EDIT: Whoops, turns out I uploaded the wrong revision! For those of you who read this chapter before the update, the only changes of note are in the latter half of the story (it picks up around "It isn't. But at least I have it." if you'd like to Ctrl+F), and nothing is sufficiently game-changing from the first version I posted that it can't be skipped. Apologies for the mistake! -LA
Three days after his nightmare, Pyrrhus had his regularly-scheduled training with Say'ri to learn how best to combat Yen'fay's sword style. He had improved remarkably over the last few months, which was why he disarmed her after less than a minute of fighting.
He stood before Say'ri, breathing lightly as her sword landed point-first in the ground, too far away for her to easily retrieve it. She looked around for a moment before facing Pyrrhus again. "I yield! Fie, but you've gotten much better at this! I must be a good teacher!" She chuckled.
"No arguments here," Pyrrhus said, lowering his spear. "I'd still be flailing wildly against your defenses if not for your excellent guidance." He carefully extracted her sword from the ground and, holding it by the blade, handed her the hilt. "Still, if I'm to beat Yen'fay, I need to be better."
Say'ri laughed harshly. "I know not what to tell you, then. I have taught you everything I know, but Yen'fay is my better at swordplay. He has techniques of his own that I have never managed to learn."
"Then we'll have to find some other way to make this more difficult. I'll have Owain attend our next session," Pyrrhus decided. "The two of you will attack me in concert."
"There is no substitute for the genuine article," Say'ri replied. "Facing a hundred swordsmen will not be the same as fighting my brother. You and Chrom together have proven yourselves a match for him, though. If he is at your side, you will not lose."
"I know," Pyrrhus muttered. "But I can't count on Chrom being at my side. Yen'fay's shown interest in me ever since our first encounter, and I know that he'll separate me from Chrom when we fight again."
Say'ri sheathed her blade. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because it's what I'd do," Pyrrhus said darkly.
Say'ri thought for a moment, and when she spoke it was carefully, very measured. "Pyrrhus, might I ask you a favor?"
"Of course, Say'ri," he replied with a smile. "What can I do?"
"If you face my brother… he was a good man, once. He must die for his treason, I know, but I would ask that you give him a clean, honorable death."
"Whatever your brother's offenses to Chon'sin," began Pyrrhus, "he has been an honorable and worthy opponent. I could do nothing less."
Say'ri gave a relieved sigh. "Thank you, my friend."
At that moment, an alarm bell rang. Pyrrhus counted the chimes. "Three… Four. Enemies spotted. We'd better go see what's happening."
The pair rushed to the strategy tent where the others were convening. Frederick was the last to arrive, and he bore news.
"Scouts estimate a force of twenty thousand men approach the border of Rosanne from the south, lead by Yen'fay himself. Several battalions of Valmese heavy cavalry are with him, and the southern defense fears a breach."
"As well they should," remarked Chrom. "What's the numbers on the cavalry?"
"They said at least a thousand heavy horse, probably several hundred aerial auxiliary cavalry."
"It's the horses we need to be worried about," Sumia chipped in. "Valm's pegasus knights don't hold a candle to the ones from Ylisse."
"Still," cautioned Pyrrhus, "They could cause major harm to our artillery. Most of our archers were with the first wave returning to the ships."
"Indeed, sir," Frederick said with a nod.
Pyrrhus unfurled a map of the area on the table and read from the piece of parchment where he'd left notes. "That leaves the total force defending the southern border at approximately…" he ran down the list of numbers one at a time, "Two thousand Ylissean light infantry, a thousand heavy infantry, four thousand Feroxi irregulars, three hundred heavy cavalry, two hundred aerial cavalry, two hundred archers, ten springalds, five hundred assorted mages."
"Not even eight thousand total," mused Say'ri. "Will that be enough?"
Pyrrhus looked over the map. "Ylisse has the entrenched position, and those springalds are going to be murder on just about anything other than the heavy horse. The heavy infantry with mage support could probably hold, but…."
"But?" supplied Chrom.
"If it were anyone but Yen'fay, I'd say that they'd be fine. But it is Yen'fay. And with our forces beginning the retreat for the winter, it would be difficult to back them up if things should turn sour."
Pyrrhus took a step back from the map. "We should go. The Shepherds. Chrom's presence will reassure the soldiers, and if Yen'fay tries anything sneaky, I'll be there to deal with it personally."
Chrom looked at him for a long moment. "All right. Frederick, tell the Shepherds to break camp, we leave in an hour."
The Shepherds' march to battle was more somber than Pyrrhus expected it. Under normal circumstances the group qualified as at least "rambunctious" and he had assumed that the several weeks of relative peace spent in camp would have the group itching for some action. But the group was uncharacteristically quiet this time. What's more, Pyrrhus knew exactly why.
They were afraid of Yen'fay. Or more accurately, they were afraid that Yen'fay was better than him.
They had a point, after all. The man was able to move his soldiers like a wraith rather than an army, and twice now the Shepherds had survived only by the skin of their teeth. Now he was marching towards them with a full army, twenty thousand strong. They knew that their own men held the superior position, and they had faith in Pyrrhus. They just needed more.
Chrom seemed unaware of the change, keeping his same easy smile about the group during the march. Cordelia didn't seem bothered either, talking animatedly with the others. Pyrrhus spent a good portion of his time with Donnel, who had picked up on the group's tone without really knowing why. Donnel told him some of the things he knew about farming, an unfamiliar field to Pyrrhus, which kept them both distracted from the upcoming battle.
They arrived at the defensive perimeter only six hours ahead of Yen'fay's army, and hurried to reinforce the defenders. Much as Pyrrhus wished to join Chrom and the other melee warriors on the front line, he had learned over these last few months that, when it came to battle on this scale, he was better served taking a tactical position while the others fought. He might kill a dozen men in battle, but he could easily save a hundred lives by positioning himself to view the entire battlefield at once and issue immediate orders via courier. He found the highest point he could, one of the defensive towers held by a group of archers and a mage well back from the front line, and made it his command center.
Not two hours later, he got his first glimpse of the enemy marching northward towards their position. It appeared as though Yen'fay was not being tricky; Pyrrhus had considered the possibility that the entire maneuver was some sort of feint and that the man had plans elsewhere in the region for those troops. When the army called a halt and began lining up for battle, those possibilities were gone. Yen'fay was committed.
Battle began with skirmishing on both sides, neither wanting to engage with their primary forces. Yen'fay kept his heavy cavalry well back from the front line, but still plainly visible to keep the enemy infantry on edge, as though he might issue a charge at any moment. Pyrrhus responded likewise, keeping his heavy infantry centrally located, to quickly reinforce and repel any spurious attack.
In the second hour, with only minor losses on either side, Virion joined him at the top of the tower. It wasn't unusual, as Virion had some experience with combat on this scale. Virion had joined him there in the last few battles, in fact, commiserating with Pyrrhus's desires to be with his friends as they fought and died together.
"Hey, Virion," Pyrrhus said casually as Virion's head poked through the trapdoor to the rustic watchtower. It was made of wood, erected hastily by the Ylisseans a few months back, after the initial seizure of Rosanne. Still, the view it gave was superb.
"Ah, Pyrrhus, so good to see you!" the foppish man replied, unslinging the bow from his shoulders and stringing it. "How goes the battle so far?"
Pyrrhus groaned. "Nothing yet. Yen'fay's being as enigmatic as always, it seems."
"I say," Virion began, peering out over the parapet, "The view is exquisite!"
"No kidding. I can see the whole battle from here." He stopped talking briefly as Virion drew his bow and fired out towards an enemy pegasus knight that had wandered too close. The arrow just missed, sending the woman and her mount hurriedly back out of range. "Not much chance of us getting surprised."
Pyrrhus leaned upon the parapet, peering out over the soon-to-be melee. "The next move is his. Valm's not known for its skilled archers, and Yen'fay's are exhausted." Indeed, as he spoke he heard the faint sound of a horn being blown from the enemy side, and the archers pulling back. "Now the real battle begins."
Two regiments of light infantry began marching forward to engage, probably ten thousand total men. Pyrrhus nudged the courier with the bow next to him. "Yevin, send a message to the Feroxi colonel, tell him to maneuver his men to engage the attackers. With the springalds and archers for backup, should be plenty to hold the line."
The courier saluted, taking quill to parchment to scribble the instructions before wrapping and tying the message to a blunted arrow. He drew back on the bow and fired, sending the message soaring out over the army to land in the ground near the Feroxi commander.
The rough, thoroughly-tan middle-aged man who led the Feroxi plucked the arrow from the ground, unfurled the message, and quickly gave the order. The Feroxi moved forward and took a defensive posture behind the ditch Pyrrhus had had the defenders dig. Sure enough, a horn blast sounded, and the Valmese began their charge.
Soon as the men were in range, the springalds opened fire, and they began to fall. Two or three at a time dropped as one bolt would knock a man to the ground, and the men behind him would trip and fall. The charge continued, unfazed, and the men at front drew their weapons. Magefire crashed into the crowd, scattering more, but it seemed nothing would stop them.
Nothing, that is, except the eager Feroxi. The charging foe struggled not to trip at the ditch and quickly found themselves impaled by Feroxi steel. Pyrrhus smiled. No, ten thousand men would not be sufficient to break the Feroxi line, not with the thunder of mages and the whistle of bolts thinning the line every second.
"Yevin," Pyrrhus began again, "the Valmese have shifted a bit to the left flank. Bring up the Ylissean infantry to that side to reinforce, I don't want the irregulars to get flanked.
"Sir!" Yevin once more scrawled a message, tied it to arrow, and sent it flying to the Ylissean detachment.
"Looks like Chrom has chosen the right flank for the Shepherds," Pyrrhus mused as Virion diverted his attention to open fire upon the enemy. "Wish he'd hang back just a bit."
"Curious," Virion said. "Pyrrhus, you know the man's look better than I: is that Yen'fay?"
The archer pointed out along the field and Pyrrhus followed his finger, well behind the front lines, to a clear hill where a single man stood. At least half a mile away, Pyrrhus had to squint even to identify the armor. "Yevin, fetch me a looking glass."
Yevin reached into his bag and produced a glass lens, which he handed to Pyrrhus. The tactician took the lens and peered through it carefully. "It is! By the gods, Virion, your eyes are incredible!"
"It is because I spend so much time looking at things that are far away, rather than keeping my eyes firmly locked upon the page," Virion explained. "It is only natural that I should be better."
"If you say so." Pyrrhus continued looking through the glass. Yen'fay was evidently giving orders of his own to an assistant down the hill. The man played different notes on a large horn, signalling maneuvers to different groups of soldiers. This time, the heavy cavalry trotted forwards.
"This doesn't make sense," Pyrrhus muttered. "Why move the cavalry now?"
Virion examined the battlefield. "Perhaps he wishes to maintain parity in the current combat?"
"But look at where those cavalry are moving!" Pyrrhus tried not to shout. "They're simultaneously in range of the heavy infantry and mages, and I could even bring my wings of wyverns to flank. It's suicide!"
"A bluff, then," reasoned Virion.
"Why, though? I have to answer it somehow or my line will break. There's got to be a reason for what he's up to."
"They are nearly in position. You don't have long if you wish to respond," Virion said.
Pyrrhus groaned. "It's some sort of trick, but I don't see it. What do I do?" He looked once more at Yen'fay, who stood, impassively staring at the battle before him.
Not his own troops, though. He didn't seem to be caring whether his cavalry were in position. He seemed intently focused on Pyrrhus's troops.
"Virion, does anything about Yen'fay's troop composition seem unusual to you?"
Virion examined the group as a whole. "No, not really." He did a bit of a double take. "Well, there don't appear to be any forces from Chon'sin, which is a bit strange, but it's pretty typical for a Valmese attack force."
"A Valmese force, right," Pyrrhus repeated. "But every other time we've fought, he's used mostly his own men. Why the change?"
"Perhaps Chon'sin's men have been diverted elsewhere?" Virion suggested.
"Could be." Pyrrhus thought for a second. "Or it could be... oh, Yen'fay, you are clever." The troops were not just typical of a Valmese attack force. They were identical.
Virion cleared his throat. "I fear I am missing something."
"I remember reading a report on the composition of Valm's combined army. If you look at the proportions, they're almost exactly the same."
"What's your point?"
"My point is that Yen'fay is doing exactly what I've been doing these last few months. He can't study me by proxy, because I haven't taught any students or written any books on tactics, and he has no secondhand accounts from the war in Plegia. So what do you do?"
"Are you suggesting that this entire battle is just a way for him to see how you fight?"
"Oh, it's quite clever. He couldn't make it very far into Rosanne even if he breached these defenses, but he knew if he attacked here I'd have to come. He's watching to see which way I respond to his cavalry so that he can use it against me later." But if that was the case, what was he to do? He didn't want to overplay his hand here and risk giving Yen'fay too much of his strategy. On the other hand, he couldn't do nothing, and if he made a wrong move on purpose then Yen'fay might exploit it. He could try to come up with a solid alternate response, but-
"Got it!" Pyrrhus shouted. He grabbed for parchment and began writing furiously. "Send the heavy infantry to the rear of the Feroxi line, and bring the winged cavalry about to the eastern end of the field. Send the heavy cavalry around to flank, and move the mages forward." As he finished one order, he handed it off to Yevin, who dispersed them appropriately. "Valm's infantry are about to fall back, so when they do put the Feroxi into a V formation opening towards the enemy, and plant their stakes."
"I assume you know what you're doing, then," Virion said with a smile.
Pyrrhus finished the last order. "Oh, yes. Yen'fay will most definitely get this message. In fact..." he waited for Yevin to let fly the message. "Yevin, could you send a message to Yen'fay?"
Yevin looked over the edge of the tower. "It's pretty far. It's not as though he wanted to be within arrow range of us, you know."
"Hmph!" Virion scoffed. "You don't need the arrow to hit him, do you?"
"Not unless you actually can, no," Pyrrhus replied.
"Then give it to me," Virion insisted, snatching one of the blunted arrows from Yevin's quiver.
"Excellent!" Pyrrhus took the pen once more and scrawled a quick message, then rolled it up. "Here," he said, handing it to Virion, who proceeded to tie it to the arrow and send it off.
"Now, will you let me in on the secret? The suspense is killing me!" Virion exclaimed.
"I used one of his own formations," Pyrrhus explained. "It's one I remember from his journal. He had plenty of ideas for fighting the Valmese before he turned traitor."
"Then won't he know the weakness of the formation? He'll know exactly how to counter it."
"He will," Pyrrhus agreed. "The way to beat it is to lay siege, bring catapults and ballistae to bear and wear down our defenses. Catapults and ballistae that he can't afford to manufacture or wait for, what with the oncoming winter and the lack of readily available timber." Pyrrhus stopped talking so that he could glance through the glass once more, and saw Yen'fay take the message and read it.
"So what did that say?"
"Two words," replied Pyrrhus. "'Your move.'"
Virion chuckled. "Ah, the tactician's vaunted sense of humor at work. I like it."
A trio of horns sounded, and Pyrrhus spun around. The Valmese soldiers were breaking away, and the cavalry too. Apparently Yen'fay had decided to cut his losses. Pyrrhus took a final look at his rival. It was difficult to tell, even through the glass, at such a distance, but it almost looked like Yen'fay was scowling.
Pyrrhus allowed himself a low chuckle.
The defense of the southern road to Rosanne would prove the last battle of the season. Not long after, scouts reported in that the Valmese army was being disbanded for the autumn and winter, to take back arms in spring at the Conqueror's command. With much of the Ylissean League's forces already on ships returning home, it was a simple matter to select the skeleton crew that would remain, and set sail for home once more. Virion and Olivia settled in back at Castle Virion and gave the rest of the Shepherds a send-off; Pyrrhus had assumed that Cherche would remain with her retainer but it seemed she had other plans, and joined the Shepherds for their return to Ylisse.
The battle with Yen'fay had given Pyrrhus something to think about. The long winter months were coming, and for the Shepherds that meant intense training. He had this idea to expand the repertoire of some of the team, to grant a more generalized role in the army to make the group more flexible. In particular, he had imagined a pegasus knight with wind magic. It would grant her an unparalleled advantage in dogfighting. Similarly, giving other units secondary weapon training might give them a useful, if incremental, advantage in battle.
On the ship ride back, Pyrrhus explained this idea to Chrom, who agreed. He even committed to taking training with the lance under Frederick in order to show his approval for the idea, even if it meant less time wielding Falchion. Pyrrhus himself, still relatively new to the lance, did not yet possess the necessary competence to move on to a second weapon, though he assumed he would eventually take up the sword once again. Donnel, who had received basic training with lance, sword, and axe, chose the latter two as his focus. Gaius had already begun using bow and dagger in equal measure. Miriel decided to provide back-up healing with a staff. Some, like Say'ri, steadfastly refused, insisting that diverting one's focus would only serve to weaken the capacity to use a single weapon.
And then there was Cordelia. She insisted that she wanted to support Pyrrhus's idea, but always seemed to have a ready excuse for not taking lessons in magic tomes. Finally, Pyrrhus put his foot down and insisted that she work with him, hoping perhaps that her reticence had to do with Miriel's teaching.
Pyrrhus waited for her on the deck of the ship, determined to get to the bottom of her uncharacteristic attitude. She had gone off to check on Diomedes with one of the pegasus scouts, and Pyrrhus scanned the evening skies for a glimpse of her return. Meanwhile, his own apprehension grew. After all, it had been a long time since he'd used a tome, well over a year. And it had been three since he'd used one in combat. Perhaps he might not be the best teacher. And there was the matter that he still hadn't informed her about that dream he'd had. He didn't like keeping things from her, but he also wasn't sure how to broach the subject of her own potential death, or the possibility that it might have been a result of her feelings for Chrom.
He snapped to awareness from Cordelia's mention of his name. "Yeah?" he asked. He had missed her approach and landing!
"I'm ready to begin," she explained. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing!" Pyrrhus insisted. "Just distracted, that's all. Right. Tomes." He reached into his bag and pulled out a large book, handing it to her. "This is a tome. It contains magic that amplifies the latent magic within each of us. By reading the incantation, some portion of the magic contained within the book imbues the magic you create, to turn a harmless flame into a fiery inferno."
"Of course," replied Cordelia. "Pyrrhus, I have a confession to make."
His heart began pounding. Did she know about the dream somehow? He hadn't told anyone! "What's up?" he asked, trying to sound casual.
She took a deep breath, as if she was steeling herself for something. It did nothing to lessen the vague sense of panic in Pyrrhus's mind.
"I've never been good at magic," she confessed quietly.
Pyrrhus let out the breath he'd been unconsciously holding. "You're not? Well that's no big deal. I'm sure we'll get you up to snuff in no time."
"I wouldn't be so sure," she replied. "I've had people try to teach me before, but I've just never been able to hack it. I don't know why."
Pyrrhus thought for a moment, tapping his foot on the ground. "There's any number of reasons why that might be. Fortunately, I'm a good tutor."
"I think it might be better if we just didn't bother," Cordelia said. "I'm second to none with the spear, and it's always served me well."
Pyrrhus groaned. "I actually can't believe I'm going to say this, but I'm shocked at you, Cordelia! Since when did the Knight-Captain of the Ylissean Pegasus Knights shirk away from a challenge?"
"Since the Knight-Captain was told to use magic."
"Okay, fine, here's how this is going to go down." He held up one finger. "Step one: we work at this for a few hours and get you using tomes." He held up a second finger. "Step two: we go belowdecks and make out for a good thirty minutes." He held up a third finger. "Step three: you decide what happens next. Do you agree to these terms?"
Cordelia gave him a skeptical look. "What's in it for me?" she asked wryly.
"I'm not going to dignify such a ridiculous question with a response," Pyrrhus replied with an air of haughtiness.
"Fine," Cordelia admitted.
"Okay then, let's work on channeling your magic," Pyrrhus began, standing behind her and taking her arms in his.
Cordelia stifled laughter. "What are you doing?" she asked, twisting out of his grasp.
"Nothing untoward, I assure you," Pyrrhus insisted. "By keeping our bodies in such close proximity, we can feel each other's magic flow. Like water flowing down a dry creek, once the first water's finished carving the path, the rest flows more readily."
"Strange, I don't recall Miriel ever doing this with me."
"Miriel has different techniques," Pyrrhus dismissed, trying to dispel the image of Miriel and Cordelia in such a position from his mind. "If you don't believe me, ask Libra how I showed him magic."
"I would have liked to see that," Cordelia said, but she allowed him to retake his position behind her and take her arms again.
"Now then," Pyrrhus continued, "I'll channel a bit of magic and you can get a sense for the feeling." He brought up her left hand, which held the tome, and raised her right to cast. "Read the words in your mind, feel them run up your arm and down the other, mingle with the focused essence of your mind, and…"
He raised her hand into the air and released a burst of fire into the sky, startling the watchman in the crow's nest.
Cordelia laughed. "We did it! That wasn't so hard!"
Pyrrhus hemmed. "Ehh… actually that was mostly me. But now that you know the feeling, we can work on passing the brunt on to you."
And so they did. For two hours or so they worked together, until finally Cordelia was shooting fireballs by herself. It was true that she didn't have the natural aptitude for magic that most who pursued the job did, but she was perfectly adequate for using it in a pinch, if she lost her spear, for example. When they'd finished, it was well past sunset, so they retired to their chambers, and she availed Pyrrhus of his offer before they both fell asleep.
He awoke several hours later with Cordelia in his arms, and smiled. It really was such a wonderful feeling that he didn't mind all the red hair in his face. He eased himself up onto his elbow, looking down at his ladylove still deep in slumber. She was breathtakingly beautiful, he decided, and couldn't stop himself from placing a soft kiss on her shoulder. At the touch of his lips upon her skin, she moaned softly.
She must be dreaming, he thought. Might as well make sure it's a good dream. He planted another gentle peck on her collarbone, and she moaned a bit louder, pushing back against his body. It was so adorable, he couldn't help himself. He moved closer still to her, planting a third kiss on the nape of her neck.
"Mmmm... oh, Chrom..."
Pyrrhus froze. His stomach felt as though it had dropped out from under him, his breath rapidly fleeing him. He eased himself away from her and stood up, climbed out of the bed, and left.
He found himself wandering out onto the deck, his mind racing. He tried to focus on his breathing to steady it, but instead he was starting to feel lightheaded and nauseous. He stumbled over to the rail of the ship and clung to it for dear life, now also afraid that he might lose his footing and tumble into the inky blackness of the water, never to be seen again.
"Pyrrhus?" The tactician turned and saw Lucina approaching him. "Pyrrhus, are you well? Do you need a healer? Should I fetch Lissa?" She placed a hand upon his shoulder.
The touch of another person seemed to calm him greatly, and within a few seconds he was feeling better. "I'll be fine," he insisted.
"You certainly do not look fine," Lucina observed. "Granted, the light's poor." She indicated the lanterns providing the only dim light on deck. "What's bothering you?"
"I..." Pyrrhus didn't have the mental acumen at the moment to come up with a convincing lie. "How do you know if someone really loves you?"
Lucina's breath caught, and she dropped her hand from his shoulder. "I do not understand the question," she said bluntly.
Pyrrhus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It's no secret among the Shepherds that Cordelia used to be in love with Chrom," Pyrrhus explained. "She says that she loves me, but... sometimes it feels like she's still in love with him, too."
Evidently seeing that Pyrrhus was recovered and not suffering from a physical affliction, Lucina took a step away from him. "I see. This is not a subject in which I have much experience, or feel myself able to give you impartial advice."
Pyrrhus let out a single harsh laugh. "Yeah, I thought not. I'd ask you how things turn out between Cordelia and me in your future, but I know you'd refuse."
"I would," she said with a nod. She placed her left hand upon the rail. "And any advice I might give could be tainted by the prejudice of my foreknowledge." She seemed to glance around the ship a bit, not making eye contact. "That said, I am reminded of words my mother once told me, the Sumia from the future. She said that we must trust the ones we love, even if sometimes you feel doubt. What has Cordelia said on the matter of her love for my father?"
"She said she doesn't feel that way any more."
"Then you should trust in that," Lucina said. "I cannot say that Cordelia is the right woman for you, but... if you love her, you should trust her."
Pyrrhus sighed. She was right. How could he claim to love Cordelia and not trust her? "You, and your mother, are... were... wise beyond your years." Stupid time travel made tenses so difficult! He offered Lucina a soft smile. "Thank you for the advice, it was very helpful." He thought for a second. "So what're you doing out here in the middle of the night, anyway?"
Lucina returned his smile, but hers appeared more somber. "I sought the counsel of solitude, that I might find answers to some personal questions."
Pyrrhus nodded. "Then I apologize for interrupting you. I will leave you in peace." He turned to leave, but Lucina put up her hand.
"No, it's all right. I believe I already have my answer."
"I sense it's not the answer you'd hoped for," Pyrrhus deduced.
"It isn't. But at least I have it." She nodded once in farewell and departed belowdecks, leaving him to contemplate her words in silence, save the gentle lapping of waves upon the ship's hull.
He stared out at the ocean in silence for a good few minutes. He had put this off far too long as it was. Best to get it out there and discuss it. He walked Lucina's path back down into the cabin, quickly finding the accommodations he shared with Cordelia. He slid the door open silently and crept inside. He sat down upon the bed and placed his hand on Cordelia's shoulder, shaking her just a bit.
"Cordelia, wake up."
The redhead mumbled incoherently a few words before turning around to see Pyrrhus. She sat up, wrapping the sheets around her body to keep out the cold. "What's wrong, honey?" she asked sleepily.
He braced himself. "Cordelia... when you were asleep... you were dreaming about Chrom, weren't you?"
Her eyes widened in shock. "I was?" Then she seemed hurt. "Pyrrhus, you can't be-"
He stopped her, putting his hands on her shoulders. "I know. We can't help what we dream. Just like the dream I had a month ago. Cordelia, it's not Sumia who gets killed, it's you. And the way the dream went, it sounded like you professed to love Chrom before you died."
"Pyrrhus, I... I don't know what to say."
"Tell me that you love me."
"I love you!" she replied instantly. She put her hands on each side of his head and looked him square in the eye. "I love you, Pyrrhus," she said again.
"I love you, too, Cordelia," Pyrrhus said. "And I believe you. I believe you more than some silly dream." He pulled her close and hugged her tightly against him.
He knew she loved him. She showed her love in the looks she gave him, in the way she smiled, the way she kissed him. He saw it in the way she lit up around him, and in a thousand other little ways, little hints of love that she never showed to Chrom. He knew she wouldn't lie to him, and he had faith in her to be honest with herself.
He just needed more.
The return trip, aided by a prevailing eastward current, took a bit less time than the westward one to Valm. It felt as though it passed even more rapidly though, what with the lack of anticipation and the stress of approaching war. They were at sea for three weeks before making landfall at Regna Ferox. The Shepherds were greeted by their compatriots that had been left behind to see to the defense of the continent from the marauding Risen and the occasional bandit. But they weren't alone.
It was Vaike who made the introductions. After a hearty slap on the back that would have knocked him flat a year ago, Vaike explained the newcomers.
"It's just like Lucina said, we kept an ear to the ground for any strange warriors talking about doom prophecies and the like. They've been popping up all over the place!" he exclaimed. A cursory examination of the handful of new recruits bore no-one with even a passing resemblance to the two girls from his dreams. Once again, he had to push aside the temptation to inquire as to their whereabouts, since he wasn't supposed to know about them in the first place. He'd told Cordelia, of course, the morning after their talk. She was positively glowing for days afterward, but he knew she'd be disappointed too.
Pyrrhus examined the first of them, a bespectacled mage. "I am Laurent, Miriel's progeny," the stranger explained.
Miriel approached the man claiming to be her son. "Fascinating... I look forward to examining what proof you have of this connection."
"I can see the family resemblance," Pyrrhus muttered awkwardly as Vaike moved him down the line.
The next one was a black-haired priest with a rather vicious-looking scar over his eye. "The name's Brady," he explained, offering his hand. "Ma's Maribelle."
"I should think not!" Maribelle shouted. "No man has even begun courting me, and I would never raise such an uncouth brigand for a son!"
Pyrrhus growled. The introductions were all along that vein. An orange-haired archer named Noire piqued Tharja's interest when she claimed to be her daughter, and a wyvern rider in a mask wouldn't shut up about fate. Finally, they came to the end of the line. "And this is Kjelle, Sully's daughter," Vaike finished. "Just like the others, she won't say who her father is."
Kjelle removed her helmet and addressed Pyrrhus directly. "I look forward to challenging you." Her short, grayish hair seemed vaguely familiar.
"Doubtless," Pyrrhus replied. Distracted as he was by the absence of his daughters, he nevertheless felt that tingle in the back of his mind that meant new strategies were on the horizon. If each of these newcomers had the same raw potential as Owain and Cynthia, who'd come a long way even in the short time they'd been with the Shepherds, then this new influx of fresh blood was welcome indeed.
He tried not to sound like Frederick when he addressed the group. Even so, he felt certain that the smile that crept across his face was identical to Frederick's. "Welcome to the Shepherds, all of you. I hope you're all ready for the most technically challenging winter of your lives! By the time we leave for Valm in spring, each one of you will have received the most rigorous training that Ylisse can muster."
He turned around to a flurry of moans and groans. Cordelia was already at his side.
"No sign of ours, then," she whispered.
"Not yet," Pyrrhus replied. "I'm sure they'll be along eventually."
Cordelia's eyes lit up. "It just occurred to me! We'll be passing through my Brindlow just in time for the Harvest Festival! You can finally meet my family!"
He clasped her hand in his. "I can't wait," he said. This was going to be an eventful winter indeed.
A/N: Oh man, it's been a while! Sorry about that, everyone! And this one isn't even extra long or anything! Thanks again to all my reviewers; knowing how many people appreciate this helps push me to keep writing it, I promise.
Since the last chapter, I've gotten a job (a real, full-time, actually-get-reimbursement-commensurate-with-my-skills-and-knowledge type of job) and it's taken me a while to get used to having so much less free time than before. I've also been getting ready to move, and had some personal business to get in order. But it's good to be back!
I'll be honest, though. The main thing that stymied me was some serious writer's block about the battle with Yen'fay. I knew exactly what I wanted to happen, but whenever I started trying to write it I just lost all enthusiasm. A springald is basically a giant medieval crossbow type weapon, and it's a bit closer to a bow than a ballista (which uses a torsion spring rather than a flexible member) which bugged me in the Fire Emblem games that had those.
Pyrrhus's drive to beat Yen'fay is bordering on obsession in this chapter, and he finally gets in a good shot of his own. I wasn't sure how to structure that battle, because I wanted to have Pyrrhus soundly beat Yen'fay to set things up for later. But then I had the idea for that pun, "your move" and everything fell into place. Cordelia has some trouble with magic, because her magic stat is poor but not super awful.
Cordelia's feelings for Chrom are still a little complicated. You spend years imagining a fantasy with your crush, those fantasies don't just disappear overnight. Bits and pieces get left behind. As to the exact circumstances of what Cordelia says before she dies in the other timeline? I'm actually not sure if I'll be explaining it or if it's better off left to the reader's imagination.
I'm sure many of you are concerned about the lack of Severa and Morgan. Never fear, they'll be along soon enough. Next chapter is going to be long and complicated. I don't know how long it'll take since my free time is still pretty limited. But it's going to happen. It may be two parts. And it's going to include some payoffs to some bits and hints I've been laying for ages. Until then!