Yep, couldn't stay away again. You've all heard my spiel before, so I'll cut to the chase. Disclaimer: I DO NOT own these characters nor many of the elements to this fanfic. NOTE: In this fic I am NOT following Morgan's cannon origin story. To fit the purpose of the plot, she'll be from the SAME timeline as the other children, except, you know, she has amnesia.
Aversa was worried.
For the first time in her life, she was very deeply and truly scared for someone else's life. She unconsciously turned the band on her left ring finger. They had returned to and set up camp at the battlefield Aversa had fought the Shepherds in Grima's name. She was, in part, the cause for her own frenetic state of mind. Only in part – the blasted divine dragon was at fault for the rest of Aversa's panic. Naga absolutely had to reveal Grima's mortal weakness.
And Robin absolutely had to listen.
Everyone was against the divine dragon's solution. Well, except the Exalt's brat, who had remained impassive when Robin voiced his consent to be a human sacrifice. Aversa wondered how her own daughter could remain friends with someone who was indifferent to letting someone else pay the ultimate price.
"Mother, what are you thinking about?" Morgan's voice traveled straight through Aversa's trail of thought. It was a strange phenomenon, how her child's voice rang clear above the noise of, well, everything.
"Oh, just about what a fool your father can be."
"You do that a lot." The young tactician said, scuffing her boot on the ground. "I don't think Father is a fool. I think he's a good person and a great tactician."
Aversa laughed and ruffled her daughter's hair, which very closely matched her own. "Yes, he's too good a friend to let this matter drop."
"It might be the right thing to do, but…" The girl sighed while looking away, "I don't know if I want him to do it. It's selfish, I know, but he's my father and now we're a family. He always told me that the needs of many infinitely outweighs the needs of a few."
The Dark Flier felt her false smile fade. Oh, how she dearly wished Morgan would be optimistic for the both of them at the moment. "And that is a point I disagree with him on. The 'many' he so dearly wishes to protect will never know who saved them, and those who do know will not instill gratefulness in the next generation."
Morgan frowned. "I don't know if I can agree with that."
"You will understand sooner or later."
"Isn't there anything you can do to change his mind?" Morgan looked up at her, clinging to her waist. Well, she had certainly learned how to give people a woeful face.
"I doubt anything I say will do any good." Aversa remarked bitterly. If there was anything Robin cared for above his family, it was his duty to protect the lives of his friends.
Morgan kept staring. "There's always hope. Lucina said that,"
"Don't speak to me about her," Aversa snapped sharply. She forced herself to relax. "That girl is jumping for an easy solution without considering the cost."
There was quiet.
Morgan let go and glared. "You've got to try! Don't you love Father?"
"I…that's not the point! If you do not stop pestering me about your father, I will send you to your tent."
"No! I know you love him – stop being so stubborn! Why are you so prideful, Mother? Never mind - you'll come up with a snarky lie!" Morgan threw her hands in the air and ran off.
She was glad her daughter had fled; Aversa wasn't so sure she could utter the answer. Life without Robin was livable. Her life did not solely depend on Robin – it was that Aversa would rather have Robin with her. She was terribly selfish and she knew it.
"There you are," Robin peeked his head into Aversa's tent. She had dreaded this moment ever since Morgan had left in a huff. She couldn't find the words to answer him.
"Aversa, are you feeling alright?"
Something in her broke and she whipped around saying, "You stupid, selfish man!"
Robin flinched, but his face was like stone. "I'm doing what's right." He came closer and sat beside her.
"No. The right thing to do is let Grima be sealed away for another millennia or so, and let the future generations deal with the fell dragon. You wanted a family, well, now you've got one. Are you about to leave our daughter without a parent?" She spoke quickly, with the fury of an angry goddess.
"There is a chance I will survive."
"And a greater chance that you won't!"
"If you put it that way, then find another man who will take care of Morgan with you. Or raise her by yourself. The Shepherds won't abandon you. They'll support both of you through anything." Robin was saying it so simply, like it was something one would say in a regular conversation. He was so calm! It was as if he had come to terms with his choice.
"And the Exalt approves of this decision?"
"…No. But Chrom doesn't dictate whether or not I can choose to give my life for the greater good."
"Why are you doing this?"
"It's because of me that this mess happened. Haven't you met Grima in my body from Lucina's world? Don't you want the damned thing gone? I've done enough damage by not doing anything." Now, Robin's dark eyes burned with avid determination; he almost looked like Validar. He had no recollection of his past – all he knew about himself was his cursed bloodline.
Aversa was angry. No, she was furious! "How, then, do you intend to keep your end of the promise you made to me with this ring?" She all but tore the band from her finger and tossed it into his lap. It felt like she'd ripped a part of herself off with it. Fellblood men were the cause of her life's struggles.
The Shepherds' tactician picked the piece of jewelry up gingerly. He had a plaintive expression on his face. "I don't intend on breaking my promise. I know our bonds are strong enough to bring me back. Please, keep this with you." He reached for her hand.
"I think not," Aversa said coldly. Why, oh gods, why did she allow herself get so close to the man? It was supposed to be cut and dry: she got her vengeance on Grima, and she would never show her face around the Shepherds again. Fate, it seemed, had other designs.
Robin looked hurt – as always. "Have some faith in me – in us." His hand was still out in a silent offering. The ring, with its darker features, stood out against Robin's fair skin. "You know I follow through on my promises."
She was torn. How was she to have faith in what the divine dragon said? Aversa may have eschewed her Grimleal ways, but her time worshipping the fell dragon left her with a suspicion of how reliable such beings were. Vows with mere humans meant little to powerful dragons.
Emotions that Aversa had never bothered to face welled up inside her chest. She hated the feeling of being so attached to Robin, but at the same time, she reveled in her relationship with him. She was only barely comfortable with him seeing her in a vulnerable state. It was just something she wasn't accustomed to. The very thought of losing Robin in body and soul for any amount of time bothered Aversa. When they were together, she let him hold her close and she stayed the night instead of slinking away. Robin was teaching her that not everybody would take advantage of her. He was patient with her and with her rudimentary parenting skills. He had offered the idea of a family; a concept Aversa had been trained to loathe. Moreover, he had promised to be a support for her, and vice versa. He had promised permanence.
"You're my anchor to this life," Robin said. "If you want me to survive, then you can make it so." His body language projected that he was pleading. That was his bad habit; throwing his feelings out in the open, letting anyone and everyone stomp all over his heart. Many would consider that a feminine quality. Aversa considered it a "Robin" quality – only he would do it so recklessly. Clearly, simple logical reasoning would not penetrate the passion of raw emotion. The simplest solution would be Aversa's forte.
"We face Grima tomorrow." She stated. Was she prepared to lose him so soon?
"I know. Nothing is changing my mind, and I hope you can respect that." Robin relaxed a bit, obviously thinking they had come to an understanding. Aversa was only getting started.
Seeing an opportunity to turn the tables, Aversa finally took the ring back from Robin's hand and replaced it on the proper finger. Then, she moved towards him, ending up part way on his lap. She felt his breath hitch. It was an effect she relished seeing. The little cogs and gears of her plan were beginning to turn. Robin's arms wrapped around her loosely – he probably took her actions as reconciliatory gestures.
"When all of this is over, I,"
"I love you," Aversa mumbled into Robin's chest, looking up at him with half-lidded eyes.
Robin's jaw visibly dropped. "W-what? That's great! So that means that you're finally comfortable with,"
Aversa silenced him with her mouth. She tangled her fingers into Robin's pale hair, pressing him closer, and pushed him down onto his back. It wasn't long until her lover's self-control buckled and they began a silent argument, each trying to win through touch. It became a fight for dominance; Aversa was dead set on winning.
She would make it a night Robin would never forget.
They ended up curled into each other, taking in the other's scent and treasuring the contact. Robin woke up first. It wasn't dawn yet – good. He wanted to remember the moment for as long as he lived – for how ever long that was. It occurred to him that Aversa's confession of love may have been a trap; to guilt him into reconsidering his choice. Robin wasn't picky about how Aversa said it – after all, the word hadn't meant anything to her before. Why would she say it now if it meant nothing?
Robin wished that he wasn't Grima's vessel. He wanted nothing more than to live with Aversa and Morgan peacefully. If his life was the price to pay for his partner and daughter's happiness, he was prepared to give it. But there was another reason he wanted to do it. There had been ever since he learned that Validar was his father. Robin wanted closure. He wanted to be cleansed of the fell dragon's blood. If he died killing Grima, at least he would have rid the world of such an evil, maleficent beast.
Plus, there was the possibility of coming back. It was slim to none, but Robin believed in invisible ties – bonds of friendship and kinship – relationships he had forged with each one of the Shepherds. They had been able to come so far because of their friendship. Robin trusted that their bonds would prevent him from being obliterated. He had to come back. He'd made a promise to Aversa that he would never abandon her or Morgan. If he didn't come back, there would be two people cursing his name forever - the two people he loved most.
Robin looked at Aversa. She seemed at peace with him. It pained Robin that he was hurting her and Morgan. But he had an obligation to protect everyone. If he let Chrom simply seal Grima away again, what if the Grimleal came after Morgan? Or Morgan's children? He would not let that happen.
Aversa stirred in his arms, her eyes opening a fraction. Robin hadn't noticed he had tightened his hold on her and immediately loosened his grip.
"Too late, I'm awake." Aversa mumbled, a tired smirk turning her lips upward. Robin felt his heart twinge with guilt.
"We should get dressed soon."
"That's very romantic." She replied dryly as she broke their embrace. Robin was slow to move. When he did manage to get up (albeit a bit shakily), his back protested. Dried blood cracked all over his back, and a surge of sharp pain danced all over.
"Ouch!" He tried to turn his head to see what was wrong, but that was an impossible feat.
"Oh my, it seems I did a number on you." Aversa said from the other side of the tent. There was satisfaction in her tone. Another pang of remorse made Robin shudder.
The memories of their night together came flooding back. Robin recalled long nails clawing his back, gouging scores of scratches into his flesh. Let it be a reminder throughout their final battle, he thought grimly, that he had a lover to return to as well as a daughter.
"Yeah," Robin said weakly, "I won't be forgetting that for a while."
There was a sense of anxiousness as the Shepherds gathered around their leader and tactician for what could be that last time.
Aversa stood at the front, Morgan by her side once more. She would never understand how quickly her daughter forgave her.
"Did you speak to Father?" Morgan asked excitedly.
And indeed. Aversa wasn't completely certain what her foolish partner had decided. She had used all her wiles to try and persuade Robin to choose differently. In fact, Aversa had let Robin know exactly how much she did not want him to sacrifice himself. She'd mistakenly let that trite little phrase slip past her guarded lips.
"I don't know."
Morgan just smiled. "I think you did your best – he'll totally stay."
Plans were explained, orders were given, and that was that. Much to Aversa's unease, she was put at the back of the group, with Morgan. She had the girl situated in front of her on her pegasus.
"I'd like a pegasus," Morgan said absently. "We could ride together all the time. Father should get one, too."
"Hush," Aversa said. "Focus."
No sooner than she'd said it, the divine dragon appeared and transported them onto Grima's back. Her revenge on the fell dragon for ruining her life was about to be exacted – but how?
The fighting was intense – getting her pegasus off the fell dragon's back took careful planning. Grimleal troops flung spears and shot arrows from all directions. They weren't able to get very high up – not high enough to see the front of the pack – where Robin was. Aversa and Morgan were a magical duo, using their powers to wreak havoc from above. Morgan used her Arcthunder tome while Aversa used a dark magic volume she'd created herself. She had reverted back to using dark magic – after all, it was better to stick with what she knew best. The crazed sadist Henry had given her some insight to the true nature of the dark arts.
"Mother, swoop down!" Morgan said while drawing her sword. Aversa was stunned for a moment – her child looked very much like her father with both weapons in hand.
"Hold on," She replied while gently commanding her mount to dive.
When they started feeling the fatigue of battle, Aversa and Morgan resorted to stealing the life force from their foes. There were so many of them, after all. The pure numbers of Grimleal who were being transported onto Grima's back was surreal. Slaying one only brought the presence of two more. Robin was nowhere to be found. Aversa viciously tore her thoughts from her lover; there was no time to waste thinking about that stupid man and his morals. She could only wish that the Exalt would be quicker with his blade.
"AAAH! Mother!" Morgan had leaned left to avoid an incoming arrow, but she'd gone too far and fell. Aversa shot her arm out and grabbed her daughter's hand and was nearly yanked from the saddle as well.
"Don't let go," She warned the girl. Aversa's mind was working at top speed trying to hang on and to guide her pegasus out of harm's way. If the winged horse went down, it would be the end of the three of them. With a burst of power, she pulled Morgan up, armor and all.
"Thank you," Her daughter muttered sheepishly. Aversa would never say it, but she had been terrified for a brief moment.
"Keep your focus." Was all she said.
In the midst of the heated battle, a shudder shook the fell dragon and a roar made the world seem to spin. The Grimleal froze in their tracks, dazed. Aversa looked to the front, but still couldn't see. She urged her mount to fly quickly to where she knew Robin would be.
"…I hope we meet again, in a better life." Said Robin as his body was turned to smoke and was blown away. His eyes stayed trained on the Exalt – on purpose, Aversa knew. If he'd looked at her, well, gods help him.
"Father!" Morgan cried, leaping off the saddle and running to where Robin had been not seconds before. "No!"
Grima's dragon body shuddered once more.
"Everyone, we're going down!" The Exalt shouted over the chaos. There was a look of defeat in his eyes.
Aversa dismounted, strode to where her daughter knelt, crying, picked her up, and put the both of them back onto her pegasus. Before they could lift off, the divine dragon appeared again and whisked them off.
There was a huge amount of noisy talking as the Shepherds tried to figure out what had just happened. They had been taken back to Ylisstol, in the palace courtyard.
"What the hells?"
Aversa hardly paid attention to the background sounds. She got off her pegasus and set Morgan on her feet. Her daughter clung to her and buried her face into her side. This was very uncomfortable. Warm wet spots formed on her clothes from Morgan's tears.
The Exalt cleared his throat and said, "I'm deeply sorry to say that Robin dealt the last blow. It was my responsibility to seal Grima away and I failed. However, Naga said that there is a chance Robin can come back. I know that he was everyone's dear friend, and he will come back. I ask that even if you leave this army that you search for Robin for all your lives until he is found. We owe him this much."
There was a rumble of agreement.
The rest of the speech meant little to Aversa. She only felt betrayed and…hurt? Was that what she was feeling?
"Mother," Morgan moaned quietly, "I don't feel well." Aversa glanced down and noticed that the girl's face was flushed and her eyes seemed cloudy. Her face shone with sweat. Now that she thought about it, Morgan felt very hot. Abnormally warm even for someone wearing light armor. Plus, it wasn't like Morgan to complain.
Aversa looked around her for one of the healers. Her eyes fell upon the Exalt's sister as the blonde was the nearest to them. Suddenly, Aversa felt oddly uncomfortable with asking for help. She was still wary of Robin's friends, even though they had seemed to accept her after a short time. Still, Morgan looked about to faint in her arms.
With a steeling breath, she shuffled closer to the other woman (as Morgan was still hanging on) and tapped her on the shoulder.
"Huh?" The War Cleric spun around. "Oh!" She exclaimed loudly. Too loudly. The rest of the army's attention was then directed at them.
"Mother?" Morgan said again, but she appeared to be in a fevered trance. "I feel sick." And she collapsed promptly thereafter. Aversa caught her child before she hit the ground.
The healer woman started examining the girl worriedly, unclasping armor and letting some of the trapped heat come out. It took much of Aversa's self-control not to bristle at their audience. She trained her focus on her daughter.
"What's wrong with her?" She demanded with unintended fierceness. Her heart thrummed in her chest. No, she couldn't lose Robin only to have Morgan torn away! She'd gone to great lengths to keep the girl safe during the battle.
"How long has she been this way?" The Exalt's sibling inquired as she trickled water from a wineskin over Morgan's forehead.
"I don't know. She only spoke up now." Aversa replied tersely. Her attention was directed to the rush of servants flooding out of the palace. Four of them hefted a stretcher.
"We'll take her into the castle and treat her there." The young woman rose and followed the helpers into the palace. Aversa went with them, taking long strides to stay at her child's side.
For two days, Morgan slept. She often squirmed and groaned but she was alive. Aversa stayed at Morgan's bedside, seldom budging to eat and address bodily needs. During the time Morgan was comatose, her friends, the other children in the army, frequently appeared to check on her. She was a popular girl, it seemed.
The healers were at a loss for the sudden illness. As Aversa contemplated the possibilities, she came to the hypothesis that it must have had something to do with Grima's demise. Obviously, she hadn't caught something from the other soldiers – no one had been sick in the past weeks. Aversa wasn't a healer, but she was more or less sure that a simple fever was not the cause of the situation at hand. No, she believed it must have been the fell dragon's blood being cleansed from Morgan's veins. There were numerous other answers, but Aversa's theory seemed the most likely.
"Nngh," Morgan mumbled as she shuddered. Her eyes fluttered for a moment. Aversa honed in on the movement.
"Come on, wake up," She goaded quietly. Aversa hardly heard the door to the medical ward swing open.
A gentle touch to her shoulder nearly resulted in a magical blast. "EEK!" The sprightly War Cleric reeled back. "Yikes, you pack a punch. I almost spilled this." She held an elegant porcelain bowl filled with soup and set it down on the bedside table.
Aversa said nothing in reply.
The Exalt's baby sister frowned, but continued her work examining Morgan's condition. Aversa's child stirred again.
"She's waking up!" The healer's sourness at Aversa's previous rudeness disappeared. "I'll be right back," And she ran out.
Morgan's eyes opened halfway. "That's bright," She said hoarsely. "Where am I – oof!" The wind was crushed from her lungs as Aversa's arms formed a tight circle around her.
"You stupid girl," Aversa muttered, "Don't scare me like that ever again."
"Mother?" Her daughter asked, shocked. "You're hugging me!" And she returned the embrace with enthusiasm; as much as a recently awoken patient could.
Footsteps echoed from down the hall. Aversa released Morgan, sat back in her chair, and took a deep breath to regain her composure. The blonde's head poked into the ward first and she grinned.
"She's up!" As if it took a trained healer was required to make that observation.
"Good." Came another voice. The Exalt entered the room. He looked weary but relieved. After all, the land had been spared utter destruction not three days before at the cost of his chief tactician. The only saving grace about his appearance was that his conniving daughter wasn't with him. Perhaps shame had scared her off.
Aversa regarded him with wariness. "To what do we owe this gift of your gracious presence, milord?"
He cleared his throat. "Can we speak outside?"
She glanced back at Morgan.
"Don't worry, I'll help her eat her dinner." The healer waved a dismissive hand.
So Aversa complied and followed her lover's dearest friend to the hallway.
"I imagine you and Morgan will be needing a home – if you plan on staying in Ylisse." He started. "I hope you will. Robin had his eye on one villa not far from the palace."
The thought of accepting handouts disgusted Aversa. It always meant the receiver was in the giver's debt. "We don't need your pity." She snapped.
The Exalt blinked. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to come across as condescending. If you would fill Robin's role as my tactician until we find him, would you call us even?" While he had been doubtful of her loyalties to the Shepherds when Aversa first joined them, there was no mistrust in his eyes anymore. Aversa was genuinely surprised how the Exalt had forgiven her for playing a role in his sister's demise. But she knew the man would always harbor some sort of contempt in his heart whether he was aware of it or not.
"Are you so desparate for a consultant you would stoop to ask me?"
"No, you're a fine tactician through and through," He said, "And I released all of my royal advisors over two years ago. Robin and Frederick had been my acting consultants." Well, he was being honest. The Exalt was a funny man, unlike any kings Aversa knew (or had known). He was a bit like Robin – not afraid to say his shortcomings out loud and he was willing to ask for help.
She sighed dramatically - out of habit to make her seem aloof. "I suppose I will take the position." Inwardly, she was relieved she now had the means to support both Morgan and herself. But no one needed to know that.
"What needs to be done now, milord?"
"Please, call me Chrom. And you should get settled in your home and rest first. I'll have Frederick take you there." There was a flicker of remorse in his face. Aversa could tell (or make a very educated guess) that the king had almost mentioned Robin and that she should take time to grieve. As if Aversa wanted to grieve over that foolish, selfish, overly compassionate, annoyingly caring man.
"Then I shall take make leave. Good day, Chrom." She inclined her head and turned on her heels to retrieve her daughter.
"Aversa," Chrom said. She halted, not moving to face him.
"You're always welcome to bring Morgan and have meals with us. The other children will probably come here often."
"I'll keep that in mind."
The villa Robin had chosen was large. Much too large for three people, if the third hadn't stupidly sacrificed himself, that is. It wasn't a palace of marble – it was cozier than that; made of wood and river stone. If it was too large for three, then it was enormous for only two people. That could only mean one thing: Robin had wanted to have guests over rather frequently.
More than merely the structure, the whole place was fully stocked with food, silverware, and other luxurious items fit for a family of noble blood. In addition, the king's best knight had informed them that the wide expanse of green pasture was theirs. There was even a small stable for some horses and pegasi a short distance from the mansion. Aversa's stallion was already comfortable in the largest stall.
The Ylissean castle rose up to the north of their property. Indeed, it would be easy to go to and from the place. It seemed that Robin had picked the perfect place to live with a family. Aversa wondered when Robin had chosen his desired lodging.
Before taking his leave, the Great Knight left her with an almost clairvoyant answer. "Robin originally asked for a small cottage closer to the palace. He changed his mind not long ago." Aversa stood in place, taking in the implication.
"C'mon, Mother, let's explore!" Morgan seemed to have regained her energy and proceeded to go into every room. It was as if she had somehow forgotten that her father was nothing more than dust in the wind.
"Calm down," She was going to say more, but it was pointless. She followed her daughter's steps and decided to map out their new home.
When she came upon the largest bedroom, no doubt to be hers and Robin's, the reality of Robin's loss began setting in. Aversa sat on the big, fluffy bed, not processing the comfort. She wasn't sure what to think – all she felt was rage at the man for tricking her. Was this some sort of punishment for her crimes? Having someone to care about, only to have him willingly forfeit his life?
"Hey, is this your room?" Morgan walked into the room and flopped onto the bed. "Wow, this is nice. When's Father going to come home?"
Aversa stared. Had the girl gone mad? "Your father is gone. Don't you remember?"
Morgan's grin shattered. "What? No, all I remember is feeling sick and then waking up and being hungry. My memory isn't that great." She buried her face into the sheets. "I guess you couldn't make him change his mind."
Morgan peeked up at her. "Then what are we gonna do?"
"Move on. It's all we can do." Aversa replied tightly.
"Get to bed." Aversa didn't want to talk about Robin for a long while.
Morgan rolled off and stalked out before calling back, "He'll come back! I trust him!" What a naïve thing to say.
Following her own command, Aversa washed up and fell onto her bed, which felt empty. She hadn't realized how exhausted she was and was asleep in seconds. It was a fitful sleep. Damn Robin and his habit of cuddling. Damn him to the nine hells.
Something thumped onto the mattress and Aversa nearly let out a magical blast. Heart thrumming, she sat up and looked around the moonlit chamber. There was a large lump under the covers, which started to crawl and move towards her. She wrenched the sheets up to reveal Morgan, eyes wide and hair disheveled. The girl looked excited, like she hadn't slept.
"Oh, hi…fancy seeing you here."
"You shouldn't sneak up on me like that. I thought you were a Risen." Aversa scolded her with little effect. "I told you to go to bed."
Morgan puffed out her cheeks. "Yeah, well, that didn't work."
"And you disturbed me, why?"
Like the stubborn child she was, there was no reply.
"I was having nightmares."
Aversa felt her expression soften. She was having terrors of her own. "About what?"
"About Father. I remember now – how he died. And then about how I got sick. I saw demons and ghosts and dragons." Morgan shivered. "It felt so real. Like I was living through it again."
Aversa didn't get where this was going. "And what am I supposed to do?"
"Uh…let me stay here for the night?" Her daughter mumbled hopefully whilst batting her eyes. "Please? I'm scared."
If there was one thing Aversa would overtly admit, it was that she loathed sharing her bed. It took her ages to get used to Robin's closeness and his blanket hogging. There was no telling if Morgan was the same way.
"Go back to bed." She settled back under the covers, putting her back to Morgan.
"You know how to use magic. Besides, why are you of all people afraid of dark things? You have the Shadowgift."
"Father would let me spend the night." Morgan huffed. If there was anything she was picking up from Aversa, it was hitting sensitive subjects with frightening precision.
She glanced back at her child, seeing how shaken the girl was. Gods, curse her softened heart.
"Very well, but stay on your side of the bed."
"No promises!" Morgan wriggled into a comfortable position and was silent. What a blessing.
Morning broke with the sunlight streaming through the large windows in the bedroom. It might have been a lovely start to a peaceful age, but to Aversa, it was another stab in the back.
There was a mass of warmth at her back. Peering over her shoulder, Aversa saw Morgan, curled up, as if trying to get even closer to her. What was it with the two tacticians and physical contact? With a sigh, Aversa got out of bed and stretched her sore limbs. She was still in pain from their romp with the fell dragon and from sitting by Morgan's bedside while she was ill.
The first task at hand was to somehow figure out how to cook breakfast. Getting a meal was never an issue in Aversa's life. Either a Grimleal slave would prepare food or she would have a man buy her supper in exchange for more exciting things. With the Shepherds, well, the food they made was questionable some days and edible on others. In any case, cooking had never been a vital skill in Aversa's repertoire. Defending herself from the hounds better known as men was her main focus.
She walked into the kitchen and tinkered with the wood stove. It wasn't difficult to light it and set a pot on the fire, but what to throw into the pot was the question. The pantry had a few loaves of baked bread and there were a few parcels of butter, cheese, and fruit preserves to match. The sun was rising higher and higher, so she decided to eschew actually cooking breakfast for a day. Aversa had to report to the palace to start her role as chief advisor and tactician to the king.
"Mother?" Morgan stood in the doorway, clothes rumpled and hair a holy mess. She rubbed her eyes tiredly.
"Come and eat. I have to leave soon." Aversa said irritably. That girl always found a way to inconvenience her. It was a trait Robin had passed on to their daughter.
Morgan took a seat at the large dining table. "Can I come with you?" Her eyes held glimmers of hopefulness.
"Looking like that? No, you had better wash up if you want to tag along. What will your friends think? What will others think of me when they see you?"
The girl shrugged. "They don't care. I don't really care. But whatever, I guess." She said before shoving a piece of buttered bread into her mouth.
They ate quickly, Morgan cleaned herself up, and they flew to the palace.
Politics in Ylisse were…surprisingly civil. Aversa had sat in on her fair share of councils in her life, and none had possessed the air of politeness that the Ylisseans had. This explained why their army was so weak. It must have stemmed from Chrom's eldest sister, the one who jumped from a rock. If she remembered correctly, the Ylissean military had been at its peak while Chrom's father had been in power. During that time, Plegia had been a mess of blood and fear. Ah, yes, the warmonger had been the father to a trio of righteous, peace-seeking brats.
Other than listening to the petty complaints of nobles whose pillows weren't fluffy enough and reports of bandit attacks along the borders, there were proposals for periodic expeditions to find Robin. Chrom hadn't been lying when he'd promised to keep looking. And he had appointed Aversa in charge of leading these scouting missions. It made perfect sense, she reasoned. No matter how much doubt she held in her mind about the Exalt, there was no questioning his loyalty to his friends. Robin must have meant a lot to him. At least the both of them would be united on that particular front.
After the meeting, Chrom wanted to speak with Aversa again. She didn't mind, this time. In fact, she was in a reasonably content mood. She had been planning on going to look for the silly tactician sooner or later anyhow.
"I hope you don't mind that you will be leading the search missions." It wasn't really a question. Chrom seemed uneasy.
"I don't. You couldn't have stopped me if you tried." She replied sweetly.
The Exalt nodded. "I would go along myself, but there are matters that still need my attention." He looked worn, like he hadn't gotten much sleep. Aversa knew the man well enough to know that he was being sincere. Besides, she had learned that courtly affairs were not Chrom's strong suit – he would rather be outside than confined in the palace.
"When do I leave?"
Chrom gave her a look. "The others are still recovering and sorting out their plans for the future. By the looks of things, you need some time just as much as everyone else. I wager you've got a week before you do anything."
Aversa wanted to leave sooner than that. Sure, she was tired from the constant fighting, but she had a feeling there wouldn't be much conflict in the world at the moment considering Grima had just been vanquished.
"I'd like to depart earlier than that." She said.
"What about Morgan?"
Aversa didn't understand the question. "She's in good enough condition to travel. I imagine she'll want to look for her father."
Chrom frowned. "She needs you to comfort her. She's in shock from losing Robin. Give her some time to cope." That certainly jabbed at Aversa's pride.
"What are you trying to say? That I am incompetent as a parent? That Morgan is not strong enough to deal with life's obstacles?" Anger burned in her gut. How dare he insult her methods?
"I'm not trying to offend you, but you should ask Morgan what she wants to do." Chrom said calmly. Perhaps it was because he was so tired that he was keeping his composure. Or was it that he had changed since his sister died?
"Very well, I'll do just that." She said through gritted teeth. She could play obedient for the time being.
Aversa stalked through the palace until she spotted the children sparring outside. From her vantage point, she saw Morgan fighting against Chrom's daughter. Both girls seemed to emulate their respective father's fighting style. The other brats seemed to be rapt with the match, eyes following each lunge and parry.
Morgan stumbled, however, and took to one knee. Aversa edged closer to the window she was watching them from. The other children sprang into action and one of the boys, dressed in a priest's garb, took the lead. Aversa barely noticed herself nearly flying down each corridor and flight of stairs.
By the time she reached the courtyard the children were in, Morgan was back on her feet. Aversa came to a grinding halt at the doorway. She took a moment to compose herself and stalked over to the band of juveniles.
"Morgan, do you have a single grain of rationality in you at all? You're still recovering from your illness." It seemed that she'd taken the group by surprise. Morgan's friends looked wide-eyed and uncertain.
Morgan shook her head. "I thought I was fine. I guess not. It was nothing, I promise." That was an awful answer.
"Come, we're going home." Aversa commanded before heading back. With a mournful glance backwards, Morgan waved farewell to her friends and obeyed her mother's order.
Aversa had sent Morgan to bed when they arrived at their villa. It was barely noon, but the girl needed rest. There was no avoiding it – Aversa would have to cook something nourishing. She thought hard – most mothers passed remedies for minor ailments on to their daughters. Her own mother, and father for that matter, had been murdered when she was no more than half a decade old. There were no helpful clues stored in her memory. All she knew how to concoct were poisons and their antidotes, courtesy of Validar.
But what of the other women in the Shepherds? Surely some of them had been fortunate enough to have parents for a good number of years. Aversa's pride reared its head. How would this shortcoming reflect on her maternal ability? She was nearly certain the other women were wary around her, and it would only make them dislike her more if they found out that she couldn't even take care of her sick child. That wasn't the part that bothered her, though. What if they took Morgan away from her?
Aversa checked around for any helpful-looking ingredients. Mint was a good one, she thought, and willow bark as well.
A knock on the front door shook Aversa from her pondering. She strode to the door irritably. The person on the other side did little to improve her mood.
It was Chrom's eldest daughter.
"Good afternoon, milady." The youth bowed shallowly.
"What do you want?"
The blue-haired girl seemed taken aback by Aversa's terseness. "I came to see if Morgan was feeling better. Some of the others are also on their way."
Aversa fought her anger. "How pleasant of you. She's fine, so you can be rest assured that I will take care of my own child." She sneered.
The Ylissean princess got a hard look in her eyes. It was that look of righteousness that her father got sometimes. "That's a change for sure. I mean you no offense, but since when have you cared about her wellbeing? Because Robin is gone?"
"Why, you insolent,"
"Did you know that Morgan never knew who her mother was?" Chrom's daughter paused to let her words sink in. "Even when she had all her memories, she wouldn't have known. Did you know that when she was an infant, she was left in swaddling clothes outside of the palace? You left Robin with a world of questions. He never revealed who her mother was. All he ever told Morgan was that she was a gift from the shadows. " The girl fixed her accusing gaze on Aversa.
Aversa grappled for something to say. In Morgan's world, had the other Aversa left the child to Robin's care? "The other me must have been under certain… circumstances. I expect we were still enemies, then. What would you know – you were but a screaming babe! Whatever that Aversa did was an act of mercy!"
"I…It doesn't matter. We grew up together; Morgan is a sister to me. If you do not perform your duties, you will have every family to answer to."
Aversa detected a shift in the girl's stance, a waver in her voice. "This isn't about me, is it?"
"What do you mean?"
The Dark Flier pounced on the youth's uncertainty. "You tried to kill Robin after he took the Emblem because you were afraid he would be manipulated again. Surprised? Don't be, love. I had my methods for spying."
"But I couldn't kill him."
"Ah, but you feel guilty for his sacrifice." Aversa felt her core burn with vindictiveness. She would make the girl suffer. "Your words must have driven him to think dying was the only way of setting things right."
"No, that wasn't my intention," The princess began, but Aversa wasn't about to stop.
"But that's what happened, isn't it? You feel guilty for taking Morgan's father away because you were so protective of yours. Am I right?"
The girl looked away. Oddly, though, Aversa did not feel the slightest bit of pleasure. A pang of guilt plucked at her heart. Why, though? Hadn't she gotten what she wanted?
"My greatest apologies, milady." The girl bowed again, deeply. Her sudden change in behavior perplexed Aversa. Until that is, she felt a single trail of moisture on her cheek. Had a tear escaped from one of her eyes? That was impossible!
"Why are you groveling now?"
"I'd doubted your devotion to Morgan, thinking you would make the same decision as you had in my world. It appears that I am sorely mistaken." She rose and something caught the princess' attention. Aversa looked farther out and saw a few pegasi coming in for a landing.
Some of the other Shepherds.
"May I come in?" The princess asked.
Rather than responding, Aversa stepped aside to let her through. She couldn't scare the child off with other members of the army about to come knocking. How troublesome. As the newcomers approached, she saw that it was Sumia and her equally clumsy daughter, along with the prodigy Pegasus Knight with long red hair and a slight obsession with Chrom and her daughter.
While her first impulse was to send off the recently arrived women, Aversa saw that Sumia was carrying a small metal pot that she seemed to be handling with care. If the hapless woman went through trouble making something, then it would definitely shine badly on Aversa's current status in the army.
The two young girls ventured into Morgan's room where Lucina must have gone some minutes before.
"Sorry for the short notice; we'd heard that Morgan was ill and we came as quickly as we could." Sumia said as she got situated at the dining room table.
The genius, Cordelia, stifled a laugh. "You know, Severa wouldn't admit that she was worried about her friends, but here she is, fretting over one of them."
"This soup should help get Morgan back on her feet." Sumia gestured to the little cauldron. "My mother used to make it for me when I was younger. It's a common Ylissean recipe."
"I suppose I should thank you." Aversa said tiredly. She wasn't in a social mood.
Immediately, the other women frowned. They sort of reminded Aversa of sisters – they seemed to think alike as if they had some sort of sibling bond.
"How have you been, Aversa?" Sumia asked, the concern in her face apparent. Didn't she know that being so forthright with her thoughts was dangerous?
"What are you talking about?"
"She means are you still in shock from Robin's sacrifice?" Cordelia's face was equally sympathetic.
So all came down to Robin, did it? "I am in perfect condition. Why does everyone think that I am so dependent on him that I can't bear to live without him?" Aversa said it as aloofly as she could, but it was a genuine question.
"It's not that. There's no shame in missing somebody – especially somebody you love." Sumia said carefully, "You can trust us. We miss Robin, too. He's our friend, you know."
"It doesn't mean that you're weak or anything. We're humans. We have feelings." Cordelia added. This conversation was agitating Aversa. Why must they pry into matters they didn't belong in? Why did they even concern themselves with her issues anyway?
"Well, then as a human, it is possible not to feel sorrow, is it not? Robin will come back. He'd better come back, or else I'll chase him through the heavens and hells until he does."
The Pegasus Knights looked at one another, and then smiled knowing smiles. It was uncanny.
Sumia spoke first. "You do miss him, don't you?"
"And you believe that he'll come back." Cordelia put a hand to her chest. "This is just like the novel I read!"
"What?" They gave the red head an odd look.
"Did I say that aloud?" Her face reddened to the shade of a ripe tomato.
Aversa kept herself from rolling her eyes. "He said he'd come back and I'll hold him to his word."
"I think it's so romantic that you'd be willing to wait for him to return!" Sumia sighed dreamily. "I would, too."
Something about the way the clumsy woman said it made Aversa realize that she might have to wait years for Robin to show up. Naga never specified the time it took to come back from being blown out of existence – if one could ever come back.
"Did you not think he would return?" Aversa looked at the other women suspiciously. Did Robin's friends have no faith that he would come back?
"No, never! Robin never breaks his oaths." Cordelia's countenance became serious. "If that's what he told you, then he'll return for sure."
Sumia nodded her agreement. "But all we're telling you is that we're here if you feel lonely. All of the Shepherds are." The unadulterated kindness that radiated from the woman was making Aversa sick.
"How comforting," Aversa remarked dryly, dearly wishing that she could have some mead or wine to get through the annoying conversation. Just how long were those two planning to stay and be sympathetic?
It was late by the time all the visitors left. Aversa glanced out the window as the pegasi took off. The Ylissean sunset was remarkably different from the Plegian sunset. It was the same sun, and yet it looked drastically dissimilar from the cruel promise of another scorching day as the scene in Plegia so often showed. The sky was dyed softer pinks and oranges, and the cold did not settle as quickly as in the desert. Was this the sort of life Robin had in mind?
Aversa finally opened the pot Sumia had presented her with earlier to find it filled with a thick, hearty stew. In it were bits of potatoes, carrots, onions, and chunks of what looked like rabbit meat. The scent elicited an immediate reaction from her body – her mouth watered and her stomach growled as a testament to how long it had been since she'd last eaten.
Pouring a bowl for Morgan and herself, Aversa went to Morgan's room to give the girl her supper. She had never been in her daughter's room since they settled in. Aversa wasn't surprised when she saw that it had a small library's worth of books and a shelf for spell tomes off to one side. Otherwise, it seemed Morgan hadn't cared to decorate the space more.
"Is that stew?" Morgan asked from bed, eyes bright with hunger.
"Yes. You should be so fortunate that someone else knows how to cook." Aversa said snidely as she handed the girl a bowl. She sat on the edge of Morgan's bed and gave her daughter a good once-over.
"You're also lucky to have some friends who care about you."
Morgan sighed, like she wasn't happy. "I guess." Aversa recognized the reaction as one of disappointment. A smirk tugged at the side of her mouth.
"Oh, did a certain someone not come to see you today?" Was Morgan romantically interested in one of the other children? This would be very intriguing indeed.
"That's not it!" Morgan fidgeted with her bowl and spoon. "I'm grateful that Lucina and Cynthia and Severa visited today. But I don't know why they had to – we were having fun sparring."
"Are you so blind to your own body's needs that collapsing has no effect on you? You're supposed to be rational as a tactician and yet you can't even let yourself rest for a short while?" Aversa found herself getting carried away lecturing her child. It was unnerving. Never in a lifetime would she have thought that she would be in the position she was in at the moment.
"No, I was fine – Lucina was about to win, that's all." Morgan's eyes drifted to one side, like she was remembering something fondly. If Aversa didn't know any better, that look was certainly one of the sort of dreaminess young love inspired. She would know - having broken many such relationships up into little pieces so jagged they'd never fit back together.
Aversa held back a triumphant laugh. "Were you acting? To get someone's attention?" How devious!
"N-no! I told you I don't have anyone I like! Let me eat my stew in peace!"
With an ominous grin, Aversa acquiesced to Morgan's indignant command. Oh, yes, she would have a great deal of fun deducing the lucky soul who had captured the conniving girl's affections.
Before leaving the room, she turned and said, "I'll let you off for worrying me this time."
Even after poking fun at Morgan and having a delicious meal, Aversa's dreams were still plagued with terror. She saw hordes of vindictive Grimleal coming after her and Morgan – all of Robin's sacrifice wasted. It took a few moments to catch her breath after snapping awake after one such bout of horror. Cold sweat made her uncomfortable and the trail of tears on her cheeks proved alarming. Why was she crying? There was nothing to whine over. Aversa was a grown woman, for gods' sakes!
"Mother?" Morgan's head peeked out from under the covers. How long had she been there? What had she seen or heard?
"What are you doing here?" Aversa's voice came out in a hoarse hiss. She swiped at her eyes to remove any evidence of undue emotional turmoil.
Giving her that ever-innocent face, Morgan replied, "I was having nightmares again. I think you are, too. So I thought this arrangement would help both of us. Besides," she wiggled around to settle down, "I feel safer with you."
"You can't sleep here every night." There were a plethora of reasons why Aversa would never allow Morgan to share a room with her on a nightly basis, but she figured the girl was old enough to know that adults liked to have rooms to themselves.
"I know. Please let me stay here another night?"
Too tired to argue, Aversa leaned back onto the soft mattress and let sleep sweep her thoughts away.
Over the next week, Aversa negotiated the length of the first formal search for Robin. Chrom was always vouching for her – the both of them, really. Maybe he was feeling guilty, or maybe he was a loyal friend. It was hard for her not to think that these nobles had ulterior motives after spending so much of her life exploiting people's ill intents. Anyhow, the first journey would be no longer than a fortnight. It would be sufficient time to go around the Ylissean border. It was a small area to cover considering the possible places a man might appear after being reduced to dust.
When she had the time, Aversa would spend as long as she could in the sky, escaping from the troubles on the ground. It was good for her steed, too, since he was not getting as much flying time as he had during the war. She was always worried that if she let him out by himself, someone might capture him – a rare specimen such as him would easily fetch a high price in any market. If she wasn't in the sky, she was in the nearby lake, swimming. It was hard to get a hold of Morgan before supper – the girl spent all her time with friends. For the first time since realizing she'd been manipulated most of her life, Aversa felt remotely lonely.
"Are you packed?" Aversa asked as she finished tying a saddlebag onto her pegasus. Morgan had been jumpy all morning and it wasn't even dawn yet.
"Yes! Hey, Mother? Do you think I can get a pegasus of my own?"
"Have you seen the way you ride? I think not." A shiver went down her back at the thought of Morgan having her own winged horse.
Morgan blew the hair out of her face. "You can teach me, ya know. I'm a pretty quick learner."
"Your father said the same thing about his prowess in," Aversa held her tongue; Morgan didn't need to know the rest of that sentence. In all fairness, Robin had learned and refined his intimate techniques fairly quickly. Thank the gods. Otherwise…well, it would have been yet another disappointment in Aversa's life, albeit it would've been a tiny let down relative to the other events that transpired.
"His prowess in what?"
"Never you mind that."
Morgan pouted. Aversa had to admit that her daughter was getting better at pulling at people's heartstrings. Unfortunately for the younger girl, those tactics would do nothing against her.
"Oh, give it a rest! You can't manipulate me as easily as your father. I thought you were smart enough to know that."
"Yeah, well, Father would let me have a pegasus." Morgan muttered as she climbed onto the saddle of the obsidian colored stallion. "You'd want a friend, right?" She patted the winged beast on the neck gently.
Ignoring the stab of annoyance that Morgan's flippant reference to her doting father, Aversa lifted herself onto the saddle behind her child with grace. If Morgan was set on learning to ride, she would have to observe. With a soft kissing sound made with the slightest puckering of her lips, the pegasus took long, powerful strides out of the stable and outside to take off.
The comfort of being free from the earth acted as a soothing balm to Aversa's frayed nerves. They would find Robin, she would berate him for betraying her and Morgan, he would grovel for forgiveness, and all would be at peace again.
Aversa didn't waste time issuing orders to the assembled Shepherds at the rendezvous point at the gates of the city. She split the group into fourths to search in the four cardinal directions. They weren't stupid - everyone knew what Robin looked like. They didn't need her to be there every passing moment to monitor their efforts. She didn't much care if they thought that she was impersonal or cold; Aversa was in the way of getting things done quickly and efficiently. Where Robin might have spent some time chatting with his friends, Aversa gave instructions curtly and somewhat snidely depending on if the person was being incompetent. There was no room for stupidity in any organization she was in charge of.
On an impulse of whimsy (and perhaps out of consideration for Morgan's feelings), Aversa had included Sumia and Cordelia in her search party along with their daughters. She had also chosen the young half-blooded taguel boy, recalling that Morgan had teased him once or twice on occasion…which could be an indication of romantic interest. Lucina, on the other hand, had stubbornly insisted that she be a part of the group. Aversa could tell the princess wanted to make amends – to be the first to find Robin, perhaps? And, Aversa mused, by doing so, Lucina might hope to prove her contrition for inadvertently encouraging him to give up his life. It was funny – the poor girl should have known that Robin would have made the same decision without an attempt on his life. That was just the way he was.
And by the gods it frustrated Aversa to no end.
"If you're ready, then let's begin. We're to be back within a fortnight." Aversa said before taking off. The sound of horses starting into a gallop faded with the climbing altitude. Soon, the three Pegasus Knights caught up to her on their snowy-coated mounts, although Sumia's child stayed behind, talking nonsense with her snarky companion.
"What's the rush?" Sumia called from the side. The wind always made it hard to communicate.
"There's no rush." Aversa replied evenly while she searched the ground for her silly lover. She would be able to spot Robin from the sky in a heartbeat.
Cordelia bit back a smile. "Your love for him is just too much! It's like those old love stories I was told when I was a child." That woman must have hit her head when she was younger, the way she went on about the flowery myths of romance. Aversa couldn't bring herself to snap back – Cordelia's intentions were too good-natured.
"Have you got your head in the clouds all the time?"
"N-no!" The red head blushed furiously. "I was making an observation."
Morgan snickered to herself. "Mother," she whispered, "I think she's right. You might not want to admit it, but everyone knows you love Father. You just need to be honest with yourself."
"Be quiet," Aversa hissed. She did not want to discuss the details of her intimate life with anyone, let alone her daughter. Besides, why did everyone have to mention loving Robin? The way Aversa saw it, she was on one end of a bargin and she fully expected the other person to fulfill his part.
They continued their search silently; save for the two Pegasus Knights chatting about some obscure subject Aversa had no interest in. Morgan kept looking at the ground – at the taguel boy, who had transformed into his beast-self to keep pace with the pegasi. She had a strange, dreamy look in her eyes.
"Are you doing what you're supposed to be doing? Mooning over boys is not our objective." Aversa said lightly, watching her daughter redden at the insinuation. Morgan was easily flustered when it came to romance, just like her father. It was very amusing… for Aversa, at least.
"I am not mooning over anyone! Mother, why do you always say stuff like that?"
"What if I asked if you wanted to switch places with the princess? Clearly you want to be riding on rabbits instead of pegasi." This was just too rich!
"Mother! Let me down! I can't take this any more!" Morgan squirmed in the saddle.
Aversa let go of the reins with one hand to still her fidgety daughter. "Don't do that while we're flying. It distracts him."
"And it's distracting when you keep making up stuff about me."
"Come now, you can be open with your feelings. I am your mother, after all."
"Somehow I don't feel you mean that in a nice way." Morgan gave her a sideways glance. From the side, Aversa saw Sumia and Cordelia giving her slightly disapproving looks. Was poking fun at her own daughter unacceptable? For a group of bumbling fools, the Shepherds had a strange method of parenting.
That night, after supper was finished and everyone was situated in tents, Aversa ventured outside, into the moonlight. She looked up at the full, pearly sphere in the sky. It was a perfect night for scrying. Ylisse was covered in softly rolling hills covered in verdant grass. Plegia was a wasteland of evil and decay. She took a seat in the plains some distance from their encampment and pulled out a small crystal bowl. Taking a water skin she'd brought with her, Aversa poured enough liquid into the dish to fill it to the top. With a brief spell under her breath, the water's surface stilled and became as reflective as a mirror.
This was one of the things the Shadowgift was good for.
Aversa closed her eyes and took a deep breath, calling to mind the correct words for the scrying spell. The familiar feeling of magic welling up from within was comforting. She had done it so many times before that it didn't take long before the words of the arcane language magic was casted in came tumbling from her mouth. She focused on Robin's face; the planes and angles of his cheeks and forehead, how he might have looked like a pale Validar if he had ever sneered with disdain. His dark eyes, how they lit up with kindness when he saw his friends. His loyalty to those he held dear. His tentative touch – the memory of which was enough to send shivers down Aversa's spine even now, in the midst of a very precise incantation.
Finally, she muttered the last part of the chant and opened her eyes. All she saw was her own face, staring back at her from the bowl.
The spell hadn't worked.
"Damn," Aversa snatched the bowl from the grass and dumped the water out unceremoniously. If she couldn't find Robin through scrying, it could mean any number of things. It could be that he was dead – but even then Aversa might have seen a body in the water. If Robin was alive, he could be hiding with protective counter-enchantments, in which case Aversa would be more than cross with him. The last possibility was that he hadn't come back after being totally obliterated. If so, then their whole search was futile.
There was absolutely no telling.
Two weeks of searching proved to be fruitless. Well, in regards to Robin. Their little patrol around Ylisse helped with the bandit problem – for the time being. In Aversa's opinion, the Ylisseans were too soft to defend themselves. In Plegia, everyone found a way to survive. Then again, Plegians were often the very ruffians who needed to be driven out of Ylisse.
"And there was no sign of him anywhere?" Chrom asked, brow furrowed.
"Clearly," Aversa replied dryly. She didn't want to wait for the Exalt to make connections.
Chrom slammed the armrest of his throne. "Damn it!" The guilt of surviving was evident in his expression. Aversa had seen such emotions erode the sanity of many people. It was not very pretty to watch nor did it give Aversa any pleasure, especially since it was Chrom. She knew that Robin would hate to see his friend in a state of sorrow over his absence. But what could she do about it? It was partially Chrom's responsibility that this whole mess happened…but Robin wouldn't think that way. No, Robin would believe that it was his choice; that no one had convinced him to make the decision that he did.
"When will the next mission be?" Aversa wanted to know so she could get Morgan home promptly. That girl had been restless and moody the last few days of the journey and needed to be put to work doing chores.
"I don't know. The council members don't like the idea of monthly searches." Chrom exhaled sharply, eyes downcast.
"And since when have you ever let others tell you what to do? As I recall, you defied all manners of authority as prince of Ylisse."
The commander of the Shepherds ran a hand through his hair. "It's not so simple anymore. But you're right. I owe it to him – and you and Morgan." He looked at her squarely in the eyes.
All this noble talk wasn't giving Aversa what she wanted to hear. "And your point is?"
"There are still issues from my father's reign that need to be resolved now. All of the houses in Ylisse are ready to pounce on me. I need my chief advisor to help me through it."
"Me? I doubt your nobility would want a Plegian to,"
"Don't forget Robin is Plegian." Chrom cut in.
"Half, by the looks of him."
"That's not my concern. I don't give a damn what race anyone is. I care about character. If we want to continue looking for him unhindered by the court, we need to take care of what's going on now." Chrom got up and paced about. The tension in his body and the tiredness in his voice was a testament to his recent troubles.
Aversa scoffed. "The nobility couldn't stop us if they tried."
Chrom smiled grimly. "I'm glad you think that way, but I'm at the end of my rope. Please, Aversa, help me." He slumped back into his padded throne, head in hands. "Gods, I'm a pathetic friend. I can't even go to find Robin myself."
Pathetic was right, thought Aversa. Still, it made her increasingly uncomfortable to see the man in such a vulnerable condition. It wasn't a sight she was used to. What would she need to do to make it stop? All of a sudden, it was like the Shepherds were seeing her as a friend to confide in!
"Now, now, let's not get ahead of ourselves." She said hesitantly. Usually, this sort of situation was resolved with carnal relations in Aversa's experience. A man, whose pride was hurt, was desperately in need of some "comfort". But there was no way in all the hells she was going to do that – for a myriad of reasons. No, she needed to do what Robin would in her place.
An act of friendship.
Aversa gingerly, awkwardly placed a hand on Chrom's shoulder. She wasn't exactly sure what she was supposed to say next, but hoped that her little gesture would prove enough to get the king to gather his wits.
Chrom looked up, bewilderment in his eyes. "Are you…trying to comfort me?"
She removed her hand quickly. "Don't go getting crazy ideas in your head! You're acting like a child!"
Chrom burst into laughter. "Ahaha! I knew Robin would get to you." He slapped her solidly on the back – like men greeting each other might do. Aversa stumbled a bit, not braced for the force on her heeled shoes.
"Ugh, must you do that?"
"Sorry. So, does this mean I have your support for the time being?"
"Well, since you won't stop begging for my guidance." She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes.
Aversa walked into the villa with little ceremony. She was tired to her very bones. Morgan followed her, equally exhausted.
"And where do you think you're going?"
"I think not. You've got some work to do." Aversa pointed to the woven basket of laundry next to the door of the bathing room.
Morgan's shoulders slumped. "But I don't want to right now. Can I do it tomorrow?"
"Not with the attitude you've had these past days."
"Attitude? Me? What about you? All you ever do is insult others when they try to help!" Morgan's eyes were hard with anger. Aversa felt annoyance bristle in her gut.
"Go to your room. Now."
"No! Stop avoiding this – ever since Father disappeared, you've gotten worse!"
"I said, go. To. Your. Room." Aversa growled through gritted teeth. She was not in the mood to argue with the little girl.
Morgan met her glare with impudence. "You can't make me."
Aversa struck out with her palm, stopping just short of Morgan's face. Something had prevented her from going through with the punishment her disrespectful child deserved. She dropped her hand, clenching it into a fist at her side.
Still, what had almost happened was enough to shake the tenacious tactician. "Y-you…you were going to hit me." There were tears welling up in her big eyes.
"While you deserve it, I'm not your grandfather." Aversa muttered under her breath. She wouldn't beat Morgan, no matter how much the brat needed a slap to the face.
"Mother…I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with us." Morgan sniffed, biting her bottom lip in a blatant attempt to stop her crying. "Without Father, we're not a family." Those words stabbed at Aversa's heart. That wasn't true! They didn't need Robin to be a family.
"Don't say that."
"But it's true! When Father's around, you seem to be more…I dunno. Loving? Warm?"
There were many lessons Morgan needed to learn about reality, Aversa thought. And one of those lessons was that she could not rely on others to solve her problems.
And at the same time, she couldn't try to shoulder every burden on her own.
"Morgan," She said as nicely as possible, "you seem to know all about your father. But you don't know a thing about me. Don't you think that the way the both of us were brought up might affect how we are now?"
"But isn't everyone's family like the Shepherds?" Silly girl. She couldn't remember anything from her own past. The only model families she had were the grinning idiots who were the Shepherds. They were all loving and friendly.
"Are you gonna tell me about how you were raised?"
"No, I don't think I will."
"Aw, but what was the point of you telling me to think about it?"
"Because all you need to understand is that not everyone is as fortunate as you are."
"Okay." Morgan looked up at her with her watery eyes.
Wordlessly, the young girl pulled her into a hug, silently asking for forgiveness. Unaccustomed to such actions, Aversa did what she'd seen the other parents in the camp did and patted Morgan's hair softly.
"It's alright," Aversa whispered.
"I just miss Father so much," Morgan began sobbing, much to Aversa's discomfort. Her choice of clothing did not provide any protection from the wetness of tears.
"Shh," She wanted Morgan to cheer up, lest her own feelings for Robin would begin to stir.
"I miss him," Morgan mumbled again, sleepily. Wait. Was she about to fall asleep standing up? Did the girl have no sense of self-preservation?
"Hey!" Aversa caught Morgan before she hit the ground. The sleeping girl was oblivious to what could have happened. Just like her father. With a heavy sigh, Aversa carried her daughter to her proper room. Maybe she would have decent sleep without Morgan's incessant fidgeting.
"Father…come back." Perfect, she was talking in her sleep as well. Morgan nuzzled herself in Aversa's arms, like a kitten would its mother.
"I miss him too," Aversa said almost inaudibly.
The next day was a holy day, meaning the pious hypocrites who were a part of the Ylissean council were listening to some other pious hypocrite drabble on about the gods' goodness. Even Libra, the resident priest in the army refused to attend such blasphemous ceremonies. Aversa was faintly amused that Chrom also abstained from religious activities. The most revered man in Ylisse, absent from the masses of the "faithful". Well, it wasn't as dreary as a Grimleal gathering.
Since it was such a sacred day, there were no meetings. Aversa put Morgan to work doing laundry and cleaning the villa. She spent her time reading on ancient magic, hoping to find a better scrying spell.
"Mother! Mother!" Morgan's footsteps echoed through the halls as she wound through their home. Aversa's chain of thought was shattered.
"Gods, what now?" She muttered to herself. Morgan came into her room, waving a piece of white cloth that looked strangely like smallclothes. What in the hells was that girl doing? Morgan was clad in her tunic and tactician's cloak, but her trousers were coming undone. Did that girl have any decency?
"Look!" Her daughter came closer, presenting the underclothes with pride.
"And why do I want to see this?"
Doing as her child insisted, Aversa glanced at the white cloth. It seemed like any other bit of smallclothes – newer, judging by the relative pureness of the material…aside from the smear of bright crimson on it.
"Is this your first blood?" Aversa asked slowly, a weight settling in her chest. It would certainly explain Morgan's previous restlessness. Memories of her first blood came to mind; unpleasant feelings welled up with them. The fear of being impregnated, the terror of being faced with death if she were found out. Why, then, was Morgan so happy?
Morgan nodded vigorously. "Uh-huh! Isn't it great? I'm a woman now." She puffed her chest out proudly. Now that Aversa thought about it, Morgan's figure was a little curvy, though her small frame would thwart a more buxom shape in the future.
"That's not what makes you a woman. Don't sound so proud," Aversa said sharply. She shuddered inwardly as she thoughts of the untoward leers she received when she had reached physical maturity. It wasn't nearly as glorious as she'd dreamt it to be. It had marked the start of Aversa's inglorious career, after all.
"What are you talking about? The other girls said they were so thrilled when they started their bloods. What's so bad about it? Shouldn't I be proud?" Morgan pushed the topic further. She was blissfully ignorant of the brutal reality of the world around her. Aversa wanted to ensure that the horrors that had befallen her would not go near her daughter. Even if it meant scaring Morgan into keeping herself safe.
"Now men will be lusting after you and you'll need to watch your back at any time of day," Aversa didn't realize how viciously she'd said it, but the shock in Morgan's face told her the fear tactic had worked. It may have been meant to scare the girl, but it certainly wasn't a lie.
There was a sudden shift in Morgan's expression. She frowned. "Mother…is that what happened to you?" The little cogs and gears of her young mind were clearly going round and round.
Aversa took a breath to calm herself. "Yes." Morgan didn't need to know any further than that. Hopefully that was enough to scare her into thinking rationally.
"I have friends – we watch out for each other. Nothing bad has happened to any of the other girls. Ylisstol is quite safe, in my opinion." How naïve.
"You cannot rely too much on anyone." Aversa looked away for a bit. "Come, we'll need to find you some sea sponges."
"Because I don't want you bleeding all over the creation."
"But Ylisse is landlocked."
"Have you ever heard of trade?"
Morgan grinned sheepishly. "Oh, yeah."
"Now put some blood rags on for the time being and fix your trousers."
As it turned out, Morgan had been quite correct in thinking that sea sponges would be hard to find in Ylisse. They traveled for hours until they reached a village bordering Plegia. Aversa noted that the trip was much shorter without others to ask for breaks. Or to keep an eye out for the reckless idiots she called comrades. Her pegasus was used to the long flights – especially when they'd needed to escape the enemy.
"What am I supposed to do with the sponges?" Morgan asked as they walked through the market. She was looking to and fro excitedly, curiosity blazing from within. Aversa wished the girl would stop her prancing. It drew unwanted attention.
"I'll explain to you when we get them."
They browsed through the street until they spotted dried sea sponges. Aversa quickly instructed her daughter how she would need to first cut the sponge to a proper size and boil it before it was ready to use, reciting what the elderly women in her home village had told her. When Morgan was able to repeat the steps verbally, Aversa purchased a bunch – for the both of them.
"Hey! Something smells good – let's take a look!" Morgan tugged Aversa's hand with earnestness, pulling her towards a food stall.
Aversa snatched her hand away and collected her poise. She didn't want to look like an overindulgent mother spoiling her child! No, she would follow her daughter with dignity.
"Mmm, this looks tasty…what is it?" Morgan's gaze was fixed on what appeared to be something like a common Plegian dish made with unleavened flour dough and meat. Aversa remembered eating it regularly, when there was meat to be had in the wasteland that was her country of origin. It looked a bit different, though. The meat was less stringy and there seemed to be some sort of glaze on it. The aroma of the food was savory for sure.
"Meat-bread. What else would it be called?"
"Huh? You said something funny. Before you gave me that snarky response." Morgan titled her head out of puzzlement.
"You're talking funny."
Aversa blinked. Had she slipped into Plegian? She hadn't spoken her region's dialect in years. She shook her head to clear her thoughts.
"I said meat-bread. At least, that's as close as I can get the Common translation to be. There are plenty of names for it in Plegia."
"Oh. I didn't know you spoke Plegian!"
"I am from Plegia, love. Is your memory that bad? Or your eyes, for that matter?" Aversa petted Morgan's head.
"Stop that!" The girl flushed indignantly.
With a chortle, Aversa said, "Aw, where's your sense of humor gone?"
Morgan pouted. "I'm hungry." She was very much like Robin. The both of them seemed to have an endless appetite.
To cease Morgan's incessant nagging, Aversa purchased some of the meat-bread and they sat by the wayside, eating their meal. It tasted a bit different than she remembered – better, even. Whatever had been done to the recipe had given it more flavor. Aversa was sure that instead of desert rabbit meat, pork had been used instead. It was fattier, juicier.
"Ooh, Mother, what're those?" The young tactician pointed to another stall, this time a simple wooden cart laden with but a single tray of round, ruby red fruits. They looked sticky to the touch – and were – Aversa recognized them as the fruit of a certain variety of cactus in the desert. They were most often covered in honey to add to the sweetness of the seasonal delicacy.
"Can I have one? Please?"
"Very well." With a sigh, Aversa rose from her spot and dusted herself off.
Out of whimsy, Aversa bought one of the succulent fruits for her own consumption. As she bit into the taut skin of the dessert, a rush of sweetness filled her mouth. Foggy memories of life before Validar came to mind – even the hottest days in Plegia were distant when she ate the special fruit. It was so delicious, yet fleeting, as the flowering season was brief. Morgan was evidently enjoying her taste of the dessert.
"Mother," Morgan said softly, "you're smiling. For real. Like when you're with Father. Or when you cast shadow magic when you think no one's around."
That was sudden. "Wha," Aversa nearly choked on her fruit. What was that pest getting at?
"Don't think I never notice. I just…wish you'd be like this around me. Cynthia and her mother are very close, and Yarne's mother is kind to him even though he's a craven." So Morgan wanted to be pampered? Spoiled like a wealthy child like the majority of her friends?
"And what? You want me to hug you and tell you I love you? You want me to shield you from the cruel reality of the world and kiss your little booboos better? How will you learn to defend yourself then, when I'm dead and gone?" Even though she was saying it mockingly, Aversa's own words were making her insecure. Would Morgan be safe if she were to die all of a sudden?
Again, (and Aversa was sure this was something that had been from Robin's side) Morgan began sniffling. Oh, yes, she was fighting it hard, but the tears were pooling up.
"I-I just want a little affection," her daughter hiccupped, "it bothers me that I can't r-remember anything about you a-and I want to bond with you now so I can make n-new memories." Morgan wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "And I'm not weak – you and Father trained me to protect myself."
"Don't get yourself in a tizzy again; I don't like dealing with whining children." Aversa said. "I expect you to have some measure of discipline. If you are good, you'll be rewarded. Simple, right?"
Morgan was quiet for a while. "So you're really saying that from now on you'll be nicer to me." Finally, the girl was showing some thinking skills.
"Yes," Aversa tried patting Morgan on the back – a sign of parental affection the other Shepherds used to praise their children. Her daughter looked up at her, confused.
"What are you trying to do? Burp me?" Morgan giggled impishly.
She retracted her hand instantly. How embarrassing! Aversa couldn't even master basic parenting body language!
"Never mind, then!" She snapped. "Come, we should go home."
"You know a hug would have sufficed!" Morgan called back at her.
Their excursion for sponges took longer than Aversa had planned. It'd taken over a day to find them and get back to Ylisstol before sunrise.
"Damn and blast," Aversa growled as she furiously combed the knots from her hair. The one drawback of flying was the wind – always reconfiguring her luscious locks into twists that took an eternity to get rid of.
"Mother," Morgan peeked her head into the bathing area, "don't you need to go to the castle?"
"Yes," She replied sharply as one knot came untangled with a painful tug. "But I must be in a presentable state." Aversa bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from groaning.
"Appearance is half the battle, love. If I don't look the part, how will I curry favor in a respectable manner?"
"I dunno. I just wanted to tell you that I finished sweeping and fetching water. Can I come with you to the palace?" Morgan was bursting with excitement – she probably wanted to boast about getting her first blood. Aversa had no idea why the girl was so happy. It must be the Shepherds' fault, she reasoned.
Clearly, if pouting wasn't going to work, it seemed that Morgan planned on cornering her in the bath. How incredibly brilliant – using the threat of becoming prune-like and cold with the door wide open was the perfect coercion tactic. If Aversa weren't on the receiving end of said plan, she might have been impressed.
"Yes, yes, now run along before I change my mind."
"You got it!" Morgan grinned and skipped off, shutting the door behind her.
There was no denying it – Morgan was definitely Aversa's daughter.
After another day of helping Chrom deal with certain greedy nobles with designs on the vulnerable Plegian coffers, Aversa was in dire need of some strong mead. She knew that politics were politics no matter where she went. It was the same everywhere! Although, Chrom handled things with less finesse and disliked appeasing people to get them to be quiet – the opposite of what Aversa was used to doing. Indeed, working as the Exalt's advisor would prove to be the most interesting task for her yet. Let it never be said that Aversa turned down a good challenge.
As she walked out of the meeting hall, she ran a tired hand through her hair. Would she have to put up with these people every day? Gods, she would off herself if that were the case.
"Mother!" Morgan's voice echoed off the marbled halls. Aversa paused her stride and turned to see her daughter bounding towards her with a big smile on her face.
"If you jump on me," Aversa didn't need to finish her threat because like a trained hound, Morgan stopped short and looked up at her.
"Look – the other girls' mothers put these in my hair!" Morgan twirled to display silken ribbons the color of fresh blood that had been woven into her silvery tresses.
"Why would they do that?"
"It's a custom, they said. To celebrate my first blood. Lucina said she got hers a couple years ago – Cynthia, Noire, Severa, and Kjelle got theirs a little while back. Nah said hers will take a long time to come, and she's older than me. Something about being half manakete."
Aversa stared at her daughter for a moment, not sure how to respond. "And what do you want me to do?"
"I'm glad you asked!" Morgan fished in her pocket and produced another ribbon. "You've got to put a ribbon in my hair, too. You are my mother, after all." She deposited the material into Aversa's hesitant hands.
If it meant so much to Morgan, Aversa supposed she could play along. Robin would have done it in her position. She gathered up some of Morgan's hair – that looked identical to her own – and gingerly wove the ribbon into a bow that drooped and stood out against the girl's pale locks.
The young tactician's face lit up like the full moon. "Thank you!" Morgan threw her arms around Aversa's waist, much to her chagrin. What was it with Morgan and hugging? The child needed to learn some restraint in public.
"Yes, yes, now say farewell to your little friends. We'll be going home soon." Aversa extracted herself from the embrace. "Meet me at the stables when you're through."
"Right," Morgan scampered off to do as she was told. It was good that the girl was somewhat disciplined. Otherwise…well, the girl might run into some trouble.
Aversa wasn't sure how Morgan saying goodbye to her pesky companions resulted in the two of them being invited to stay at the palace for supper with all of the Shepherds. Knowing her luck, it was bound to happen. Nonetheless, it surprised Aversa that the rest of Chrom's army refused to disperse until Robin was found. It was touching, really.
And so they sat in the grand dining hall, eating scrumptious food and drinking traditional Ylissean wine. At least there were drinks, Aversa told herself. It took the edge off of the clamor the children made – second only to the rowdiness of their parents. Chrom, Sully, and Vaike were off on one side having a drinking contest. Cheers for either of the three bounced off the walls of the enormous room and created a racket in Aversa's ears.
"Good evening," a familiar, amiable voice said. It was Sumia, as usual.
"Hn," replied Aversa. The overall geniality of the room was sickening.
"You seem drained." Came Cordelia's observation. Those two were always together – making the happy-go-lucky spirit go round and round.
Drained? That was a grave understatement. "And you are extremely peppy. Are we done stating the obvious?" Aversa put her goblet to her lips and drained it without realizing how fast the sweet wine had gone down. A servant swiftly approached and refilled the cup before scurrying back to the attendants' table. Chrom was a generous king; he allowed his workers to partake in feasts meant for honored guests.
"We came because Morgan said she's gotten her first blood." Sumia clapped her hands together. "It's quite the occasion. When Cynthia got hers, she didn't react so calmly."
That wasn't hard to believe. More to the point, Aversa didn't understand why the two Pegasus Knights were so persistent about hanging around her. Did they see an aching, quivering ball of desperation? Or did they want someone to pity? In Aversa's experience, women befriended each other only to backstab them later. Still, the women in the Shepherds were all very close – regardless of race or creed or status or other factors that would otherwise undermine friendships. But it wasn't just the Shepherds. Now that Aversa was not in any imminent danger, she was able to see so many similar bonds between strangers on the street. Perhaps associating with the scum of human decency had warped her judgement.
"Yes," Aversa said finally, "Morgan is taking the change unusually well. She must have been looking forward to that silly custom you have."
"It isn't silly," Sumia began quickly, "our monthly bloods are something to be proud of."
"We shouldn't be ashamed to bleed. Everyone bleeds one way or the other, anyhow. We cannot stop it; it's a natural part of life. Why should we be embarrassed about something that's meant to happen?" Cordelia shrugged, like it was so obvious she was right.
What did these two know about fear? They must have grown up surrounded by doting family and friends…not unlike Morgan's current situation. Aversa didn't feel like arguing. She picked her battles wisely. And maybe, just maybe, the two women had a point.
"I suppose you might be correct. So, what am I to do next? Is there a next part in this coming of age ceremony?"
Sumia scratched her head. "No, not really. We just wanted to extend our congratulations."
"Yes," Cordelia agreed. "It seems that the other families have been offering their good wishes as well." She nodded in Morgan's general direction, where she was being presented with small parcels wrapped in red cloth.
"If everyone is in the mood to give Morgan presents, I assume that I should do the same." Even though Morgan had more Plegian blood than anything, she was very much Ylissean.
Sumia's eyes brightened. "What did you have in mind?"
Aversa's clever little plan to surprise Morgan was coming to fruition. Sumia had delivered the present a few days after the feast. The child hadn't done anything to make her reconsider giving such a gift. More importantly (and Aversa would take it with her to the grave), it was about time she granted Morgan with a measure of freedom. The young tactician was very much like her father; always preoccupied with her friends.
"Morgan," Aversa called, "come here for a moment."
Morgan came running outside, a puzzled expression on her face. "Did you need something?" Her clothes were rumpled as always, Aversa noted irritably.
"Let's go for a ride, shall we?" She asked sweetly.
They headed to the stables, where Aversa paused to unfasten her saddle and the accompanying accessories from the pegs on the wall.
"Can I put the saddle on him? Please?"
With a smirk, Aversa handed the weighty gear to her daughter. "Go on, then."
Morgan ran right into the stall where Aversa's loyal steed claimed the most comfortable spot for himself. She cooed words of greeting to announce her intentions and went right to work putting the saddle blankets on. The saddle itself came next, and finally the bridle. All the while, Morgan didn't seem to notice what was just across the stallion.
"All done! He doesn't like the bridle, but he's a good boy." Morgan grinned at her work. "Though he's acting funny."
Gods but this girl was daft at times! "Turn around, love." Aversa put her hands on her child's shoulders and spun her to face the opposite stall.
Morgan's jaw slackened when she saw the milky white pegasus mare standing just a short distance before her. "Whoa!" She approached it carefully, offering the same kind words to her as she had Aversa's pegasus. The mare was gentle, allowing the young tactician to stroke her muzzle.
"What's the occasion?" Her daughter regarded her somewhat suspiciously. "You said I couldn't have one and now you've gotten me my own pegasus."
Aversa scoffed. "So you'll stop fidgeting on my saddle."
"Fine, sorry." Morgan went back to stroking her new mount. "I do have one question: where did you get her?"
It was a simple exchange, really. Sumia was in the business of breeding pegasi, and Aversa had offered her own winged horse as a stud if the other woman so needed one. Although, Sumia had offered to give the mare for nothing in return, Aversa was unwilling to take something without making the deal even.
"This was one of the first pegasi Sumia bred some years ago. She said she's already been broken in. We'll need to take the both of you to get fitted for a saddle and the like."
"What are we waiting for? Let's go!" Morgan struck a heroic pose that sort of looked like one Sumia's daughter would do. One fledging "hero" had been enough. Now, it seemed, there would be two.
Oh, gods, thought Aversa, had she made a grave mistake?
So this story will have another chapter or two, maybe even a prologue of the original timeline where Morgan came from. I was going to make it a very long oneshot, but I thought it would be weird that way as there is going to be a time skip (as I am wont to do). Sorry for any grammatical errors and such! I'd also like to apologize if you feel I've characterized any character incorrectly (I hold that sort of thing as one of the most important aspects of writing fanfiction). Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this first chapter.