Disclaimer: I don't own Fire Emblem. Really.

A/N: New Chapter

Chapter 2: Rude Awakening

The man's eyes opened slowly as he woke. His mind swam in disarray and as he pulled himself up into a sitting position, he clutched at his head in a futile attempt to cease it's throbbing. Spots of light were dancing in front of his eyes and he blinked rapidly to try and clear them.

"Who are you?" A voice asked, it's tone severe.

The recently unconscious man's eyes flicked to the source of the question, his attention drawn from the pain. The man who'd spoken was an imposing sight, standing barely a few feet from him. He was huge, easily seven foot tall, and covered head to toe in thick crimson armour. Even his eyes were unsettling, with pupils so small as to be barely visible against the white. No doubt it was this man's approach that had woken him from whatever strange slumber had gripped him.

For a moment, the two men simply stared one another, before the crimson giant spoke again. "I asked you a question. Speak."

The man sitting on the ground looked around. Surrounding him on all sides were armed warriors, each carrying naked steel in their hands. They watched him carefully, with an air of violence only barely restrained. He suspected he had better answer the question.

He wracked his mind, wincing as a jolt of pain shot through it. Gods, his head hurt. Even so, he tried to focus, to dredge up his name. To his horror, it didn't come. Not a single memory did. His mind raced as he searched for something, anything in his mind that he could call a memory, a recollection. Nothing.

Briefly, he examined himself, searching for something that might jog his memory. He was quite young, perhaps fifteen years of age, and possessed of a slim, but well-muscled frame. He obviously couldn't see his own face, but there was a stray lock of white hair across his eyes. Aggravatingly, none of it jogged so much as a single memory.

He met the gaze of the crimson giant. "I… I don't know."

"Do you think me a fool?" The man said. "I find you lying on the ground, barely a stone's throw from a village only recently pillaged by bandits, and you expect me to believe that you don't even know who you are?"

There was a rustle of armour as a man pushed himself out of the ranks surrounding them. He was a somewhat odd looking fellow, with a long goatee and hair pulled back in a ponytail. He moved to the side of the crimson giant.

"My lord, we have little time to waste. If we do not move quickly-"

"I am aware, Dalton." The crimson armoured man replied dismissively. "But it appears that we might have found a bandit. I intend to question him."

The young man on the floor stared at him in shock. "I am not a bandit!"

"Then who are you?"

It was a simple question and his inability to answer it frustrated the man on the ground. He focused again, trying desperately to seize so much as a single hint as to his own identity. Suddenly, something in his mind clicked into place. He was struck by a flash of insight, brief and fierce. It carried only a single memory, but he embraced it warmly. He knew who he was. A simple thing, but supremely comforting.

"Robin. My name is Robin," he replied. "And I know it will be hard to believe, but I only remembered that just now."

"Robin…" The man weighed the name in his mouth. "I see. A foreign name, for sure. Do you still claim innocence of banditry?"

"Of course I do!"

"But I do not believe you," The man said flatly. "And I will extract the truth from you, no matter how much time it takes."

The threat in those words was clear and Robin threw himself to his feet. The soldiers surrounding him reacted instantly, raising their weapons and closing in in preparation for a killing strike. The man in front of him merely watched him, a stoic expression on his face.

Robin's hands fell to his sides, guided by instinct to the tome and blade he wore under his coat. It appeared that whoever he'd been, he was well armed. Not that it would help. He was horribly outnumbered and the crimson armoured warriors were obviously well-trained. If they attacked, he would't survive. He glanced around, seeking anything that could improve his chances. A nearby patch of woodland seemed helpful. If he stuck to that, he'd have an easier time avoiding them if they were to pursue on horseback. But to reach it, he'd have to break the ring encircling him first. That was easier said than done.

"Lord Walhart!" A man crashed through the ranks, his chest heaving as he desperately gulped in air. "Lord Excellus's forces have encountered the bandits at the forest's eastern edge! He requests your assistance!"

Walhart sneered. "So the spider doesn't have the stomach to direct a battle personally." He turned to the soldiers around him. "Move out! We will show these thieves how foolish it is to tempt Valm's wrath!"

A roar of assent met his words. Of all the soldiers, only Dalton hesitated.

"What would you have done with this one, my Lord?" Dalton gestured at Robin as he spoke. "Kill him?"

Walhart studied Robin with a steady gaze for a moment. "No. Take him with us. If he is a bandit, I want him to see his allies crushed beneath my heel."

Two soldiers seized Robin by the arms at that. He didn't fight back as they tied him up. It wouldn't have served any purpose, except perhaps to encourage Walhart to have him killed on the spot.

They rode fast, quickly covering the distance to the battle apparently taking place. The throbbing of Robin's head died down after a few minutes and he breathed a sigh of relief.

After a few minutes riding, they crested a hill and Robin found himself looking down upon a scene of carnage. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men were engaged in battle. One side wore the dull red armour he associated with his own captors, Walhart's forces. The other army were more ramshackle, their uniforms varied and in worse repair. Despite that, they were pushing hard, driving the red armoured soldiers back with foray after foray from the forest they were using for cover. The fight was painfully one-sided.

Walhart growled in anger as he came to the same conclusion. "Dalton, take the men and support the west flank. I will go find Excellus and get an explanation for this."

Dalton snapped off a salute before pulling back, more than two thirds of Walhart's men following behind.

It didn't take long for them to find Excellus. He was a fat, pallid man, his skin pale and greasy. As Walhart neared, he began fiddling nervously. Looking at him, Robin couldn't help but compare him to a worm, writhing beneath the crimson giants regard.


"M-my Lord!" The man gave a terrified grin. "It is good you are here! These bandits ambushed us, you see-"

"So I see." Walhart rode next to him. "Why have you not withdrawn your forces back? They are in disarray."

Excellus swallowed. "Ah. Well, y-you see… I felt that engaging them head on would ensure a solid battle line-"

Walhart glared at him and the fat, wormlike man nearly fainted in fear. "A solid battle line? You mean your own safety."

"N-no, my lord! That-"

"Enough!" Walhart roared. " You have been outwitted by a handful of savages living in a forest! That is painfully clear, no matter how you might try to hide it. Tell me Excellus, have you lost your mind now, along with your genitals? Is the eunuch truly worthless now?"

Excellus's face twisted in wrath, but before Valhart's furious expression the fat man's anger shrivelled quickly. "I can not apologise enough, my Lord."

"No, you cannot."

Walhart strode to the top of the hill and looked down on the battlefield below. Still atop a horse, Robin peered over the shoulder of the soldier in front of him. It was strange, but looking at the battlefield he felt himself begin to calm almost unconsciously. He noted the positions of the troops relative to each other, the weapons they were using, the armour that they wore…

It felt so natural, so easy. With just a glance he could tell where a line was about to falter or where a unit was about to gain an advantage. He was nearly hypnotised by how simple it was to predict the flow of battle. It was simply a measure of numbers, of math. The brutal calculus of war. Even as he stared down at the conflict below, Walhart and Excellus began talking.

"If I may, my lord, I would suggest sending the archers to the fore. The bandits have been concealing themselves in the outskirts of the forest and harrying the flanks of our units, but a volley could drive them out," Excellus said,

Walhart examined the field of battle for a moment, then nodded. "Valid enough. A small guard should be enough to protect them from whoever survives to sally."

Excellus smiled and nodded furiously, gesturing for a nearby flag bearer to signal the archer's advance.

"Don't!" Robin shouted.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than he stopped, surprised at his own outburst. Everyone around him turned to stare.

"How dare you interrupt a command!" Excellus said, his voice nearly a shriek. "Who are you!? I will have you flogged-"

"Silence." Walhart's voice carried a weight of command that shut the fat man up as surely as a physical blow might have. "You have an objection, prisoner?"

Robin stared at him. Couldn't they see it? The roof of the abandoned fort sticking out of the forest, no doubt crawling with hidden soldiers? The way the bandits in the outskirts purposefully exposed themselves, as if to draw in such an attack? Were they actually blind? The whole thing was an obvious trap!

"It's a trap. The moment you send the archers out, they'll be swamped. It'll be a massacre." Robin said.

Excellus stared at him. "Impossible. After a volley, they will not be numerous enough to-"

"There's a ruined fort not a hundred yards from the forest's edge." Robin cut across the tactician. "If they have even a small cavalry unit in reserve there, they could slip around the guard force and carve through the archers like a scythe through wheat."

There was silence following that declaration.

"An interesting theory," Walhart said. "How do you know that what you say is the truth?"

Robin considered his reply carefully. Obviously, his seeming foreknowledge of the bandit's plan had only strengthened Walhart's suspicion that he was a bandit himself. "Look at the positions of the men in the trees. They expose themselves, all but taunting you. They want to draw in an attack. They're ready for it. Perhaps they might even charge the moment the archers near. Enough of them will survive that they can lock down the knights, while reinforcements hit the archers from the side."

"Then how would you suggest we deal with them?" Walhart asked, giving him a measuring glance.

Robin hesitated. He didn't know what was going on in this battle. In truth, he didn't know what either side wanted. He didn't even know who Walhart was. It seemed so strange, that his very first memories should be himself giving advice on how to lead an army. And at the same time, it felt so very natural. Like he was born for that purpose. After a moment, he spoke.

"Send the archers with a guard, as you planned. But bring that unit of horsemen up to their flank. Then order your soldiers on the same flank to withdraw as they near. Make it appear as if the cavalry intend to charge the newly opened battle line. Then, once the archers strike, wheel them around to counter any sally from the forest. With the cavalry trapped, your archers will be able to rain fire down on the main bandit force with impunity."

"A solid plan." Walhart said, nodding in approval. "You are certainly no common bandit."

"I'm no bandit at all."

Walhart smiled grimly. "That remains to be seen." He turned to the flag bearer. "Give the orders."

"My lord!" Excellus said, clutching at his robe. "You cannot seriously be considering following the advice of some captive!"

"Are you questioning me, Excellus?" Walhart said. His voice was calm as he spoke, but the threat was clear to all who heard him. "After your utter failure?"

"I… No, My Lord-"

"I knew you were not suited for battlefield command," Walhart continued, ignoring Excellus's stammering. "After this battle is done, consider yourself relieved of command. Return to weaving your webs. It's all you're good for."

Excellus bowed frantically. "Of course, my lord! Your wisdom is endless."

The pallid eunuch didn't appear entirely displeased by this turn of events, Robin noted.

Walhart turned to face a nearby guard. "You. Release the prisoner. We shall see if his plan works. It shall be his head if it does not."

The guard saluted, then sliced through the coarse ropes that bound Robin with short, sharp movements. Robin slid off the horse, giving his wrists a quick rub as he moved beside the crimson armoured giant. Already Walhart's forces were shifting, the lines of battle changing to match the orders given. Robin couldn't help but be impressed. Walhart's men were incredibly disciplined, moving into their new positions with parade ground precision.

The archers advanced forward, their small bodyguard of knights in front of them in a tight semicircle. As they neared the forest, a roar met them and the bandits hiding in the trees rushed out. Behind them, but quickly gaining, a force of cavalry were leaving their hiding places in the old fort, charging full pelt to trample the archers.

They never got the chance.

Walhart's cavalry wheeled instantly, and slammed into the bandit horsemen's side. Their formation collapsed, even as the red armoured soldiers wedge ground through. Those at the edges of the battle tried to flee, but were quickly cut down.

Bereft of their support, the bandits who had sallied from the forest found themselves unable to pierce the lines of the knights. Worse still, their large numbers made them easy prey for the archers, who shot over the heads of their allies and into the massed bandit ranks. It was a massacre and Robin could see the bandit's resolve wavering as yet another volley of arrows crashed down on their heads. As if sensing that, the knights began pushing harder, advancing forward. Under the pressure of that assault, the bandits routed.

The result of the battle was never in doubt from that moment. The bandit horsemen broke mere minutes after the knights joined the fray, leaving Walhart's cavalry and archers were free to harass the flanks of the remaining bandit units. They soon joined their companions in flight, and were run down just the same. In less than half an hour, the battle had come to an end. The red armoured soldiers of Walhart had carried the day.

Robin couldn't help but feel a surge of pride that it had been his strategy that had struck the decisive blow, but at the same time he felt somewhat dissatisfied. The battle had been easy. The bandits had only had a single ploy, and once it failed they'd been helpless, unable to react or counterattack. Just from a glance, Robin had seen several to counter his own plan to some extent, at least enough to prevent a complete rout. Had he been leading the bandits, the battle would still be ongoing. Still, it was good that wasn't the case. Had the bandits been competent, losses would have been far higher. He would happily take an easy win if it meant less of the forces he commanded perished.

Walhart turned to him, a fierce smile across his face. "Well done. It appears your plan worked."

Robin shrugged. "It was a simple enough ploy. There's no realistic way it could have failed in any catastrophic way, given the number of bandits and the quality of your soldiers. I'm just happy that the plan managed to keep losses to a bare minimum."

Walhart barked a laugh. "You've some confidence, don't you? Good. It's well deserved."

"Have I proven that I am no bandit then?" Robin asked.

"Not directly," Walhart replied, shaking his head. "But you have proven yourself a skilled tactician. I doubt that one such as you would waste their time assisting a ragtag force such as this."

Robin raised an eyebrow. "Ragtag? They gave your forces quite a fight before they fell into the trap."

"Indicative only of Excellus's lack of competence, not the bandits abundance of it," Walhart retorted.

"A fair enough point," Robin said. "But if you knew he lacked any skill at command, why did you assign him to the post?"

"Excellus has other uses. Spying and the like," Walhart replied. "I merely hoped his talent in those fields might extend to the battlefield. A mistake."

"I take it you don't make mistakes very often?"

Walhart scowled. "Watch your tongue. You may not be a bandit, but you still stand before the Lord of Valm. Your clever tongue will lose its glibness if I nail it to my castle wall."

Robin didn't reply to that and Walhart nodded, apparently satisfied.

"As you say, I make few mistakes," Walhart said. "And I certainly never make the same one twice. Excellus will apply himself to the duties in which he not utterly incompetent."

"I see."

"And as for you…" Walhart stared at him for a moment, before nodding thoughtfully. "You will accompany back to my castle. If you truly have lost your memory, there are things you should know about this land. I will teach you."

Robin blinked. "That's… surprisingly generous."

"I am not a generous man," Walhart replied. "But I know an asset when I see one. And I need all the assets I can gather to my banner."

Walhart hadn't said it directly, but the implication was clear. There was only one field in which Robin had demonstrated any great prowess in thus far, that of battle. He was being offered a place in Walhart's military, likely as a tactician or strategist.

He honestly wasn't entirely sure what to think about that offer. Events were moving so quickly that it was hard to keep pace. But he had little choice. Until his memories returned, he was alone in a land that was unknown to him. An ally like Walhart would be exceedingly useful. For now at least, accepting the man's offer of hospitality if nothing else seemed like the wise choice.

Robin stared up at the sky and sighed. He couldn't help but wonder where this path would lead. No doubt it would be a journey to remember.

He smiled somewhat cynically at that. It'd be nice to have something to remember.

Valm Castle was an impressive sight. Rather than a mere fort, it seemed more like a militarized city. High walls soared into the sky, each looking like it could weather eternity itself. The ramparts were thick with soldiers, each alert and watchful. The main building itself was no less impressive, built of thick stone, yet possessing a certain elegance that only a master craftsman could have imbued into it. As the returning victors rode through the central gate, a cheer sprang from the walls, with hundreds of soldiers roaring their lord's name.

"Walhart! Walhart! Walhart!"

It was a cheer quickly taken up by the men surrounding him, until the air shook with their fervour. It seemed that regardless of his other traits, Walhart certainly inspired loyalty in his men.

Once they were inside, dozens of stable hands swarmed out to take their horses, bowing furiously at Walhart as they passed. For his part, Walhart paid them no more attention than he would a fly, instead turning to his assembled soldiers.

"Soldiers of Valm!"

The low murmur of conversation ceased instantly at Walhart's voice. Every man in the courtyard stopped what they were doing, turning their eyes to their lord.

"You have fought well. Once more you have shown that Valm is not to be trifled with. That we will not silently bear the insults or actions of others! That we, beyond all others, are the inheritors of Alm, great king of old! Be proud, soldiers of Valm! Victory is yours!"

Yet another cheer met Walhart's words, even louder and fiercer than the previous. Robin looked around, watching the faces of those surrounding him. There was a genuine look of pride in every face, as well as one of loyalty, perhaps even devotion, to the crimson armoured lord. He began to feel a little better about the idea of siding with the man. Someone capable of commanding the absolute loyalty of so many warriors couldn't be entirely evil, could they? Or was that simple naiveté speaking? Great men were not always good men after all.

He was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't notice Walhart move up next to him. "You. Come with me."

Robin couldn't say he liked the commanding tone in Walhart's voice but surrounded by a small army, there was little choice but to follow the man through the great door leading into the central castle. He stared about himself in wonderment as he entered. For all the craftsmanship that had been applied to the outer part of the building, it paled before the sheer opulence of the inside. Pure, white marble covered the ground, overlaid with plush red carpets. Candles, each seemingly made of solid gold, lined the walls. Not that they were needed, given the huge glass windows regularly placed along the corridors which allowed sunlight to pour into the building. He was impressed, but somewhat disgusted at the same time. To spend so much wealth on mere decorations didn't sit right with him. There were more practical uses for coin. After a moment, he shook his head and continued on.

Walhart led him through the castle, a small honour guard trailing behind himself and Robin, naked blades raised to their faces as they walked. Robin couldn't help but be concerned that one of them would trip and impale themselves, but their stride was disciplined and confident. Something he was coming to expect from Walhart's soldiers.

Eventually they reached a large, oak door. The two guards standing to it's side opened it quickly as Walhart approached, and the honour guard split, each taking up positions on opposite sides of the portal. Robin paused for a moment, then followed Walhart through.

What met his sight was a large, austere room. Gone were the casual displays of immense wealth that had dominated the castle to this point. The floor was made of uncovered planking, and the only drape on the walls was a single tattered banner placed above a bed. Robin couldn't help but be surprised.

Walhart gave him a knowing look. "Not what you expected?"

"No." Robin replied honestly. "After the sights on the way here, I expected something… grander."

"I have no love for the endless competitions between lords as to whom can display the most wealth," Walhart said. "My father, however, did, and nearly turned this fortress into a glorified brothel. I kept most of the castle as he left it for visitors to gawp at, but I won't sleep surrounded by gilt and perfumed silk."

"It seems you've almost gone too far in reverse," Robin noted calmly. "This seems more like a peasant's dwelling than a lord's."

Walhart shrugged. "On campaign, there are few luxuries to spare. I have no desire to acclimatise myself to something I won't often have. It is a weakness. "

"I can appreciate that thought," Robin said. "But this still seems excessive. Do you have no desire for simple comforts?"

"If you wish to see where the pursuit of pleasure and self-satisfaction takes you, you need look no further than Excellus, or any of the dozens of lords in this land who fawn over themselves endlessly. They are worthless, even the ones who still have their genitalia."

"There is a difference between hedonism and simply enjoying what life has to offer. One is, as you said, a weakness. The other is another method of strengthening both yourself and your resolve."

"True enough. I've seen men fight like demons for offers of coin and drink," Walhart admitted. "But that is not true strength."

"Why not?" Robin replied. For some reason, impressing his point on Walhart seemed incredibly important. Perhaps they were both simply stubborn. "You seem to think that a man can only become strong through exposing himself to adversity. To an extent, that's true. One cannot improve their skills without refining them in battle, for instance. But a measure of comfort and struggle both is what completes someone, makes them a person, rather than just a living weapon forged for battle."

Walhart watched him for a moment, then grinned viciously. "It had been some time since anyone has argued with me. It is a refreshing feeling."

"I apologise if I misspoke," Robin said. "But-"

"Don't. You said your piece, and said it well." Walhart held up a hand to stop him from speaking further. "I think you are wrong. But you have conviction, and that matters far more than your beliefs themselves."

"I see."

Robin felt like he was beginning to get a picture of the kind of man Walhart was. He was stern and uncompromising, perhaps even cruel. But he also had great personal strength, and possessed a bizzare sense of fairness. The man in front of him didn't care what you were. He cared about the strength you possessed, physical and mental.

"It is quite an honour to stand here," Walhart said after a minute of silence. "There are men who have served me for years, yet have never set foot in my quarters."

"Then why bring me here?"

"Because you interest me," Walhart said. "You possess a grasp of battlefield tactics that is nearly preternatural, yet claim to have no memory of yourself. You are garbed in strange clothing and armed with sword and tome both. You have a keen mind, but also move with the skill of a trained warrior."

Robin laughed. "I might be armed, but that's not the same as knowing how to fight. Only experience will show if I possess that-"

His words were cut off as Walhart threw a gauntleted fist at his face. Instinct kicked in, and he slammed his arm up, deflecting the heavy blow and forcing Walhart's arm up. Even as he did so, his right hand seized his tome, drawing out the power it contained. In less than a heartbeat, that same hand was levelled at Walhart's face, crackling with barely contained lightning.

"I think we can assume you know how to fight," Walhart said dryly.

Robin shook his hand, dismissing the power it contained, even as he sheathed his sword. "You were planning to test me from the start." It was a statement, not a question.

Walhart nodded. "Of course. Why else would you have been allowed to keep your weapons?"

Robin stared at him. Had he been a little slower, Walhart's fist might have crushed his face like it was made of paper. Had he been a little more aggressive, Walhart might have had the somewhat unpleasant experience of being hit in the face with a bolt of lightning. That 'test' had been a risk for both parties. He couldn't help but respect the daring the man possessed. Or perhaps Walhart merely disdained the concept of caution. Either way.

"What for?" Robin asked. "You were hinting towards something earlier, but what exactly do you want from me?"

"Your allegiance," Walhart said flatly. "Accept, and I will name you my personal tactician and advisor. Refuse, and you leave this castle with nothing save the clothes on your back."

And there it was, out in the open. The offer was more generous than he'd expected. He was essentially being offered a place in Walhart's inner circle. Considering he was essentially a vagrant right now, that was quite a step up in life. Robin closed his eyes, thinking carefully. He still knew so little about his situation. He knew he was in Valm, but what exactly was Valm? A kingdom? An empire? Did it have neighbours, foreign powers that it competed against for survival?

Robin looked up. "You offered me answers earlier. I would like them now."


"Where am I?"

Valhart looked surprised. "This is Valm, a country to the distant north of the continent of Valm."

"The continent is named after this land? Or vice versa?"

"The continent in named after my cuntry, yes," Walhart replied. "Once, King Alm himself held court from this castle, ruling over the whole continent. In recent generations, Valm's power has dwindled. Now we are less than a shadow of what we were."

Robin smiled slightly. Pieces of the puzzle behind the lord's behaviour were beginning to fall into place. Why Valhart would have an interest in competent commanders was clear.

"I assume you intend to… correct that?"


Robin shook his head. "Then I won't help you."

Walhart's eyes blazed and for a moment, Robin thought the man might attack him. "Why?"

"I won't assist a man who only seeks personal glory and to further his own power," Robin said. He kept his voice calm and level. "Such things are not worth blood that men spill for them."

"We are agreed on that."

Robin blinked at Walhart's unexpected reply. "What?"

"Those bandits we crushed earlier. Where do you think they came from?"

Robin frowned. "Bandits can have a wide variety of backgrounds. They could be mercenaries, deserters, or even peasants driven to desperation."

Walhart growled in frustration. "I didn't ask who they were. I asked where they came from."

Robin thought about that carefully, thinking over what Walhart had said. Eventually, it clicked into place. Walhart's own soldiers seemed almost fanatically loyal to him. It was unlikely that enough would desert his forces to form a size of the army earlier. If he coupled that with the man's disdain for the other rulers of the continent…

"They came from another lord's territory," Robin said, his voice thoughtful.

"They did."

"Then why didn't they deal with them first?"

"Because," Walhart began, his voice filled with an old frustration. "They are cowards. They pay these bandits to leave their lands in peace, rather than face them in open battle. And so they march across the land, ransacking villages until a nearby lord pays them to go somewhere else. And then they do the same thing again. No one is willing to deal with them. If you lost too many men doing so, it would risk exposing yourself to power hungry neighbours."

"That's insane," Robin said. He shook his head in disbelief. "That solves nothing. It simply places the burden on another's shoulders."

"And all the while, the people suffer for it." Walhart's voice was little more than a growl by this point. "They are weak, but they are merely peasants. They are not required to be strong. Those who rule them, however, should be. But they are all so ensnared in their own games, their own plots… They have forgotten what it means to be a lord of Valm. The continent roils in chaos, beset by a cancer, and none have to will to excise it. To bring order."

"Except you."

"Except me."

Robin studied Walhart's face, examining him for any sign of duplicity or falsehood. "Even so, you wish to end that chaos through war. The people are rarely unaffected by a campaign of the scale you seem to be proposing."

"They will suffer," Walhart admitted. "But in the end, they will have true peace. As will their children, and their children's children. Better that they endure a momentary agony then be consigned to an eternity of slow torture under the thumb of corrupt fools."

"And there is no other way?"

Walhart shook his head. "None. Things have gone too far. The lords are too self-absorbed. Some might listen to words. Most will not. They will only heed force."

Robin sunk deep into though once more. He was torn. The idea of starting a war, one that would the entire continent, was abhorrent to him. But Walhart's reasons were valid, if ruthless. He doubted that anything he could say would sway the man into stopping anyway. If that was the case, would it not be better to stand beside him? To guide him onto a gentler path, where possible? That was a slippery slope in itself.

"If I accept your offer," Robin began. "And you later show that all you truly desire is your own power-"

"Then you may kill me." Walhart's words were firm. The man gave a slight, hard smile. "If I fall so far than an idealist like yourself thinks me beyond redemption, I will deserve death."

The conviction in Walhart's words was staggering and despite the absurdity of it, Robin couldn't help but believe him. If it came to it, if Walhart was twisted to resemble the very corruption he sought eliminate, he would allow Robin to kill him. Perhaps he would even welcome death.

"Then… I agree." Robin said. He dipped his head in a bow. A part of him was still uncertain that he had made the right choice. But if the situation was as bad as Walhart said, if corruption and self interest was tearing this land apart… How could he stand aside and let it happen? He could not. Whoever he had been, he knew that he was not the type of man to let unnecessary suffering pass. If Walhart alone would stand against that suffering, then he would fight with him. "I will aid you, Lord Walhart."

Walhart smiled and clapped a hand down on his shoulder. "Stand up, Robin. There is work to be done, and a nation to forge."

Robin stood. No doubt Walhart's chosen path would be hard. But if it could aid the people of this land, it would be worth helping him walk it.