A/N: Next chapter is coming soon! Not one year soon, but like regular soon, I promise. Every time someone puts this on their alert list I'm reminded that this is a project a refuse to abandon. So, thank you!
Quick Recap: Robin is aware that he has this stalker and does not know how to deal with it. In fact, whenever Tharja causes problems, he sort of goes out to deal with her. Fast forward and Gangrel is dead (for real)! Now Tharja is dealing with the fallout of betraying her country. Even though she doesn't care, her family does. Enter Tarkus who made his debut last chapter. Tarkus is Tharja's elder brother who, for his own reasons, does not want his sister to be exiled.
What prompted this fic in the first place were the Tharja & Noire supports, because they do not paint a nice picture of Tharja's family. I'm taking some creative licenses when imagining her family since she very clearly does not want to talk about them. I will say due to her mannerism and speech, I'll wage she comes from a wealthy background. Lastly, Tarkus is featured heavily in this chapter. That will not be the norm for him and other future family members. I want to write Tharja and you guys want to read Tharja. I'm just laying some groundwork for character narratives and plot-ish stuff.
It felt like being hit by three of her hexes all at once! First, her skin itched uncontrollably, but no amount of scratching could stop the uncomfortable sensation. Second, her breathing slowed and the act no longer felt natural. Lastly, she felt cold despite Plegian mornings being the hottest in the continent. In the span of twenty seconds, Tharja experienced a terror even greater than the possibility of death whenever she took up arms for the Shepherds. As someone who delved into the dark arts, Tharja did not fear death, though she would not invite it. There were more terrifying things among the living: like seeing Robin approaching her brother's estate. From a fourth story window, Tharja spotted Robin accompanied by a group of soldiers and other Shepherds heading towards the entrance of Tarkus' mansion.
A million questions raced through her mind. The most prominent one yelled: what is he doing here?! She wanted to run, she wanted to hide, she wanted time to stop so that she could figure out what to do if Robin was going to personally be in her brother's home. Tharja was fine if Robin met her brother from afar as he made his case in front of Chrom. However, Robin personally coming to the home of one of her family members was terrifying to her. The dark mage did not comprehend why she felt this way and part of her realized her sudden fears were irrational.
The dark mage lived in this place for two years before her conscription. For two years her brother sponsored her as a "free" mage of Plegia. For two years, Tarkus' estate was her home. This place and Tarkus… were not aspects of her life that Tharja was ready to share with Robin. If Robin thought her strange due to her mannerisms, he would certainly conclude that she was an unfixable mess after witnessing just one of her family members. Even though Tarkus was objectively the sanest person in her family, the man was a war profiteer. There was a portrait of Tarkus with King Gangrel just five feet away from where Tharja stood! If there was one ugly truth that Tharja wished to keep hidden from Robin it was the fact that she was related by blood to Plegian elites, related to people who harbored hatred of Ylisse and the Exalt. To any worshiper of Naga, the only redeeming thing about her family would be their non-affiliation with the Grimleal.
Just as Tharja was mentally preparing herself to somehow escape this situation, the dark mage heard clanking coming from her left. When she turned to see who was approaching her, Tharja saw her brother clad in shining black armor. A small smile crossed his lips. "Sister! I don't think you've ever brought friends home."
Tharja quickly composed herself and calmed her nerves to the best of her abilities. She knew Tarkus was just as clever as she was, but with eight years worth of experience over her. Any fake mirth he pretended to show was just a ruse to learn something from her initial reaction. Tarkus already deduced that there was someone in Chrom's army that was dear to her, so she could not afford to give away that her love was approaching them.
"I was under the impression that we were supposed to meet Chrom at his camp. I never said anything about where you live, why would they come here?" Just as the words left her lips, Tharja loathed that her first conversation of the day had become a battle of wits with Tarkus. This was her own brother! The one person in the entire world who should be sympathetic to her and vice versa due to their shared – and somewhat miserable – upbringing was currently the person she hated the most.
He approached her and gently motioned Tharja to the closest window. "What can you tell me about that person?" Tarkus asked as he pointed to whom she thought was Robin. Again, for a split second, her world shattered. "The red-headed girl in the silver armor," he clarified.
Though Tharja was relieved, she did not give away anything on the exterior. "Some Ylissean knight." Even though Tharja recognized her as Cordelia, she was not about to give away her name until she knew why Tarkus was asking about her.
"Apparently someone recognized my name and seal when it started circulating across the Ylissean camp." Tharja already loathed where his story was going. "To make a long story short, I've been linked to the attack that broke through the Ylissean border and one surviving knight is here to see if she can identify me as one of the 'aggressors.'"
Despite the bleak scenario before him, Tharja did notice a single trace on anxiety in his tone. "Shouldn't you be worried?"
"Not really. I was there at the time with my mercenary escort, but I was heading towards Regna Ferox to meet with the new reining khan." He turned to her and grinned. "This is actually good turn of events for us!"
She let out a sigh. "How so?"
From the corner of her eye, she saw that Robin and Cordelia were allowed entrance to the mansion by one of Tarkus' servants, the rest of their companions stayed outside.
"We just greatly minimized the risk of Grimleal eavesdroppers… and I hear that Prince Chrom hangs on every word that comes out of that dullard's mouth. Now I get to make my case first to him from this vantage point." It took almost all of her self-restraint from lashing out at him for the way he addressed Robin.
"Careful there, brother. That's the man who outwitted the army you outfitted."
"True enough… Do me a favor. Put on that nice dress mother likes. You know, the one you wear when she visits."
Oh no… Tharja thought dreadfully. Tarkus' suggestion sparked an immediate conflict within her. She was naturally inclined to instantly fight whatever he suggested, but on the other hand she thought that maybe Robin would also appreciate seeing her in the dress Tarkus mentioned. After all, her mother did say that men would be enchanted by her in those colors.
Focus! "I'm not a whore for you to display during your negotiations, Tarkus!" she hissed, feigning anger at his suggestion.
"Calm down. I just wanted you to look your best for this. I even put on my fancy armor for this meeting. Are you sure you don't want to put on a nice dress for our guests?"
Does he know?! Has he spied on the camp, heard the rumors? Tharja gulped. "I've shed blood with these people, Tarkus. Do you want to come off as disingenuous by dressing me up?"
He rolled his eyes and bobbed his head for a few seconds. "You wouldn't understand. At least you're willing to meet them with me?"
Despite her annoyance with him, Tharja did not want to see Tarkus accused of combating the Pegasus Knights when she personally knows that he never raises his sword and tome when he's selling weapons to both sides. "It'll make things less awkward in the future."
Although Robin expected to see a lavish building fitting for one of the richest men in the land, he had not expected something resembling a duke's castle. To the best of his knowledge, Plegia had one noble family: the Plegian Royals. If Robin didn't know that, he would have guessed that Tharja was the heir to some Plegian duchy just by seeing her brother's vast estate.
According to their spies, the equivalents of nobility in Plegia were mage families, especially those with an affinity for dark magic. Miriel explained to him that one person out of a hundred can become a mage, and that one out of twenty mages are naturally attuned to dark magic. Somehow, ninety percent of the land's dark mages were from Plegia. Academically and militarily, dark magic is the one thing Plegia overwhelmingly has over any other nation.
Robin learned that these dark mages were a secretive bunch. Not only is their craft unknown to the world at large, the identity of these dark mages was mostly obscure. The first giveaway of this issue was when Robin mentioned to Chrom's spymaster that Tarkus, Plegia's most prominent merchant, had a sister. The worst part was discovering outside of a few handful Shepherds, no one knew that Tharja was among them. The Pegasus Knights, spies, and officers did not have a clue that Tharja even existed.
As they approached the main entrance to Tarkus' estate, Robin whispered, "Thank you again, Cordelia."
"Don't mention it," she reassured him. As it turned out, this Tarkus individual was near the border between Plegia, Regna Ferox and Ylisse when Gangrel's army smashed through the Pegasus Knights.
It was evident that Tarkus did not personally aid King Gangrel, but some of his mercenaries may have fought off some Pegasus Knights and it was unclear which one attacked first. Cordelia herself was sure that there weren't any dark mages in the assault. Furthermore, according to Cordelia's recollection, all Plegian fighters were wearing army colors and none seemed like mercenaries. Nevertheless, this chance non-encounter provided him the opportunity to probe into who this man was and to find out his intentions before he publicly met Chrom.
Although Chrom stated that he was not interfering with Plegian affairs out of respect for a foreign power, Robin knew the truth. Chrom, Frederick, and him were way over their heads when it came to Plegian politics. They knew nothing about Plegia and its inner workings. Despite two weeks passing since King Gangrel's fall, it never occurred to them that Tharja, the Plegian among them, could have brought some much needed insight as to how they should was a conquered nation. Although Basilio and Flavia were happy by raiding the treasury, Chrom was more interested in building some lasting peace between Ylisse and Plegia.
Before they even knocked, a manservant opened the door for them. "My apologies, sir. Master Tarkus was not expecting such a large company into his home. We've only prepared accommodations for two people."
"It's no problem. Only Dame Cordelia and I need to meet… Lord Tarkus." Robin tentatively said the last two words.
"Oh no, there are no 'lords' in Plegia, good sir. Please address him by first name only." In a way that made sense to Robin. Someone with a god complex like Gangrel probably would not tolerate people of high status in his country to be called "lord". "However," the man servant continued, "please bow your head when you greet his sister, Mistress Tharja, for she is the heir to the Pontifex."
"Naturally," Robin responded coolly despite being immediately confused by his words. Cordelia's expression was also unchanged. Robin was glad that it was Cordelia who came with him for this meeting. Someone else, like Lissa, would have exploded.
When they entered the mansion, Robin was surprised at how uninteresting the inside of Tarkus' home looked. Although it was decorated with expensive looking furniture, nothing really stood out. There were no trophies mounted on the walls and few paintings in the hallways. If Robin were a little less perceptive, he would not have noticed that some walls looked like portraits were recently removed from their surfaces. Robin did not like to engage in irresponsible speculation, but it wouldn't surprise him if certain ties were being hidden due to their visit. In the back of his mind, Robin expected candlestick made out of skulls and carcasses laying around because this man was related to Tharja.
Without asking, a couple of servants brought them wine in blue-colored cups once they were brought to Tarkus' office. Out of respect to the servants, Robin and Cordelia accepted the drinks but did not consume any when it was given to them. The room was full of bookshelves filled with what seemed hundreds of books, all of which did not seem like tomes. However, what caught Robin's interest were a few dozen maps on top of a desk. From a distance it seemed like they detailed land and sea trade routes. Some of the maps had continents Robin had never seen before.
"A little early to be serving wine." Cordelia said once they were alone.
"They're probably not used to accommodating guests this early," Robin concluded.
"I'm shocked that we still have our weapons." Which was admittedly odd to Robin. Cordelia still had her lance and Robin visibly had a sword hanging from his back and an Elthunder tome tucked away in his cloak.
From a distance, Robin heard a clanking sound followed by footsteps from someone else, then the footsteps stopped but the clanking continued. Seconds later, a lone figure clad in shining black armor emerged from the hallway.
The resemblance to Tharja was uncanny: jet black hair, purple eyes, fair skin, and angular features. The one stark difference was that while Tharja was petite, this man was as hulking as Frederick. A dark knight? Robin pondered
In a very un-Tharja like move, the man flashed them a big toothy smile, revealing a perfect row of shining white teeth. "Ah!" He clasped his hand together loudly. "It's a little too early to be serving wine." Somehow, the room was a little less tense after he said that. "I'm sorry, we're used to hosting guests in the evening."
"It's fine, we were just thinking the same think," Cordelia said.
"Surely you must be thirsty. I know it's hard for Ylisseans to get used to this heat. Is there something else I could get you?"
"It's okay," for the moment he looked down at the wine he was holding, he could clearly see the words 'CAREFUL AROUND HIM' appear for a second on the liquid's surface. When he looked up, Tharja was next to their host. "We do not wish to intrude." Remembering what the manservant said earlier, Robin and Cordelia bowed their heads at Tharja, which visibly unpleased her greatly.
"I'm Tarkus of Khadein, founder and head of the Merchantry, provider of goods across the lands," he said boasting his success.
"Grand Master Robin…"
"Knight Captain Cordelia."
Tarkus placed an arm around Tharja. "Of course you've met my sister, first child of the Pontifex."
Even though it did not seem by much, one glance at Tarkus and Tharja quickly revealed that he was the elder of the two. "Are you the younger sibling?"
"I'm the eldest, but…"
"Enough!" Tharja interrupted. "You're suspected of crimes against the late Exalt. Stop wasting everyone's time."
"Of course," Tarkus conceded. He walked across the room to sit behind his desk and motioned the rest of them to sit in chairs located on the other side of the desk. Tharja opted to stay where she was. "Knight Captain Cordelia, you have question for me, I presume."
"Just a few. Khan Flavia already vouched for you and guaranteed that your visit was just business."
"For years, I've maintained a good relationship with Khan Basilio. I felt it was only fair to build a new bridge with her as the new ruler of her people."
"Who were your escorts on the day… the day the Mad King invaded Ylisse?"
Tarkus leaned back on his chair. "I had two mercenary bands that day: the Stonewall Knights and the Riders of Dawn."
"That's a lot of mercenaries," Cordelia pointed out. "Why take so many men just to meet the new ruling Khan?"
"There are some deadly risks when dealing with the Feroxi. Skirmishes with their border guards are unfortunately an inherit risk when you try to do business with them." Robin's own personal experience with the Feroxi border made him sympathize with Tarkus.
"How close were you to the battlefield when the assault began?" Cordelia continued.
"About fifty yards, maybe more."
"Did you speak to the Mad King on that day?"
"Yes." Robin and Cordelia were shocked at this. They were not aware of this information and were surprised that he admitted it so plainly.
"What did you talk about?" Robin was not happy that Cordelia asked that question because they had not agreed to it.
"He wanted me to use my mercenaries to stop any Pegasus Knights that would seek refuge on Feroxi soil."
"Did you agree?" Robin understood that this was a sensitive subject for Cordelia, but this probe was now out of his control.
"Well, you're never at a bargaining position when you're dealing with someone like the Mad King. So, yes, I agreed." Cordelia stopped her questioning for the moment. "I would have joined the battle had he asked me. Maybe that would have been the difference between one survivor and no survivors." There was an awkward silence for what felt like an eternity. "You'd think that a guy like me, rich and from well-known family would have had it easy with Gangrel… but no! None of us escaped his tyranny." He pointed at Tharja who was still standing near the door. "He forced my sister away from her studies here… away from me. I never had the courage to stand up to him."
Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Her mind yelled nonstop. This wasn't Tarkus. This was that pleasant merchant persona he created years ago to hide the fact that he came from dark mages! Tharja couldn't understand why her brother was being this way. It didn't bother her if he was being fake to sell something to some inbred lord on some faraway land. This was Robin, her obsession. What is he trying to sell him?
At the pit of her stomach, she also felt sick because this fake Tarkus was actually convincing Robin of… something. When she tried being her fake "normal" self, it only drove him further away. So, a big part of her was absolutely furious at the idea that her own brother's fake self was better at winning over Robin that her own fake self, because her fake self came from the heart and Tarkus' persona came from his gluttonous greed.
"Dame Cordelia, I heard that you were the only survivor of that savage attack." Tarkus looked at Cordelia as if she was the only person in the world. "What you experienced that day was probably the darkest and lowest point in your life. For many people here, that was a daily occurrence…"
"With all due respect, Tarkus," Robin interjected. "Don't speak of her fallen comrades with such levity." Tharja somehow loved Robin even more for shutting him up. Tarkus had a nasty habit of sucking up all the air in the room when he pretended to care for anything other than his precious Merchantry.
It was painful for Tharja to be cowed like this. She always spoke her mind… Nonetheless, the possibility of Tarkus finding out that Robin was special to her was largely inconsequential. However, his threat of telling their mother of Robin… that gave her nightmares. All she needed to do was remain aloof and hope that Tarkus doesn't degrade her further.
"I thank you for your honesty," Said Cordelia after regaining her composure. "One last question. Did you in any way aid in the capture and imprisonment of Exalt Emmeryn?"
Tharja feared that Cordelia would have asked if Tarkus actually killed fleeing Pegasus Knights. She knew his story was mostly a lie! Tarkus sold weapons to Gangrel at outrageously high prices and she suspected that he was working with some Valmese lord to overthrow Gangrel from the moment he brought in that Grimleal girl to his court. The one time Gangrel got the better of him was when the generals successfully conscripted her against his wishes.
"I did not. I was in Khadein after leaving Regan Ferox and was nowhere near the capital when the Exalt was executed."
"We'd appreciate it if you could refer us to people who coul vouch for you in the latter part of your story," Robin said. "Someone in Khadein?
No! Tharja wanted to scream.
"Of course," Tarkus responded. "Can I have an audience with His Majesty after your investigation?"
"That won't be necessary. Rescheduling will be impossible, for his Majesty is a very busy man. You can have our audience today as planned. If something comes up after your meeting with Prince Chrom, then… well, we'll have to see." Robin concluded.
"I am in your debt, Grand Master."
"Before we leave, I was hoping you could share your request with me."
Tarkus looked up and smiled at Tharja. "She didn't tell you?" Of course not! You didn't tell me! "Perhaps that is for the best. Well, we have no clear heir to the throne. King Gangrel's own ascension was dubious… but he did show that it was possible that he was of royal blood. It'll be civil war unless we can agree on a Regent." Is Tarkus vying for the Regency? He must be joking! The Grimleal will kill him the moment he sits on the throne. "I want to propose that Prince Chrom support Tharja to be our Queen!"
Everything about today is the worst! Tharja could not think of anything more foolish. "Tharja has proven herself to be an ally of Ylisse, so you can expect peace moving forward. She stood up and fought against Gangrel when the rest of us were scared by him." At that moment Tharja realized that Tarkus had actually thought this whole thing through and could potentially convince Chrom of this terrible idea. "More importantly, she's a dark mage, which is a source of national pride for us. Also, she is one of the few dark mages not associated with the Grimleal, which should win over any worshipers of Naga in Ylisse. Not to mention that our mother is…"
"Enough!" Tharja yelled from the top of her lungs. It wasn't Tarkus' never-ending ramblings that finally broke her; it was the fact that Robin started nodding. It was too late. The idea was in his head and he seemed to agree with Tarkus. She couldn't even look at Robin and Cordelia, for she was mortified at the grin on her brother's face.