A Changing World
Blood rushed in Lorenz’s ears as he guided his horse toward the mounted figure twenty yards away. The racing of his heart was due to the aftereffects of battle. Nothing more. Certainly not that he was looking forward to seeing her again.
He approached the figure directing the troops. She looked no different than she had more than a year prior. No, that was not true—there were the beginnings of lines around her mouth that hadn’t been there before. Perhaps a little more careworn, then. Not that it had ever particularly mattered to him what she looked like. Her graceful competence was the source of her beauty. When she turned, caught sight of him, and smiled, his heart skipped just the same as it ever had.
“Hey, boss,” Leonie said as she raised her hand. Her attention shifted to the corpse-littered battlefield. “What a mess. Good thing you have me to clean it up.”
His own lips curved in a smile despite her insolence. “If only you and your mercenaries had been able to make it in time for the main battle. We could have used your skills.”
Leonie shrugged. They fell silent. Other groups had been closer, but when Lorenz heard Dimitri was planning an assault on some secret underground civilization, the only option he would entertain was hiring her and her mercenaries. They were some of the best in Fódlan. House Gloucester deserved only the best, and besides, it might serve to impress his house’s usefulness to the new king.
“I think Dimitri made the right decision,” Lorenz said after a moment. “To think such a threat was here all along. Best to have it dealt with and keep Fódlan safe.”
Leonie chuckled. “That is so like you.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Lorenz asked with a frown.
“Always the great lord. Although, I heard Dimitri’s planning to dismantle hereditary titles.”
Lorenz shifted on his mount. “He is.” Lorenz’s father was furious. In truth, it made Lorenz feel a little ill as well, even if it wouldn’t happen for years yet.
“The people tell the king every so many years if they’re satisfied or not?” Leonie continued. “Do I have that right?”
Lorenz nodded. “That is the initial plan. The council of governors could vote an individual out of office at any time. There is no guarantee a governor will serve their entire term.”
“You’ll be fine.”
Warmth spread through Lorenz’s chest. “You truly think so?”
Lorenz’s thoughts wandered as Leonie gave orders to some of her mercenaries. She began to ride away, and something inside him clenched. The sight of her retreating back…it was too similar to when the war ended. When the fighting was done, and she just rode away.
He nudged his horse and caught up with her. Leonie had debts. He’d heard she was sending most of the money to her village as well as following too closely in Jeralt’s footsteps. Perhaps he could use that to his advantage—
No. One of the things he treasured about their relationship was its honesty.
“Would you consider staying with House Gloucester once the cleanup is over?” Lorenz asked.
Leonie shot him an impish smile. “Why? Are you lonely?”
“In truth, yes.”
Her smile fell away, and her eyebrows rose.
“I can see how the king’s plan benefits the people,” he said, not meeting her gaze. “I have only ever wanted what is best for them. The rest of my family does not agree with me, however. It will be a long road.”
Leonie studied him. “That does sound lonely.”
“I could use a friend.”
“I’ll always be your friend. But you’ll have to pay for our services. Business is business.”
“Of course. So, it is settled? You will return with me?”
“I’ll be there after you return from Dimitri’s wedding.”
Lorenz’s nerves buzzed. His hand tightened on his saddle horn. “I was rather hoping you would agree to accompany me to the ceremony.”
Leonie started to laugh, but the sound faded away when he did not join in. She stared at him. “Excuse me?”
“As a friend, of course.” Lorenz hoped his tone was suitably casual.
She frowned. “I don’t know. A royal wedding doesn’t really sound like—”
“Would you not attend Claude’s wedding?”
“That’s different. I know Claude. Didn’t know he was going to be a king, but…”
Leonie sighed. “Even if you ask like that, I don’t have the money—”
“I would be pleased to cover any associated expenses.”
“I don’t want to owe you. I can take care of myself.”
Lorenz chewed on his lower lip. “I would consider the cost more than fair recompense for your company.”
“And let you buy a dress I’m never going to wear again? Seems like a waste of money.”
“Perhaps you could select one you could wear at other such functions.”
“When would I be going to more fancy parties?” Leonie said with a chuckle.
Lorenz swallowed. “There may be occasions, especially if you are working for my house.”
Leonie sat on her horse and gazed out at the battlefield. It almost felt like old times, them side by side on their mounts, mulling over a bittersweet victory. They were memories he treasured.
“All right,” she finally said with a sigh. “I’ll be your date.”
A smile spread across his face, although she responded with less enthusiasm than he would have liked. “Excellent. When we are done here, I shall send for the finest tailor in the area.”
“Great,” muttered Leonie. “Just great.”