A Changing World
Ordelia wasn’t a wealthy house. Leonie knew that going in, but she couldn’t just leave Lysithea’s parents hanging. It appeared she was going to have to tighten her belt yet again—better to pay her troops and go without. Her band of mercenaries was the best in Fódlan, and they’d take care of the bandits plaguing County Ordelia in short order.
Or so Leonie thought.
Now, as she sat on her horse on a wooded rise, it became apparent the bandits were less of a ragtag group and more of a standing army of rebels. She clenched her teeth and scowled at the rocky, uneven terrain. One of the things that had made her band so successful was the fact they were exclusively cavalry. On this ground, it would be all too easy to lose a mount. The enemy’s lines extended from the front of the clearing into the wood, so there was no telling how many of them there were.
Leonie swore and strung the Inexhaustible. The season had been dry. There was a natural firebreak to the south, where the Airmid river flowed, and a main road provided another to the east, nearer the mountains. She had a few mages well-versed in wind spells to the west. It was the best she could do.
She lit her arrow, drew her bow, and fired it into the forest where the enemy was hiding.
Her archers and mages followed suit, and soon the forest was alight. Leonie and her front line picked their way down the rocky slope and engaged the enemy in the middle of the clearing. She stabbed with her lance as smoke filled the air.
The enemy panicked and broke, and only then did they reveal their numbers. They had at least twice the fighters Leonie did, filled with a desperate strength as the fire caught the understory and lapped at their backs. The heat and the smoke did no one any favors, but it did thin the enemy’s numbers a bit.
Her soldiers took down at least two enemies each, but it wasn’t enough. Losses accumulated on both sides. Leonie couldn’t afford them.
“Fall back to the ridge,” she bellowed, covering the retreat. “Fall back!”
The wind picked up, driving the fire east. A horn echoed through the valley. Leonie’s head snapped around as a new force poured into the fray, one that bore the banners of house Gloucester.
Foot soldiers armed with pikes and shields marched forward from the west, the wind at their backs, as more and more enemies appeared from the woods. Leonie did her best to ignore the new troops. It was well and good they’d arrived, but she was still in the center of a pack of adversaries. She lashed out with her lance. There were too many of them—an axe took her horse in the neck, and the beast stumbled, taking Leonie with it. She managed to roll free, but the rocks sliced open her hands. The pain was nothing compared to what she’d feel if she got stabbed. She raised her buckler and pulled out her sword.
She glanced over her shoulder at the sound of the familiar voice. Lorenz sat astride his black armored mount. A Sagittae spell burst forth from his hand and engulfed some of her attackers. Leonie continued to hack at the rest with her blade. Lorenz’s soldiers had yet to catch up after his dash to her side. The two of them were alone and surrounded.
“Climb up behind me,” Lorenz said as he thrust his lance through the throat of one of their opponents.
“If you can get your troops in formation, we’ll be fine.”
“Get up. Now.”
She bared her teeth and slashed at one of her attackers. “You’re not my boss anymore. You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
“This is not a power struggle between the two of us. I want you to live!”
Leonie ignored him. She lunged and kicked her opponent in the knee. It broke beneath the blow, and the man went down. She stabbed him in the neck.
Lorenz’s mount reared and struck out with its hooves. It was no academy mount—it was a fully trained warhorse. Its blows were just as deadly as its master’s. She was glad it was at her back, just as she was grateful for Lorenz’s magic as he unleashed a barrage of fire balls.
He grunted behind her, and Leonie turned just as a spell unhorsed him. She dropped her sword to catch him. They both tumbled to the ground as the warhorse bucked and slashed the air with its forelegs, keeping enemy combatants at bay. Lorenz regained his feet first, grabbed her wrist, and hauled her to standing.
“You didn’t have to do that,” he said as he drew his sword. “Are you hurt?”
She’d struck a rock when they fell, making it hard to put weight on her left leg. “I’m fine.”
“I can tell by your stance that you’re not fine.”
“We’re surrounded. I’d say neither of us are fine.”
Lorenz let loose another round of spells, but they were weaker than before. Leonie picked up her sword and slashed at her attackers. The warhorse was holding up well, but the enemy had managed to maneuver it away from its master, robbing her and Lorenz of its protection. Damn it. Nothing about this fight was going the way it was supposed to.
She and Lorenz stood back to back, attacking as they rotated. They’d fought together for so long it was easy to cover for each other’s weak points. House Gloucester’s banners slowly moved toward them. If they could make it just a few more minutes, they’d likely survive.
Leonie cut down an enemy solider, revealing the mage standing behind him. The mage’s hands glowed with magic, and Leonie braced herself.
“No,” Lorenz shouted.
Leonie grunted as he shoved her behind him and cast. The resulting shockwave blew everyone in a fifteen-foot radius off their feet. Leonie rolled with it and was upright again in a moment. She spun around just as two soldiers drove their weapons into Lorenz, who was still on the ground. His scream cut through the din of battle. The edges of her vision turned red. She charged forward and swung her sword as hard as she could at the nearest of the two. Her blade stuck in the bones of his neck, and she had to kick him in the chest to dislodge her blade. The other began to run, so she threw her hunting knife and got him in the back of the leg. He fell just in time to be trampled by the attacking Gloucester forces.
The allied foot soldiers surrounded her and their fallen commander as the mounted troops chased down the enemy. Leonie dropped her sword and fell to her knees beside Lorenz. He lay on his back, sword punched between the plates of armor over his abdomen, and a spear had pierced his left shoulder. Her hands hovered over him as her vision blurred.
His hand trembled as he raised it to her face and tucked her hair behind her ear. A tear leaked from the corner of his eye. He tried to speak, but all that came out was a wheeze. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her cheek. “Don’t you dare die, you hear me? If you give up, I will never forgive you.”
“Should’ve…trained…more,” he whispered.
“Should’ve minded your own damn business and stayed home.”
Lorenz shook his head, the movement small. His eyelids drooped. Ice speared Leonie’s chest. She’d almost made a textbook error and let shock overcome her. Her hands fumbled at her belt pouch. It had to be in here, it just had to be.
“This’ll wake you up,” she said as she pulled the sword and spear from his body. He arched and screamed in agony, blood spurting from the wounds.
Leonie’s fingers finally grasped the bottle. She uncorked it with her teeth, held him down with her knee and one hand, and poured the elixir into his mouth with the other. He choked at first, then drank it down. When the bottle was empty, his head lolled to the side, and his eyes slid shut. She gathered him into her arms and prayed to the goddess that he wasn’t dead as the battle wound down around them.