Chrom learned several important lessons early on in life. One of the most important was simple: nobles were always in danger.
Whether in peacetime or in war, nobles always faced plots on their lives and threats to their stations. Chrom had seen it first when he was still too young to understand what was happening but old enough to know that something was off. While waging war with Plegia, Chrom's father travelled everywhere with a small squad of his most trusted knights, even within the confines of his own palace. Furthermore, Chrom could not, at the time, grasp why he and his sisters were assigned guards after their mother died - and not because of illness or infirmity.
Her death led to the first execution Chrom ever had to witness. He asked his father afterwards why they had to kill a citizen of Ylisse. His father remained silent and impassive until the alleged murderer's feet stopped twitching, at which point he walked away, Chrom thought, grimly satisfied.
Chrom never saw what had been done to his mother's body, so the lesson remained partially unlearned. When Emmeryn ascended to the throne and became Exalt, however, Chrom witnessed first-hand another vicious example.
The sight of Emmeryn, his peaceful, kind, compassionate sister, left the populace frothing at the mouth not long after she was crowned. It wasn't just jeers and taunts about her age and gender that flew: there were fruit and stones alike, leaving scars and stains that never fully washed away, even if they were forgiven and masked by Emmeryn's endless humility and understanding.
If Chrom didn't understand it when his father was king, he certainly learned quickly when he witnessed Emmeryn, on the verge of tears but unable to cry in public because of her station, struggling to remain composed in a tomato-stained gown that was far too large for her yet-short stature while addressing a wild crowd who clearly took pleasure in her torment. He wouldn't forget the sight of her guards, either; though they "restrained" the crowd, they laughed at her, too. Chrom understood then: to be a noble was a curse, not a blessing. It was to be a moving target, the constant recipient of ridicule and threats.
Chrom's revelation coincided with the discovery of his hatred for the brand that distinguished him as one of House Ylisse. He, at least, could cover his up, and that he did often when he was young and furious at the world for what he perceived to be a radical injustice, that he should be born noble. Chrom dreamed of hiding, of disappearing among the masses and of being accepted in turn by them. Other times, he wished he could just vanish entirely.
Emmeryn, though, could not hide her brand. It was there on her forehead, as plain as day to see, and nothing could disguise her lineage. She could not turn away from the birthright she had never asked for. All she could do was accept her responsibility, and that she did with a grace and dignity that no one ever could have anticipated.
Her acceptance of her fate, and her will to make the world a better place, turned Chrom away from anger. He wanted to be like her, to have the strength of her convictions, and even as a child he strove to keep up with her. If she wasn't going to be bitter, then, gods damn it all, neither was he.
Chrom thought about all of this in his tent on the way back to Ylisstol. After helping Khan Flavia take the throne - Chrom still wasn't sure what the political ramifications of supplanting the previously-throned Khan Basilio were, but so long as Frederick wasn't making noise about it, he figured it couldn't be all that bad - he had insisted that they leave right away. He needed to relay the news of the support that had been promised from Regna Ferox to Emmeryn immediately.
Of course, if Chrom were being honest with himself, he would admit that there was another reason to leave.
Lissa hadn't noticed, but Chrom certainly had, and Frederick and Robin had made their insinuations. Emmeryn was safely tucked away in Ylisstol with Phila and the pegasus knights; Chrom was armed to the teeth at all hours and could fight back with the strength of a bear.
Lissa, at most, could hit an attacker over the head with a staff, if she was coordinated enough, and maybe scream loud enough to attract help, but only if she were lucky.
She had been the object of much attention both on the road and in Regna Ferox. The Plegian bandits they ran across targeted her on the field. That disturbed Chrom enough as it was, but even at the border pass, the Feroxi soldiers had watched her with special attention, speaking in hushed tones and laughing under their breaths. They had watched her, Plegians and Feroxi alike, their weapons unusually close and their eyes in indecent places considering she was a young lady, his sister.
Whether they looked at Lissa with lust or with murderous intent, seeing them made Chrom remember: even if her brand never surfaced, even if she would never feel the same kind of pressure as he or Emmeryn in the eyes of the public, she was still a noble, and she was still a target.
Chrom, laying back on his makeshift cot, put his hands over his eyes and groaned. The question he faced was what to do with the problem he had laid before him. He couldn't leave Lissa be and let the chips fall where they may. It was simply too risky for her, even amongst allies, to go without protection anymore.
The young lord's thoughts ran through his mind like water in a raging river. Frederick would accept the task of guarding Lissa without complaint or question. As skilled as he was, though, Chrom was realistic when he discounted him as an option: he was simply too devoted to Chrom. He feared that Frederick, when faced with a choice to protect either Chrom or Lissa in a life-or-death situation, would pick Chrom without regrets. Chrom could protect himself; Frederick was out of the picture.
Vaike was out of the question as well. He was too zealous and too proud to make it work. Also, Chrom admitted to himself, he didn't like the idea of assigning a young man to guard Lissa. There was temptation there, and… Chrom didn't like to think about any of his Shepherds in a negative light, but he reasoned that he had to be cautious. It was Lissa: she needed to be safe. Stahl was out for the same reason. Robin still didn't have his memory back and was getting back into the swing of being alive, or so it seemed; he couldn't be the one to protect Lissa.
Of the women, Sully would have made a good bodyguard, but she trained with such single-minded determination that she often lost track of the world around her. She worked herself to the point of exhaustion before collapsing for the night, dead to the world for the next several hours while her body recuperated from the intense regimen she forced upon herself.
Chrom grew desperate as he mentally crossed off name after name. Sumia could be counted on in a pinch, but she was altogether too accident-prone and air headed off of the battlefield. Miriel was too wrapped up in her magical experiments - not the other day she had been so engrossed in her reading that she had nearly walked off a cliff. Grasping at straws, Chrom thought blindly of Maribelle, who would have gladly volunteered had she been with the Shepherds, but even she, in absence, was ruled out: she stood about as much of a chance against an assassin as Lissa herself.
That left…no one. Chrom sat up from his reclining position and held his head in his hands. Short of himself, he could think of no one who would be suitable to the job.
Chrom felt an idea forming. It was possible - there was still one person. He pursed his lips, wondering whether he was making a good move, then made up his mind, clambered to his feet, and exited the tent.
Frederick was awake and tending to the fire. No one else appeared to be around to witness the knight in his element, watching the flames dance and crackle. Chrom approached without stealth so that he wouldn't be mistaken for an enemy.
"Milord, we will be back on the road to Ylisstol as soon as the sun rises," Frederick said. His face changed as he spoke, his features bordering on impassive. Chrom had noticed it several times before and wondered: he claimed he was so happy as a knight in the service, but was he not much happier with a simple bonfire out in the countryside?
"I know, Frederick. You should be sleeping, too, but I have business with Khan Basilio's man."
"You mean Lon'qu?"
"Yes. Him. Is he still awake?"
The name danced around Chrom's tongue but could not be vocalized. He wasn't intimidated by Lon'qu's laconic nature or his skill with a blade. What bothered Chrom was the way Khan Basilio had given him to the Shepherds, as if a human was just another bargaining chip in the game of war. In practice, maybe that was true, but still…
"It's likely," Frederick was saying, watching his lord intently. Chrom fidgeted under the attention, hoping that the knight didn't notice his anxiety. "He was here not a moment before you arrived, though he made to retire."
Chrom nodded by way of thanks and walked across the camp to Lon'qu's tent. The swordsman had set himself up on the edge of the campsite, far from the fire. The tent stood out from the Shepherds' because it was Lon'qu's own: Chrom recognized the symbol emblazoned on the front as that of the medallion on the swordsman's belt.
Many nights spent on the road had taught Chrom that knocking on a piece of fabric was useless. Instead, he called, "Are you in there?"
"Not yet I'm not. What do you want?"
Chrom jumped, spinning to look behind him. There, standing not ten feet away, was Lon'qu. The Feroxi man appeared to be at ease, though Chrom noticed that one of his hands had fallen to his blade.
"I didn't see you there," Chrom admitted. A silence grew between them as Lon'qu said nothing. The young lord's face flushed with embarrassment; he hadn't been expecting to stand outside of the a tent looking like a fool who didn't know up from down.
"I wanted to speak with you," Chrom tried again.
"I noticed," Lon'qu replied casually. "What do you want?" The repetition was not without aggravation, but it set Chrom at ease. At least he'd said something.
"It's something I noticed in Regna Ferox," Chrom said. Lon'qu's hand was falling from his blade. "You have…issues with women."
The hand curled into a fist in response to Chrom's words. His ears, too, colored bright red, the change of shade visible even in the dark. He gritted his teeth, trying to mask his discomfort, but it was too late.
"You don't have to make excuses. If you didn't have this particular issue, I wouldn't be standing here right now."
Lon'qu shut his mouth and waited for Chrom to get to the point, clearly annoyed but unable to escape the conversation.
Chrom tried to work out what he wanted to say ahead of time, but he didn't want another long silence, so he settled for, "My question to you is, do you have a problem protecting a woman?"
Lon'qu stood so still that Chrom momentarily thought that he had vanished altogether. He had gone from flushed to pale in an instant. Chrom wasn't even sure he was breathing.
"What makes you think I can protect anyone?" The words were low and harsh, though Chrom thought that he might have detected a note of vulnerability.
"You can," Chrom insisted. Because you have to. "You're skilled with a blade - more so than most I've seen. That's why I want you to protect her."
The point-blank denial made Chrom bristle. "I haven't even told you who I'm talking about!"
Lon'qu had screwed his eyes shut at some point, but whether out of misery or plain exasperation, Chrom couldn't tell. "It doesn't matter," the Feroxi man replied. "I'm no bodyguard, especially not for a woman."
"So you would leave my sister unprotected on the battlefield?" Lon'qu was silent as Chrom spoke. He tried to keep his voice down so that Frederick wouldn't pick up on the sound. "What about off the battlefield? What if there's a threat on her life or her-"
"Is she in danger?"
Chrom stopped himself short to answer the question. "Yes," he said simply.
"Lissa is dear to Emmeryn and I. Our enemy knows this - she's a healer, not a fighter, and I can't watch her all the time. And…"
Chrom looked at the ground. "She's a young lady," he said softly. "I've seen the way they look at her."
Lon'qu didn't ask who "they" were. When Chrom looked back up, feeling foolish and somehow exposed, Lon'qu wasn't looking at anything in particular. His face was as blank as Frederick's had been, and Chrom didn't like it. He was a blunt man who dealt with things out in the open: he couldn't deal with pent up emotions and words.
He breathed out loudly. "Listen, I'm sorry," he said, speaking even softer. "You already said that your answer is no, and you have a right to it, no questions asked. Lissa is my sister, that's all, and I worry for her. Forgive me. I'll find someone else."
Chrom made to leave, but Lon'qu posed another question.
"What about the others?"
"I didn't ask," Chrom admitted. "My sister is precious to me. Your condition… My sister would be safe around you."
Lon'qu nodded to himself slowly, movement coming back into his limbs. Chrom didn't know what either of them were waiting for.
Finally: "I'll do it."
"Does she know?"
Lon'qu was watching Chrom with an intensity he had never experience among allies. "About the threat? I don't know. She is very observant, but I doubt she'd tell me one way or another. She doesn't like to cause trouble, and she especially dislikes feeling like a liability."
"Good. We'll get along well."
"What, her on one side of the room and you on the other?" Chrom joked.
The look of agreement on Lon'qu's face told him that the scenario he'd conjured in jest might actually play out. He smiled; it would work out. Lon'qu was a good choice.
"You have my gratitude for this." Looking back toward the center of camp, he said, "We march at dawn. We should probably rest before then. … Good night, Lon'qu, and thank you."
The name still felt foreign and awkward on his tongue, but it had finally come out. If the swordsman had noticed how diligently Chrom had avoided his name, he didn't show it. Instead, he grunted, disappearing into the dark of his tent with an expression that was both tense and pensive.
Morning came quickly. The Shepherds ate, still groggy from the early-morning wakeup, and saddled their horses without much conversation.
Lissa was the usual exception. She was humming quietly to herself as she packed up her tent, a lullaby that their nanny had sung for them long ago. Chrom followed the notes as they came to him, remembering the song, only to be startled by the interrupting screech.
She sounded frightened, and he rushed to where her voice came from. His hands fell to Falchion mechanically, ready to fend off any attacker in an instant.
Chrom's arm just as quickly dropped from his sword as a smile rose to his face. Lissa's horse had already been saddled and prepared and stood tethered with the others' - though, Chrom noted with a low chuckle, it stood as far from Lon'qu's as possible.
The swordsman, for his part, was busy getting ready to leave. Lissa's screech seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, but Chrom knew better. After all, Lissa's horse hadn't been on the end to begin with, nor had it been so handsomely groomed since the Shepherds had left the palace.
After reassuring Lissa that no foul demon had worked on her horse and explaining to the Shepherds that there was no cause for alarm, Chrom himself got ready to leave. He did a last minute turn around the campsite with Frederick to make sure nothing important got left behind.
Chrom was satisfied: there was no sign that the Shepherds had camped on the road at all - with the odd exception of the bodies of two Plegians, if Chrom had to guess by the coat of arms he could see on the armor.
Frederick knelt beside the bodies, checking them over.
"Based on where they were, the probably intended to strike Milady's tent before they were waylaid. They were ambushed, based on the cuts, and by someone with incredible skill. I, for one, heard nothing last night. … Do you know of this, milord?"
Chrom shrugged. "We should go, Frederick. There's news to be relayed, after all."
Lon'qu's horse drifted close by. "…Is there a problem?"
Frederick looked between him and his lord with concern and distrust. He wanted to speak but Chrom interrupted.
"None at all," Chrom replied. "We'll be off immediately." Chrom gave a curt nod in addition, which the swordsman pretended not to see. Frederick knew then that some agreement had been made and was clearly hurt by the secrecy. Chrom wanted to apologize but couldn't: he knew that he'd made the right decision in passing over his loyal knight for Lon'qu. Lissa had to be kept safe, no matter the cost.