After my way-too-long hiatus, I have returned at last! I will finish this story no matter how long it takes! I deeply apologize for the wait, but all the encouraging reviews and PMs I've received have kept me going. I hope you all enjoy this chapter!
In which Lucina unearths an old memory and an important promise is fulfuilled
Chapter 29 - A Tactician's Plan
"I still can hardly believe that the sun is already going down," Lucina exclaimed as they walked through the castle gates and into the courtyard. She rolled her shoulders as she adjusted her grip on the shopping bags she held, one for each arm. "We've been at the market all day," she giggled.
"I don't know what I'm more surprised about," Robin commented. "The fact that we spent all day shopping or the fact that you two hardly bought that much. I thought for sure that shopping with two girls all on me would strip ten pounds off my wallet easily!"
"Heehee! You're lucky I felt bad for that wallet of yours, Father!" Morgan joked with a big grin on her face. "You would have really been in trouble if you had decided to take us out to dinner too. Only the finest, most high-quality bear tenderloin cooked to utmost perfection is suitable for a princess such as myself," the girl exclaimed, placing one hand on her chest in the most regal posture she could manage.
Robin froze in his tracks, turning his head toward his daughter with a slowly growing smile. "Wait just a minute, young lady... Did I hear you correctly? Because I thought that I heard you say that you liked bear meat."
"Uh, yeah! You didn't know that about me, Father?" Morgan asked. "Bear is like, my absolute favorite guilty pleasure dish in the whole wide world! Auntie Lissa and almost everyone else tells me it's super weird, but I won't have any of it! Bear meat is the perfect combination of moderate chewiness and a punch of flavor! You can taste the predator!"
"Where on earth do you get it?" Robin's eyes widened and he stood with anticipation like a child about to be told a secret. "Hardly anyone hunts it, let alone eats it!"
"I get the hunters who work for the royal family to do it," the girl explained excitedly. "Ordinarily they wouldn't dare hunt it because bears are so dangerous and all, but usually all it takes is a couple 'pretty pleases' and a big pair of puppy dog eyes and they'll get some for me! Being adorable has its perks!"
Robin transferred the shopping bags he was carrying to one arm so he could pull Morgan to his side with the other. "To think I never knew my daughter shares my favorite dish! That's my girl!"
Morgan laughed at her father's unexpected gesture of affection and added, "I should go have the hunters haul us back a bear right away, Father! Then you, Mother, and I could have a feast!"
"Your mother... Don't tell me, Lucy..."
Lucina pouted a little and was silent for a moment before responding. "I think I inherited it from Father..." she admitted. "I'm reminded time and time again of my occasionally... odd tastes in things, and I didn't want my food preference to be one of them." She struggled to maintain her frown as the goofy grin on Robin's face grew wider. "But no matter how much I attempt to deny it, I do so happen to find the taste of bear... satisfying."
"How did I not know this?" Robin exclaimed incredulously before dropping his shopping bags to the ground and holding out his now free arm towards Lucina. "Come here, you!"
Lucina rolled her eyes, finally allowing a smile to break free from her lips. She took a step closer to the man, allowing him to pull her into a hug.
"Look at us! Bonding over our weird tastes in food!" Robin cried. "I just learned that both the love of my life and my daughter have the same favorite dish as I do! Now these are the kinds of family moments I'll treasure."
"We truly are one of a kind, aren't we?" Lucina noted.
"As long as by one of a kind, you mean coolest family ever," Morgan replied.
"I don't think that was what your mother intended, but I can't say I don't agree with you on that one, kiddo," Robin smiled, releasing the two girls from his arms and picking up the shopping bags he had dropped. "I don't think many other families can say that they've collectively traveled across time, slain dragons, and saved the realm. We're certainly not boring to say the least. Now let's get inside," he ushered. "The sun is almost gone already for Naga's sake."
The instant they entered the castle's front doors, the three were greeted by the sounds of an infant's cry coming from one of the hallways as well as several voices attempting to make themselves heard over the wails.
"Milady, let us tend to her!"
"No, I'm fine, thank you..."
"Please, you have yet to have a break today!"
Robin furrowed his brow in concentration as he tried to make out the voices. "Is that Cynthia crying?"
"That cry has certainly become a familiar sound over the past few months," Lucina nodded. "I think I heard my mother's voice too... She'll probably want to know we're back." She cupped her hands to her mouth to amplify her voice and cried, "Mother! We're home!"
"Lucina?" Sumia's voice replied. "Is that you, dear? Oh, thank goodness..." The cries grew louder and louder until Sumia hurriedly walked into the main entrance hall, clutching a shrieking Cynthia in her arms and trailed by a group of nurses. "I was getting nervous..." she sighed. "You three were out later than I expected. I was just about to send someone out and make sure you were okay."
"I apologize for worrying you, Mother..." Lucina frowned sheepishly. "We were having a lot of fun together." She paused for a moment before adding, "And... sorry for distracting you... It looks like you have your hands full right now."
Before Sumia could respond, one of the nurses tailing her spoke up. "Yes, milady! Please allow us to calm the young princess so you may have a proper conversation!"
"I'm alright," Sumia replied firmly, the pleasant smile on her face masking the slightest irritation in her voice. "I can take care of my own daughter." As if to prove a point, she began swaying side to side and held Cynthia's head gently against her shoulder in an attempt to comfort the infant. "I promise I will call you if I need you."
The nurses didn't seem entirely satisfied with the woman's answer but bowed respectfully and scurried off.
Once they had left, Sumia heaved another great sigh. "I feel bad telling them to leave, but they practically follow me around all day... If Cynthia makes so much as a peep, they insist they take her to comfort her. I know they mean well, but I swear all these baby nurses do is just stress this poor little thing out..."
Cynthia whimpered, easing the intensity of her wails somewhat but still clearly upset about something.
"Hmm..." Robin frowned. "What do you think is the matter?"
"I'm not sure," Sumia admitted. "She can't be tired because she just woke up from one of her naps, and I just fed her a few minutes ago. Maybe she was concerned that you three hadn't come back yet too." She bounced the child in her arms a couple times, speaking to her in a sing-song voice. "Look, Cynthia! Look, baby girl!" she encouraged, pointing her finger at Lucina. "Look who it is! There's your big sister, there's your friend Morgan, and there's Robin! Do you remember him from yesterday?"
Cynthia ceased her crying momentarily, teary eyes darting observantly in between the three new faces in front of her. She then fixated on Robin, the most unfamiliar to her, and scrutinized him carefully as if trying to determine whether he was interesting enough to keep staring at. For a few seconds Robin's friendly wave and smile captivated her attention, but soon enough she seemed to remember what was so upsetting to her and began to whimper again.
"Almost," Sumia gave a tired smile. "I think she likes you, Robin."
"Well, that's certainly better than the alternative," the man replied jokingly. "But we still have the problem of whatever is upsetting her..."
Morgan, who was quiet up until that moment, suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, Mom! Why don't you give Cynthia the present you got her? Maybe that'll help!"
"A present?" Sumia asked in surprise. "Oh, Lucina, how thoughtful are you?"
"Ah... I can't take credit for it, Mother. It was Robin's idea to get it..." Lucina quickly corrected.
"Oh, nonsense," Robin argued, lightly tapping her on the arm as he searched through the shopping bags. "I only suggested. You were the one who actually went through with it."
"You bought it!"
"You picked it out!" Robin held his index finger up to shush her before she could retort, and he settled on, "The gift is from both of us." He pulled the pegasus doll out of hiding, temporarily shielding it from Cynthia's eyes as he passed it to Lucina. "But you get to give it to her."
"Alright..." Lucina replied with the faintest tinge of anxiety in her voice. "I don't think I'm too good with kids though..."
"Lucina, she's your sister," Sumia reminded gently. "I know you're nervous about building relationships with her and Lucy, but they love you. You don't need to be worried about changing the past anymore."
"You're also not giving yourself enough credit," Robin added. "Where's that Lucina I know who ran up to that little baby in the market today because you were so excited to see?"
"I didn't run up to her! But... you're right... Both of you. I'm overreacting. I... can do this." The princess took a deep breath to calm her nerves, fiddling with the toy in her fingers as she did so. "Cynthia!" she called softly, waving her hand to try and catch the child's attention. "Cynthia!"
"Look over there, love!" Sumia encouraged the child, pointing at Lucina with her free hand to try and distract her from crying. "Look at your big sister! Look, Cynthia!"
Cynthia rubbed her teary eyes and fumbled to seize her mother's dress, grasping two tiny handfuls of fabric as a security blanket of sorts. She was still whimpering, but all the encouragement proved too interesting for her to ignore and she gazed at Lucina with anticipation.
"Here you go," Lucina gave a friendly smile and offered the pegasus doll with her outstretched hand. "We found this for you. Would you like it?"
Cynthia looked between the toy and the woman holding it in awe, certainly not used to receiving something from her. She seemed hesitant, as if she was unsure of whether the toy was truly hers to take, but gradually let go of Sumia's dress and reached down, grasping the stuffed animal by the leg and pulling it closer to her for further inspection. The baby turned the pegasus over in her hands several times, and then let out a little shriek and brought it up to her face so she could nuzzle the toy's soft fur.
"I think she likes it, Mother," Morgan giggled. "Look at her smile!"
"Any present handpicked by her big sister is bound to make her happy after all. Can you say thank you to Robin and your big sister for your new toy, Cynthia?" Sumia asked, bouncing the girl in her arms.
Cynthia gurgled contentedly in response, eyes still locked on her gift. With another screech, she waved the doll around before shoving as much of its right wing as she could manage into her mouth.
"That means 'thank you' I think," Sumia laughed.
"Anytime," Robin chuckled. "Glad she likes it."
Not a moment after Cynthia finally calmed, a young voice called through the halls accompanied by the pitter-patter of little footsteps. "Mama! Mama, where are you?"
"Ah! I'm here, Lucy!" Sumia hurriedly responded, trying to determine where the girl was. "Near the doors to go outside!"
"Okay!" Lucy called back, running into the foyer a few seconds later. She brandished a small wooden sword in her right hand, swinging it around as she ran, and the soles of her boots were covered with a thin layer of dirt. "Mommy, Daddy wanted to tell you that..." she began before noticing the rest of the people in the room. "Ah! Hi Morgan!" she squealed, running over with her arms wide open to give the older girl a hug.
"Hi Lucy!" Morgan greeted with equal enthusiasm. "How are you?"
"Good!" the little girl showed a toothy grin. "I've been adventuring! You missed the whole thing!"
"Wow, that sounds like a whole lot of fun!" Morgan replied, crouching down a little to be at the girl's eye level. "I'm sorry I missed it. Where did you go?"
"I went all over Ylisse and then I took a boat and I fought a bunch of bad pirates!" Lucy explained dramatically, acting out her "travels" as she explained them. "Daddy was with me and he was a little afraid of them, but not me! I'm very brave!" she added, pointing at herself triumphantly.
"You fought off real pirates?!" Morgan questioned, acting along with her. "That's amazing!"
"Well..." Lucy murmured, taking cautionary glances at the other adults in the room before getting up close to whisper in Morgan's ear. Though she assumed otherwise, her whisper was much louder than she thought, so everyone could hear. "Not really... I was just pretending in the backyard with Daddy, but don't tell anyone! I want Mommy to think I really did do that stuff!"
Morgan ran a finger across her lips and threw away the imaginary key. "My lips are sealed," she whispered back, and that seemed to be enough reassurance for Lucy.
Cynthia let out another shriek, flapping her little arms excitedly and waving her new doll in the air. Distracted by the sound, Lucy abruptly turned from Morgan, running over to her mother and standing on her tiptoes to try and see her little sister.
"Hi, Cynthia!" Lucy smiled, waving until the baby noticed her. "...Mommy? Where did Cynthia's pegasus come from? Is it new? Did you get it for her?"
"It is new, but I didn't get it for her," Sumia replied, gently stroking her daughter's slightly disheveled hair. "It was a gift from Robin and your big sister."
"A gift? Big Sister! Mister Robin! Did you get me a gift too?!"
"Of course. We didn't forget about you, silly," Robin replied, rummaging through the bags for the girl's gift. Upon locating said bag, he passed it off to Lucina so she could give it to the girl herself.
"What is it what is it what is it?!" Lucy cried, bouncing up and down in anticipation. "Tell me tell me!"
"Well, I know you love going on adventures with your sword," Lucina began to explain, pulling the gift out of its bag. "And every great adventurer needs a proper shield."
Lucy's eyes widened, and she dropped her sword to take the gift with both hands.
"I picked this out for you for a very special reason," Lucina continued. "Though I wish it wasn't so, there will always be bad people in the world. Like those pirates you and Father defeated," she added with a little smile as she crouched down to her knees. "You must know that of all the treasures you may find, your family is the most important treasure of them all."
"Even more than... one thousand treasure chests?" Lucy asked in awe, using the biggest number she could think of at the moment.
"Much more. It may not make sense now, but it will someday. It's a lesson I learned a long time ago, and that I can promise you. So while you're fighting those pirates with your sword in one hand, you must never forget to protect the people you love with your shield in the other. Mother, Father, Cynthia..."
"And you, Big Sister, right?" the girl asked. "I love you too!"
Lucina blinked, surprised at the question, and hesitated on an answer for a moment before finally replying, "Y...Yes, even me, if that's what you desire."
"Yay!" Lucy cried, practically jumping into the older girl's arms for a hug. "Thank you, Big Sister! I love it! I promise I'll use it every single day!"
"You're welcome..." Lucina replied. Though flustered by the child's enthusiasm, she still returned the hug, albeit slightly awkwardly.
"Can you thank Robin too, love?" Sumia asked.
"Oh, yeah!" Lucy ran over and gave Robin's leg a hug. "Thank you for my present, Mister Robin! I love it so, so much!"
"You're welcome, kiddo," Robin replied with a friendly smile. "I just helped pay for it though. Your big sister picked it out very special for you." He then added with a whisper, "I think she deserves one more hug. A big one."
The child giggled, turning to give Lucina another hug. The second one caught the woman even more off guard, making her blush a little with embarrassment. Robin could only laugh in response to his little plan.
"Lucy, honey," Sumia called as she adjusted Cynthia in her arms. "You said that Daddy wanted to tell me something. Do you remember what that was?"
"Umm..." The girl released her older sister from her grip and put a little finger to her lips as she struggled to remember. "Think, think, think... Oh! Daddy said that people were coming! He saw them walking up the hill!"
Not a moment afterward, a few sets of footsteps could be faintly heard from outside the door and were accompanied by a loud knock.
"V...Visitors? Now? The party isn't for another couple of days!" Sumia stammered, panic flooding her eyes. "I'm not dressed properly for company! I need to be all dolled up if I'm the Exalt's wife, don't I? If these are nobles from neighboring estates... Oh my..."
Another knock, more forceful and impatient.
"Coming!" Sumia called as she scrambled to hide the small patch of baby drool on her sleeve. "Morgan, could you be a dear and hold her for me?" she asked, although not really giving the girl a choice as she thrust Cynthia into her arms. Taking a few more seconds to ready herself, she hurried to the front door.
Lucy quickly snatched up her sword and shield and ran after her mother, ready to bravely defend her should their visitors be unwelcome intruders. Her wariness kept her at bay however, so instead guarding Sumia from the front, she decided to take the safer position and watch from behind the protection of her mother.
The moment Sumia turned the latch and swung open the door, a deep voice bellowed, "Surprise! We're here early!"
"Dear gods..." another voice sighed. "Could you be any louder? Half the continent just heard you shout."
"Basilio, Flavia! What a wonderful surprise!" Sumia exclaimed, fears of having to look proper eased. "Welcome to Ylisse!"
"And a big warm Feroxi welcome from us to you!" the man laughed. "Hope you don't mind that we came a little early. You know how we love our parties, har har!"
"I'm not sure what the man likes more: the actual party or intimidating the party guests for fun," Flavia added with a thin smile on her lips.
"I wouldn't call it intimidating," the West Khan replied in his defense. "I like to, toy with 'em, that's all. I find it amusing how most of these noblefolk think they're so high and mighty but can't even lift a blade. You should see how pale their faces get when I give 'em a good, friendly pat on the back. Priceless!"
"Do be careful though, Basilio..." Sumia reminded. "Most nobles still hold misguided views that Ferox is a barbarian nation. They probably get so pale because they think you'll stab them in the back and steal their coinpurses. Not to mention the fact that you could probably break some bones if you wanted..."
"Heh, well they aren't completely wrong: we've got barbarian blood!" the man pounded his chest proudly. "But I'll keep that in mind. Don't want any accidental injuries during the festivities."
"Good..." Sumia sighed, turning around and placing a gentle hand on her daughter's head. "Lucy, can you say hello to Basilio and Flavia? You remember how to greet guests for the party, don't you? Can you show me?"
Lucy nodded and placed her sword and shield down beside her. Feeling more comfortable to stand beside instead of behind her mother now, the girl began a formal greeting that she had been rehearsing for the occasion. "Hello! My name is Lucina, princess of Ylisse, and I'd like to welcome you to this... this..."
"Special occasion," Sumia whispered.
"Special occasion!" Lucy repeated, ending her welcome with a slightly clumsy but rather adorable courtesy. "Did I do it good, Mama?"
"Excellent job, love," Sumia smiled warmly.
"Hey, hey! There's my future champion-in-the-making!" Basilio grinned, crouching down on his knees to greet the girl. "How's your sword practice been?"
The little princess grew excited at the mention of her training and scampered to retrieve her battle equipment she had dropped. "Good!" she replied enthusiastically, showing Basilio her shield. "Look at this, Mister Basilio! My big sister picked this out for me! Isn't it so cool? It matches my and Daddy's Brand!"
"Har har! It sure does, kid! That shield has got to be good if your big sister picked it out. You know that your big sister was my arena champion a few years ago, right?"
"Yeah! I remember that story! You said that Big Sister was your champion and that Daddy was Miss Flavia's, and that Daddy only won by a teensy bit!" She pinched her thumb and forefinger together to indicate how close the battle must have been.
"That's right. If you're anything like your sister, and I think you are, I think that you could win the arena for me and beat that ol' Flavia! What do you say?"
"Yeah!" Lucy exclaimed. "I'm gonna be as good as Big Sister and Daddy when I get bigger, and when I do, I'm gonna win!"
"You got spunk, kid!" Basilio chuckled, turning to Flavia as he pointed at Lucy. "What do you think, Flavia? Future champion-in-the-making or what?" he asked, not hearing Lucy's little voice ask, "What does 'spunk' mean?"
"It's going to be quite a while before that though, Basilio. I doubt her mother would let her attempt something that dangerous anytime soon."
"She certainly would not," Sumia confirmed protectively.
"You'll probably be pushing up daisies by then, old man," the East Khan added playfully. "I wouldn't count on waiting until she's strong enough. Maybe you should try figuring out what you're going to leave the kid in your will instead, hmm?"
"Aw, nonsense!" the man boomed, placing his hands on his hips. "I bet she's plenty strong already! Here, I'll prove it to you." With that promise, Basilio bent at his knees again to put himself at eye level and beckoned Lucy close. "Alright, kid," he began, placing a big hand on her shoulder with confidence. "If anyone's going to be the judge of your strength around here, it's me, got it? So I want you to take that sword of yours and give ol' Basilio your best shot," he commanded, holding out his forearm to serve as a target.
"Now this should be interesting," Flavia laughed.
"Uh... B...But Daddy says that I shouldn't hit people when I'm not training..." Lucy hesitated, glancing over at her mother for further guidance.
"Yes, that's right, Lucy," Sumia nodded, relieved by her daughter's judgment. "I don't think this is such a good idea, Basilio..."
"I'll be fine! My skin's thicker than dragon hide," the West Khan insisted, bracing his forearm for the worst. "Besides! It's not like it's a real sword! Come on, kid! Show me what you can do!"
"Alright..." Lucy reluctantly agreed, stepping into a battle stance clearly inspired by her future self. She paused to take a calming breath, another technique she had been practicing to help her focus her mind, as she was clearly a bit intimidated by the Khans and the guards behind them. When she felt ready, Lucy performed a short forward leap and brought her sword down as hard as she could; however, she overshot Basilio's arm and instead struck the top of his head.
"Lucy! What did we tell you about hitting someone in the head?" Sumia cried as soon as she realized what had happened, snatching her up in her arms. "Oh my... I'm so sorry, Basilio!"
Basilio put his hands to his head and unclenched his teeth just enough to groan, "Nah... It's... It's alright... Was not expecting that though..." He then shot a glance at Flavia, who looked like she was about to burst into laughter.
"B...But it was an a...accident..." Lucy stammered. "I...I'm sorry..." The combined stress of her mother's scolding, being the center of attention, and realizing that she had hurt someone proved too much to bear, and the girl began to wail.
"Oh, Lucy..." Sumia sighed, cradling the girl more gently in her arms. "It's alright. I know you didn't mean it. I'm sorry I yelled at you."
"That's o...okay, Mama..." the girl sniffed, feeling a bit better knowing that her mother wasn't angry with her.
"Yeah, she's right..." Basilio added, still rubbing his head. "I told you to do it after all. Guess I learned my lesson: don't mess with the West Khan's champion-in-the-making."
"I think we all learned we need to be a bit more careful," Sumia added, eager to leave the incident behind to prevent any further injuries. "I'll have rooms prepared for you and you attendants as soon as I can. We weren't expecting such early guests. ...Oh! Speaking of early guests, look who's joined us for the festival!" She stepped aside and ushered the Khans in, holding out a hand to present the man she was referring to.
"Is that who I think it is, or is my one good eye giving out on me?" Basilio squinted. "Tell me I'm not going blind, Flavia."
"You most certainly are not going blind, Basilio," the East Khan replied. "That is who you think it is, without a doubt."
"Well slap on some wings and call me a wyvern! It's about time!" the man cried, big grin on his face as he ran up to give the tactician a crushing, one-armed hug. "You really did it, you crazy son of a griffon! We should start a 'coming-back-from-the-dead' club!"
"I...It's good to see you too, Basilio," Robin struggled to chuckle after he was released. "Sorry, you just..."
"Knocked the wind outta ya? Sorry 'bout that. Just excited, that's all!" Basilio laughed. "I knew you'd be back. Never doubted it for a second. You've still got plenty of life left to live, boy!" He then nudged Lucina and asked, "I bet some of us are happier than me though to have him back, huh, lass?"
Lucina's cheeks flushed pink, not expecting the sudden question. "I...I suppose you'd be correct, Basilio..." she hastily replied, eliciting another hearty laugh from the Feroxi.
"I won't crush your ribs like the oaf, but I do share his sentiment, old friend," Flavia smiled. "It's good to know you're still alive and kicking, Robin."
"I appreciate the... not-rib crushing, Flavia," Robin responded. "How goes your work as head Khan?"
"Busy as usual, but I've whipped Ferox back into fighting shape, if I do say so myself. You get the occasional brigands popping up every now and then, but no more Risen to worry about thanks to you."
"Where are..." Basilio began, looking over his shoulder. "They would want to see Robin for sure..."
"Who?" Sumia asked.
"Lon'qu and Olivia. I swear they were right behind me a moment ago..."
"I'm here," a man's voice spoke, and Lon'qu seemed to materialize at the doorway.
"Oh, sweet mother of... I told you to stop doing that whole "appearing out of nowhere" thing, Lon'qu!" Basilio scolded. "You're going to give this old man a heart attack. Can't you just stay where I can see you?"
"Apologies," the man replied calmly. "I was merely waiting for a more proper time to present myself."
"You know where Olivia could be, by any chance?"
"Probably hiding behind me," Lon'qu assumed, stepping aside to sure enough reveal the woman.
"H...Hello, everyone!" Olivia waved shyly.
"There you are! Look who's back, you two!" Basilio gestured in Robin's direction.
"Ah, we just heard!" the dancer exclaimed as she and Lon'qu walked over to give their greetings.
"It's good to see you, Robin," Lon'qu nodded as he offered the tactician a firm handshake and one of his rare but characteristic thin smiles. "It has been far too long."
"Ah! I'm so h...happy to see you, Robin!" Olivia exclaimed. "I w...would give you a hug, but..."
"Shyness?" Robin asked.
"You know me..." Olivia laughed nervously, eyes darting around at all the people staring at her. "Maybe... Um... Handshake?"
"Sure," Robin smiled reassuringly and offered out his hand, much to Olivia's relief.
"Well, this is a welcome surprise, isn't it? Why, I think we should have a little party before the party tonight!" Basilio suggested. "This calls for a celebration!"
Sumia paled a bit at the thought and instead proposed, "Maybe just a nice dinner... I'm not sure if... all of us can handle two parties..."
Robin felt as if he had been roaming the castle halls for ages, even though he knew for certain it hadn't been more than a half hour. It was almost as if he was on yet another great quest, with each person he asked pointing him in a different direction based on hunches. He knew she was more reclusive than most due to her shyness, but he hadn't anticipated finding Olivia to be this difficult. The festival was in a mere three days, and she had been practicing a new routine that she didn't want anyone to see until it was ready. That is, according to what she had mentioned at dinner last night when he tried to subtly ask about her whereabouts all day.
Challenging as it was trying to locate the elusive dancer, the difficulty was compounded even further by having to elude Lucina. Regardless of what he had been doing these past few days, she was quite happy with tagging along just to be in his company. The last thing he wanted was for her to think that he didn't want to be with her after all the time he'd been gone, but with the festival coming up so fast, he could hardly afford any time to spare. After explaining his intentions to Chrom, Robin got him in on an excuse to be away for just a short while: Lucina hopefully believed that he was taking a short trip to the outskirts of town to discuss potential options to improve city defense in case of emergencies with the patrol guards. He felt terrible lying to her, but he hoped that he could make up for it on the night of the party.
Finally arriving at what should be the right room, Robin pressed his ear up against the closed door to hear the faint sound of a woman humming and the rhythmic taps of shoes hitting the floor. He knocked softly but received no response, and trying again proved to yield the same result. The doorknob wasn't locked from the inside, so he turned it and opened the door a bit so he could call the dancer's name. When that didn't even work, Robin stepped inside and spoke a little louder this time.
Snapped out of her rhythm, Olivia let out a startled shriek and jumped a foot in the air, nearly falling over when she landed.
"Ah! I'm so sorry!" Robin quickly apologized, holding his hands up guiltily.
"Oh... Robin, it's you... You nearly gave me a heart attack..." the woman spoke, placing a hand on her chest as she attempted to recover her breath.
"Forgive me... I didn't mean to startle you so badly. I tried knocking a few times but you weren't answering, so..."
"Oh, it's alright..." Olivia managed a weak smile as she found her composure. "I was so caught up in my practicing that I didn't even notice. I s...should have been paying more attention. Let me start over..." She took a deep breath and spoke after a short pause. "So, what brings you here, Robin? Is Lucina with you?"
"She isn't, actually..." the man replied. "I had to make up an excuse to come and find you in private because I have a favor to ask of you... You're the only person who I thought might be able to help me, but... you don't need to do it if you're too busy, of course."
"I...I'd be happy to help if you think I can... What do you need of me?"
Robin took a deep breath, mustering up the courage to ask, "I want you to teach me how to dance."
"H...Huh?" Olivia was clearly caught off-guard by the request. "How to... dance?"
"Nothing too crazy or complicated, of course!" Robin added. "I just thought that... it would be important if I knew some basic steps, that's all."
"Do you mind me asking why? Is it for the festival?"
"Yeah, it's for the festival... I was passing by the room Lucina and I share yesterday and I caught her practicing ballroom dancing. I didn't let her see me, of course, but I could tell she seemed really excited about it," he clarified. "She's been through a lot this past year and I know I'm to blame for it, so I want to do everything I can to make it up to her and make this party special in any way I can. So, I thought that maybe she'd be impressed if I had some halfway-decent dancing skills. I admit that I went to the library to find a book on formal dancing and tried it out a bit for myself only to fail spectacularly. I've never seen a better dancer than you, so I thought that maybe you'd be able to give me some pointers before the festival."
"Aw, you want to learn how to dance for Lucina? That's so sweet of you!" Olivia smiled. "I wouldn't call myself the best dancer around, and I haven't really taught dancing to anyone except Inigo, but I'd be happy to try!"
"Oh! I'd pay you for your trouble, of course!" Robin quickly added, digging into his coat pocket to locate his wallet.
"N...No! I couldn't take your money! I would feel terrible!" Olivia insisted.
"But I couldn't just not recompense you in some way for a lesson... You probably need to practice your own routine for the festival, and I'd hate it if you spent valuable time teaching me with no pay," Robin replied. "Besides, aren't you saving up to buy your own theater one day? You'll need the money."
"I am saving up..." the dancer admitted. "But that doesn't mean I want you to pay me for a dancing lesson! You did so much for me and the rest of us during the war... The only reason most of us are still alive is because of you and your quick thinking, and I think that all the Shepherds feel in your debt. Think of some lessons as a way to repay you for all you've done."
"No buts! I won't teach you if you try and pay me!"
"...If you insist..." Robin gave up, still not exactly satisfied with the outcome. "What do you think I should do first?"
"You said you just wanted to learn a bit of formal dancing, right?" Olivia asked. "Here, come with me." She took his hand and led him over to the center of the room, where she already had a large space cleared out for her own practice.
Robin was always a little surprised by how easy it was for Olivia to overcome her shyness when dancing was involved. When she had arrived in Ylisse the other day she had been nervous to even touch him, yet now she was perfectly comfortable holding his hand and beginning a dancing lesson. The seemingly drastic personality change wasn't exactly unexpected, but it always managed to catch him off-guard nonetheless.
"We can start nice and simple," Olivia began. "So first, you'll want to stand about a foot away from your dancing partner, like this..." she explained, stepping closer so that they were facing each other. "Then you'll grab Lucina's right hand with your left one," Olivia demonstrated. "You'll probably see a lot of other noblemen dancing with their left arm stretched way out because it can look majestic if you do it right, but it's all up to you."
"I'm sure Lucina will have an idea of what to do just because she's been exposed to more of these fancy parties," Olivia added. "But I'm not positive what she'll do with her left arm because it's more up to her: I'll put my hand on your shoulder like this, but Lucina might wrap her arm around your neck if she's feeling a bit more romantic. As I'm sure you might be feeling too," she added with a little giggle. "And finally, you'll put your right hand on her waist."
"Now we can just practice a box step: look down at my feet and..." she paused, and then asked curiously. "Um, Robin? Is there any reason why your hand is hovering a foot away from me?"
"Hmm? O...Oh, is it?" he asked, cheeks turning a little red. "It's just... just that..."
"R...Robin, your face is getting all red... You remind me of myself when I'm embarrassed... Is something wrong?"
"Oh, how do I say this? It's just that I've... never actually touched..."
Olivia's eyes widened in realization and she released his hand, taking a step backward. "A...Ah! It's my dancing outfit, isn't it? Is it making you uncomfortable?"
Robin gave a sheepish nod. "I'm so sorry... It just... doesn't feel right to me, especially with Lucina not being here and all..." He then politely added immediately afterward, "I...It's not because I don't like your outfit! I..."
"Hee hee! You're too modest, Robin," Olivia laughed, putting a hand up to her lips. "It's okay! I totally get it, and I think I can fix that..." She ran over to a trunk in the corner of the room and retrieved a light coat, throwing it on before hurrying back. "Is that a little more comfortable for you?"
Robin heaved a deep sigh and smiled. "Yes, very. Thank you, Olivia..."
"I thought I could tell something wasn't quite right with you as soon as I told you to put your hand on my waist," Olivia giggled again. "You're very loyal, Robin. Lucina is lucky to have you. Now like I mentioned before, we'll practice a simple box step."
"Okay, just tell me what I need to do."
"It might be easiest to look at my feet at first. Pretend like... like you're looking at a mirror! Or maybe pretend that your left foot is tied to my right foot and your right foot is tied to my left foot: you always want to keep your body the same distance from your partner's for the whole dance. I think it will be easiest to get started and you can get a feel for it yourself, so just follow my lead and mimic my movements. I'll start slow and tell you what you have to do. Ready? And... left forward..." Olivia took a step back with her right foot and Robin took a step forward with his left foot.
"And right side," Olivia continued taking a diagonal step backward with her left foot. Robin again followed suit as she kept on listing steps. "And feet together. Right back. Left side. Feet together." She paused. "Think you can do that?"
"Is... that all I need to do?"
"That's it! Not too bad, right?" Olivia asked. "Here, let's try again. Left forward. Right side. Feet together. Right back. Left side. Feet together." Her voice took on a more rhythmic tone as she repeated the words and began to work up to the beat and tempo of a typical song. "Left forward. Right side. Feet together. Right back. Left side. Feet together. Left forward. Right side. Feet together. Right back. Left side. Feet together. Now you're getting it!"
"Yeah, I'm getting the hang of it..." Robin gave a small smile, growing proud of himself as he sped up to match the quicker beat of Olivia's voice.
"You're doing great! I'm going to stop saying the steps now, but I'll keep on humming to the beat," the woman told him, and they practiced quite a few more times. "I'm not too sure I believe that you 'failed spectacularly' like you said when you tried to dance. You're already starting to break away from the rigidity of the steps."
"I am? I didn't even notice I was doing something different... Am I doing something wrong?" he asked with concern.
"Of course not!" Olivia gave an encouraging smile. "You're just getting more familiar with the dance, and you're also getting more relaxed. Can you tell that you have a new sway in your step?"
"I guess I do feel a bit different," Robin admitted. "A little more confidence, perhaps?"
"I certainly think so," the woman nodded. "You catch on so quickly that we could start adding a bit more complexity whenever you think you're ready. Like how to twirl your partner and such."
"Well, if you think that Lucina would enjoy them, I'd be more than willing to try."
"Alright then! So first what we'll try..."
"Lucina!" Robin called as he knocked on the door to their room a few times. "Are you in there? The party has already started..."
"Oh, where does the time go?" the woman's muffled voice came from behind the door. "I'll be right out!" A pause coupled with the sound of scrambling footsteps followed. "Are you all dressed?"
"I'm all set!"
"Ooh, let me see!" Lucina urged excitedly as she threw open the door. "There's my handsome man!" she remarked with an affectionate smile on her lips. "You look so dapper in a suit!"
"Do you think so? I feel more uncomfortable than dapper..."
"Is that why you keep fidgeting?"
"Yeah..." the man admitted, tugging at his collar. "My usual clothing is much looser. In comparison, all this formal garb feels all the more constricting..."
"Well, maybe your collar wouldn't feel so tight around your neck if you didn't put your tie on wrong, silly."
"I don't have my... Do I?" Robin's hands immediately shot back up to his collar, and a sheepish look followed immediately after he had confirmed his mistake. "Gods, I've already passed a few people on the way here who didn't say anything about it... I must be a laughingstock by now..."
"Oh, I'm sure they didn't notice! I only saw it when you started tugging at it."
Robin could only groan with embarrassment as he kept fumbling with his tie in an attempt to correct his error. After no more than a minute, Lucina raised an eyebrow at him and noted, "You don't know how to put on a tie properly, do you?"
The man opened his mouth to protest but quickly figured there was no sense in digging himself deeper into a hole. He also didn't have much of a choice, given that he couldn't exactly fake the knowledge for much longer. "Not really... I've never needed to put on a tie before and I assumed it couldn't be too hard. I suppose I was wrong then..."
"Here," Lucina began as she shooed his hands away from his neck and grasped the knot of his tie. "I'll fix it." In no more than a few seconds, she had already untied and then retied it correctly, looking proud of herself. "All done! That ought to feel a bit more comfortable now," she remarked, patting the knot of the tie down so it was snug in his collar.
"Y...Yeah..." Robin replied, surprised by her sudden fix. "Where did you learn to put on a tie, may I ask?"
"Mother taught me the other day," the girl explained cheerfully. "Father always has difficulties with putting on a tie just right himself, so Mother generally has to help him fix it. She said that it's an important little skill to know as a noblewoman. She said that as a couple, she and Father need to bolster each other's weaknesses with their own strengths. Father struggles with appearances, so it's Mother's job to make sure that Father always looks his best for these sorts of events. And in return, Father helps Mother with all the little things she has trouble with. I think that's a very sweet idea, don't you? And the concept applies to us, too! We're stronger together, after all!" Lucina smiled as she began to adjust the sleeves of Robin's dress coat. "So, just like how it's Mother's job to make sure Father looks his best, it's my job now to make sure you look your best."
"I appreciate it, Lucy," Robin chuckled. "Formal attire certainly isn't my strong suit by any account."
"Speaking of making you look your best, I'm excited about all the shopping I'll need to do in the next few days!" Lucina remarked as she picked bits of lint off the man's shoulders. "I'll need to pick out whole wardrobes for the both of us considering that neither of us has many outfits to wear. What do you think of that idea?"
"Whole... wardrobes of your fashion choices?" Robin asked, momentarily struck with fear. "I'm sure they'll be... unique."
"I'm glad you think so!" Lucina replied, quite pleased with his reply. "All the cute matching couple outfits I have in mind for us would surely make us the talk of the town!"
"I'm certainly sure they would..." Robin managed a small grin, though he was positive his and her views of what "talks of the town" entailed were vastly different.
"And with that... I'm all done!" the woman declared, brushing one last lock of Robin's hair behind his ear. She took a step back to admire her own handiwork and remarked, "I bet you all the other nobles at the party will be jealous of my date, don't you think?"
"Funny... I was going to say the same thing about my date. Have you met her before?" Robin replied with a playful smirk. "She looks particularly pretty tonight, in fact. You certainly won't miss her when you see her."
Lucina folded her arms and raised an eyebrow, attempting to repress a laugh. "And where can I find this woman of yours, Robin? I think I'd like to meet her."
"All you need to do is look in a mirror, Lucy," the man grinned, sneaking a quick kiss from her before bursting into giggles.
"How long did it take you to come up with that one, Mr. Romance?" Lucina rolled her eyes.
Robin put his hands on his hips in mock pride and responded, "I just made that one up on the spot, as a matter of fact. What do you think?"
"I think it sounds like one of Inigo's pickup lines."
"Aww, it couldn't have been that bad! I thought it was sweet!"
Lucina chuckled at his pout. "I never said it wasn't. And besides, you can't say anything about how I look tonight until I change."
"Change?" Robin asked, perplexed by the statement. "I thought that's the dress you're wearing... You picked it out for the party, didn't you?"
"I did... but, as soon as I put it on I had second thoughts," Lucina admitted.
"Why? I think it looks great on you!" Robin insisted, immediately assuming a protective tone. "Is something the matter? A...Are you having second thoughts on the party? We don't have to go if you don't want! We could..."
Lucina put a finger to his lips to shush him. "I'm fine, Robin," she insisted, giving him a reassuring smile. "The reason I had second thoughts about the dress was because I thought of something I'd like to wear more."
The man seemed relieved but still confused. "You... have another dress? What does it look like?"
"It's a surprise!" Lucina cried, ducking back inside of the room. "But I think you're really going to like it!"
"Alright, then! I'm already excited!"
After a few minutes, her voice called from behind the door. "Okay, I'm ready..."
"Let's see it then, Lucy!"
"Alright..." The door slowly opened and Lucina took a few steps out into the hallway, garbed in a simple white dress far less extravagant than the one she had just been wearing. "What do you think? Be honest."
"That's... that's the dress!" Robin stammered in surprise. "The one I bought you in that town in Valm! You still have it!"
"Of course I still have it!" Lucina replied. "This dress is... very precious to me."
"I've just never seen you wear it before. I always just assumed you had forgotten about it."
"I could never forget it, silly! You were so kind buying this for me, even though it was so exorbitantly priced..." the girl reminisced as she gently patted down a few folds near her belt. "I've wanted to wear it ever since that day, but I felt that a dress so special should be first worn for a special occasion. We never had much time because of the war, and while you were gone, the dress... made me too sad to look at. But now that you're back, I want to wear it for real, and I wanted you to be the first person to see me in it."
"How do you think I look in it? Does it still fit?"
"I think you look just as beautiful in it as the day I bought it for you," Robin replied sincerely. "More so even. It's almost as if I'm looking at a whole different girl."
"Different? How so?"
"Well, the way you present yourself is definitely different from that day: I remember how hesitant and nervous you were to try that dress on, but you're so much more excited and confident now. It's a good sort of different. I think it makes you even more stunning."
"That's good... I'm glad," Lucina remarked, looking a little relieved with Robin's pleasant reaction. "I know that this dress isn't a ballgown or anything too fancy, so I'll probably stick out, but as long as you like it, I really don't mind what others will think of me."
"I'm positive that everyone else will have nothing other than compliments for that dress," the man reassured as he ran a hand through her hair. "And if anyone dares give you trouble about it – which they won't – I'll be there to back you up with a few choice words of my own. It's you and me versus the world, right?"
"I couldn't ask for a better partner," Lucina smiled. "There isn't anything the two of us can't face."
"Of course not," Robin chuckled. "Now, I think it's about time we get to this party, don't you think?" Clearing his throat and adopting his most noble persona, he offered his bent right arm at his side. "Should it please you, my princess, it would be an honor if you'd accompany me to this celebration tonight."
"How could I refuse such an offer?" the girl giggled, hooking her left arm with his outstretched one. "Have I told you how much I enjoy your regal voice?"
Robin could only grin at her comment. "Why else do you think I love using it? Now let's go! We're already late!"
With the celebration already in full swing, the castle ballroom was erupting with activity by the time the two arrived. With all the people, lights, and music, it was hard to believe that it was really the same room. The ballroom was hardly touched for most of the year, but it had transformed overnight into the center of the celebration.
Robin was certainly not in his element, although he didn't exactly want to make it apparent. He had avoided the few parties that Ylisse had held ever since he had joined the Shepherds, preferring to help plan them rather than partake in them. Despite his own inexperience, he was doing his best to convey a sense of confidence regardless.
"So..." he began, having to raise his voice slightly to make himself heard over the music. "What would you like to do first?"
"I don't know about you, but I am a bit hungry after all that getting ready," Lucina admitted.
"Now that you mention it, I suppose I could go for something to eat as well. I've hardly eaten anything all day."
"Come on!" Lucina urged, taking his hand. "I'll take you to the refreshment table! If last year was any indication, there should be something quite good to eat. The cooks tend to outdo themselves for occasions like these."
"Lead the way, Lu," Robin offered, allowing her to drag him through the crowd to the other side of the room. "Well... you certainly weren't kidding when you said that the cooks outdo themselves," he remarked upon their arrival. "This dessert table is huge!"
"I know, right?" Lucina replied, eyeing her options carefully before finally selecting a tiny plate with a thin slice of cake. "And they taste just as good as they look too," she added as she took her first bite. "By the way... Would you happen to know where our daughter is? The last I saw her, she was heading to her room to change."
"Good question... Where is our daughter?" the man echoed as he rose to the tips of his toes to scan the room. "There she is," he pointed after a couple of seconds.
Fortunately for him, the girl's blue hair wasn't too difficult to spot, and she wasn't exactly trying to hide from anyone. Just like him, Morgan hadn't been to a celebration like this before either; however, she wasn't about to let her inexperience stop her from dancing to her heart's content. Though it was clear from her sporadic and peppy movements that she had no clue how to partake in a formal dance, she seemed to be enjoying herself regardless.
"Morgan!" Robin called, waving his hand to grab her attention. Once he did so, he motioned with his hand as an urge to come closer.
"There you are! I've been looking for you!" Morgan greeted enthusiastically as she made her way over to them. "Looking dapper in a suit there, Dad!"
"Heh. Thanks, kiddo," Robin grinned. "You don't look too bad yourself."
"I know! Aren't I adorable?" the girl giggled, performing a little twirl to show off her knee-length dress. "Mother helped me pick it out!"
"Really? Your... mother helped pick it out?"
"I know..." Lucina interjected. "It isn't my or Morgan's usual style, but we figured that we should choose something a bit more modest for tonight. I think it looks lovely on you though, sweetie."
"Thanks, Mom! And while we're on the topic... Wowza! Where'd your dress come from?" Morgan asked. "I thought you were wearing that one we picked out!"
"I was going to, but then I remembered I had this dress and I... just couldn't wear anything else. It's a very special dress." Upon seeing Morgan raise an eyebrow in confusion, Lucina added, "Your father bought me this dress before we met you. I've been saving it for a special occasion."
"Ahh... That makes sense! You look super-duper pretty in it, Mother! I'm going to need Father to get me one too so we can match!" Morgan exclaimed, excited at the prospect. "Well, I'll leave you two to a romantic evening or something. I'm going to get back to dancing!"
"Have fun, love!" Lucina smiled warmly as she made a couple quick fixes to her hair.
"No boys!" Robin added sternly.
"No promises!" Morgan grinned, disappearing into the crowd before her father could retort.
"That girl sometimes..." Robin muttered with a shake of his head.
"Oh, she's just having some fun with you, Robin," Lucina reassured. "I do think that we should follow her example though."
"Of not doing what our parents tell us to do?"
"No, silly! I mean that we should go dancing too!" She paused, blushing a bit as she added shyly, "If you want to, of course. We don't have to..."
Robin blinked in surprise. "Huh? What do you mean 'if I want to'? Of course I want to dance with you," he smiled, intertwining his fingers with hers. "I thought I was the one who was supposed to be asking that question though. Here..." Robin began, briefly adopting his regal voice once again. "May I have this dance, princess?"
Lucina giggled at his tone, not hiding her pleasure that Robin was willing to dance. "Of course you may," she replied, and then allowed the man to escort her closer to the center of the room amongst the other dancers.
Just as he had been taught, Robin held Lucina's right hand up with his left and placed his other hand on her waist. As Olivia had predicted, Lucina proceeded to wrap her free arm snugly behind his neck, giving her an excuse to close the distance between them.
The next song began, and Robin put every piece of dancing knowledge he had gained during his lesson into practice. Taking the lead, he began to mimic the swaying steps of the other dancers.
Lucina's jaw dropped a bit, and she stumbled over her own feet for a few seconds before she caught up with her partner. Robin met her startled stare with a little grin, and though he knew the exact reason she was giving him such a dumbfounded expression, asked anyway. "What's with the look, Lucina? You're staring at me like I'm a different person."
The girl blinked, his voice snapping her out of her trance, and replied, "N...No... I'm just... shocked! I never knew you knew how to dance!"
"Hey, I'm a tactician after all," he began, raising his hand up high in the air to twirl Lucina mid-sentence. "I need to have a surprise or two up my sleeve, don't I?"
"You never fail to whisk me off my feet – quite literally in this case," Lucina returned his smile.
"I do my best," Robin laughed. "Now, I don't mean to sound too needy, but when this song is over... May I ask in advance for just one more dance?"
"Will you ask for just one more after that one?"
"You do know that you can have all the dances of the night, don't you?"
"Really?" the man exclaimed in mock surprise. "Aren't I the lucky one!"
The two didn't speak much for a while after, but neither felt the need to. It was almost as if they had fallen into a joint trance, moving as one on the ballroom floor and simply enjoying the other's company. Lucina had already lost track of how many songs had gone by when her father's voice snapped her back to reality.
"Enjoying yourselves, you two?"
"O...Oh! There you are, Father!" Lucina replied. "I'm having quite a nice time myself... How have you been? I've hardly seen you all day."
"Greeting all our guests is certainly time-consuming, but I'm faring well otherwise," Chrom replied. "I do have a quick question to ask of you though, Lucina."
"Hmm? What is it, Father?"
"I was merely wondering if you'd like to have a quick father-daughter dance," Chrom chuckled. "I've already danced with your mother and your sisters, and I thought it would only be fair if I asked you as well. You don't have to, of course. I would completely understand."
"That sounds like fun, Father! I'd love to!" Lucina exclaimed, turning back to her current dancing partner to quickly ask, "Is that alright with you, Robin?"
"Of course," the man smiled, taking a few steps back. "We have the whole night to dance, don't we? You have fun with your old man for a bit. I'm going to grab something to eat and be right back."
"Alright!" Lucina nodded in acknowledgment as he walked off. "I don't think we've ever gotten the chance to dance before, Father."
"I can't recall a time either," Chrom agreed, taking his daughter's hand as the next song began. "Do you remember us ever getting time to dance when you were younger?"
"Maybe once or twice, but when I was very small," the princess recalled fondly. "I do remember being nervous around so many adults at a party like this, but I was thrilled when you asked me."
"That's good," Chrom sighed. "Hopefully I was as good of a father to you as you remember me being. Speaking of parties like this though – and I think I know the answer – how would you compare this year's party to last year's?"
"A hundred times better. Easily," Lucina responded immediately, not having to hesitate for one moment.
"Ha! I agree with you. It just doesn't feel right having a party to celebrate what Robin did without him around." He was quiet for a minute as the song began to wind down, and then added, "It's also nice to see you in such a good mood. It's like we got both Robin and the real you back at the same time!"
"Is my change in mood really so drastic?" Lucina asked. "...I'm sorry, Father..."
"Hmm? What are you sorry for?"
"I've been so distant this past year. I must have had you and Mother so worried... And I wasn't the supportive parent I should have been for Morgan either. I don't think I can make up all my failures to her... I apologize..."
"Lucina, look at me," Chrom urged, placing a hand on her cheek. "We've all lost so much, you most of all. Your mother and I certainly don't blame you for your feelings this past year, and I'm sure Morgan doesn't either. What matters now is how we choose to spend the rest of our time together."
"You're right, Father... And... thank you for understanding," Lucina offered a small smile.
"Of course, Lucina. I'm just happy you're happy. Now, you'd better make it clear to Robin that your old man isn't letting him off the hook so easily next time he tries dying on us early."
"I'll be sure to tell him," the girl laughed. "Speaking of Robin actually, shouldn't he be back by now? He said he was just grabbing something to eat quick and that he'd be right back, but I don't see him..."
"I'm sure he'll be back in a minute, Lucina. He couldn't have gotten far."
"Hmm..." Lucina frowned as she scanned the crowd to no avail. "I'm going to see if I can find him. Thank you for the dance, Father!"
A few more cursory searches through the partygoers still proved fruitless. Being shorter than Robin, it was all the more difficult for her to peer over the crowd even on the tips of her toes. He wasn't at the refreshments table, and she was certain that he hadn't passed her on her way there. Where could he have run off to?
"Is something the matter, milady?"
"Yah!" Lucina cried, swinging around to find the captain of Ylisse's knights standing behind her. "Ah... Hello, Frederick. You startled me a bit..."
"Forgive me, milady, and pardon my intrusion," the man apologized, taking a little bow. "I was patrolling the area and noticed that you appeared to be distressed, so I came to offer assistance."
"You were... patrolling?"
"Indeed. I fear that these sorts of events are not quite my cup of tea, so I have instead devoted myself to assisting the guests however I may," Frederick admitted.
"You never take a breather, do you, Frederick?"
"A knight must never rest, milady, but I assure you that I'm just fine," the man assured with a thin smile, never breaking his steadfast composure. "You appear to be searching for something though. May I help in any way?"
"I'm looking for Robin," Lucina told him. "He said he would be here, but I haven't seen him... Do you have any idea where he went?"
"He told you he would be here? That's odd of him," the knight furrowed his brow slightly. "I believe I saw him heading out the east corridor in the direction of the outdoor garden. I never saw him come here at all."
"Really? Are you sure?"
"I fear I cannot be absolutely certain, for I only caught a glimpse of the man who was leaving, but I do believe it was Robin."
"That is odd..." Lucina half muttered to herself. "Thank you, Frederick. I'll go see if I can find him."
"Do you need me to accompany you, milady?" Frederick offered politely.
"No thank you, Frederick. I'll be alright."
"As you wish, milady," the man nodded. "I will keep my eyes open for Robin and will let him know you're looking for him if I see him."
"What would we do without you, Frederick?" Lucina asked with a smile.
"Just doing my job, milady. I wish you luck."
Lucina slipped out of the party and kept a relatively quick pace as she walked to the garden. She was trying to piece together why he had so abruptly left when they had been having such a pleasant time. Unless she was worse at reading his emotions than she thought, he was in a perfectly good mood when he left. She just couldn't piece together what could have happened.
It was getting late, and the long shadows cast by the setting sun had begun to cover the outdoor garden in darkness. With the sun nearly extinguished, the only reliable sources of light were the candles that illuminated the open corridor. Lucina didn't see Robin right away, but there was the chance he was deeper in the garden beyond her line of vision. She ventured a bit closer toward the center of the garden, taking special care that her dress didn't snag on any loose branches.
She barely spotted him at first, even though he was directly in front of her. He was hunched over a patch of flowers with his back turned, and the combination of his dark suit and the fading light nearly obscured him from view. Lucina took a few steps closer before calling his name.
"Robin! There you are!"
"Ah!" the tactician yelped, dropping something he was holding to the ground. He attempted to stand up and turn around at the same time, but the maneuver caused him to stumble and fall backwards to the ground. "L...Lucina! W...What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here?" Lucina replied with a twinge of shock. "What are you doing here? You said you were going to grab something to eat and be right back!"
"Umm... I did! But then I felt I needed to just get a quick breath of fresh air afterwards. It's a little stuffy in there, don't you think?"
"Frederick told me that he saw you leave without heading near the refreshments table, and if you just wanted a breath of air, why have you been in the middle of the garden? Or why didn't you just tell me where you were going?"
"It was a very spur-of-the-moment sort of decision!" the man protested, though his voice was clearly nervous. "It was nice out here so I just... wandered in a bit to take a very quick walk! I just thought that Chrom would have been able to stall you for longer..."
"Stall me?" Lucina asked, walking right up to him now. "What in Naga's name are you talking about, Robin?"
"Stall? Did I say stall? I meant something completely different..." the man attempted to hurriedly correct as he scrambled to his feet, but Lucina was beginning to lose patience.
"Robin!" she scolded, raising her voice a bit. "Stop lying! I know you well enough to recognize when you're telling a lie, and you're not good at it. What's going on?"
"H...Hey! I promise I can explain everything!" Robin held up his hands defensively as he tried to change his tone to a calmer, more collected one. "I will tell you everything, but... why don't we find a better location than here! Maybe, a nice balcony where we can talk things out?"
"Balcony? Robin, we're talking about this right now!" Lucina insisted as she grew more upset. "This isn't like you! Something's going on that you aren't telling me about... and I...I don't like this one bit! If you didn't want to be at the party with me, you could have just said so!"
"N...No! Lucina... Ah..." Robin hung his head in defeat. "Oh, this turned out all wrong... I hate lying to you. I'm sorry... I'll explain. You were right – grabbing something to eat was a lie, and I had intended to slip out of the party into the garden this whole time."
"But I still don't understand, Robin..." Lucina frowned, frustration gone from her tone. "Why lie about something so trivial? You could have just told me..."
"Well, I didn't exactly want you to know where I was going – that would have ruined the surprise, after all. I had this all planned from the start," Robin explained. "I spoke with Chrom before the party and asked him to stall you while I went to go pick these for you..." He bent down and retrieved the item he had dropped and accidentally crushed when he fell. "It was supposed to be a bouquet," he added, just in case it wasn't clear what the pile of smashed flowers were intended to be. "Then, I was going to head back to the party and take you with me up to the balcony overlooking the whole kingdom. And, just as the sun was setting like it is now, I was going to give you this bouquet and was going to propose to you."
"P...Propose? You mean..."
"Yeah..." Robin nodded. "I've wanted to ask you for such a long time... Since before we fought Grima. But... I wanted the moment to be perfect, and I didn't think the stress of the war would make for a very romantic atmosphere. Then I was... gone, for a while, and when I came back and saw you, I wanted to propose to you right then and there. But I didn't have anything prepared at all, and I thought you deserved more than that. So I figured that there wouldn't be a better time to ask than the party..."
The man sighed again, clearly crushed that his plan had failed even though he was attempting to hide it as best as he could. "I fear I haven't been too truthful these past couple of days either – I haven't actually gone to any urgent meetings. Those were excuses I came up with to give me time to prepare. I went down into town to buy a ring, and I've taken a few dance lessons with Olivia while she's been here so that I could impress you."
"Robin... You... did all this for me?" Lucina's voice began to quiver.
"Of course. I would do anything for the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with," Robin replied, offering a gentle smile. "So, even though it isn't a surprise anymore or as romantic as I wanted it to be, I still want to give you a proposal... Do you... mind if I start over?"
Lucina covered her lips with her hand and gave a quick nod, unable to say a single word for fear she would start crying.
Robin bent down once again and quickly plucked a couple of daisies to form a much smaller, humbler flower bouquet. With that, he dropped to one knee, offered the few flowers out to her, took a deep breath in, and asked, "Lucina, will you marry me?"
Lucina nodded her head, released pent-up tears, and whispered back, "Y...Yes... Yes... I'll marry you..." Just as Robin rose to his feet, she lunged forward and seized him in a tight hug. "Yes a thousand times over," she managed to repeat between sobs and laughter. "I...I've been waiting for this moment for so long, but I hardly believe it's actually happening..."
"Hey..." Robin spoke softly, running a hand through her hair. "Don't cry. I don't like seeing my future wife cry."
"I...I'm sorry. I'm just s...so happy that I can't stop..." Lucina's reply was muffled by his shirt and could hardly be made out. "I can't believe it... W...We'll be married, and I'll be your wife, and... and you'll be my husband..."
"That is usually how marriage works," Robin laughed, giving the girl a squeeze. "Are you going to be okay, love?"
"Y...Yes. I'm alright. Can we... just stay like this for a little while though?"
I know a bunch of people have been waiting as long as Lucina has for Robin to ask that question in this story! I hope this chapter was satisfying enough for the wait - I want to thank everyone for sticking with the story and inspiring me to continue writing it! Only a few more chapters left to go!