Leon returned to his and Alix’s room in their assigned tower after Jean dismissed everyone.
“Any news?” Alix asked once he pushed the door open and strolled in.
“We’re on our own,” Leon said, “Count Whitefield won’t be coming to help.”
“That bastard,” Alix whispered.
“It’s certainly disappointing, but not out of anyone’s expectations, I think,” Leon said. “I haven’t heard anyone here say a single good thing about Count Whitefield, so I doubt anyone really thought he’d march his forces up here to defend the wall, though it does put his own lands and holdings at risk.”
“Has there been any word from the Consul of the North?” Alix inquired.
“None that I know about,” Leon answered.
Alix controlled her expression, but she stumbled a bit from where she had been training and almost collapsed onto her cot. “… Then we’re all dead,” she muttered. “Seven hundred people can’t defend this wall against thousands of Valemen…”
“Hey,” Leon said, “don’t think about that. That’s not guaranteed. It doesn’t look good for us, but technically, we don’t have to prevent the Valemen from breaching the wall.”
Alix looked over at him in confusion. “What do you mean?” she asked in a slightly suspicious tone.
“Just that the Valemen have to defeat us here, or their supplies would be cut off and they’d be trapped between us on the wall and whatever army comes to stop them. That means that even if they get through the wall, they still have to defeat all of us here. And that won’t be easy, so long as we control the towers.”
“Is that why you don’t seem so concerned?” Alix asked, pointing out Leon’s seeming lack of worry.
Leon was silent for a moment, debating with himself whether or not he wanted to say anything to her.
“And speaking of concerning things,” Alix continued while Leon deliberated, “why are you able to use elemental magic? Have you been concealing your magical tier?”
“… I have not been concealing my power,” Leon finally said. “But, I do have my own secrets which I’m under no obligation to reveal…”
Alix frowned, but she nodded in understanding. “And it’s because of those secrets that you’re not worried?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t say I’m not worried,” Leon replied, “just that I’m confident that I can escape even if the worst comes to pass.”
“Well aren’t you lucky,” Alix said sarcastically. “Some of us don’t have the luxury of being able to run away…”
“I never said I was going to run, just that I can escape if the situation were to require such a thing. I have every intention of staying here until the end,” Leon defended himself.
Alix didn’t seem to buy it, though, as her expression turned bitter and her frown grew deeper. “That doesn’t make you not an asshole,” she muttered.
An awkward silence followed their exchange. Upon looking back at his statements, Leon felt like he could understand why Alix would be mad. He had essentially bragged about being able to leave at any time and not being in any real danger.
Of course, that wasn’t the case, but that was what Leon had indicated.
“You know,” Leon tentatively began, “any of us could leave if we wanted to. There isn’t anyone watching to keep any potential deserters from running, and most of the soldiers on the wall very much don’t want to be here. Any of us could leave right now if we really wanted. But none of us are.”
“What’s your point?” Alix demanded.
“I could leave if I wanted, but I don’t want to, just like anyone else here could leave if they wanted, but they aren’t.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Leon said reassuringly. “I’ve made the choice to stay here to the end, and I will. I’m not going to take the initiative to go anywhere, at least not without you.”
“Me?” Alix asked out of shock.
“You’re my squire, at least unofficially. And, in the future I hope, a friend.”
Alix stared at Leon. They’d known each other for barely two weeks, and here he was talking about not leaving without her and saying he hoped they could be friends. The sheer ridiculousness and naivety of it actually caused her to burst out laughing, releasing her mounting tension.
“… You… You’re… not going to… ask me to… marry you now… are you?” Alix asked while gasping for breath in between rounds of laughter.
Leon’s face reddened a little, but after his interactions with Elise his tolerance for such teasing questions was a lot higher than it used to be; he kept a straight face and said, “I wasn’t planning on it…”
“… Good,” Alix said as she recovered from her laughing fit, “because you’re not really my type. But, I suppose we can start at friends.”
The two smiled at each other. Two weeks wasn’t enough time for them to get to know each other well, but they had been through a couple life and death situations with each other. They could at least call each other friends.
They spent the rest of the day meditating and doing some light training. Late in the afternoon, a messenger arrived at the tower, telling Leon that if the Valemen hadn’t attacked by midnight, then Jean would order another attack on their camps. They couldn’t afford to waste the entire night waiting for the Valemen to attack, after all.
“Are we ready to attack tonight?” Hakon asked his thanes. When he had ordered the war party to move south, his thanes numbered seven, but now they were only five, and his war party hadn’t even gotten past the first Southern obstacle in their path. Hakon was in a bad mood, to put it mildly, and his anger and sadness blended into his aura and put all of the watching Valemen on edge.
“We’re ready,” Hrorekr replied. “The Black Valley tribe was our biggest concern, but they have received replacement supplies, though it’s put us on something of a time constraint. If we don’t get past that wall in the next few days, we’re going to have some problems feeding everyone…”
“We’re going to break through them,” Hakon growled, “there’s no way they have the numbers to fully defend that wall. If they had, they would’ve launched more than just a single raid against us… No, we’ll break through that wall tonight, and tomorrow morning, we’ll burn every Southerner and raise our honored dead to the Sky Mother!” As he said this, Hakon’s eyes drifted over to a back corner of his tent, where Eirik and Ulfr’s bodies could be seen.
“They’ll pay for the deaths of our friends,” Hjalmar stated with a confident smile.
“They will,” Hakon agreed. “Tonight, they die. Tomorrow, we build a pyre.”
“Speaking of killing the Southerners…” Hrorekr said.
“Right,” Hakon said quietly. “It’s time to decide which section of the wall each tribe will attack…”
The pass was quiet once the sun set behind the mountains. It was an eerie calm, one that no man atop the wall wanted to disturb. The sky was cloudy, the wind was silent and gentle, and the only light in the fort came from torches, candles, and the few magic lanterns in the towers.
Within his tower, Leon grew restless. There was a storm coming, and it was preventing him from getting comfortable. With every gust of wind that came in through the arrow loops, he smelt the damp air and knew that rain wasn’t that far off.
Ever since he experienced his first storm post-Bloodline awakening back in the Knight Academy, he had experienced half a dozen more. None of them provoked a reaction as strong as the first one did, with each successive storm having weaker and weaker effects. By the last storm, Leon was so used to the feeling that he could’ve easily ignored it if it wasn’t so beneficial to his training.
But his current restlessness couldn’t be ignored. Eventually, about two hours before midnight, Leon rose from his cot as silently as he could and made his way out of the tower and onto the wall. Most of the men guarding the wall did so from the numerous towers, so he actually felt more privacy out there on the ramparts than he did in the room with Alix.
Leon slowly breathed the night air, relishing the chill as it entered his lungs; it reminded him of the air in the Forest of Black and White. He leaned against the timber battlements and entered an almost meditative trance as he enjoyed the rush the oncoming storm was giving him.
He breathed deep.
[Leon,] said Xaphan.
[What is it?] Leon lazily asked.
[I think you might-]
[What was that?!] Leon suddenly interrupted.
[Hmm?] asked a startled Xaphan.
Leon’s eyes snapped open and he stared out into the pass. It was still quiet and seemingly peaceful, but Leon could hear footsteps, the snapping of twigs and branches, and the rustling of leaves coming from the forest in the pass.
[I think… the Valemen are moving,] Leon said.
[Shit…] whispered Xaphan. [I’m going to prepare myself to aid you in this fight. I don’t think you’ll get out of it otherwise…]
[You’re probably not wrong about that…] Leon grimly replied.
He darted back inside the tower and made his way to the top, where the guards who normally staffed the tower were. Under the usual conditions, they’d be playing cards, joking around, or otherwise trying to stay awake. However, with the Valemen so close, all of the men were at least wide-awake, if not alert.
“What’s up?” the lead guard asked.
“Can any of you hear that? That sound coming from the forest?” Leon asked.
The lead guard strained his ears for a moment, then asked, “What should we be hearing?”
“The sound of marching Valemen,” Leon answered.
The other guards at the top of the tower paled, then readied their weapons. They may be disdainful of the Valeman among them, but the story of Leon using his personal healing spells to save a Legion knight had spread. That, plus his third-tier strength, meant that when Leon said something, the guards treated it seriously.
“I think… I might hear something,” one of the guards said apprehensively.
“Me too,” added another.
Leon glanced at the lead guard. “Sound the alarm. Better to be safe than sorry,” he said.
The lead guard still couldn’t hear anything, so he hesitated.
Seeing this, Leon added, “I’ll take responsibility for it if it’s wrong, but for now, sound the alarm.”
The lead guard went pale, but he nodded and touched a runic circle on the battlements. A deep rumble resounded through the fort, which repeated itself after five seconds. It was enough to wake every Legion soldier, and the metallic sounds of men as they dressed and armed themselves rang out from every tower.
Hakon heard the alarm from within the forest and he knew the war party had lost the element of surprise. He swore under his breath, then shouted, “FORWARD!”
His thanes and the third-tier warriors passed his order down to every one of his warriors and to every subordinate tribe. In minutes, the forest shook from the footsteps of more than twenty thousand Valemen who no longer cared about keeping quiet. They shouted war cries, they bellowed insults at the soldiers on the wall, and those with shields banged them. To the soldiers on the wall, it must have seemed like all the Northern Vales were about to crash down upon them.
Hakon smiled at the enthusiasm of his warriors. He could see the tree line in front of him, and just past it, the wall. There were a few hundred feet to clear between him and it, but that was nothing to a fifth-tier mage. He fully expected thousands of his warriors to die in those few hundred feet, though.
As he stepped out from the shadows of the trees, he saw the light shining from the fort towers. At the bottom of the biggest tower at the center of the wall was a dark spot that he knew to be the door. That was the target of the men at the side. His target, however, was the tower itself.
Hakon looked to his right, then to his left. His thanes emerged from the forest seconds after him, each leading their own group of warriors. Further down the line were the subordinate tribes, each one baying for blood. On his far right, the Black Valley Tribe didn’t wait for his order and started sprinting for the wall.
‘Morons,’ Hakon thought, but he couldn’t blame them. They had taken the most casualties in the previous night’s raid and had to suffer the indignity of being given food from the other tribes. Their honor had been gravely insulted to the point that they didn’t wait for their Great Chief to order the attack.
“Fuck it,” Hakon muttered, then he raised his voice and bellowed, “CHAAAARGGEEE!!!”
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