A/N: This is the third time I scrapped what I originally wanted to. Chapter 10 of "Deliverance" was supposed to be a retelling of "Mad King Gangrel" from the game to end this first arc with a bang. Since this was never meant to be a novelization of Awakening, I decided to end this arc with… more of the same! *Throws confetti*
You know, these ten chapters are actually 27,000 words worth of prologue! I wanted to start this story on the next chapter, but then I thought some "context" between our loveable couple was important. Think about it, the title doesn't make much sense at this point.
One last thing: 100 reviews! Good lord, thanks for all the support. I hope "Deliverance" continues to entertain y'all.
Everything changed. Weeks of running scenarios had been in vain, for the information the Feroxi spies brought contradicted assumptions they previously held. The Plegian forces were not as strong as they had believed them to be. According the reports the khans received, the unity of the armies of Plegia had shattered under King Gangrel's tyrannical grip. They still posed a threat. The strongest and most loyal still remained by the Mad King's side, protecting him from facing justice for the atrocious crimes he committed. It was for this reason that Robin changed his plans. Instead of preparing for a long war, the gods graced them with an opportunity to end this conflict in a single strike: King Gangrel was in the field.
Killing the evil monarch would end most of the hostilities. According to the information that they received, Emmeryn's sacrifice had earned them thousands of Plegian sympathizers: soldiers, merchants, farmers, and nobles alike. Although they had not turned on King Gangrel, their unwillingness to follow his orders was enough to give the Shepherds the upper hand in this bloody war. Their enemies still had a few advantages. They knew the terrain and still held a slight numerical advantage. The overwhelming odds had been greatly reduced, but Robin needed to organize their armies quickly in order to depose the Mad King while he was still recovering from the massive losses he'd suffered.
Within Prince Chrom's personal tent, Sully and Stahl were helping the young noble with fitting him into his new armor. Robin was working on improving his strategy for the upcoming assault by writing down different scenarios. The tactician looked up to see how Chrom was coming along. He smiled at the sight. It was obvious that his new gauntlets, boots, and cuirass were of fine craft. Those pieces were made by Khan Basilio's personal blacksmith, and few individuals could craft as well as that man. But what amused Robin was the design of the armor. It was forged to look regal, somewhat lordly. After all, Frederick had been the one who commissioned the luminous steel armor; the knight simply couldn't allow Chrom to wear something that didn't accentuate his nobility.
Robin heard some distinctive clanking and knew that Frederick was close. The knight smiled when he entered Chrom's tent. "I must say, Milord, that armor was worth every gold coin," he beamed, which was rare for him. Frederick was carrying a large square-shaped container made out of silver.
"It's a little flashy, don't you think?" Chrom asked. "I was expecting something similar to Stahl's armor."
"Ha! I wished I had something this good," Stahl chimed in after he finished strapping Chrom's shoulder plate. "A dragon could chomp on you, and you wouldn't feel a thing under this suit."
"Are you going soft on us, Captain?" Sully asked smugly. "I never thought I'd see you wearing a hunk of metal like this. This defeats the rumor of your bones being made out of iron."
Chrom looked at Sully, who was working on his right gauntlet, and smirked. "I just thought it wasn't fair how cavalry like you got to wear armor and I didn't." He flinched when the horsewoman overdid a knot. "Or I got tired of all those times someone almost impaled me through the chest."
Sully raised an eyebrow. "Do you also want a horse?"
The Prince of Ylisse shook his head. "No, that won't be necessary. I know how to ride, but not as a knight like you." He chuckled. "The enemy might laugh at me if I pranced around on a horse when we meet them." They all shared a good natured laugh. The Shepherds knew how to handle pre-battle stress like no other army.
The Shepherds' lieutenant approached Chrom, and opened the container he was holding. "I brought you the Fire Emblem, Milord." He took out the golden shield, House Ylisse's most valuable treasure.
"Thank you, Frederick." Stahl and Sully distanced themselves from the Prince when they finished adjusting every piece of armor. Chrom held out his left arm to Frederick, and the knight clipped and secured the Fire Emblem on Chrom's gauntlet plate.
"Straight out of the legends, Your Majesty!" Frederick announced. "You shall strike with mighty Falchion, and defend with the Fire Emblem; just like King Marth when he saved the world."
Sometimes Robin felt like they were taking place in a legend, and that bards would sing of their deed for ages. The tactician believed his role was symmetrical to Sir Jagen's during the War of Heroes. In fact, Robin based some of his tactics on the legendary knight's strategies. Although history texts depicted King Marth's staunch protector as an experienced and massive knight, just like Frederick was to the Shepherds.
"I second that, Chrom," Robin spoke up when he rose to his feet.
"You've been silent, Robin. Is everything fine?" Chrom queried.
"Yeah, I just have a lot on my mind." I will not fail again, Chrom. We will all walk out of this alive. "Until just a few days ago we believed that this war was going drag on for a long time. Our prayers have been answered if we can end it all… today." He momentarily pursed his lips. "We can make you sister's wish come true when we rid the world of that madman."
Chrom smiled. "She would've liked you, Robin." The Prince grabbed the hilt of Falchion, which rested by his side. "You remind me that this shouldn't be about vengeance – Emm would not want that. This is for the world she envisioned."
As long as Gangrel was alive, humankind's worst aspects would continue to manifest themselves on the weak-minded he managed to control. The Shepherds and every Ylissean wanted Gangrel to die for the sake of justice, but Robin couldn't ignore everyone's hidden desire for revenge. While he could sympathize, Robin did everything he could from resorting to the King of Plegia's level, for the evil man would be vindicated if they did. The tactician wouldn't allow that under any circumstances, so he and Frederick always kept calm when they advised their leader.
"You're too kind," Robin said, sounding embarrassed. "I didn't know her for very long, but I believe that she'd be proud of how many people you convinced to pick up her banner."
"We're not done yet," Stahl chimed in.
"That's right! My sword arm is itching!" Sully declared. "Those bastards are asking for a thrashing. They'll never know what hit them." She looked at Chrom. "Captain, do you need anything else?"
"No, I'm fine."
"The let's go, Stahl," Sully began dragging her partner, "we got some work to do ourselves before the battle."
"Thanks for your help. Gods know I might've done it wrong by myself," he told them before they both left.
"You'll get used to it, Milord," Frederick said. "After some time, it will become as natural as putting on your tunic."
"I hope so. I'd hate to ask for help whenever I need to use this." Chrom looked at the tactician. "Do you have a plan, Robin?"
"I do," he admitted meekly, "but I have a few fears. According to what the spies' report, King Gangrel's forces still dominate the skies. We may be overwhelmed if they slip past the khan's forces."
"I'm sure we can handle an ambush from a couple of wyvern rider flocks," Chrom opinioned. "Our mages have at least one wind magic tome with them, and I'm sure we'd have support from Feroxi archers if too many attacked us."
"You're right, Chrom. But I'm afraid Gangrel might use that opportunity to retreat."
"He won't," Frederick said. "Blind men like him believe they will triumph even as the world burns around them." Robin preferred to have more concrete evidence that the Mad King would not flee, but Frederick had a point. If Gangrel was a sensible man, he would've hid in his castle and allowed his generals to deal with their desertion problem. Instead, he put himself in harm's way by arrogantly trying to instill fear in his subjects for their lack of support.
"You're right. In that case, I've formulated a strategy for us to follow." Robin handed Frederick his notes. "Everything is detailed in there – what we'll need and who should come."
"I hate to impose on you, Frederick," Robin said. "But could you meet with Khan Flavia for me? I need to attend to a… personal matter."
The knight nodded. "Certainly."
"Thank you." Robin was grateful that neither Frederick nor Chrom questioned him before he left. He didn't keep dark secret from them, but he valued when they respected his privacy. Even though he was willing to confess what he was going to do if the had asked him, Robin preferred not to tell them.
Before a big battle like the upcoming one, it was common for soldiers to spend what little time they had doing something they enjoyed, or trying to correct some wrongs to ease their conscience. In this particular situation, it was the latter for Robin. The tactician felt he had been unfair and unkind to Tharja. The guilt of his insensitivity towards her weighted heavily, and he felt compelled to make amends for that before the war's end.
Tharja rested on her cot when she finished packing her hexing tools, and soon she would ride to battle with the rest of the Shepherds. Some of her comrades were bold enough to declare that Plegia would fall after the next skirmish. All the talk of defeating her country made her feel ill. Interestingly enough, she hadn't considered the possibility of the Shepherds winning this needless war. The dark mage, at one point, tried to desert because she was sure that the Plegian armies would crush the Shepherds and their allies. That was when she became smitten with Robin, and the rest was history. She stayed with the Ylisseans due to her feelings for Robin.
After sighing in frustration, a bleak realization made its way into her mind: she's unable to hide her role in this war. She would no longer be welcomed in her country. If a soldier defected to the enemy's side, then he or she was exiled. As a dark mage, Tharja didn't know how the Crown would react to her defection. Some may demand that she'd be executed. Various groups of Plegia – the Grimleal amongst them - were jealous and paranoid when it came to dark magic. It was an intolerable offense for a dark mage to use her abilities outside of their jurisdictions, so not even her influential parents couldn't completely shield her from what was to come. Nonetheless, she had only herself to blame. She knew the stakes; she was aware of the possible punishments for her treachery.
Was it worth it? Tharja thought so, sort of. There was no doubt on her mind that she loved Robin, and considered herself a lucky woman for meeting him. She still didn't know him very well, or understood why he compelled her so much, but Tharja didn't dwell on that for very long. The dark mage knew better than most that some things were no meant to be explained, so she never berated her heart. However, what left Tharja in a sour mood was the fact that she had been unable to make Robin reciprocate her feelings. If fate was going to be cruel to her and separate her from her loved one, it would've been more bearable to have at least succeeded in being loved; mostly because her one-sided feelings were slowly becoming heavier on her well-being.
Despite her failed attempt to become normal so she could please him, Tharja had not given up. She was slightly miffed at Robin for falsely leading her on, but the Plegian mage didn't overlook that she was also partly to blame for the miscommunication. Besides, she hopelessly couldn't remain mad at him for too long – or at all. That said much of how much Tharja loved him, for she was known for being a spiteful woman when crossed.
Although she was hesitant to admit it, even to herself, Tharja had met plenty of… good people during her time with the Shepherds. None of them could compare to Robin, but her comrades were still worth meeting. Trust was a foreign concept within the Plegian army. Backstabbing was a common occurrence between foot soldiers and officers of the Plegian army, so bonds that formed between comrades was a myth. Of the Shepherds, Tharja was particularly fond of Nowi. Annoying as the manakete could be, there was something about her childlike innocence that Tharja simply found endearing; as if reminiscent of how she used to be, long ago…
"Tharja, are you there?" Robin's voice broke her out of her thoughts.
She quickly got up and dusted herself. For the hundredth time, she regretted not buying a small mirror when she had the chance in Regna Ferox. Tharja wanted to make sure that her long hair was not messy, but even if she had one, the dark mage didn't own a hairbrush. "Yes, I'm inside," she said, trying not to sound excited and giddy.
"W-well, I need to talk to you. Do you have a moment?" He asked timidly. Tharja noted that Robin either sounded nervous or bashful whenever he was around her. He was educated, and he expressed himself very eloquently when explaining his strategies. But every so often, Tharja managed turn make this well-spoken tactician into an embarrassed boy.
Tharja smirked. "Sure, come on in," she invited.
"Ah, I see, well, I'd rather you meet me out here," he stuttered.
"Why?" Tharja knew the answer, but felt like teasing him a little. It was her way of getting back at him for not appreciating the great lengths she went through to please him.
"It's sort of inappropriate for me to come in." Tharja thought Ylisseans could be very finicky.
Tharja hesitated for a moment, not wanting to push him away. "Really? How so?" She took a chance by teasing him again.
The dark mage heard a muffled grunt. "It's not right for me to enter a lady's tent," he whispered in annoyance. "You do not want to hear the overblown rumors that may come if someone saw me."
Courtship or marriage can fix this little problem. It took much of her internal strength not to verbalize that thought. "Fine, I'll come out." Tharja quickly exited her tent. She met a beet red Robin who was "casually" hiding his embarrassment by rubbing his face with both hands. "Ahem!"
"Tharja!" He stopped hiding his face.
"Fredrick cannot complain about me anymore. I've been following his orders," she stated before he could speak.
"He told me so. Thank you very much… and I apologize. I haven't held up my end of the bargain," he said with remorse.
"You're a busy man," she said bitterly. I can't pretend you'd give me just a little special attention.
"I had time to learn a few spells with you. In fact, I could've benefited had I done it," he confessed. "It's been hard to be around you…"
"Oh…" A cold feeling went down her spine. Robin's words were as if he stabbed her and then twisted the knife in one swift motion.
"No, no, no, no! Poor choice of words, Tharja," he panicked. "I've been feeling guilty after you told me of your 'Normal Practice.'" Robin took a deep breath. "I'm afraid of saying something wrong, of hurting you."
Tharja felt like someone dumped a bucked of cold water to wake her up from a horrible nightmare. "Don't feel guilty. I might've kept the act up if it gave me a small chance to," she swallowed hard, "make you ignore me less."
"So… You've noticed," he said lamely. Tharja nodded. "The truth is… I don't know what I'm supposed to do. You said that…"
"That I love you!" she exclaimed without a trace of embarrassment. "I was very clear on that, right?"
"You were," Robin wheezed. He spoke again after clearing his throat. "This is very serious, I know that. And you're being truthful. After all, your knowledge of my activities is very thorough; disturbingly so." Tharja found it adorable how he was being so diplomatic of her stalking. "But I know nothing of romance."
He's not saying no. She grinned and approached him. "I'm not an expert myself, so why don't we," she gently placed her hand on his chest, "find out together."
He inhaled sharply. "That may not be the best idea." Robin took her hand off his chest as her world crumbled. "Tharja, why do you…?" The words were stuck on his throat.
"… Love you?" she finished.
"I don't know," she admitted. "You're different. You're unique, but I don't know why."
Robin found the ground easier to look at. "I'm trying not to say 'thank you' like a fool. How do you know that?"
Because I tried to curse you when we met. "Intuition," she lied.
"That's enough for you?" he asked in disbelief. "I mean, surely there's more to it."
There's plenty more to it. "Not really. I know what's in my heart. There's no point in questioning that, at least not for me."
The tactician scratched the side of his head. "I wish I had the same approach to this situation." Robin coughed nervously. "I think you're a very talented woman, I'm grateful that you've lent us your strength, and I bet you're a great person… if I got to know you. So, after the war, I could get to know you better as a friend."
"After the war?" She scoffed. "How is that supposed to work?"
"Well, Chrom has offered me the position of Grandmaster, which would make me a sort of administrator of every military force Ylisse controls: the Shepherds included." He paused for a moment. "You being a Shepherd, we would continue working together after the war ends."
He doesn't know. "You were expecting me to go to Ylisse?" Something about that made her feel elated. While it was a bit naive, it was also sweet for him to simply assume that she would continue being a Shepherd. He's not repulsed by you, Tharja.
"Oh, were you going back to your family?" That was the last thing she wanted to do. Tharja wanted her parents to be well and healthy. However, she had no intentions of ever going back to them. If there was one good thing about her forced enlistment into the Royal Guard, it was the fact that it separated her from them.
"Robin," she looked away, "let's focus on surviving first. I'll go to Ylisse if we both make it."
"We'll make it through. I'll make sure of that," he said with resolve and total confidence in his tactics.
"I don't doubt it." It wasn't what Tharja meant, though. Plegian politics were deadlier than what Gangrel could throw at anybody. She was certain than no less than four coup d'états would be in motion before the King's corpse became cold.