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A Changing World


Chapter 5

It took a few weeks after Leonie’s departure, but Lorenz finally felt ready to move forward. The pain in his heart had dulled, if not eased, and he knew what he must do. The majority of her objections were utter nonsense, but one she had made was true—he could not marry a commoner as long as he was his father’s heir. As the lord himself, however…

Lorenz hadn’t known Claude for so long without picking up a few tricks. He made special trips to neighboring houses, ingratiating himself with kindness and aid. His time with Leonie had taught him how to listen without bias, and he listened well. He also spent time with the common people. Mercenary groups quietly moved into his territory. Contracts with merchants and trade agreements with other lords were signed in his hand, not his father’s. His personal wealth grew.

There was not a moment he did not miss Leonie. Often, he wished for her perspective or her guidance. Her levelheadedness and understanding of the common people’s problems would have been a boon.

The memory of her mouth on his was burned into his memory. What she had done to him was vulgar, and it shamed him that it was the greatest pleasure he had ever experienced. Not that she seemed to have any compunction about it whatsoever—she had appeared supremely satisfied by his reaction. If he ever had the chance, he would show her the greatest heights of ecstasy. They would experience it together. That meant he had a bit of studying to do.

To that end, he spent a goodly sum of amount of money on certain embarrassing types of books.

By the time a year had passed, Lorenz was ready. He knocked on the door to his father’s study. “Father? I have something I wish to discuss with you.”

“I’m busy.”

“It regards my selection of a wife.”

“Thank the goddess,” his father muttered on the other side of the door, just loud enough to hear. “It’s about time.”

Lorenz took a deep breath and steeled himself. His father wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

“Come in,” his father said, and Lorenz entered. He glanced at the dark mahogany shelves filled with books and ledgers. The furniture was of the highest quality, only a year or two old. Leonie would think it a terrible waste of funds to replace perfectly good furniture after only a few years. He was inclined to agree with her. It was strange to view his father’s favorite room like a commoner would.

“Sit,” his father said.

Lorenz took a seat, sinking into the plush velvet. He tried to adopt a nonchalant but commanding posture.

“So.” His father peered at the letter he had just signed. “You’ve finally decided on a wife? Is it that Ordelia girl you write?”

Lorenz snorted. As if there were any chance of separating Lysithea and Cyril. Not that he wanted to.

“No. She’s a mercenary.”

His father started at him, his brow slowly furrowing. “I beg your pardon?”

“The woman I wish to marry is of common birth. She is from a hunting village in our territory, and now she leads a very successful band of mercenaries.”

“The one you hired for no good reason a while back? She had a nice figure, I’ll grant you that, but you’re the heir to House Gloucester, the most illustrious house in the former Alliance. It would hardly benefit us to forge a union with commoners—”

“If King Dimitri has his way, we will all be commoners soon.”

“He’s young and misguided.”

“He’s the king.”

His father organized some papers into a neat pile and placed them at the corner of his desk. “My answer is no.”

“Oh, dear.” Lorenz allowed himself a chuckle. “You misunderstand. I was not asking.”

“As long as I’m master here—”

“That is precisely what I’m trying to say. It is time I became head of our house.”

His father’s jaw dropped. Lorenz’s insides buzzed, his pulse thundering in his ears.

“Know your place, boy,” his father said.

Lorenz leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs. “You have two options. The first is to retire gracefully with Mother and enjoy a life of leisure. The second is to fight me. It is a battle you will not win.”

“We’ll see about that,” his father said, tone chilly.

Lorenz smiled. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. He pulled his father’s most recent ledger toward him and made a show of paging through it. When he found what he was looking for, he placed it in front of his father and ran his finger the length of one of the columns.

“This merchant now deals only with me. As does this one. And this one. How did you think our way of life persisted unchanged even as your revenues fell?”

A muscle in his father’s jaw flexed.

“Me.” Lorenz’s smile blossomed into a grin. “The household guards are on my payroll now. I have several mercenary troops stationed in nearby towns. Please, Father. Do not make me ruin your reputation by publicly opposing you.”

The silence in the room grew thick and charged. His father took deep, shaking breaths through his nose, and his face turned so purple Lorenz wondered if he would faint. Finally, he slammed the ledger shut and glared at Lorenz.

“Fine,” he spat. “I concede. House Gloucester is yours. But know this: You are a fool to disrupt centuries of tradition for a common woman.”

Lorenz made a show of picking a bit of lint off his sleeve. “You misunderstand, Father. I did not do this for love of a commoner. I did this for the sake of our people’s future.”

He left his father fuming and raging. Let the old man work through his impotence. It wasn’t something Lorenz needed to witness. Now all that was left was to formalize the transition and find Leonie. He had no illusions she would be any more amenable to marriage than she had been before, but at least he could see her again. That would have to be enough.

Unfortunately, it turned out she was difficult to find. Her troop moved around often. The only way he had to track her was through the tabs she’d racked up at various taverns.

Lorenz still hadn’t located her three weeks later, when a call for help came from House Ordelia. They were having trouble with bandits—a rather large group of them had amassed and were terrorizing the populace. House Goneril was closer, but they deployed the majority of their troops to Fódlan’s Locket. Gloucester had always been on good terms with Ordelia. It fell to Lorenz to muster his soldiers and come to Ordelia’s aid. Even if it hadn’t, he would have done it for Lysithea’s sake. He gathered his troops and set out at once.