I will give all of you one warning.” the hierophant spoke, their voice suddenly sharp as a blade against an exposed neck.

At the tone the Shepherds came to a halt behind their host at the dark change in atmosphere. Tharja grinned lazily at the Shepherds, and Henry let out a dark chuckle. Somewhere behind the prince, Frederick and Sully subtly shifted into defensive positions.    

“I have made my people swear to respect you during your stay. This is not something I do lightly. And in return should any of you harm the people living in this temple, you will find my hospitality quick to dry up.” the hierophant told them, cold and unfazed.

“O-Of course.” Chrom managed to stammer out, taken aback by their sudden intimidating aura.

The High Hierophant seemed to stare right to his core as they spoke, “Good, I will hold you to that Son of Naga... Very well then.”

With a well placed shove, their hooded guide pushed open the great wooden doors. The room was large and full of low tables and more cushions for seating, along with the smell of cooking fish and exotic spices. It was very clearly a communal dining area, and there were already at least two dozen Plegians inside eating. To his surprise, most of them were not wearing Grimleal robes, and many of the dinners were children and the elderly.

All of the conversation that had been going on stopped suddenly as the Shepherds followed in after the High Hierophant. Henry directed them to a large open table already covered in plates of food, and as they sat the chatter seemed to slowly pick back up. Chrom couldn’t speak Plegian, but he could tell from the stolen glances many of the conversations were about them. The prince squirmed uncomfortably, but he was at least somewhat used to the gossip of court. This was just another version of it he told himself. But he would really have liked to have known what was being said.  

“Please, feel free to help yourselves. I will join you shortly.” the hierophant’s voice broke into Chrom’s uneasiness. He nodded his thanks and moved to fill his empty plate, as the Shepherds did the same.

The High Hierophant began to move throughout the dining hall stopping to talk to the other Plegians occasionally, with Tharja following almost uncomfortably close behind them. Henry took up a seat next to Miriel and Ricken, and they pulled him into yet another talk about Plegian magic. Most of the Shepherds started in on the food hesitantly, but quickly began to scarf it down once their appetites had been wet. All the dishes tasted very different from those of Ylisse. Unlike the savory and gamey meats and dishes from home, most of the Plegian food was fragrant or spicey (though thankfully not rotted as the stories about the Grimleal in Ylisse went). He found himself thoroughly enjoying the heavily seasoned fish stew. Gaius and Lissa on the other hand, made quick work of the poached sugary figs. His companions eventually began to speak with one another after they had inhaled enough food, and the tense atmosphere from the hall started to relax.

Eventually, their robbed savior drifted back over to where they were seated. “Is it to your liking Shepherds?”

“Oh yeah it’s great, you gotta give me the recipe for these figs.” Gaius said twisting around to look at the hierophant, while his sister nodded enthusiastically.

“I’m glad, and I’m sure that I could get the recipe for you, sir Gaius.” they said with a small smile.

“Just Gaius is fine, Bubbles.”

“Bubbles?” the High Hierophant asked completely baffled.

Just then, two Plegian children broke off from their mother and ran up to their hooded companion. The older of the two started asking them a series of rapid fire questions in Plegian, while shooting excited glances at the Shepherds. Meanwhile, the younger child looked at them shyly and clung to the back of the hierophant’s robes. Chrom expected the High Hierophant to shoo the children away, but to his surprise, the hooded figure reached down and gently placed a hand on top of the older child’s head. The prince felt his heart soften at the warm gesture. He had begun to fear that High Hierophant was a bit of a distant figure.

“This young one wants to know if any of you are pegasus knights. We only have wyvern riders in Plegia and they have never seen a pegasus before.” the robbed figure translated with a soft chuckle.

“Sumia here is a pegasus knight, she’s an amazing flier.” Chrom told the boy with a soft smile pointing at Sumia. At his words the pegasus knight turned red and looked away. The hierophant leaned down and translated his words to the child, who’s eyes light up and he started bouncing excitedly. At that the younger one peeked out from behind the hierophant to take look at Sumia as well. In fact it seemed as if a great number of the Plegians turned appraising looks their way. A woman, who the prince assumed to be the children’s mother, approached and bowed to the hierophant looking profusely embarrassed and collected her children. In response the hooded figure put a comforting hand on her shoulder, which made the woman look even more mortified.

Then to the prince’s surprise, the High Hierophant sat next to him and picked up a plate. Tharja scowled and plopped down on their other side, shooting an angry glare Chrom’s way. As if it was his fault that the hierophant chose to sit next to him.

“I apologize, we do not get many outsiders around here and the presence of such unusual visitors has gotten the children rather excited. Living in the temple can be rather boring for them.” the hierophant told the Shepherds, putting food onto their plate.

“I didn’t expect to see so many people here. I thought it would just be members of the Grimleal…” the prince said hoping he wasn’t being too nosey.

“They are all refugees who have had their homes and families destroyed by the Mad King’s ambitions. His troops march through villages, taking whatever they wish and attack anyone who resists.” the hierophant told the prince sadly as they watched the family return to their seats.

“That’s…” Chrom couldn’t even find the words to express his anger.

But the hierophant seemed to understand and nodded anyway.

“It’s not an ideal solution, but until we can gather a force to dispose the Mad King the best the Grimleal can do is take in any survivors.”

“I’m sure your people are grateful for it. You even saved a group of Ylisseans from the Mad King.” Chrom said kindly, trying reassure for a reason he couldn’t quite understand.

Instead of  his words easing the High Hierophant’s troubles, their frown deepened.

“I do not know. I should be able to do more. Everyday the people are suffering. Surely...” the hierophant brushed off his praise and clenched their gloved fist under the table.

The prince had not expected their hooded companion to show such vulnerability. They seemed to be more reserved than most. Chrom found himself wanting to reach out and comfort the hierophant. Before he could act on that feeling however, Tharja leaned in and placed a gentle hand on their thigh saying something softly in Plegian. In return the hierophant let out a sad sigh and patted her hand with a nod.

“I apologize for that Prince Chrom. I did not mean to air my troubles. I’ll leave you all to your meal.” they rose alongside the sorceress leaving their half eaten plate before Chrom could even try to respond.

He watched them go, no longer feeling very hungry.

***

Because of how many refugees were already living in the temple and the limited space, the Shepherds would have to bunk together in the small bedrooms in groups of four or so. In Chrom’s mind it certainly beat another night of sleeping on sand. Frederick did not like being unable to keep an eye on both charges at once but he grudgingly settled having Sully watch over Lissa that night along with Maribelle, and Sumia. In the end Chrom ended up in the same room as Gaius, Vaike, and the irked great knight. As they were walking to their rooms with the Plegians, the hierophant pulled the prince and princess aside.

“Prince Chrom, Princess Lissa, I almost forgot-” their robbed host pulled out two small smooth stones and handed them to the royal siblings. “Here. Take these Speaking Stones.”

“Speaking Stones?” Lissa asked examining the stone she had been handed. Chrom did the same and found that the palm sized rock was inscribed with runes.

“Yes, have you never seen one before? They are enchanted so that if you and another hold the stone at the same time, you will be able to communicate even if you are speaking different languages. I thought they might come in handy.” their hooded companion explained.

“Oh wow, that’s amazing!” the princess exclaimed.

“I am sorry I would have liked to give one to each of the Shepherds, but they are rather difficult and costly to make.”

“Don’t be. This is very generous of you High Hierophant, and we appreciate it.” Chrom told them warmly.

“Yeah thanks, this is super cool!” his sister said happily.

“Ah, well. You are quite welcome.” the hierophant said, rubbing the back of their hooded head. As they turned away, Chrom caught sight of a few stray locks of stark white hair before the hierophant managed to readjust their cowl.

“I will let you all get some rest now. In the morning, Henry and Tharja will come fetch you and we can talk more about our plans to save the Exalt.”

“Yes. Thank you again for everything hierophant, and goodnight.” the prince said sincerely. He honestly didn’t know where the Shepherds would be right now without their help.

“Yeah, see you you in the morning!” Lissa called after them, as they raised a hand in farewell and disappeared down the hall.

As he tried to get comfortable in the borrowed bed that night (and ignore the loud snoring coming from Vaike’s bunk) the prince couldn’t stop his thoughts from running wild. His blood still boiled from the thoughts of his older sister, and all that had happened that day. Truly there was no one more cowardly and loathsome than the Mad King. Was Emmeryn cold, alone, and scared in a dungeon somewhere? Were they hurting her? Could they save her? His older sister couldn’t die. He wouldn’t accept it. The prince would do whatever it took to get her back.

His churning thoughts eventually turned to the Grimleal hierophant and all that they had learned from them. A mysterious figure to be sure, and they had a strange aura about them. Chrom couldn’t put his finger on it, but it put him slightly on edge yet intrigued him. However, he couldn’t deny their kindness even in the face of rudeness of some of his Shepherds. They were not at all like he would have expected from a high ranking member of the Grimleal. Then again, he had been lied to about Plegia all his life. He was glad he had decided to trust them despite his own and Frederick’s suspicions.

It was a while before sleep finally claimed him, but when it did it was thankfully deep and unbroken.

Chapter Text

Chrom woke from a deep slumber to Frederick shaking him. For a moment the prince became panicked in his drowsy state. He was in unfamiliar room, and it was completely dark aside from the candle the great knight held. Then he remembered what had happened the previous day. Thankfully, their clothes had been laundered and returned earlier. Chrom felt much better in his usual outfit (although he’d worn two sleeves to hide the Brand of the Exalt), and Frederick also seemed happier with his normal attire. Well, as happy as the wary knight would allow himself to be. The prince also buckled Falchion to his side. Even though Frederick kept whispering his suspicions to the prince the entire time they dressed, he really only took the sword for his own piece of mind. In truth he felt naked without it.

As promised, Henry came and met Chrom and Frederick outside their room. Not surprisingly he was still grinning like a court fool, and Chrom wondered if he was even capable of other expressions. Down the hall they met with Tharja who looked as grumpy as the day before, and a very sleepy Lissa trailing behind her. It had not crossed the prince’s mind to ask the High Hierophant to include Lissa in their discussion that morning, but he was glad that their host had asked her to join them regardless. The trio followed the two dark mages in silence as they were lead further underground. Deeper, and deeper they went, the temple walls looking older the further they descended. With every step, Frederick’s frown grew and Chrom saw his hand hovering over his axe.

Finally the group stopped at another frieze of the fell dragon. This time however, the dragon was depicted perched at the top of a great tower and it looked almost docile. Or as docile as the god of annihilation could look. Tharja stepped forward and grabbed the edge of one of the dragon’s wings. She pushed upwards, and to the prince’s mild surprise, the stone wing moved like a lever and the carved wall easily slid away. Not magic this time, the prince noted. But he had to wonder how many secret doors and passages the temple contained.

Inside the room were countless rows of books. Shelves lined every wall and disappeared far into the darkness creating a dimly lit maze. The ceiling was far lower than in any of the rooms Chrom had seen in the temple so far, low enough for the great knight beside him to touch it with his hand if he wanted. Unlike the rest of the compound he’d seen, the room was lit by oil lamps inclosed glass sconces. Most likely done to protect the countless ancient looking tomes from any stray sparks. In front of them an ornate table was covered in a haphazard arrangement of books, maps, and writing utensils, although it lacked any chairs. At the other end of the table stood the High Hierophant, clearly lost in thought as they stared at a map.

Henry called out something in Plegian, and the hooded figure jumped slightly. The prince had to stifle a laugh. With how composed the hierophant was, he had not expected them to be so easily startled. Tharja gave Henry a disapproving look and moved to stand next to her charge. With a cheery wave, Henry exited the room leaving the Ylisseans with Tharja and their robbed host. Most likely to make sure the rest of the Shepherds didn’t cause trouble when they awoke.

“Good morning Prince Chrom, Princess Lissa, sir Frederick. Did you sleep alright?” the hierophant asked, and Chrom noticed they sounded groggy. Apparently another late riser, like his sister.

“Yes we did, thank you High Hierophant.” Chrom told them. All Lissa managed was an affirmative mumble.

“I am glad…” they yawned widely, “Forgive me… I did not get as much sleep as I should have.” the hierophant shuffled a few pages around before coming to their side of the table. “Before we start our discussion, can you tell me anything about the night of the kidnapping? It may help us get some clues as to the Mad King’s plans.”

“Is that really necessary?” Fredrick’s low voice cut in.

“I understand it may be… traumatic to recount, but we need every lead we can get in this situation.” their hooded host responded gently.

“It’s alright Frederick.” Chrom said pacifying the great knight with a gesture.

He quickly explained what had happened that night, with Frederick and Lissa jumping in to supply details. It had been just past midnight and the prince had been clearing his head in the palace gardens, when he had heard a commotion coming from inside. The prince had quickly raised the alarm and then hastened to Lissa’s room, cutting down foes as he went. From there they had joined up with the rest of the Shepherds, found and recruited Gaius and Panne in the halls, and raced to Emmyern’s chambers.

Unfortunately by the time they got there at about half past midnight, the Exalt was gone and her retainer Phila gravely injured but still alive. The royal guard, and pegasus knights had also reacted but the kidnappers had somehow avoided confronting the bulk of them. After things had calmed down slightly, they had also realized the Fire Emblem was missing from its place in the royal vaults. At that, the Plegians shared a distressed glance, which did not go unnoticed by the Ylisseans.

After he finished, the hierophant made a thoughtful yet uneasy noise.

“I was not aware the Fire Emblem was stolen as well… That is rather concerning…”  

“Why? It’s just some old shield right? Emm’s the main problem here!” Lissa insisted. The haunted look in her eyes told Chrom that reliving that night had upset her greatly.

“No, I did not mean… Of course the Exalt is our main concern Princess Lissa, but the Fire Emblem is a very dangerous and powerful artifact in the wrong hands. Surely you are aware of the legends?”  

The previous Exalt had often told his children the story of the fell dragon’s defeat at their ancestor’s hand by using the Fire Emblem, and he had always stressed they must be ready to end the dragon should he ever rise again. The man had kept the shield polished to a shine and constantly on display above the hearth in his bed chamber. After their father’s death Emmeryn had often spoken about the importance of the Fire Emblem to him and Lissa, but more about safeguarding it for the sake of mankind and not as a trophy of war. She had moved it to the vaults for safekeeping soon after her succession.

“The first Exalt used it and Falchion to destroy the fell- Grima, right?” Chrom asked catching himself slightly. He had not heard any of the Plegians refer to Grima as the fell dragon and he was starting to wonder if it was an insult of some sort. Judging by Tharja’s glare it was, and his slip up had not gone unheard.

“...Yes and no… Now is not the time to have a theological debate,” the hierophant sighed, a bit of an irritated edge to their voice and Chrom squirmed uncomfortably. “I was referring to how it can channel a vast amount of draconic power in general. It does not have to be Naga’s power. If completed with the other four gems, and Grangel got someone capable of using its power, he could easily turn this entire continent to rubble. All he would need is someone blessed by a dragon, or perhaps a manakete.”

That surprised the prince. He was under the impression that only those of the Exalted bloodline could wield the Fire Emblem’s power. His hand drifted to the brand on his shoulder.

“We should plan to try and retrieve it after we save Exalt Emmeryn, but we should be fine for now. It only had one gem within it, Argent correct?” the hierophant turned to him and Chrom nodded in confirmation. “He would need all five gems, Sable is currently in possession of the Grimleal and I believe that Regna Ferox holds Gules. As for the others, I do not know.”

“And how exactly do you know so much about Ylisse’s national treasure?” Frederick asked, glowering at their hooded companion.

What Chrom could see of the hierophant’s expression darkened, but before they could respond Tharja stepped in.

“We’ve had more than enough time to research exactly how our one and only protector was stolen from us, in the millennia of turmoil that followed His fall into madness and defeat at the hands of your precious first Exalt.” she practically hissed, eyes dancing with threats.

Chrom felt himself grow cold. Is that how Plegians felt about the story of the first exalt? Grima had begun to fall into degeneration like most of the old dragons, and the prince had assumed that the people of Plegia would have been grateful he was cut down before he could destroy his own followers. The great knight and the sorceress glared at each other for a moment before the hierophant spoke again.

“Enough, we have more pressing matters that need to be addressed. Such as the high probability that you Ylisseans have a traitor in your palace.”  

“A traitor among the court?! Do you have evidence to back up such an accusation?!” the great knight demanded, outraged.

“No, it’s just a theory from what you have told me. However I find it strange that your Exalt who is usually heavily guarded, had only her retainer for protection that night. Not only that but the kidnappers seemed to have known exactly where to go to reach her, and they also managed to avoid the majority of the royal guard.”

A leaden weight dropped into Chrom stomach, and Lissa’s eyes went wide. Even Frederick seemed to pale. Why hadn’t he considered it before? The strangeness of having so few guards near Emmyern that night. How quickly the kidnappers had made it to her bed chamber. The ease with which they slipped out of the palace with the Exalt. A traitor. Someone had sold out his sister to the Mad King.

“But who would do something like this?!” he tried not to shout. It didn’t work.

The High Hierophant put their gloved hands up placatingly and the prince shrunk back, ashamed at his outburst.

“I think that is something you would know better than I, Prince Chrom. Truthfully I have no proof, but I do think it’s likely. And that you must be careful when you return to Ylisstol until they are rooted out.”  

A heavy pause followed. Chrom tried to get his emotions under control. Even if it were true, there was nothing he could do about it at that moment. The hierophant sighed, as if the talk were going about as poorly as they expected and moved back to the table.

“Now then, as of right now we don’t have very much to go on. I do not expect my agents to have any new information just yet, but we should have word within the next few days. In preparation, I’ve considered the most likely places Grangel would hold the execution.” they rolled a map of Plegia out on the table. A number of spots were marked on it.  

“We are in this village here,” the hierophant pointed to a spot not far from the Ylissean border. “My guess is that the Mad King will hold it at either one of the larger port cities,” they tapped a spot on the coast. “Or more likely, somewhere within the capitol.” they slid their finger to a more central spot on the map.

“Why do you say that?” Chrom asked leaning in to get a better look.

“The fact that he is making the Exalt’s execution public means he wants the Plegian people to see it, in that case he will pick somewhere heavily populated. I think he will choose the capitol because of his ego, despite it being easier to find and get to from Ylisse. The coast would provide him a more defensible and safer location farther from your border, but it has less people and is not as ‘grand’ to him I am sure.”

“Wow… You figured all that out on your own? You must be pretty smart!” Lissa exclaimed shoving into Chrom’s space to see the map herself. The hierophant definitely blushed at that.

“Nonsense, I’ve just done some studying on battle tactics and know a lot about Plegia.”

“What reason would a Grimleal hierophant have to study tactics?” Frederick came between the Ylissean royals and the hierophant.

Their hooded companion sighed, “Because my father insisted. And besides, I am no stranger to battle.” they patted their sides and Chrom noticed that aside from the strange sword he had spotted yesterday, they also carried a holster that contained a worn tome.

“You’re a mage?” the prince asked.

“Oh yes, and I much prefer it to using a sword in all honesty.” they told him, removing the spellbook from their belt. It was a rather worn looking Thoron tome.

“Not dark magic?” He would have expected that the Grimleal hierophant would be capable of powerful dark magic.

“Dark magic? Oh… you’re referring to elder magic. I forget that those from Ylisse… But no. I actually have no talent for using elder tomes, they’ve never worked for me. I am actually also a rather poor hexcrafter as well.”

Tharja said something in Plegian with sardonic smile, which the hierophant laughed at before putting away their spellbook. The prince was really regretting not learning Plegian while Emmyern had in the years after their father’s death, the only word he’d managed to catch in that exchange was Grima.

“Moving on, Prince Chrom, perhaps you could tell me the skills of your Shepherds so I can start to create a strategy. Although any major planning will have to wait for us to get a confirmation on the location Grangel chooses.”

For the next hour or so, Chrom, Lissa, and Frederick (who insisted on being as vague as possible about their forces, much to the prince’s displeasure) worked to describe the skill level of the Shepherds to the hierophant. They listened quietly and took notes the entire time. When the three of them finished, their hooded companion nodded.

“That should be more than enough to get me started, thank you. Tharja, perhaps you can take our guests back to the dinning hall, I am sure they are still serving breakfast.” Tharja looked like she had just caught wind of a particularly nasty smell, but agreed all the same. Chrom was grateful for the break, he felt stiff and restless from standing for so long and talking. Lissa also looked relieved and he heard her stomach give an unladylike growl. Before they left, Tharja asked the High Hierophant something in Plegian.

“Hmm… What? Oh, I’ll eat later.” they responded in Ylissean seemingly by accident. Waving her off, they stared long and hard at their notes. The sorceress’s foul expression deepened, but she took the dismissal for what it was and lead the three Ylisseans out of the library.

***

When they reached the dining hall they found the other Shepherds already halfway through their breakfast. The royals and their guardian joined them while Tharja quickly made a plate of food, biting her thumb with an irritated expression and leaving without a word. The prince could guess who that was for. He wondered if it was common for the hierophant to forgo food, or if they honestly just forgot to eat. Henry remained with them however, and after they finished a hasty meal of flat bread, eggs, and strange Plegian fruits, he offered to give them a tour of the temple.

Wanting to do something about his restlessness the prince readily agreed. He and the Shepherds followed the Plegian mage through the twisting hallways of the temple as he pointed out its features. The training area was much larger than Chrom would have thought, and much better equipped too. A number of wooden dummies lined the back wall and racks of different practice weapons stood near the entrance, leaving the floor open for sparing. Even Frederick looked somewhat approving.

Next the Plegian boy lead them to the alchemy lab. It was a dimly lit room, with tables covered in vials and strange ingredients. Cauldrons bubbled away in fireplaces, while a few Grimleal mages softly scurried about. Miriel and Ricken were completely taken by the place, and quickly began exploring to the temple mages’ amusement and irritation. Unable to pull his two mages away and with Henry’s assurance that it would be fine, Chrom shook his head and told the two of them catch up with the rest of the Shepherds later.

From there they travelled across the compound and back up to the same floor as their living quarters to what Henry called the communal lounge. It was a large well lit room with a few fireplaces, that were thankfully unlit in the heat of the day. Several groups of Plegians were sitting in the various piles of cushions. Some were reading, others conversing in their native tongue, and a few were even playing games using small stones. They glanced up at the Shepherd’s entrance. A few looked nervous, some began muttering to neighbors, but most returned to what they were doing. Still, Chrom did not want to linger if their presence made the Plegians uncomfortable.

When they entered the stables, which were near the surface with vents leading above ground to clear out the smell and allow the horses fresh air, Sumia let out a happy squeal. Her pegasus gave an excited whinny at the sight of her master. Sully, Stahl, and Frederick also looked rather pleased to see their mounts in good health. Chrom wandered around the space, enjoying the warm breeze blowing into the room. However, he was interrupted by a loud bang and angry snorting as he walked passed a closed off stall and he jumped back in alarm.  

“I’d stay away from that stall if I were you, unless you want to see blood that is. That’s the hierophant's stead, and he doesn’t like other people much. He’s definitely bitten a few chunks offa people.” Henry said wagging a finger.

“Ah, sorry,” Chrom quickly moved away. “I wouldn’t have expected the High Hierophant to have such a… violent horse.”

The mage laughed. “You’d be surprised, he’s sweet as puppy with them. Most animals don’t like the hierophant, so he’s a bit of a special case.”

Afterwards, they returned to the dining hall for lunch. Looking around the room, Chrom noticed the hierophant had finally emerged from the library. It did look as though Tharja may have literally dragged them from it however, with the way she was tugging them along by the sleeve. He took some comfort in knowing that the sorceress seemed to be the type to force the absent minded hierophant to take care of themselves. Spotting them walking in, their hooded host moved to join the Shepherds at their table with Tharja still clinging stubbornly to their sleeve.

“I heard from a few of the other Grimleal members that Henry gave you a tour of the compound. Did you find the amenities useful?”

“We did. I’m amazed at how much you can fit underground. Although I may need a map to find my way around.” he told them with a smile.

“Yes it does take some getting used to, I am still trying to get my bearings myself.” they admitted taking the seat next Chrom and grabbing a fat date from the fruit bowl.

“But don’t you live here?” the prince asked confused.

“I’ve visited this temple before, but I have never stayed here more than a few days at a time. I usually do not stay in any one place for too long, aside from the Dragon’s Table I suppose.” they explained, taking a bite of the fruit.

“Dragon’s Table?”

The hierophant hummed in agreement, “It’s the Grimleal headquarters of sorts, and a sacred site to us. A number of earth dragons were sealed there in ages long past, among other things. It’s rather… constricting… being there. So I am glad to get away from it when I can. Often by traveling to various temples across Plegia, and helping out where I can.”  

“That’s how I feel about the palace in Ylisstol. All the nobles with their petty gossip, and everyone chastising my manners. I’ve never had much patience for it, I prefer roaming the halidom with the Shepherds and defending the people.” the prince liked straightforwardness, and to see the fruits of his labor by assisting the citizens of Ylisstol. He was happy to leave diplomacy to his older sister.

“You are not the type to sit idly in court,” the hierophant agreed. “Although you may want to work on being less impatient.”

Chrom laughed. “Not the first time I’ve been told that, and surely not the last.”       

There was a few moments of comfortable silence as the two of them ate, but soon the hierophant rose from their seat. “Well, thank you for you company Prince Chrom. I hate to leave, but I think I’ll be returning to the library now.”

The hooded figure drifted out of the dinning hall, Tharja on their heels as she shot a parting glare at the prince.

On Frederick’s insistence, most of the Shepherds spent the rest of the day in the training room (with Miriel and Ricken heading to the laboratory to further study magic). The great knight’s workout routine was grueling, but it did help to take Chrom’s mind off of what they had discussed in the library that morning. The other Shepherds seemed glad for a chance to let out some of their pent up energy too. Even Lissa was getting into it, swinging a practice axe like a maniac and nearly giving Vaike a concussion.

Afterwards they washed and ate dinner, where the hierophant was noticeably absent to Chroom’s disappointment. He had begun to look forward to talking with them, and enjoyed learning more about the Grimleal and Plegia. Instead he turned to Lissa and the two of them talked about how much they thought Emmeryn would enjoy visiting the temple after they rescued her. Both of them ignored the dragon in the room, of whether they could rescue her or not. That night in his bed, it took a fair amount of tossing and turning for him to fall asleep.

---

Lissa woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare she couldn't quite remember. It had something to do with Emm she was sure. Although she was awake now, she still felt a little shaken up. Hoping a quick trip to the washroom would calm her down, she felt her way to the door, careful not to trip over Sully and Sumia’s armor. Outside, the hallway was empty and silent aside from the soft crackling of a few magic torches that sprang to life as she stepped under them. Beneath her bare feet, the stone floor was freezing. The Grimleal temple was pretty creepy in Lissa’s book, even if the people inside it were nice. Not wanting to linger, she quickly made her way to the bathroom.

On her way back she a felt a little calmer, but still wide awake. As she was heading back to her room, she caught sight of a small ball of mage fire bobbing down the hall and out of sight. Curious as to who else would be up at this time, she ignored the little voice in her head that sounded suspiciously like Frederick telling her to go to bed, and followed after the light. Not wanting to lose the person, she picked up her pace. For about a minute, she hurried after the fire before a familiar hooded figure came into view. The princess called out softly and the figure whirled around at the sound of her voice, clearly startled.

“Princess Lissa? What in the world are you doing up at this hour?” the hierophant sounded surprised.

“I could ask you the same thing!” she huffed putting her hands on her hips.

“Ah, well, I could not sleep so I thought I’d do a bit of reading.” they almost sounded sheepish as they patted the thick tomes they held.

“What are you reading?” she asked padding closer.

“A few old books on myths and legends, and you never answered my question.”

“Okay fine… I had a bad dream and got up to use the washroom. Then I saw your mage fire…” she admitted.

“A bad dream…”

“Yeah.. it’s no big deal though. I just wasn’t tired anymore.” she insisted in spite of the cold sweat still clinging to her skin.

“So you thought you would follow a random light source in the middle of the night?” they asked cheekily.

“Well when you put it that way…”

The High Hierophant laughed, and for a moment it reminded Lissa a bit of Emmyern.

“Would you like to come read with me? I find that story late at night helps me calm down.”  

“I can’t read Plegian.” Lissa pouted.

“I know, but I could read it to you.”

Part of her said she should really get back to her room, and not follow the hierophant alone at night. But Chrom trusted them, and they had been nothing but nice so far. Besides, Lissa reasoned, she really could use some help falling back asleep. Those books looked old and dusty enough to bore her to sleep at least.

“Okay.”

The two of them walked on in easy silence with the hierophant's mage fire bobbing along overhead. As she followed her hooded guide, she realized that they weren’t much taller than her. Only a few inches perhaps. Maybe it was their personality, but they had seemed much bigger to her. Soon the hooded figure lead them through an open doorway, and as they walked in, a few of the magic torches sprang to life. Lissa recognized the communal lounge that Henry had shown them on their tour that day, except this time it was empty of anyone else. Picking a comfortable looking pile of cushions, the hierophant sat and beckoned Lissa to sit beside them.    

“Which story would you like to hear?” they asked after she made herself a comfortable nest of pillows.

“I don’t know, you pick one.”

“Hmm… okay, how about the Legend of the Radiant Hero?” they suggested opening the book in their lap.

“Sure, I don’t know that one.”

The hierophant launched into the story of a young blue haired boy, his sister, and his strategist friend as they tried to unite a divided continent. To her delight the tale was not actually boring at all, and she found herself reminded of when Emm would read to her and Chrom as children. It helped that the hierophant was a very good storyteller, even doing voices for the characters much to Lissa’s amusement. Eventually they came to a part in the story were the brash Radiant Hero challenged his father’s killer to a duel, and managed to destroy an entire tower in the process.

“That idiot. That’s exactly something my brother would do.” Lissa broke in.

“The two of you seem to get along rather well.” the hierophant said with a smile.

“We may seem like it, but he drives me crazy sometimes. All those ridiculous stunts he pulls in battle, and they way he treats me like a kid. Jeez, I’m a member of the Exalted Bloodline too. Even if I don’t have...” the princess stopped herself. That wasn’t something she was ready to admit yet.

“I envy you and Prince Chrom. I have an older sister, but we are not close at all. In fact I think she hates me.” the hierophant told her quietly.

“But why? Chrom and I fight sometimes, and yeah he’s a dummy,” Lissa smiled softly, “But we still love each other… Siblings just fight sometimes. So I’m sure it’ll work out with your sister.”

“It’s not really about us fighting, in truth we have never gotten along. Our father favors me, you see. Although I truly wish he did not. And my sister is jealous, our father is the world to her…” they sighed, their mouth set in a defeated frown.

“No way! I’m sure it will work out!” Lissa declared trying to sound confident. After all, the hierophant had tried so hard to make her feel better, the least she could do was return the favor. Besides, there was no way that an older sibling could really hate their younger sibling. Emmyern at least was an amazing sister, and Lissa had trouble imagining not getting along with her.

Still they just smiled at her sadly. “Maybe.”

Cleary unwilling to speak on the subject more, her hooded friend continued with the story. However, the hour was growing later and the princess was finally getting sleepy again. As the hierophant kept reading in their soft voice, Lissa eventually stopped hearing the meaning of the words as she began to drift off. Soon she slumped into the cushions, content to fall asleep right there. The hierophant sighed and she heard them close the book.

“Good Grima, you royal Ylisseans…”

Lissa felt an arm hook under her knees and another wrap around her back as the hierophant lifted her up with a huff. She wanted to protest that she was fine, but she was too tired and it came out as an incoherent grumble. The princess drowsed in the hierophant's arms as they carried her back to her room. She snuggled closer to the hooded figure, and felt them chuckle. The hierophant was warm and smelled a bit like sun baked sands and old parchment. Before she knew it, she was being gently laid back into her bed.

“Goodnight Princess Lissa.” they whispered pulling the covers over her.

After that Lissa fell asleep quickly and dreamt of her family safe and back together in Ylisstol on a warm summer day.

---

The next morning, the High Hierophant did not call for them, and Chrom, Lissa, and Frederick were able to rise a bit later and join the Shepherds for breakfast. His sister seemed exceptionally tired that morning, eyes half closed as she mindlessly shoved food into her mouth. Once again, their hooded host was absent from the dining hall. After filling his stomach, the prince didn’t know what to do with himself. He ended up wandering the halls of the temple with Frederick and Lissa. Despite two days with the Grimleal, and no sign of deception, the great knight had not relaxed at all. He kept his hand near his axe, and the Plegians were quick to scurry away from his intimidating aura.

When their hooded figure didn’t make an appearance at lunch, Chrom quickly ate before grabbing a clean plate and piling it high with food. Much to the prince’s annoyance, the great knight followed him as he navigated his way back to the library. Inside the High Hierophant was bent over their plans as usual, and despite the late afternoon hour, seemed even more tired than yesterday to Chrom’s chagrin. At his and Frederick’s arrival they looked up from their work.

“Hello Prince Chrom, can I help you with something?” they asked sounding somewhat surprised by his presence in the library.

Suddenly nervous, Chrom rubbed the back of his head with his free hand. “I, uh, didn’t see you at any of the meals so far… And you know… You need to eat.” he stammered extending the plate of food to them. Gods he was making a mess of this. Why was he so nervous?

The hierophant burst out laughing, a light pleasant sound that made heat rush to Chrom’s face. They took the plate from him and set in on the table.  

“Tharja is going to be mad, you beat her to it.” their hooded companion said, voice still dancing with mirth.

“As long as you eat something, I’ll gladly brave her anger and hexes.” the prince said with faux seriousness, which garnered another chuckle out of the hierophant.

“I am not adept at hexcraft, but I’ll do my best to change you back once she turns you into a newt.” his hooded companion joked, in an equally fake stern tone. Chrom let out a full bellied laugh at that.

For the first time since Emmyern’s kidnapping, Chrom felt at ease enough let go of his anxiousness for a few moments. It felt good to really laugh again after nearly a fortnight of wandering the Plegian desert desperately chasing after the Exalt. Even Frederick’s disapproving stare at their antics wasn’t enough to bring the prince’s mood down. From there they fell into a discussion on the battle plans the hierophant was working on, as their hooded host ate the food that Chrom had brought them. The prince was impressed with the shear amount of battle scenarios they seemed to have thought of in only a day.

An hour later when Henry and Tharja (who was carrying a plate of food as predicted) walked into the library, Chrom and the hierophant broke into another fit of giggles. The sorceress’s gaze fell on the half eaten plate of food already on the table, and she looked completely nonplussed. Which caused the hierophant to cover their mouth as they choked back laughter. Thraja’s eyes darted up to her hooded charge, and the prince next to them, and narrowed dangerously. Chrom stepped behind the hierophant trying to hide his guilty and amused expression, never mind the fact that they were a head shorter than he was.

Suddenly a Grimleal devotee barreled into the library with wide terrified eyes. He caught sight of the hierophant and began jabbering breathlessly in Plegian. The hierophant went stiff at the man’s words, gloved hands curling into fists. They muttered something viciously that Chrom recognized as a swear in Plegian. Henry’s cheery smile dropped from his face by a fraction, and Tharja let out her own low oath in their tongue, slamming the plate of food onto the table. Just like that, the levity that the prince had felt slipped away.

“What’s wrong? What’s happened?” Chrom asked fearing the worst. Surely this had to do with Emmeryn-

“Grangel’s men are in the town demanding more soldiers for his cause. They have already taken nearly every able bodied man above the conscription age. And now they are here trying to steal children who look close to their majority, insisting that they are of age. Disgusting man-” the hierophant  switched to Plegian to let loose what Chrom assumed was a sting of nasty insults.

“Henry, Tharja, tell everyone to stay in the temple and hide anyone who comes running. Then get ready. I will not allow those fools to do what they like while I am here.” they ordered, their voice rough with anger.

The mages nodded and the hierophant moved to follow them. Chrom grabbed their arm as they tried to brush past. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tharja go ridged in response.

“Let us help. The three of you won’t be enough to stop a legion of soldiers.”

“Milord!” Frederick gasped.

The Grimleal had done so much to help them for nothing in return, and the prince would be damned if the Shepherds weren’t going to repay the favor. For a moment the hierophant seemed to consider him, before they nodded tightly.

“I would rather you and the Shepherds stay hidden, but you are right. It would be very difficult to take them all and protect the citizens with just three. But I ask that you follow my lead on the battlefield.”

“Done. Frederick, tell everyone to gear up.”

Looking very sour, Frederick turned and left to gather the other Shepherds.

“I suppose we will be testing out those new battle plans I made with your men in mind.” the hierophant said to him as they hurried up the stairs after the great knight.

“Practice makes perfect.” he told them with a grim smile.

***

The city square was in pandemonium when they arrived in full battle gear. Grangel’s men had rounded up a group of young boys and were ransaking the village. Some of the citizen’s tried to fight back but were quickly cut down, others ran screaming, desperate to escape. A few small fires were burning out of control in some of the food stalls in the market and spreading to the nearby shops and homes. Smoke choked the air along with the metallic tang of blood.

“Mostly axe wielders, sword fighters, and a few mages... They’re too spread out and we need to get those men away from the hostages…” the hierophant muttered examining the battlefield, then turned to the Shepherds. “Stahl, Kellam, Viron, Maribelle, and Ricken take the left side and draw the soldiers out. Stahl and Kellam take point, Viron and Ricken keep behind them and get in hits where you can. Maribelle you stay in the back out of reach and assist as needed.”

“Sully, Frederick, Miriel, Tharja, Panne, and Vaike take the right side and do the same. Sully and Frederick in front, mages behind them, and Vaike use your short axe. Your team won’t have a healer close by so if someone takes too many hits retreat, and let Vaike and Panne take point until Lissa or Maribelle can get to you.” they ordered.

“Chrom, Henry, Gaius, Sumia, and I will attempt to rush the men holding the children while you all take out the bulk of their forces as a distraction. The smoke will help hide us for a few moments. Lissa, you will assisting our group, but be sure to stay well out of reach.” then the hierophant looked to Chrom and turned pink under their cowl.

“I-Is that acceptable Prince Chrom?”

“Gods yes.” that sounded much better than his plan, which was to charge in with weapons drawn and start stabbing.

“You heard the hierophant! Let’s go Shepherds!” he shouted, and they dove into the battle.

Sprinting through the smoke into the fray, Chrom ran down an axe wielder with Falchion before the man even had a chance to raise his weapon. The prince twisted just in time to dodge a swordsman's swing. A bolt of lighting pierced the man’s chest, and he fell. Chrom looked back to see the hierophant, their gloved hand crackling with electricity. Not wasting a moment, they fired another blast at a nearby mage who was readying a spell aimed at Lissa. All around him the Shepherds were deep in combat.

As Chrom took out another foe with a wide slash, he glanced at the rest of his group. Gaius and Sumia fought side by side against a mage and another swordsman. With a deft swing of her lance, the pegasus knight cut through the sword wielder. The mage tried to retreat, but the thief darted forward and shoved his sword into the magic user’s chest. Henry laughed like a mad man as he hit foes with hexes from afar, and next to him, his hooded charge casted their lighting magic. His sister scurried closer on occasion to heal small wounds.

When all of the soldiers in the immediate area had fallen, the Shepherds quickly worked to untie the captured children. Henry and Sumia then escorted them out of the fray, just in time to escape the reinforcements that appeared. Chrom and Gaius took the main charge while the hierophant provided cover from behind. More foes fell to blade and lighting alike, and soon the sounds of battle started to die down. The prince was sweat drenched, and his two companions didn’t seem much better, but only a few foes were left. With one last slash of Falchion, followed by another blast of lighting, the last axe wielder fell. The three of them exchanged relieved glances, and moved to assist the rest of the Shepherds.  

Just then, a mage jumped out from a nearby alley, already calling forth a spell and aiming for their hooded companion’s exposed flank.  

“Look out!” Chrom shouted, his body already moving.

As the hierophant stumbled back trying to avoid the attack, Chrom tackled them out of the way of the oncoming spell. He grunted at the glancing blow to his left shoulder, the wind magic ripping into his sleeve and skin. Seeing their distress, Gaius quickly dispatched the mage with a swift slash of his sword. As the body fell, the town square grew quiet. That must have been the last of Grangel’s men.

“Are you alright?” the prince asked the hierophant worriedly.

“Yes- and thank you, but could you get off me? You are- rather heavy.” they wheezed and Chrom quickly realized he was still on top of the smaller figure.

Blood rushed to his face. He quickly scrambled upright, pulling the hierophant along with him, and then winced at the stinging pain in his shoulder. The prince looked over at the wound. Three claw-like gashes were carved into his skin. Not too deep, but they were still seeping blood.

“You’re injured.” the hierophant murmured taking his wounded arm gently.

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing Lissa can’t take care of with a healing session or two.” he assured, but didn’t take his arm from their grasp. Their fingers seemed to be shaking, and he could feel the tremors through their gloves.

“I am sorry. If I had been paying attention-”

“I’m fine. Besides this wasn’t your fault, even I didn’t see that mage until he was on you.” Chrom interrupted.

The hierophant opened their mouth as if ready to protest, when Lissa hurried forward clenching her staff with an expression that promised a scolding. As his sister healed him, and gave him a talking to, their robbed companion rejoined their Plegian guard. From what he could hear as they walked away it sounded like Tharja was giving the hierophant a similar tongue lashing in Plegian. He smiled to himself at that. At least he wasn’t the only one.

Returning to his men, Chrom found that none of the Shepherds were badly injured thanks to the hierophant's tactics. A far cry from their usual state after battle when Lissa and Maribelle had to work overtime to mend deep gashes. The prince sent most of them back to the temple, not wanting to stress the Plegian people with the presence of so many armed Ylisseans. Only he and a stern Frederick stayed behind to help the hierophant and their mages.

The towns folk had not fared as well as the Shepherds, according to their Grimleal hosts. Several people were dead and just as many badly injured. Most had fled back to their homes, but some had remained to speak to the hierophant. Fires still burned and the citizens seemed panicked, until the hierophant spoke to them. Whatever they said had an immediate effect on the citizens. Many looked relieved, while others dropped into low bows, but some grew pale with uneasy expressions. Henry handed the High Hierophant a small wrapped bundle as they moved back towards the prince and Frederick.

“What did you tell them?” Chrom asked.

“That I am going to call down a storm. We need to put those fires out. And… it will wash away the blood so the citizens do not have to.”

“How are you going to do that? A hex?” he asked curiously. The prince had never seen magic change the weather before.

“No, it is magic, but not a hex. This is a specialty of mine.”

A zing of magic crackled through the air, and the bundle in the hierophant's hand turned to ash. As the magic washed over him, a wave of fear rolled through Chrom. There was something about it that made his hair stand on end, and sent shivers down his spine. Although for some reason it felt a bit familiar. Frederick seemed to feel it too from the way his hand white knuckled on his axe. Only the two Plegian mages seemed unbothered.

“We should go back to the temple before the storm breaks, it will only take a few minutes.” the hierophant told them, and they took a step only to collapse against Henry who easily caught them.

“Are you alright?!” Chrom hurried to support them on the other side.

Henry shot him a wink of thanks as the prince helped prop the hierophant up.

“Yes… Sorry, it just takes some doing…” they mumbled sounding drained. That’s what they said but from what little the prince could see of their face, their tan skin was looking rather pale.

Supporting the robbed figure between them, Chrom and Henry started to follow Tharja and Frederick back to the temple entrance. The prince’s newly healed shoulder pulled uncomfortably as he helped the hierophant along, but he ignored it. Moments later dark clouds began to swirl above the town, the first clouds Chrom had seen since crossing the mountains into Plegia. There was a rumble of thunder, and purple lightning streaked across the sky. They made it into the temple’s secret entrance just as it started to pour down rain.

“Amazing… I didn’t even think it could rain in the desert.” Chrom said awestruck.

“It does once in a while… but rarely… Storm calling has its uses.” the hierophant told him weakly.

“Enough, don’t push yourself.” Tharja said sternly moving to take Chrom’s place, much to his shoulder’s relief.

“We’ll get this one off to bed! Don’t be worried, the High Hierophant will be alfright in the morning!” Henry giggled and the two other Plegians groaned at his pun.

“Thank you… for your assistance Prince Chrom…” the hierophant managed.  

Chrom shook his head, “It was an honor to help.”

They gave him a weak smile in return and then the three of them disappeared down the stairs and out of sight.

That night as he lay in bed listening to the storm rage above ground, Chrom couldn’t help to but to wonder about the strange magic the hierophant seemed to possess. The prince didn’t know much about magic but he’d never heard of it being used to change the weather. And how weak they had been afterwards concerned him as well. Perhaps it was magic they shouldn’t be using. He doubted the hierophant or their mages would tell him if he asked about it. It seemed like the Grimleal were keen to keep their secrets. Perhaps Miriel might have some idea. Chrom would have to track her down and ask sometime. With that decided, he soon drifted off to sleep to the sound of the rain.

***

At breakfast the next morning, Tharja approached Chrom looking sulky.

“The High Hierophant wants to speak with you in the library.”

The prince got up to follow her, and Frederick stood as well. The sorceress’s eyes narrowed at the great knight. “Just the prince.”

Frederick looked positively aghast. “You cannot seriously expect me-”

“It’s fine Frederick, relax.” Chrom ordered before his guardian could get himself all worked up. The great knight looked ready to ignore him and protest further, but Sumia reached out and took his hand. With an imploring look she motioned for him to sit again. After a few moments of what looked like an internal debate, Frederick slowly sat back down next to the pegasus knight. She gave him a reassuring smile and the prince thought he saw a pink dusting on the man’s cheeks.

Chrom followed Tharja’s stalking gait down to the library, where they found the High Hierophant engrossed in their work once more. They looked much better as promised, standing without help and their color had returned. At the sight of them in good health, the prince felt something tight in his chest relax. Upon Chrom and Tharja’s entrance, the hooded figure looked up and greeted them. With a look of warning directed at the prince, Tharja bowed and left the room so that the two of them could speak alone.

“You look much better, I’m glad.” Chrom told the hierophant warmly.     

“Yes, I am sorry to have worried you.” they murmured.

There was a beat of awkward silence.

“So what was it you wanted to speak with me about? Did you find out something more about Emmyern?” Chrom asked, butterflies in his stomach. If something had happened...

“No, I…” the hierophant stiffened, and then tried to relax letting out a long sigh, “Can I ask you something, Prince Chrom?”

That didn’t bode well. “Um, should I be nervous?”

“Why did you protect me?”

Not a question the prince had expected.

“Because you were in trouble?” he offered.

They stared at him for a moment slack jawed, “That’s your reason?”

“Isn't that enough?” Chrom asked genuinely confused.

“Did you never stop to consider the danger to yourself?”

“If I see someone hurt or in need, I'm going to help them. That's just who I am, and there's no changing it. Or would you rather I'd let that mage attack you?” Chrom asked, a bit of frustration in his tone. He was pretty sure he knew where this was going.

“I am thankful for what you did, I truly am. But it worries me all the same. Chivalry and longevity do not often go hand in hand. That was incredibly fool-”

“I’ve heard this lecture before.” the prince interrupted with a grimace. He had already gotten an earful from Frederick yesterday, and really didn’t want to hear it twice. The fact that he was hearing it from the hierophant was a surprise however.

“At the very least consider what would happen if you died. Do you not think that Lissa would be devastated? What would I tell Exalt Emmeryn when we rescue her? That her brother was killed by his own recklessness before we even got to her?” the hierophant grew more and more animated, pacing back and forth as they spoke, “You are not some foolhardy young soldier, you cannot just throw your life away on the battlefield. If you die and we do not save the Exalt, Lissa will be the only one left to rule Ylisse. Is that a burden you want to pass to someone so young?”

His hooded companion was getting more and more worked up, but the prince had already made up his mind about this sort of thing a long time ago. Both his sisters had also tried to talk him out of his reckless behavior at different points, but he eventually got them to understand his feelings on the matter. Although Lissa still called him names and gave him an earful every time he pulled a crazy stunt. And he doubted he would ever get through to Frederick.

“I know all that… I do, but I'm sorry. If it happened again today, I'd do the same exact thing.”

“You-!”

“Peace, friend. I have heard your counsel, and I know you mean well. But as I said, this is who I am. I can't change that, nor would I want to. My sisters know this.”

There was a pause.

“Fine. I understand. If that is your decision, then so be it,” they said harshly. But then their anger seemed to deflate. “Just do try and be more careful, Prince Chrom. For my own peace of mind, if not your sisters’? While you are here you are under my protection, and I do not want to see your head roll.”

“I will... I promise.” he could at least try he supposed. The prince really hadn’t expected the hierophant to be so concerned.

“Alright… I will leave the issue at that for today.” they mumbled under their cowl.

Taking that as his cue to escape the lecture, Chrom turned to leave the library. His footsteps seemed unusually loud in silence that followed their conversation. The hierophant didn’t call after him but he felt their eyes on him long after he left.

Chapter Text

That morning when Lissa woke up, Chrom told all the Shepherds that Henry and Tharja had finally gotten a chore schedule worked out for them. This was met with some grumbling from Virion and Maribelle, but no one else seemed too bothered. Lissa was actually excited. She wasn’t very good at cleaning, or cooking, or sewing, or… Well, a lot of things. But this was her chance to finally practice doing chores. Between the palace staff and Frederick, Lissa felt like she was forbidden from even looking at a broom. Her brother gave out the chores, and the Shepherds quickly scattered to their assigned jobs.

The Plegian woman who was in charge of washing the linens and clothes was very kind. Making use of the Speaking Stone the hierophant had given her, the princess listened intently on how to properly wash the laundry from the older woman. Just like the hierophant said, when they both held the stone, it sounded as if the woman were speaking Ylissean even though the princess knew she wasn’t. Lissa had never been very good at chores, but she did her best to wash the baskets of clothes she was given. The woman had to re-explain things to Lissa just once or twice and she only ruined one pair of pants, which the princess considered a success.

At lunch, the High Hierophant was missing as usual. Lissa was a little sad, she liked listening to them talk and Chrom seemed less worried about things when they were around. She was surprised, they had only been here a few days but she already considered the hierophant a friend. Maybe she could start playing pranks on them soon. Although Tharja may get mad, but she figured Henry would find it funny. Perhaps if she could find a frog? Although, would a frog be enough to freak them out? Guys didn’t seem to mind frogs that much, but most of the girls she knew hated them.

Now that she thought about it, she actually had no idea if the hierophant was a guy or girl, or maybe neither. Their face was mostly hidden and they wore too many layers to get an idea from their shape. Even though they had carried her to bed she still wasn’t sure. She had been half asleep against their chest at the time and couldn’t remember feeling if they had… Her face heated at the thought. Regardless, since the princess was starting to think of the hierophant as a friend, their gender seemed like some basic information to have. But how could she possibly find out? They did say they had to hide their identity after all...

“Lissa dear, what’s wrong? You’re glaring at your soup.” Maribelle said breaking into Lissa’s thoughts.

“Oh, nothing I was just thinking… Hey, Maribelle do you know if the High Hierophant is a girl or not?” the princess asked hesitantly. At her words, the Shepherds around them cut off their conversations and turned to listen.

“Well, no… I suppose I don’t. Afterall, they did not properly introduce themselves to us. Absolutely no manners.” the noble woman scoffed.

“Oh gods, I’m glad it wasn’t just me.” her brother sighed, and Lissa tried not to laugh at the relieved expression on his face.

“Yes looking back, the High Hierophant has not articulated or demonstrated being definitively male, female, or any other identity of gender.” Miriel added, adjusting her spectacles.

“Does anyone know?” Lissa asked the table. This was really bothering her now. Their hooded friend had carried her to bed bridal style after all…

With a flourish of his hands, Virion gave a partial bow, “Allow me to assuage you of your confusion princess.”  

“Are you saying you know then, Virion?” Sumia asked, Frederick stone faced and uninterested beside her.

“But of course, my dear. With such a slender figure and gentle voice the hierophant is obviously a woman of sophistication and beauty!” the archer declared.

“Yeah right Ruffles, you’re full of shit. Guys can be scrawny and soft just as easy as girls.” Sully gruffed in laughter.

Gaius popped the sucker out of his mouth, “If I were a betting man, I’d say Bubbles is a guy. I think if they were a girl they would be a lot less airheaded. Idiot forgets to eat half the time, who does that?”

“Naw, no way. That’s a girl under there. Trust Teach, I know a fine lady when I see one.” Vaike disagreed leaning his elbow onto the table.

“Is it not obvious? You man-spawn have no sense. I do not understand why that terrifying being’s gender even matters.” Panne spoke up suddenly in a flat tone from the end of the table.

“Wait, no way! Panne, do you actually know?!” Lissa gasped. Everyone at the table turned to the taugel woman.

“As I said, it is obvious. Under their hideous smell it was clear which one.” the taguel shuddered as if recalling their scent.

The hierophant had smelled fine to Lissa… Then again Henry had said that animals didn’t like their hooded host, so maybe Panne could smell something they didn’t. The hierophant did say there were a lot of weird smells in the temple.

“Do tell, Milady.” Virion implored while the rest of the Shepherds nodded in agreement.

“No. If that one has not told anyone, it must be a secret. I am not foolish enough to cross such a being.” Panne refused.

All the Shepherds groaned at that.

“Aw come on Panne, ya can’t hold out on us like that!” Vaike moaned.

“Yeah come on, spill.” Sully said leaning forward.

Panne rose from the table, “Do not pester me man-spawn. If you wish to know so badly ask that one yourself.”  

There was an unsatisfied silence in wake of the taguel’s departure.  

“Panne is right, if the High Hierophant wants to keep it a secret we should let them. They have their reasons.” her brother told the Shepherds firmly.

They grumbled a bit, but no one argued. Still Lissa really wanted to know. She was determined to find out one way or another. How else was she going to know the best way to prank them?

---

Panne did not mind the man-spawn temple. It reminded her a bit of her warren, with how it twisted its way underground and had many secret exits. And the man-spawn who lived within it were not bad either. They were similar to her people, under constant attack by those who saw their differences and struck out senselessly. The taguel was almost disappointed she did not speak their language. Almost. In truth, although the prince and his merry little band had been kind to her, she was eager to repay her debt to the Exalt and wash her hands of the man-spawn. They disgusted her with the way they clawed at one another like wild beasts.

And speaking of things that were disgusting… The horrible smell and aura coming off of the one they called ‘hierophant’ was enough to make Panne want to race to the surface just to escape it. She almost wished her nose and instincts were as dull as the rest of the Shepherds who seemed to not to notice the repulsive and overwhelming nature of the creature. Worst of all, their presence lingered long after, like an oily trail left in their wake. Oddly, underneath their disgusting oder was the smell of a man-spawn as well. The taguel had never run into such a strange and terrifying creature. She was all too eager stay far away from the man-spawn-yet-not.

After Panne left the Shepherds to their meal, she sensed the vile presence growing closer and quickly adjusted her path to stay out of their way. As she took turn after turn through the temple passages the scent seemed to linger more than usual. No matter which path she took, she could still feel the creature’s aura. It was then to her horror, that the taguel realized the horrible stench was following her. After a few more minutes of hurried wandering through the temple, the smell was still there. Perhaps they could feel her own aura, or even scent her. She did not know, and she could not lose them.

No choice, she would have to face them. The taguel do not back down from a foe. She stopped in empty hallway, turned around the way she had come and waited. After about a minute (which felt like an eternity to the taguel woman), she heard footsteps and the hierophant's unbearable aura washed over her.

“What do you want?” Panne growled, hand on her beast stone as the being stepped out of the shadows.

“Hello brave taguel. I know you do not wish to be near me, but I ask for only a few moments of your time.” the hierophant said, hands raised. The man-spawn equivalent of showing your underbelly. Despite the show of submission the taguel did not relax at all.

“Speak quickly, man-spawn-yet-not I cannot stand to be in your presence.” Panne told the hierophant wrinkling her nose. Her instincts were screaming at her to run or fight. But she figured the man-spawn-yet-not would merely follow her again if she ran, and there was no way she could fend off this apex predator in a fight.

The creature winced at her harsh words, but brushed past them all the same. “Very well. It’s obvious you are aware that I am.. different.”

“I know not what you are, but I do know you are no man-spawn.” she agreed.

They rubbed their arm as if nervous. How ridiculous. They were far more terrifying than she.

“I ask that you not tell the Shepherds of that fact.”

The taguel narrowed her eyes. Was the creature planning something?

Seeing her expression they spoke once more. “I will swear on whatever you ask of me  that I mean the Shepherds no ill will, and I want to help you save the Exalt. But I fear what would happen if they were to find out about me not being a ‘man-spawn’ as you put it.”

Panne studied them for a few moments. The man-spawn of Ylisse had murdered her entire people simply for their differences, a sentiment the man-spawn of this desert land understood as well. Perhaps, despite the creature’s power, they feared the man-spawn. If the Shepherds knew, what would they do to this creature who posed far more of a threat than the taguel had? Panne thought of the great knight Shepherd and how he gripped his weapon even when around the mere desert man-spawn.

“Fine, man-spawn-yet-not. I will keep your secret. I may loathe your aura, but I would not want to see you butchered by the man-spawn for it.” she decided finally.

“Thank you.” the creature breathed, clearly relieved.  

“You can thank me by keeping your distance.” she shuddered.

“As you wish.” the hierophant said with a low bow, and then retreated they way they had come.

Panne finally took her hand from her beast stone and let out a shaky sigh as the creature’s presence faded. It had been many moons since she had been that terrified. A small prey-like part of her thought it was going to eat her. Surprising though, how much it acted just like a nervous man-spawn instead. Still she would keep their secret as long as they did not harm the Ylisseans and their Exalt. At the very least the man-spawn-yet-not had promised to stay from her in the future, and that almost made that conversation worth it.

---

After helping clean the dishes from breakfast (and only breaking two plates), Chrom descended the long staircase to the library. He was hoping to talk with the High Hierophant about something. He didn’t know if they’d accept his request, but he wanted to ask all the same. To his mild surprise and disappointment, he found Miriel and Ricken in the library pouring over books instead. Seeing Miriel again however reminded him that he had a request for her as well. Making sure that Ricken was too engrossed in his book to overhear, the prince approached the mage.    

“Miriel, can I ask you to look into something for me?” he asked tentatively.

Not even looking up from her book Miriel responded, “Perhaps, what knowledge do you seek Captain?”

“I want you to research magic that can change the weather.” Chrom told her.

That caught her attention, and she closed the book with a snap. “Are you interested in trying to change the harsh ambient temperature of the Plegian desert?”

“Um, not quite. I was thinking more like the ability to call a thunderstorm.”

The mage adjusted her spectacles. “Fascinating. What has spurred this sudden inquiry into the arcane arts?”

“Remember that storm from the other night?” the prince asked and she nodded. “The High Hierophant used magic to summon it.”

Her expression didn’t change, but Chrom could see an interested glint in her eyes. “Curious. I was not aware such magic was even possible. I will begin my research into the subject immediately, Captain.”

“Thank you. And try not to let anyone else know about this.” he said lowering his voice.

“You wish to keep this confidential between the two of us?”

“Yes please, If you could.” he’s not sure how the hierophant and their retainers would react if they found out he was looking into this.

“Very well, I will report my findings in due time.” the mage assured.

With that done, Chrom turned to leave. Then he spotted the mess on the table. He had no idea how he hadn’t noticed it when he walked in. It was a disaster. The entire surface was splattered with ink, some of it was dripping onto the floor. It looked like a number of maps and sheets of parchment were completely ruined and soaked through with ink as well.

“Er, what happened here?” Chrom asked.

Ricken laughed finally looking up from his book. “Oh that? The High Hierophant was writing up plans or something when Lissa snuck up from behind and scared them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone jump so high before. But well, the ink bottle they were holding was uncorked so…”

Chrom groaned. Of course Lissa would do something like that. She’s a notorious prankster among the Shepherds and the reason why everyone checks their bedrolls for frogs before they get into them. He’s almost surprised it’s taken this long for her to start making mischief. A set of voices coming down the stairs pulled him from his musings.

“I’m really sorry.” Lissa’s muffled voice sounded like she was pouting.

“I told you Princess Lissa, it will be fine,” the hierophant’s voice sighed. “I am just glad there were no important books on the table at the time.”

The secret door slid aside and his sister and their hooded host walked into the room carrying rags and buckets of water. Both of them stopped when they saw him.

“Oh, hey… Chrom.”

At least his sister had the grace to look ashamed of herself.

“Hello Prince Chrom. Is there something I can do for you?” the hierophant asked tiredly, moving to start cleaning the table.

Chrom joined them, grabbing a wet rag out of the bucket and started cleaning next to their hooded host. Lissa quickly rung out her wet rag and hastened to join the two of them.

“I know I have little right to ask… But I was wondering if you would be willing to help me learn Plegian.” Chrom said to the hierophant hesitantly.

They stopped scrubbing and seemed to stare at him.

“You want to learn Plegian? Why?”

“I… I won’t lie. I’ve been willfully ignorant of Ylisse’s western neighbors for a long time. But after spending time here, and meeting you… I don’t want to be ignorant anymore. I want to learn about your language and culture, so that one day after we save Emm and something is done about Grangel, we can foster real peace between our nations.”

There was a beat of silence and then their hooded companion let out a sigh, but they were smiling slightly. “I cannot very well refuse you after such a speech.”

“Me too! I want to learn too!” Lissa added excitedly.

“Yes alright, I’ll teach both of you, but just know I have never taught anyone before.” they warned.

“Thank you, we’re grateful for your help.” Chrom told them warmly.

“You are welcome.”

The three of them spent the next hour or so scrubbing the ink from the table, making small talk with Lissa telling the occasional story from their youth. In the end, the ink ended up staining the table but their hooded companion was at least in good humor about it. Lissa apologized profusely, but the hierophant just waved her off saying it gave the table ‘character’. Despite the worries nagging at the back of his head, Chrom once again found himself rather content.

***

A little while after lunch, Chrom was absent mindedly wandering the temple alone worrying about Emmeryn. He had managed to shake Frederick, but only because Lissa had begged him to spend the afternoon training her to better use an axe. The prince was very relieved to be free of him, for even just a little bit. Everyday, the great knight seemed to grow more tense and disdainful around the Plegians.

As he was walking down the hall aimlessly, lost in thoughts of his sister, he heard the faint sounds of music. It was very different than Ylissean music, with heavy use of low woodwind instruments and percussion. Back home, string instruments were very popular in comparison. The song was slow, but strong in its notes and Chrom found it very alluring. He followed the melody and he realized it was coming from the room of worship the Shepherds had first been led into the temple through. The prince hesitated at the carved stone door listening to the strange music.

“I would not go in there if I were you, Prince Chrom.” The soft voice behind the prince startled him and he whipped around to see the hierophant.

“Ah! Oh, um, why not?” he asked.

“It’s the Grimleal day of worship and the congregation is gathered for ritual prayers and then the town meeting. They would not take the intrusion of a Ylissean kindly.” they explained, leaning against the wall.

“Of course, I’m sorry. I just heard the music and well…” he trailed off sheepishly.

“You were curious, it’s natural.”

“But if it’s a religious ceremony… shouldn’t you be in there presiding?” Chrom asked slightly confused.

“No, as High Hierophant I only conduct certain rituals. Usually large scale ones for our holidays in the capitol or at the Dragon’s Table. The priest that is in charge of this temple is presiding over the service, and I would not want to take his job from him. Besides, this a very community oriented event and I am not a part of their community. My presence there would be… awkward for a number of reasons.” the hierophant explained.

“Awkward?”

“As I told you before, I usually stay at the Dragon’s Table. The Grimleal that live here are loyal to me, but they do not know me. It would be similar if you, as prince, were to go and personally oversee the training of a small garrison in the countryside. Would your men not be intimidated by that?”

Chrom thought about it for a moment. He supposed he could see how that sort of situation might be awkward, having someone so high up take part in training could certainly put people on edge.  

“I guess that makes sense… But why is there a town meeting included in the service?”

“Community and family is very important in Plegia. The desert is a harsh land despite it’s bounties around the oases, and we rely on one another for survival. Neighbors share almost everything with one another to the point where it's not uncommon for mothers with infants to nurse each other’s children. The town hall is a chance for all the citizens to meet in one place and discuss any issues they are having, so that the people can come up with solutions together.” the hierophant told him.

“That’s pretty different from Ylisse… Neighbors usually try to get along, but a lot of times they end up bickering about land and such. And the local noble lords make judgements about what the towns under their jurisdiction need. The citizens can go to them with problems of course, but the nobles make the final decision.” Chrom said.

“Hmm… We do not have nobility in Plegia. As a theocracy, we have only the Grimleal order and the King or Queen who is usually chosen by diviners. Grangel was obviously not, of course.”

The prince laughed a little. “I’m almost jealous. The nobility in Ylisse are prone to petty squabbles and rather difficult to work with most of time. Maribelle is a good example...”

“Yes, but they act as part of the Exalt’s council, do they not?”

“That’s true…” Emmyern had council meetings almost everyday, to discuss the the state of the halidom and it’s people.  

“Your nobles can balance out or dispute any of your ruler’s decisions. The closest thing we have for a counter to the crown is the Grimleal order, and for the most part we have not been able to object to the Mad King’s proclamations in any meaningful way. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” the hierophant pointed out.

“I never thought about it that way…”

Before they could continue their conversation, the familiar sound of clanking armor echoed down the hall. Chrom groaned internally. Frederick rounded the corner looking somewhat grave until he caught sight of the prince. But then his expression clouded once more when he saw the hierophant standing next to him.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Milord.” he stated, coming to stand beside his charge.

“Is something the matter Frederick?” Chrom asked warily.

“No, but what are you doing here alone with the hierophant?” the great knight asked glancing between them with suspicion. Before Chrom could even get properly offended for the hierophant over his knight’s rudeness, their hooded companion spoke.

“We were just talking sir Frederick. No need to be concerned.” the hierophant politely told Frederick, clearly trying to keep things civil.  

“Pray tell, about what?” the great knight asked, eyes narrowed.

This time Chrom spoke up before the hierophant could. “Relax Frederick, the High Hierophant was just telling me more about the Grimleal religion and Plegia.”

Frederick huffed. “Are you trying to recruit Milord into your little cult? Do tell him about how you bleed and sacrifice anything living to the fell dragon.”

Chrom gaped at Frederick’s disrespect.

“Blood is an important component to the rituals, but my people do not sacrifice living creatures to anyone, let alone Grima.” the hierophant told Frederick, sounding heated.  

“Oh, so you’re saying you don’t have some poor person cut open on the altar in there?” Frederick asked mockingly in disgust, and there was a moment of shocked silence. Even the great knight looked a bit surprised at what just came out of his mouth.

“...I will leave you two now... It’s best I go before I do something I will regret later.” the hierophant said, their voice now dangerously calm, before turning on their heel and walking away briskly.

When they were out of earshot, Chrom rounded on the great knight.

“Where is this coming from Frederick?! You’ve always been wary, but this has gone beyond that! I can’t believe you just said that to them!” the prince tried to keep his voice down. It wasn’t working.

Chrom could feel his temper starting to boil over. He couldn’t believe how hurtful Frederick just was, to the point that the High Hierophant felt the need to walk away. For a moment there was silence as the prince stared down his unapologetic retainer.

“Milord… I,” the great knight swallowed, “I apologize, but I can’t speak of it.”

“The Plegians have been nothing but kind to us, if you have any real reason to doubt them, then tell me! What you just said-!”  

“No!” the great knight almost shouted pleadingly, but quickly collected himself. “I’m sorry, but I must refuse you on this Milord. But please, listen to me when I say the Grimleal are not to be trusted!”

Chrom wanted to hit something suddenly.

“Fine. Go attend Lissa or something for a while Frederick, I don’t want to see you right now.” Chrom growled as he stomped away from his stone faced guardian.

To his great satisfaction, he didn't hear the great knight’s armor clank after him.

***

Chrom needed to let his anger out on something or he would burst. The prince decided to head to the training area, as he usually did when his temper got the better of him. Luckily the room was devoid of any other people. Good, he didn’t want anyone around to watch him unleash his rage. He found a wooden practice sword with a length similar to Falchion, and started repeatedly hitting one of the training dummies as hard as he could. Chrom soon got lost in the rhythm of swinging his sword and the satisfying feeling the blade’s impact. He tried not to think about Emmeryn, or the traitor in Ylisstol, and especially Frederick. The prince had been at it long enough to start sweating when-

“I thought I would find you here.”

Chrom started slightly at the soft voice. The High Hierophant was leaning against the door frame watching him. The prince had not heard them come in. He’s surprised, he didn’t think they would want to be anywhere near him after what had happened earlier.

“Did you need me for something?” he asked, trying not to sound too short. They were not the one he is angry at, and they didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of his temper at all.  

They seemed consider Chrom for a long moment, before walking up to him and unsheathing the strange sword they carried at their side.

“This is a khopesh,” the hierophant explained holding the sword up for him to see. “It’s the favored weapon in Plegia. Although Grangel’s men usually prefer axes, I’m sure you will run into enemies wielding them.”

The blade was unlike any Chrom had seen before. Inscribed with runes, the sword was made of fine metal with a fabric wrapped hilt and barely any hand guard. It resembled a sickle, but it’s curve was far more subtle. The sharp edge was on the convex of it’s curve, and at the tip of the blade was a small hook. It almost reminded him of an axe too, with the way the hierophant held it. He took it from his robbed companion and was surprised at its heftiness. Chrom gave it an experimental swing, before handing it back.

“They’ll be no match for Falchion.” the prince said somewhat hotly, turning back to continue assaulting the dummy. He didn’t see what the High Hierophant was getting at by showing him the sword, or why they were even here.

“Is that so?” his hooded companion asked dryly.

“Yes.”

“Would you care to test it then?” the question caught Chrom off guard and he turned to face the hierophant again.

“You want to spar? With me? I thought you said you preferred magic.”

In the fight against Grangel’s man he hadn’t seen them use their sword at all.

The hierophant strolled forward into the training ring, sheathing their strange sword, “Oh I do, but I am also rather adept with a sword, particularly a khopesh.”

“I don’t think we should be sparing.” Chrom had a nasty habit of breaking things in his temper. He had never hurt someone else outside of battle in a rage before, but he was always careful to only let his anger out on walls, training dummies, or the occasional unlucky tree. Part of the damage was due to the supernatural strength that ran in his family, but he wasn’t too keen to test his emotional control against an actual person. Especially not this person.  

“Ah, so then, Ylissean princes do not lower themselves to practicing with those not of noble blood.” the High Heirophant said sagely.

Chom’s eyes went wide at the sarcastic nature of their tone. He hadn’t known the hierophant for long, but he wouldn’t have expected to hear them so… cheeky. He had only ever heard them tell one or two jokes. It was a far cry from their usual kind but aloof attitude at least.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” he huffed.  

“Are you worried you will lose?” they teased, rocking back on their heels.

“No of course not!” the prince almost shouted. Really what had gotten into them?

The hooded figure tilted their head to the side almost playfully, “Then what’s the problem? Are you worried sir Frederick would disapprove? I promise I will not tell him you were practicing with a heathen.” they put hand on their chest as if wounded, “Or are you afraid you will break the poor weak Plegian in half?”  

The hierophant was goading him, he could tell. For what reason, he wasn’t sure but his temper still simmered and he wanted to blow off steam. Their mention of Frederick’s attitude pushed him over the edge. He’d just have to try to be careful not go too far. To be fair they were asking for it, and their persistence irritated him. Usually when he got into a rage everyone knew to just stay the hell out of his way.   

“Fine.”

At his agreement, the hierophant wordlessly grabbed a wooden khopesh from the rack and took up what looked like a defensive position in the sparring ring. Chrom stomped over and got into an offensive pose in response. He had no idea what to expect, but if the hierophant was going to play defense, he might as well press his advantage. The prince had height and weight on his side, and he intended to finish this quickly. He wouldn’t put all his power into it of course, despite the hierophant’s assurance that they were a capable sword fighter he wasn’t sure they’d ever done battle against someone with dragon’s blood before.

“Very well then, Prince Chrom.” the hierophant had barely gotten the words out before the prince rushed them.  

To his shock, they met his first strike with ease and pushed him back with a surprising amount of force. Not deterred however, Chrom recovered quickly and began his attack in earnest. But every time he managed to strike at his hooded opponent, they would shift the khopesh and his sword would slide off its curved edge, deflecting his force and throwing him off balance. Anger still bubbling in his gut, the prince continued to press his opponent stubbornly. For several minutes he struck with a flurry of attacks and feints, but nothing was getting through.

Soon enough the hierophant shifted into an offensive pose and began a volley of return strikes. Chrom grunted in surprise at the ferocity of their onslaught. They rained down overhead and side slashes, but would occasionally try to sneak jabs in under his guard with the hooked tip of the khopesh. Their footwork was swift and assured, almost graceful in a way, easily able to change stances. It was all Chrom could do to play defense. Perhaps he had been too hasty to think he could go easy on them.

Growing frustrated, the prince leapt back and adjusted his grip on the wooden sword, shifting into a lunging position. He would have to overwhelm them with one solid blow. On the other side of the field, the hierophant took up their own reactive stance almost as if they knew what he was planning. For a moment, neither of them moved as sweat rolled down the prince’s neck. He could hear the hierophant's heavy breathing in time with his own, proof that he was wearing them down.

Both of them surged forward at the same moment. Sword met khopesh and suddenly, Chrom felt the momentum of his strike jar as the hierophant shifted their weapon. The hooked tip of the khopesh snagged on his blade, and the wooden sword was easily ripped from his grip in one fluid motion. The prince watched it fly away in astonishment, his hand holding empty air. In the next instant, the hierophant twisted and Chrom stood frozen to the spot, the wooden khopesh’s edge an inch from his neck. For a few seconds neither moved, both breathing hard. Then the hierophant slowly lowered the practice weapon.

“What was that about being no match for your sword?”

“H-How did you do that?” Chrom gapped.

“I told you that the khopesh is the favored weapon in Plegia. But I did not tell you why. It is a sword that specializes in disarming sword wielders and ripping away shields. My people have been fending off the sword wielders of Ylisse and the heavily armored warriors of Regna Ferox for millennia. Is it so shocking that we would have developed a way to counter such attacks during all that time?” the hierophant asked wryly.

Chrom didn’t know how to respond to that. He hadn’t realized how much strife there was, and had been in Plegia. And although the desert was a harsh land to be sure, the more he learned about their culture, the more it seemed like everything they did and made related to survival. The hierophant walked over to retrieve Chrom’s lost sword and handed it to him once more. They crossed their wooden khopesh with his sword and showed him how they had disarmed him step by step. As their blades slid against each other, the hooked tip of the khopesh caught the edge of the prince’s blade and with a deft flick of their wrist, the hierophant forced Chrom to drop his weapon.

“That’s amazing.” he told them. It really was.

“If you would like, I can teach you and the other sword and shield wielders in the Shepherds to defend against a khopesh.” they offered.

“You would so that for us? Even though we’re Ylissean? Even after… the last war...” Chrom still had trouble putting his father’s crimes into words. The tens of thousands of innocent Plegians he’d butchered for no reason other than their physical and religious differences. After seeing the khopesh, he understood how Plegia’s much smaller military had managed to withstand his father’s conquest for as long as it did. To be willing to give up that advantage, to the man’s son no less...

“You may resemble the previous Exalt in appearance and temper,” the prince flinched as if struck at the hierophant's gentle words, “but you are much more like your elder sister in every other way. I will admit I thought long and hard about it, but I think I can trust you Prince Chrom.”

“Why?” he tried not to let his voice crack.

“Because I saw this,” the High Hierophant placed their hand on his chest and Chrom started at the contact. “You were scared, and angry in the town square when I saw you for the first time. You could have easily taken those feelings out on an innocent people, but you did not. The only thing you wanted to do was find your sister and keep your men safe, not hurt my people. You foolishly risked your life to save a stranger whom you have probable reason to distrust in battle, and you felt rage at your retainer’s words to me. You have a good heart.”

Chrom felt blood rush to his cheeks in the wake of the hierophant's words. He wondered how they could possibly have known what was going through his head when he first came to the village, but maybe he was just that much of an open book. For a moment the two of them stood like that before the hierophant seemed to realize that their hand was still against his heart. Chrom was sure his hooded companion could feel how fast it was beating. They quickly withdrew their hand from him, their face as red as his felt.

“I-I apologize-”

“No! I mean- it’s fine.” Chrom managed, trying to figure out why he was so flustered.

In the awkward silence that followed, Chrom tried to force the red staining his cheeks away. “Thank you again High Hierophant. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for us. And even more so for offering to teach us to fight despite everything.”  

There was a short pause before the hooded figure responded.

“Robin,” the hierophant said softly, “My name is Robin.”

Chrom felt himself go ridged. “I thought you said-”

“I did, but as you said, despite everything Ylisse has done, I think I can trust you Prince Chrom. And I want to start deepening that trust by giving you my name. Besides, I prefer it to my titles.” Robin told him, looking at their feet.

“In that case...  I’d prefer if you’d just call me Chrom. I’m not much for titles either.” the prince felt heartened at their trust, but also disappointed that their name didn’t really provide a clue as to their gender. He honestly still had no idea.

“Hmm. I don’t think sir Frederick would approve.” they said dryly.

“I don’t think Tharja would like me calling you Robin either.” the prince chuckled.

“Very true… It will have to be our secret then, I suppose.” they said after a moment.

“Alright then, Robin. It’s a secret.” Chrom held out his hand, and the hierophant only hesitated for a moment before they took it.

Chapter Text

The next morning Henry woke Chrom and Frederick before dawn. The High Hierophant had requested their presence in the library at once. The prince was still mad at his guardian, but didn’t protest him coming along. It sounded as if something serious had happened, and he would need the great knight’s assistance to rally the Shepherds. In the hallway they met with Tharja and a pale faced Lissa before hurrying to the library. When they entered, Robin was standing at the strategy table holding a letter of some sort. Even more books, parchment, and maps were piled on the table’s surface than usual.  

“We have word, Prince Chrom, Princess Lissa, sir Frederick.” the hierophant greeted gravely as they all gathered around the table. Chrom was surprised they bothered to address the great knight at all after what had happened yesterday. They certainly brushed off insults far easier than the prince did.

“Is it..?” Chrom choked slightly on the words

“Yes, it’s about Exalt Emmeryn.”

The prince’s heart skipped a beat, and Lissa grabbed his arm tightly. Even Frederick’s usual stony expression broke with concern.

“The Mad King intends to have the Exalt executed two weeks from now in the capitol, specifically on top of Grima’s skull.” the hierophant said putting the letter onto the table.

“G-Grima’s skull?” Chrom stuttered.

“Yes, Grima was the largest of the dragons and when He was felled, His corpse landed in the Plegian desert. After so long all that remains are His bones, and the capitol was built around His skull,” they explained unfurling a map of a city that Chrom assumed was the capitol. “I am surprised I did not think of Grangel having it there myself. The skull is immense so it’s visible far across the desert, and it’s in the castle’s courtyard. As an added bonus he’s basically spitting in the face of the Grimleal. Grima’s skeleton, and His skull specifically, are holy pilgrimage locations for Grimleal faithful.”

Anger sparked bright in Chrom’s chest, burning away the fear.

“We won’t let him kill her.” he declared as he gripped Falchion’s hilt.

“Yes. I will think of something Prince Chrom, I promise.” Robin vowed.

The prince nodded tightly. “Alright. I leave it to you to formulate our strategy.”

“Are you certain you're up to the task, hierophant? It won't be easy. You hold the Exalt's life in one hand, and all of ours in the other.” Frederick warned, glaring at them.

Chrom shot the great knight a warning glance of his own. At least Frederick seemed to have learned his lesson slightly last night and was being civil.

“A responsibility I do not take lightly. But I am equal to the challenge.” Robin told the great knight calmly.

“What can you tell us about what we’ll be up against?” Chrom asked, before his retainer could respond.

“Terrain wise, it will not be so bad. Both the capitol and castle courtyard are paved with sandstone, so we do not have to worry much about mobility once we are there. The real issue however, is that we’ll be heavily outnumbered. My agents report that Grangel has nearly ten times as many troops as we have stationed around the city and castle, including a brigade of wyvern riders. So getting to the Exalt is going to be difficult in a straight fight.” the hierophant told them.

“Ten times more soldiers?! What are we going to do?” Lissa cried out.  

“Our best chance to rescue Exalt Emmeryn will be when they bring her out into the open. The courtyard is large and maneuverable, and we’ll be able to blend in with the gathered citizens. Grangel will likely expect us to try and raid the castle before the execution date, so we will have the element of surprise. But this also means our window for success is going to be very small...” Their hooded companion explained, tapping their fingers against the table and staring at the map.

“Is there no other way?” Chrom questioned, leaning in to look too. If they failed, there would be no second chance.

“Not with our current numbers. It’s probably our only winning move. If we tried to raid the castle not only would we lose, but they would likely kill Exalt Emmeryn before we could even reach the castle gate, let alone the dungeon.” Robin sighed.

“Then what do you propose we do?” the prince asked the hierophant.

“We will have to get in and get out quickly. I have some ideas, but I think lady Sumia will be essential to our plan.”  

“Sumia?” Frederick asked, brows furrowed.

“Yes, her pegasus will be able to fly to your Exalt and can carry her to safety. In the meantime we will likely be holding back the ground troops that mobilize to meet us, and taking out the wyvern riders so the skies are clear for lady Sumia. After the Exalt is secure, we should quickly retreat to avoid fighting the bulk of Grangel’s troops.” Robin told them.

“That sounds fine so far, but I’m worried about Sumia. She hasn’t been a pegasus knight for long and this will be dangerous.” Chrom said with concern.

“I agree. Sumia may be skilled, but that is far too dangerous for one lone pegasus knight.” Frederick warned, his expression stormy.

“Hmm… well, that’s very true… I will work out the details as we travel, and see if we can come up with a better solution. For now, we set out tomorrow at dusk.” Robin told, the three of them, gathering up the maps strewn about the table.

“Dusk?” Chrom asked confused.

“When traveling through the desert, it is best to do so at night. By sleeping through the heat of the day, you are less likely to become overheated. Traveling at night is easier and by moving instead of sleeping, you are at less of a risk of freezing to death.” the hierophant explained.

“Oh…” the prince uttered, feeling a bit foolish.

When the shepherds had traveled into Plegia, they had marched during the day and slept at night like they would have in Ylisse. No wonder they had struggled so much and had not managed to get very far into the desert.

“I’ve told the Grimleal here our plans, and they are going to be helping us get everything in order for the journey,” Robin informed them, grabbing a few books too, making their arms dangerously full. “Ah, that reminds me, some of the citizens wanted to hold a send off feast tonight for the ‘Ylissean Mercenaries’, in thanks for your help during the attack on the town. It will be held it in the temple dining hall, it’s the only place big enough to hold so many people for a meal.”

“Th-that’s very kind of them.” Chrom was surprised, and felt warmed by the thought.

“You did them a great service, it’s only natural they want to repay you.”

“We only did what was right.” the prince insisted.

“Regardless, we are all grateful.” Robin offered the prince a soft smile from under their cowl.

Then they turned to leave the library. The prince hesitated as they walked away, but impulsively decided to ask his question.

“W-Will you be there as well?” he called after the hierophant.

Out of the corner of his eye, Chrom saw Lissa staring at him thoughtfully and Frederick frown.

They turned back to him, that small smile still on their face. “Yes, the citizens have requested my presence.”

“Ah, okay, I’ll um, see you then… I suppose.” Chrom managed to get out. What in the world was wrong with him? He got tongue tied at the strangest moments.

“Of course, Prince Chrom.”

With that, Robin left the library, the pile of maps and books teetering precariously in their arms.

***

Robin wasn’t lying when they said it was going to be a feast. The dining room was absolutely packed with Plegian citizens when they arrived. As the Shepherds walked in, the Plegians gave a cheer and raised glasses of what looked to be wine. The prince felt his heart squeeze with happiness at their warm welcome. Robin, Henry, and Tharja were seated at their usual table, conversing in their native tongue. When the hierophant spotted the Shepherds, they waved them over. The table was piled high with even more food than usual, and the tantalizing smells made Chrom’s stomach growl as he sat next to Robin.

“This is really something.” he remarked to the hierophant over the din of conversation going on around them.

“It has been sometime since they have had anything to celebrate. Although some were lost to Grangel’s men, the entire city might have been razed had we all not been here.” Robin leaned closer to speak to him with how loud it was.

Soon the Plegians took seats around the room, and began eating and drinking in earnest. Everyone was in good spirits. Even Maribelle seemed to be enjoying the Plegian wine, and Virion was attempting to flirt with every village girl in the room (Despite the fact that he didn’t know a lick of Plegian). A few seats down, Lissa and Ricken were laughing at some story Henry was telling, and Miriel had actually managed to pull gloomy Tharja into a conversation on magic. Sumia was talking happily with Frederick, who for once looked the tiniest bit relaxed. Gaius and Stahl kept swiping deserts off the table, while Panne watched with disdain.  

All during the meal as Robin sat next to Chrom, people kept approaching the prince and High Hierophant. Chrom made use of the Speaking Stone as the citizens gave thanks in Plegian, shaking his and the hooded figure’s hand or bowing deeply. It filled Chrom with a warm feeling of contentment. He’d managed to protect these people from harm and they were happy to speak with him, despite the fact that he was Ylissean. But the prince noticed as the night wore on that the hierophant’s own smile seemed strained and a bit sad.

After a few hours, the celebration started to wear down a little. Although many still remained, their faces red with intoxication. There were definitely a number of drinking songs being sung in Plegian around the room. Most of the Shepherds remained as well, aside from Lissa, Maribelle, Ricken, and Miriel, who had gone off to bed when it had started to grow late. The hierophant and their retainers remained, but much to Chrom’s disappointment, Robin did not seem to be in the mood for conversation. Something was clearly bothering them, but the prince wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.  

Chrom finished sipping at his first glass of wine, and was debating if he wanted more. He didn’t drink very often, and usually never on campaign, but he would be lying if he was hoping it would take the edge off his anxiety about the next day. Decided, the prince refilled his wine glass and offered the bottle to Robin, who shook their head.

“No thank you, I am not much for drinking.”

The prince looked down and realized that his hooded companion had barely touched their drink.

“Oh? Why not?” Chrom asked, curious. Perhaps it was a religious practice of the Grimleal-

“It has just never appealed to me.” the hierophant told him flatly.

“Yeah right! I bet you just can’t handle your spirits and don’t wanna be embarrassed!” a red faced Sully suddenly butt in, leaning on the table with a grin.

The hierophant shifted uncomfortably. “I can handle alcohol just fine.”

“Then what’s the problem? Ya gotta let loose once in a while.” Vaike said, then chugged his glass of wine and let out a loud belch.

“We are marching tomorrow, you know.” Robin sighed.

“Yeah ‘course I know! But unlike you ninnies, I can handle my drink!” Sully huffed, elbowing Chrom, who tried not to wince at her strength.

“Oh, was that a challenge?” Vaike asked, eyes bright.

“Damn right, I can drink all of you under the table.” Sully declared slamming her glass down.

“Bring it.” Vaike taunted rising to his feet and grabbing a wine bottle from the table.

The cavalier grinned and stood up too.“You’re on.”

“Sorry.” Chrom apologized sheepishly, watching the two drunk Shepherds walk away together.

“No, it’s not your fault. We will just have to deal with whatever comes of it tomorrow.” Robin said tiredly.  

There was another few minutes of silence between them. Eventually Chrom couldn’t take it anymore. He hadn’t known Robin for very long, but they were not usually this subdued.

“Are you feeling alright?” the prince asked under the noise of the crowd, so that only the hierophant could hear.

His hooded companion started slightly. “I am fine. Why do you ask?”

“You just seem quieter than usual.”

There was a long pause and Chrom wondered if Robin wasn’t going to answer, or hadn’t heard him.

“It just wears on me sometimes…” they said quietly enough that the prince almost missed it.

“What does?”

“My… My position, as High Hierophant. ” Robin admitted.

“It does seem like a lot of responsibility.” Chrom commented. The prince didn’t know the hierophant's age, but he figured they were a similar age to his older sister. Emmyern had been very young when she had taken the throne in Ylisse, and Chrom was confident he could never be a true leader for his nation like she was. Spiritual or otherwise. Being in charge of the Shepherds was more than enough for him.

“It’s not so much the responsibility of it... I have known that I would be the High Hierophant of the Grimleal for as long as I can remember, and I was prepared for it. ”

Was the position decided at birth or by bloodline then? Chrom had thought it would be a democratically elected position within their order like it was for the Church of Naga.

“Then why does it wear on you?”

“I… am not as strong as my people think I am… As I am now, I cannot protect or guide them as I once-” Robin cut themself off abruptly, as if suddenly realizing they’d said too much.

Chrom was about to comment on it, when there was a loud commotion in the other end of the dinning hall. Sully had apparently won the drinking contest and several of the Shepherds had lifted her up as she whooped in victory, with Vaike passed out on the table next to them. When the prince looked back, Robin and their mages were gone.

***

Even after his two glasses of wine, Chrom couldn’t sleep no matter how hard he tried. His thoughts kept returning to his older sister. In the face of the reality of the situation, the prince’s earlier confidence was gone. Doubts and questions plagued his mind. What if Robin’s plans failed? What would he do if she died? Could he even try to lead Ylisse in her place? Chrom couldn't bare the thought. Would it start another war with Plegia? And what had been wrong with the hierophant at the feast? They had been annoyingly vague when he asked after their troubles. Still not able to quiet his mind, the prince dragged himself out of bed and dressed. Luckily, Vaike was snoring so loud that the sound of the Chrom leaving was drowned out, and Frederick did not wake.

The prince’s thoughts chased him to the training room. His plan was to work himself so hard he wouldn’t even be able to think anymore. He exercised well into the night, both with and without a practice sword. At one point he even picked up a wooden khopesh, and did a few drills with it. However, he found the sword strange and unwieldy, even as he tried to recall Robin’s form. Only when he finally pushed himself to the point of exhaustion did the prince stop. His skin and clothes were coated in sweat, and his muscles ached from the exertion. Although he was red in the face and breathing heavily, at least the thoughts had quieted for the most part.

But the thought of going to sleep as he was made Chrom feel slightly ill. He absolutely reeked of sweat and his skin felt grimy. Although it was probably well past midnight, the prince desperately needed to clean off. It would also be his last chance to take a bath for some time, he realized. He doubted they would have much water to spare while traveling in the desert to waste on baths. Quietly, the prince navigated the empty temple halls to the bathing room, thinking it would be nice to have it to himself for once.

As he stepped inside, Chrom stopped short when he realized there was already someone in the room, by the edge of the pool. A young Plegian man was putting on his boots, clearly just finishing up. His outfit seemed familiar for some reason, but then again, most of the Grimleal dressed somewhat similarly. The man looked up, and when he saw the prince he froze, his face going pale. Disheartened at the reaction, but not wanting to make the Plegian uncomfortable, Chrom was about to turn and leave. Then he caught sight of the Grimleal robe the man had draped over his arm. That was the High Hierophant's… The prince’s thoughts ground to a halt. ...Oh… Oh Naga...

“Robin?!” Chrom exclaimed in shock.

Looking stricken, the man clenched his robe to his chest. “C-Chrom! What are you doing in here at this hour?!”

Gods above, it was the hierophant.

Chrom was completely flushed with embarrassment and began to babble. “Oh, gods! I’m so sorry! I had no idea someone else would be in here! I swear I didn’t mean-!”

He hadn’t meant to see Robin without his hood. Somehow it felt like an extreme invasion of privacy on his part. But at the same time the prince couldn’t stop staring. Without the coat, the prince could see how narrow and slender Robin’s frame actually was. The hierophant's hair was stark white as Chrom had seen before, but fluffy and unruly, its color contrasting nicely against his tan skin. However, Robin’s eyes were easily his most striking feature. Wide with surprise and dismay, they were a bright scarlet, like strawberries.

Chrom had to force himself to look away. He didn’t know what to say, and his face was surely on fire. The prince felt terrible, but on the other hand a small part of him was ecstatic to have finally seen the hierophant's face. After a few moments, Robin let out a deep long suffering sigh and pulled his coat on but left the hood down.

“Good Grima, you Ylissean royals are going to drive me to an early grave. I about had a heart attack.” he groaned.

“I really am sorry. I know you didn’t want anyone to see you…” Chrom said miserably.

“It’s alright. It was bound to happen sooner or later,” Robin ran a gloved hand through his pale hair. “If it had to be one of the Shepherds, I am glad it was you at least.”

Despite his blunder, the prince felt a bit heartened at that. There was a beat of awkward silence where they didn’t look at each other.  

“Less of a deepening of trust, and more of headlong plunge into it.” the hierophant weakly tried to joke, much to the prince’s surprise.

“I promise I will not betray that trust.” Chrom assured him solemnly. He had only gotten it recently after all.

“So, it will be another secret between us then, I guess.” Robin forced a smile.

“Yes.” Chrom agreed quietly. Guilt sat heavy in the prince’s gut, and he vowed to himself wouldn’t reveal anything of Robin’s identity to anyone.

Silence followed, and the prince continued to peak glances at the hierophant. He was younger looking than the prince had expected. Probably around the same age as he was. Robin’s face had a boyish charm to it, but Chrom noticed dark circles under his eyes that made him look tired and worn.

The prince hesitated, not wanting to pry but... “Tharja and Henry, do they-”

“Yes, they know. The two of them have been with me for a long time. Tharja longer than Henry, but we are all very close if you could not tell.” the hierophant told him.  

There was a pause and then-

“You are now one of only five living people who I know for certain have seen my face.” Robin murmured.  

Chrom didn’t know what to say to that and more silence followed. He couldn’t imagine having to hide his entire life like Robin had. He couldn’t help but wonder about that still. Was it simply his position as the hierophant, or was there some other reason?

“You best no stay up too late, Chrom. Traveling through the desert is harsh, and this will be the last night to sleep on an actual bed for some time.” Robin warned, breaking into his thoughts.

“Alright. I will after I clean up. But you need to sleep too.” Chrom told him, looking once more at the dark bruises under the hierophant’s bright red eyes.

Robin chuckled weakly, walking away. “Yes, I know. Goodnight, Chrom.”

“Robin…” Chrom called out right as the hierophant reached the door, “Again, I’m so sorry. Truly.”

“It’s okay, I accept your apology. It will be fine... I’ll see you in the morning.”

With that, the High Hierophant pulled his hood up and left, his footsteps echoing long after he was gone.

Chrom let out a long breath and wearily started disrobing. He couldn't believe he actually walked in on the hierophant like that. Just his luck. Chrom quickly stepped into the cold water, and began to scrub away the sweat and embarrassment. He’d finally gotten some of Robin’s trust, and then he’d gone and messed up everything. Even if it was by accident, Chrom felt terrible. The mystery was solved, but it didn’t feel as satisfying as he would have hopped. He could not forget the look of dismay on Robin’s face. Letting out a disgruntled sigh, the prince clambered out of the pool to quickly dry and dress. He would have to be extra careful not make any slips of the tongue from now on. But he’d do his best for Robin’s sake.

---

Below him is a battlefield of mortal worms clashing with one another. They plunge swords into each other’s guts and spill their innards across the ground. Even as high above it as he is, he can smell the sweat and blood. Watching the destruction, fills him with a deep sense of satisfaction. The reek of death makes him smile. He is there to rain carnage down upon his enemies, those who would threaten him and his lands. He is a god of death and chaos after all. But not all the worms should die… Some of those mortals are his... Right? Who cares, worms are worms after all, and they should die groveling in the dirt. A small part of him thinks this is wrong for some reason. Is horrified at his own thoughts. He pushes the weak little voice away.

He lets out his blood curdling roar that has made even other dragons flee in terror. The mortals look up at him. Some run, others faint from fear. Strangely some cheer at his call… Why are they doing that? He struggles desperately to remember for a moment. Fails to do so. His mind has been so muddled lately… His thoughts move rapidly, shifting confusingly, and he cannot remember… It matters not. With a sweep of his great wings, he ravages the plains. The sound of human bodies breaking open fills him with glee, as the blood of thousands mists around him. There is hardly a worm left alive on either side. He laughs. Yes, he is the breath of ruin, the wings of despair.  

He is the end.

 

Robin jerked up in bed with a quiet gasp. As reality filtered back in around him, he collapsed back into the blankets shivering. Just a nightmare. That was one of the worst ones that came back to haunt him at night. Grima’s descent into madness was sickening to relive. He rolled over, cold sweat clinging to his skin. Some days, especially after such dreams, it was hard to tell where Grima ended and Robin began, or if there was any distinction at all. Thankfully his soft outburst had not woken Henry, who was curled up in a tight ball on the bed across from Robin. The hierophant always felt bad when his chronic nightmares woke his retainers.

By the notches in the candle that burned in the corner of the room, dawn was only a few hours away. It was close enough, and there would be no sleep after that dream. Getting up from the bed shakily, still clammy from the nightmare, the hierophant quietly got dressed. Henry only shifted once right as Robin was leaving the room, but luckily he did not wake. Calling a small ball of mage fire to guide him, the hierophant navigated the empty halls to the library.  

When he reached it, he began aimlessly dragging his fingers over the titles of books. Robin was still trembling, and not quite all there after such a vivid nightmare. The shadows cast by the burning lamps danced along the walls, and made him see things that were not there. At random, he pulled a book out and opened to the first page. No matter how many times his eyes scanned the text, he could not process a word of it. He was too distracted by his thoughts to concentrate. Robin pushed one worry away only for another to take its place. Would his strategy be enough to save the Exalt? Could Chrom and the Shepherds even survive fighting such a huge force? And speaking of Chrom…

Robin pressed a hand to his face as he thought of the previous night. His name was one thing for the prince to know, but this… At least he had been mostly dressed, if Chrom had walked in only a few moments earlier- Robin went red at the thought, and then sighed. He was being foolish. The hierophant shut the book with a snap, and replaced it on the shelf. Then he turned to the ink stained table and stared at his maps and plans. If he was up, he might as well work. And maybe that would distract him from such musings.

Henry found Robin shortly after dawn, as the hierophant was deeply engrossed in his plans. Although the mage’s expression seemed perpetually cheerful, the hierophant had learned to see the subtle shifts over the years. That morning Henry looked slightly concerned under his smile.

You’re up early. ” the mage remarked in Plegian.

Yes. ” Robin responded in kind, not taking his eyes from the maps in front of him. Maybe if he positioned the armored units there...

But you went to bed super late. ” Henry said, smile falling a bit more.

I did. ” the hierophant confirmed. Hmm… Although perhaps the spell casters would be better defend on that side...

Did you have another nightmare?

Robin stiffened slightly but did not respond.

I could try a sleeping hex if you want .” the mage offered.

The hierophant sighed and finally looked up at him. “ Henry, you know as well as I do that even Tharja cannot weave a spell that chases the dreams away.

Yeah, I know, but they’ve been getting worse ever since-

I will survive, ” Robin cut him off. “ It’s nothing to get worked up about.

Henry was silent for a moment before he spoke again. “ Are you at least going to come to breakfast? Tharja’s gonna get mad if you don’t.

Not something Robin wanted to deal with today.

Alright. ” the hierophant acquiesced.  

When they arrived at the dining hall, most everyone was already halfway through breakfast. He noticed that a few of the Shepherds seemed bit hungover from the night before. Sully was clutching her head and groaning, while Vaike was face down in his plate of food. Hopefully, by that evening they would be feeling better. Robin knew he should have forbidden alcohol at the feast, considering they would be marching today. But the prince looked fine, and thankfully so did most of the rest of the Shepherds.

Robin moved to take his usual seat next to Chrom, but he hesitated a moment, recalling what had happened last night once more. Then the prince caught sight of him and smiled. The hierophant blushed slightly. Oh yes, he was definitely being foolish. Unable to resist, Robin found himself taking the seat next to the Ylissean prince. He swore he saw Henry’s smirk widen slightly, as he moved to sit next to Miriel. Tharja seemed to melt out of the shadows and sat on Robin’s other side, giving Chrom a sharp glare as always.

“Did you get enough sleep?” the hierophant asked the prince in Ylissean, trying to make conversation.

“I’m a bit tired, but I’ll be fine. And you?” Chrom responded.

“I’ve had worse nights.” he told the prince starting to fill his plate.

Tharja’s eyes darted to him and she frowned. No doubt she suspected he’d had another nightmare. It vexed her that she couldn’t do anything to help him sleep properly. The sorceress must have tried every hex or spell she could find at this point, to no avail.

Chrom’s face crinkled in concern, and he looked rather cute. The way his nose scrunched up and he pursed his lips.

“That doesn’t sound very promising.”

Robin chuckled slightly at his expression.“I suppose not, but I will be fine.”

The prince frowned, but did not push the subject. “So, what are our plans for today?”

“We have a lot of packing to finish before dusk, but I would also recommend that everyone try to sleep for a bit this afternoon before we set out. We will be travelling well into the night after all.” he told the Shepherds.

“Sounds like a plan.” Chrom said turning that distracting smile on Robin again.

***

The rest of the day passed in a blur for Robin as he double checked their supply list and his maps and plans. The temple was bustling with activity as Grimleal and Shepherd alike worked to get everything ready for their departure. Tharja forced some food into him at some point in the day, but he honestly couldn’t recall what he had even consumed. At dinner however, the priest and devotees of the temple had asked him to join them, and although he still had work to be done, it was the least he could do for them. After all, they had knowingly sheltered Ylissean fugitives at his request. Even if they seemed to think that they had not done enough for Robin during his stay.

As dusk finally approached, the heirophant gathered the last of his things, and made his way to the stables. Hopefully all the other horses were gone by now, and no one had gotten injured by his stead. He didn’t relish the idea of trying to get his unruly mount to behave while they had an audience. When he arrived, the stables were thankfully almost empty aside from a stable boy. When the child saw Robin, he jumped and made a low bow.

Lord Grima, we’ve prepared the all the camels and horses except your own, I-I apologize- ” the stable boy stammered in Plegian, looking slightly terrified.

Please, High Hierophant is fine, ” Robin grimaced, interrupting the boy. “ And I did not expect anyone to saddle him. Was anyone injured trying to approach him?

No Lord- High Hierophant, he wouldn’t let anyone near him .” the stable hand slipped, but quickly caught himself.   

Do not worry, I will take care of it. ” Robin told him.  

As you say. ” the stable hand bowed nervously and left.  

The hierophant exhaled in frustration. He wished that so many of his people were not so fearful of him, but he really should be used to it by now. It is no secret to the Plegian people who and what exactly, the High Hierophant of the Grimleal was, even if they did not know him by his face. Shaking his head, Robin moved to unlatch the stall. Shabdiz wickered softly as he entered, and shoved his snout against the hierophant's face.

Yes, yes, it’s good to see you too. ” Robin told the stead in Plegian.

As his name ‘midnight’ implied, the enormous stead’s coat was a deep black. The beasts eyes, all four of them, were a burning red that shone with unnatural intelligence as he met the hierophant's gaze. Robin ran his gloved hand through the horse’s mane, fingers brushing over the sleek black feathers that were mixed in with the silky hair.

Like Robin, Shabdiz was of fell descent, and it showed. Although the eyes and feathers clearly set him apart from actual horses, Shabdiz’s most dangerous feature was his dragonesque mouth full of fangs. Which he used liberally on those who approached him carelessly, much to Robin’s chagrin. The horse was created by the Grimleal, specifically for Robin’s use. Because the stead was fellblooded, he did not flee in the presence of Grima’s power as other animals did. He was very intelligent, and adored Robin… But on the other hand he had a terrible disposition, and did not get along with other creatures or humans. The only others Shabdiz tolerated were Tharja and Henry, and only because he knows they help protect his master.

We are going to be traveling with a lot of others, do you think you can behave? ” the hierophant asked still petting the stead’s neck.

The fellbeast glared at him in response.

Robin sighed. “ Shabdiz, we talked about this remember? We are going to be helping the Ylisseans, so we have to travel with them.

The horse snorted dismissively. Robin did not need his attitude that morning.

Shabdiz.” he said, staring down the stead (a difficult feat considering he towered over Robin) and stopped caressing him.

Shabdiz continued to glare, but he did allow the hierophant to begin getting him ready for the trip. The fellbeast was not particularly pleased, but he stood in place quietly so that Robin could drape the the decorative cloths over him and start on the armor. The armor and the hangings disguised the horse’s fellblooded heritage by hiding the feathers, extra eyes, and fangs. With all of it on, Shabdiz could pass for any other bad tempered war horse. It would not do for any of the Shepherds to see him for what he was. It would raise far too many questions Robin would rather not answer.

Alright… let’s go. And no biting allies, if one more person loses a finger to you, I swear on Grima’s bones you will never see another sugar cube in your life. ” Robin threatened, gently pulling on the reins for Shabdiz to come.

The horse puffed in annoyance, but followed all the same. The hierophant lead the stead up the ramp at at the back end of the stable that went to the front entrance of the temple. Robin stopped at the enormous doors carved with a depiction of Grima flying over Plegia and pulled the hidden lever in the dragon’s tail. The hierophant hesitated for just a moment in the doorway as the doors swung open. His eyes adjusted slowly to the setting sun. It had been a few days since he’d been on the surface.  

Outside, the Shepherds and the convoy of supplies the Grimleal had gathered for them waited, getting ready to set out. There would be no going back after this, and he could not fail. Yet at the same time, if any of the Shepherds were to learn the truth of who exactly they would be traveling with…  A nervous flutter in his stomach, Robin shot his stead one last warning glance and moved to join his retainers and the Ylisseans.

---

As Chrom walked around the temple courtyard, he was happy to be above ground once more. He wove through the supply wagons as well as members of the Grimleal and Shepherds, while they finished last minute preparations for the journey. The prince had never actually seen the front entrance to the temple. It was just on the outskirts of the city, and was little more than a ramp leading down to the ornately carved doors. There was some rubble around the courtyard, that might have once been part of a larger structure, but Chrom couldn’t tell for sure.  

During his wanderings, he spotted Robin talking to Tharja and Henry, holding the reins of a huge dark horse covered in equally dark decorative armor and hangings. That must be the hierophant's violent horse Henry had spoken of. The stead was intimidating, to say the least, towering over the hierophant and his retainers but he seemed docile enough. Chrom moved to talk with the Plegians, when the horse caught sight of him, and stamped its feet letting out an angry snort. Seeing Chrom, Robin held his hand up for the prince to stay where he was and passed the reins to a disgruntled Tharja. The prince swore the horse almost looked offended as the hierophant walked over to meet him.

“I apologize. He gets… anxious… around people he doesn’t know.”

“Ah, no, don’t worry about it. Henry warned me, but I honestly didn’t expect your horse to be so…” Chrom trailed off unsure of what to say.

“Shabdiz does have a rather nasty temper,” Robin said bluntly. “I’ve tried everything I can think of to get him to relax around others, but it never works.”

“Why not try a different horse?”

“Let me show you.”

Robin gestured for Chrom to follow, and curious, the prince walked after him. The  hierophant started heading towards the mounted Shepherds who were saddling their horses. At Robin’s approach, the beasts began to grow nervous, shuffling their hooves. As the prince and hierophant grew closer, Sully’s horse suddenly reared up and the cavalier shouted in surprise, while Maribelle and Stahl’s mounts began straining at the reins trying to get away. Even Frederick’s stoic war horse shied away, stomping and snorting.

“That is why I cannot try a different horse.” Robin said, moving back from the terrified mounts as Chrom watched slack jawed.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before.” the prince told him, watching the horses calm down as the hierophant got further away from them.

Henry had said that animals didn’t like Robin, but that had clearly been an understatement. It seemed much more like animals were terrified of him.

“It’s much worse with dogs, in all honesty. I’ve got a few scars from the occasional hound that I have accidentally gotten too close to.” the hierophant sighed sadly. “Regardless, I do not think I would even want a different stead if I could. Shabdiz is the most intelligent and loyal mount I could ask for, despite his bad attitude.” his friend said, smiling slightly.

“He seems like he’d be a formidable opponent in battle, too.” the prince said looking back at the horse in question (who he swore was glaring at him).

“Oh, yes, he is. I almost feel bad for our enemies at times…”

Suddenly, Chrom caught sight of a line of what the prince first took as strange looking horses. Looking at them closer they were a little bit like horses but definitely not horses. Their necks and legs were far longer and their heads reminded him more of a sheep’s, but definitely the weirdest thing about the beasts was the giant hump on each of their backs. Chrom gawked at the creatures as the members of the Grimleal continued to tie supplies to them.

“What in the gods names are those?” he stared, trying to make heads or tails of the things.

“They are camels, have you never seen one?” the hierophant asked curiously.

“Oh, so that’s a camel?”

Robin hummed thoughtfully. “I guess you would not have. They are native to Plegia specifically, after all. We often use them alongside horses, although they are much slower. Camels are rather like your mules in Ylisse, but hardier and can survive on less water.”

Chrom wrinkled his nose as he caught the beast’s smell. “Urf, did we really smell like them on our first night?”

It was like a mix between a horse and a sheep that had been sweating in the sun all day.

Robin laughed. “Yes, you did, I assure you.”

Chrom crossed his arms and huffed in mock offense, which made the hierophant chuckle again.

“Come then, if they smell so bad to you, we can move away.”

An easy silence fell as the two of them walked around the courtyard watching the last minute preparations. As they wandered around the temple’s entrance, Chrom’s attention was once again caught by the ruins surrounding its base. Huge stones were scattered around, and the foundations of walls still remained in places.

“It was a great tower once,” Robin told him, obviously seeing what Chrom was staring at. “Most of the Grimleal temples are underground complexes with large spires above ground. Grima rarely landed, so it was easier to try and get closer to Him for communicating, than the other way around. But most temple towers are gone now.”

“What happened?” Chrom asked.

“The last war. Their height made them easy targets.” the hierophant said quietly, his earlier cheer gone at the reminder of his people’s suffering.

Chrom looked back at the ruins, full of despair, shame, and hatred. How many temples had his father destroyed? How many lives had he ruined irreparably for his own satisfaction? All the scars he had left on Plegia, his own people, and even his own children… For what? His personal hatred of a people who had done no wrong? All while Chrom and his sisters could do nothing but watch the fires burn. The prince couldn’t bare to look at the ruins and turned away, but Robin put a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Do not look away. Acknowledge what was done, and never let yourself or your people forget. But do not blame yourself for it, Chrom. You and your siblings were but children when your father ravaged these lands. Instead focus on making the future between our lands and peoples a happier one.” Robin’s voice was steady but hung heavy with grief, and Chrom realized for the first time that the hierophant may well have lost people he knew in the conflicts.

“I know it means nothing, but I am sorry for what he did to Plegia. But you’re right, he ruined more than enough during his life. I won’t let him ruin our future too.” the prince agreed roughly, refusing to even call the pervious exalt his father.

That’s exactly what Emmyern had been trying to do all this time wasn’t it? Mend the rift their father had created. During times in the past, Plegia and Ylisse had been allies, and Chrom hopped it could be that way again soon. Hopefully after something was done about Grangel.  

Robin nodded. “All we can do is move forward, and never let it happen again.”

The two of them walked in silence to rejoin the Shepherds, as Chrom kept thinking about Robin’s words, which reminded Chrom so much of Emmeryn. By the time they got back to the others, it looked as though everything was ready to go.

“Come on, we should mount up.” the hierophant told him, voice still a bit heavy.

“I don’t have a horse.” Chrom murmured still stewing in the wake of their conversation.

“Then you can ride a camel or perhaps ride with sir Frederick,” Robin grinned a bit, clearly trying to bring back the playful mood of earlier. Chrom pulled a face at the thought of riding with his retainer, which made Robin’s smile look a bit more real.

“If we all walk, we will never make it in time. The capitol is about a week and a half from here, if we end up getting delayed for any reason it may be too late . So it’s Frederick or the camel.”

***

In the end, Chrom did end up on the back of one of the desert beasts. Riding the camel was unpleasant to say the least, it was awkward and smelled terrible, but it beat riding behind Frederick he supposed. And the setting sun did look rather nice over the sands from the top of the mount, he had to admit.

“Ugh this thing stinks, Chrom.” Lissa complained from behind him.

At least he wasn’t alone in his misery, all of the other non-mounted member of the Shepherds had either had to ride with someone on their horse, or ride on the camels.

“At least we aren’t being bogged down by sand anymore.” Chrom offered, but Lissa just grumbled. Virion had refused, absolutely refused, to get on the back of a camel. So the princess had given up her spot on the back of Maribelle’s horse just to get the archer to shut up. Neither girl was happy about this arrangement. His sister was pinching her nose, and Maribelle looked like she was contemplating how much damager her healing staff could do to Virion’s head.

Ahead of them, Robin and and his two Plegian mages guided the convoy. Henry and Tharja were riding on the back of a smaller brown horse, several lengths behind the hierophant. Probably because Shabdiz had snapped aggressively at their skittish mare, when they had tried riding beside their charge. Close behind the prince and princess was Frederick, with Gaius sitting behind him on the horse. Chrom couldn’t help but feel annoyed at how close the great knight rode behind them, but held his tongue.

When darkness fell and the stars came out, the temperature plummeted. Their convoy stopped for a moment so that everyone could bundle up against the chill. Lissa shivered as she clung to him, even under the blankets Chrom had wrapped around the two of them. Some hours later when the moon was high above, Robin slowed his stead and Henry and Tharja fell back too.

“How are you holding up, Prince Chrom, Princess Lissa?” the hierophant called from Shabdiz’s saddle, being sure to stay far enough away so that their mounts did not spook one another.

“I-It’s freezing! And this thing r-reeks!” Lissa called back, clinging to Chrom tighter.

Robin laughed. “Bare with it Princess Lissa, I am sure we could get you some extra blankets if you need.”

“We’re fine,” the prince assured, and his sister glared at him. “What about you?”

“Fine as well. We are used to this after all.” the hierophant told them, patting his horse’s neck.

“How much further do we have to go?” his sister whined.

“We can probably travel about two more hours before we have to stop. We are getting near a good resting place soon.” Robin told her.

“How can you tell where we are?” Chrom asked.

The hierophant gestured to the clear sky above them. “The stars. You can calculate your position and direction using the stars and constellations.”

“Really?” the prince asked looking up at the stars.

“Oh yes, all it takes is-”

Behind them, Frederick urged his mount closer, no doubt wary of Robin’s nearness to his charges. At the great knight’s approach, Shabdiz suddenly reared back and let out an angry whiney, nearly unseating Robin and alarming Chrom. The hierophant pulled on the reins and hissed something in Plegain to the stallion, who thankfully dropped back to all fours, but continued to snort and shake his head glaring at the great knight and his mount.

“Nya ha ha! He really doesn’t like you Frederick. I’d watch out!” Henry laughed from his and Tharja’s horse, while the sorceress looked on murderously .

“Jeez Freddy, back off wouldja? I dunno about you, but I’d rather not get trampled.” Gaius complained from behind the great knight.

“Crazed beast.” Frederick mumbled but allowed some distance all the same.

“Are you okay?” the prince called to the hierophant.

“Yes.” Robin sighed, and to Chrom’s disappointment, spurred Shabdiz ahead. No doubt trying to put more distance between the stallion and Frederick.

As the sky began to lighten, they pitched camp in the shelter of a few tall dunes hiding a pond sized oasis. They ate a hasty breakfast (or was it dinner?) of dried fish and fruit, and drank gratefully from the natural source of fresh water. As the sun started to come up, the temperature was quickly increasing, and most of the Shepherds retreated under their tents for shade. Chrom however, found himself wandering around the camp under the baking sun. He wasn’t tired at all. This dramatic switch in his sleeping schedule was going to take some getting used to. Apparently he wasn’t the only one however. The prince spotted Sumia standing next to her pegasus, and when she caught sight of him, she approached him meekly.

“Captain… May I speak with you for a moment?”

Chrom groaned internally. Surely this was about something she’d tripped over and broken, but all the same he nodded. “Sure, Sumia. What is it?”

“It’s about Frederick.” she said looking at her feet.

Chrom frowned, slightly surprised, but motioned for her to go on.

“Well… um, it’s about his attitude towards the Plegians. The Grimleal in particular…” Sumia started nervously, glancing at the prince to gage his reaction. His hot temper was no secret to the Shepherds. And they had surely seen his growing friendship with the High Hierophant.  

“I’m not trying to excuse him, or apologize for him…” she continued when Chrom’s temper did not show. “But his distrust comes from his time during your father’s war with Plegia. He had… a terrible experience... ” the pegasus knight told him looking a bit haunted.

Chrom’s gut clenched. “What happened?”

The war his father had waged had destroyed so many lives on both sides of the border. He could imagine any number of horrors on either side.

Sumia shook her head. “It’s not my place to tell his story, Captain. I’m sure he’ll open up to you about it someday, but let him do it on his own terms.”

Frederick had been difficult lately. And his attitude towards Robin was unacceptable. But he had also always been at Chrom’s side, and there was no one he trusted more to keep his family safe. So the least the prince could do was hear him out, and not push him.

“Alright... I’ll try.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Sumia beamed and returned to her stead.

Suddenly feeling very tired, Chrom made his way across camp to his tent. The prince all but collapsed onto the bed roll after unbuckling Falchion from his side. Even under the sun resistant canvas of the tent, it was like an oven inside. Chrom wished that Frederick would be willing to trust him with the incident from his past soon, so they could work together on moving forward. The prince hoped that the great knight could one day let go of his prejudices for the time when there could be true peace between Plegia and Ylisse. Suddenly, Chrom heard soft footsteps outside his tent which pulled him from his thoughts.

“Ah, Captain, may I come in? I have compiled my research on the subject we discussed previously for your inspection.” Miriel’s monotone voice called from outside his tent flaps.

“Yes, of course,” Chrom called, scrambling up into a sitting position as the mage entered. “What did you find?”

“My limited investigation has revealed that there is no Plegian magic capable of changing the weather on such a large scale. There are hexes to alter the temperature of a room or person, but nothing on the scale of the atmospheric transformation you spoke of.” Miriel told him, opening her journal.

Chrom frowned, about to open his mouth, but the mage continued.

“However, I did discover that Plegia’s patron dragon, Grima, was observed to be able to command thunderstorms due to his sheer size and draconic power. This leads me to infer that the arcane arts you are seeking may be high level Grimleal magic, secret to their order exclusively. I was unable to locate any texts on the subject, so this is merely a theory, but there is a possibility that the Grimleal are able to harness their god’s power.”

Chrom needed a few moments to process her rapid speech, but one thing stuck out alarmingly to him. “But Grima’s dead isn’t he?”

“No. My research has revealed that in fact, Grima is not deceased. Although his physical form was destroyed by your forebarer, his life force continues to exists eternally. Grima’s power rivaled that of Naga’s and neither dragon would be capable of completely eradicating the other. In truth, the draconic energy Naga granted the first exalt was only enough to dispatch the fell dragon’s body and put Grima’s soul into a state dormancy.” the mage told him in her long winded manner.

Chrom felt icy fear creep up his spine despite the arid desert around him.

“So the Grimleal aren’t try to bring Grima back from the dead-”

“But reawaken him, correct.” Miriel finished for the prince.

Chrom’s mind reeled. He had thought his father was delusional when he spoke of Grima’s return. The fact that it was possible, that the fell dragon could truly rise again, sent the prince into a state of shock. He had heard that many dragons were sealed when they fell to madness, but every story he had heard about Grima said that the first exalt “destroyed” him.

“In conclusion based on the limited knowledge I was able to compile, it is my hypothesis that skilled Grimleal spell casters are able to receive Grima’s assistance through dark, or as they prefer to call it, elder magic. However, this is only one possibility I’ve developed from the exceedingly limited Plegian texts available to me.” Miriel concluded, adjusting her spectacles.  

“Thank you, Miriel. And please, remember, don’t let anyone else know about this.” Chrom told the mage, trying to keep his voice steady.

“Of course, Captain. I will take my leave now.”

And with that Miriel left, unaware of the magnitude of the information she had just given him. The prince was rattled. How does one wake a god? Would Grima even be sane if they revived him? Did the Grimleal care if he was or not? Doubts began to creep into the prince’s mind. Surely Robin must know about this, he had apparently used some sort of magic to possibly summon his god’s power. As head of the Grimleal, maybe he was even heading whatever plans they had to awaken their god. He had to find out. Perhaps it was some sort of misunderstanding, or Miriel’s theory was wrong. Either way, the prince would have to find some way to get the truth out of the hierophant. Between Chrom’s worries and the overbearing heat, sleep did not come easy.

Chapter Text

As promised, Robin gave them lessons on Plegian as they traveled. Despite what he said at the temple, the hierophant was a very patient and encouraging mentor. He started out by teaching them phrases that would be useful to them. Greetings, asking where things are, common vocabulary. Often times it was words they may hear in battle. Run, fall back, attack, help. Lissa was better at memorizing the words than Chrom, but half the time she stopped paying attention and missed what Robin was explaining. On the other hand, the prince had far more difficulty remembering the words, but he was more determined to learn than his sister.

When Lissa would inevitably fall asleep on the back of the camel, Robin would stop teaching Plegian and he and Chrom would talk. He tried to show Chrom how to navigate using the stars, but it was a bit complicated for the prince. The only thing that stuck was the staying star, Hamia , which always points north. Usually they discussed tactics and their travel plans. But sometimes, Chrom would tell a story of the Shepherds’ exploits. And in return Robin finally started to open up more. He told stories of exploring the desert with Tharja and Henry when they were younger. The prince’s favorite story so far was of when Robin caught Henry trying to sneak a wild sand cat back to the Dragon’s Table as a pet.

Chrom liked it when it was just the two of them. Robin would put his hood down, and stop referring to him as ‘Prince Chrom’. There was a strange thrill, hearing his name said so casually from the overly formal Robin. But despite their growing camaraderie, what the prince learned from Miriel weighed on his mind. Chrom wanted to ask the hierophant about it. As Falchion’s wielder it was his bloodline’s duty to fend off Grima once more, if need be. But the prince was worried he would ruin whatever growing friendship he and Robin had if he did. So he held his tongue, even as anxiety prickled in the back of his skull.

---

Lissa woke up a few hours before sunset, covered in sand, sweat, and still smelling of camel. She hated the desert, and would much rather have the bug infested forests of Ylisse at this point. The princess missed the mild weather of her home country too. She was sure she would die in the arid climate of the desert. The stifling heat of the day and the bone chilling cold at night was unbearable. With quite a bit of sleepy grumbling, she got dressed and shook the sand from her as best she could.

Most of the Shepherds were already up and about by the time Lissa crawled out of her tent. As she made her way to the mess tent, the princess gradually started to wake up. She made up a plate of dried fruits and meats, and joined her companions as they ate. While Lissa was attempting to chew her way through the tough dried rations they were having for their meal, Stahl sheepishly approached her. Like the rest of them, the cavalier was covered in sand and his green hair was stiff with it.

“Good morning, er, well night… I guess, Lissa.”

“Morning Stahl, did you need something?”

“Well, not me but…” he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Vaike has been refusing to cover his chest, and now he’s got a nasty sunburn. He won’t admit it, but I can tell he’s in a lot of pain. Can you do something for him?”

Lissa beamed at the cavalier. “Aw, Stahl you sweetie! You’re always so thoughtful of everyone else. And yeah, I’ve got just the thing for that idiot! A special ointment that soothes burns outta do it!”

“Thanks, Lissa… I just do what I can, I guess.” Stahl said, a slight blush to his cheeks from the praise.  

Quickly finishing off her meal, Lissa made her way to infirmary tent. Maribelle was not there yet, which made the princess a bit sad, but she would hopefully run into her friend later. Lissa quickly scanned the tall shelf of various potions, herbs, and jars looking for the bottle she needed. There it was! On the… top shelf… Standing on the tips of her toes, she stretched upwards, but was still far too short. Her slightly pathetic attempts to reach the shelf were interrupted when a familiar hooded figure slipped through the tent flaps.

“Ah, Princess Lissa.” the High Hierophant greeted, around the box they were holding.

“What are you doing in here? Did you need medicine?” Lissa asked worriedly, as she stopped trying to reach for the bottle.

“Hmm… What? Oh, no,” they waved their free hand dismissively. “I found a box of bandages mixed in with the armory supplies, and thought I would bring it here.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“What are you doing in here at this time? Did someone get hurt?”

“No, just Vaike being… Vaike. I’m just trying to get something for a sunburn he got, but it’s a bit high up.” Lissa pouted.

How embarrassing, some healer she was. She couldn’t even get to her supplies. The hierophant turned to look up at the ointment Lissa pointed at. She didn’t even think they could reach it. They weren’t much taller than her, after all. But to her surprise they nodded.

“Allow me, Princess Lissa.”

The familiar tingle of magic filled the air. And then Lissa watched in amazement as the hierophant's feet rose from the ground. Her hooded friend easily floated up several inches to grab the bottle.

“You can fly?!” the princess gasped, her eyes wide.

“No, it’s not flying, it’s levitating.” they said, gently lowering back to the ground and handing her the ointment.  “Plegian mages use runes on the bottoms of our shoes to float freely above the sands. It’s mostly just used for short bursts of movement in battle, as it takes quite a bit of concentration and stamina.”

“That’s amazing.” Lissa’s voice was full of wonder. She’d never heard of such magic before.

“You could probably learn to do it too.” the hierophant told her, smiling slightly.

“Really?!” the princess squealed.  

“Yes, all you need is an aptitude for magic. It does not matter what kind. Would you like me to show you?” they asked.

“Yeah! That is so cool!” Lissa bounced excitedly.

“And perhaps Tharja and Henry would be willing to teach Ricken and Miriel if they would like, as well. It would be best if everyone was as mobile as possible...” the hierophant said thoughtfully, mostly to themself.  

“Your mind’s always on the next battle isn’t it?” Lissa giggled. They were so air headed sometimes.

Her hooded friend chuckled. “Yes, I suppose. I must admit I like watching a plan come together on battlefield. But aside from that, we should take every advantage we can get.”  

“Yeah, that’s a pretty good reason.” Lissa mumbled more subdued, thinking once again of the seemingly impossible battle they had ahead.

“We have some time before we move on, maybe I can show you a bit before we break camp?” they offered.

“Yes!” the princess brightened again. “Oh! Um, first I’ve got to take care of Vaike. But I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Very well, meet me in the training area.”

After that the princess hurried away to find Vaike. Stahl wasn’t kidding when he said that their resident fighter had gotten a pretty bad sunburn. It was bordering on sun poisoning from what she could see. Lissa scolded him thoroughly, threatening to get Miriel to cast a spell to permanently attach a shirt to him. Grudgingly, he agreed and feeling relieved, the princess hurried to find the hierophant.

As promised they were waiting in the training area, their dark robe easy to pick out against the pale sands, glittering in the setting sun. The hierophant greeted her with a wave when they saw her.

“Alright then, Princess Lissa, give me your boots.”

“What the heck do you need my shoes for?” Lissa asked, baffled.
“To carve the runes into the bottom?” they responded teasingly.

“Oh, yeah, here.” Lissa quickly unlaced her boots and handed them to the hierophant. Under her socked feet, she could feel the heat of the sand seeping through the fabric, and had to resist the urge to hop from foot to foot.

Pulling out a small knife from somewhere inside their coat, the hooded figure quickly began carving into the souls of the princess's boots. Thankfully it did not take long and once they were finished, the hierophant handed Lissa her shoes back. She quickly slid them back on, glad to get her now sandy socks off the hot ground.

“Okay, to start,  I’ll show you how it’s done.” her friend said, holding out their hands for her to take.

She curled her fingers around the hierophant's gloved hands, and felt a tingle of magic. Then both of their feet lifted slightly from the sands, the hierophant's robe and her dress billowing a bit in the magic around them.

“Whoa! This is crazy!” Lissa exclaimed, and the hierophant chuckled.

“As with all magic, you must will the energy to do what you want, and direct it through the conduit. It’s just like a tome or healing staff, but this time imagine trying to levitate when you summon the magic.”

Lissa frowned slightly. That sounded easy enough. “I think I get it…”

“Are you ready to try it on your own, then?”

“Uh, yeah…” the princess said, but still hesitated, her grip tightening on their hands.

She was a bit nervous. Aside from healing staves, she’d never really used any other kind of magic. When it came to tomes, she had never had much luck calling spells like her older sister. Part of Lissa was afraid she wouldn’t even be able to use this type of magic at all, and it would be another thing she’d be unable to do properly.

“Come on, I’ve got you. You can do it.” her hooded friend coaxed.  

More than anything she wanted to be more useful to the Shepherds and Ylisse. So if she could just be the littlest bit more useful in battle…

“A-Alright, here goes!” Lissa stammered.

The princess took a deep breath, then she sent a blast of magic through the runes on bottoms of her shoes. But instead of floating gently under her own power, she rocketed up as if she’d just been launched from a catapult. Lissa only went up a few feet in the air, but she still let out a breathy shriek of surprise.

The hierophant laughed, their joined hands catching her from landing face first in the sand. “You do not need to channel that much magic into it, Princess!”

“Well how much do I need?! You said it took a lot of power!” Lissa’s face was beet red from her spectacular failure. At least the magic had worked.

“No, I said it took a lot of concentration and stamina.” they corrected.
“Same thing!” she protested.

“Not really.”

“So, how much magic should I use then?”

“Just a steady stream, like you would channel through a healing staff.”

“What in the world are you two doing, you’re making a lot of-” Chrom suddenly breezed out of one of the nearby tents, but stopped short when he saw the two of them floating a few inches above the sands.

“Chrom! Check it out! The High Hierophant is showing me how to fly!” Lissa grinned at his astonished face.  

“It’s not fly-” the hooded figure started, before Lissa cut them off.

“Now I’ll be able to get across the sand super fast to heal people!”

“That’s amazing. How are you doing that?” Chrom asked, circling the two of them with curiosity.

“Magic runes on the bottom of our shoes. It’s a common practice for Plegian mages.” the hierophant told her brother, lowering the two of them back onto the sands.

“I had no idea. That must make it easier to navigate the desert.” Chrom said with a smile.

“It certainly helps on the battlefield,” the hierophant said. “If it’s alright with you, perhaps Tharja, Henry, and I can teach Ricken and Miriel as well. I would offer Maribelle as well, but I think she is satisfied with her horse.”

Her brother nodded. “Sure, it would be a big help if not everyone was bogged down by the sands, and those two never turn down the chance to learn something new.”

“I know,” their hooded friend groaned. “Everyday Ricken comes to me with about twenty new questions about Plegian magic, and Miriel has taken to getting Henry to show her every hex he knows of late. Tharja is getting a bit fed up undoing all his spells. The stinking hex he casted in the mess tent was especially excessive.”

Lissa laughed a little, and her brother turned a bit pink.

“I apologize, I know those two can be a little overbearing at times…”

“No, I need to apologize just as much for Henry. If not more.” the hierophant shook their head.

“It’s not just the mages, I’ve been meaning to say I was sorry about all those bowls Sumia broke. I have no idea how she shattered every single one by dropping them in the sand.”

“Accidents happen, worse is that Tharja turned Vaike into a pig when she caught him trying to peep…”

“She was in the right there to be honest, and I think his time as a farm animal has taught him some manners at the very least.”

“You two sound like an old re-married couple complaining about your step children!” the princess broke in with a giggle.

The two looked at each other for a moment. A thoughtful noise came from under their hooded friend’s cowl. Chrom had gone even more pink at his ears, his expression slightly amused with a tinge of embarrassment.

“I wouldn’t go that far Lissa…” her brother muttered sheepishly. “Although, I suppose I see what you mean. Quite the eccentric gaggle of ‘children’ we have.” he shot a small smile at the hierophant.

“I want a divorce.” their hooded companion deadpanned, and Lissa cracked up.

For a moment her brother gapped like a fish, which caused the High Hierophant to lose their false composure and laugh with the princess. Then her brother frowned at their hooded companion, his face doing a great impression of a tomato.

“I get enough jokes at my expense from Lissa, I don’t need you in on it too!” Chrom huffed, crossing his arms.

“Are you sure? If your face can still turn such an interesting shade of red, surely you have not been embarrassed enough.” the hierophant continued to tease.

“Yeah Chrom, you look like a beet!” Lissa told him gleefully.

“Well it’s not fair when the two of you team up on me like this!”

“Alright, alright,” the hierophant acquiesced. “Come on Princess Lissa, let’s give your brother a break. I fear if he turns any redder the whole camp will think Henry hexed him into a tomato.”  

Lissa let out one more giggle, as their hooded friend shot her a mischievous grin. Her brother still looked a bit cross at the two of them, but he could tell it was all in good fun and couldn’t make his scowl have any real bite to it. Chrom took a deep breath, and his color finally started to improve. The hierophant cleared their throat, still smiling slightly.  

“Getting back on topic, did you want me to want me to teach the other mages how to levitate?”

“Yes, please. If you wouldn’t mind.” Her brother said, looking relieved they were not longer teasing him.

“I do not. Perhaps the next time we stop, I can teach them and Princess Lissa. Or ask Henry or Tharja to do so.” their hooded companion offered.  

“That’d be appreciated. Oh, actually I did come out here to ask you some questions about the strategy you showed me yesterday.” Chrom suddenly remembered.

“Of course, we can discuss it before we move on. Princess Lissa, do you mind if we cut this lesson short here for today?” the hierophant asked her.

Lissa shook her head. “No it’s fine, I’ve got to go help pack up the infarmy tent anyway.”

“Very well then. Sorry for the abrupt end Princess, I promise I will teach you later.” the hierophant said with an apologetic smile, and walked towards the strategy tent with her brother.

As the two of them left, Lissa stared hard at her brother. The expression he got on his face sometimes while near their hooded friend reminded her a lot of the way Sumia looked at Frederick. She had started to suspect he was developing feelings for the hierophant. But Lissa wondered if he even realized it himself. This was Chrom she was talking about. He was completely oblivious when it came to matters of the heart. But that got her thinking. Maybe he just needed a nudge in the right direction.

---

Robin woke well before dusk, breathless from a nightmare he couldn’t quite recall with a splitting headache. He shifted on the bedroll and let out a low groan. For nearly half an hour he just laid there, trying to ignore the stabbing pain behind his eyes. Migraines were a common occurrence, especially right when the hierophant woke up, and sometimes the pain was bad enough that it impaired his ability to even go about his day. But he knew no relief would come from trying to feint sleep, so eventually he dragged himself up to get dressed. It would hopefully fade within a few hours, the pain was already milder than it had been. Tharja was capable of brewing a remedy for the headaches, but the materials were hard to come by, so Robin only asked her for it when they were so bad he couldn’t see straight.

No one could say what the cause of the migraines were. It could be his nights of sleeplessness and stress. On the other hand, perhaps his body was just frail (he was prone to illness after all). Or maybe the it was the fact that his soul was a bit of a square peg in a round hole. Whatever the reason for the headaches, it really didn’t matter to Robin because there was nothing much to be done about them.

Outside his small tent, the camp was quiet under the blazing desert sun. With nothing better to do, the hierophant headed for the strategy tent. Once there, he rolled out some of his maps on the table and tried to concentrate around the knife like pain in his head. It would likely be another day of trekking through the sands, but at least there was a rather decently sized oasis not far from here. If they made good progress they could probably reach it by dawn. Thankfully, as the sun began to move towards the horizon and the Shepherd woke, Robin’s migraine dulled. At some point Tharja came along and forced him out of the tent to get food.

Before they were to set off again, Robin had battle practice with the sword wielder Shepherds to teach them how to fight against a khopesh. Unfortunately, the training was not going as well as Robin had hopped. Sully was too brash, and her hastiness made it nearly impossible for her to perform the counters that required precise timing. In opposition, Stahl was too timid, unwilling to take the risky openings needed to fend of the khopesh. Only Chrom and Gaius showed any real progress. The thief's nimble hands allowed him to quickly shift his sword, and parry without much trouble. As for the prince, his sword fighting was unorthodox enough that he could easily adapt to the maneuvers Robin showed him. His strange style made the hierophant wonder if he was self taught.

Not long afterwards they broke camp, and set out into the dunes once more. They traveled well, with the stars to guide them. During the journey, Robin continued his lessons on Plegian with the Ylissean royals, trying to focus past the charming smiles Chrom sent his way. As the sky began to lighten once more, they came upon a valley of sands stretched out before them. A large oasis shimmered softly under the growing sun, while the grasses and palms at its edges swayed gently in the breeze. Grima’s stark white skeleton twisted its way across the valley, and there was a small village in the distance. Perhaps they could restock some of their supplies, but it would be best not to linger…  

“It’s breathtaking… I never imagined the desert would be so beautiful.” Chrom said softly from his camel, as he looked out over the dunes.

The hierophant hummed in agreement. “You should see the western sands near the shore, they are the purest white and sparkle under the sunlight.”

“That does sound like quite a sight… What are those strange rock formations?” the prince asked, shielding his eyes from the rising sun.

“Not rocks, bones. Grima’s tail bones to be specific.” Robin corrected, pointing at the ridge of the dragon’s vertebrae.

“Grima’s tail bones?! But I thought you said his skull is in the capitol?” the prince exclaimed, glancing back at the hierophant.

“It is. I told you, He was immense.”

“Gods…” the prince breathed, and Robin had to resist the urge to squirm uncomfortably.

Sensing his unease, Shabdiz shifted beneath him, and Robin put a hand on the horse’s neck. It would be fine. They wouldn’t find out. Not much longer, and they would rescue the exalt, and Chrom and the Shepherds would return to Ylisse. That thought did not make him feel much better however. To his surprise, Robin had found himself growing rather attached to quirky Ylisseans. Well, most of them at least.

The Shepherds and their Plegian guides had just dismounted, intending to lead the horses and camels down the steep dunes when Frederick suddenly called out,

“Milord, there seems to be some manner of engagement downfield!”

Robin squinted through the breaking dawn. Not far off in the valley below, a small girl was running towards them, purple cape and long fair hair streaming out behind her. From what Robin could see, she was wearing a rather ridiculous outfit that barely covered any of her pale skin. How in the world did a child get into the middle of the desert? As she got closer, he could see the tears streaming down her face. But what stood out the most now that she was nearing them, were her long slender ears. Could she be..? No, that was impossible...

The girl dashed across the sands, scrambling up the dune they stood on and crashed into Robin’s midriff, nearly knocking him over. He had suspected from the pointed ears, but as her smell and aura hit him he was certain. A manakete, and a divine manakete at that. Robin had thought that their clan had all but died out long ago, even before Grima’s fall. Chrom and the others stared as the manakete clung tightly to him. Even Tharja, usually so quick to react, did not know what to do.

Hi fen aak zu’u! ” the girl implored in the ancient dragon tongue. You must help me!

Robin froze. She knew what he was, had smelled it on him just like Panne. Except the taguel had not known, not really. He was not sure if the Shepherds saw the girl for what she was, and he certainly did not want to let the Ylisseans know he spoke the dragon language... But he was not sure if the child spoke any human languages. Swallowing his fear, he responded,

Laan los folass?What is wrong?

Out of the corner of his vision, he saw Chrom’s eyes widen. The dragon language was passed on by blood and every dragon was born knowing it. Humans usually couldn’t understand or speak it, but perhaps the prince and his sisters would be capable of learning, if they tried. They had Naga’s blood after all. From his expression, Chrom recognized the language for what it was at the very least. Robin’s stomach dropped, but he pushed away the anxiety. This little dragon was clearly terrified, and in need of assistance.

Zu’u los kos nos! ” she cried burying her head into his chest. I am being attacked!

Indeed, Robin could see a number of foes racing across the sand dunes in the distance. But their robes, they almost looked like… Damn them. Those were Grimleal mages and soldiers. He swore. Didn’t hear what language it was in. Of all the times for these fools to cause trouble. How they had managed to find a manakete he had no idea, and he would almost have been impressed if he were not disgusted by them. Dragons could be made into many rare hexing materials, and Robin’s stomach turned nauseous at the thought of what they likely intended to do with the girl.

Mu fen aak hi ” he assured the manakete, wrapping an arm reassuringly around her small frame. We will help you.

Dragons and manaketes were clan, or pack oriented, and had strong protective instincts. Especially towards one another. Despite not technically being a manakete, Robin felt similarly compelled to protect the child from harm. He had read about the powerful dragon urges, but never experienced them until now. Grima’s blood ran strong, and perhaps his own dragon blood was why Chrom was always so selflessly throwing himself into danger for others. Robin turned back to the stunned Shepherds, and his retainers who looked very on edge. He did not blame them, this was the last thing he expected today.

“Prince Chrom, I am ashamed to say that this manakete is being chased by what looks like Grimleal soldiers. She’s asked for our protection, and I have told her we would help.” He told the prince in Ylissean, still holding the girl.

The prince gaped at him for a moment, “You can speak- Wait, members of the Grimleal?! But why-”

“I can hazard a guess, and I will explain later. But first we must deal with them.” Robin interrupted. He did not want to get into this right now, and anger was building below his calm exterior.

“Let me attempt to deter them before we have to engage. They may listen to-”

Suddenly an older man reached the top of the dune they stood on, panting for air. He appeared to be a mercenary, judging by the sword he carried. Though the man was not wearing Grimleal robes, Robin still shifted to better shield the dragon child from view and reached for his tome.

“There you is being. We must be making haste-” the man finally caught sight of the Shepherds and stopped as they drew steel. His accent was thick, and even Robin couldn’t place where he hailed from.

Bo zu’u kos! Leave me alone! The dragon shouted at the mercenary, hugging Robin tight enough to steal his breath.

“Please, be keeping down with the voice! You give away position! Very bad!” the mercenary whisper shouted, putting his hands up in supplication.

Not that it mattered how much noise they made, with their position at the top of the dune, they were clearly visible to those below. The Grimleal were already making fast headway towards them like true desert natives.

“Are you not with them?” the prince asked, hand on Falchion’s hilt.

“Gregor is not enemy! He is trying to protect little girl! You must believe!” the mercenary begged.

“Prince Chrom, they are getting closer.” Robin warned.

The prince looked torn for a moment before he spoke, “We'll sort him out later. Right now, we need to protect the girl.”

Robin gently patted the manakete’s back.“Kiir, gaar bo Child, let go .

Laan? ” she pouted, looking up at him with bright, watery, amethyst eyes. Why?

Zu’u los bo wah unt wah wahl niin vod ” he told her. I am going to try to make them leave.

Sulkily, the dragon let go of her death grip on the hierophant, and he tried not to wince at his aching ribs. Manaketes were supposed to be weak in their human forms, but clearly this girl had plenty of strength.

“Tharja, Henry, come with me. Let’s see if we can convince them to give up their little hunt. Prince Chrom, you and the Shepherds should still be ready to fight, should I be unable to reason with them.” Robin said, and his mages moved to his side.

“You’re going down there? Just the three of you against all of them?” Chrom asked in disbelief.

“I am hoping we do not come to blows, but yes. As I said I may be able to convince them to leave without a fight. If it comes to that, I suppose we’ll attempt to retreat.” the hierophant told him.

“That aside, how do we know that you aren’t going down there to join your followers in the fight against us?” Frederick suddenly came forward, hand on his axe.

“What?” Tharja growled at the great knight, as Robin felt his own blood heat.

“Frederick, are you serious?” the prince asked hotly. From Chrom’s expression, Robin could tell he was fighting against his quick temper.  

“They could easily join with their fellow Grimleal and slaughter us, Milord. Perhaps this was their plan all along.” Frederick said, his nose upturned and eyes shining with mistrust.

Before the prince could respond, the hierophant took an aggressive step forward.  

“There is no time for this Frederick,” Robin hissed, respect be damned. “I have had ample time and opportunity to kill all of you in the days we have been together. If I wanted the Shepherds dead, you would be, rest assured.”

“Was that a threat?!”

“No, it’s a fact.” the hierophant seethed.

The great knight looked angry enough to draw his weapon, and Robin would be more than happy to oblige him in a fight. His patience had been stretched to its breaking point where this man is concerned, and enemies were fast approaching. For a long moment the two of them glared at each other. Between the Grimleal below, and the knight before him, it had been a long time since Robin had been this angry.

The prince pushed between them. “Let’s all just calm down. Frederick, the High Hierophant has my trust. I highly doubt that they would help us this much just to kill us in the middle of the desert.”

“And yet there is a group of Grimleal soldiers headed right for us! You and your sisters may trust easily Milord, but gods forbid one of us keeps an appropriate level of caution!”

Chrom opened his mouth as if to dispute the great knights words, but Robin got there first.

“This is a meaningless conversation. I am going down there, and you cannot stop me.” Robin said flatly. If Frederick hates the Grimleal, there is no amount of arguing that can change his mind, and Robin will not waste his breath trying.

He tried to ignore the stares of the Shepherds around them. Tharja’s face was pale, and Henry’s smile had stretched especially wide, as it did when he was worried. But all the same, they followed Robin as he jumped off the dune, and used a pulse of magic to soften his landing. The three slogged through the sands for a few minutes, as the hierophant's temper continued to simmer. Hands on their weapons, Robin and his mages stopped some distance away as they met the Grimleal troops.  

You there, little Grimleal mages! Are you some sort of deserters?! Why are you three running with a pack of Ylissean dogs?! ” the wizened old mage yelled at them in Plegian, eyes on the fair skinned group on the dunes above.

The only dogs I see are you. Or maybe worms is a better description. ” Robin retaliated in his native tongue.

What was that?! Do you have any idea who you are speaking to?! Do you have a death wish?! ” the old man shouted in outrage.

No, but unless you idiots have death wishes of your own, you should probably leave. ” Tharja said with a dark smirk.

Not without that little manakete you stole from us! We’ll be sacrificing her to Grima, don’t think you can take the credit! ” one of the extremists yelled, and a few of the others jeered as well.  

The practice of sacrificing lives to Grima was outlawed centuries ago. ” Robin scowled.

During Grima’s descent into madness, He had delighted in watching His followers carry out senseless destruction. For the brief period where the dragon had ruled while losing His mind, it became common practice to kill in Grima’s name in the hopes of currying the mad god’s favor. Even after He was felled, the practice had continued for some time during the chaos that followed. Probably spurred on by superstition that such sacrifices would bring the god back, or amuse Him in His slumber. However, the practice was outlawed soon after some semblance of order was renewed to Plegia. And yet centuries later, fools like these still ran about the desert doing as they pleased.

Grima does not become strengthened by whatever ‘sacrifices’ you fools have been trying to lay at His feet. You all are nothing but mindless murders looking for justification. ” the hierophant said, voice dripping with contempt.  

That’s enough out of you child! Prepare for a dose of Grima's wrath! ” the old mage practically screeched, as the extremists readied their weapons.

If it’s Grima’s wrath you desire, allow me to provide it for you. ” Robin said coldly, pulling the glove off his right hand to reveal the Brand of the Defile.

There was a moment of shocked silence as the Grimleal stared at his marked hand, Grima’s insignia glowing with a soft purple light. Several of them fell to their knees groveling, and threw their weapons away. A few out right fled. But a majority of them held their ground smirking. Not good. The hierophant quickly slipped his glove back on. Robin had hoped that more of them would have at least run away... And then the wrinkled old mage sneered at him.

I have heard of you ‘High Hierophant’. You are not Grima, just a human shell meant to temporarily contain Him. I see no god, only a deluded child.

And I see no Grimleal, only traitorous fools. ” the hierophant countered.

There was a beat of silence and then the old mage moved to strike out. But Robin moved faster, unsheathing his khopesh and rushing for the man. The old mage was swifter than anticipated, and as he jumped back, the hierophant's attack only cut through the tome he held instead of flesh. Henry and Tharja quickly moved to cover Robin, as the rest of the Grimleal rushed to attack.  

Have some death! ” Henry cackled as he opened his Bolganone tome, and sent a jet of fire at their foes.

The Grimleal screamed and scattered, as the smell of burning flesh hit Robin’s nose. From there, their foes quickly descended into chaos, their leader temporarily magicless, and half of them swiping at the fire on their robes. Tharja grabbed the hierophant's arm and jerked him out of the way of a stray Elthunder spell. Henry, was not as lucky when a he did not jump back quickly enough to avoid a swordsman’s slash, taking a long cut to his forearm. Robin retaliated with an assured strike of his khopesh, which sunk deep into the man’s side. The hierophant kicked the swordsman away, ripping out his blade, and Tharja’s Ruin spell blasted another hole into the foes’ ranks.

In the confusion from the sorceress’s spell, Robin and his mages retreated swiftly back to the Shepherds, as what was left of the Grimleal extremists scrambled to regroup.

“It did not work.” he stated in Ylissean to the prince, slightly out of breath when he reached the top of the dune.

“Clearly. Are you okay?” Chrom asked.

“Yes, we should get into position. They will be on us shortly.”

The prince nodded, and on his commands, the Shepherds quickly fell into the battle formations that Robin had come up with during their stay at the temple. To his surprise however, the little dragon girl approached him instead of falling back.

Saaran het mu fen krif niin ” Robin told the manakete, as the Shepherds rallied around them. Stay here, we will fight them .

Zu’u los mul! Zu’u fen krif nu! ” she protested. I am strong! I can fight too!

Geh sarran naal wah mu ” he conceded. Fine, stay close to us. As a manakete, the girl would make a formidable foe in her dragon form.

Tharja, can you cover the manakete? ” Robin called to the sorceress in Plegian.

Your wish is my command. ” she chuckled darkly in kind, coming to stand next to the girl.

Below them, the Grimleal extremists had gotten themselves in order and were charging for them once more. It would not be an easy fight. They had many spell casters, who could easily take down the armored Shepherds… Suddenly a hand came down on the hierophant's shoulder startling him slightly, and he turned to find Chrom behind him, back from giving orders.

“Cover me?” the prince asked, his sword unsheathed and glimmering in the rising sun.

Robin didn’t want to admit it to himself, but the sight of Falchion unsheathed filled him with a deep primordial terror. Whether it was because it was a legendary dragon slayer or the sword that had sealed Grima away, he didn’t know. But he reminded himself that Chrom was his ally, that he could be trusted, that the prince did not know his true identity.

Ignoring his fear, the hierophant nodded, sheathing his bloody sword and unholstering his tome. Then he followed the prince into the fray. Chrom would likely play offensive, and Robin would be better served playing defense from a distance. As predicted the prince rushed ahead and slashed through the thin robes of the Grimleal mages, while Robin deflected their spells aimed at the prince with his own. Much like their first battle, the two worked well together. The prince’s fighting style was straightforward and easy to read, which allowed Robin to cast his spells around him. In turn Chrom was able to fend off any close ranged attackers that tried to interrupt his casting.  

All around them, the battle raged fiercely, as they waded deeper into the field. In a flash of light, and explosion of flower petals, the manakete girl shifted to her dragon form and let out a loud roar. With a great breath, she released a blast of white dragon fire, scorching the Grimleal that had foolishly charged her and Tharja. Henry fought next to Miriel, taking the front lines against the spell casters, despite his bleeding arm. Frederick and the other armored units grappled with the few cavaliers and sword wielders mixed in with the mages. Lissa and Maribelle kept well back from combat, with Gaius and Virion covering them when they had to take care of wounds.

Robin and the prince felled a few more Grimleal as they went, starting to sweat with the effort. They were getting close now, the hierophant could see the wizened old mage who headed the party not far ahead. Before they could reach him however, a lance wielding cavalier broke off from fighting Stahl and charged right for them. There wasn’t time for a warning, so Robin grabbed the prince’s cape and yanked him backwards. As Chrom stumbled, the enemy’s lance missed him by a hair. Not giving the cavalier a chance to recover, Robin stunned his charging horse with Thoron. A flash of blue rushed past him and Chrom finished it’s rider with a well placed slash of Falchion.

“Thanks.” the prince puffed, wiping blood from his cheek.

Robin nodded heavily. “Let’s put an end to this.”

For a long moment Chrom just stared at him, before he nodded in agreement. Was that pity he saw in the prince’s eyes? Together the two of them approached the now unprotected Grimleal mage.

Come then Vessel, show me whatever pitiful power you hold. Even if you die another can be forged in time for Grima’s wakening. ” the mage taunted in Plegian, and Robin’s stomach tightened.

But he had heard far worse, and the prince’s reassuring presence beside him allowed the hierophant to brush past the cruel words. Quick as a Plegian viper, the Grimleal mage pulled out his Nosferatu tome, and sent a blast of magic at them. Both Robin and Chrom jumped aside to avoid the dark energy, with the prince rushing the mage. The Grimleal extremist hissed as Falchion cut across his abdomen, but he managed to score a glancing blow to Chrom.

Robin fired a jet of lightning at the man as the prince stumbled back from the foe’s spell. However, the wizened mage deflected it, and sent another blast of Nosferatu back at Robin. The hierophant rolled out of the way and sent a return blast of Thoron, which struck the man in the chest. With a heavy thump, the mage finally collapsed into the sands.

Master Grima...my life force...is yours… ” the old mage gasped out, and Robin looked away in disgust as his face went slack.

Behind them, the rest of the battle had finished. A good portion of the previously peaceful valley sands were stained with red, and Robin sighed sadly. He was so very tired of seeing Plegia’s soil soaked with blood. Re-holstering his tome, he turned to the prince beside him.

“Are you okay, Chrom?” Robin asked, pulling his hood back a bit to examine the small patch of raw skin on the prince’s upper arm. It seemed he’d gotten the man injured again.

Chrom smiled at him. “I’m fine, it just stings a little. It happens in battle.”

Robin opened his mouth to apologize, but the prince spoke before he could.

“What about you?”

“I am fine. Not a scratch.” the hierophant said almost bitterly. It seemed like everyone around him always took the brunt of the damage instead.

“That’s good, but I meant about whatever that man said to you.”

At Robin’s confused look, the prince elaborated.

“I couldn’t really understand the words, but well… The tone was pretty obvious, and it seemed like it got to you...”

Clearly, Chrom was more observant than Robin had first thought.  

“It’s nothing I have not heard before. Do not trouble yourself over it.”

“Alright, Robin. But I’m here if you want to talk about it.” the prince told him with that soft and compassionate look on his face that made Robin’s heart squeeze.

“Thank you, Chrom.”

***

After the battle, Robin was cleaning the blood from his blade with Tharja nearby bandaging the wound Henry had taken, when the young manakete sought him out. As did the royal siblings, and unfortunately Frederick. No doubt they wanted answers, but to his relief the manakete pounced on him before they could start asking.

Kogaan ” she told him happily. Thank you. And then after a moment, “ Zu’u drey ni prodah wah koraav un fron het I did not expect to see our kin here.

Neither had he. “Pruzah grind goraan gein” he said with a smile. Well met young one.

She wrinkled her nose at him, “Hi los joor fah aan dovah You smell human for a dragon.

Laan ” he said vaguely. Perhaps . Then, “ Fen hi dein nii vonun? Can you keep it a secret? he asked her, with a meaningful look at the Shepherds that stood by watching them converse. The manakete eyed them curiously.

Nust dreh ni mindok? They do not know?

Nid zu’u dreh ni laan niin wah No, I do not want them to . Frederick would probably try to gut him on the spot, and he didn’t want to know what Chrom and the others’ reactions would be. No need to start a witch hunt.

She nodded solemnly in understanding. “Zu’u vaat fen ni fun I promise I will not tell .

A wave of relief washed over the hierophant.

Laan los hin rok? ” she asked tugging happily on his coat sleeve. What is your name?

Robin, nuz dar los aan vonun nu ” he told her with a tight smile. Robin, but that is a secret too. It may have been his dragon blood getting the better of him, but he felt like he could trust the girl with his name. It was probably foolish, but he couldn’t help himself.

Geh, ” the manakete agreed. Okay. “Miin rok los Nowi My name is Nowi. A traditional dragon name from the old tongue he presumed.

Dreh hi tinvaak aan joor rot? ” Robin asked. Do you speak a human language?

“Perhaps.” she parroted teasingly in Ylissean. Thank the gods. The dragon tongue was exhausting to speak in, his knowledge of it barely his own and several millennia old. He had to rack his brain for almost every word, and Grima’s thousands of years of memories were a nightmare to sort through.  

Chrom and the others perked up when the manakete switched to their language.

“Thanks again for saving me,” Nowi told Robin, before turning to the Shepherds, “And you guys too! My name is Nowi, and I’m a dragon! I guess that’s why those creepy people kidnapped me and brought me here from across the ocean.”

“What kind of scumbags kidnap a little girl?! Even if she can turn into a dragon…” Lissa broke in with an outraged gasp.

Robin chuckled a little. “She may be little, Princess Lissa, but not nearly so young by human standards as you might think. Manaketes live a very long time.” Grima had been nearly four thousand years old, about the same age as Naga at the time, before His fall over a thousand years ago. Which was still not even near the oldest the dragons could grow to be.

“Really? ...How old are you?” Lissa asked peering at the girl.

Nowi hummed in thought for a moment. “Oh, I dunno. ...A thousand...something? But look! No wrinkles!”

Barely an adolescent dragon then. While they were young, manaketes aged about one year in appearance for every one hundred years they lived. Although as they grew older that stopped being the case. Lissa and Chrom gaped at the girl, but Frederick was too busy staring daggers at Robin to react.

“Pray tell hierophant, what language was that?” the great knight asked his eyes narrowed.

“Ah, well-” gods what could he say to throw Frederick off?

Tharja stalked closer and opened her mouth as if to say something cutting, but Nowi came to his rescue first.

“It’s my native tongue from a place far away from here! Way across the sea!” she exclaimed happily gesturing to the west.

“We have more important things to discuss Frederick.” Chrom cut in, glancing at Robin. Oh, he definitely knew.

“Yes, like why exactly a band of Grimleal attacked us, even though they are supposedly aiding us. Do you want to tell us why your people just tried to kill us?” Frederick’s voice was slightly unsteady and thick with accusations, his weapon still drawn from the battle.

“Those were no Grimleal of mine. If you did not notice they attacked me as well.” Robin hissed, watching the great knight closely.

Despite Chrom’s obvious trust in the man, Frederick had been exceedingly difficult since day one. And Robin has had just about enough, as his hand tightened reflexively on his khopesh. At the tense atmosphere, Tharja’s fingers wrapped threateningly around her tome, and Henry’s smile stretched wide. Even Nowi’s hand drifted to her dragon stone. Their readying for an attack suddenly sapped Robin’s anger from him, leaving him empty and cold. Sighing, the hierophant put up a halting hand, and the three backed off. He did not want anymore bloodshed today.

The look in the great knight’s eyes… Robin had seen it before. In those who had seen too much carnage, far too young. The haunted, panicked expression of someone whose trauma ran deep. Understanding blossomed suddenly. Frederick was old enough… Yes something must have happened during the last war. Ylisse had brought unspeakable horrors to their lands, but the people of Plegia, especially the unchecked members of the Grimleal, had responded in kind. It did not excuse the man but...

“Enough, Frederick,” Chrom warned glancing at the mages. “At least give the High Hierophant a chance to speak.”

Frederick seemed to have half a mind to argue, and he did not put his weapon away. He was waring between his deep seated mistrust and the obvious displeasure on his lord’s face. Eventually his loyalty won out and he at least lowered the axe, a slight tremor to his hands that only Robin noticed.

“Fine, then. Explain.” Frederick demanded.

“The Grimleal are… not united in their ideals.” the hierophant told them, trying to think of how best to explain the situation.

“What do you mean?” the prince asked.

“There are two main factions in the order. Those who follow me in Grima’s teachings before His fall into madness are one side. We believe that we must strive for meaning in our lives because they end, and that we must only kill or destroy to protect. That death is a natural part of life.” Robin explained, sheathing his clean sword. “And then there are those who adhere to His teachings during the time of madness, such as most of my cardinals in the order. They believe that Grima will cleanse the world of humanity’s sinful nature, and that destruction and death are a means to a justifiable end.”

“That doesn’t sound like one religion at all… Those sound totally different!” Lissa said.

“The only thing we all agree on at the moment is that Grangel needs to be dealt with. However, we do disagree on why and how. And I, like many, am hesitant to start a second civil war in Plegia in trying to get the two sects to cooperate.” he told them dryly.

“Would there really be that much conflict if you tried to unite the Grimleal?” Chrom asked, his brows pulling together.

“Yes. I am not exaggerating when I say that a war might start if I tried to bring them together as things stand. Are there no factions in the Church of Naga?” Robin asked.

“No… There are some different interpretations of Naga’s teachings, but none so vastly different like that.” the prince told him.

The hierophant sighed. “I suppose that is to be expected. Naga still lives, and can easily guide her followers. Plegia has been without a god for over a thousand years, it’s no surprise that the those of Grimleal faith have drifted in their beliefs.”

“I’m guessing those guys we fought were part of that scary sounding faction?” Lissa asked, pulling a face.

“Not quite,” Robin shook his head. “It’s true there are many among the Grimleal that do not think my ideals and I are worth following, but they at least follow the laws of the order. However, some ‘devotees’ ignore our rules entirely. The Grimleal we just fought were extremists of the faith, who intended to sacrifice Nowi to Grima and use her for hexing parts.”

At his words, the manakete whimpered and grabbed the back of Robin’s robe. He placed a comforting hand on her head in return.

“Usually, such criminals are banished from the order or hunted down, but the Grimleal is stretched thin as it is with the Mad King…” the hierophant sighed.

If only he weren’t so weak, then maybe his land would not be so rife with problems. It was pathetic. Why did he have to be-

The prince’s words jarred him from his thoughts. “So, with the majority of the order distracted-”

“Fools like those rove the sands killing whatever they please.” Tharja cut in before Robin could even attempt to muster an answer.

“I’m glad we ran into them though! I haven’t had that much fun during a fight in ages! And now they’re dead, so they can’t cause anymore problems for us!” Henry cackled.

“Yes, I suppose…” Robin agreed tiredly, and then with a pointed look at the manakete still clutching his robe, “Is that all you needed to know? We do have another issue to discuss.”

Frederick looked decidedly unsatisfied, but Chrom nodded and turned to the little manakete, who shied away slightly.

“What will you do now, Nowi? Do you plan to try and return home?”

The dragon started crying at that, and the prince froze as she sobbed, “I-I don’t know. I’m not even sure where it is from here. This is the worst day ever!”

“You could stay with us for a while. We have a mission to carry out, but afterwards I would be happy to help you try to get back home if you would like.” Robin told her kindly, trying not to laugh at Chrom’s stricken expression from making the child cry.

“Really?” she brightened instantly, fat tears still falling down her face.

“Of course.”

Nowi grabbed him in another crushing embrace. “Then I’ll stay! And I’ll help you beat up mean people too!”

In the end, the strange sell sword, Gregor, joined them as well. From what Chrom had said, the mercenary had been hired by the Grimleal extremists for a job. When he found out what exactly they had planned, he decided to help the manakete escape. However, Nowi had misunderstood his intentions and taken off without him. The two of them made strange additions to their ragtag group, but Robin was grateful for the extra man power they would have.

Nowi in particular was a welcome addition to the team. Having a dragon at their disposal opened up many more strategic possibilities for the rescue of Exalt Emmeryn. Not only that, but he feared what would have happened to the manakete if the Shepherds had not run into her when they did. The appearance of a group Grimleal extremists had upset Robin greatly. He had fought them in the past before of course, hunted some of them down himself for their crimes. But he hadn’t wanted the Shepherds to see them. They confirmed every terrible story that Ylisse had about Plegia. Even if they were just a tiny portion of the population... He could feel the Ylisseans’ eyes on him the rest of the day.

---

In the wake of the battle, the Shepherds and their Grimleal guides set up camp in the valley next to the oasis as the sun rose. Luckily, the ever prepared Frederick had insisted on having extra tents and bedrolls, so Nowi and Gregor don’t have to share with anyone. Thanks once again to Robin’s tactics, no one had suffered more than cuts and bruises in the battle. Along with the ample water for cleaning off, and the fresh ingredients purchased from the nearby town by Henry for their meal, the Shepherds were in good spirits.

But even with the lighter atmosphere, Chrom was too restless to sleep. He couldn’t help but stare at Grima’s bones. Just the small tail bones were the size of cliffs. How does a man even challenge a god the size of a mountain? Their looming presence made the small ball of dread that had formed in Chrom’s gut grow wildly. If Grima rose again… What could he even do about it? Something so powerful… How had the first exalt even managed it?

He needed to talk to Robin about it. As much as he dreaded having to bring up the Grimleal religion, keeping the world safe far outweighed their budding friendship (Although he would much prefer to have both a world safe from Grima, and Robin’s companionship). Fighting those other Grimleal earlier had steeled Chrom’s resolve. More than just knowing Miriel’s suspicions, he wanted to hear the truth from his friend. Hopefully the hierophant would still be awake, even with the sun already well over the horizon and most of the Shepherds turned in.

“Robin?” the prince called softly outside the hierophant's tent.

“You can come in, Chrom.”

At Robin’s words, the prince stepped into the tent, trying to keep the conflicted look off his face. The hierophant sat on his bedroll, his cloak pooled on the floor around him. He had a stack of books next to him, and paused his reading at the prince’s entrance. Giving Chrom a soft smile, his friend patted the space next to him and the prince sat. It was not unusual for the prince to visit Robin in his tent, either for casual talks, or extra lessons on Plegian. However, this was the first time the prince had ever been nervous to be in the hierophant's tent. For a few moments Chrom didn’t say anything, unsure of how to start the conversation he needed to have.

Looking slightly concerned, his friend broke the silence. “Did you need someth-”

“That was the dragon language, Robin.” Chrom interrupted quietly without any pretext.

Robin flinched. The prince had let it go earlier, covered for him even, but Chrom was not going to drop it this time.

“Yes.” the heirophant admitted.

“Where in the world did you learn to speak that? The Grimleal? Books?” Chrom questioned.

There was a pause as Robin hesitated, staring into the prince’s eyes before looking away.

“It was… passed down to me.”

For a long moment there was more silence. Vague as usual, but at least it didn’t seem like a lie. Where Robin was ambiguous and crafted his words carefully, Chrom was straightforward, and liked to cut right to the heart of the matter. Perhaps it was just Robin’s nature as a tactician, who had to disguise army movements. Or maybe he had learned to keep secrets from growing up under the shroud of the mysterious Grimleal order.

“Fine. I won’t press you for the full answer. But at least tell me this,” Chrom said, then steeled himself. “Does you knowing the dragon language have something to do with Grima?”

The hierophant stiffened, and put his book aside without marking his page.

“You could say that…” Robin’s, voice was steady, but edged. “Chrom, what exactly are you after here?”

The hierophant's wary red eyes finally returned to his, and the prince took a steadying breath under the heavy gaze.

“Robin… Is it true that Grima wasn’t actually killed by the first exalt?”

“Yes? Did I not say as much when we first discussed the Fire Emblem?” the hierophant informed him, as if it were obvious.  

“But, in Ylisse it’s said that the first exalt killed the fe- Grima!” Chrom nearly slipped again in his distress, but quickly caught himself.

“It seems bit arrogant of your ancestor to claim that he had killed a god.” Robin said with a sad half smirk.

“I-I guess…” Chrom responded nervously. He was definitely tiptoeing around a delicate subject.

The hierophant hummed in thought, as he considered the prince. “I am not sure what the full story is in Ylisse, but the truth is that Grima’s life force still exists, sealed away by Naga’s power and Falchion’s edge.”

“Is it possible for Grima’s soul to come back? The Grimleal… are searching for a way to break that seal, aren’t they?” the prince asked.

“Perhaps…” Robin mused, and then choosing his words carefully, “Although, with the current state of the country we have more pressing matters to focus on.”

“Robin, please... I have to know. Grima’s awakening could spell disaster. You’re the head of the order aren’t you? So you’d have to know about it...” Chrom prompted, hand worrying Falchion’s hilt.

The hierophant’s gaze dropped down to the prince’s grip on his sword, then flicked away. Realizing that the action may have seemed threatening, the prince let go of Falchion as if it had burned him. For a long moment, Robin did not answer, his tired scarlet eyes fixed on a point far in the distance.

“Falchion’s seal was meant to last for a very long time. No one knows for sure when Grima’s soul will fully wake.”

“But you must have some idea of when it will happen.”

“How do you know He hasn’t already awoken?” the hierophant joked weakly.

Chrom’s unease grew at Robin’s poor deflection. He felt fear creeping in. If the hierophant was avoiding his questions, he had to know something… Something he wouldn’t tell the prince. He trusted Robin, but his unwillingness to answer was worrying.

“Robin-”

They were interrupted by the sound of footsteps outside the hierophant's tent. Tharja’s low purr asked something in Plegian, and Robin pulled his cloak on before calling back. The sorceress entered, and said something else in Plegian. Her dark eyes shifted to Chrom, who was still sitting next to her charge, and she glowered at him. After she finished speaking, Robin sighed deeply and stood up.

“Sorry to cut our conversation short Prince Chrom, but apparently Shabdiz is running amok. Tharja says that Sumia accidentally let him loose while feeding the other horses. I have to go try and get him under control before he severely injures someone.”  

“...Right, of course.”

Frustration and disquiet churning in his gut, Chrom left the tent after his friend and headed for his own. Robin had deflected his questions, but he hadn’t kicked Chrom out of his tent for asking them. Perhaps the prince was being naive, but he believed that Robin’s wouldn’t lie to him. He danced around the truth of course, but… the hierophant had said that he wanted to trust Chrom. And the prince already trusted Robin. Although he wasn’t sure he trusted the rest of the Grimleal. Chrom would just have to try again, he was sure that Robin would tell him eventually.

***

A few more days of travel passed without incident. Nowi and Gregor settled easily into the ranks of the Shepherds, the manakete in particular was making fast friends with the younger members. She had even gotten rather close to the reclusive Robin, always trailing after him asking to play. Sometimes he would indulge her with a game or two, along with Lissa and Ricken. And speaking of the hierophant… Robin had not been avoiding Chrom since their conversation on the Grimleal exactly, but he no longer sought the prince out to speak privately. And lately, he hadn’t been in his tent when Chrom would come by looking for him. The prince felt the loss of his friend’s camaraderie as a dull ache in his chest.

It was especially strong when they would have discussions on strategy and traveling with the others. Having the Shepherds or the Plegian mages nearby only seemed to accentuate the distance Chrom felt between Robin and himself.  

“We are not far now, within the next day or so we should arrive in the capitol.” the hierophant said during one such meeting, his words punctuated by a yawn.

Maybe it was how closely he had been watching his friend lately trying to find an opening to talk, but Chrom noticed he seemed especially tired of late.

“I have come up with a promising strategy for your approval,” Robin told the group, handing Chrom a few sheets of parchment with the details. “Basically, with Nowi’s help, I think that we may be able to pull this off. Dragon scales are not easily penetrated, especially not by arrows or projectiles. With her acting as defense, Sumia should be able to easily retrieve the exalt after we clear the skies of wyvern riders. I do not relish the idea of putting a child in the line of fire, but it’s our only option.”  

“I don’t either, but it’s the best plan we’ve got.” Chrom agreed.

The hierophant nodded, before covering up another yawn. Tharja was hovering very close to her charge, and every time he yawned her expression darkened. In between anxious glances at Robin, she shot Chrom the occasional scowl when she caught him watching the hierophant as well. Robin quickly explained the rest of the strategy in depth to the Shepherds, but the prince was having a hard time concentrating.

“Well, I think that’s about it. You all should look over the plans and let me know if you have anything to add. I will go speak with Nowi about her role, and if she is alright with it.”

“I shall speak with Sumia, then.” Frederick said, with a challenging look, as if he thought Robin would disagree.

But the hierophant only nodded, and began gathering up his plans and maps on the table. As the rest of the Shepherds began to file out around them, the prince approached Robin.

“Are you alright?” Chrom asked worriedly, reaching out to grab his friend’s shoulder, but thought better of it and dropped his hand.

“I am fine, just a bit tired.” Robin dismissed, not even bothering to look up from the table.

Tharja asked the hierophant something in Plegian, which Chrom only caught the word for food. But knowing Robin it was easy to guess that the sorceress had just asked him if he’d eaten. The hierophant mumbled something into his cowl that sounded like ‘no’, and his retainer huffed in exasperation. Tharja practically shoved the hierophant out of the tent, ignoring his noises of protest. Despite his worry and melancholy, the prince couldn’t help but chuckle at the familiar display.

That night in the mess tent, Chrom was sitting with his sister and a few of the Shepherds. Usually Robin and his mages would join them when one of them dragged him in for food. However, lately he had taken to sitting with different tables every night. It could be passed off as Robin wanting to get to know the other Shepherds better, but Chrom knew it was partially because he did not want to be cornered by the prince again.

There was conversation going on around him, but the prince could not bring himself to focus on it. His eyes kept straying to the hooded figure a few tables down, who was listening to some story Gaius was telling. Chrom couldn’t hear them but the thief made wild gestures with his hands and both Robin and Henry’s shoulders shook from laughter. The prince felt a strange longing in his stomach as he watched them. He desperately wanted to speak with Robin again.

Soon the hierophant finished and rose to leave the tent. Chrom stood up to follow Robin in the hopes of speaking to him once more, not seeing the strange looks from those at his table as he left without a word. At this point he would take a casual conversation about the weather. The prince had been willing to lose their friendship over his probing questions, but now that he had neither answers or Robin’s camaraderie, he was feeling a bit regretful. He had only taken a few steps after the hierophant's retreating back when-

“Not so fast, Princeling,” Tharja said, stepping into his path. “We need to talk. Alone.”

Her sudden appearance startled him. Where in the world had she come from? Despite being far shorter than him, the sorceress was intimidating. Chrom trusted Robin, but Tharja was a ruthless enigma to him. She seemed just as likely to seduce someone as to gut them. Even morbid, death loving Henry was easier to get a read on. No, the prince didn’t relish the idea of talking with her alone. But he couldn’t think of any reason to refuse her.

“Ah, um… of course.”

“Then let’s go somewhere more… private.” Tharja smiled thinly.

She lead him to the strategy tent, which was conspicuously absent of the hierophant or Frederick. Tentatively, Chrom leaned on the table and turned to face the Plegian mage.

“So, er, what is it you wanted to talk about Tharja?”

“Robin, obviously.” she said, picking at her nails.

Chrom froze.

“R-Robin? Who’s that?” the prince almost slipped off the edge of the table. Apparently he was still a terrible liar, because Tharja gave him a knowing smirk.

“Oh, don’t play dumb. I know all about your little secrets with Robin.”

Chrom was aghast. “Y-You do? But how-”

“I’m very good at hiding, and his business is my business. Robin was deluding himself if he thought I wouldn’t find out.” She purred, and Chrom suddenly felt very worried for his friend.

“I already swore that I wouldn’t tell anyone about him. You may not trust me, but I keep my promises.” the prince vowed, holding the sorceress’s gaze.

“I’m aware, Princeling. If I thought you would give up Robin’s secret, you’d already be dead.” Tharja told him flatly.

“Then what is this about?” Chrom asked, feeling a little confused and increasingly nervous.

“I was content to let the issue of Robin’s identity lie, until you started poking your nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

The answer dawned on Chrom. “You mean asking about Grima and the Grimleal, don’t you?” Then his face morphed into a horrified expression.“Wait, were you eavesdropping?!”

Her smirk was answer enough.

“Hmph, what did you think you would gain by trying to pry into the Grimleal?”

Had the hierophant's horse even gotten loose? Or if he had, was Tharja actually responsible? If the sorceress had felt the need to get Robin out of their last conversation… Then the three Plegians did know something about Grima’s slumber. Something they were not willing to share. At this sudden realization, the frustration he had been feeling for the past few days, between Robin avoiding him, the battle ahead, and his inability to get a straight answer out of any of the Plegians boiled over into anger. And in his recklessness, Chrom threw caution to the wind.

“I’m trying to get answers, of course! Robin’s the head of the order, and you and Henry are his protectors, right? So you have to know about whatever plans he or the Grimleal have to bring back Grima! As Falchion’s wilder it’s my responsibility to protect the world from him if I have to! What if your god is revived, and is still insane? Did any of you ever consider that he might try to destroy-”

“If Grima were truly lost to madness, trust me when I tell you that Robin would not allow Him to awaken. Despite what you Ylisseans seem to think, most of the Grimleal do not long for the destruction of the world either.” Tharja interrupted, voice low and her eyes full of malice.

As Chrom’s temper burned out at her words, he knew he had gone too far. He opened his mouth to recant, to apologize, but the sorceress was not done. She leaned forward, putting her hands on either side of the table, pinning Chrom against its edge.

“If our situations were reversed, don’t you think that your people would want Naga back even if she had lost herself? That they would take any chance they could get to revive her? Can you even imagine what it was like for our people? Most of them didn’t know what had befallen Grima, that he was losing Himself. Our one and only protector was just suddenly cut down by the first exalt without even a proper explanation to the people of Plegia, and over a thousand years of suffering began.” Tharja snarled in his face.

“I-” Chrom started, only to be cut off again.

“Do you have any idea how Robin must have felt… to have the descendant of the man who felled Grima asking about his revival? The son of the man who led a genocidal conquest against our people? Why?! So you can cut ‘the fell dragon’ down again and start war anew against the heathens, son of Naga?! How dare you… You have no right to ask for Grimleal secrets. Especially not from Robin.” she hissed, invading his personal space.

Tharja had spoken true. If their situations were reversed, there was no way the people of Ylisse wouldn’t be desperate to have Naga back. And more than that… He never intended to make Robin feel uncomfortable for his beliefs. Nor did he think the soft spoken and compassionate hierophant would let a an insane god loose on the world. Shame washed over Chrom as he realized how terrible he probably made Robin feel during their last discussion. No wonder his friend had been avoiding him. He would have to apologize.

“Wait, Tharja! Let me speak!” the prince grabbed her wrist, as she moved to take hold of her tome. “I’m sorry, I-I wasn’t thinking... I didn’t mean to imply that the Grimleal were wrong for wanting their god back, or that you all wanted to see the world ruined… And I certainly didn’t mean to make Robin uncomfortable. It’s just… growing up most Ylisseans, but especially my sisters and I, were taught to fear Grima… That his roar is a death knell for mankind. So hearing that he wasn’t actually gone… I… may have jumped to conclusions...”   

For a moment there was silence as Tharja considered the prince and his words. The prince hoped she could see the sincerity in his face, and know that he spoke the truth. Tharja’s dark eyes were unreadable as ever, and Chrom wondered anxiously if she was deciding to hex him or not. But then she looked away.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked. Even half the people of Plegia fear their own god.” Tharja muttered, pulling her wrist from his grasp.

Then she finally moved back, no longer trapping the prince.

“For some reason I can’t fathom, Robin likes your company. So I can’t hex you inside out. But if you ever callously bring up such a subject with him again… Well… accidents do happen…” the sorceress trailed off suggestively.

“You’re right, I shouldn’t have tried to pry like that. I won’t press Robin for answers he doesn’t want to give.” Chrom assured. But he feared upsetting his friend for more than the sorceress’s threats.

“If you’re smart you’ll keep that promise. Consider this a first, and last warning.” Tharja held his stare as she spoke, her eyes dark as the night sky. With one last glare at him, she glided out of the tent on cat like feet.

The prince sagged against the table once more. He felt foolish for thinking that Robin would allow Grima to ravage the world. True, they had only known each other for about a month, but in that time, the person he had come to know would never do such a thing. Even if some of the stray members of the Grimleal wanted to see humanity burn, surely the High Hierophant would not allow it. Chrom had let his emotions get the better of him as usual, letting his fear guide him. Tomorrow, the prince would apologize to Robin. They were coming up on the battle for his sister, and he did not want to leave things unsaid between them. One thing was for certain at least. He’d have be careful of Tharja and her eavesdropping from now on.

Chapter Text

Another night of travel passed and as the sun started to rise once more, Chrom was determined to get a moment alone with Robin. Tomorrow they would finally reach the capitol, just in time for Emmeryn’s scheduled execution. Anything could happen, and the prince did not want to go into the battle without first apologizing to his friend. The prince wandered around their camp set up in the shifting sands, looking for any sign of the familiar hooded cloak.

He finally spotted it, stark against the golden desert sands, as Robin stood watching Lissa in the training area. His sister was finally starting to get the hang of levitation. Miriel and Ricken had picked it up quickly, but Lissa was having trouble still. The hierophant had no qualms about giving her extra lessons though, and now it seemed to be paying off as the prince watched his sister bob gently above the sand.

When she saw him, Lissa gave a cheery wave.

“Did you see that Chrom? I’m practically a master now!”

“You have certainly improved.” Robin chuckled.

Chrom nodded, then teased, “Much better than the other day, when you were showing off without looking where you were going and took out the storage tent.”

“Chrom! You promised you wouldn’t tell!” his sister pouted turning pink, while Robin covered his mouth obviously holding back laughter.

“Anyway, bro, did you need something?” his sister grumbled.

“I was actually hoping to speak with the High Hierophant about something.” Chrom said, trying to muster up a friendly grin despite his nerves.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Robin stiffen slightly. Lissa’s eyes widened and then quickly narrowed as she got a strange knowing grin on her face. The hierophant opened his mouth, most likely to try and find an excuse to turn Chrom down, but the princess spoke before he had the chance.

“Right, well, I’ll leave you to it! I promised I’d meet up with Maribelle now anyway!”

Lissa then gave Chrom a wink and wiggled her eyebrows, which left him completely baffled. His sister ran off, leaving the prince and Robin standing together awkwardly at her abrupt exit. They were alone now, this would probably be his best chance. Next to him, Robin shuffled his feet nervously.

“Ah, well then… I guess I should go start packing up if the princess is cutting our lesson short. I will see you later, Prince Chrom.” the hierophant told him, and the prince’s chest hurt at the use of the title despite the fact that it was just the two of them.

Chrom reached out on impulse, gently catching Robin’s wrist as he turned to leave, and he felt his friend go ridged under the contact.

“Can I talk to you please? I have something I want to say before…” Chrom trailed off hesitantly. He wouldn’t force the hierophant to talk to him, but he didn’t want to leave things as they were.

Robin seemed to consider him for a moment, and then he must have seen something in the prince’s expression because he nodded.

“Alright… Let’s go to my tent.” his friend said, sounding weary and defeated.

“Lead the way.” the prince responded, a hopeful feeling inflating in his chest despite the hierophant's tone.

And then, realizing that he was still holding onto Robin’s arm, a slight blush rose on Chrom’s cheeks and he let go. His friend motioned for the prince to follow and the two of them walked across camp to Robin’s tent. When they got there, they both settled on the ground. The hierophant lowered his cowl, but did not meet Chrom’s eyes. For a moment they sat in silence, before the prince cleared his throat and tried to ignore his anxiety.  

“Er, well… first I suppose, I should tell you that Tharja found out about our secrets.” Chrom confessed, looking down.

Robin stiffened for a moment, then groaned, putting a hand to his face. “I suppose it was rather naive of me to think she would not… She has a bad habit of sneaking around.”

Chrom rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. At least it seemed as if the hierophant knew about her eavesdropping habits, then. That was something Chrom did not want to have to break to his friend.  

“She did not threaten you, did she?” Robin asked worriedly.

“A little bit…” the prince admitted, and then seeing his friend’s distressed expression, “But she didn’t do anything, and said she was fine with me having seen you!” Chrom quickly assured.

“I am sorry about that. I told her and Henry not-”

“No, Robin, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about… I need to apologize,” the prince interrupted, and then he took a deep steadying breath thinking of the words he had been practicing. “I’m so very sorry for my behavior during our last conversation. Tharja talked some sense into me last night… It wasn’t right of me to pry so rudely into your faith like that. I never meant to make you upset, or imply such horrible things. I let my emotions get the better of me, like I always do...”

“It’s alright. You were asking because you were afraid, right? Afraid for your people and your family?” Robin asked with a sad smile, turing his bright red eyes away from the prince.

“No, it’s not alright,” Chrom insisted. “I acted like a complete idiot, and if I had thought about it properly I wouldn’t have gotten so worked up. I know you’d never willingly let the Grimleal hurt innocent people or bring ruin to the world… It was completely foolish of me to think that…”

The prince reached out and took Robin’s hand. As he did, the hierophant looked up slightly surprised.

“Can you forgive me for my rudeness?” the prince asked, staring earnestly into his friend’s face.

“Of course, Chrom,” Robin said, giving him a smile that was a bit more genuine as he put his other hand over top of the prince’s. “And I am sorry I was avoiding you. I was just…”

The hierophant sighed and shook his head. Just what? But Chrom didn’t dwell on it long as he gripped his friend’s hand a little tighter.

“I’m glad. I missed you.” the prince told him.

The hierophant suddenly blushed, and mumbled. “It’s not like we were very far apart.”

Chrom smiled at his friend, feeling oddly pleased by the pink dusting on Robin’s cheeks. “I know, but it certainly felt like we were.”

“You are such a strange man.” the hierophant sighed sounding slightly amused, as he slipped his hand from Chrom’s grip.

“Is that such a bad thing?”

“No, not at all.”

The two of them grinned playfully at one another for a moment. Chrom was incredibly relieved to have made up with Robin. The past few days of of distance seemed to evaporate in the hot Plegian climate, as if it had been nothing more than a mirage. They spent a little longer talking about more trivial things, and some of the plans for the next day, but eventually the time to depart grew closer.

“Alright, we should probably start getting ready to move. By this time tomorrow, we will have Exalt Emmeryn safely back with you and the Shepherds.” the hierophant told him.

“Right.” Chrom agreed, feeling bolstered by his friend’s confidence.

As they stood to leave the tent, Robin’s hood back up, he gripped the prince’s arm.

“And Chrom…. I promise I would never willing let Grima be revived if He wished to visit horrors on this world.” the hierophant vowed, his expression hidden by the cowl.

“I know, and I trust you Robin.”

---

As expected, the next day brought them to the capitol, right on schedule. Robin would be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous the rescue would fail. There were so many unknowns and any number of things that could go wrong. But they were as ready as they could be. The plan was finalized, now all the Shepherds could do was try and pull it off. Despite his doubts, the hierophant would do everything in his power to help them succeed.

Any other day, Robin would be glad to be in the capitol. The ancient city was beautiful with its towering sandstone buildings, small canals of fresh water flowing alongside the streets from the nearby oasis, and colorful hangings draped overhead narrow alleys to fend off the sun. But that day, the atmosphere within the usually lively city was grim and tense. Hardly anyone was in the streets as the hour for Grangel’s sick spectacle approached.

The first phase of the plan went off without a hitch. Leaving their supplies hidden on the escape route, Robin and his mages lead the Shepherds and their mounts through the winding streets of the capitol. After several minutes of navigating the empty roads, they quickly discovered where all the citizens went when they reached the castle courtyard. It looked to Robin as if almost every person in the city had been gathered in the huge space. With the enormous crowd of Plegians gathered at the Mad King’s demand, no one noticed the dozen or so tense Ylisseans covered by robes in their midst.

“I didn’t expect there to be so many people here.” Chrom mumbled, his voice trembling with nerves and anger as they waded through the citizens.

“I assure you that most of the citizens are not here by choice. Grangel will have sent out proclamations threatening them if they did not come.” Robin told him quietly.

“Dastard.” the prince spat and the hierophant hummed in agreement.

Robin heard the Shepherds nearest to him gasp as Grima’s remains came into full view, now that they were out in the open. Reaching high into the sky, the sheer size of the skull was a dizzying sight. The hierophant had never liked the sight of the bones, the skull in particular. He was in a way, looking at his own remains. It made him nauseous. Trying his best not too look at the skeleton’s empty eye sockets, Robin instead turned his gaze to the castle steps where he could make out the distinct figure of the Mad King.  

Then, as he caught sight of the woman next to Grangel, Robin gasped, “That’s-!”

“Aversa… What in Grima’s name is she doing here?!” Tharja growled from behind him.

Without a doubt that was his older sister, white hair shimmering in the sun and grinning like she had just found a particularly fun new play thing.

“She was with Grangel when the Mad King kidnapped Maribelle and tried to use her as leverage to get the Fire Emblem. I assumed she was his advisor, or possibly his consort. You know her?” Chrom asked.

“Yes… she’s been gone of late but I had no idea she was with Grangel… This is far worse than I thought… She is likely acting as his tactician.” Robin said, trying to still the shaking of his hands.

The implications of her presence at Grangel’s side were horrifying. Dozens of questions went through his mind as cold panic began to creep in. Robin was almost dizzy from considering the possibilities, but before he could get his thoughts into some semblance of order, the Mad King strode forward. He raised his hand in greeting as his supporters roared their approval from the mostly silent crowd.

Good people! Warriors of Plegia! Welcome! Welcome, one and all! Your anticipation electrifies the air! We all remember the crimes of Ylisse... Would you have their witch-queen answer for them? Here? Today? Now? Yeeeeeees! Finally, we will have justice! ” Grangel spoke in Plegian, his voice magically amplified.

Just then, two figures crested the top of Grima’s skull and came into view. Exalt Emmeryn was easily recognizable even as far above as she was, in her royal garb and crown. Beside Robin, Chrom breathed his sister’s name and many of the Shepherds grew even tenser. Later. He could worry about Aversa later. Right now Exalt Emmeryn took precedence. The Shepherds needed him focused on the battle ahead.

The barbarian behind the exalt pushed her roughly towards one of the horns, forcing her to start walking up to its tip. Heart hammering against his ribs, Robin silently motioned for the Shepherds to get into position. This was it, the moment of truth.

Executioner! If you would be so kind… ” Grangel drawled in Plegian after the two figures had made their way to horn’s end.

“Virion!” Robin hissed as the man raised his axe.

“Oui!” At his command, the archer let his notched arrow fly. It’s path was true, and it lodged itself into the axe wielder's eye socket. The man’s body fell from Grima’s horn, and the thud of his corpse echoed across the castle courtyard. There was a millisecond of stunned silence as the citizens and Plegian guard tried to process what had just happened. Then someone screamed. Just as the hierophant had predicted, the people scattered, yelling and pushing, creating pandemonium.

“Everyone, now!” Robin ordered, unsheathing his khopesh, and the Shepherds rushed forward.

They made it more than halfway across the courtyard before they were spotted through the retreating crowd. The Plegian guard moved quickly to meet them, or as quickly as they could through the throngs of fleeing citizens.

“Take out all the soldiers first! We'll deal with the Mad King later!” Chrom called to the Shepherds.

“Oh will you now? Bwa ha! 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 aaaaaaaall!” Grangel laughed maniacally from his perch in Ylissean.

So far so good, Robin thought as he met the first Plegian soldier's sword strike. They had to move swiftly and clear the field of archers and wyvern riders. Around him, the Shepherds and his mages jumped into the fray as well. Robin plunged his sword into the sword fighter’s gut and quickly twisted, then yanked it out, letting the corpse fall away. Ahead of him, Chrom easily cut through an archer that had been trying to take up a position, and Robin moved to join him.

There was a thrill to battle that never got old. Grima was a deity of annihilation after all, and although Robin was sick of seeing Plegian blood staining the lands, he could not deny there was a part of him that lived for the chaos of combat. Being in the thick of battle just felt natural, nostalgic even. In all honesty, strategy was nothing more than a precisely played game of destruction. Watching his carefully laid plans unfold, like strategically stacked dominos falling, there was something cathartic about it.

As the enemy troops got into their own formations, Robin knew that Aversa was Grangel’s acting tactician. They had studied together under their father, and the hierophant knew Aversa’s style of tactics as well as she knew his. And soon, he was sure she would know he was on the battlefield too, from the way the Shepherds countered under his own tactics.

Even distracted by the ongoing battle around him, Robin saw the exact moment Aversa realized he had a hand in organizing the Ylissean troops. First came a brief moment of shock, and then her face twisted with irritation and disgust. As the hierophant shot down a wyvern rider with Thoron, he saw Aversa getting onto her black pegasus. His sister flew swiftly over the battlefield, easily dodging spells and arrows, her eyes scanning the ground. Robin took the initiative, he broke away from Chrom, tome out if needed, and ran to meet her.

Aversa! What are you doing here?! ” he shouted at her in Plegian over the din of the battle.

When she caught sight of him bellow she smirked, and called back, “My, my, little brother, I could ask the same of you. Running around with the prince of Ylisse? Goodness, whatever would father say?

What would he say about you helping the Mad King?! What in Grima’s name is going on here?! ” Robin shot back.

I’m exactly where father wants me to be. There’s nothing to worry your little head about. I’ll deal with you properly after this little skirmish.

Aversa laughed at the stricken expression on his face, and soared back to the Mad King’s side on her pegasus, apparently satisfied with their short exchange. The prince shot Robin a question look, but the hierophant shook his head. They could speak about it after. Assuming they could get through this. From there, Robin focused solely on the battle, pushing away his worry. After what felt like hours of fighting side by side with Chrom and the Shepherds, shouting new orders here and there, the last wyvern rider fell to Virions arrows.

“The skies are clear, I am giving the signal!” Robin shouted to Chrom, sending a weak jet of lightning high into the sky. Time was of the essence now.

Within moments, Sumia was airborne on her gleaming white pegasus, with Nowi in dragon form flanking her. Before the mages still left on the field realized Robin’s plan, the two fliers were already soaring at top speed for the tip of Grima’s horn. When they did notice, they began to send gusts of cutting wind, blasts of dark magic, and fireballs at the pegasus knight. But the manakete at her side was quick to counter with dragon fire, and intercept the magic against her thick scales.

“We need to get rid of those mages!” Robin told Chrom. Nowi could hold out for a while against them, but if they kept at it even she would fall eventually. The prince nodded and called for the Shepherds to focus on taking out spell casters. His men responded quickly, the magic weak armored units shifting their focus to covering their infantry fighters and mages as they moved to take the front lines. The battle continued to rage around Robin, and he fought beside Chrom while keeping an eye on Sumia.

The rain of spells was arresting their progress more than the hierophant had predicted. Not only that, but the Shepherds were starting to tire, and more and more of Grangel’s men stormed out of the castle or into the courtyard from the surrounding streets. If something was not done soon, they would be in for even more trouble. Just as the hierophant was contemplating what to do, a long blonde haired, Ylissean man in white garments rushed into the castle courtyard, while overhead about a dozen pegasus knights sailed over the nearby buildings.  

“What in the world?! Those are the Ylissean pegasus knights! And that looks like a member of the Church of Naga!” Chrom shouted, his jaw dropping.

The hierophant suddenly felt heartened at the sight of reinforcements. They were quickly getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of soldiers Grangel had, and Nowi and Sumia had only just managed to reach the exalt.

“I’ll watch your back, go!” Robin told him, giving the prince a shove towards the new comers.  

The monk turned, his axe still raised, but when he saw Chrom he gasped. Robin couldn’t hear much of their conversation as he focused on keeping foes away from the distracted prince, switching easily between tome and khopesh. From the glances he stole and snippets he caught, it seemed as if the Ylissean reinforcements had made their way to the capitol as soon as they received word about the execution. Although, Robin hopped he misheard the part of the conversation where Chrom mistook the war monk for a woman.

After Robin had been introduced to the monk, Libra, he quickly ordered him to protect and join with Lissa and Maribelle. The holy man clearly had combat experience the two ladies lacked, and could act as protection for them as well as a third healer. Then after felling another mage, Robin turned to Chrom.

“Can you get the attention of those pegasus knight? I have a plan!”

His friend nodded and shouted at the head pegasus knight, waving Falchion in the air. “Phila!”

In response, the woman at the head of the flying formation swooped down to speak with him.

“Prince Chrom, we’ve come to help rescue Her Grace!” the pegasus knight called from her mount, her stern face reminding Robin vaguely of Frederick.

“Then, go and help cover lady Sumia! Get Exalt Emmeryn out of the capitol as fast as you can!” The hierophant shouted as he parried an attack meant for Chrom, and swiftly cut the man down.

At his words, the sharp eyed pegasus knight glared. “Who do you think you are to give orders, you-!”

“Do what they said Phila! I’ll explain later!” Chrom interrupted, dodging a stray spell.

Philla looked torn for a moment, but grudgingly nodded. “R-Right!”

She soared back up to the waiting pegasus knights, and together, the fliers made a beeline for Sumia’s pegasus. Nowi roared happily as the reinforcements joined them, the pegasus knights swiftly moving to take out the mages casting spells at the manakete and Sumia. On the ground, the Shepherds continued to battle fiercely with their Plegian friends alongside them. Frederick, Sully, Stahl, and Kellam worked to cut a path through the remaining soldiers, while Gaius, Panne, Vaike, Gregor, and Virion worked to keep them from getting surrounded. Safely behind their bulkier companions, Ricken, Mirel, Henry, and Tharja cast spell after spell, making the air thick with magic. Lissa, Maribelle, and the newly joined war monk rushed around the field doing their best to stem bleeding gashes and mend burned flesh.  

As the pegasus knights grew closer and their foes began to thin, the Shepherds quickly began to prepare for retreat. Those without horses paired up with the mounted units, and the rest clambered onto the few camels they had managed to bring with them into the city. Robin rushed to Shabdiz (who’s muzzle was coated in the blood of the foes who had dared approach him as he stood guard over the camels) and swung himself up into the saddle. Most of the spell casters had been dispatched by the pegasus knights. They could do it. Now they just needed to get away cleanly. From across the courtyard Robin heard Grangel’s yell of frustration, and couldn’t help the small grin that formed on his face.

Aversa’s laughter ringing out from her spot next to the Mad King was the only warning the hierophant had. The light of the warp spell blinded him for a moment, but when he looked back cold fear rocketed up his spine. Before him stood a platoon of archers. But not just any archers. Purpling corpses, their faces masked and eyes glowing red. Grima’s servants, even in death. Far more than enough of them to obliterate the megear pegasus knights. Even Nowi would not be able to defend against all the arrows. However, they were still clumsy, probably newly awakened. Robin did not have much time.

He acted on impulse, spurring Shabdiz into a sudden sprint. If he could close the distance it would be easier.

Fool! what are you doing?! ” Tharja practically shrieked at Robin in Plegian, but he ignored her panicked voice as he broke away from the escaping group.

The pegasus knights and Nowi had caught sight of the archers, but they would not be able to escape with Emmeryn if he did not get there. The hierophant's mount charged through the fray, trampling any unlucky enough to be in the stead’s way. The corpses had just taken up their bows and notched arrows aimed at the sky when Robin was finally close enough.

Reaching inward, he felt the familiar, overwhelming weight of Grima’s power and pulled it to the surface. The magic was unwieldy and volatile as he handled it. There was no medium for it to be channeled through this time. Robin would just have to guide it himself. Despite having no conduit, the magic responded to his will and grasped for the spell controlling the summoned archers. Tendrils of Grima’s power hungrily wrapped around the corpses at his command.

However, it was all Robin could do to hold the archers in place. Their empty minds slid through his control like oil, and he could feel Avsera’s magic pushing against him as well. He was too weak, they should be easy to bend to his will. They were supposed to obey him. The hierophant was burning with the effort of it, his insides streaked with lighting hot jabs of pain from the magic burning through him. It felt like an eternity, as he struggled desperately to keep the corpses from moving. Robin watched, through eyes squinted in pain, as the pegasus knights rushed to get out of range.

The mage’s wind spell blindsided the hierophant. He had been so focused on controlling the archers he had not seen the foe’s approach. At the very last moment, he managed to divert the cutting edge of the wind using more of Grima’s power. However, he was still hit with the force of the spell. It nearly unseated him and in the powerful gust of wind, his hood was blown back. Panic seared through him. His face was clearly exposed for all to see, and all the Shepherd’s eyes had been on him from his mad dash into enemy lines.

In Robin’s distraction, his mind slipped and a few of the archers were able to loose arrows. However, thankfully their aim was skewed by their stiff arms, still partially held back by his magic. The pegasus knights easily avoided the clumsy shots, and the hierophant quickly battled to regain control. Robin grit his teeth as he yanked on the link between him and the corpses, forcing them to stay still once more.

He had nearly forgotten about Grangel’s mage in his panic, before another blast of wind was sent his way. But a jet of fire intercepted it and out of the corner of his eye, the hierophant saw Henry on the back of he and Tharja’s brown mare, tome raised for another attack. However, Chrom got there first. The prince had apparently jumped from his spot on the back of Frederick’s horse, and charged down the mage. With a swift slash, the spell caster breathed his last. Robin wanted to yell at Chrom for being so reckless, as the prince turned to face him with those concerned and earnest eyes.

But he couldn’t spare the breath as he panted under the strain of Grima’s power. Through his blurry vision, Robin saw the last of Emmeryn's escort leave the archers’ range, and he released his hold on the corpses. The pressure in his head receded, and he became fully aware of the pain that wracked his body. He had pushed too far, and too hard. Despite the enemies still before him, Robin’s mind gratefully crumpled into the darkness gathering at the edge of his consciousness.

---

“Robin!”

Chrom sprinted for Shabdiz as soon as he saw Robin slump forward in the saddle. He reached the stead’s side just in time to stop the hierophant from sliding off the horse’s back entirely. As the prince grabbed his friend’s limp form, he realized with horror that Robin was unconscious. Swearing, he sheathed Falchion and pulled himself up onto the saddle, wrapping an arm around the hierophant's middle. To his surprise, the horse did not protest the stranger on his back, and as soon as Chrom was secure, Shabdiz broke into a gallop after the retreating Shepherds. When they saw the dark horse following, Tharja and Henry, who had fallen back to assist, started after the rest of the group once more.

The prince couldn’t believe it. They had actually done it. Robin’s strategy had worked, along with the timely arrival of Ylissean reinforcements. His sister was being safely escorted away by the pegasus knights, and they had not lost a single man. Still full of adrenaline Chrom let out breathy laugh of exhilaration. Emmyern was alive. She was going to be fine. Ylisse would be fine. The only thing left was to retreat back to the vast desert.

However, they had not gotten far before Robin’s horse was quickly forced to skid to a stop as a group of mounted Plegian soldiers moved into their path, swords and spell books brandished. At their head, Grangel’s tactician flapped above them on her black pegasus. She held her spell book threateningly as she smirked down at him.

“Excuse me Prince Chrom, but I’ll have to ask you to hand the High Hierophant over. He’s made rather a mess of things here by sticking his nose in, and it’s time he returned home.” Aversa called to him, her voice dripping with fake sweetness.

What did she mean by ‘home’? Could she be part of the Grimleal order? Robin did seem to know her but… Either way, she was clearly working with Grangel and had played some part in Emmyern’s kidnapping. Even if she really was part of the Grimleal, his gut told him that handing Robin over to her would be a terrible mistake.

“I think not.” Chrom told her roughly, pulling Robin’s limp form closer.

“Oh my, to think that the noble Ylisseans have stooped to taking hostages!” Avsera cried dramatically, a hand coming up to her face in pretend horror.

“What?!” the prince exclaimed.

“The High Hierophant’s been away from the Dragon’s Table for far longer than he said he’d be, and the next thing you know, he’s in the company of the Ylissean militia! And their prince refuses to return him to the order?” she gasped in mock surprise. “Sounds like kidnapping to me. At the very least… the Plegian people will think so.” Aversa smirked at him.

“No… That’s not-!” But Chrom knew she was right.

If he rode away with the High Hierophant right now, it would be easy to misconstrue his actions to the public. Robin was not conscious to make his own choice in the matter, and although Chrom knew the hierophant would have elected to go with the Shepherds and his retainers, to those watching it would seem like the prince had taken him against his will. Still, Chrom could not trust this woman. Although Robin and his retainers knew Aversa, she was undoubtedly their enemy right now.

However, there were far too many soldiers to fight through, especially while holding his unconscious friend, but Chrom was not about to hand over Robin to these people. The Shepherds and Robin’s mages had retreated, unaware that the prince and hierophant had been cut off. They would surely notice soon, but it would be too late. He had no choice but to try and fight. His hand drifted towards Falchion’s hilt and Aversa opened her spell book to attack.

Shabdiz suddenly reared up and let out a very loud, very horrifying bray (which sounded much more like a roar, than any noise a horse could make) that caused Chrom’s hair to stand on end, while the dark flier’s pegasus and the soldiers’ mounts bucked in fear. Then in the momentary distraction, the stead turned and sped off across the courtyard in the opposite direction, kicking up sand. Chrom barely managed to hold onto the saddle horn as the stallion sprinted away. Behind him, he heard Aversa’s screech of fury, ordering the soldiers after them in Plegian.

A few spells shot past them, and Chrom ducked as a fire ball passed close enough for him to feel its heat. The horse entered one of the narrow streets at the courtyard’s edge, and the prince could hear the sound of hoofbeats and flapping wings after them, anxiety coursing through him. But Shabdiz was almost unnaturally fast, and navigated the twisting streets with ease. Soon the noise of pursuit vanished, the stead cleared one last low stone wall, and they were in the endless Plegian desert once more. The prince let out a long shaky breath, as the horse continued to gallop away from the capitol. He had no idea where they were going, but at least they had gotten away.

***

Some hours later as they rode across the endless sands, Robin stirred against his chest, and Chrom felt an intense rush of relief.  

“Thank Naga, you’re awake.”

“...Chrom… Where are we..?” his friend asked weakly, blinking in the harsh sun.

“Somewhere in the desert. I’m not sure. Grangel’s men blocked our path to follow the others, and Shabdiz did his best to get us out of there.”

The stead let out a tired whiny at the sound of his name, and Chrom gave his neck a grateful pat as he had seen Robin do before.

“The…Shepherds..?”

The prince felt a rush of both exasperation and fondness. Even weakened, barely able to move, Robin was still concerned about others.

“They all got away from those archers thanks to you. The last I saw, the pegasus knights had escorted Emm across our lines and everyone retreated.”

The hierophant made a small noise of understanding in the back of his throat and slumped further against the prince. A bit of panic sparked through Chrom, and he pulled his friend against him more securely.

“Robin, what was all that back there?” the prince asked. “That woman, Aversa, knew who you were. She tried to take you. She said that you needed to be returned home?”

“Aversa…is my older half sister, and…a high ranking member of…the Grimleal order.”

“Oh, Robin… I had no idea...” the prince breathed, his heart breaking.

They had just battled against the hierophant's family. He couldn’t imagine how that must feel… Chrom couldn’t ever imagine having to face Emmeryn on a battlefield. Robin gripped his arm weakly and shook his head, brushing away Chrom’s pity.

“If she was…helping Grangel…then the Grimleal…may have had a hand…in your sister’s kidnapping.” the hierophant managed, turning his head slightly to look back at the prince, his expression agonized.  

Chrom suddenly went cold, tightening his grip around his friend’s waist.

“I am…so sorry, Chrom… I did not…consider-”

“It’ll be okay Robin, we’ll figure it out.” Chrom cut him off even as dread coiled in his gut. “More pressingly, Aversa implied that the people of Plegia are going to think we kidnapped you.”

“My sister…likes to…play dirty… I am not…surprised…” his friend huffed.

“What should we do about it?”

Would something like this spark another war? When the word spread that the Ylissean militia had “kidnapped” the High Hierophant of the Grimleal, would it convince the Plegian people to rally behind Grangel against Ylisse? Chrom’s stomach clenched at the thought. But there was nothing else he could have done. Handing his friend over to the enemy was not an option.

“For now…nothing… We have more…immediate concerns… We will…have to find somewhere…to escape the heat… And then…try to rendezvous with the others…” Robin told the prince tiredly.

“Where is the rendezvous point?”

“Just south of…the Midmire…to the west… Use…the stars…when night falls…” the hierophant mumbled, almost incoherently.

“Rest a bit, I’ll find somewhere for us to stop.” Chrom told him, scanning the rolling dunes for any sort of shelter.

Robin gave a slight shake of his head. “I fear…If I fall asleep again…I will not be easy to wake…”

“Robin…” Chrom trailed off, a hint anxiety in his voice.

“I will rest… After we have…found somewhere… For now… I think it’s best…I keep my wits about me…”   

The two fell silent for a while as they rode in the blistering sun. Chrom wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he finally spotted ruins of some sort in the distance. As they got closer he could see that it was the remains of a very small village. Nothing more than the crumbling walls of a few homes. When they came to a stop, the prince quickly climbed out of the saddle as his friend clung to Shabdiz’s neck, unable to stay upright under his own power. Robin didn’t dismount the stead so much as he practically fell off the horse. Chrom caught the hierophant as his knees buckled, slipping an arm under Robin’s shoulder to support him.

“Sorry…” his friend mumbled.

“Don’t worry about it.” Chrom said, giving him a reassuring smile.

They found a home that still had most of a roof, and the prince helped Robin sit on the floor against the wall. Not much remained inside the home. There were a few broken clay pots buried in the sand that had invaded the room, but nothing in the way of supplies or furniture. As if reading his mind, Robin spoke up.

“There’s a…water skin…In the saddle bag… Maybe a vulnary or two... Not much...”

The prince nodded and went outside to find Shabdiz sitting in a patch of shade against the wall of the ruined home. He quickly found the waterskin, which was thankfully full. Chrom uncorked the skin and gave some to the horse first. The stead had saved their lives, and more than deserved it. Neither he or Robin had any injuries in need of the healing ointment, so he left the vulnaries where they were.

Moving back into the house, Chrom sat beside his friend with a deep sigh. He was sweat drenched, sore, and a bit bruised from the battle. The prince unbuckled Falchion from his side, and moved to help Robin remove his own weapons when it became clear the hierophant's hands were shaking too badly to do so. His friend flushed and looked away as the prince undid his belts.

“I apologize Chrom… You should not…have to-”

“Relax, Robin. You don’t feel well, and I don’t mind.”

Despite Chrom’s reassuring words, the hierophant kept his eyes averted, as if the loss of his autonomy pained him. The prince handed the waterskin to his friend, and Robin took a long drink (managing not to spill any on himself even with tremor in his hands). After he finished, he passed it back to Chrom, and the prince drank his fill as well. For a few minutes there was silence as the two rested against the stone wall.

Eventually the prince glanced over to his friend once more, concerned by his haggard appearance and the fact that his tan skin was far paler than it had any right to be. Finally Chrom spoke, unable to keep his thoughts to himself any longer.

“What were you thinking, rushing in there like that? I don’t know exactly what you did, but you stopped those monsters, didn’t you?”

The hierophant nodded. “I used…my magic…to keep them….from moving.”

The prince shifted, so that his friend was forced to look at him. “Robin, whatever magic this is that you’ve been using can’t be good. It may be powerful, but look what happens to you afterwards. Surely you don’t have to-”

Robin shook his head before the prince even finished speaking.

“If I…had not…stopped the corpses…I doubt we would have…saved the Exalt…”

The prince had nothing to say to that, but continued to stare at his friend sternly. It was true, but that didn’t mean that Robin should be using such dangerous spells. Chrom wanted to protest more, but he knew he wasn’t one to talk. And besides that, his friend was in pain and not quite all there. So the prince let it go for the moment.  

“What in the gods names were those things anyway? They were like corpses, risen from the grave.” Chrom asked, dropping the subject.

“In Plegia…we call them, Kharayib … It means ‘mortal remains’... But Risen is a good name for them…” his friend managed, “I think…a more…in depth explanation…should wait…for when…I am less…” Robin trailed off, unable to find the right word in his foggy state.

Chrom understood anyway and nodded in agreement. The two of them sat in silence and drank some more water for a little while, as the hierophant began to grow drowsier, a noticeable heaviness to his movements. It was clear he was forcing himself to stay awake, and the prince sighed.

“Don’t strain yourself anymore, let’s just sleep now.” Chrom urged, taking the waterskin from the hierophant and setting it aside.

“...Okay…” Robin agreed, and shifted gingerly to lay down on the sandy floor.

The prince slid down the wall a little, but stayed leaning up against it, a few feet away from his friend, enjoying the cool stone at his back. Faster than he would have thought possible, he heard Robin’s breathing deepen with sleep and glanced over at the hierophant in relief. Hopefully he would be better after a few hours of rest. When night fell they would meet up with the Shepherds, and Emmeryn. With that thought in his head, Chrom closed his eyes and drifted off to the sound shifting sand and his friend’s rhythmic breathing.  

***

Chrom woke soon after dusk fell to a hot and heavy weight on top of him. The prince cracked open an eye and looked down groggily, trying to find the source. The next moment he was wide awake. Robin was curled up in his lap, not unlike a cat. Sometime during the cold evening as they slept, the hierophant had climbed on top of him, probably seeking body heat. Chrom’s face reddened instantly at the intimacy of it. He opened his mouth to wake his friend, and ask Robin to let him up. But as he stared down at the hierophant, he realized something was very wrong.

Robin’s hands were fisted in Chrom’s uniform, and a sheen of sweat shone on his face. His expression was slightly pinched while he slept. The prince shifted into a more upright sitting position, but the hierophant still did not stir in his lap. Robin’s chest fluttered against Chrom’s as he took short uneven breaths, and small tremors ran through him. Worriedly, Chrom pulled off his glove then pressed a hand to his friend’s forehead, and became alarmed at the searing heat that met his touch.

This was bad. Robin was much worse than only a few hours ago. Chrom knew little about treating fevers, and the hierophant's temperature seemed dangerously high. It must have been caused by whatever Grimleal magic he’d used, but he was much sicker than when he’d used that same magic to call the storm. The prince wrapped his arm around the hierophant’s small frame and rubbed his back gently in an attempt to rouse him.  

“Robin?” he spoke softly.

His friend's eyes opened slightly at Chrom’s call and touch, but they were glazed with fever and pain as he stared off at nothing.

“How are you doing?” the prince asked quietly, trying to get the dazed hierophant to focus on him.

Robin managed a small shake of his head before his eyes closed once more, and he was lost to fevered sleep again. Anxiety curling in his gut, Chrom shifted Robin onto the sand next to him with as much care as he could. He quickly retrieved the waterskin and wet his handkerchief, then he folded it and draped it over the hierophant's forehead. It wasn’t particularly cold, but hopefully it would help bring his fever down even a little. Then with another nervous glance at his friend, Chrom went to ready Shabdiz for the journey.

Outside of their little shelter, Robin’s horse was laying down in the sand. What was visible of Shabdiz’s red eyes glared at him as the prince cautiously approached. The horse had been far more docile towards Chrom yesterday, but that didn’t mean the he would be after a day with no food and little water. To his surprise, Shabdiz only gave an irritated snort as Chrom checked his tack, and otherwise let him work with little fuss. At certain points as the prince adjusted the straps, he swore he caught the stead staring into ruins were Robin lay. It was as almost as if he knew that something was wrong.

“Alright, I’ll go get Robin, and we’ll head out.” Chrom said mostly to himself, giving the horse a tentative pat when he finished. Shabdiz let out a wicker and stood up, shaking sand off himself.

Gods maybe it really could understand him.  

Chrom returned to the crumbling house and quickly gathered their weapons, buckling Falchion and both of Robin’s weapons to his side. The hierophant was in no condition to use them. Then he gently propped his friend up and attempted to wake him again.

“Robin… We’re going to get moving again soon, but I need you to drink some water before we go.” Chrom wasn’t a healer, but he at least knew it was important to keep hydrated when you had a fever.

The hierophant roused partially at his request, and the prince managed to coax a little water into Robin, but not much before he was dragged into unconsciousness once more. It would have to do. The prince wrapped an arm around his friend’s back, and hooked the other under his knees. Chrom shifted back and cradled Robin close to his chest, as he lifted him from the ground. His friend was lighter than he would have expected, and the prince carried him as if he were made of glass.

A problem presented itself when he went to climb into the saddle. There was no way he could do it while carrying his friend. But to his utter shock, Shabdiz carefully knelt in the sand to allow Chrom to more easily mount the horse with Robin in his arms. Once the prince was settled in the saddle, the hierophant still firmly in his grip sitting side saddle in front of him, the stead stood once more. But as Chrom took the reins he realized he did not know which way to go. The Midmire…to the west… But which way..? He had been counting on Robin to guide them…

Chrom snapped his head up to the stars. Frantically he scanned the sky until he found it. Hamia . The staying star that always pointed north. Turning the stallion due west, Chrom urged the beast into a canter. He did not know how far they had to go, and did not want to ride Shabdiz too hard. Then again… The prince glanced down at Robin’s fevered body, his friend's unconscious face twisted slightly with pain. Decided, Chrom spurred Shabdiz into fast a gallop and the stead made no protest.

---

As the sun started to set, Lissa was out of her mind with worry. They had gotten Emm back, but at the price of her brother and the High Hierophant. Somehow Chrom and the hierophant had gotten separated from them during their retreat. From what Henry and Tharja had seen, the two seemed to have gotten away from the enemy at the very least. She and the rest of the Shepherds had finally seen the High Hierophant's face, but her stomach turned at the circumstances it had happened under. Not in a moment of trust on his part, but due to an accident on the battlefield.

She was so happy they had gotten Emmeryn back, the princess had practically sobbed when her sister had made it across their lines, but now… Lissa paced around their hastily established camp in the half dark of their campfire and lanterns, worrying the hem of her dress. Most of the Shepherds remained sitting or standing around the crackling fire in silence, with the exception of Robin’s mages who were already hard at work looking for their charge and the prince. No one had suffered more than cuts or burns, but they were exhausted from the fight nonetheless. Everyone wore tense expressions of anxiety or fear.

“They'll make it back. I know they will!” the princess declared suddenly, looking at Frederick.

But the great knight did not respond, his gaze fixed on the shifting sands in the distance. His face was etched with worry, and it had been a long time since Lissa had seen him so vulnerable. It scared her a little.

“Frederick? Say something! Say, ‘Yes, of course they will!’ " Lissa demanded.

The great knight blinked and turned to her. “I'm sorry, Milady. What?”

“Ugh, fine! Never mind! Let me know when you get out of your own head for a second!” Lissa pouted stomping her foot.

Sumia stood from her spot by the fire and approached Frederick with a determined expression on her face. “Snap out of it, Frederick!”

The pegasus knight reeled back, and all but sucker punched the great knight in the jaw, Frederick’s head snapping to the side from the blow. He grunted and doubled over, clutching the side of his face. The surrounding Shepherds stared at the pegasus knight in shock.

“Sumia, what in the world did you do that for?!” Lissa exclaimed.

“Oh no!” Sumia gasped, “...Did I do it wrong? Captain Phila said sometimes a good slap will break someone out of their doldrums.”

Lissa put a hand on her face and groaned, “Sumia, when you slap someone, you do it with an open palm. You just punched Frederick in the face!”

“Um... It's the thought that counts?” the pegasus said knight hesitantly with smile.

Frederick straightened and grabbed his jaw, which was already turning red. Lissa had to admit it had worked at least, her guardian was no longer lost in his thoughts.

“Goodness, Sumia, that was…quite the punch.” Frederick managed, still looking rather shocked.

The pegasus knight sighed, her face very, very red. Then Sumia gently took the great knight’s hands and held them close to her chest. He looked at her, startled, pink rising to his cheeks.

“Lissa is right Frederick, the Captain will be fine. He’s one of the most capable men in Ylisse. They can’t have strayed far from us, and the High Hierophant knows their, er, his way around Plegia. I’m sure they’ll find us in no time, and if they still aren’t back when the sun comes up, the pegasus knights will look for them.” she told him with a reassuring smile.

For a moment, Frederick’s face softened like Lissa had never seen before and he let out a long sigh. “Y-You’re right. We should have faith in them.”

Sumia nodded happily, then let go of the great knight’s hands, her face still an impressive shade of red. Just then, Vaike whistled, and several of the Shepherds stifled laughs. With that the tension broke some, and Frederick’s face hardened once more as he glared at the fighter. Even Lissa couldn’t help but smile a little at the familiar antics.

The princess left her spot by the fire, deciding to go check on her sister once more. The softly lit infirmary tent was empty. Emmyern was still sleeping where Lissa and Maribelle had left her. After they had checked her for any serious injuries, and she had asked about the condition of her family, Ylisstol, and the Shepherds Emmyern had drifted off. Lissa adjusted the blankets on her sister’s shoulders. Everything would be fine. The princess held onto that thought tightly as she sat on the edge of Emmeryn's bed and waited.  

---

When the Shepherds pitched camp that afternoon, Nowi had snuck away. When she was far enough into the barren desert, she had shifted into her dragon form and taken flight. The young manakete was desperate to find Robin. She had been alone for a long time, and he was the first dragon she had come across in centuries. After so long, she had nearly forgotten the happiness of being near one of her own kin, and Nowi had missed the feeling of contentment that warmed her fire stomach.

Usually dragons were strong, but Robin was a strange manakete and she was worried about him. He didn’t even carry a dragon stone. The human shells of manaketes were weaker than even the real humans themselves, and her friend had no means to grow scales and wings. At least the prince was with Robin, he was strong human and could protect him. Although that thought only soothed her slightly.

Nowi’s wings caught the wind and she soared higher over the vast Plegian desert. Night had fallen and the sands were lit only by the half moon in the sky, but the manakete’s eyes in her dragon form were as sharp as an owl’s. Not only that, but Robin had a powerful dragon aura she could find him by, and her senses were stretched to their limits trying to feel any whisper of it. What a strange and overbearing aura too, like no other dragon she’d met before. Not that she’d met many. It was a bit unpleasant if she was being honest, his dragon smell reminded her of the sickly sweet scent of rot and decay. And for some reason, he had a human scent under his dragon one. Not that Nowi cared much either way, as he was a very kind manakete and always played with her.

If she didn’t know better she’d say he was the chief of a dragon clan with the power he had, but there was no scent of other dragons on him. Perhaps he had gotten lost from his family too, like she had. The manakete found it hard to believe any dragon would willingly settle in such a hot place. Dragons were creatures of fire, and Nowi felt like she was going to burn up under the harsh desert sun. She missed the cold mountains on the continent across the sea.

Nowi didn’t know how long she had been gliding over the silent desert when she finally felt it. There! It was weak, but that was Robin’s aura for sure. She tilted her wings, adjusting her path slightly, and swooped lower following the trail. After several minutes a dark figure came into view. As she got closer she could see that it was Robin’s weird horse with two people astride it. Chrom was holding the reins, and slumped against him was a figure in a familiar black cloak. Nowi felt a rush of excitement. She’d found them.

The manakete let out a roar and did a loop in the air to catch their attention. The prince jerked the horse to a stop and looked up. Seeing her, his face broke into a relieved smile. That made the dragon feel rather proud of herself. She’d done well. Nowi made a wide turn and began heading back the way she came, making sure she was going slow enough for the horse to follow.

Chapter Text

Chrom almost fainted from relief when he saw Nowi overhead. As the dragon circled back towards the way she had come, the prince spurred Shabdiz after her. Chrom’s entire body ached, from the battle before, the awkward position he had fallen asleep in, and the hard hours of riding. He was no horseman, and his muscles were unused to this particular type of strain. In his arms, Robin was still unconscious and feverish. He had not roused once, even as the the horse galloped over rough terrain. Not long after the dragon had found them, Robin began to shiver fitfully against Chrom, and the prince tightened his grip on the hierophant.

“We’re getting close now. Just hold on, I’ve got you.” Chrom begged.

Although he didn’t expect a response, the prince still felt his gut tighten further when his friend didn’t so much as stir. Was this life threatening? Chrom didn’t know enough about medicine or magic to be sure. His friend’s breathing was labored and uneven, Robin’s unnatural warmth searing against him, even through clothes, where his body met the prince’s.

Regardless, they needed to hurry and meet up with the rest of the Shepherds. Even with Nowi, Chrom was not sure they would be able to fight off any foes that found them. The prince was stretched passed his limits and Robin was a deadweight in his arms. From the ground, Chrom could see the way the manakete strained to stay airborne, clearly as exhausted as he was. They would not come out on top if they were caught by Grangel’s men.

Chrom couldn’t say how long they rode after that, distracted by his worry and the soreness of his body. He had only Shabdiz’s panting breaths, and the distant beat of Nowi’s wings for company. Eventually, the prince spotted torchlights in the distance and Nowi began to swoop lower, as the camp came closer. On the outskirts of the small army of tents, two figures had spotted them and were waving their arms. Soon, Gaius and Sumia came into view as Shabdiz began to slow down. To Chrom’s amazement, the horse had kept up that insane pace for their entire journey.

“Captain!” Sumia shouted as she and Gaius ran to meet them.

Shabdiz came to a stop in front of the thief and pegasus knight, panting heavily as his head sagged. Nowi landed beside them, kicking up a cloud of sand and shifting back into her human form in a flash of petals. She wobbled slightly as she straightened, but kept on her feet. Chrom felt a bit of tension leave his shoulders as it finally hit him. They were safe now. He’d gotten them back somehow.

“I-I’ll go tell Frederick and Lissa!” Sumia squeaked and ran off without another word, only tripping once before she was out of sight.

“You two alright? Everyone’s been outta their minds-” Gaius swore as he caught sight of Robin’s limp form. “Damn Blue, what’d you do to Bubbles?”

“Just take him for a second, Gaius.” Chrom ordered, passing the unconscious hierophant down to the thief.

Gaius didn’t even grunt as he took Robin’s weight, Nowi getting on tip-toes to anxiously peer at the hierophant. The prince’s legs were shaky as he hit the sands, and his entire body ached. He put his hand on Shabdiz’s flank for support and the horse snorted in annoyance.

“Sorry, and thank you.” Chrom told the stallion, patting him.

The horse let out a soft whiney, cuffing the prince with his snout and limped on exhausted legs to the stables. When he was sure of his ability to stand, Chrom turned to Gaius and took Robin back from him with a grateful nod while Nowi shifted around them, whimpering in concern.

“You got him, Blue? You don’t look too steady there.” Gaius said doubtfully, hovering as if worried the prince’s legs would give out.

“Yes, I’m fine.” Chrom told him. He was worn down but he could manage a little longer.

The taller thief peered down at the prince, his eyes narrowing. But then as his eyes flickered back to Robin he got an odd knowing smirk on his face, and Chrom was far too tired to try and decipher the look.

“If you say so. Come on, let’s get you two back to camp. Everyone’s been worried sick.”

Gaius lead the way towards the mass of tents with Chrom and Nowi close behind. They had just barely walked into the bright torchlights of the camp proper, when they heard shouting.

“Chrom!”

“Milord!”

Lissa and Frederick yelled over top of one another, running to meet the small group. At the sight of them unharmed, something tight in Chrom’s chest lessened a bit. His sister came to a sliding halt in front of him, and probably would have hug tackled him if he wasn’t holding Robin. Frederick looked beside himself with emotion, and the prince felt bad for worrying his guardian. He gripped Chrom’s shoulder and hung his head in relief.

“Thank the gods. We thought you lost.”

“Yeah Chrom, you scared the heck out of everyone.” his sister added.

“What of the other Shepherds? Did everyone make it back okay?” the prince asked.

“We’re fine, not even any major injuries, but what about you two?” Lissa questioned, looking him over.

The prince shook his head. “I’m fine, but the High Hierophant needs help. He’s got a really high fever.”

Lissa leaned in, and put a hand to Robin’s sweat slicked forehead while her other one moved to the pulse at his neck. Then she turned to look at Chrom, distress written across her face. “What happened out there?!”

“He used some strange magic to stop those corpses from firing arrows earlier. The same thing happened at the temple with the storm, but he’s… This is a lot worse.” the prince said unsteadily, worry constricting his chest again. If Lissa was that concerned…

A thought struck him. When Robin had collapsed after he called the storm, his mages had not been surprised in the slightest. They would know what to do, right?

“Where are Tharja and Henry?”

“Henry is out looking for you two, I’ll go get Tharja. She was trying to do some sort of spell to find you both. Can you carry him to the infirmary tent and I’ll meet you there?” his sister asked catching his line of thought, anxiety pinching her face.

“Right…” the prince agreed, and then a tremor in his voice, “A-And what of Emmeryn?”

“Safe and sound, Milord.” Frederick reported, his words steady once more.

He turned to Lissa not quite daring to hope, but she gave him a shaky smile.

“A little malnourished, bruised, and worried about her idiot brother. But she’s gonna be fine. She’s in the tent too actually, but she’s sleeping.”

“Thank Naga.” Chrom breathed, his knees going weaker with relief.

Lissa mustered up another smile and ran off to find Tharja. To the prince’s immense surprise, Frederick offered to take Robin to the infirmary tent. And when Chrom told him to inform the rest of the Shepherds of their return instead, the great knight didn’t even argue. Although he had insisted on carrying his friend, the hierophant's weight was becoming straining in the prince’s exhausted state. After both Frederick and Lissa had left, the prince quickly started for the tent he knew was always set up close to the camp’s center.

“Let ‘em go kid. Last thing they need is a dragon running amok in the infirmary.” Chrom heard Gaius say, and glanced back.

The thief had gently grasped Nowi’s arm as she made to trail after Chrom. The manakete pulled a face and started to protest. “But-”

“Ugh, enough. You look about ready to drop dead, yourself. You did good, now go to bed.” Gaius interrupted, letting go of her arm and slapping her lightly on the back.

Nowi stuck her tongue out at him, but sulkily headed towards her tent all the same. As she left, the dragon shot Chrom a dark, not very human look that seemed to say, ‘you better take care of him’. Gaius gave him a reassuring wink along with a mock salute, and returned to his post as lookout.

While the prince carried him, Robin stopped shivering, almost as if his body was too weak and exhausted to even be able to any longer, which only made fear constrict Chrom’s chest further. The prince quickly cut his way through camp, ignoring his protesting muscles as he shouldered through the flaps of the infirmary tent. He had barely taken in his older sister’s sleeping form on a nearby cot, when the tent flaps breezed open again. Tharja stalked towards him, strange jars and books in her arms.

“Tharja…” Chrom breathed in relief.

“Put him down over here, Princeling.” the sorceress snapped, not even breaking stride, pointing to an empty cot in the corner.

The prince moved quickly to obey, setting Robin on the bed gently. Anxiety prickled in his gut as he got a better look at the hierophant in the well lit tent. His friend’s skin was washed out, his expression pained, and breathing shallow. However, distracted as he was by Robin’s condition, Chrom couldn’t help how his eyes darted over to Emmyern while the Plegian mage fused with her tomes and jars at the the nearby table. From what he could see of his sister, she looked to be slumbering peacefully, which helped ease him somewhat.

“Take his shoes off, and pull the covers over him. We need to keep him warm.” Tharja suddenly ordered, making the prince start.

Chrom nodded, slipped off his friend’s sandy boots and pulled the heavy blankets up over him.

“How long ago did the fever start?” the sorceress questioned sharply, flipping through one of her dog eared spell books.

“I-I’m not sure. He didn’t have it to start with, but we fell asleep. I woke up a little after night had fallen and he was burning up…” Chrom explained, knowing his answer was not very helpful.

“So at least several hours ago, then.” Tharja muttered, biting her thumb nail.

She began uncorking jars and adding strange ingredients to a small bowl. Everything from dried leaves and seeds to what Chrom swore were lizard tails.

“What are you doing?” he asked, watching her with fascination.

“Mixing ingredients for a fever reducing hex.” the sorceress threw over her shoulder.

“You’re going to hex him?” the prince gasped.

Tharja paused her work to glare at him. “Elder magic and hexes can be beneficial, Princeling. It depends on how you use the magic.”

Before the prince could respond, his sister bustled into the tent with a bowl of water and some rags. When Lissa saw Chrom she frowned, setting the bowl down on the table.

“Chrom, what are you still doing here? You may not be injured but you look exhausted. Go get something to eat and then go to bed.” the princess chided, wetting one of the rags and using it to wipe the sweat from Robin’s forehead.

The prince shook his head. “I’m alright, Lissa, really.”  

He was tired, but he felt too restless and anxious to sleep or eat. Chrom wanted to know that his sister and Robin would be alright. It didn’t feel right to walk away.

“No, you’re not! I can see your legs shaking!” his sister argued.

“She’s right. Go get cleaned up, and rest. You look horrible.” the sorceress told him through narrowed eyes.

“I-!”

“He and your exalt will still be there when you come back.” Tharja cut Chrom off with a glare, and pushed him towards the tent flaps. She was surprisingly strong for a mage. Or maybe he was more worn out than he’d thought.  

“Yeah bro, you need to take care of yourself too. We’ve got this. I’ll give him a tonic for fevers, and with Tharja’s magic he’ll be right as rain in no time.” Lissa assured confidently, but the worry in her eyes gave away her doubts.

Chrom stood hesitantly at the tent entrance for a moment before nodding mutely. He didn’t want to leave, but there was nothing he could do for Robin now. And if Emmeryn was sleeping after her traumatic ordeal, he wouldn’t try to wake her. It wouldn’t do any good if he keeled over from exhaustion either.

“Okay. Come get me after you check on them tomorrow Lissa.” he told his sister.

She nodded. “Sure thing.”

“Princeling.” Tharja called out suddenly, and Chrom turned to her.

The sorceress’s back was still to him, shoulders hunched. “Thank you… For getting him back safely.”

Chrom was shocked at her words, even as his chest filled with warmth. “No, I should thank the three of you for helping us.”

Tharja humphed in response, still busy with her spell, but the prince didn’t mind. It was clear to him that it had taken a lot for the sorceress to admit her gratitude. Of the three Plegians she seemed to dislike the Ylisseans the most. His younger sister looked between the exchange and shook her head with a soft smile on her face.

Chrom left the infirmary tent and made his way back to his own in a daze. It was only when he got there and started changing that he realized he still had Robin’s tome and khopesh buckled at his side. Both Falchion and Robin’s sword were crusted with blood, and the prince grimaced. Sitting on his bedroll, he unsheathed both and started cleaning them. Falchion’s blade was impossible to damage, but it would be a poor favor to let Robin’s blade rust after all he had done. Someone had left the prince a plate of food (most likely Frederick), and he nibbled on it half heartedly as he worked.  

The familiar act calmed Chrom somewhat, and he allowed himself to let go of his worries a bit. His older sister was back with them, they had thwarted the Mad King’s plans. The Shepherds were fine. And Robin...he would hopefully be okay now. Lissa and Tharja could handle it. All they had to do was escape back to Ylisse, a task much simpler than the battle they had just waged.

The thought gave him pause, however. That meant they would be parting from their new Plegian allies soon. As much as he missed Ylisstol, he did not want to say goodbye to Robin yet. Although they had only known each other for less than a month, they had grown close. It felt to Chrom as if there was a sort of magnetic pull between them. Maybe Robin and his mages could come visit sometime. At the very least he hopped, that the hierophant would keep in contact. Although with the current state of Plegia, and how much he seemed to travel, it may not be possible. Something would likely have to be done about the Mad King before they could start any sort of positive relationship with Plegia.

With a deep sigh, Chrom put aside the cleaned swords and laid down. He could worry about all of that tomorrow. Finally he gave into his bone deep exhaustion and slept.

*** 

When Chrom finally woke up, the sun was already most of the way across the sky. Apparently his sister had ignored his request to come get him. Although, he couldn’t say he was particularly mad. Even after having eaten and gotten several hours of uninterrupted sleep, the prince was still rather tired. He ignored his sore muscles and quickly dressed, then made his way out of his tent in search of Lissa. Luckily he quickly found her outside the mess tent.

“Emm’s awake now, bro! She’s been asking about you, so you’d better not keep her waiting!” his sister beamed at him.

“That’s great Lissa. I’ll head there now.” the prince said, feeling a bit of excitement spark at her words. It had been about a month since he had gotten to talk to his older sister. Not since that fateful night at the castle…  

“And what of the High Hierophant?” he asked.

Lissa’s cheery smile fell, and the prince’s high spirits instantly flagged. “It’s not great, Chrom. It seems like he really overextended himself on that spell he used. Tharja and I managed to get his fever down a bit, but it’s still pretty high. We can’t get him to stay awake long enough to do anything more than drink a bit of water, and get medicine into him.”

Chrom paled at her words. Even with both Lissa and Tharja treating him, Robin still wasn’t recovering? Obviously seeing his stricken expression, his younger sister rushed to reassure.

“We haven’t even been treating him for a day, Chrom! Give it some time and I’m sure he’ll be fine! Tharja and Henry don’t seem too worried at least… And that’s a good thing, right?”

“I guess…” Chrom bit his bottom lip. “How long do you think until he recovers?”

“That kinda depends on him now that we have the fever mostly under control. Maybe a few days?”

That didn’t make him feel much better, but he pasted on a smile for his younger sister. She was trying her best after all. “Thanks, Lissa.”

The prince grabbed a quick meal and headed to infirmary tent, with butterflies in his stomach. When he got there, he pushed open the tent flaps tentatively and slipped inside. Chrom’s eyes immediately fell on his older sister, who was sitting up on her cot.

Emmeryn's skin was far paler than it had been when he’d seen her last. Bruises colored her thin arms and wrists, from where her captors had been rough. His older sister’s face was also somewhat gaunt, speaking of a lack of proper sleep and food. But the same compassionate light still shone in her eyes despite the dark circles under them.

“...Emm.” the prince breathed.

“Chrom.”

The smile she gave him was soft and warm, like sunlight, and the prince felt his fear and tension melt away. He dropped to his sister’s bedside and took her slender fingers in his gloved hands. For a moment he could do nothing but cling to her. Tears of relief threatened to overwhelm him. Perhaps sensing that, Emmeryn's hands tightened around his.

“I’m here, Chrom. It’s okay.” she said softly.

“Gods, Emm… I’m so glad,” his voice shook as he spoke. “When…when they took you, I was so afraid… I-I didn’t know what they were going to do to you…”

His voice sounded dangerously close to a sob, and his older sister wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. The gentle embrace reminded him of when he was young, during the aftermath of one of their father’s rages. The times he would run to Emmeryn and cling to her strength when he had none.

“You saved me. You, and Lissa, and your Shepherds. Everything is fine now.” she soothed, always quick to comfort the siblings she had practically raised.

“W-We didn’t do it alone.” Chrom told her, pulling himself together enough to ease away from her embrace and smile at his older sister.

“Ah, you speak of your new companion here?” his sister asked, turning her soft gaze towards the man curled up a few cots down from her.

Robin was mostly hidden by the blankets piled on him aside from his unruly white hair, his back to them as he slept. Someone had stripped him of most of his usual clothes, which were piled on the table next to his cot, hood no longer needed now that he had been exposed. The prince felt another pang of worry as he watched his friend's side rise and fall unevenly, laboring against the fever.

“Yes, he’s the High Hierophant of the Grimleal. He sheltered us when we first entered Plegia, and has been working with us to save you. His name… Ah, he was hiding his identity… Well, everyone’s seen his face now I suppose...” Chrom looked back to his sister as he spoke, “...I’ll let him decide if he wants to share it once he wakes.”

“That’s a bit of a surprise. I would have thought that the Grimleal in particular still had hard feelings about Ylisse.” Emmeryn murmured.

“Some of them do, but from what I’ve seen myself, and what he’s told us, it seems like a lot of the Grimleal and Plegians just want peace in their lands.”

“Is that so?” his sister asked knowingly, a smile on her face.

“You were right about Plegia, Emm. The people here are hardworking and kind. They don’t want another war anymore than our people do.”

“I’m glad to hear it, Chrom. And I’m glad you’ve finally come to see that we can make true friends with Plegia.” his sister praised.

“Yes, well, after meeting the High Hierophant…I’ve come to a few realizations about our western neighbors.” the prince trailed off, a slight heat rising to his face.

His sister seemed to be deep in thought for a moment, then she turned her wise, sky blue eyes back to him. “Does this man have your trust?”

Chrom stiffened slightly under her more serious tone, but steadily held her gaze.“Yes, he’s risked his life to assist us, and we couldn’t have saved you without him. The Shepherds would probably have been long dead without his help.”

Emmeryn gave him a tender smile. “Then it seems Ylisse owes him a debt of gratitude.”

The prince nodded. He wasn’t sure he would ever be able to repay Robin for what he had done for them. Without his help, who knew where their country would be by now? At the very least his older sister would be dead, and possibly even he and Lissa.

“Now come, Chrom, and tell me all about your travels. It seems like you’ve had quite the interesting adventure so far.” his sister requested.

Chrom couldn’t help but smile. “Alright, Emm.”

And so, he spent the next hour or two telling his older sister everything that had happened in her absence, grateful that she was here with him.

---

The darkness was oppressive. No matter how he struggled against it, he could not find an end to it. It reminded him too much of his long imprisonment, and panic crept in. He did not want to go back to that. It was so very cold. A cold that made him ache down to his bones. But he was also burning. So hot, it felt like his insides were on fire. A familiar presence lay deeper in the darkness, huge and bottomless. Both comforting and terrifying. Him and yet not. Part of him wanted to get closer to it, but the other part was terrified he’d be swallowed up by it.

The void around him was empty and eternal. He had no concept of time. How long had he been here? Hours? Months? Years? He could not speak. He could not see. He would scream if only he could. Had he ever even left this darkness? Perhaps he had dreamt that short life. Maybe he had died and returned to his prison, not even able to escape in death. But then, would his senses come back again as they had after a few centuries of uninterrupted isolation? Would he have to watch his country and followers suffer for another thousand years from his slumber, unable to do anything to save them?

No. He did not want that.

No more.

Not again.

 

Robin’s thoughts were slow and jumbled as he clawed his way into consciousness, his recent memories foggy. As he blinked open hazy eyes, the world started to come into focus. The first thing that came back was the pain. His very bones ached, deep and cutting, pulsing with every unsteady beat of his heart. Not only that, but his head felt like it was being crushed, an unbearable pressure behind his eyes and sinuses. Every inch of his burning skin was covered in cold sweat, and he was freezing despite the blanket wrapped around him. When he tried to lift his head, a bolt of fresh pain pushed against the back of his eyes and he let out a soft groan.

Are you finally coming to? ” someone asked in his native tongue, and Robin’s gaze slid slowly to the figure leaning over him. Dark eyes peered into his, angry, but worry crinkled at their corners

Tharja… ” he managed.

Then he started to take in the space around him. Canvas above, and tarp below… A tent? Empty cots lined the walls aside from the one he was laying on, and there was a familiar scent… Antiseptic? Ah, the infirmary. But if they were in a tent, they were likely still somewhere within the Plegian desert…

Where..?

The sorceress removed a damp cloth that Robin hadn’t noticed was on his head, and dunked it a bowl of water on the table beside him.

We’re a day south of the Midmire. The prince rode into camp on Shabdiz with you half dead in his arms yesterday.

...Did he?

Robin didn’t remember that at all. The last thing he recalled was falling asleep in the sand next to Chrom. And then it had gotten unbearably cold and dark, but Robin was sure he had felt warmth around him at some point. He’d had a nightmare too… But he couldn’t remember what it was about.

You utter fool. What were you thinking? You know better than to try and channel Grima’s power without a medium. ” Tharja berated softly, replacing the wet cloth on his head.

I was thinking…that we could go back to war if the Exalt died… And I was… I was thinking I could not let him down… ” Robin mumbled into the pillow.

The hierophant wouldn’t have been able to bear it if they failed. What terrible future would have come about if the Exalt had died at Grangel’s hands? Both Ylisse and Plegia would have suffered. And Robin would have been responsible. If he could not stop it, in a way it would have been his fault. But more than that...

I did not want to see him cry…

It would have broken the prince. And he would have hated Plegia for his sister’s death. Hated the Grimleal. Hated Robin. Part of him was sure that Chrom would not have blamed his entire people, that the good hearted prince would know only Grangel was responsible. But another part was convinced that Emmeryn's death would have driven a wedge between Ylisse and Plegia. Between Chrom and Robin. Well, more than there already was… For they were surely fated to be enemies, right? But that wasn’t what Robin wanted at all…  

For a long moment Tharja seemed to stare at him. Long enough that Robin wondered if he had said something strange. Perhaps he had. He felt oddly muddled.

Then she scoffed, “ Hmph. You’re still too out of it to scold properly. But don’t think there isn’t a lecture waiting for you once your fever’s gone.

Fever? Oh, yes. That would explain a few things.

Tharja helped him into a more upright position, and the hierophant hissed at the aching pain that racked him. His retainer forced a bitter potion down his throat, which made him grimace. It was quickly followed by a cup of water that he accepted gratefully.

All the Shepherds saw your face. It’s not just the prince anymore. What did you want to do about it? ” she asked, taking the empty cup from him.

I am tired of hiding. ” Robin said simply. He truly was. All these years of hiding his face and name had worn on him. There were so many people within and outside of Plegia that wanted him dead, or alive and under their power. It had been for his protection, sure, but he had always hated it. Not to mention so many people had seen him. There was really no going back from that.

So what are you going to do? Just introduce yourself to the Shepherds for real this time? ” the sorceress asked sarcastically, and helped him lay back down.

Why not? ” It seemed easy enough.

Fool. ” Tharja muttered and then sighed, “ Far be it from me to stop you when you’ve made up your mind.

Then she left his side, moving to tinker with her spell ingredients. For a few minutes, Robin dowsed, but he was reluctant to fall asleep again. His fuzzy thoughts were rife with worry as he began to recall more and more of Emmeryn's rescue. If Validar had ordered Aversa to be with Grangel, and the hierophant had not been told… They had plans they wanted to keep hidden. They were not satisfied in their ambitions, even with Robin as their pawn. Would it be too dangerous to return to the Dragon's Table? Most likely. But what could be done?

Aside from that, first they had to get the Ylisseans home. From the sound of it, they had been at the rendezvous point for some time now. They could not afford to waste anymore time sitting on their hands. Surely Grangel and Aversa had sent forces after them… Tharja startled him from his half awake thoughts when her slender fingers pressed gently against the pulse at his neck.

We need to…leave before the Mad King’s men catch up to us. ” he told her as she removed her fingers.

There were battle plans to be drafted. What if they were ambushed while they sat in the open sands? No, that would not do. He had not anticipated this. Foolish of him. Clenching his teeth against the pain, Robin pushed himself into a sitting position. Fighting the vertigo that assaulted him, he pulled the blankets back.

Don’t be ridiculous. You will only be a hindrance in such a state, lay down. ” Tharja chided, a gentle hand on his chest easily pushing him back down.

The sorceress turned to her hexing materials and picked up a small bag filled with ingredients before turning back to him.

I know you’re a stubborn work addicted fool, but you need to rest, Robin. You nearly burned yourself out completely that time.

He tried again. “ No, I-

Sleep now. ” Tharja ordered, fixing his blankets and covering his eyes with a cool hand.

The sorceress pluck one of his hairs and then she mumbled an incantation under her breath. Distantly, Robin felt the familiar snap of magic and Tharja’s hex compelled him to sleep once more. The hierophant wanted to protest further. There was too much to be done, but weakened as he was, he couldn't resist the spell. However, this time as he drifted off, his slumber was thankfully dreamless.  

---

The day after Chrom had visited his sister, Maribelle and Libra had looked over the exalt and said that she was fit enough to leave the infirmary. Now Emmyern was resting comfortably in the privacy of her own tent, constantly guarded by Phila, who refused to leave her side. That fact heartened the prince, even as he made his way to the infirmary tent. He had not seen Lissa or any of the other healers yet today, so he decided to go visit Robin and see how he was doing for himself.

Chrom entered the tent and sat gingerly on the edge of Robin’s cot. His friend's face was no longer pinched in pain as it had been, and some of its rich color had returned. The rise and fall of his chest also seemed far more regular. Pulling off one of his gloves, the prince brushed his friend's bangs back and felt his forehead. It was still hot with fever, but much less so than it had been that night in the desert. The fact that the hierophant had not woken up yet concerned Chrom still, but he felt great relief that he seemed much better today. Unthinkingly, the prince ran a comforting hand through Robin’s snowy hair and found the texture to be surprisingly soft.

Even though there was no one to see him, the prince felt his face heat as he realized what he was doing and withdrew his hand with a sigh. As he watched his friend's sleeping face, he felt a strange unbearable fondness. The feeling was foreign to him, but familiar in a way he couldn’t quite place. He stared at Robin as he prodded at emotion, trying to figure out what exactly he was feeling. Suddenly the tent flaps were pushed aside, and Chrom jumped, his face going red again as if he had been caught in an indecent act.

“Hiya, Chrom! Visiting Robin, huh?” Henry greeted with a cheery smile. At the prince’s surprised look, the mage’s smirk widened. “Tharja told me you’ve known about him for a while now.”

The prince sighed. Of course she had. Henry moved to the table where Tharja had left her hexing materials, and began sorting through the jars. The mage hummed a merry melody to himself as he worked, and Chrom turned back to Robin’s sleeping form.

“Why does this happen? It’s got something to do with his magic right?” Chrom asked hoping he wasn’t coming off as too nosey, and worrying Falchion’s hilt.

“All magic requires a conduit, and performing spells without one is dangerous. Especially that sort of magic... ” Henry told him in that same light tone as he flipped through a spell book.  

The prince didn’t know that much about magic (not having any talent for it like his sisters), but he did understand that tomes, staves, runes, and even ingredients could work as mediums for magic. Without using a conduit, magic could burnout or injure the caster. Maybe even kill them if it was severe enough.

“Why didn’t he use one?”

The mage shook his head. “We don’t have the proper conduit to channel that magic, so we use proxies instead. They’re one use only and it doesn’t negate all of the negative consequences, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Like that pouch you gave him when he called the storm.” the prince remembered, and Henry nodded.

“Yeah, it’s a bunch of different ingredients all mixed together, and no you probably don’t wanna know what it is!” the mage giggled.

“He didn’t use one this time.” Chrom stated.

Henry nodded again, wagging a finger. “He pushed way past his limits. That’s why he’s like this now.”

Henry’s smile seemed to slip a little as he continued to mix ingredients. After a few more minutes, the mage finished his work and turned to the prince. He held out his hand, and in it sat a small drawstring bag.

“He spends a lot of time near you in battle now, doesn’t he? Maybe...you can help him out next time? We usually try to make sure he carries one… But he usually forgets he has it, or that he used it already and doesn’t have one anymore.” Henry grinned, handing Chrom the small bundle.

The prince took the pouch. This must be one of the proxies. It was lighter than he expected, and he couldn’t help to wonder what was inside even with Henry’s warning.

“You can count on me.” Chrom affirmed, tying the small bag to his sword belt.

Next time the prince would make sure Robin used it if he felt the need to cast his Grimleal magic. He did not want to see his friend in such a state again, especially if it was preventable.

Before Henry could respond, Nowi burst through the tent flaps. Chrom started slightly at her abrupt entrance, hand going to his sword hilt. The manakete’s amethyst bright eyes, were swimming with unshed tears, her pout pronounced.

“Is he awake yet?” she asked, slightly breathless as if she’d run all the way there from across camp.

“Nope. He’s doing better, though.” Henry told her, completely unfazed by her sudden appearance.

“When’s he gonna wake up? He promised he would show me how to catch snakes!” the dragon whined, coming to perch on the cot opposite Robin. She stared hard at him, as if hoping it would wake him somehow.

“Why would you want to catch a snake?” Chrom asked, more than a bit confused.

Nowi rolled her eyes at him. “Why wouldn’t you?”

“He’s still sick Nowi. He can’t play yet.” Henry shook his head and the young dragon whimpered sadly.

“Aw come on, don’t make that face. I could play with you, if you want.” the mage offered with a laugh.  

Nowi brightened instantly, and grabbed Henry’s arm. “Okay! Come play hide and seek with me!”

Hexellent idea! Nya ha ha!” the mage laughed as the manakete pulled him out of the tent. “See ya later, Chrom!” he called, and the prince shook his head as he watched the child drag Henry away.

With a sigh, Chrom ruffled Robin’s soft hair one more time before he stood and stretched. He replaced the rag on his friend’s heated forehead with a fresh cool one, and watched his sleeping face for a few moments. As much as the prince wanted to stay, he had a strategy meeting to attend.

An hour later, Chrom wished he had just stayed in the infirmary tent with Robin. The strategy tent was hot, and overcrowded with Shepherds and pegasus knights alike arguing about what to do next. Although it was mostly agreed upon that they needed to move, Chrom was having some reservations. Robin had been the one to decide their route originally, but the pegasus knights were not very trusting of their Grimleal companions.

“We need to keep moving. Grangel and his men will surely be following us. We cannot allow Her Grace to be taken again. We should head straight for Ylisstol.” Phila said.

“Grangel will definitely be ready and waiting if we tried to cross straight into Ylisse. That’s why the hierophant wanted us to go through the Midmire and around. They won’t be able to follow us so easily and there is more stone than sand up north. We’ll be able to travel faster by skirting the border with Regna Ferox.” Tharja said with a scowl.

“Even if that is the case, I think that the pegasus knights should escort the exalt back to Ylisse by air as fast as possible. The sooner she is out of Plegia the better.” Phila argued.

“I do not think it wise to separate our forces.” Frederick frowned.

“Frederick is right Phila. I don’t want us splitting up, we are stronger and safer together.” Chrom agreed tiredly.

“Through the Midmire and along the northern border the is fastest and safest way to get you back to your own lands. It would be nothing short of foolish to try and head straight east, the Mad King will have men scouring the desert for us.” Tharja sneered, putting an aggressive hand on the maps in front of them.

Quiet fell in the tent as they all considered her words. Frederick seemed deep in thought, as did Virion beside him, who had acted as a sort of faux tactician alongside the great knight for the Shepherds. Several of the pegasus knights were glaring at the Plegian mage, but the sorceress didn’t seem bothered in the slightest, her expression hard. The prince let out and irritated sigh at the blatant hostility on the Ylissean knights’ faces.

“I agree with Tharja, and this was the High Hierophant’s original route for escape. His plans have not failed yet, and I’ll trust this is the best solution.” Chrom declared.

“Good. One of you has some sense. We should set out soon, then.” Tharja smirked, looking to the prince. Was that a hint of approval in her gaze?

Lissa frowned. “But what about the High Hierophant, in his condition-”

“We will make do. It’s not the first time we’ve had to travel with him in such a state. If he were awake he would agree that we need to get moving regardless of his health. If we stay here any longer and get attacked, this will have all been for nothing.” Tharja cut in harshly, her eyes daring them to disagree.

The prince did want to argue, he didn’t know much about the healing arts, but he knew that a stressful day of travel on a weakened body was not good. It could worsen Robin’s condition significantly. But he could see their logic too, and knowing Robin, his friend would be aghast that they had stayed in one place for so long while on the run, as the sorceress said. The Shepherds, pegasus knights, and the sorceress looked to the prince, waiting for him to make the call.

“We’ll set out as soon as dusk falls.” Chrom decided firmly, even as his stomach turned uneasily.

***

 As the sun set, the Ylisseans and their Plegian guides packed up camp and set out once more, headed towards the Midmire. Henry rode on Shabdiz leading the way, Robin’s limp form bundled in blankets against his chest. Tharja meanwhile, was by herself on the brown mare several lengths behind them. Emmeryn rode with Phila on her grounded pegasus, Chrom and Lissa close by with two other members of the pegasus knights. Lissa was busy happily chatting with their older sister, recounting more of what had happened during their time in Plegia, clearly glad to be off the camel she and Chrom had been riding.

As it turned to night the prince couldn’t help the way his thoughts wandered. He kept glancing to the dark stallion leading their party, trying to catch glimpses of Robin. Chrom’s worry was starting to make his stomach ache, and he forced himself to think about other things. Nothing could be done about the hierophant right now. He found himself turning to the pegasus knight he was riding with, and how familiar she seemed. Her long hair was a deep crimson, and her form on the back of the pegasus disciplined. Attempting to place her took his mind off of Robin, but his continued staring caught her attention.

“I-Is something the matter, Prince Chrom?” she asked, her face nearly as red as her hair.

“No, sorry. It’s just…you seem familiar. Have we met?” he questioned.

At that the woman blushed even more. “Not quiet… I have been stationed at Ylisstol a few times, but…”

Then it clicked. “I remember now! I saw you training with the pegasus knights at the palace a few years back. You were amazing with that lance of yours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pegasus knight of such skill aside from Phila. And you’re a friend of Sumia’s, right?”

She looked incredibly surprised, and a bit faint at his words. “Y-Yes. I’m flattered you remembered, my lord.”

“You must forgive me, I don’t remember your name.” Chrom said guiltily.

She smiled at him, face losing some of its heat. “Cordelia, my lord.”  

He smiled back at her. Cordelia, yes, he remembered now. Phila had also talked highly of the young pegasus knight in passing.

“Chrom is fine.” he told her.

“N-No I couldn’t possibly. Such an informal way to address a prince. Allow me to call you Captain at the very least.” the pegasus knight stuttered, blush instantly back in full force.

The prince shook his head. “Alright, then. If it makes you more comfortable.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“Maybe I can convince the pegasus knights to let you work with my Shepherds sometime. We could really use someone with your skills.” Chrom told the pegasus knight.

Her fighting prowess would be highly valued, not to mention it was clear the Shepherds lacked airborne fighters. Having been learning a bit of tactics while working with Robin, the prince was finally coming to see how much help the Shepherds really needed.

“I would be honored, Captain.” Cordelia gushed.

After that, they fell into an easy silence for the rest of the ride. They made camp on the outskirts of the Midmire. Even as far away as they were, Chrom could see the huge spires that Henry had told him made up Grima’s ribs. Once again, the prince was blown away by the sheer size of the fell dragon, and he shuddered to think it would ever rise again. But he had decided to trust Robin on that front, so he tried not let it occupy his thoughts too much.

After everything was set up and in order, Chrom found himself wandering over to the infirmary tent once more. Thankfully, Lissa had said that Robin’s condition was stable, and the night of travel had not worsened his fever. Indeed, the hierophant looked about the same as he had earlier that day, and the prince was relieved. Dinner was hard rations as usual, but it was made much more enjoyable when he joined Emmeryn and Lissa in the exalt’s tent for it. The siblings talked, joked, and recounted stories late into the night, and when he laid down to sleep, Chrom had one of his easiest slumbers since crossing into Plegia.

 ---

Robin’s senses returned slowly. Again, pain came back first, but it was much less than before. Nothing more than a dull ache as if he had overworked his muscles during training, and the headache was not even as bad as one of his migraines. His skin still felt a bit clammy, but he was no longer delirious and sweat drenched. At the very least, the fever was broken. He was laying down on something soft, and there was a familiar smell in the air. Groggily, Robin cracked his eyes open and squinted against the sunlight streaming through tent flaps.

“I see you’re awake now.”

Robin started slightly and turned towards the familiar voice. There he found Chrom seated on a stool next to his cot, putting down the stack of parchment he had been leafing through. The prince was smiling slightly as he met the hierophant's gaze, but he looked a bit ragged. For a moment, Robin was very distracted by Chrom’s incredibly blue eyes, and the way his mouth quirked into that soft smile.

“How long was I out?” Robin mumbled looking away, trying to ignore the way his heart stumbled, as he sat up slowly. His limbs were still sore and stiff, his strength not quite returned to him yet.

The prince stood from the stool and poured a cup of water from a pitcher next to the cot. He handed it to Robin and the hierophant accepted it gratefully. As Robin drank, the events from the last few days came back. Emmyern’s rescue, Chrom’s and his escape, his fever addled conversations with his mages the few times he had woken.

“Almost three days. Tharja and Lissa said you woke up a few times here and there but...” Chrom trailed off examining the hierophant's face. “You… You really scared me there, Robin.” he confessed.

The hierophant closed his eyes, guilt sitting in his stomach, but also a spark of pleasure at the prince’s obvious concern. “I am sorry to have worried you again, Chrom.”

“I think you need to apologize to Tharja and Henry more.” the prince huffed, and Robin nodded.

He was not looking forward to that conversation. He remembered Thraja’s promise of long scolding during his fevered haze. At least his mind was clear again. Robin blushed slightly at what he had basically admitted to the sorceress and let out a long sigh.

“Where are we?” Robin asked as he took in the seemingly unchanged tent, hoping to change the subject. “Please do not tell me we are still at the rendezvous point.” he pleaded.

The prince shook his head. “We kept moving, we’re right on the edge of the Midmire now.”

“We should be well beyond the Midmire by now. Grangel’s men will catch up to us at this rate.” Robin muttered, setting his empty glass aside.  

“They haven’t caught us yet. The plan is to try and cross the Midmire in one go tonight. Tharja and Henry said it isn’t really a place we can linger.” The prince said, taking the empty glass and filling it again before handing it back with a stern look.

Robin raised his brows at Chrom, slightly exasperated, but took another drink anyway. “They are right. The Midmire is the one place in Plegia where it rains. It actually never stops, it has not for nearly a thousand years. It makes the terrain treacherous, and you can fall grievously ill staying in those rains for too long.” the hierophant explained.

“Gods, a thousand years of rain? Why?” the prince asked, his blue eyes wide.

“Because it is where what is left of Grima’s breast lies. He was always surrounded by storms, and I suppose some of His power still lingers there even now. Many people say that it rains because the land was blighted by the dragon’s fell blood as He breathed His last. But I feel that is a bit melodramatic.” the hierophant let out a small soft laugh.

“I-I see.” Chrom murmured, and Robin looked away, not wanting to see whatever emotion was on his face.

There was a few moments of silence before the prince spoke again. “Oh, I almost forgot. Here.”

He held out Robin’s sword and tome belts. The hierophant took them gratefully, and saw to his surprise that his khopesh was clean of blood from the last battle. When he looked to the prince, his slight blush confirmed to Robin that he had been the one to clean the blade.

“Thank you for taking care of them… And for…taking care of me too. ” Robin said sheepishly, his face warming slightly. “Once when I woke up briefly, Tharja told me that you… Ah, well anyway… I’m sorry you had to do that.”

“Don’t apologize, Robin.” Chrom gave him that stunning smile of his. “You’ve done so much for us, and besides what else are friends for?”

The hierophant was sure that his face must have turned very red. Friends? Chrom considered them friends? Robin felt warm elation settle in his chest. Aside from Tharja and Henry, he could not think of anyone he could call a friend. The hierophant looked down at his thankfully still gloved hands, and the happiness quickly froze over. If Chrom knew the truth he would certainly not want to be friends. The prince noticed his change in expression, and before Chrom could ask him what was wrong Robin changed the subject again.

“Is Exalt Emmeryn in good health?”

The prince smiled again at the mention of his sister. “Yes, she’s fine. No serious injuries. She actually left the infirmary tent well before you did.”

“I am glad.” He really was. The hierophant had been extremely worried that Grangel and his men might have seriously injured or even tortured the exalt during her captivity.

“Do you think I could speak with her? Along with you of course. We have a number of things to discuss, and I’d like to properly introduce myself to the exalt.” Robin requested, rubbing the back of his head nervously.

“Yes, of course! She really wants to meet you.” the prince said warmly. “But are you sure you’re up for it?”

Robin huffed a laugh. “I am not that frail, Chrom. I think I can handle it.”

“You say that but…” the prince trailed off uncertainly, and the hierophant rolled his eyes.

“I am fine.”

The prince frowned a bit, but stood up from the stool. “Alright, but first, I need to go tell Tharja you woke up. She said she’d hex me if I didn’t.”

“You’d best go, then.” Robin chuckled, and Chrom gave him one last playful smile before he left the tent.  

When he was gone the hierophant let out a long sigh and shook his head. He was such a fool. Nothing good could come of pursuing such feelings. Not that the prince even seemed to know how effortlessly charming he was.

After Tharja had thoroughly checked him over, she gave him the lecture of a lifetime about his recklessness and disregard for his own health. By Robin’s estimation it lasted nearly half an hour, during which he could only mumble abashed apologies. Underneath Tharja’s anger, she had been worried sick alongside Henry, and Robin felt guilty for making his retainers so frantic. But at the same time he did not regret his actions, and made no promise not to repeat them. What good was having so much power if he could not use it to protect or save, regardless of consequences?

Emmeryn readily accepted his request to meet with him and Chrom, but Phila and Frederick also demanded to be allowed to stand guard. Of course Tharja and Henry insisted they would need to be there too. Lissa quickly shut that idea down. She did not want so many people in the tent, stressing the weakened hierophant. It was far too much pointless bickering in Robin’s opinion, but in the end they all agreed to meet without their respective retainers. Although it was clear that Tharja and Phila in particular were not very happy. The prince and the exalt entered and sat on the cot across from Robin. Chrom hovered nervously by his sister’s side in case she needed help, and Robin had to suppress a smile at his ridiculously overprotective behavior.  

Emmyern paused for a moment as she took in Robin. Unlike her brother, her eyes where a clear sky blue, and they had a wise and appraising look that the ever naive Chrom lacked. There was a moment where their gazes met for the first time, and he saw the way her eyes widened as she took in his bright scarlet irises. Humans could have russet eyes, such as Sully, Aversa, and his father did, but they were never such a vivid hue as his were. None of the Ylisseans had noticed yet, but Emmyern was clearly more observant and cunning than she seemed. The hierophant had to resist the urge to break away from her gaze.

Instead, Robin put his hand over his hearted and bowed as low as he could manage while still seated on the cot.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me, Your Grace. My name is Robin and I am High Hierophant to the Grimleal. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, Robin. Besides, Chrom tells me it is you and your retainers we have to thank for my rescue.” Emmeryn's calm voice betrayed none of the surprise that he had seen on her face.

“There is no need for thanks, Your Grace. We only did what was right for both Ylisse and Plegia.” Robin told her sincerely, surprised by how steady his own voice was despite his nerves.  

“Now then, Chrom told me you wanted to discuss some things with me?” the exalt asked, her expression open, but there was a shrewd edge to it.

Robin took a deep breath and braced himself. “Yes. First…I have a request to make of you, Your Grace.”

The prince raised his eyebrows and looked between the two. Emmyern motioned for Robin to continue, a small encouraging smile on her face.

“I was wondering...if you would be open to the idea of me going to Ylisse with you.” the hierophant managed, worried at how his request would be received.

Chrom’s look of surprise was almost comical as he sputtered, “You want to-?!” He quickly cut himself off however, as he looked to his older sister.

The exalt’s gaze remained steady, giving no hints to her inner thoughts. “You would be most welcome with us, Robin, for all you have done, but I must ask why.”

“It would be very ill advised for me to return to the Dragon’s Table at this point, and staying elsewhere in Plegia would be little better.” he sighed deeply.

“And why is that?” Emmyern asked, confused.

“Aversa, my sister-” he started, and the exalt gasped, “told me she was ordered to work with Grangel, most likely manipulating the Mad King for the Grimleal. For what reason I do not know, but it’s clear that this has gone beyond just having me under their sway. They have goals and plans I know nothing about.”

“Having you under their sway… Robin, what are you talking about?” Chrom’s expression hardened.

“You could say…I am a figurehead of sorts,” the hierophant admitted running a hand through his hair. “I have some power within the order and this is not known to the public, but one of my cardinals...Validar, is the true head of the Grimleal. And unlike me, he adheres more to Grima’s teachings after His fall. If I were able, I would have him removed from his position.”

“Why can’t you?” the prince asked.

“Again, he holds most of the power in the higher ranks of the Grimleal. They are loyal to him first and foremost, not me. And he is likely the one who ordered Aversa to stay with Grangel. This has gone beyond just a difference in opinion on how the Grimleal should operate with whatever role they may have played in Her Grace’s kidnapping. That aside, Validar has a good deal of… leverage… over me.” Robin explained tiredly.

Emmyern frowned and Chrom’s face pinched with concern. “Like what?… Hostages?”

“Yes… among other things.” Robin told them vaguely. There was no need to bring up exactly how much control Validar had over him.

“So…you just have to go along with whatever he says?” the prince asked, a shocked undertone to his voice.

The hierophant nodded. “Yes, there is little I can do about it other than get away from the Dragon’s Table for periods, as he rarely leaves.”

“Gods Robin, that’s terrible! Why didn’t you say anything?” Chrom asked looking devastated.

For some reason his outburst irritated Robin. The prince had his own problems, and besides, there was no winning move against Validar at the moment.

“It did not come up until recently. It was not your concern, it had nothing to do with your mission here. And I did not consider that the Grimleal order might have had a hand in your sister’s kidnapping, so I did not see fit to tell you earlier.”

“That’s not the point!” Chrom shouted suddenly, and then lowered his voice glancing at his sister who was watching their conversation with a troubled expression. “We’re friends, Robin. I want to help you with your problems, as you’ve helped me with mine, but I can’t do that if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”

“I appreciate it, Chrom, but this is exactly why I did not tell you. Your emotions and good intentions outpace your thoughts. There is nothing to be done about my situation right now, and we need to focus on returning Exalt Emmeryn to Ylisse.” the hierophant snapped.

The prince opened his mouth as if intending to argue further, until his sister put a gentle hand on his shoulder. Robin blushed a bit as he realized he had just lost his temper in front of Emmyern, and dropped the prince’s title in front of his sister in his haste as well.

“I apologize for my tone.” the hierophant bowed his head. “I know you mean well, Prince Chrom, but there really is nothing we can do about it at the moment. And Plegia has bigger problems than a religious figure head.”

“...Alright…” Chrom acquiesced, but the determined look in his eyes told Robin that they had merely shelved that conversation for another time.  

The hierophant held back a long suffering sigh in the silence that followed. Chrom had to be one of the most stubborn humans he had ever met, Grima’s experiences included. From what he had seen for himself and the stories Lissa had told, the prince was always trying to solve everyone’s problems and taking on burdens that were not his.

“Regardless, this is far more serious than I thought, and I do not know how far their influence has spread in the order. Aside from Tharja and Henry I am not sure who I can trust within the higher ranks of the Grimleal. So for the time being… I think it would be best to travel with you to Ylisse to stay out of their reach while we plan our next move.” Robin spoke again.

“Very well then, Robin. Ylisse will welcome you. We owe you a debt of gratitude after all.” Emmyern agreed with a soft smile that her brother mirrored.

“Thank you, Your Grace.” Some of the tension left the hierophant's shoulders as he thanked the exalt.  

Next, Robin turned his gaze to the prince. “Now then, Prince Chrom. I assume you want to discuss the Kharayib and the threat they pose.”

“Oh right, the Risen!” the prince recalled, his face becoming serious once more.

“Yes, what can you tell us about those creatures, the Risen as Chrom said?” Emmeryn asked, turing thoughtful and worried. No doubt she had seen them during her attempted execution.

“The Kharayib or the Risen as you called them, are created from alchemy and elder magic. They are all…meant to be Grima’s servants in a way. He had no dragon clan, as Naga did, and so the Risen were His defenders in place of kin. Bodies are preserved and enchanted. If Plegia ever needed defending, Grima could awaken an army of the Risen to fight alongside Him.” Robin explained, tentatively.

“I remember that there were some reports of walking corpses during the last war but few enough that Ylisse thought the reports false. Was this a typical practice in Plegia?” the exalt asked.

“Generations of Plegians’ bodies were enchanted to become Risen, there is nearly an endless amount of them. It was common for warriors, and even some of the regular citizens, to pledge their body to Grima in death before His fall. It’s a sort of burial rite… Many Grimleal still take part in the custom today.” he told them.

Robin was sure it sounded very strange to the Ylisseans, but the people of Plegia took comfort in the idea of being buried to become Risen, of defending their descendents, even after death.

“But if they are supposed to be under Grima’s command, how did Aversa summon them?” Chrom questioned, his hand worrying Falchion’s hilt, a nervous habit Robin had started to pick up on.

“With the proper spells, mages and sorcerers are also capable of awakening and controlling the Risen for themselves. If Validar and Aversa have started waking them, it is possible they will spill over into your borders. It takes a lot of power and control to keep the Risen from destroying indiscriminately.” Robin answered, scowling at the thought.

How could his father think that waking the Risen without a proper way to control them was a good idea? They would ravage anything in their path if no one could keep them in check.

“Gods above… How does one fight off the dead?” Chrom put a hand to his face, voice barely above a whisper and slightly defeated sounding.

“They can be destroyed,” Robin assured, feeling compelled to put a comforting hand on the prince’s shoulder, despite himself. “But do not waste any effort on anything besides a killing blow. They feel no pain and most do not retain enough of their humanity to fear death.”

“But if there are as many Risen as you say…” the prince trailed off.

“Validar and his council are not capable of awakening too many at once, even with their combined skill. It may take some time, but they can be dealt with.” the hierophant gave Chrom’s shoulder a comforting squeeze, trying to convey his conviction as the prince met his gaze.

“Okay…”

Chrom gave him a grateful smile which Robin was quick to return. Suddenly the hierophant's vision wavered and he shut his eyes while his head swam. It felt like the cot dipped sharply beneath him as dizziness threatened to overwhelm him. A wave of weakness washed over Robin, and he threw out a hand to steady himself against the bed.

“Robin?!” Chrom called anxiously, as the prince’s strong hands carefully gripped his shoulders.

“I… I am fine. It was just a dizzy spell.” he mumbled as the tilting sensation ebbed away and he could open his eyes again.  

“You’re not quite recovered yet,” Chrom observed, his gaze not leaving Robin’s face. “I think that’s enough for one day.”

“But-”

“There’s plenty of time to talk of such matters later.” the prince cut him off, and the exalt nodded in agreement concern on her face.

Robin flushed. “I am sorry.”

“There is no reason to apologize, Robin. We can continue our conversation another time. I do not wish to overtax you.” Emmyern said kindly, standing up from her seat.

“Very well, Your Grace. And thank you, again.” the hierophant bowed once more.

“No, Robin, thank you.” And with one last gentle smile, the exalt turned and left the tent with her brother.

***

As evening approached, Robin was still weak and shaky, but he had recovered enough to move around on his own. The princess came to check him over one last time. Assuming nothing was wrong, they could set out into the Midmire without any trouble and he could return to his own tent when they set up again. Lissa seemed relieved to see him awaken and without a fever. She cleared him to leave the tent and travel, but warned him to take it easy for a few more days. After Lissa left, Tharja entered the tent with Chrom close behind.

The princess may have said you’re mostly recovered. But don’t you dare go right back to pushing yourself like you usually do. ” Tharja grumbled in Plegian, by way of greeting.

I won’t. ” Robin promised. He hated being fussed over all hours of the day, and had no desire to return to the infirmary any time soon.

Use a medium next time. If you die to your own stupidity, I will find you in the afterlife and you will never know a moment’s peace for the rest of eternity. ” the sorceress growled, jabbing a finger against his chest. Her words were harsh, but there was fear in her eyes.

Guilt pooled in his stomach again. “ I will.

The sorceress huffed, and crossed her arms, clearly not believing him. “The Ylisseans are waiting for you by the campfire. I still think you are being foolish.” she told him changing the subject.

Tharja, they have all seen me already. At this point the Shepherds knowing my name can do no harm. ” the hierophant pointed out.

Fine then.

In the silence that followed, the prince looked between the two of them, clearly waiting to see if they were finished with their conversation. When neither spoke further, he cleared his throat.

“I gathered up the Shepherds like you requested. Are you sure you want to do this?” the prince asked Robin.

“Yes, Chrom. It’s far too late, everyone saw me. I would rather just introduce myself than put my hood back up and pretend nothing happened. And…I trust you. So…if you trust the Shepherds…so will I.” the hierophant decided.

Chrom slimed warmly. “We all trust you too, Robin.”

Then he laughed when Robin raised a mocking eyebrow. “Okay, well, most of us.”

“Come on.” The prince lead the way to the campfire circle, where most of the Shepherds had gathered with Tharja trailing close behind. They all stared at him as they approached, and the hierophant had to resist the urge to pull his hood back up. Robin swallowed nervously, but tried to smile as he stood before the Shepherds. Chrom clapped a reassuring hand on his shoulder, and the hierophant felt a bit bolstered.

“It’s a pleasure to truly make your acquaintances. My name is Robin, and I apologize for my earlier dishonesty by hiding my face.” Robin said, hand over his heart, sketching a low bow.

For a moment there was silence, then Sully strode forward and nudged him with an elbow, laughing. “Ha! I figured you were a man.” then she turned and called back into the Shepherds with a grin, “Vaike, you owe me twenty gold!”

“I don’t owe you nuth’n!” the fighter grumbled, as Robin tried not to wince at the good natured blow to his ribs.

“Oh, yeah? What was all that about ‘knowing a fine lady when you see one’, huh?” Sully huffed, and Vaike turned red and started mumbling under his breath.

“Where you gambling on this?” Chrom asked his men dumbstruck.

Some of Shepherds became very interested in the sand at their feet, but Gaius came over and slung his arm around the prince’s shoulders, smirking around the lollipop in his mouth.

“Aw, calm down Blue, just a friendly wager between a few comrades. No harm done. Although, Ruffles is still moping, too.”

“I am doing no such thing!” Virion retorted, then the archer cleared his throat and addressed Robin. “Yes, now seeing your face… Ah ha ha! Oh, my. How could I, Virion, make such an error? Me! Virion! Oh my stars…”

Frederick and Maribelle frowned in disapproval, and Robin covered his face, which he was sure was on fire. Oh gods, they had been taking bets. He shouldn’t care that much if he was seen as a man or woman as Grima had been interpreted as both in the past, but the fact that it had been a topic of such hot debate for the Ylisseans…

“Do not worry, Robin, I have run into the same problem many times. If you ever need advice or a listening ear I will be happy to help.” Libra said, which only made the hierophant blush further.

“I do not think… I mean…” he turned a helpless look towards Tharja, but to his surprise his mage only smirked.

“There’s a reason I always play your body double over Henry.”  

Robin sputtered and the Shepherds broke into laughter. Clearly, Tharja had still not forgiven him for his rash actions and was happy to add oil to the fire. From there, the Ylisseans broke into some teasing banter with one another, thankfully relieving Robin of his embarrassment. In all the hubbub, Chrom drifted closer to him and the hierophant let out a dejected sigh.

“I should be glad my identity was so well hidden but…” Robin trailed off, his face still slightly pink. Good Grima, bets? Really?

“To be fair, I wasn’t sure myself until I saw you.” the prince confessed, playfully nudging his side.

“That’s really not saying much. You did not know Libra was a man either.” Robin said, covering his mouth with a gloved hand in an attempt to cover a teasing smile.

Chrom pouted at him. That got the hierophant to laugh for real.

“I suppose I should be happy you’ve taken all this in such good humor.” the prince muttered.

“Yes, I have. In truth I feel…happy. I did not think I would ever be able to have my cowl down around so many people. Ylisseans no less.” Robin mused, a soft smile on his face.  

“I’m glad. I know you didn’t really get a choice in trusting us with your identity, but I promise that we would never tell anyone unsavory.” Chrom vowed.

“Thank you, Chrom.” he said.

The prince’s returning smile caused the hierophant's cheeks to pinken slightly, and then turn to a full on blush as Chrom linked his arm with Robin’s “Come on, we should discuss our plans before we head out into the Midmire.”  

“Alright.” Robin agreed, and let Chrom lead the way.

Chapter Text

Traveling into the Midmire was unsettling in more ways than one. Viscerally, it was making Robin incredibly nauseous to be traveling through what remained of his own chest cavity, staring up at the dragon’s stark white bones through the downpour. Not only that, but Grima’s emotions still hung heavy in this place, hatred, fear, and profound anguish. Coupled with the unending, bone chilling rain and mud that arrested their progress, it was an entirely miserable experience. Although soaked through, at least his raised hood kept the rain off his face.

From Shabdiz’s back, Robin glanced back past Henry who was riding behind him, arms wrapped securely around the hierophant's middle. The healers had given him permission to ride, but Henry and Tharja insisted someone keep him steady on the horse as he was still having the occasional dizzy spell.

Behind him, even the normally colorful Shepherds seemed waterlogged and dreary. Chrom and the rest of the royal family were wrapped in cloaks as they rode with the grounded pegasus knights. Despite the weather and atmosphere, Exalt Emmeryn sat straight backed and proud on the back of Phila’s pegasus, and Robin had to admire her endurance.

The group slogged on in silence aside from the roar of the unending storms. They had just come to the middle of Grima’s ribs when Tharja, who rode at the party’s head, signaled for them to stop. Through the rain, the hierophant saw what had brought his retainer to a halt. A small army stood in formation blocking their path through the Midmire.

Although the downpour made it difficult to ascertain the enemy’s numbers, it was very clear that the Ylissean force was much smaller. Alongside the panic, Robin felt a wave of despair and guilt. The Shepherds had been delayed by his illness, and now Grangel’s men had caught up to them just as he feared.

“I am General Mustafa of Plegia. Ylisseans! I offer you mercy! Surrender to me now and live! If you lay down your weapons, I vow to protect you as best I can!” the large berserker at the head of the party called in Ylissean.

Robin knew that name and he felt a small spark of hope. Maybe they could get out of this yet. Near his ear, he heard Henry let out a small sound of surprise.

“How can we trust you after what your barbarous king has done? I think we shall take our chance with weapons in hand!” Frederick bellowed back from his steed.

Around him, the Ylissean militia began to rally, readying weapons and getting into position. Panic seared through the hierophant briefly at the sight.

“Hold Shepherds!” Robin called, spurring Shabdiz to block the Ylisseans from advancing.

“Robin?” Chrom called, confusion in his tone.

“Let us try to speak with them.” the hierophant requested.  

“Because that went so well the first time.” Frederick muttered.

Robin scowled. “This is different. General Mustafa is known throughout Plegia for his honor, he served the late queen. Henry even worked under him for a time, and they were practically family. He may listen to us.”

For a moment the prince seemed to waver. No doubt he was thinking of the last time that Robin had made a similar request. But the hierophant refused to come to blows with the kindhearted general if he could help it. Robin decided to give Chrom one last push.

“Please Prince Chrom, I want to no more conflict between our peoples.”

The prince looked at him for a long moment before he acquiesced with a sigh. “Alright.”

Behind him, Henry made a small sound of relief, and Robin gave the hand on his waist a reassuring squeeze. With a nod, he steered the horse towards the Plegian army. When he was close enough to make out the berserker's face he raise in hand in a non-threatening greeting.

Hold General Mustafa! We come to parley with you on behalf of the Ylisseans! ” Robin yelled in Plegian against the rain.  

Lord Grima! It’s true! You were taken by the Ylissean militia! Are you unharmed? ” the man called back in kind, surprise and anger written on his face as the soldiers behind him murmured to one another.

Robin shook his head. “ I do not know what you have heard, but I have gone with the Ylisseans of my own volition. I worked with them to free Exalt Emmeryn from the Mad King’s clutches, and intend to return her to her people.

There was even more muttering from the Plegian army at that. Clearly Aversa had not wasted any time spreading her false information.

Is this true?” the berserker asked in shock.

Henry suddenly let out a cheery laugh and waved. “ It is General! Cross my heart and hope to die! We’ve been helping the Ylissean prince out for a while!

Henry? ” Mustafa’s brows rose in surprise. “ I wondered where you went after you defected from the army, lad. It seems you found a higher calling. ” the general mused.

General, will you and your men hear me out? ” Robin asked the berserker.

I would not deny you such a simple request, my lord.

The hierophant nodded in thanks, taking a steadying breath. He rose his voice through the endless downpour, and hopped that this would work.

My people! I ask that you hear the truth of my words! War with Ylisse will win us nothing but sadness and pain, both inside our borders and out! We must free ourselves from this hatred! From this cycle of pain and vengeance!

Robin paused a moment and watched as his words sunk in before he spoke again, “ So I ask, not as your god, but as your fellow Plegian, that you let us pass! I do not want anymore bloodshed on our soil!

For a several long moments there was silence as the people considered his plea. Many of the soldiers looked weary and conflicted. Robin’s insides twisted nervously. These were not Grangel’s followers, nor were they Grimleal extremists. They were his people, the ones Grima had sworn to protect all those thousands of years ago when he made this land his home. He did not want to fight them.

I cannot defy the king, my lord. I know him well. He would murder my wife and child to set an example. Many of my men face the same problem. ” Mustafa told them defeatedly.

I know that Grangel has pressed many of you into his service, but if we do not stand against him, Plegia will continue to suffer. And… I do not think your wife and child should like to see you dead at our hands either, General. ” Robin beseeched.

The berserker hesitated, and the hierophant took the opportunity to make one last bid to convince the man.

Take your families and run to one of the Grimleal temples far from the capitol. They will protect you as best they can. I swear it.

There was another long pause as the rain continued to pound down on them, where Robin dared not even breathe as he waited for the man’s answer.

…You are right, my lord. We…cannot allow this to continue. ” Mustafa said solemnly and gestured for his men to stand down.

Around him, his soldiers dropped their weapons into the mud. Many looked uneasy, but most looked relieved.  

Go. Take the Ylisseans. Flee as fast as you can and we will do the same. ” the berserker told them.

Thank you, General. I will return soon, and when I do, I will free Plegia from this menace. ” Robin promised bowing his head, and motioned for the Ylisseans to follow them as the Plegian army began to retreat. The general was right, they could not let this go on.

The hierophant was so profoundly thankful that they had not come to blows that his shoulders sagged, and Henry worriedly tightened his grip thinking it was a dizzy spell.

May you always walk in Grima’s shadow, Mustafa. ” Henry said softly in farewell near Robin’s ear, his smile sincere for once.

There was no way the general could have heard something spoken so softly under the pouring rain, but he turned back and gave the mage a gentle expression as if he somehow had. And then the retreating army was lost behind the vale of torrential rain.

Thanks for that, Robin.” the boy murmured, as the Ylisseans caught up to them.

I did not want to fight them anymore than you did, Henry. There is no need for thanks. ” the hierophant shook his head.

Before the mage could respond, Chrom rode up to meet them on the back of a red haired pegasus knight's steed. She was thankfully careful to keep the mount a good distance from Shabdiz.

“I can’t believe that worked.” the prince said in slight disbelief.

Robin urged his unruly mount forward, as the party continued their gloomy march through the Midmire. “General Mustafa is a good man.”

“I didn’t catch much of your conversation, but it seemed like it. I’m glad we didn’t have to fight.” Chrom told him with a smile.

Robin found himself returning a weak grin to the prince despite how his heart ached for his country. “As am I.”

---

Reaching the other end of the Midmire was startling, as the rain abruptly cut off, and the scorching heat of the desert returned. As Tharja had said, once they reached the northern edge of Plegia, it was far easier to travel. And since their confrontation with General Mustafa, they had not seen hide nor hair of Grangel’s men. Which was good, as the Shepherds were battle weary and tired after about of month of traveling through Plegia.

The prince could not wait to get home, and his men clearly felt the same. Chrom still couldn’t quite believe that their Plegian allies would be traveling with them to Ylisse. He was distressed by what Robin had told them about the Grimleal, but he couldn’t help but feel happy they did not have to part yet. The prince was excited to show Robin his home, as he had done for them.

They were getting very close to the border now, another day or two of travel and they would be in Ylisse once more. They were mounting up to move on that evening as dusk approached, when Robin rode up on his massive steed. The hierophant brought his horse to a stop beside the prince, and Chrom took a nervous step back from the mount. To his surprise, the stallion did not react to his presence with anything more than a baleful glance.

“Would you like to ride with me?” Robin asked, holding his hand out to the prince.

Chrom eyed the hierophant's steed warily. It was true the horse was letting him stand so close but… “Is that a good idea?” he asked.

“You earned Shabdiz’s trust that day you saved me, something not easily gained or lost. He will allow you to ride him again.” the hierophant explained with a soft smile.

Chrom hesitated, staring into the stallion’s red eyed glare. It snorted irritably at him, but made no move to lash out.

“Unless you wish to ride with the pegasus knights?” Robin asked, tentatively.

“No! I mean…Yes, I’ll ride with you, if you’ll have me.” the prince managed, getting tongue tied.

“Well, seeing as I just asked you…” the hierophant mused teasingly.  

Chrom snorted and took his friend’s outstretched hand, pulling himself into the saddle. The stallion shifted at his added weight but made no complaint as the prince settled behind Robin.

“You might want to hold on.” his friend twisted to smile at him once he was settled.

Chrom wrapped his arms around the hierophant's waist just in time, as Shabdiz jerked forward, trotting to join the rest of their party. He saw Frederick’s furrowed brow, but to his surprise, instead of chastising him, the great knight grudgingly moved his mount towards Lissa, who was on the back of Maribelle’s pony today. The night’s journey seemed to pass exceptionally fast, having Robin to talk with again, and Chrom found the harsh desert chill much easier to ignore.

The party stopped when the sun began to peak over the horizon, and set up camp. They were close now. Chrom sorely hoped this would be one of their last day in the desert. After dinner, the prince found himself in Robin’s tent, working on learning Plegian again. He was having a lot of trouble grasping the verb forms, but the ever patient hierophant was willing to re-explain it as often as he needed. It was an enjoyable, if slightly frustrating time. However, they were interrupted when a familiar voice called outside the tent.    

“Ah, er, excuse me Robin, but have you seen Prince Chrom?” Frederick’s voice was unusually hesitant, and Robin’s raised brows made it clear this was not a visitor he had ever expected.

“I’m here Frederick, did you need something?” Chrom asked trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.

“You can come in, sir Frederick.” Robin called setting aside the worksheets he had drawn up for the prince to practice with.

Looking highly uncomfortable, the great knight pushed past the tent flaps, only frowning slightly when he saw the two of them seated close together on the hierophant’s bedroll.

“Milord, there is something I wish to speak to you about. Privately.” the great knight said, his tone stubborn, telling Chrom that he would be unlikely to take no for an answer.

“Alright Frederick,”the prince bit back a groan as he agreed, and then turned apologetically to his friend, “Robin do you mind if we pick this up another time?

“It’s no problem, Prince Chrom.” Robin said, waving him off with a small smile.

The prince nodded in thanks and followed after the great knight. His guardian led them to Chrom’s tent, which was in a more private area of camp. Considering the time of day there was no one else around. Obviously Frederick did not want this conversation to be overheard. The prince felt his stomach twist with nerves and upset as they stood in the silence of his tent. He had a feeling this conversation would be about his riding with Robin or being in his tent so frequently, and he wasn’t willing to get into it with the great knight at the moment.

“Frederick, I know that you are weary of the Grimleal, but surely after what they have done for us...”

“No, er, that is-” the great knight cleared his throat uncomfortably, “actually what I wished to talk about.”

Chrom felt a flurry of conflicting emotions at those words. Worry over what experience was so bad his retainer refused to speak of it, frustration that it had taken this long and Robin almost dying while saving Emmeryn for the great knight to start looking past the fact that he was Plegain, and a slight relieved happiness that Frederick had finally decided he was ready to trust the prince with his story.  

Holding his hands behind his stiff back, the great knight sighed deeply. “Sumia made a good argument that it would be best to speak of this sooner rather than later. And seeing as our new allies will be joining us in Ylisse… I would say the time is right.”

Frederick glanced to Chrom, who motioned encouragingly for him to say his piece.

“During the last war, about sixteen years ago, I was a page to a noble lord. We had been stationed on the border in a small mountain village. At that point, the fighting was out of control on both sides of the border. The commander of Plegia’s armies had fallen, and the pervious exalt had started a doomed march deep into desert in an attempt to reach the capitol… Where he…well…” the great knight trailed off, unwilling to put it into words for fear of upsetting his liege.

But Chrom just nodded. He had hazy memories of the end of the war, but even if he had not known then, he knew now that that final march had been the one to end his father’s life. In all honesty, a blessing for both nations. Frederick was well aware of the prince’s feelings towards his sire, and his thoughts on the man were much the same, but he was always wary of bring up the subject for the prince’s sake.

“Regardless…” the great knight cleared his throat and continued, “A group of Grimleal refugees crossed the mountains and made it to the village. They were ragged and seemingly terrified. They begged for sanctuary. The lord I was working under was sympathetic to the Plegian people’s plight. He was aghast at the exalt’s cruel campaign, and willingly allowed them into the village. All the villagers were fearful and the soldiers angry of course, but the lord was well liked and they trusted his judgement.”

Frederick paused and let out a shaky breath, glancing at the prince, possibly thinking of another lord who was well liked and trusted too easily. His retainer’s hands shook behind his back and Chrom frowned in concern. The prince had never known the great knight to look so pained or vulnerable.

“Sorry… This is...a difficult tale to tell.”

“It’s alright Frederick, take your time. You don’t have to tell me if you aren’t ready.” the prince soothed, he was not sure he had ever seen the great knight’s face so pale.

His retainer just shook his head and continued. “I was sent along with the other pages into the nearby forest to hunt, as we did not have enough food for everyone with the inclusion of the Grimleal. However, a terrible snow storm swept in and we were forced to shelter in a cave for the night before we could make it back to the village.”

Frederick paused and took a few steadying breaths. “When we returned… When we returned…everyone, the villagers, the soldiers, even the farm animals…they were all...dead. They had been…disemboweled…their insides strewn all across the village in gruesome ritual displays. The snow was running red with blood, and the Grimleal…were in the process of gutting our lord in the town square…”

The great knight stopped again as Chrom sucked in a breath of horror. The prince had heard that such gruesome crimes had happened on both sides of the borders, but to think Frederick had witnessed such a thing so young… Seeing his lord shaken seemed to steel the great knight, as he closed his eyes and plowed forward.

“We were afraid of being spotted or heard so we were forced to hide, we all stopped watching quickly, but the sounds were inescapable. I don’t think… I’ll ever forget them. After the Grimleal retreated back into the mountains we ran for days on end to the next town, haunted by what had happened. The guard there sent soldiers to investigate, but…there was no one left to save.”

There was a long moment of silence where the only sound was Frederick’s uneven breathing while Chrom tried to process everything that his retainer had just told him.

“That’s…That’s terrible. I can’t believe…  Anyone would be scarred by such a sight Frederick, especially considering how young you were… Gods above…I can’t even imagine.” the prince choked out.

“I am trying to be…better. Our Plegian allies have proven that they are not as those Grimleal were… But it is difficult to try and…move past such things.”

“I understand better now Frederick, and I’m glad you finally opened up to me.” Chrom said putting a comforting hand on his retainer’s shoulder, trying to think of any words that might help.

But he had never been very good at such things.Then another’s words came back to him.

“Robin… Robin once told me that we should never forget what was done, but that we should keep moving forward for both Ylisse and Plegia. So as long as you keep trying, keeping moving forward…that is all I could ask of you.” the prince told his retainer, his friend, meeting his gaze steadily, trying to convey the sincerity behind what he said.

“That is…good advice Milord.” Frederick said after a beat of silence.

“I think so too. Robin is a good friend.” Chrom smiled sadly at the memory of that day in front of the temple.

There was another pause.

“A word of caution, Chrom,” the great knight started, immediately catching the prince’s attention with the use of his name. “I am not the only Ylissean with hard feelings about the last war with Plegia. Your friend is going to need your support when we reach Ylisse.”

“I think you are right. Thank you, Frederick.” Chrom murmured, and his guardian bowed and clanked out of the prince’s tent.

Leaving Chrom with a new set of problems to consider alongside everything else.

---

Tomorrow they would cross the border and be in Ylisse, and Robin could not have been more worried. Not just for what he would face in Ylisse, but also for the country he would leave behind. It was clear after their confrontation with Mustafa that things could not be left as they were in Plegia. And more than that, there were too many unknowns within the high ranks of the Grimleal to leave them to do as they pleased. There was only one feasible solution.

Setting aside his ink and parchment, Robin left the strategy tent and sought out his mages. As predicted they were headed for the mess tent at the time. Tharja looked down right flabbergasted to see him out and about, seemingly headed to get a meal. But he merely stopped in front of them, shifting uncomfortably.  

We need to talk before we reach Ylisse. Not here.

They both looked confused, and a bit worried, but followed him all the same. He took them to a more secluded part of camp, behind the armory tent. Seeing as it was meal time, he doubted anyone would be here. Not that it mattered too much. Few of the Ylisseans spoke their language, and as sad as that fact was, he could not deny its usefulness.  

Robin ran a hand through his hair nervously, knowing his mages would not like what he was about to say. “ We need to split up.

Tharja’s expression darkened immediately and Henry’s smirk slipped, but before they could speak, the hierophant rushed to explain his plan.

Mustafa’s reaction made it clear that the Plegian people have taken Aversa’s lies seriously. Henry, you must travel through Plegia and spread the word that I am fine and have gone with the Ylisseans willingly. Tharja, I need you to return to the Dragon’s Table and spread the same word, but more than that… See what you can find out about Validar’s plans. I must continue onto Ylisse. My father would just use me against the two of you, and I am sure whatever his plans are, they are centered around me.

Without missing a beat Tharja flatly said, “ That is a terrible idea. I refuse.

Robin frowned. “ Tharja, please. Surely you understand-

No.

They’re nice and all, but you going to Ylisse without at least one of us… As much as I love blood, I really don’t wanna come back and find you impaled on Falchion. ” Henry broke in grinning widely.

It will only be for a month or two at most. Even if the truth were to somehow come out, I doubt Exalt Emmeryn would have me killed outright. The Ylissean royals are noble to a fault. Besides, I am not entirely helpless on my own, you know. ” Robin said his voice dripping with exasperation.

Tharja and Henry immediately started talking over one another against him.

No, you are a fool to trust them! If you keep cozying up to the prince they will find out who you are, and then they will kill you! They will kill you, and Plegia will be lost again! Of all the stupid schemes you have come up with, this is undoubtedly the most-!

The Exalt’s a nice lady and all, but you know that the people in Ylisse are not gonna like you. Even if they don’t find out who you are, you’d probably still get totally murdered just for being Plegian. But oh man, if they do find out, I bet they’d-

Enough! ” Robin yelled.

It was not often he raised his voice, and it silenced the mages at once. The hierophant took a few deep breaths trying to calm his growing temper. It was in part from fear. He did not want them to leave either, and their concerns were valid, but what choice did they have?

We must do what is best for Plegia, and that means that the two of you must go and do as I have asked. Our people have survived without Grima for over a thousand years, they could survive the loss again, but not another war with Ylisse so soon. ” Robin told them harshly.

No. Not your life. All lives my be equal in Grima’s eyes, in yours, but not to Plegia. Not to us. ” Tharja growled, jabbing a finger at his chest.

They were interrupted by the crash of metal on metal, and the Plegians jumped, readying for an attack, as all three pairs of eyes snapped towards the commotion. Chrom stood awkwardly watching them and rubbing the back of his neck, looking sheepishly down at the weapons rack he had knocked over. The three of them relaxed marginally, but Tharja looked livid at the fright.

“Sorry… I didn’t mean to interrupt… I heard shouting and…” the prince stammered.  

Chrom’s lessons on Plegian had been coming along slowly, but surely, and for a moment Robin feared how much he might have understood. Although judging by his expression, probably not much at all, if any.

The hierophant let out a deep sigh through his nose and started to say in Ylissean, “We are just-”

To his surprise, Tharja cut him off. “Princeling, talk some sense into this idiot. He is trying to leave for Ylisse on his own.”

Chrom’s bashful expression morphed into one of mild shock and concern. “You intend to travel to Ylisse without Henry or Tharja?”

“Yes, we must split up in order to accomplish our goals.” the hierophant said shooting a frustrated glance at his retainers.  

“I’m not sure what you need them to do here in Plegia, and, well… Not to say Ylisse is overly dangerous, but I think one of them should come at least.” the prince suggested in concern.

“Even the Princeling thinks this is a bad idea, you stubborn moron!” Tharja shouted with a hint of triumph, even though she had just insisted the Ylisseans were untrustworthy.

“It does not matter if it’s a bad idea! The problem is that I need the two of you here doing what I have asked!” Robin countered.

“What do you need them to do?” Chrom broke in before they could start fighting again.

“Someone must tell the people that I have chosen to go to Ylisse myself, so that we can avoid the citizens siding with Grangel’s war,” the hierophant shot Henry a glare, “And someone else must return to the Dragon’s Table and find out Validar’s plans so that we may put a stop to them.” he finished looking pointedly at Tharja.

“Can’t you send anyone else?” the prince asked.

“No. There is no one else who can do these tasks. No one else I trust to do them.” Robin said tiredly, some of the fire leaving him.

His mages could not argue with that, and fell silent at his defeated tone.

“What if I were to protect Robin in your stead?” Chrom asked suddenly.

Startled, the hierophant’s eyes flew to the prince’s willful expression. “Chrom, what-”

“If your offer is true, swear it on the life of your beloved exalt, Prince of Ylisse, that Robin will come to no harm in your country.” the sorceress demanded before he could finish, her dark eyes intense.

“Tharja-!” Robin started only to be interrupted again.

“I swear.” Chrom promised, his gaze fearlessly meeting Tharja’s.

“Chrom!” the hierophant gasped.

“I will hold you to that oath, Son of Naga.” Tharja vowed solemnly, her unnerving stare not leaving the prince’s face. Then she turned back to Robin.

“Fine then. We will ready for the journey back.”

Henry gave them a little wave as the sorceress dragged him off, leaving Chrom and Robin standing alone behind the tent. The hierophant still reeling from what had just happened.

“You really did not need to do that, Chrom. Plegians take oaths very seriously…” Robin groaned once they were gone. It had not been a blood oath but… Oh, this was sure to be trouble.

“Then it’s a good thing I intend to keep my promise.” the prince flashed him a confident grin.

“Well, while I must thank you for getting them to agree, there is no reason for you to keep such an oath. It was wrong of Tharja to even ask you in the first place.” Robin frowned worriedly at the prince.

Really, of all of them he needed the least protection. He may not have had all Grima’s powers or thick dragon scales, but it would take more than most to kill him. And even then, Grima would continue to live on. He was still surprised Tharja had made Chrom of all people promise that he would be safe, for the prince was the wielder of the one sword capable of true harm. But perhaps that was why..?

“It’s fine, and the least I can do. Vowing for your safety in Ylisse after all you have done for us is nothing in comparison.” Chrom told the hierophant, breaking into his thoughts, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Robin sighed and shook his head. ‘You do not need to.’ He bit back the words. Chrom was exceedingly stubborn and saying such a thing would only have him insisting even more. What a cruel thing Tharja had asked of the prince. Making Chrom swear to protect Robin without the Ylissean prince knowing who his friend truly was. But the hierophant was not about to tell Chrom if he could help it either.

That evening the group began to get ready to travel again, this time with many more on foot and far less supplies. The borrowed camels would be taken back to the Grimleal by Tharja and Henry, as they were not suited to the terrain of Ylisse. And the neighboring country’s lands were plentiful, food and water would be easy to come by. When the time came for his mages to depart, Robin lead Shabdiz by the reins to where they were, packing supplies onto their own brown mare.

When he handed Henry the reins, the mage cocked his head at the hierophant with a quizzical grin. Even Tharja paused in her work to shoot him a questioning look.

Take him with you.” he told his retainers in their native tongue.

At that the horse threw his head back and let out an angry whiny, pulling himself from Henry’s loose grip and shoving into Robin’s space. With a sigh the hierophant firmly grabbed the steed’s head, pulling him down so they were eye to eye.

You must go with them Shabdiz.

The stallion bared his fanged teeth and made a noise between a snort and a growl. Robin clicked his tongue at the attitude.

If you come with me, the Ylisseans are sure to see through your disguise. Your presence, though appreciated, would put both of us at grave risk. Besides, Tharja and Henry need you.

For a long moment the two glared at each other neither party willing to back down, but then the stubborn horse broke away ceding to his master. Robin gave his snout an apologetic pat, and the stallion let out a sad whiny and shuffled back to Henry with his head low, sulking. The two mages climbed onto the back of their horses before looking back at their charge.

At least remember to eat, would you? ” Tharja asked dryly, eyes boring into him with threats. She would not be there to remind him.

He nodded swiftly. “ Yes, I’ll do my best.

You better not die! ” Henry laughed, but there was a nervous edge to it.

I have no intention of dying again so soon. I do want some peace in the afterlife. ” Robin joked morbidly recalling Tharja’s threat, which at least seemed to put Henry at ease, even if the sorceress shot him a particularly cutting glare.

He gave her a sheepish smile, which quickly dropped away into something more serious and desperate.

Be careful. Both of you, please. ” the hierophant requested.

They both gave solemn nods, and with one last farewell, urged their mounts forward. He wished they did not have to part, but his staying in Plegia was far too dangerous for the time being. He was more concerned about Tharja. Although she was the most skilled spy in the Grimleal order, snooping around under Validar’s nose and getting caught would result in a fate far worse than death.

Robin stood there watching them for some time, aware of Chrom’s presence behind him, no doubt come to tell him the Shepherds were ready to move as well. Finally he let out a subdued sigh and turned to join the prince, trying to muster up a smile. Chrom’s brows were knit with concern, clearly seeing right through Robin’s expression.

“You alright?”

“I will be fine.” the hierophant assured, dropping the attempted smile.

It would feel strange, not having at least one of them with him. The three of them had been inseparable, not just because it was their job to take care of him, but because they got along so well. As pathetic as it was, Robin couldn’t remember a time since they had met at the end of the last war, that the three of them had not been together. He feared for their safety as much as they did for his, and hopped that all would go well.

Suddenly Chrom offered a hand with a kind smile, his blue eyes catching the Plegian sun nicely, and Robin blushed. No doubt the prince had no idea how this looked, trying to offer support as he was. That welcoming hand and compassionate look seared away some of Robin’s melancholy.

He could worry about his friends and his country all he wanted, but it would do no good. For now, all he could do was continue on to Ylisse. So he took Chrom’s offered hand gratefully, and trailed after him towards the Shepherds.

***

The moment they were over the Ylissean border, the exalt and her guard had wanted to return to Ylisstol. Robin and Chrom had been quick to reminded them that there was very likely a traitor in court, and it would be better for Emmeryn to stay with the Shepherds. Much to his frustration, the hierophant found that the exalt was just as stubborn as her siblings when she insisted that she must return to the capitol for her people as soon as possible, despite the danger.

Unable to sway her, the exalt and her guard (minus Cordelia who had requested to join the Shepherds for the time being) took off into the skies. Chrom watched them leave with a clenched jaw while Lissa tried to hide her tears. Robin did his best to soothe both royal siblings. The pegasus knights and palace guards would be on high alert now, and he doubted that in the week or so it would take to get to Ylisstol, the traitor would be able to get another plan in place to harm their sister.

In the meantime, the Shepherds would travel back to Ylisstol over land. Robin had never left Plegia during his lifetime, Grima had on occasion but never to their neighboring country, and never for long. He had read about Ylisse before, and although he was mostly fluent in the language he was shocked by how different in climate the two countries were. This side of the mountain was significantly cooler, the terrain far more irregular. Not only that, but the air in Ylisse had an odd stickiness to it that the desert lacked, which the hierophant found stifling and unpleasant.

As they traveled farther from the border, Robin was fascinated by the sheer amount of green there was in Ylisse (There was greenery in Plegia of course, but it was in small amounts centered around the oases). It was late summer and the land would still be lush for a few more weeks, before autumn took hold. Everywhere he looked there were plants and flowers he had never seen before, aside from drawings in books.

Chrom and the other Shepherds indulged him by pointing out trees and blooms they knew the names and uses of. It was a good way to distract them all of them in the wake of Emmyern’s departure, and Robin from his mages’. Frederick even shocked him one day by pointing out a flower that made particularly good tea. The hierophant still felt the separation from his retainers as a phantom ache, but being around the Shepherds and their quirky personalities lifted his spirits.

They were not far into the farmlands of Ylisse’s countryside, not long into their march for the day when they were brought to a sudden halt as a young boy ran up the dirt road to meet the militia.

“Halp! You gots to help us! I'm beggin' you, milords!” the lanky farmhand yelled as he pelted towards them.

As the boy came to a panting halt, Chrom came forward. “Slow down. What happened?”

That question was answered when a small group of what looked to be bandits crested the hill with weapons drawn.

“There you are you little-!” the crook stopped short when he saw the large group of warriors before him.

The brigands tried to retreat, but the Shepherds made quick work of them. When they were finished, the farmhand had thanked Chrom profusely and begged help for his beset village. A group of bandits had taken the townsfolk hostage and were stealing their goods. As expected, the prince readily agreed. Robin found himself playing tactician to the Shepherds again as he asked the farmhand, Donnel, for information on the terrain.

The hierophant split the militia into smaller groups again, hoping to divide and conquer the brigands. The ruins they were hiding in and the fact that they had hostages was not making things easy. Worse, the bandits did not move to counter the Shepherds as he expected, their crude tactics far different than even Plegian brigands. One thing was for certain, he’d have to study more Ylissean battle tactics compared to those of his homeland.

That wasn’t to say they were doing badly, however. The battle was just far more drawn out than it needed to be. In his group the hierophant fought alongside Gaius, Nowi, and Lissa. They were focused on causing havoc outside of the ruins to distract the bandits while teams lead by Chrom and Frederick infiltrated to rescue the hostages. Nowi and Gaius took the main charge while Robin and Lissa assisted from behind. The foes were not overly skilled, but there seemed to be no end to them.

As Robin took down yet another archer with a well placed blast of Thoron, he heard a commotion coming from ruins. It seemed as though the Shepherds had finally reached the leader of the group. Thank the gods. His teammates were looking a bit ragged, and the hierophant felt rather tired as well. Eventually, Nowi blasted one more ruffian with dragon fire, and the roaring echo of Robin’s last spell faded as a barbarian fell. The battlefield was silent.

“That’s the last of ‘em.” Gaius sighed wiping his brow and looking over the corpses.

Nowi landed next to the thief and shifted back to her human form, while Lissa’s shoulders slumped in relief. She had only needed to heal a few scrapes here and there, but the princess had seemed worried as the fight dragged out.

“Let’s go meet up with Blue and Freddy.” Gaius said and started for the ruins, the two young girls nodding in agreement.

Robin moved to follow and was hit with a sudden wave of vertigo, stumbling on the uneven terrain. Trying to fight back against the weakness that had seeped into his limbs.

“Whoa, Bubbles, you alright there?” the thief asked, his voice sounding like it was coming from very far away.

“Yes, I-” the dizziness surged again and Robin fell roughly to his knees as his legs gave out.

His vision faded for a moment, and the world slipped away. When he came back to his senses, Gaius was on the ground next to him, an arm around his shoulders keeping him from face planting into the dirt. Although he didn’t feel quite so faint anymore, there was an annoying fog hovering around the edges of his consciousness.

“Robin!” the panicked squeak surprised him, as Nowi’s amethyst eyes suddenly filled his vision, uncomfortably close.

“Did you get hurt?!” Lissa asked in concern, kneeling next to him, staff in hand.

“I am fine, I just got dizzy for a moment.” he assured them weakly, thoroughly embarrassed that he had just fainted on them.

“Are you still not feeling well? It’s been nearly a week since you were sick…”

“No, it’s not that. I am okay, I just got a bit lightheaded. It happens sometimes, it’s nothing to worry about.” he insisted.

The Plegian healers had told him long ago that he had thin blood, and fainting was not an uncommon symptom of such things. He could only assume that the careful breeding the Fell bloodline had done to create Grima’s reincarnation was the cause. Although to be fair, it had been several years since he’d fainted from the condition.

“Can you walk?” Gaius asked, helping him stand.

“Yes.” the hierophant huffed stubbornly, but when he tried to take a step his knees wobbled.

“Jeez, for a supposed big shot you sure keel over a lot.” the thief said in exasperation, looping his arm under Robin’s shoulders to keep him steady.

“I do not need-”

Gaius cut him off with a smirk. “Would you rather I carry you? Or maybe I oughtta go and get Blue.”

The hierophant was incredibly grateful that his hood was still raised, as he felt his cheeks heat. Nowi’s large eyes looked between the two of them curiously. He opened his mouth for a retort, but Lissa got there first.

“Stop teasing him and help him back to camp already, Gaius!” she ordered, brandishing her staff like a weapon.

“Alright, alright, Princess, don’t get your pigtails in a twist.” the thief chuckled half dragging Robin forward while the manakete took his hand and pulled him along on the other side.

Too weak to fight them, he let his teammates drag him back to where some of the Shepherds were setting up camp on the outskirts of the village. Robin did not take much of the half finished camp in, dazed as he was. But as they carried him towards the infirmary tent he dug his heels in.

“I really am fine, there is no reason to waste-”

“Robin, you can’t even stand. Please just let me look you over?” the princess's sky blue eyes stared imploringly into his. The way she was pouting reminded him unfairly of her brother.

“Alright, Princess Lissa.” he agreed quietly.

Gaius and Nowi helped him into the tent, and sat him on one of the cots. Robin’s head was still slightly swimy, and he shut his eyes to keep the tent from listing in his vision. The three of them were talking, but he couldn’t be bothered to focus on it, tired as he was.

The hierophant must have fallen asleep or passed out briefly, because when he opened his eyes, Nowi and Gaius were gone, leaving him alone in the tent with Lissa, who was twisting her staff worriedly.

She looked over at him, seeing he was awake and mumbled, “I looked you over but I didn’t really find anything wrong. But something has to be wrong if you just fell over.”

“I told you it happens sometimes, Princess Lissa. I… have a blood condition.” Robin admitted with a grimace. Surely that must be the cause?

The princess frowned and opened her mouth to say something when suddenly Chrom barged into the tent, looking anxious.

“Gaius said you collapsed, did something happen? Are you hurt?” the prince rushed forward, gloved hand brushing back Robin’s fringe as the prince’s startling blue eyes assed him for injury.

For a moment the hierophant was stunned and unable to speak. Robin was used to the prince being a very tactile person but… He had not expected Chrom to run in here so suddenly, and…he was very close.

“No, I just got a bit dizzy, honestly I am fine.” the hierophant finally managed around the nervous lump in his throat.

“There’s nothing for my staff to fix.” Lissa added awkwardly, and Chrom quickly dropped his hand and backed off, as if he had just realized his sister was there.

“Robin gave me a possible cause for him passing out but I’m not so sure that’s the problem.” the princess said pursing her lips.

Robin shot her a grateful and relieved glance. He didn’t want Chrom to know about his issue, and think him weak. Lissa was a healer and not nearly as overbearing as her brother so the hierophant was more okay with her knowing. Besides he usually had it under control…

The prince stilled as if a thought struck him, and asked, “Robin… When was the last time you ate something?”

“Hmm… Did I..? No… Probably dinner last night.” he couldn’t really remember, the days seemed to pass him by so quickly. He had been trying to do better, as Tharja had asked, but he’d be lying if he said he made it to every meal.

“Prob- Probably?! ” Chrom exclaimed.

“Yes?” Robin told them tentatively.

“You idiot, no wonder you fell over! You battled like that on an empty stomach!” Lissa said, smacking his arm.

“Ah, well, yes I suppose that would do it.” the hierophant mused, rubbing his sore arm. Not delicate indeed.

Huffing with exasperation and disbelief, Chrom left and returned quickly with a plate of food. Apparently the unharmed villagers they had rescued had given them copious amount of produce and product in thanks. Not only that but the young farmhand, Donnel, had decided to join the Shepherds.

The prince and princess sat with him as he ate, and Robin had to fight the blush that threatened his cheeks. They talked with him and each other, but they were both watching him like hawks. Soon after eating, the annoying floaty feeling left him, and Robin felt like he could actually focus on things again.

“Good, you look a lot less pale now.” Chrom said, picking up the empty plate.

“I do feel better.” the hierophant confessed.

“You gave me a bit of a fright.” the prince told him, his face pinching with concern. “I would hate to fail to hold up my oath just because you forget to have breakfast or lunch. But I'm glad that’s all it was.”

Lissa raised her eyebrow at the mention of the prince’s promise, but made not comment.

“I know, I am sorry Chrom.” Robin said guiltily.

Chrom gave him a soft smile still tinged with worry. “I’ve got a few things to straighten out still, so I’ll see you both later. Please take better care of yourself Robin.”

With that the prince swept out of the tent his deep eyes glancing back to Robin, and the hierophant watched him go, forbidden emotions welling up in his chest. Gods, he had been so close, and he had touched Robin before, but that had felt… Different. No, he needed to stop being foolish.

Trying to take his mind off of the encounter, the hierophant watched Lissa fuss with the bottles and other supplies in the tent, all the while clutching her staff and biting her lip. Not meeting Robin’s eyes, or even looking at him.

“Is something wrong, Princess Lissa?” he asked when she finally put her staff aside.

“No…” she mumbled, worrying the hem of her dress.

“How convincing.” he said a touch dryly.  

Lissa pouted at him, and got a conflicted look on her face for a few moments. Then as if making up her mind, she turned a determined stare on him.

“You…made me really worried, Robin. Like…super worried when you fell. So, you owe me a favor.” the princess declared, tears forming in her eyes.

Robin suddenly remembered how young the princess was in comparison to most of the Shepherds. She may be a healer, and tougher than most her age, but she was still one of the youngest of the Ylissean militia. Not delicate, but not made of steel either. He felt horrible for adding to her worries.

“Okay,” Robin agreed, and the princess’s upset expression bloomed into a tentative smile. “Did you have a something in mind, Princess Lissa?”

“There! That right there is my favor! Everyone is always, princess that, princess this! Just call me Lissa, alright? At least when Frederick’s not there!” Lissa demanded.

The hierophant chuckled, reminded of Chrom’s similar request. “Okay then, Lissa it is.”

“Good.” the princess nodded in approval. “Alright, you can go back to your own tent now, but I better see you at breakfast.”

“I will be there.” Robin promised, standing up from the cot, glad she wasn’t making him spending the night. Lissa walked up to him and surprised him with a tight hug.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better. You really scared us, you know?” she mumbled against his chest, the embrace turning almost painful.

“I am sorry, I did not mean to cause you so much worry.” Robin apologized patting her back, and the princess released him.

She put her hands on her hips, and adopted a stern look. “Just don’t do it again, okay?”

“I will try.” Robin could make no promises that it would not happen again at some point.

The princess frowned at him, but rolled her eyes and shooed him out of the tent and towards his own. “You better.”

Robin was surprised with the amount of concern that the royal siblings seemed to have for him. True he had helped them, and they had spent a little over a month together, but how readily they treated him as one of their own bewildered Robin. The Shepherds had warmed to him quickly as well. Most of them at least. But he was glad for it.

Still it was so incredibly strange. He was used to respectful or terrified distance. Secrets and games of political cat and mouse that made it hard to trust or judge others at the Dragon’s Table. He much preferred the Ylisseans’ open camaraderie. Robin liked the strange dysfunctional family aura the Shepherds seemed to have. He wanted to be a part of it. And he hopped they never found out the truth of his existence.

Chapter Text

Their return to Ylisstol was met with much fanfare. The exalt had been in the capitol for about a week, and apparently during that time, she’d organized an impromptu parade to lead the Shepherds back to the castle through the city streets. Ylisstol was bedecked in colorful banners and chains of flowers, while civilians threw petals as the militia passed. Although Robin thought the capitol was lovely (albeit very different from Plegia’s capitol with it’s far shorter buildings made of grey stones and abundance of flowerbeds and livestock) he couldn’t help but be extremely nervous.

During the last war, the previous exalt had “purged” any Plegians from his lands. Not that there had been many to begin with, but those who managed to flee in time told horror stories of those who did not. It had mostly been done by the now disbanded military, but that wasn’t to say the Ylissean people had not been taken in by the last exalt’s rhetoric. Just thinking about it made Robin seethe with rage, but there was a certain amount of fear there too.

Keeping his hood up, the hierophant did his best to stay deep within the crowd of Shepherds, hoping that his small stature might make his tan skin and Grimleal robe go unnoticed by the citizens. It helped that he stood in between Miriel and Ricken, whose large hats helped keep him out of sight. Robin could not tell if it was pure paranoia or reality that made him see frowns in the crowd and strange looks from the Ylisseans lining the streets.

Thankfully, most of the people seemed far more focused on Chrom and Lissa, who lead the party. The prince giving easy smiles and Lissa bouncing and waving. Before long they reached the palace gates, and once they were on the grounds the Shepherds scattered to bathe, see family, or attend to their duties. Robin was left standing awkwardly with Chrom, Lissa, and Frederick on the palace drive, looking up at the looming turreted castle.

“That was some welcome.” the hierophant said into the silence trying to ignore his nerves.

Chrom laughed. “Well, that’s Emmeryn for you.”

“We should go see Her Grace and ask how she’s fared.” Frederick mused, starting forward.

The prince and princess moved to follow, but Robin stayed where he was unsure of what to do. Should he go to the barracks with the other Shepherds? Did they expect him to go with them or..? Then Chrom stopped and raised an eyebrow at him.

“Are you coming, Robin?”

The hierophant flushed slightly in embarrassment. “I…suppose I am.”

He followed them into the ornate halls of the Ylissean palace. The ceiling was high and arched, held up by pillars of marble. Ornate blue, green, and yellow tapestries and hangings were placed periodically down the halls. Suits of armor and statues of gods stood in nooks along some of the larger hallways, Naga being the most prominent figure. It reminded him somewhat of Plegia’s castle. Although their architecture and color schemes were much different, both palaces had equally ostentatious decor.

They reached the throne room, the doors already opened in welcome. Inside, Exalt Emmeryn sat on a simple throne set on a short dais, Phila at her side. Servants, nobles, and members of the Church of Naga milled around as well, waiting for audience with their ruler. All eyes turned to them as they entered, and Robin felt himself unconsciously drifting closer to Chrom.

Remembering what Frederick had once said about respect for Ylissean royals, Robin lowered his hood with slightly shaking hands, making sure to keep his telling red eyes down as much as possible. As much as he hated it, he would respect Ylisse’s customs. But he could still feel the stares of those in the throne room on him, surely wondering what a Plegian was doing with the prince and princess.

“Chrom! Lissa! Welcome home. How fared you all?” Emmeryn stood from her throne and greeted warmly.

“I was just about to ask you that Emm. We’re fine, we dispatched a group of bandits and got a bit waylaid.” Some of the tension left Chrom’s shoulders as he smiled at his sister.

“I am glad that your men were unharmed. I am well, Chrom, and as are the people for now.” the exalt told her brother, walking down the dais to hug him.

Indeed, she seemed decidedly less pale and worn than when they had seen her last. Although the fading bruises and unhealthy thinness remained, and probably would for a few weeks at least.

“And you, Robin?” Emmeryn’s question directed at him, caught the hierophant off guard and made him start.

Robin finally looked up to meet her eyes, doing his best to muster a smile. “Ah, fine, Your Grace, thank you.”

Murmuring broke out around the room as the exalt spoke so casually to him. He could feel the whole of the room staring, and it made his skin crawl. Due to his position, the hierophant was used to having attention on him, but it had never felt like this before. Hostility, anxiety, and curiosity hung heavy in the air, and it felt like everyone in the room was trying to look at him without being obvious about it.

Behind Emmeryn, someone gasped softly, and Robin’s eyes darted to the source. An elderly man in what looked to be priestly garb was staring at him in unveiled horror. As soon as the hierophant’s eyes met his, the elderly man dropped his gaze, sweat breaking out on his face. He had expected fear of a ‘heathen’… But there was something about the spark of recognition in his eyes. Before Robin could consider the priest further, Emmeryn's voice broke into his thoughts.

“Where are your retainers?”

“I left them in Plegia to take care of…matters previously discussed, Your Grace.” the hierophant measured his words, turning his attention back to the exalt.

“I see…” she seemed troubled, but then she gave him a kind smile. “Well in any event, welcome to Ylisse, Robin. Perhaps my siblings and I could have a private council with you this evening?”

At that there was louder muttering around the throne room along with several glares thrown his way, and a cold bead of sweat rolled down the back of the hierophant’s neck. Chrom subtly shifted so that their shoulders brushed briefly, and it was like a balm to Robin’s frayed nerves.  

“Of course, Exalt Emmeryn. Thank you.” the hierophant gave her a low bow.

“Very good. Chrom, I have several more meetings to attend, maybe you and Lissa could take our guest on a tour of the palace for me?” Emmeryn smiled softly at her brother, but the sharpness of her eyes told Robin she had not missed the throne room’s reaction to his presence.

“Sure thing, Emm.” the prince said, putting a hand on Robin’s shoulder.

“I think that's our cue, Robin! C'mon, there's a bunch of places I want to show you.” Lissa whispered, tugging on his sleeve.

Robin was more than happy to leave the throne room, and let the princess drag him away with Chrom and Frederick close behind.

“You okay?” the prince asked as soon as they were out of earshot, his eyes filled with concern.

“Yes, that was just a tad…stressful.” Robin told Chrom, pulling his hood back up. Hopefully no one had noticed his eyes.

“I thought you would be used to crowds, with, you know...” Lissa gestured to his robes, a worried frown on her face.

“Despite what my station might suggest, I am a bit of a recluse.” the hierophant admitted. That was true but it had little to do with why he had been so nervous in the throne room.

“Well, don’t worry. We’ll be having a private audience with Emm later.” Chrom assured.

“Yeah, no need to get gloomy! Come on I wanna show you the kitchens! We can swipe some sweets while we’re at it!” the princess said gleefully, pulling Robin forward.

“Okay, okay, I am coming.” he chuckled, thinking that Gaius would be devastated he had missed out on raiding the kitchens.

The royal siblings showed him near every room in the castle. In the kitchens, the workers had been a kind, rowdy bunch that happily piled their princess’s arms with sweets. After Frederick finally insisted Lissa stop eating desserts lest she ruin her super, they showed Robin the huge ballroom with its enormous glass windows and crystal chandeliers, and then the gardens and courtyards filled with colorful blooms and fountains.

His favorite place by far had been the library, which contained towering shelves of books to rival the archives at the Dragon’s Table. With two floors and a veritable maze of books, he was sure he could spend days on end in there. But throughout the whole tour, part of Robin’s mind was still occupied with what had happened in the throne room. Aside from the tense atmosphere, that man seemed to have recognized his robes and realized he was no ordinary Grimleal.

They were walking down yet another opulent hallway, when the hierophant’s thoughts could no longer be kept to himself.

“Chr- Prince Chrom, who was that man behind your sister?” Robin asked, glancing at Frederick as the man raised an eyebrow at his near slip.

Chrom stopped walking and turned back to him. “The hierarch? He's been a friend of House Ylisse for many years. He guided Emmeryn during the early years of her rule. Why do you ask?”

“I cannot quite put my finger on it, but something feels...off...about him. However, I do not want to point fingers without evidence.”

“You think he may be the traitor?” Frederick questioned, brows furrowed.  

“I can’t imagine the hierarch ever betraying Ylisse. He’s practically family.” the prince said and Lissa nodded.

“Yeah, he helped Emm take care of us too. Since our parents…” the princess trailed off.   

“Hmm…yes it could be nothing.” Robin rubbed his arm nervously.

He did not know how to tell the siblings that the man could easily have betrayed them, familial feelings or no. Robin was painfully aware of this fact, Grima had spent thousands of years watching humans after all. Not to mention Robin’s own family… But he hoped for the royals’ sakes his suspicions were wrong regardless.

Eventually, after showing Robin a few more places around the castle, Lissa and Frederick split off from the group. The princess wanted to take a bath and the great knight needed to attend to his other duties as head of the guard. He did give the hierophant one last warning glare (that reminded him a lot of Tharja) before he left. Robin was shocked that Frederick was even willing to leave him alone with the prince, in the Ylissean castle no less.

The two of them walked through the castle in comfortable silence, up several flights of stairs and into a long hallway lined with doors. Chrom opened one of them and led Robin inside. Much like the rest of the castle it was decorated in blues, whites, and greens. There was a plush looking bed, and a small sofa seated in front of a fireplace. In the corner was a desk pushed against the wall, and a door that likely led to a washroom.

“This is your room.” the prince said, catching Robin off guard as he glanced around the chamber.

“Mine?”

“Yes, it’s all yours while you stay with us.” Chrom nodded.

“I could easily stay in the barracks with the Shepherds, you know. There’s no reason to go to such lengths.” Robin murmured, trying to leave, his ears pink.

Chrom spun his friend around and gave him a gentle push further into the room. “Nonsense. You’re an important guest, Robin. Our first political visitor from Plegia since long before the war. Emmyern insists.”

“If it is a request from the exalt I suppose I have no grounds to refuse.” Robin sighed heavily.

“I do have a more selfish motive for wanting you to stay in the castle…” the prince mumbled, a slight blush to his features, “It’ll be easier to keep my promise if you’re close by."

“As leary as your nobles seem to be, I doubt anyone will try attack me inside the palace.” Robin said dryly, plopping onto the sofa.

Chrom frowned. “True, and Emmeryn has ordered that you be treated respectfully, but let’s not take any chances.”  

“If it makes you feel better.”

“It does. Why don’t you relax and get settled for a while? I’ll come get you for dinner and then we can meet with Emm.” the prince told him.

Robin nodded, thinking happily of taking a bath. “That sounds like a plan. Thank you, Chrom.”

After the prince left with a wave, the hierophant headed to the washroom and started filling the tub. Plumbing like this was rare in Plegia. Even when they managed to install it, it was usually for community uses such as public baths and aqueducts. Robin couldn’t help but be a bit jealous at the abundance that the Ylisseans seemed to have. Although on the other hand he supposed that the hardships that the desert brought had made his people strong and driven, as opposed to the sleepy nature of the villages they had passed on the way to Ylisstol.

Once the tub was full, Robin removed his robe and hung it up carefully. The rest of his clothes he discarded far more carelessly, although he at least folded his shendyt . With a small content sigh, he lowered himself into the warm bathwater. The last time he had bathed had been at the oasis when they had met Nowi and Gregor, and it felt heavenly.

After scrubbing away the grime, the hierophant relaxed in the water, thinking. Hopefully by now, Henry was making his way from temple to temple, and Tharja would be about halfway to the Dragon’s Table. Robin could only hope that they would be safe. He did not know who was in more danger, he or Tharja, if they were discovered. As expected it did not seem as though the palace inhabitants would welcome his presence, even if the royal siblings and Shepherds did. Robin stared at the back of his submerged marked hand, Grima’s insignia distorted by the water. He would have to be careful.

***

As promised, Chrom came for Robin around dinner time the princess close behind. Most of the hierophant’s outfit had been taken for laundering, but the they had left him other trousers, a shirt, and thankfully left his cloak untouched. Dinner was a boisterous affair, all the Shepherds in good spirits to be back as they ate in the castle’s huge mess hall. Even Robin, as nervous as he felt in Ylisstol, could not help but be swept up in the joyful atmosphere. Not to mention trying all the strange foods he had never had before proved to be entertaining as well. Sully laughed herself hoarse when the sticky toffee she gave him effectively glued his jaw shut. 

Part way into the festivities, Chrom and Lissa pulled him away from watching Stahl and Vaike's eating contest to meet with the exalt. To his surprise they lead him not to the council room he’d been shown earlier, but up to the wing of the palace where the royal family resided. Not even giving him time to process, the prince opened the double doors at the end of the hall and ushered Robin inside.

“So what did you think of the palace, Robin?” Exalt Emmeryn asked as soon as he entered the sitting room of her chambers.

“It’s lovely, Your Grace.” he responded as evenly as he could manage, taking a seat across from her on one of the plush chairs.

Chrom sat to his right, while Lissa bounded over to take the seat next to Emmyern. On the coffee table sat a tea set, four cups of the brew already steaming and ready for them. This...was far more casual than he had anticipated, and Robin felt a bit awkward sitting in the exalt’s chambers. After they had all taken a few sips of the floral tea, and the royal siblings had spoken for a bit, Emmyern finally turned to him.

“Now then, let us speak about what to do moving forward to foster peace.”

“We need to remove Grangel from power.” Robin stated, setting his cup aside.

The exalt grimaced. “Ylisse no longer has a standing military, I had it disbanded soon after my coordination. And I will not enforce a draft.”

A pacifist through and through, even after her kidnapping. The hierophant had to admire her conviction to her principals even if he did not agree.

“Yes, I am aware, and the Grimleal loyal to me do not have enough warriors capable of toppling Grangel’s regime. So our best option is to make allies with a powerful nation who does have a large and well equipped military.” Robin explained, drumming his fingers on the table.  

“Regna Ferox.” Chrom said suddenly, catching on.   

“But they’ve been in isolation for years!” Lissa broke in with a pout.

“They have, but the Mad King has been poking at their borders as well, and I am sure they would be just as glad to be rid of him as us. Ferox has made alliances with both Ylisse and Plegia in the past.” Robin told them with a slight smirk, remembering wars from eras long past.

Silence met him as Chrom and Lissa looked worriedly to their sister who seemed to be deep in agonizing thought. He could understand why it would be upsetting. There was no path where her pacifism would triumph against such a bloodthirsty and unreasonable opponent.

“I understand that you do not approve of using force, Your Grace, but I am afraid Grangel is beyond diplomacy. I have tried many times before. His heart is rotten through and through, and I can find nothing redeemable about him.” the hierophant urged at her indecision.

“As much as I wish it were not so… You may be right, Robin.” the exalt looked tired and defeated as her values were cast aside. “I will send a request for an audience to their khans.”

“That is our best option. If Grangel can be disposed from his position, we can finally have peace between our nations.” Robin told them.

“But how do you know the next ruler of Plegia wouldn’t want war as well? You said that your country was a theocracy, and rulers were chosen by diviners right? So isn’t it impossible to know who will be the next ruler beforehand? What if they choose another warmonger?”

“Yes, that is how it is usually done. But things are a bit different now… Sometime before Grangel’s coup, a decision was made about who would be the new ruler of Plegia after the previous queen’s death.” Robin explained.

That caught Emmeryn's attention. “So you know who this person is? And that they would want to see peace with Ylisse?”

“Ah, well…yes.” he managed, looking down.

Chrom nudged him encouragingly, and Lissa looked at him expectantly, while Emmyern watched with a slight concerned dip to her brows. Robin swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat. They would find out eventually. Better they hear it from him.

“I am to be the next ruler of Plegia, and I think I’ve made it clear that I would like to end these conflicts...” the hierophant admitted with a sheepish smile.

“What?!” Lissa and Chrom gasped.

“It was decided when I was born that I would be the next king of Plegia once I came of age. I suppose you could say I’m the most qualified for the job in a way.” he told them vaguely, looking away with a sad smile.

“No way!” the princess exclaimed, her eyes huge.

“Do your people know this?” the exalt asked, her serene expression betraying nothing.

That made Robin pause. “I am sure they assume I will take the throne, given my… position… but there was never a public proclamation made. Grangel’s coup happened some years before I reached my majority.”

Grima had been Plegia’s ruler when He lived, governing alongside a small council of humans. According to their traditions, as the god’s reincarnation Robin was the most natural choice to rule Plegia. But maybe some of them assumed he would just remain as head of the Grimleal. Then again… Maybe it was best he not take the throne, for as long as Validar had control over him, he would be little more than a puppet.

“What’s wrong?” Chrom asked suddenly, catching the troubled expression Robin was no doubt making.

“It’s just… There is another obstacle to consider,” the hierophant cautioned, and at the confused looks from the siblings elaborated. “It is likely that even if I do come to rule Plegia, Validar might make me nothing more than a figure head once more. And I do not know what he would do with the power of a king.”

“That would be a problem. Especially if he did have a hand in Emm’s abduction. So what can we do?” the prince leaned forward as he spoke.

Robin hummed to himself as he thought of how to explain without giving away too much. He still could not find it in himself to lie under the gaze of those earnest blue eyes.

“Well, there is a way for me to…get out from under him. Validar wields a powerful tome, but without it he would be practically powerless. However, he never takes his eyes off of it, and has it constantly guarded. My retainers and I have attempted to steal it several times, but we’ve always failed, and barely gotten away cleanly when we have attempted it. I do not know how we would...”

Robin shook his head leaving the sentence unfinished. Over the years Tharja, Henry, and he, had tried to retrieve the tome. But his father was also a skilled strategist and Robin had yet to best him with what little resources he had. A few subdued moments passed in which no one spoke, unable to muster up any solutions. The prince was frowning deeply at the tea set in front of them, while Lissa pouted into her cup.

“Let’s just take it one step at a time.” Emmyern said, breaking into the frustrated silence. Chrom looked ready to argue, but Robin spoke first.

“Yes, the Mad King comes first.”

“But-”

“It’s alright Prince Chrom, I am sure in time I will be able to come up with something. Besides, Validar is not the immediate threat.”

His words aside, the stubborn prince still seemed ready to protest. Just as he opened his mouth, Emmyern subtly shook her head at him. With what looked like great effort, Chrom clenched his jaw shut and looked away. Robin was grateful that she had headed the prince off. He was too tired to try and come up with any plausible solutions or plans to satisfy Chrom’s well meaning concern.

“While I stay here, I think it would be best to keep my station a secret from those outside of the Shepherds and royal family. Not just for my safety, but for your own as well, Your Grace. A Plegian diplomat is one thing, but the knowledge that you have allowed the figurative head of the Grimleal and next king of Plegia into your palace…” the hierophant trailed off pointedly.

“Yes… That might be for the best.” the exalt agreed with an apologetic look.

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

Emmeryn stood, and the three of them rose with her. “Of course, Robin. I will let you know when we receive an answer from Ferox.”

With that, the exalt retired for the night, leaving her siblings to walk the hierophant back to his room. The three of them navigated the hallways in silence for sometime. Robin was actually impressed that it took the impatient and stubborn prince at least three passages before he spoke up again.

“Robin, surely there is some way to deal with Validar, too.”

“I am touched with your concern, Chrom, but the people must come first. Even if he were to take the throne, as horrid a man as Validar is, I do not see him wasting Plegian resources on a pointless war. He is far more clever than that.” the hierophant said, keeping back a slightly exasperated sigh.

“Still-”

Robin shook his head. “Exalt Emmeryn is right. We should take it one step at a time. There is little use trying to plan for complete unknowns.”

“Yeah lighten up Chrom! We can cross that bridge when we come to it, okay? So stop worrying your thick head over it!” Lissa added, slapping the prince’s arm.

“Hey!”

They had reached Robin’s room and he turned around in time to see the two of them sticking their tongues out at one another. It got a small laugh out of him, which made the siblings quickly stop. Lissa was smirking at her brother, who had slightly pink ears but had managed to regain his poise.

“Thank you both for today. Goodnight.” Robin told them both, still smiling a bit at their antics.

“Goodnight.” the prince echoed.

“See you in the morning!” Lissa cheered, obviously glad to have cheered him up.

Alone in his borrowed quarters, Robin changed into sleep wear then all but collapsed onto the mattress. Between the journey, his nerves, and the meeting with Emmeryn he was exhausted. Burying himself under a sufficient amount of blankets to fend off the cold, the hierophant closed his eyes and waited for sleep. However, as always his thoughts ran away with him despite his best efforts.

As much as he did not want to think about it, something really did need to be done about his father. But he was completely at Validar’s mercy. He couldn’t explain that to the royal siblings without giving everything away. No, he was getting too far ahead of himself. First they needed to make an alliance with Ferox. Most likely not any easy feat, despite past agreements. They had been so strictly isolated of late he wasn’t even sure which Khan currently ruled… He would have to come up with a favorable trade accord for them with Plegia to gain their help, too.  

Rolling over, Robin let out a groan at the growing headache. And as with most nights, sleep did not come easy.

***

A few days passed and still everywhere he went, maids and servants scuttled out of his way while guards glared from their posts in the hallways. Robin knew what he was getting into by coming to Ylisse, but being prepared for the suspicion and hatred that met him, and actually experiencing it were two very different things. He was glad for his hood which hid his unusual red eyes and nervous expression, but he knew it was a double edged sword as the Ylisseans probably thought him sinister.

Aside from the general skittishness and disgust at his presence, the castle inhabitants obeyed their exalt’s order to respect him. Only once had an incident occurred and it had been rather mild, all things considered. A wizened old noble had hissed a slur for Grimleal as he passed Robin in the hallway, so softly and quickly, he almost had not heard it. The hierophant had paused for a moment, shock giving way to burning bile in the back of his throat, but when he had turned around, the man was gone.  At least it was easy enough to avoid those interactions, as the hierophant spent most of his days hidden away in his room or the royal library.

It did not stop him from feeling frustrated or angry about it, though. He had hopped with Emmyern as their ruler the people would be…better.  But he didn’t know why he had expected such a thing. Their countries were practically still at war, and fifteen years was not long enough for either country to forget their suffering. The people of Plegia were not above such hatred and fear either, just thinking back on the general tension in the temple while the Ylisseans had stayed with them.

But Robin had other things to occupy his mind. They would hopefully be leaving for Regna Ferox soon and he wanted to be prepared. Ylisse had a much more extensive knowledge on both Ferox’s terrain and culture. If the Khans were to invite them to their capitol to speak of a possible alliance, Robin wanted to make sure he knew what he was doing. He also wanted brush up on his Feroxi as well, the hierophant was not nearly as fluent in it as he was in Ylissean.

As such, after a stressful morning, Robin found himself far in the depths of the royal library that afternoon studying maps and books on Regna Ferox. He was trying to decide the fastest and safest route to the Longfort that marked the border. Not the most exciting thing but it had to be done. At least the library was empty except for the single scribe at the entrance who had cowered the first time he had walked in, but now barely flinched when he swept past.

Robin was deep in his studies, and when he finally glanced up he noticed that the sun had started to set, and let out a low oath. He forgot to eat dinner again.

Robin!

The high pitched dragon shout startled him thoroughly, but he managed to avoid dropping the book he held. Turning around, he found Nowi standing there with a mischievous smile.

Dreh ni zaan, Nowi ” Robin sighed. Do not yell, Nowi. They were in a library for gods’ sakes.

Laan los hi dreh? ” she asked, leaning her elbows onto the table he was using. What are you doing?

Zorox un wundun miiraad wah Regna Ferox ” Robin told her, looking back to his half finished work. Creating our travel route to Regna Ferox.

That mountain path looked promising… However, he needed to make sure it was safe enough. It may not even be autumn yet, but Ferox was known for its harsh weather and wild beasts. The hierophant flipped through his book, but glanced up in time to see Nowi pull a face as she mumbled something in the dragon tongue under her breath.

Ko Ylissean, goraan gein. Fin dovah tinvaak los hevno fah zu’u ” he said flatly. In Ylissean, young one. The dragon language is difficult for me.

Not only that, but his attention split as it was and her muttering made him miss every word of what she had just said.

“Ugh fine! I said, I’m bored! You should come play with me!”

He gave her a stern look over the top of the book. “Nowi, I already played with you earlier today, find someone else. What about Donnel, Ricken, or Lissa?”

Robin had noticed that the three of them had taken to Nowi rather well. Most likely because they were all similar in age for their respective species and full of energy. Besides, playing tag with a dragon was a very strenuous and dangerous affair. He really didn’t need two rounds in one day.

“Lissa is busy helping Maribelle with healer stuff, every time I play with Ricken we get in trouble, and Donny keeps being weird around me.” she pouted stomping her foot.

“Weird how?” the hierophant asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“He turns red a lot and won’t wrestle with me anymore, not even in my human form!”

Robin chuckled. “It sounds like he’s developed affection for you. I think the Ylisseans call it a ‘crush’.”

The manakete looked a bit surprised at that. “Ehh..? Well, Donny doesn’t have any boingy bits, so I’m not interested.”

“B-Boingy bits?” Robin sputtered.

“Yeah ya know,” she gestured to her chest. “Boingy bits.”

Gods above, who in the world raised this child? But he had to laugh out loud. No wonder the dragons were dying out, between he and Nowi’s preferences...

“What’s so funny?” she asked, draping herself over Robin’s shoulders to peer at his book.

“Nothing.” he shook his head, smiling to himself slightly.

The hierophant tuned back to his book and started reading again for a few moments, while the manakete leaned on him. He did not mind the contact, dragons were known to be physically clingy in most cases. Back when they were abundant, it was not uncommon to find them piled on top of one another in their dens. Although Grima had never really gotten to do so, as no other dragons had settled in Plegia for any length of time and he was quite large...

“Tharja’s boingy bits are nice though… I hope she comes back soon.” the dragon mused, breaking into his thoughts.

Robin closed his book with a groan, his face heating at her lewdness. “Nowi, you are far too young for that sort of thing. Besides, I do not think Tharja would appreciate having her ‘boingy bits’ discussed.”

The sorceress would likely hex the manakete if she ever heard that.

“But I’m like a thousand!” Nowi protested, puffing out her cheeks.

“By human standards. Dragonwise, you have not even hit puberty.”

The manakete slid off his back with a huff. “Well, what about you then?”

“What about me?”

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Old.” he stated. Grima was ancient and by extension, Robin supposed he was too. Although, physically he was young enough as a human.

“That’s not an answer.” Nowi pouted.

“Am I really so interesting you must pester me?” Robin asked her dryly. He didn’t even know an exact age to give her, even if he wanted to.

“Cranky old dragon.” she muttered.

“Indeed, and this cranky old dragon has work to do.” he told her with a pointed look.

“Fiiiiine.” she dragged the word out sulkily.

With one last pout, the manakete left Robin to his work. He watched her leave with a heavy sigh. The hierophant was not the only one who was antsy in Ylisse. The first time Lissa had taken the dragon into Ylisstol, she had been mobbed by awestruck and curious citizens. It had been a few centuries since any manaketes had called Ylisse home, let alone a divine dragon. All the unwanted attention was getting to Nowi, and she rarely left the castle grounds. The taguel woman had found herself in a similar situation, but was far less bothered by being stuck on castle grounds.

In Robin’s case he never left the palace for different reasons. He was no fool. He knew what would happen should he try to walk the streets of Ylisstol. And he had no desire to put himself at such risk. That’s why, as much as Lissa’s pouting got under his skin, he refused to go with her or Chrom into the city every time they asked. It would only cause unnecessary trouble for both himself and the royals.

---

Robin didn’t seem very happy in Ylisse. Lissa noticed that he was a lot more subdued and distant than he had been in Plegia. When she even saw him that was. The princess could never seem to find Robin in the first place. He was almost never in the kitchens or the dining room during meals, and rarely in his own room anytime before midnight or later. She never saw him practicing with the Shepherds at the barracks either. Miriel had said that she saw him in the library a lot, but Lissa always got lost when she tried to find him in there. 

So she thought she was hallucinating when she saw Robin crouched down in the grass of the palace gardens one afternoon, tucked between two geranium bushes. His back was to her, hood up, clearly focused on something on the ground in front of him.

“Hey!” Lissa shouted in greeting, making the hierophant jump and whirl around.

“Lissa…” he breathed out, hand over his heart.

The princess walked up to him, looking around. “What are you doing?”

“Aside from being frightened half to death-”

Her friend stepped away to reveal a robin on the ground, blood on one of its wings. It flapped feebly, letting out short terrified tweets.

“Oh the poor thing! His wing is hurt!” Lissa exclaimed bending down to look at the injured animal.

Robin rubbed his arm with a frown. “Yes, I was trying to help, but well, it seems even my namesake dislikes me. He would not let me pick him up.”

“Here, I’ll get him and we can go back to the barracks to get my staff. I’ll have him fixed up like that.” the princess assured, snapping her fingers for emphasis.

She bent down and gently slid her hands under the wounded bird cooing softly at it, trying to get it to settle. The robin chirped in protest and pain, but the princess scooped him up with delicate hands. Lissa could feel it’s rapid heartbeat under her fingers.

“Do they have robins in Plegia?” the princess asked as they started walking towards the barracks, ducking under an ivy covered archway.  

The hierophant shook his head. “Not naturally, but some were imported to the Plegia as songbirds. My mother was rather fond of them, hence my name. Although my father was not pleased. He wanted a more traditional Plegian name, but she wouldn’t budge.”

His word choice stuck out to Lissa. That Robin’s mother was fond of them, not is . She felt a familiar ache of grief in her chest. So her friend's mother was also… The princess glanced up at him, seeing the tightness of his jaw and the thin line of his mouth.

“Well I think it’s a good name! In Ylisse robins symbolize passion and honor.” Lissa grinned at him, trying to cheer the hierophant up.

“In Plegia they symbolize rebirth and renewal. My mother had an ironic sense of humor.” Robin chuckled but there was little mirth in it.

“What do you mean?”

“Ah, its nothing Lissa. Just my rambling about things long passed.” her friend looked away.

By the time they made it to the barracks, the bird had calmed down enough to stop fidgeting, but Lissa could still feel the distressed rise and fall of it’s chest. She set it gently down on the table and rummaged around the cluttered barracks for her staff.

“Alright, here we go!” the princess beamed in triumph after a few minutes, wrenching the staff out from beneath a pile of lances.  

Not paying any mind to the way her hair stuck up oddly from her frantic digging through the barracks, the princess bound over the the bird and held her staff above it.

“Okay little guy, it’ll be all better in a minute!”

The feeling of healing magic washed over the area as the conduit lit up. When the light faded, the little bird hopped up and tweeted, then began bouncing around on the table. After a few experimental flaps of its wings, the robin flew out the nearby window with a chirp.  

Robin and Lissa watched it fly away for a bit before the princess put her staff away, but not before giving it a satisfied twirl and punching the air. Yes she had helped out! Then she blushed slightly when she remembered the hierophant behind her, who was watching, his lips pulling into a smirk. As they left the barracks she gave him a playful shove, which pulled a chuckle out of him.

“I’m a bit surprised though. I thought you said the Grimleal were all about accepting death as a natural part of life. That little birdie would have died without your help, but wouldn’t that have just been…nature taking its course? ” Lissa asked as they walked back towards the castle, stealing a glance at her friend.

“Hmm… From my previous explanation I can see how you came to that conclusion.” he mused, a sad smile on his face.

Lissa flushed a bit, and worried the hem of her dress. That had sounded insensitive hadn’t it?  

“Even if you accept death as a necessary part of life, that doesn’t mean you can’t struggle against it. Sure, their are some extreme pacifists in my sect who do not fight their demise, even when it is preventable… But I find that defeatism rather…pathetic. Death means nothing if you do not live, and fight for that life.” Robin told her, scarlet eyes fixed on the blue sky above them.  

Lissa thought she understood a bit better now. That it seemed to be the journey, not the destination for the hierophant’s followers. They cherished their lives because they accepted that they would end someday. And fighting to keep their lives was another way to respect death.

“I see… Thanks for explaining it more. And I’m glad you helped that little birdie, you’re a good guy, Robin.”

What she could see of her friend’s face turned pink. “Thank you, Lissa. But you did all the work.”

“Well you found him, so you’re the whole reason I could help.” the princess declared, hands on her hips.

“I suppose.” her friend sighed, shaking his head.

“Did you eat lunch yet?” Lissa asked, with sudden inspiration for how to cheer him up more.

“Ah, no-”

“Alright then, come on! We’re raiding the kitchens again! I haven’t seen you in ages, and you have to try the custard tart this time! Besides, you’re not fainting again on my watch!”

The princess gave no room for protest as she dragged Robin behind her. She was going to pull the hierophant back out of that gloomy shell of his. Whether he liked it or not.

---

Things had been incredibly busy since they had returned to Ylisstol, and Chrom didn’t get to see Robin very much for the first few days after. The prince had to take council with his sister to further discuss what had happened in Plegia, not to mention getting ready for the journey to Regna Ferox. But even when he did spend time with the hierophant, his friend seemed quieter and tenser than he was used too. Their talks often overshadowed by whatever was weighing on Robin.

Sometimes, the hierophant’s eyes grew somber and distant, as if he had lived hundreds of lifetimes and was weary of the world. At those times Chrom wondered what his friend could be thinking about, before Robin would catch the prince staring. Then he would smile and wave off Chrom’s concerns. Saying he was just tired, just thinking. That it was nothing.

Almost a week had passed since they had sent the missive by pegasus knight to Regna Ferox and they had yet to receive a response. That particular day Chrom had actually managed to get Robin out of the palace to enjoy the last of the summer weather. They spent some time sitting in the palace gardens, the hierophant reading a book on Feroxi battle tactics while Chrom continued to practice his Plegian. He was getting better, he could almost hold basic exchanges if Robin spoke very slowly.

The prince quickly grew bored however, and badgered his friend to come spar with him instead. After nearly ten minutes of pestering, the hierophant agreed with a groan, and followed Chrom across the grounds to the ring behind the barracks.

“Sorry we don’t have any practice swords like yours.” the prince apologized, handing Robin one of the straight wooden blades.  

His friend gave the sword a few practice swings, testing its weight. “It’s fine. I can use a Ylissean sword almost as well.”

“Don’t think I’ll go easy on you after last time.” Chrom smirked taking up a position opposite the hierophant.   

Robin actually laughed. “What would be the point of that?”

Much like last time, his friend’s stance was defensive, cautiously waiting for his opponent to make the first move. So Chrom obliged him and rushed the hierophant. His first strike was parried, although he did hear Robin’s grunt of surprise at the force. He had warned him. The prince’s next few attacks were also blocked, but his friend was not able to easily deflect the power of the strikes as he was with the curved edge of the khopesh.

After one particularly strong blow that threw his balance off, the hierophant retreated out of Chrom’s range. When the prince made to follow and press his advantage, Robin moved in faster than he had anticipated and used his smaller stature to get past Chrom’s guard. At the last moment, the prince managed to parry the blow aimed at his ribs using a spurt of adrenaline. Not deterred, Robin continued to attack.

His swings and jabs were lighter than Chrom’s but faster and he feinted far more often, trying to trick the prince. Although Robin did manage to get a few glancing blows in, none of them were substantial enough to call the match. Even so, for every strike that his friend snuck past his guard, Chrom returned a teeth rattling blow that the hierophant only just parried. They continued like that for sometime, the sound of their strikes echoing across the silent training grounds.

Finally deciding he should put his friend out of his misery, the prince knocked Robin’s blade to the side. Quickly bringing his blade under the hierophant’s guard, stopping before he actually hit Robin’s side. His friend dropped his wooden sword in surrender, and the prince lowered his own. Both of them were sweating, but Robin was breathing far heavier than Chrom. Still he was smiling slightly.

Their match seemed to have cheered Robin up considerably, and the prince couldn’t stop grinning.

“I got you that time without your fancy blade.”

“Yes, well seeing as you have nearly a foot on me and a much better sword arm, that was an expected outcome. Especially without you holding back.” Robin panted out.  

“True, but you didn’t do too bad for someone who seems to do nothing but read books all day.” Chrom teased, ruffling his friend’s hair without even thinking about it.

Robin rolled his eyes playfully at Chrom, swatting his hands away. “Not all of us can be muscle bound princes that spend all day swinging their magic sword. Making citizens swoon left and right, whatever would the people do without their handsome lord?”

Chrom’s face turned bright red at the teasing compliment even as he fought against it. Had Robin just called him handsome? He stood tongue tied for several seconds, which his friend used to laugh at his expression.

“Big talk for someone so out of breath after one round.” the prince finally got out, trying to put on a stern face.

“Yes I suppose I have no room to make fun of your red face. But that was a nice break, so thank you for dragging me along.”

For a moment Chrom was distracted by the sight in front of him. Robin’s smile bright for the first time in days, the sun warming the tips of his pale hair, and a mischievous gleam in his fiery red eyes.

“...Anytime.” the prince managed after a moment, trying to figure out why it felt like there were butterflies in his stomach.

As they came around the barracks after returning their blades, they saw a number of servants bustling to and from the stables. From the looks of it, a hunting party was just returning, the sound of over excited dogs reaching the prince as he walked towards the castle with Robin. Chrom couldn’t believe it would soon be time for the autumn harvest. He wondered if Robin had ever seen the leaves change color with the season, and grew excited at the thought of showing him. Lost in thought, Chrom almost ran right into the hierophant.

His friend had suddenly stopped walking and the prince peered past him to see what was wrong. On the path stood one of the palace hunting dogs that the nobles took out to corner their quarry. With a dizzying spike of anxiety, Chrom recalled Robin saying that dogs in particular disliked him. And the animal’s body language was anything but friendly.

The prince started talking slowly and calmly, moving to take his friend’s arm. “Looks as if one of the hunting hounds got loose. Let’s just-”

It all happened so quickly. The hound growled low and threateningly. Robin shifted closer to Chrom, obviously trying to keep away from the agitated animal. But the movement just drew the dog’s attention to him instead. In the next instant, he heard the hierophant gasp in pain as the hound sank its teeth through the tough leather glove and into the fingers of Robin’s right hand.

“Robin!”

At Chrom’s panicked shout, the hound released his friend’s hand and ran back towards the stables, no doubt where the hunting party was still unloading their catch from that morning. At his exclamation, several of the nearby servants had stopped and looked over at them. The prince waved them off with a hand, but he saw from the corner of his eye that most were still watching as they went about their duties.

“Sorry, that was rather foolish wasn’t it?” Robin apologized with a wince, pulling his injured hand close. Blood was already dripping from the ruined glove, dotting the path beneath them.

“It’s okay. That looks pretty bad, let me see.” Chrom murmured, gently, but firmly, grabbing his friend's wrist.

“Really, it’s fine, you-”

Chrom ignored the protests and gingerly slipped Robin’s glove from his hand, being careful of his injured fingers. Then the prince froze as he saw the purple mark on the back of his friend’s hand. He instantly recognized the six eyed design as Grima’s insignia. It seemed to glow with a soft light against Robin’s bronze skin. Chrom glanced up to his friend, confusion on his face. The hierophant had gone pale, his expression stricken.

Chrom frowned. “What-”

“I-It’s nothing!” his friend blurted, covering the mark with his left hand. Robin’s scarlet eyes were wide with panic.

His friend's reaction made it clear. That was no tattoo… It felt like something cold was trickling into the prince’s stomach. The moments of earlier levity seemed to dissipate like smoke.

“Is that-?”

“Not here. Please.” Robin begged, his voice incredibly small and quiet.

The prince glanced around noticed that several of the gardeners and castle denizens had stopped, and were watching them with unveiled curiosity. Chrom wrapped a protective arm around Robin’s stiff shoulders and started leading him back towards the palace.

“Right… Let’s take you to Lissa.”

“No… No one else. Just…some bandages and a vulnerary. I can take care of it. ” his friend mumbled, clutching his injured hand hard enough that his nails left indents in the skin.

“Fine.”

Chrom’s chambers were closer than Robin’s so that was where he headed. The prince opened the double doors, leading Robin through the plush sitting room and towards the washroom connected to his bedroom. There, his friend paused for a moment, taking in the prince’s quarters. Chrom realized with embarrassment that he had not made the bed from the night before, or picked up his night clothes from the floor, and the glass doors to the balcony were still wide open from that morning.

Red in the face, the prince gently nudged the hierophant making him start, but snapping him out of gazing around the (in Chrom’s opinion, overly decorated) room. Robin washed his blood drenched hand while the prince discarded the stained and ripped glove. The bleeding had finally stopped enough to take a good look at the injury. Several small but deep puncture wounds had been made into the three inner fingers of Robin’s hand.

“I’ll be back soon, just stay here.” the prince told him, leading the hierophant back to the sitting room.

His friend only nodded mutely, his face still drained of color and lowered himself onto the plush sofa, cradling his injured fingers. Chrom made his way quickly to the infirmary wing of the castle, which thankfully only had one healer in it who was too meek to question why he needed supplies. The prince half expected that Robin would have left the room to avoid talking to him, but to his relief, his friend remained right where he had left him. Chrom sat beside the hierophant, handing his friend the medical supplies.

The prince could think of no good way to broach the subject so he just issued a prayer to Naga and went straight to the heart of the matter.

“That’s a Brand, like mine. A dragon’s blessing.”

His friend did not meet his eyes. “...Yes…”

“Which dragon?” the prince asked, uneasiness tight in his gut.

“I think you know, Chrom.” Robin said quietly, rubbing the salve on his fingers.

“Grima..?”

The hierophant paused and inclined his head. “Just as your family has Naga’s blood…my family has Grima’s. As yours is the Brand of the Exalt, mine is the Brand of the Defile.”

“Grima blessed humans?” Chrom questioned, trying and failing to hide the disbelief in his tone. The god of destruction, who was said to have hated humanity...

“Yes, several, unlike Naga who chose only one. Grima did so not long before His fall into madness. He did not know his end was approaching but…maybe He knew it was inevitable on some level. He wanted to give the people some of His power.” Robin explained, scarlet eyes fixed resolutely on bandaging his fingers.

“Is that where your strange magic comes from?”

“In part.” the hierophant agreed tightly.

An awkward silence settled as Chrom realized he had probably pried too far in the wrong direction. He just really couldn’t wrap his head around this. Grima had given his blessing to humans, and Robin… Robin had his blood. Chrom cleared his throat and tried to bring the conversation back around.

“So…is that how the diviners decided you’d be the next ruler of Plegia?”

“To an extent. Our rulers are usually someone with Fell blood. There are several families within the Grimleal that still carry the dragon’s blessing.”

“Why do you cover it?” Chrom asked hand going automatically to his own exposed Brand. It was traditional for the Ylissean royal family to display their marks in honor of their pact with Naga. Would it not be the same..?

For the first time since he had come back, Robin’s sharp gaze meet his. “If I had told you of my bloodline from the start would you have trusted me? Kept Frederick from gutting me? Allowed me to help save your sister?”

That gave the prince pause. If he had met Robin in the same circumstance, without knowing anything about Plegia, but found out he carried the fell dragon’s blood…

“I… I don’t know.” he said truthfully, his own words chilling him.

“Exactly.” Robin remarked flatly, wrapping the bandage up his hand to cover his Brand. “No one needed to know, and the knowledge of my bloodline would have made the Shepherds’ already biased thoughts on my intentions far worse.”

“You shouldn’t feel like you have to hide it now though. At all. My… My father had the Brand of the Exalt, and he…was an awful man. What I’m trying to say is, Naga’s blood didn’t make him a good person. So… Not to say Grima is inherently bad and that would make you…” Chrom was rambling, he knew.

But he had to get Robin to understand that he didn’t care. That his bloodline made no difference to the prince. It was shocking to be sure, but it didn’t change his opinion of his friend. It seemed clear that of all Robin’s secrets he had stumbled upon, this was one of the most closely guarded ones. He had good reason to have wanted to keep this one too, even more than the others. If the old exalt still ruled, such a thing would have been a cause for public execution.

“I understand what you are trying to say, Chrom. And I appreciate it, but most people outside of Plegia do not share your views on the subject. Even being just a Plegian in your country is dangerous, let alone a fellblood. You are being far too naive.” Robin snapped, but seemed to deflate instantly.

“I apologize. That was uncalled for.”

A heavy silence followed where Chrom, who had always been bad with words, could not muster up anything to say. Robin was staring hard at the floor, no longer fearful, but rather more somber.

“I have not even thanked you for your help, have I?” his friend murmured at last.

“It’s not a problem, Robin. Really.”

More silence. The prince was desperately trying to think of anything he could say to ease Robin’s mood. Chrom thought he understood a bit what Robin was feeling. In Plegia the prince had kept his Brand hidden, aware of the distrust the people felt towards Ylisse’s patron dragon. Robin surely felt similar, with how taboo Grima was outside his home country. On the other hand, Chrom was trusting of others, willing to see the good in people, but Robin, well…

“My bloodline… Tell your sisters if you must, but please… The other Shepherds do not need to know.” the tense shaky words brought Chrom out of his troubled thoughts.

Robin stood from the couch, his jaw set and skin still washed out, clearly trying to leave the mess he had gotten himself into. Chrom had to say something, anything to not damage their friendship. To make the hierophant see. Impulsively he jumped up and caught Robin’s uninjured arm.

“It doesn’t matter to me. I said I trusted you, and I meant that. I’m sorry that we made you feel like you had to hide it. If you don’t want me to tell the Shepherds I won’t, but I doubt they’d think badly of you either.”

“I do not know about that. Frederick has only just started to come around, and this… Chrom there are members of your faith that would surely call for my banishment from the palace at the very least.” Robin did not have to say what some of the more extreme members of the Church of Naga might demand.

“You’re not wrong, but I would never let them. Emm wouldn’t either. Your bloodline doesn’t change my opinion of you, for better or worse. People should be judged by their words and actions, not where they come from. And you’ve proven over and over to be a true friend.” the prince assured confidently.

“Noble and idealistic to a fault.” Robin sighed under his breath, shaking his head, but his expression looked far softer.  

“Maybe, but is that a bad thing?” Chrom asked, letting his hand slide down to take Robin’s.

His friend did not meet his eyes, but there was a slight pink dusting to his cheeks as he returned the grip. “No, I suppose it is not.”  

Good, he had gotten through that prickly exterior. He hated how distant the hierophant seemed in Ylisse, all his emotional walls up. That was not the scatterbrained and teasing friend he had come to know. The prince smiled, some of the worry in his chest loosening. He gave the hand he held a reassuring squeeze.

“Thank you, again Chrom. Really, you and your siblings are far too kind.” Robin murmured looking away, long white lashes catching the afternoon sun.  

Chrom felt those familiar flutters in his chest. He was about to lean in for a better look at his friend's expression, or maybe to say something, he didn’t know. When a knock came at the door, startling them both. All at once the spell was broken. Robin dropped the prince’s hand like it had burned him, and Chrom’s stomach twisted.

“Milord?” Frederick’s voice called out.

Slightly irritated and sorry for the loss of whatever that moment had been, Chrom held back a frustrated groan and went to the door.

“What is it, Frederick?” he asked opening it to reveal the great knight, stern as ever.

His guardian's eyebrows threatened to disappear up into his hair when he saw Robin in the room with the prince, but he did not comment on the matter. Instead he just cleared his throat and handed the prince a missive.

“Word has come. The Eastern Khan has agreed to meet with us.”

Chapter Text

The heat is suffocating, far harsher than even the Plegian sun, and the air is choked with smoke. All around him flames lick up the walls and slither across the floor, consuming everything in their path. The screams and sobs of the dying make a horrible symphony of sounds, and the smell of burning flesh clogs his nose. If he were not numb in shock and terror he would surely have retched from it all. 

But they are thankfully moving too fast for him to get a good look at the charred bodies lining the halls. His mother drags him by the hand murmuring for him to hurry, and he clings to her like a lifeline in rough waters. Her grip that was usually so sure, was now sweaty and shaking, panic edging into her tone as she continues to sooth and urge him along.

Behind them is shouting and the clanking of armor. He does not yet know their foreign language well, but he understands enough, young as he is, for pure fear to thrum through his veins. She pulls him towards a door near the end of the burning hallway, and then he knows what is going to happen. Suddenly he is not a child, but a young man. He digs his heels in trying to stop his mother, desperation a living thing in his chest. 

No, not this one! 

His mother is fighting him now trying to drag him as he resists. They cannot go into that room. But he cannot warn her, his voice has abandoned him. Distantly he is aware he is trying to wake up, pulling against the heaviness of sleep.  

“Robin! What are you doing?!” she’s shouting at him now. She does not know what he does. 

“Please, Robin!” his mother begs. 

He won’t let her, she cannot, they cannot go in there-

“Robin…!”

 

“Robin!”

He startled awake with a gasp, unsure of where he was, the scent of smoke still in his nose. Fear clung to him, causing his heart to try and burst from his chest. He sucked in a deep breath, fast and painful, then another. The nightmare was still dragging at his mind, blurring the lines between it and the real world, screams still ringing in his ears. Strong hands, firm but gentle grabbed his shoulders, and his vision was filled with midnight blue. 

“Robin, it’s okay. You’re okay.” the familiar voice registered in his nightmare hazed mind and pulled him further into the waking world. 

Chrom. 

Without thinking he gripped the prince’s forearms, trying to ground himself in reality, breathing still ragged from fighting his way out of the dream. For a few moments they stayed like that, Chrom murmuring soothing words while Robin clung to him and returned to himself. Eventually, the nightmare faded enough to be nothing more than mist in the morning light and cold sweat on his clammy skin. 

“...Chrom.” Robin finally managed. 

The prince’s concerned face was above him, comforting hands still on his shoulders. “Are you alright?” 

“I am now… Sorry you had to...deal with that.” Robin muttered, dropping his eyes. 

“You don’t need to apologize.” Chrom told him. 

Robin glanced around. That’s right, they were in Ylisse. Not the Dragon’s Table. Not Plegia. Even after a week, the luxurious room was still unfamiliar and did not feel like it belonged to him. Indeed, aside from the rumpled bed clothes and the stack of books on the desk, the room hardly looked lived in at all. 

Still trying to steady himself, he looked up at the prince again and realized… They were quite close again. Robin felt blood rush to his cheeks. He was in his night clothes, and Chrom was practically pinning him to the bed. 

“Not that I mind, but what are you doing in here?” the hierophant asked, voice as calm and light as he could manage. 

“Ah, well, right,” Chrom blushed slightly, his hands falling from Robin’s shoulders, letting him sit up. “I, um, didn’t mean to come in without permission, but I knocked and you didn’t answer so…”

“You were worried.” Robin finished for him, feeling the warmth of the prince’s concern, and then just as quickly guilt. 

“Yes, I came in and heard you whimpering-”

“It was just a nightmare. I am fine.” he assured, cutting Chrom off before he heard any other embarrassing things he’d done while asleep. 

The prince frowned. “I don’t know about that. It seemed pretty bad.” 

“Yes… It was.” Robin shuddered, “Thank you for waking me, by the way, but you still have not told me what you are doing here this early.” 

“I came to get you. Emm wants Lissa and I to have breakfast with her before we leave for Regna Ferox, and she wants you there too.” Chrom gave him an adorably awkward smile.

He tried not to stare at the endearing expression. Right. They were leaving Ylisse today, finally. Robin let out a shaky breath, dispelling the last of the nightmare with it.

 “Alright… Just give me sometime to get ready.” 

“Okay, if you’re feeling up to it. Oh yeah, I also thought you might need new gloves since the other pair are ruined, so here.” the prince handed him a pair of tough leather gloves, remarkably similar to his old ones except for the fact that these ones were lined, obviously made for winter wear. 

Warmth kindled in Robin’s chest at the gift, even as he glanced away feeling bad that Chrom most likely went out of his way for him on such short notice. 

“Thank you, Chrom, but you did not have to.” 

“I wanted to. Besides, it’s going to be cold up north. And we’re leaving, and I know you won’t go into Ylisstol to buy new ones. And I, uh...” the prince trailed off mid ramble at the hierophant’s slightly bemused expression.

“I’ll, um, go wait in the hall then. Just come out when you’re done.” Chrom said after a beat of silence, standing far too swiftly to be casual and left the room. 

Alone again, Robin let out a long sigh as he sat a few moments longer on the bed. Of all the dream altered memories, that is one of the most frequent. Even more so than the ones that showed him glimpses of Grima’s agonizing descent into the madness. At least the dragon’s memories felt a bit distant to him, events from more than a thousand years ago, in comparison to that nightmare.

Each new variation to the dream was awful. Sometimes it’s Tharja or Henry in place of his mother, heading to their doom. Once in a while it is him leading a different child through the blaze. And other times the soldiers catch them both before they make it to that room at the Dragon’s Table, a place Robin cannot set foot in to this day. Shaking his head, the hierophant slid out of the rumpled mountain of blankets and headed to the washroom to start getting ready. 

Thankfully the prince pulled him out of it before it had gotten to the part he dreaded. And he had calmed him down too. Robin blushed at the phantom memory of Chrom’s strong hands gripping him, how close they had been. Close enough for Robin to have leaned up just a few inches and-

 Splashing water on his face, he washed that foolish fantasy away. As grateful as he was, Robin was thoroughly embarrassed that the prince had witnessed his nightmare. Another weakness he did not wish anyone to see. But Chrom had become dangerously good at catching him when he was vulnerable. 

---

Traveling to Regna Ferox’s Longfort would take a little over a week. The distance was greater than it had been between the border village and the Plegian capital, but without sands to slow them in Ylisse, it would be a swifter journey. Unfortunately, it would become more mountainous as they traveled north, and be far too difficult to take supply wagons once they reached the foothills. As such, much to the Shepherd’s general dismay, they would have to travel light, which included sharing tents.  

At first Chrom thought it would be best to let everyone choose their partners, however that proved disastrous. Virion attempted to get any of the ladies to share with him, much to their general annoyance, and no one wanted to sleep with Vaike due to his bear-like snoring. Not only that, but none of the woman wanted to share with Nowi, since she had accidentally burned down tents in her sleep before. In the end they decided to draw straws and switch off the pairs every night to keep things fair. 

As such, after their first long day of marching, Chrom found himself sharing a tent with a very flustered Donnel who would not stop calling him variations of ‘your Majestyful’, despite his protests. It was a pleasant enough night at least, after the farm boy had settled down. Although he felt immeasurably bad for Robin, who had ended up stuck with Frederick for the night. Judging by their haggard appearances the next morning, it had been a tense and uncomfortable evening for both of them. 

The days of travel passed easily enough though, and soon they reached the foothills of the northern mountains. As they began the trek up the slopes, the temperature began to drop and snow covered the ground. Even though the cold was bitter, Chrom felt he could endure it after seeing Robin’s amazement when it began snowing one morning as they were having breakfast. Especially as he watched his friend get pulled into a quick snowball fight with the Shepherds, all of them laughing, damp, and breathless by the end of it. 

However, that cheer did not last long as they climbed higher, the chill becoming dangerous, deep snow and cutting winds hampering their progress. The Shepherds bundled up as best as they could against the cold, but it was taking a toll on them. Nowi was one of the few unbothered by the cold, along with Panne, who had shifted into her thick furred beast form. Vaike had actually put on a shirt of his own volition, and Ricken had taken up a spot on Maribelle’s pony after he had fallen once in the snow.

Of everyone, Robin seemed to be doing the worst, even with all his layers and his hood up, he was shivering almost non-stop. His normally tan skin was muted, face red with cold and lips pale. As they marched, Chrom fell back to speak with his friend who was struggling to trudge through the deep snow. 

“How are you holding up?”

“This cold is horrible, and the terrain is treacherous. Humans really will settle anywhere.” Robin muttered through clenched teeth. 

“Says the desert dweller.” Chrom teased, even as concern filled him. “Should I carry you again?”

His friend flushed, but before he could answer, Lissa shoved between them and whined, “You can carry me! ...No, seriously. I would really be okay with you carrying me.”

“Alright.” the prince grinned mischievously, and before Lissa could try to run, he grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder like a sack, much to the amusement of the nearby Shepherds. 

Lissa let out an undignified shriek, doing her best to keep her skirts down. “That’s not what I meant and you know it, you big jerk! Put me down!”

Chrom laughed, but did put the squirming princess down. Lissa straightened her clothes and glared at him. Out of the corner of his eye the prince thought he saw Robin cover a smile with a gloved hand. Chrom knew he would pay dearly for teasing his sister at some point (probably her dumping snow down the back of his uniform again), but he felt it was worth it to have cheered Robin up a bit. 

 After a dinner that was at least warm, if bland, the time came to draw straws for sleeping arrangements. Chrom was relieved, yet nervous, when he and Robin ended up being paired together. He sought the hierophant out, having not seen him since their march. For once he was not in the strategy tent, but rather sitting around the fire with a few of the other Shepherds. At the prince’s approach he pulled his attention away from one of Gaius’s stories.

“Looks like it’s you and me tonight.” Chrom told him, trying to give what he hoped was a reassuring smile. 

Robin nodded slightly in agreement, still shaking uncontrollably from the cold. Even near the fire, his shivering had only lessened, not stopped. The prince frowned, taking note of his friend’s pallid face and eyes dull with exhaustion. He had also been much quieter today, which Chrom had started to pick up on as a sign of Robin being upset or in pain. 

“You don’t look too good, Robin. I know it’s a bit early, but why don’t we head off to bed?” the prince offered, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder.  

For a moment, the hierophant sat there, considering wearily, before nodding hesitantly. “...Okay.” 

Chrom pulled him to his feet, and lead him to their tent after bidding the Shepherds goodnight. Neither noticed that several pairs of eyes followed them when they left. 

The prince tied the tent flaps shut against the frozen air as the hierophant started to change. It was an effort not to stare at Robin while he shifted quickly into his nightclothes, so cold, the smooth muscles of his shoulders locked up against the chill as he removed his robe and shirt. The sight of that much of his friend’s bronzed skin made heat race to Chrom’s face, and the prince turned away entirely when Robin moved to take off trousers. 

Although the cold was getting to Chrom too, he changed at a far slower pace, obviously less bothered and taking care with Falchion. When he finally got out of his complicated uniform, he swore he felt his friend staring, but when he looked over, the hierophant had his face buried in the blankets. Extinguishing the oil lamp next to him on the ground, the prince slipped into his bedroll, Robin already burrowed into his and shaking. 

For a while they both laid there listening to the whirling mountain winds battering their tent. The prince rubbed his arms trying to get some heat back into his chilled skin. Despite the dim light, Chrom could see Robin’s outline and his pronounced shivering. He frowned again.  

“You okay?” 

“I think I may freeze to death, to be honest. I was obviously not made for cold climates.” Robin mumbled, around the chattering of his teeth. 

“I would expect as much, Plegia is a warm country after all.” Chrom chuckled rolling over to face his friend’s back.

“With such intense cold weather in the north, I cannot say I do not miss the desert. And we haven’t even reached Ferox yet.” the hierophant sighed. 

For several minutes neither spoke, as they tried to sleep again. Robin must truly be cold, now that he thought about it. He didn’t think the hierophant had stopped shivering once today. Even with the milder weather in Ylisse, he had been sleeping under an unusual amount of blankets and always had a fire going in his room. After a while of tossing and turning, listening to his friend do the same, Chrom couldn’t take it anymore.

“Are you still cold?” the prince asked in the darkness towards the outline of Robin’s shaking shoulders. 

“No, I am just shivering for fun.” his friend joked, and then not hearing laughter from Chrom, softer, “I’ll be fine.”

“I’ve heard that one before.” the prince rolled his eyes. 

Chrom threw his covers up, his body hair standing on end in the sudden biting chill. He dragged his bedroll next to Robin’s, and gently nudged his friend. 

“Budge up.” 

Shooting him a confused and slightly exasperated look, the hierophant moved over. Chrom spread his bedroll next to Robin’s so there was not even an inch between them. Then he gathered up his blankets, and pulled his friend’s covers up as well. 

“W-What are you doing?” Robin asked, his voice slightly higher than normal, as the prince sat down next to him. 

“We don’t have any extra blankets, but we can share body heat.” Chrom told him, fixing the pile of covers so he could pull them over the two of them. 

“Chrom, you can’t be serious!” the hierophant hissed sitting up, still shivering visibly.  

“I am. Come on Robin, you’re going to catch your death of cold. Let me help.” the prince said, his own teeth clenched against the frigid air. 

“You are ridiculous…” the hierophant moaned, covering his face and flopping back down. “Fine, just hurry up and pull the blankets back! It’s freezing!” 

Grinning, Chrom gathered the blankets and bundled the two of them up tightly against the harsh weather. As they shifted under the covers, Chrom’s fingers brushed against Robin’s. His friend’s skin was so cold against his own that it burned, and it was all Chrom could do not to jolt at the contact. 

“Gods above, Robin you’re frozen! If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were cold blooded.”

Robin huffed in laughter. “Maybe I am.”

Slightly hesitant, the hierophant shifted closer to the prince under the blankets and laid on his side so they were facing each other. Robin’s red eyes met Chrom’s blue ones under long, pale, white lashes in the half dark. For a moment they held each other’s gazes, and the prince felt foreign and warm emotions well up inside his chest. There was something about his friend’s nearness, the look in his eyes… He was about to comment on it, the strange tension between them. 

Then Robin ducked his head, breaking off the eye contact, a smirk clear in his voice. “This is dreadfully improper, Chrom. Whatever would Frederick say?” 

The prince snorted, feeling a strange need to tease back, glad Robin seemed to be more himself again. “This is nothing in comparison to the time you were literally sitting in my lap, and what Frederick doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” 

“What?!” his friend exclaimed, half raising himself on his elbows. 

“You don’t remember? When you had the fever in the desert?” Chrom frowned, feeling slightly put out for some reason at Robin’s cluelessness. 

“No..? I-I don’t recall anything after we fell asleep! All Tharja said was that you carried me back to camp..!” 

What he could see of his friend's expression looked stricken. Now the prince felt heat creeping up his neck and was grateful for the darkness. 

“Ah, well, you know what...never mind.” 

“No! Come on, you have to tell me now!” the hierophant pleaded. 

“Well, I guess you got cold that night, with your temperature as high as it was… I uh, woke up and you were, well, like I said…” Chrom managed. 

“Oh gods, I am so sorry. I had no idea…” Robin covered his face, completely flustered. 

“Hey, it’s alright. You were sick, and once I realized what was wrong I wasn’t even thinking about it, okay?” the prince grabbed the hierophant’s shaky fingers and pulled them away from his face, wincing slightly at the icy skin. 

“But-”

“It’s fine Robin, really. You surprised me back then, but you didn’t make me uncomfortable. And right now, too. I like being near-” Chrom bit his lip, unsure of what he was trying to say, suddenly nearly as embarrassed as Robin.

At his stammering he felt the hierophant’s now curious gaze on him in the dim tent. 

 “What I mean is...I’m glad I can help you. In anyway I can. You’ve become a very dear friend of mine.” he finally decided. 

For some reason, the prince felt…upset…that his friend didn't remember anything during his fevered haze. But he supposed that was to be expected with how out of it Robin had been. He couldn’t help feeling as if something precious between them had been lost, however. 

“Still, I am sorry, Chrom.” his friend said softly after a few moments, the tremors in his fingers fading a bit. 

“You don’t need to be, and you say that too often.” the prince chuckled. 

With a small smile, the hierophant made to slip out of his grasp, but Chrom held tight to his fingers. Robin made a questioning noise and the prince started to rub his friend’s hands, trying to work heat back into his skin. He knew Robin’s eyes were on him as he gently brushed his thumb over his marked hand, still wrapped in bandages and hiding the Brand, making sure to take care with his injured fingers. It was dark in the tent, but the prince thought he saw blush on his friend’s cheeks. 

“Better?” Chrom asked, when it no longer felt like he was holding icicles. 

“Yes. Thank you...” 

“Alright then, get some sleep and try not to freeze to death. Tharja would hex me up to my eyeballs if I let something silly like the weather harm you. The dog incident has probably already earned me a three day runny nose hex.” the prince joked.

Robin actually laughed slightly. “I assure you, what Tharja does not know will not hurt her either. Goodnight, Chrom.”

“Goodnight.” he echoed. 

They turned away from one another, and with the warm line of Robin’s back pressed against his spine, Chrom fell into a comfortable sleep within minutes. 

***

The prince woke a little before dawn, cocooned in warmth. The morning air was freezing, the prince’s nose cold with it, but the rest of him was almost hot. He drowsed for a moment lulled by the comfort of it, before suddenly realizing why he was so warm despite the chill. Chrom startled to full wakefulness in an instant, remembering the night before. Sure enough, Robin and he were still bundled together in their shared bedrolls. Although, his friend was still fast asleep unlike the prince.  

In the night they had become intertwined. Robin’s lithe frame was pressed against his side, likely desperate for every point of contact with Chrom’s warmth. The hierophant’s hands were lightly grasping the prince’s shirt, and Chrom had wrapped an arm across his friend’s narrow shoulders. His head tucked against the nape of the prince’s neck, Chrom could feel Robin’s warm breath on his skin. The hierophant smelled of parchment and something earthy that reminded him vaguely of the desert. And underneath that was the faintest hint of something sickly sweet, like overripe fruit, that was oddly alluring. 

Unable to resist, Chrom ran a hand through his friend’s unruly hair. Robin made a soft noise in the back of his throat and nuzzled closer to the prince, but did not wake. Chrom’s face instantly heated even though there was no one to witness their position and his hand in his friend’s hair. Gods what was he doing? He wasn’t even sure why he felt so compelled to do that himself. 

The prince carefully disentangled himself from the hierophant, trying desperately not to wake him. To his surprise, Robin did not stir at all and simply rolled over into the warm spot that Chrom had left behind, curling into himself. The prince breathed a sigh of relief. No one else would have any idea of their embarrassing sleeping positions. Least of all Robin. Seeing how flustered his friend had gotten last night he was definitely not going to tell him.  

“Robin, if you don’t get up, you’ll miss breakfast.” the prince told him with a light chuckle, his cheeks still a bit pink. 

Robin did not respond, his breathing still deep and steady with sleep. Chrom frowned slightly and then shook his head. The hierophant was likely still drained from the harsh days of travel. It couldn’t hurt to let him sleep a bit longer. But as he dressed over the next few minutes, and his friend still did not wake at the noise of the camp coming to life around them, the prince grew concerned. 

“Robin.” he called tentatively, a bit louder, but the hierophant didn’t so much as shift. 

Chrom crouched at the bedroll’s side and shook his friend’s shoulder. That got at least a bit of a reaction, as Robin grumbled in his sleep. Growing a bit frustrated and worried, the prince gently but firmly pinched the hierophant's cheek. His friend groaned and sat up, swatting him away instinctively.

“Is it-” Robin yawned and scrubbed at his eyes, “Morning?”

“Yes! Are you always this difficult to wake?” Chrom asked, slightly exasperated. 

“For the most part… It’s a side effect from… ah, never mind. The cold isn’t helping either.” Robin told him, his voice and thoughts still heavy with slumber. 

At least he looked better this morning than he had yesterday. Some of his color had returned, and he looked a bit less haggard. Although, Chrom was worried that would change once they started marching through the snow again. If all the horses and Pegasi weren’t terrified of him, he’d insist that Robin ride with one of the mounted Shepherds. 

“Well, since I finally got you up, hurry and get dressed. Stahl’s not going to leave us any breakfast if we don’t get there soon.” the prince teased lightly. 

“…Right.”  

With a fair bit of tired grumbling Robin got dressed, buttoning his cloak against the chill. At one point while pulling on his gloves, he paused and his eyes widened, grogginess vanishing. His gaze darted to the prince, expression slightly distressed, his cheeks oddly pink. Chrom perked up and glanced around, but didn’t hear or see anything that might have startled his friend. 

“What’s wrong?” Chrom asked, trying to keep his voice steady.

His friend’s blush was making him recall how he had run his hand through Robin’s hair. And the cute noise he had made in response. 

“It’s nothing. Let’s go.” the hierophant said a bit too quickly, and all but fled from the tent. 

Feeling very lost and a bit awkward at the sudden shift in mood, Chrom let out a sigh and followed after him. 

---

To say Robin was distracted was an understatement. While he was getting dressed, he had quickly realized that he smelled like Chrom . Like steel and something woodsy, but under that the faintest hint of divine dragon, warm scales and flower fields. The only explanation that he could come up with was that in the night, they’d perhaps gotten…close. Thank the gods so few of the Shepherds had keen noses.  

Not that he was upset. Embarrassed maybe, and feeling unable to look Chrom in the eyes, but not distressed in the slightest. In fact, he was secretly over the moon, if not rather guilty. But the prince could not possibly know how he made Robin feel, and it was unfair of him to take that comfort in Chrom’s arms when the prince did not know his feelings. Or how pleased the dragon that he used to be was that he smelled of the one he- 

Robin stumbled in the snow and shook off that particular line of thought before it could go any further.  

He did not want to admit it to himself, but sleeping next to the prince had been one of the best nights of sleep he had gotten in some time (especially taking into account the night he had shared with Frederick. The two had basically held an intense staring contest, both unwilling to fall asleep first). Last night, no nightmares or strange dreams had plagued him, and Chrom’s body heat had been heavenly with how frozen he was. 

A shiver ran through him, making him miss the prince’s warmth even more, and he was exceedingly grateful for the new gloves Chrom had gifted him. The cold in the north made his very bones ache, and reminded him far too much of Grima’s long imprisonment in that frozen empty void. He wished he had an inner fire like Nowi did, a dragon’s pilot light to keep him warm, but even if he were a true manakete, Grima had possessed no such thing. He had never breathed fire unlike what myths suggested, just clouds of rot and pestilence.

“Aw, did you guys make a dragon pile without me?” 

As if he had called her with his thoughts, Nowi’s voice startled him from his musings, her pout pronounced. Some time while he’d been lost in thought during their march, she’d drifted back to speak with him. 

Robin stiffened and grimaced. No doubt she could smell the prince’s scent on him still. He glanced around, but luckily, he and the manakete were far enough behind that the Shepherds could not hear them, especially carrying on their own conversations as they were. 

“No we just shared the tent, and Chrom is not a dragon.”

Technically neither was he, but he’d yet to explain that to the child. On the other hand if he truly smelled that much like a dragon to her, who was to say?

“He smells a bit like one, though. And I shared a tent with Panne, but I don’t smell like her.” Nowi said pointedly. 

“Chrom smells like a dragon due to Naga’s blessing on his bloodline.” Robin corrected, steadfastly ignoring her second statement and fighting the blush rising to his cheeks. But he could not escape the dragon’s keen eyes. 

“Oh, Robin you’re turning red just like Donny-” the manakete gasped, then squealed, “No way, you like him, don’t you?!” 

Robin instantly flushed deeper, his face on fire, never more glad for his raised hood. “Nowi! That’s not-! I… Of course I do, he’s my… my friend! But you can’t just…say it like that!” 

“But you like him more than a friend. He’s your ‘crush’, right? Right?” Nowi batted her long eyelashes as she needled him. 

“No, I-! He-!” 

“Oh I get it, you haven’t told him yet! Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the surprise! My lips are sealed.” the dragon assured, totally not buying his stammered excuses, pretending to lock her lips and throw away the key.  

“Nowi, it’s really not-!”

“You can trust me, Robin. But you’ve gotta give me the details when you tell him! And don’t go leaving out any of the juicy bits okay?” winking at him with a smile that promised trouble, Nowi bounded off to rejoin Lissa and Ricken before the hierophant could try to convince her. 

He gaped after the dragon, feeling a bit like a fish thrown onto dry land. Was he really that much of an open book to the manakete? Then it felt like a stone had dropped into his stomach. What would he do if Chrom found out? Or gods above, Frederick? He trusted Nowi not to tell, but if he was really that easy to read… Robin groaned and rubbed his temples. He could feel a headache coming on. It was going to be another long day of marching to the Longfort. 

***

Much to Robin’s surprise and relief, the rest of the journey to the longfort was mostly uneventful. A good thing too, he wasn’t sure he could have handled any trouble. They had switched off sleeping partners once more, and the gods must truly hate him because not only had a blizzard blown in that night, but he had shared with Vaike. Between the bitter cold he felt sure he had almost succumbed to, and the fighter’s snoring, he had barely slept. 

So it was a welcome comfort when the Longfort finally appeared in the distance that afternoon. The stories high wall was a testament to the Feroxi’s strength and commitment to hard work, stretching the entire length of the continent and being entirely built by mortal hands. It had gone up some centuries ago, when the country had decided to become isolationist to their southern neighbors who worshiped dragons. Robin could only imagine how many decades it had taken to build. 

The Shepherds stopped not far from the huge gate that blocked their entry into the country, the fort’s shadow looming over them. 

“So how do we get in?” Lissa asked rubbing her hands up and down her arms to fend off the chill. 

“We tell them that we are here for a diplomatic meeting with their khan, Milady. They asked us to come here after all, surely they will be expecting us.” Frederick told her confidently.

“Diplomacy's not my strong suit, but I'll do my best.” Chrom sighed as he approached the wall. 

“Halt! Who goes there?!” a woman yelled from atop the fort, her accent sharp and gruff.

Though she was far away, her huge suit of metal armor was very visible, as was the hostility on her face. 

“In the name of House Ylisse, I seek audience with the khan!” Chrom called out to the woman, his voice echoing across the snow-covered fields. 

“Not another step my bold lad! I've lancers at the ready!” came the unexpectedly sharp reply, which caused the Shepherds to tense. 

“Hold, milady! We are not your enemy! Exalt Emmeryn herself sent us to discuss matters of mutual interest. Your khan has summoned us for an audience!” the prince declared, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace. 

The armored woman huffed, slamming the butt of her spear down. “My only interest is keeping you out of Regna Ferox, brigand! You think you are the first to try and cross our border? I have the authority to fell such intruders where they stand!”

Frederick urged his warhorse forward, fury in place of his normally stoic expression. “How dare you! You are in the presence of Prince Chrom, the exalt's own blood!”

“Then what is that doing with you?!” the Feroxi woman sneered, pointing her lance down at Robin. 

The hierophant’s expression darkened as a familiar queasiness slid into his gut. As expected, the Feroxi held little love for Plegians, just like the Ylisseans. Not shocking given their long history of bloodshed, even if it was not quite as violent as their past relationships with Ylisse. But even still, this was worse than he had expected. 

“E-Excuse me?!” Chrom responded, outrage in his tone. 

“No Ylisseans would allow a Plegian rat into their midst! I’ve seen quite enough! Men, attack!” the woman ordered, and the soldiers began mobilizing. 

“Chrom! What do we do?” Lissa cried out. 

“Emm, won’t like this at all,” the prince muttered, anger still evident in his clenched jaw. “The Feroxi way it is then. Robin? Any ideas?” 

He started slightly, still a bit in shock at the Feroxi woman’s harsh reaction. That she had attacked them on sight simply because he was Plegian. And that his very presence had endangered the Shepherds as well. 

“R-Right.” the hierophant finally managed, unholstering his tome.

Focus. He needed to get the Shepherds through this mess. Pushing away his exhaustion and distracting emotions, he gathered his wits and came up with a plan.  

“We’ll catch them in a pincer maneuver,” Robin explained quickly pointing out the two pathways up to the roof of the fort. “Gaius, Miriel, Stahl, Panne, Kellam, and Chrom take the left. Maribelle go with Libra and assist Chrom’s group. Frederick, Gregor, Sully, Ricken, Vaike, Donnel, and myself will take the other side. Lissa, you’ll be with us. Cordelia, Sumia, Virion, and Nowi should stay back until we take care of all the archers, then swoop in to finish them off.”

“Sounds good to me. And remember everyone, try to disable rather than kill if you can. We wouldn’t want to start this visit off by killing the border guard.” Chrom nodded, his warriors moving into position. 

They met the Feroxi in force, the ringing of steel and the crackle of spells echoing out across the snowy plains. Unsurprisingly the fight was difficult with trying to disarm rather than dismember, especially when the fierce Feroxi warriors had no such qualms. Robin stayed towards the back with Ricken, assisting their bulkier teammates and protecting the reckless boy from arrows. It was a desperate fight, with the hierophant calling out warnings and advice. At least all the running around was warming him up.

Eventually they cleared the fields and could head for the twin stairways, but they took a moment to regroup. Sully had taken a nasty gash to the side, right through her armor, being hurriedly tended by Lissa, and Robin could see that Miriel had fallen back with Libra, an arrow stuck in her calf. Both wounds that would take a few days to heal, and took them out of the fight. 

The rest of the Shepherds broke through and onto the roof of the fort, engaging with the warriors there. Robin saw Chrom break away from his team and head for the armored woman. Cursing under his breath the hierophant raced after him. He caught the prince right as he made it to the leader, grabbing his arm. Chrom saw the look in his eyes and nodded. Together then. If the prince was going to be stubborn and reckless, Robin would have his back. 

“Let our battle sound out the truth or your words!” the woman shouted, and charged. 

Her lance headed for Robin first, and he twisted away from the strike. He dropped his tome and unsheathed his khopesh. When she swung her lance around, he caught the shaft in the blade’s curve trying to either snap it or wrench it from her grasp. But she must have had at least some experience against the weapon, because she followed his momentum instead of resisting, and pushed him back. 

Before he could recover she struck again, but Chrom was there, deflecting the lance while Robin straightened. Seeing an opening, the hierophant rushed forward and hooked his khopesh against her huge shield, twisting and pulling it from her grasp. She tried to swipe at him with her lance again, roaring in anger, but at the last second, Chrom charged in and turned Falchion, hitting her with the flat of his blade, throwing her off balance and sending her crashing helplessly to the ground. 

“Tell your men to stand down. We’re not brigands.” the prince said gruffly, rolling his right sleeve up to reveal the Brand of the Exalt on his shoulder. 

“Then your claims were true…” she said, color draining from her face. 

As the Feroxi started to take care of their injured, the weary Shepherds regrouped atop the fort. Aside from Miriel and Sully, no one had taken any major wounds, the cavalier even insisting she was fine and could ride on her own despite the protests of the clerics. Lissa and the others did what they could, but healing staffs were not cure alls. They could speed up the natural healing process and stem bleeding, but it would still be a few days of having to tend the injuries.

After picking up his tome and sheathing the khopesh, Robin sat down heavily atop the fort, not even caring that the stone beneath him was like ice. He had a raging headache from straining himself on so little sleep and the general exhaustion that came with the bitter cold. The hierophant closed his eyes for a moment, and let out a long sigh. That battle could have gone better. They had been ill prepared, and he hadn’t anticipated-

He startled slightly and opened his eyes when Chrom’s hand came down on his shoulder reassuringly. The prince stood next to where he was sitting, concern on his face. 

“You okay?”

Robin knew he didn’t mean the battle. 

“...Yes. The Feroxi’s mistrust of Plegians is understandable, Grangel has been harassing them nearly as much as he does Ylisse.” he said tiredly.  

Chrom frowned down at him. “I still don’t understand why he would do that… Regna Ferox is a far mightier foe than Ylisse, and I thought this was all about revenge for…the last war.”

“Many Plegians resent Regna Ferox for not giving aid to us during the war, despite the old queen reaching out to them with favorable trade agreements. They sat back and did not choose a side, unwilling to get involved, even with the slaughter that was taking place. It is not surprising then, that Grangel and his followers would seek revenge on the Feroxi as well. I would be lying if I said I did not still have grievances myself…” the hierophant explained, his voice turning cold near the end.  

“But you’re seeking their aid now?”

“What choice is left to us? I am more than willing to put aside my personal feelings if it helps my people.”  

The prince had lapsed into silence at his words. 

Robin saw little value in holding onto his emotions, at least where diplomatic relationships were concerned. His own grudges were nothing in comparison to gaining the might of the Feroxi army to unseat Grangel. Human conflicts came and went like the changing of seasons, as capricious as the weather. It was nothing in the face of a dragon’s long life. Perhaps why even Nowi, young as she was by their standards, was so carefree after a millennia on this earth. 

“You’ve a far more level head than I, Robin.” Chrom finally said. “I’m not sure I could put aside what Grangel has done if we had to ally against Ferox.” 

“Then it is a good thing you have my aid.” the hierophant huffed jokingly, while the prince helped him up. 

Chrom smiled at him, but they were interrupted by the Feroxi woman clanking over. The woman, who introduced herself as Rami, looked very awkward at her mistake, even as mistrust still shone in her eyes as she looked at them, but especially at Robin.   

“A thousand apologies, Prince Chrom. I truly took you for brigand impostors. I will send word of your arrival to the capital and escort you there personally.” Rami said, bowing as low as she could manage in her armor. 

“That would be most appreciated...thank you.” the prince got out, obviously holding his temper on a tight leash. 

Rami bowed again and left quickly to gather her troops that would lead them through to the capital.

“So can we get going, Chrom?” Lissa whined, coming over and clinging to her brother, clearly tired from all the healing she had done. 

The prince sighed deeply, anger fading somewhat, as he watched the armored woman retreat. “Yes, it's not getting any warmer.”

Robin followed after them, ignoring his protesting muscles, stiff with cold. He knew that the Feroxi were not going to give him a warm welcome (and he was in no hurry to return such pleasantries himself), but as long as they had fireplaces and extra blankets, he could deal with it, he decided. 

--- 

True to her word, Rami and her soldiers escorted them all the way to the capital. Thankfully through, Regna Ferox’s roads were well tended and they could take carriages to the city instead of having to go on foot. The further north they traveled, the worse the cold became, and the Shepherds were grateful for the warm furs supplied by their escorts. It was harsher than Ylisse’s weather to be sure, and yet it was still early autumn. Chrom couldn’t imagine true winter here.

The Shepherds made their way to khan’s fortress through the streets of the capital, taking in the city around them. It was huge. Even bigger and more populated than Ylisstol, with low stone buildings sprawling for miles on end. Forgeries billowed smoke along the road, while people came and went from the stone storefronts lining the way. Horse drawn carriages and even sleds pulled by teams of dogs passed them by in the crowded streets. The smell of roasting game floated over it all, along with the sounds of the Feroxi’s gruff language being shouted between each other. 

Unlike Chrom’s fair, peach skin, or Robin’s lovely caramel tones, the Feroxi had rich, dark skin the color of fresh coffee. Another thing he noticed was that the Feroxi tended to be broader and taller than most of the Shepherds, and Robin’s leith Plegian frame was practically wraith like in comparison. As they made their way to the palace, uneasy or downright hostile eyes followed them. The message was clear. Foreigners were rare and disliked.  

Much to everyone’s relief, the huge stoic looking castle came into view quickly. It was far more simplistic and heavier than the elegant and light looking architecture of the Ylissean palace, or the intricate towering buildings of Plegia. The stand out feature of the building was definitely the colosseum built into the back of it, where Feroxi warriors battled for glory. They had legends of Arena Ferox in Ylisse, but Chrom never thought he would see it himself. 

Rami lead the royals along with Robin and Frederick through the palace and into a vast throne room before leaving to inform the khan of their arrival. Chrom looked around the room in interest. Two equally sized thrones sat on a raised dais at one end. Ancient looking weapons were mounted on the walls, and any furniture was upholstered with animal furs. That didn’t surprise him. Regna Ferox had been founded by clans of barbarian-like warriors who descended from the mountains. 

The slam of a door being thrown open on the other side of the room startled Chrom and he turned towards it. A well muscled woman in red and silver armor was striding for them, her skin dark as any Feroxi, golden hair pulled up and a cat like grin on her face. She wasn’t as tall or broad as most of her people, but she had an aura about her that commanded respect. 

“Are you the khan?” the prince asked dumbly, taken by surprise. 

“One of them, yes. The East-Khan. My name is Flavia. I apologize for the troubles at the border, Prince Chrom, High Hierophant. You are welcome in Regna Ferox.” Flavia greeted them, grin widening, rapping her knuckles against her breast plate.

“Thank you, but I'm confident we can put that misunderstanding behind us. Perhaps we can just get into it?” Chrom told her, clearing his throat. 

“We’ve heard that the Mad King has been attacking the Longfort in an attempt to breach the wall. Is this true?” Robin asked, coming to stand next to the prince.  

Flavia’s eyes looked the hierophant over from head to toe, assessing, that smirk still on her face, and Chrom had to resist the urge to pull his friend close. But Robin met her gaze steadily, not cowed by her intense stare. Whatever Flavia saw made her smirk loose it’s cutting edge, and the prince had the impression that she approved of what she saw in his eyes. 

“Yes, his men come in the dead of night and attack the outposts along it. They have yet to break through, but we’ve lost a lot of good men to his dirty schemes.” She said finally, her grin fading somewhat.  

“Damn him!” Chrom burst out, then blushed deeply when Frederick gave him a disapproving look, “I... Forgive me, Your Grace. That was...indelicately put.”

“Ha!” Flavia let out a bark of laughter. “Damn him and damn delicacy! Here in Ferox, we appreciate plain speech.”

“In that case, you should have a word with your damn border guards…” the prince growled. 

They had attacked first and asked questions later. His blood heated again at the memory. Rami calling Robin “that”, as if he wasn’t even a human. The prince couldn’t forget the way that his friend’s expression had tightened, how despondent he had been since they came into contact with the Feroxi. He’d been quiet and kept to himself the entire way from the Longfort. Much like when they’d been in Ylisstol. 

“Now that's Feroxi diplomacy!” the khan nodded approvingly. “Yes, I like you already. I know why you both have come. But regrettably, I cannot provide any Feroxi troops for Ylisse or the Grimleal.”

“What?! Why not?!” Lissa exclaimed, then became red when they all turned towards her outburst. 

But Flavia seemed rather unbothered and simply told them, “I lack the authority.”

“Forgive me, but I don’t understand. Aren’t you the khan?” the prince asked her in confusion. 

“As I said, I am one of the khans. In Ferox, the khans of east and west hold a tournament every few years. The victor acquires total sovereignty over both kingdoms. And that means they have the final say when it comes to forging alliances. The West-Khan won the last tournament, you see, and so…” Flavia explained, shaking her head. 

“And what exactly is stopping us from turning to the West-Khan for assistance instead?” Frederick suddenly asked, his tone polite, but his eyes narrowed. 

Chrom saw Robin glance over to the great knight and their eyes met. An understanding seemed to pass between them, but the prince could not guess over what. He was actually trying not to stare at them. That was the closest to ‘getting along’ he’d seen from them.  

“Basilio, my counterpart, wishes to stay out of the war completely and continue our isolation. I doubt you’ll get anywhere with that stubborn oaf.” the khan waved her hand dismissively. 

Chrom’s face fell. “So we are to receive no aid at all?”

Flavia winked at him. “Not if you give up so easily! The next tournament is nigh, you see, and I am in need of champions. What better way to test such an alliance than to have the representatives of Ylisse and the Grimleal participate in our tournament?”

“And a way to prove to your people that we are allies worth backing, I presume.” Robin stated flatly. 

“You could say that.” Flavia’s grin was almost feral. “In Ferox, strength speaks louder than words, you know. Regardless, it is your choice to make.”

“There is no choice, East-Khan. My people are desperate. We face not only Grangel's constant attacks, but now the added threat of the Risen. If fighting for you is the quickest way to an alliance, then we will take up our steel.” Chrom declared, mind made up instantly. 

“Ha ha! Oh, I like you, Prince Chrom. I do hope you survive the tournament! It’s in a few days time and you are welcome to stay in the fortress and train while here. But be wary! I hear an equally able swordsman champions the West-Khan.” Flavia warned. 

“Thank you, Khan Flavia.” Chrom said with a slight bow, which Robin copied stiffly.  

With one last grin thrown over her shoulder, the east khan left. The prince let his shoulders droop. Great. They’d somehow gotten tangled up in Feroxi ‘diplomacy’. Glancing over at his friend, Robin’s expression looked equally disgruntled and tired. Not really thinking about what he was doing, he looped his arm around the hierophant’s shoulders and gave him a reassuring squeeze. His friend looked up at him in surprise, cheeks darkening, but returned the gesture hesitantly. 

When Rami came to take them to the guest quarters, Chrom found himself feeling a little more at ease. It would be fine, he had Robin and all his Shepherds at his side after all. 

***

After a rowdy dinner with the Feroxi in the palace and consuming many strange dishes (including roasted bear of all things), Chrom found himself restless in his chambers. All the Shepherds had been given small guest rooms in one of the many stone corridors of the Feroxi palace. Although the bed was comfortable, he had bathed, and the small fireplace was warm, the prince could not sleep. There were too many thoughts in his head, but his body was too tired for him to consider attempting to find the practice yard. 

Eventually Chrom gave up trying to sleep. It was late, but there was someone he knew would still be up at this hour. Taking one of the fur cloaks with him, Chrom headed down the hall a ways to where he knew Robin’s room was, having made sure to take note earlier. Knocking on his friend's door, he heard a muffled call to enter in return and twisted the doorknob.

“How’d you know it was me?”

“I would know that restless stomping anywhere by now.” his friend smirked. 

Robin was sitting in front of his fireplace on the fur rug, a blanket around his shoulders and book open in his lap. His friend looked genuinely comfortable and relaxed for the first time in a while. Chrom plopped down next to him, their shoulders brushing easily. The prince stretched out with a groan, the warmth of the fire melting the tension from his joints. 

“Glad to have a proper bed again?” he asked the hierophant. 

Robin chuckled. “Oh yes, but I am far happier to be out of that godsforsaken cold. You?”

“Same here. I don’t know how anyone can live up here. Or in the desert for that matter.” the prince said nudging Robin’s side playfully. 

“Humans are very adaptable. Just look at you, you actually wore two sleeves because it was so cold.” his friend mused, lightly elbowing Chrom back. 

The prince made a sound of mock outrage which made the hierophant laugh. For a few moments they sat in comfortable silence watching the fire, his friend flipping through his book occasionally. Something about the soft sounds of the crackling fire, the warmth, and Robin’s nearness, started to lull Chrom towards sleep. Closing his eyes, he drifted for sometime. The prince wasn’t sure how much time passed before Robin spoke, snapping him from his drowsy state.

“So, did you need something?”

Chrom sat up straighter, and looked over at his friend, the fire light setting Robin’s scarlet eyes glowing and dusting his skin with warm golden light. The knowing look on his friend’s face told the prince he knew he’d almost fallen asleep. 

Chrom suddenly started feeling a bit tongue tied. “Well, I, uh, wanted to see how you were doing...first of all.”

“Better now that I am warm. You needn’t worry so much.” his friend smiled.  

“It’s not that, exactly. I mean I’m glad but…” Chrom stopped and took a breath. “You don’t like it here very much.” It wasn’t a question. 

The hierophant lowered his eyes, smile slipping into a thin line. He was quiet for a few moments, probably mulling over his words.  

“Aside from the cold… I find the Feroxi mindset of strength being valued over all else…grating. I do understand it to an extent. If you are not strong you will perish in these lands. But if you are weak, you have no chance here. If you are born with no physical strength of your own, you are worthless to their society. What is that Ylissean saying? ‘Dog eat dog’-?” 

Chrom nodded slightly in confirmation, and Robin continued. 

“In Plegia, most believe that all lives are equal, no matter if you are weak or strong. Of Fell blood or common, human or not, it does not matter. You will die just the same as any living creature, and so your life holds the same intrinsic value. So it is a bit jarring here…” 

“More so than Ylisse?” Chrom asked quietly. 

His country placed great importance on bloodlines, and although Emmyren had done a lot to change the laws, the nobility enjoyed far greater freedom and power than the commoners. 

“Yes.. Your country exists because of your bloodline, so of course it is important, it serves a tangible purpose. It is obvious why your life holds more significance than any common Ylissean’s.” Robin’s eyes fell to where Falchion was usually buckled at Chrom’s side. “Naga bid your and yours to rule over and protect your people.”

“I guess…” the prince mumbled. 

He didn’t like to be reminded that he was any different than his fellow warriors in the Shepherds. The prince personally preferred to believe he was nothing more than a man. But he knew there were many who considered his life more important than that of a regular soldier’s. To hear even Robin acknowledging it… 

“Here…the strong have no inclination to protect the weak, and everyone fights for survival on their own. Not only that but their strong prejudice against Plegians is worse than I thought. Nearly as bad as Yli-” the hierophant cut himself off mid ramble, and Chrom’s eyes widened at the almost admission. 

Before the prince could try to react properly to what he had just implied, Robin’s expression darkened and he looked away from the prince. “Personal philosophies aside, the East-Khan is far more shrewd than I imagined. I do not think it was any coincidence that her response came in time for the tournament.”

Chrom frowned, he wanted to continue with their previous conversation. Had something happened in Ylisstol? Even though Emmyren had ordered everyone in the castle to treat Robin with respect… But the hierophant switching topics so quickly meant he didn’t want to speak of it, had probably not meant to bring it up in the first place. And looking at Robin’s face still pale from harsh travel through the cold and the frustrated pinch of his brows, Chrom knew this wasn’t the time to pry, even though he desperately wanted to. 

 “True, she made it pretty clear she’s using us. But she seems like a competent leader and a woman of her word.” he finally said, and his friend looked a bit relieved that he had not latched onto his other words. But the prince would be damned if they didn’t discuss it soon. 

“You’ll forgive me if I do not like games where my country is at stake, Chrom. Nor do I like being used,” his friend said sharply, then let out a weary sigh, “But I cannot blame the khan. I have done my fair share of political scheming. Besides, our goals align, and if this is the fastest way to earn our alliance I will help the Shepherds win the tournament.” 

Chrom cleared his throat. “Speaking of, did you have something in mind?”

“I am guessing that is the second reason you came here.” 

“That obvious, huh?” the prince winced.  

“You wear your heart on your sleeve, Chrom. Almost literally,” Robin laughed a bit of levity coming back, touching the Brand of the Exalt on the prince’s shoulder, and Chrom blushed slightly. 

“But I expected you’d ask, and I’ve been looking through records of past tournaments. I have some ideas.” his friend held up the book he’d been reading, it’s title in Feroxi. 

It didn’t surprise Chrom in the slightest that the hierophant knew their language as well. Robin was one of the smartest people the prince had ever met, especially when it came to tactics or history. He wouldn’t be shocked if the hierophant knew Valmese in addition to the other four tongues he spoke. 

“Good. Well, I’ll leave you to it. I better go, it’s late.” the prince said, standing reluctantly from his comfortable spot next to Robin. 

“Yes, you best, get some rest. Tomorrow we start preparing for this tournament.” his friend told him.  

Chrom smiled tightly. “Yeah, but you need to go to bed too.” 

“I know, and I will. Goodnight, Chrom.” the hierophant called softly as the prince headed for the door. 

“Until tomorrow.” 

As he headed for his own room, Chrom felt a little less restless. Talking with Robin always calmed his nerves and put his thoughts in order. Even if sometimes it gave him even more to think about. Although he felt a lot better knowing that the hierophant was already planning for the upcoming battle. He’d yet to fail them once when it came to tactics. 

Still he was troubled by his friend's admission of feeling unwelcome in both Ylisse and Regna Ferox. Chrom feared that the castle inhabitants were not following his sister’s instructions on their treatment of Robin. Hopefully they would be back in Ylisstol with an alliance soon, and he’d speak to her about it. And then, with the Feroxi’s strength, they’d get rid of the Mad King once and for all.

---

Arena Ferox was one of the largest buildings Robin had ever seen in his life. Of course the Dragon’s Table dwarfed it, but the huge crowds of people made it seem bigger somehow. Their cheers and jeers were deafening, a constant roar that came rushing back to his ears when the battle ended. Chrom raised Falchion in victory, to the crowd’s approval, his opponent weaponless, kneeling in surrender. He had a few cuts here and there, but was otherwise unharmed, thank Grima.  

They had been limited in how many Shepherds they could take into the arena, so after surveying their opponents Robin, again acting as tactician, choose Lissa, Sumia, himself, and Frederick to assist Chrom. The battle had been difficult. Their foe, Lon’qu, was a very talented sword master. Although he was clearly not of Feroxi descent, he was much taller than Chrom, almost to rival Frederick. Not only that but the thin curved sword he carried was from Chon’sin, a proud nation known for their skilled swordplay.

But Chrom had defeated Lon’qu after an intense match, with deadly blows landing so close, Robin’s breath had caught in his chest a few times. It had been an effort not to rush to the prince’s aid, but the Shepherds needed to hold back the rest of the west khan’s men so that Chrom could fight Lon’qu head on without worry. And in the end, the prince had won, wrenching his foe’s blade from him and throwing him to the ground. 

Across the battlefield, Robin and Chrom shared a look of relief mixed with exhaustion, but before they could move towards one another, Flavia was there grinning widely.  

“Well fought! You have my respect. And, perhaps more to the point, you have your alliance. I will provide you both with the soldiers you need.” 

“Truly? Thank you, East-Khan.” Chrom said, sheathing Falchion.

The khan laughed. “I should thank you! It feels like ages since I've held full power. Come, my new friends! Tonight, we celebrate!”

And celebrate they did. In the massive mess hall of the Feroxi palace, citizens and soldiers alike gathered for the victory of the new khan. It was nearly as loud in the hall as it had been in the stadium, and drinks were flowing freely. Looking around the room several Shepherds were already in quite a state. Throughout the night they were swamped by impressed Feroxi, wanting to speak of the battle. Even Basillio, the defeated West-Khan, had come to offer his praise for their fight, volunteering his swordsman, Lon’qu for the Shepherd’s ranks. 

His skills would be sorely needed by the militia in the war to come. Even if at that moment he was cowering away from Lissa, who was still trying to talk to him after their sour first encounter. They had quickly discovered that their newest member suffered from an odd crippling fear of women. Robin sighed and let his gaze travel over to their other new recruit, Olivia. 

It was clear that like Lon’qu, the dancer was no Feroxi native, her skin as pale as any Ylissean and frame far too slender. She was a skilled performer, if not also the shyest person he’d ever met. Grima’s lifespan included. The hierophant was no stranger to blushing himself, but Olivia seemed to be in a perpetual state of embarrassment, at least when she wasn’t lost in her dances. But she had insisted on joining them, saying that Emmyern had once done her a kindness. 

The hierophant closed his eyes, trying to block out the constant noise of the drunken revelry going on around him. It was true that the Shepherds deserved to celebrate their hard earned victory, but they would be leaving at dawn. He could always return to his room to escape as Libra, Nowi, and Panne had done, but the Ylisseans needed more than one chaperone. And Frederick already had his hands full with a clumsier than usual Sumia. 

Someone suddenly slung their arm over his shoulder, and Robin opened his eyes to see Gaius grinning down at him. “Loosen up, Bubbles, this is a party ain’t it? Why don’t you come join us?”

He gestured to a table a few rows away where Chrom was laughing and drinking alongside Sully, Vaike, and most of the other Shepherds. The prince’s cheeks were rosy, and his smile lopsided and loose with ale. Despite his distaste of drinking, Robin couldn’t deny the sight of a cheerfully tipsy Chrom was endearing. 

The hierophant huffed, crossing his arms. “I am fine here Gaius, honestly.” 

“But Blue’s been asking where you are, you know.” the thief grinned at him.

More protests died on Robin’s lips, and Gaius’s smile widened taking on a knowing edge. When the hierophant still hesitated the thief let out an exasperated groan.  

“Just come sit with us for a while, I ain’t asking you to snog him yet.”

“Snog?” that was a word he was unfamiliar with, fluent as he was in Ylissean.  

“Never mind, come on.” 

Without waiting for a proper reply, Gaius grabbed him by the elbow and lead him from the empty corner where he had been hiding to the table with the other Shepherds. 

“Look who I found.” the thief said pushing Robin into the seat next to the prince. 

The gathered Shepherds greeted him heartily and Chrom’s whole face lit up, causing a furious blush to rise to Robin’s face and making him grateful for his raised hood. Gods the prince was even more of an open book when he was drunk. They were passing a bottle of liquor around while Stahl recounted an old story about how he’d accidentally brewed a potion that turned him green for a week instead of curing his stomach problems. 

For a while the hierophant actually started to enjoy himself, laughing at Stahl’s story of misfortune along with the rest, and taking his fill of Chrom’s open expressions. Although Robin was not fond of drunken antics, he had to admit it was a bit entertaining to watch the Shepherds as the night went on. He had choked back laughter when Gregor had tried to “dance” with Olivia, and he had learned that poised Maribelle had the dirty mouth of a sailor when she drank enough. 

Then a very inebriated Miriel had to stir up trouble. They were in the middle of a tale of one of Gaius’s more seedy exploits, when she announced, rather loudly, “Robin is there a cause for the lack of alcohol intake on your part? By my observations it is typical for comrades to engage in such activities together, and you have not ingested a single beverage.” 

All eyes turned to him, and the hierophant got a sinking feeling in his stomach. Giving her what he hoped was an easy smile he shook his head.

“I am just not partial to drinking.” 

That garnered groans and sounds of disbelief from the drunken Shepherds around them. 

“Do you want some ale? It’s not nearly as strong as the liquors.” Stahl offered sympathetically. The hierophant probably gave off the impression he’d be a lightweight, and the cavalier likely thought he was afraid to get too drunk. 

“Thank you, but I am really fine.” Robin said lightly, praying they’d drop it, but that only seemed to spur them on. 

“Scared are ya?” Sully taunted, leaning into his space, drink on her breath.  

Robin leaned away from her. “No, I just do not-”

“Live a little, squirt! Stop being such a goody little two shoes!” Vaike told him letting out a loud belch right by his ear. 

A few other Shepherds chimed in with similar sentiments and the hierophant sighed very deeply.

“Alright, alright! But just one! What are you drinking anyway?” Robin acquiesced with a groan, and the Shepherds near him cheered.  

The prince slid the amber bottle towards the hierophant along with a mug. Twisting it around to see the label, Robin nearly wheezed at the name of the spirit. It was infamous even in Plegia. 

“This is ‘Breath of Dragons’! Gods Chrom, do you have any idea how potent this liquor is?” the hierophant asked him incredulously.   

“I’m not that drunk!” Chrom protested, his words surprisingly coherent for a man who was several shots of very strong liquor and a pint or two of ale in.  

“You will be.” Robin lamented, thinking of their bumpy carriage ride back to the Longfort at first light.  

“You drinkin’ or not Bubbles?” Gaius challenged, suspiciously sober looking for someone supposedly drinking heavily, and the Shepherds around them hooted. 

“You don’t have to, Robin.” Chrom said, somehow reading the reluctance in Robin’s eyes despite his alcohol addled state.  

But the hierophant shook his head. If having a swallow full of liquor got everyone to stop bugging him, he’d do it. It wasn’t like this was the first time he’d felt obligated to take a drink. 

Grima help me. ” he muttered in Plegian, pouring himself a knuckle’s length of the dark liquor. 

Before he could reconsider, Robin downed the drink in one smooth motion. He shuddered as the spirit burned it’s way down his throat to sit uncomfortably in his stomach, only half aware of the cheers around him through the sensation. Vaike clapped him on the back as he coughed, heat racing through him. Gods above, that was so much worse than wine. 

But at least as predicted, the Shepherds left him alone after that. The night lengthened and the party thinned. Eventually Flavia called for one last drinking contest and their table mates whooped and ran off to join her, leaving Robin and Chrom where they were. The latter’s face dopey with inebriated concern, even more rosy than an hour ago. 

“Sorry. I wouldn’t have asked Gaius to bring you over if I knew they were gonna do that. You shouldn’t feel like you have to drink if you don’t want to.” the prince apologized, his words a bit sluggish with alcohol.  

“It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not.” Chrom told him firmly, “I just thought…you might be a bit lonely off by yourself.” 

“Maybe a little.” Robin mused, and gave him a small smile, “Aside from the drink, I was having fun.”

“Good. I’m glad. You’ve been so down lately… And I just… I don’t know what to do with you sometimes…” Chrom pouted, laying his head on the table. 

Robin felt himself flush slightly at the prince’s words. An awkward silence stretched, where the hierophant was unsure what to say in return. But the prince didn’t seem bothered by it. Just as Robin started to think Chrom had fallen asleep on the table, he hummed thoughtfully. 

“You were right, Robin. I think… I’m pretty drunk now. You better go get Frederick.” Chrom slurred, smiling apologetically up at the hierophant.  

“He’s helping with Sumia right now, the Feroxi spirits are...disagreeing with her. Come on, I’ll get you to bed.” Robin told the prince, glancing over to the great knight, ever the gentleman, who was cleaning Sumia up after she’d sprinted to the washroom.  

“Yeah, thanks.” the prince agreed, letting the hierophant help him from his seat. 

Although his words were clear enough, Chrom’s clumsier than usual feet betrayed his level of intoxication. His steps were unsteady and he let Robin lead the way, tripping over nothing now and again. Once they finally left the roar of the celebrations behind, the hierophant let some of the tension fall from his shoulders. He’d take the prince to bed and then turn in himself. Tomorrow was not going to be pleasant.  

“Have I ever told you that your hair is really soft?” Chrom suddenly told him, making Robin stumble in surprise as his cheeks turned pink. 

“I… Uh, no, when did you-?”

“Well it is.” Chrom stated proudly, cutting the hierophant off.  

“...Thank you?” Robin managed, more than a little confused and now very red in the face. 

The prince smiled lopsidedly at him again. “You’re so smart too. Brilliant. You come up with all these plans and speak so many languages, and you know so much stuff. I could never do that.” 

“I… you… You are a very honest drunk.” Robin said, sighing through his nose and tugging the prince along. 

By some miracle, they reached the prince’s room without much trouble, and Chrom even managed to keep from saying anything else that was sure to make Robin even redder. He helped the prince take off his boots and pauldron, at least. Then he gently pushed Chrom to lay down on the bed, making sure he was arranged on his side in case he became sick in the night. With one last sigh he stood to leave, but the prince grabbed his wrist. 

“Are you sure you had fun?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Good. Also…thank you.” Chrom mumbled into the pillow. 

“I am just glad I got you back to your room in one piece. It’s fine.” the hierophant chuckled, slipping his wrist from Chrom’s grip.

“No… I mean, I’m really thankful you found us that time, Robin…  I don’t think I ever said thank you for that. You saved us. And you saved Emm… I’m really glad I met you.” the prince trailed off, his eyes closing.  

As the sound of Chrom’s breathing deepened into sleep, Robin sat on the edge of his bed and just looked down at the prince in the moonlight streaming in from the nearby window, taking in his strong features and peaceful expression. A tightness wrapped around the hierophant’s chest. 

He could not keep pushing these feelings away. He had known for quite a while. Robin was in love with Chrom, the prince of Ylisse. Against all odds, somehow Grima’s vessel had fallen for Naga’s chosen. It was almost poetic in its irony. The one person in the world who was surely destined to be his enemy…and he was head over heels. He could almost laugh at how pathetically in love he was.

It had started with infatuation, he found Chrom dashing and handsome, but it had quickly deepened into true affection. The prince was kind, and thoughtful, naively so. He was always trying to help everyone with their problems, always willing to trust. Yet he was so very reckless and stubborn, to the point of infuriation. His passion and temper running hot and vibrant, tempered only by his humbleness and self doubt. And Robin loved all of it. 

“I am glad I met you too, Chrom.” he said softly, brushing the prince’s bangs from his face. 

Chrom would never be his, he knew. But still, he let himself have that moment of stolen intimacy sitting quietly in the prince’s bedroom. Even if he shouldn’t have. 

Robin’s gaze fell on Falchion, sheathed and leaning against the wall. One day Chrom would likely point it at him, if he found out Robin’s most closely guarded truth. They were practically born to be enemies, and yet they had met and formed a bond. Destiny had a cruel way. But until then…until he became the villain in Chrom’s heroic tale, he wanted to stay by the prince’s side. Laugh with him, tease him, argue with him, and pretend it wouldn’t all come crashing down around him for a little while longer. 

As much pain as it would one day bring him, Robin was very glad to have met Chrom indeed.