Prologue – A Girl From the Plains
So, having completed another job, I suppose it's time to start a new logbook. As required by the Etrurian Tactician's School, I must write down my introduction. Again. I am Katarina, called 'Katri', second daughter of Count Nicholas of Hanover. It is a lofty lineage, perhaps, but it's basically required to be ranked so high to get into the Tactician's School unless you happen to get absurdly lucky to be sponsored. When I was younger, I hated the title and all that it demanded, leading to many acts of rebellion I am now… well, regretful over. Perhaps my greatest rebellion, though, turned out to be my greatest boon. Though my mother despaired over my joining the tacticians, there I was able to learn what a spoiled brat I was being, and my traveling apprenticeship among various mercenaries groups has shown me just how lucky I was with my birth. Perhaps that is why Father gave his blessings? Regardless, though, I am almost done. I have only a couple months or so left for my fieldwork, and then I can return to Etruria with my head held high as a proper tactician, apprentice no longer.
"Katri!" I lifted my head and smiled slightly as Jono ambled over to me. The leader of the Bernese Hawk mercenary group, Jono used to be a wyvern knight, but chose to leave the army after disagreeing with some of King Desmond's policies, taking a few of his fellows with him. He took in a few other freelance mercenaries down on their luck and bam! His group was born. "Everyone's all saddled and ready to go," he told me, affectionately bopping me on the head. "You sure you want to split off here?"
"It seems as good of a place as any," I answered. I closed my logbook, stuck both it and my pen in my bag, and stood up with a long, languid stretch. "I'd have to leave eventually to go back home, after all." Plus, if I made a quick hike through the mountains here, I'd make it to Lycia within a few days. I wanted to see if it was as quaint as everyone said.
"Yeah, but this is serious bandit territory." Bandits were stupid and slow. I could easily outrun them. "We might be outside of the Taliver range here, but…"
"I'll be fine!" I reassured with a laugh. I clasped my hands behind my back and skipped a few steps away, turning to keep looking at him. My pack swung with me, bumping against my leg. "I'll send you a letter the second I get to a city. Promise."
"I'm holding you to it." He saluted me, and I flushed a little at the gesture. Because of his past, he rarely saluted anyone. "And remember. We'll always hire you on if you're in need of a job."
"Thank you~" I raced off, waving goodbye until he was out of sight. I slowed to stop and grinned as I heard the familiar wyvern roars. I turned back that once and watched them take off in the distance. Wyverns were amazing beasts. Powerful, strong, and suffered no one but those they chose. I'd been worried they'd be as temperamental as horses, but surprisingly, so long as you didn't hurt them, they were tolerant of those their riders befriended.
When they were specks in the sky, I began walking again, mentally checking my bag for the tenth time. There were, of course, my books, some for studying and others being the logbooks recording each of my strategies for each job, one per job as dictated by my teachers before I left. Pens and spare paper for notes and maps. Food for a week or two, made special by Jono's partner, Michael. Couple changes of clothes. Soap for washing. Money for buying stuffs. Feminine products for the moondays. Yep, the pack was as prepared as it needed to be. Perfection was my middle name, after all!
Laughing to myself, I stretched my arms over my head, enjoying the sunshine. I'd have to reapply my sun lotion when I stopped for lunch, but I should be safe until then. Besides, it was a lovely day today. Not a cloud in the crystal blue sky, white and tan rocks of the mountains actually making the hike bearable, little bits of greenery spicing up the scenery, scruffy bandits leering at me… wait. What.
I stilled, not quite believing my eyes, as a few bandits crept out from behind some rocks. I wrinkled my nose as the wind blew their stench my way. Ugh, did these guys never bathe? How could they stand themselves?
"Well, lookie here," one of them slurred. He stepped my way and I turned my head as the scent of stale alcohol wafted over. Ugh… my stomach turned. Not to mention all the dirt and mud on him, or the grease in his hair. How did his skin not crawl? Ugh, bandits were gross. "A pretty little girl, all by her lonesome." I was taller than him. "Hey, how about a little fun?"
"No." I tried to walk around him, but he blocked my way. "Yeah, somehow, I doubted you'd be able to comprehend such a simple word," I grumbled, glaring. Okay, I was alone, and there were five bandits. Armed, though only with axes. Half-trained, at best, but that made them unpredictable and dangerous. Their builds, though, made them top heavy and slow. I just had to get past them, and I could get away easy. And the best way to make a man get on his knees was probably… "Right then." I slammed my foot up between his legs, laughing as he immediately yelped and seized up, doubling over in pain. I took advantage of the other bandits wincing and scooted past, bolting as soon as I hit a clear space.
I focused completely on running, and trying not to trip or step wrong. If I twisted an ankle, they were certain to catch me. There was no place to hide around here, and my pack bouncing weirdly on my hip and thigh did not help my balance at all.
I glanced back once. Just once. Just to check whether they were pursuing. See how close they were if they were. But, as luck would have it, that was when the ground under my feet crumbled and I fell, crashing and rolling down the rock face.
My last thought before blacking out was how I wouldn't even get to hear Jono say 'I told you so'.
The first thing I noticed was warmth. Warmth and pain. All down my arms and legs, up my back, through my head. It didn't help that everything was dark, though I thought I smelled some sort of food, but it was dark and… and my eyes were closed. That was why it was dark, wasn't it? So, what would happen if I pried them open and-?
"Are you awake?" …Right, if I was warm, that meant I'd been found. Which meant people and…
"Ugh…" I couldn't help but groan as my brain finally started working again. Slowly, I opened my eyes, blinking slowly at the dimmed sunlight. I was staring at some strange canvas, different from the tents I was used to. I turned my head to one side and saw small boxes stacked together to form shelves. And on the other side we had… we had a young girl crouched at my side, peering at my face. Her face was young, mid-teens I'd guess, though her green eyes seemed a little old for it. However, her clothing and impossibly long green ponytail marked her clearly. Sacaean. Oh, wonderful. I was with a savage. At least it looked like she knew how to keep clean, so she was better than bandits. "Who…?"
"I found you unconscious on the plains while I was riding." She had a nice smile. "I am Lyn, of the Lorca tribe." Yep, definitely Sacaean. They wandered aimlessly instead of settling down like civilized people. "You're safe now." Well, I suppose I was. Savages, they were, but honorable in their pride. No matter the stories told to scare little children back home, there was no evidence of them actually terrorizing or kidnapping people. "Here, let me help you sit up." She slipped a surprisingly strong arm behind my back and lifted me up, quickly propping me with some pillows. Looking around the place better, I noticed it was surprisingly roomy, with boxes, crates, and cooking supplies all tucked away neatly along the walls. Huh. "Do you think you can eat?"
"I think something light," I answered her after a moment. I glanced down and noticed I was wearing a simple robe like dress. It seemed like it could be tied shut around the waist, but it was open for now, revealing bandages wrapped messily around my chest, stomach, and arms. "I take it I wasn't in a good state."
"Nope." She went over to a pot and spooned out some soup into a wooden bowl. I couldn't help but notice how high the slit of her dress went. It was… rather scandalous. "Your clothes and bag are by your feet. I asked Maia to clean and fix them for you." Oh. That was… more than I expected. "You travel with a lot of books, though. That bag was heavy."
"Yes, they're important." I made sure to smile as I accepted the bowl. It really wouldn't do to alienate the person in charge of my health, after all. Who knew how she'd take it? "Oh, I haven't given you my name yet, have I? It's Katarina, but you can call me 'Katri'."
"Katri?" She cocked her head to the side in confusion. "What an odd sounding name." Lyn didn't sound any better, sweetling. "Your clothes implied you're a traveler, though. Are you?"
"Yes, I was walking in the mountains." Carefully, I ate the soup she gave. It was surprising how good it was. I'd… better not ask what was in it, though. I'd no doubt be horrified by it.
"Weird place for a walk. Did bandits get you?" Her face darkened at the word 'bandit'. Strange. "No, wait, I shouldn't ask you so many questions when you just woke up, huh? Mother would scold me if she found out." Where were her parents? Were they out? Though, I didn't really hear anything aside from some sounds of fighting. ...Wait a second.
"Lyn, is that noise outside normal?" I asked as the sounds grew louder. Foreign land. Best to not make assumptions. Even when you were certain you were right. Who knew what practices the Sacaeans had?
Still, the look on her face implied 'no'. "I'll go see what's happening." She went to the curtain I assumed served for the door of this place, stooping to pick up a simple, iron sword. "Be right back!"
"Wait!" I attempted to get up and follow her, but she disappeared before I could. "Reckless thing…" I sighed before settling back in the blankets and returning to eating the soup, focusing again on the environment. The sounds were still there, of course, but I couldn't help but notice the curious smells of the hut. A faint scent of horses, for instance, buried under lemongrass and mint. Not to mention the smell of whatever was in this soup. Some sort of meat, I was certain, but what else?
I'd almost figured it out when Lyn came back, eyes wide and face pale. "Bandits," she growled. I noticed she had buckled the sword around her waist, and held the hilt in a white-knuckled grip. "They must've come down from the Bern mountains." Made sense. There weren't a lot of places to hide in the plains, and bandits needed to hide like the rats they were. "They must be planning of raiding the nearby villages." Yep, that also made sense. Bandits were fools and lazy louts who just stole what they wanted instead of earning it. "I… I have to stop them!" Wait, what? "There's only two for now, so I think… I think I can handle it." Uh… "Just wanted to let you know, Katri. I'll be back-"
"Not with yourself being in a panic," I interrupted. Clumsily, I got to my feet, wincing as everything protested. But, damn it, she saved me and, savage or not, that meant I owed her. I always paid my debts. "Here, I'll help you."
"Really?" Relief flashed over her face before she furrowed her brow in confusion. "Wait, but I didn't see any weapons on you?"
"I'm a tactician, Lyn." It took a little bit of fumbling to figure out how to tie this dress shut, and not just because my fingers were clumsy from bandages. I winced as I noticed the dress also had a high slit, revealing far more of my legs than I was comfortable with, but if I pretended the bandages wrapped around them were tights, I could hopefully get through it. Maybe. "That's why I carry all the books."
"What an odd profession." How was that odd? Both Etruria and Bern had entire schools devoted to it. "But… very well." She smiled at me. "We'll go together!" Splendid. I could repay part of my debt. "Let's go!"
She led the way outside and helped me over to a small bunch of trees not far away. Beyond, I could see the two bandits attacking the nearby cluster of strange huts nearby. "I'd heard Sacaeans were fierce fighters," I couldn't help but comment as I observed how easily the two were getting the women and children to submit. I couldn't tell very well from here, but the stiffness in their bodies told me they hadn't yet given up. They just knew they were in over their heads. "So…"
"The hunters are out, and this is simple a couple of families, staying behind because traveling shortly after giving birth is hard," Lyn explained to me. I looked at her questioning and she smiled slightly. "Maia and her folks are of the Kutolah. They let me stay nearby after…" She shook her head abruptly. "No, never mind. Anyway, Maia's sister gave birth to her first child a few months ago, so they waited instead of moving with the rest of the tribe until she recovered." Oh. I suppose that made sense. My older sister, Maria, was certainly laid up for months after giving birth to her first son. I wondered how Christopher was doing now… no, focus. I had to focus. Ugh, I hated pain. It made it harder to think. "That's how. If we don't hurry…!"
"Lyn, if you don't relax, you'll hurt yourself and not kill the bandits." I frowned as I noted the terrain. Open plains, so as soon as we stepped out, we'd be seen. "Lyn, how fast are you?"
"Fast." It was the first bit of confidence her voice held all day. "Very fast. I was the best runner." Why was she using past tense? Oh, whatever. Not the time, and definitely not my problem.
"Okay, we're going to leave cover and I want you to strike him as quickly as you can." I glanced at her and she nodded. "With a bit of luck, that'll call his friend from the civilians and they won't use hostages." Scum always did whatever it took to live. "I'll follow along behind you."
"Got it." She flashed me a grin before bowing her head. "Mother Earth, I ask for your strength and speed." She… worshiped the earth? Why? It was just dirt. "Okay, I'm off." Huh? I blinked a couple of times and she was gone. I peered down the way and saw her already almost on the bandit. For some reason, though she didn't have her sword drawn.
I almost yelled at her, but then, as soon as the bandit was within range, she lunged forward, sword coming out blindingly fast. The bandit scored a lucky hit on her face as she passed, but dropped to his knees as blood pour out of his stomach. I hadn't even seen her hit, and could only stand and stare as she turned gracefully, skirts and ponytail wrapping around her like ribbons, and cut off his head in one fluid motion.
I saw her pause at all the blood and wondered if she was going to be ill over the kill. But then she sheathed her sword, scrubbed some of the splatter off her face and neck, and waved at me to signal all was safe. I limped over as fast as I could, and saw her kneeling down by the body, rummaging through his pockets. "Lyn, what are you doing?" I asked, weirded out. Did the Sacaeans steal from the dead? That was so wrong.
"Ha! I thought so!" I had no idea what she was saying until she produced a small, wooden bracelet. "This is Sacaean," she told me softly, studying it with a sad smile. "It's a tribe trinket. We never let outsiders have them." …Oh. Oh. She'd just been… oh, wow, I felt horrible now. Thank goodness I hadn't actually voiced my thoughts. "This is Kutolah. You can tell because of the wolf pattern." I crouched near her and noticed exactly what she was talking about. The wolves looked strange, more fluid than anything, but beautiful. "The Kutolah are governed by Dayan, the Silver Wolf." Oh. "Ah, but we need to get that last one!" Yes, we did. However...
"How's your face?" She looked at me in confusion, so I used my sleeve to wipe the blood dripping down her cheek. She made a face at me, but didn't seem to be in pain yet. "Never mind. You've battle fever in you." She still looked a bit confused, but just shrugged and smiled at me. "All right, let's see…" Ah, I was right, as per usual. The other bandit had come to see what had happened to his friend, and he was coming straight for us. "Well, he's left the hut."
"Ger." Huh? "Sorry, it's called a 'ger'." Did not know that. "It's a type of hut, though." So, half-right. Okay. "So, what do we do?"
"Honestly, this seems rather straight-forward." The problem lied more in that he knew we were coming, was quite angry over his friend's death, and… yeah. "Kill him before he kills you. The most basic strategy."
"Easy enough to remember." She had a hand on her sword. "If I don't make it, run, okay?" Huh?
"You're not dying in front of me." I wasn't going to owe a grave. "My job involves keeping people alive."
"…Okay." There was something in her smile then, something bitter and pained that made my skin crawl, but there was no time to ask as she ran to meet the bandit. I had to focus on the fight, ready to yell orders. No dying today. Not for anything but those bandits.
"Who do you think you are?" he roared, noticing Lyn approaching. He wildly swung his axe, but Lyn managed to dodge and drew her sword to strike him quickly, catching him on the arm. "You think you can stand up to Batta the Beast?!" The guy had a nickname? From who? "I'll smash your skull open!"
In his defense, he did actually manage to clip her as she turned for another attack. It was on her side, nowhere near her head, of course, but the pain did send her to her knees, with him towering over her, axe poised to come crashing down.
However, he hadn't noticed me at all, and I'd already knew what had to be done. In a situation like this, a distraction was best. I had nothing to throw, so… "HEY!" I yelled as loudly as I could. My throat burned with the effort, but it worked just like I intended. 'Batta the Beast' yelped and turned at the sound, startled enough to drop his guard, and Lyn didn't waste even a second surging to her feet and driving her sword straight through his chest.
"Wha…?" I heard him breath, blood bubbling on his lips. "How… did you…?" Lyn kicked him down as he died, wrenching her sword out messily. She was breathing hard, but she managed a reassuring smile at me. Good. She was alive, the bandits were dead, and we won. Victory. Yay.
"Thanks for that," she told me. Her free hand pressed against her side. "That was close." Yeah, no kidding. Though, I was starting to regret the yell. My vision was graying. "Sorry if I worried you." I was feeling incredibly lightheaded. "I'll need to be stronger if I'm going to survive…" Was the world spinning? I think it was. "Strong enough that no one can defeat me." I probably overexerted. "We should check on the others." Yeah, great idea, but you sounded so far away, Lyn. "Hey, are you okay?"
I at least had the good grace to mumble something before I fainted. I think.
"Good morning!" Lyn sounded far too cheerful for the hour when I woke up again. I had a different robe on this time, fresh bandages from the crisp feel. At least I could push myself up this time. "That fight yesterday must have taken a lot out of you!" She bustled about the other side of the ger, and I mentally sighed at losing yet another day for studying. "You had a slight fever, but it went down this morning." Definitely overexerted then. "Maia and I changed your bandages. Your leg injury reopened, but everything else was fine." I needed to be careful about walking and running then. "You okay?"
"I'm just waking up," I sighed, shifting to get settled. A bowl of soup was placed in my hands. I hadn't even heard her approach. "Thanks." I made sure to smile at her and she sat beside me, legs tucked neatly underneath her. "You get your side bandaged?"
"Yeah, and some vulneraries Maia's folks bought from some traders fixed it right up." Oh, those were always nice. They were disinfectants, and made the bandages hold better against the skin. Perfect for on the field patch-ups, though staves were always superior when it came to healing. "And everyone is just fine. The worst was a couple of bruises."
"Good." I began eating, careful in my movements to not aggravate my injuries further. However, I noticed that Lyn continued to stay at my side, staring right at my face. "Lyn, did you need to ask me something?"
"Ah!" She flushed in embarrassment and squirmed a bit before nodding hesitantly. "May I?"
"Go ahead." I was just eating, after all. Normally, I'd be reading or writing something too. If you were going to succeed as a strategist, you always had to study. New tactics were being made everyday, after all.
"Well, you really seemed to know what you were doing out there." Of course I did. "You have a lot of experience in the ways of fighting?"
"Yeah, I've been out for almost a year on my own, hired on by low ranked nobles and mercenary groups." And, boy, did you not really know something until you were staring it right in the face. "That reminds me. Your stomach okay? Killing people can sometimes leave you feeling nauseous for a while." It took me three months to not gag every time I saw a corpse.
"Bandits aren't people." Uh… well, I would agree they were scum, rats really, but the way she said it worried me. Clipped, cold… utterly different from the gentle girl from before. "And I ate some ginger to settle my stomach." Oh, good. "I'm fine." She smiled and I tentatively smiled back. "Anyway, though, I was wondering… well, if you don't mind… can I come with you?" And that was probably the one thing I wasn't expecting to hear, so I promptly began choking on the soup. "Are you all right?!"
"Just fine," I wheezed, waving her worry off. She patted me on the back anyway until the coughing subsided. "Mind repeating what you just asked me?"
"Can I come with you?" She looked at me with wide, innocent eyes, pleading without asking, fists on her knees as she leaned forward eagerly. "Please?"
"Isn't that something you should ask your parents about?" She flinched and looked away. But it wasn't the look of a child caught rebelling. I would know; I used to have that look a lot. No, this was a look of pain. "Lyn?"
"I… my parents died." Oh. "It was six months ago." That… "My people, the Lorca… I am one of the last." I could only stare as she ducked her head. "Bandits attacked and… and they killed so many. So, so many…" Her fists trembled, but she kept talking anyway. "My father was the chieftain. So, I wanted to protect what was left, in his place, but… but I'm so young, and weak, and our tribe was conservative. Women advise, not fight. So…" So, they wouldn't follow her. "Ah…" I heard her sniffling and automatically reached out to rest a hand on her head. I hoped she found some comfort in it. "Sorry, I've just… it still hurts, and I was alone for so long." Her breath hitched and I thought I heard a quiet sob. "It took ages to find Maia." Her voice was thick and shaky, but she still kept her head down. "N-no, I shouldn't cry anymore. I shouldn't." Sweetling, this was precisely the time to cry.
Still, I waited as she slowly took some deep breaths, and her shoulders slowly relaxed. "Feeling better?" I asked her as she finally lifted her head. There were some dried tears sticking to her cheeks, and her eyes were red-rimmed, but she still nodded. "So, why do you want to come with me, exactly? I am a tactician, as I told you. It's not a safe profession." It was only safer than being a mercenary simply because tacticians were often nobles who could be ransomed. "There's a lot of fighting."
"I know." There was a fierce glint in her eyes now and she looked me right in the eye as she continued, "That's why. I want to get stronger, so I can avenge my parents!" Yes, but… "And I don't… I don't ever want to lose everything again." I could… understand that, but… "Please? I promise I won't get in the way!"
Despite the plea, I hesitated in answering. She was young, and I worried about that vengefulness. I'd been caught up in enough 'retaliation' fights with the mercenaries to know the idea of revenge was nice, but in practice, it was just messy. Not to mention she was a Sacaean… However, I owed her. A lot. Sure, I might have saved her life yesterday with that distraction, but she had not only saved mine, but had taken care of me for who knows how long. My debt with her wasn't clear. And there was no way I was leaving her side until it was.
So, really, I only had one answer. "Okay." Her face lit up in a smile. "And I'll do what I can to help train you," I told her. Somehow, her grin grew even wider. "Let's travel together."
"Thank you!" She half-tackled me with a hug, and I noticed she was shaking as I awkwardly patted her on the back. "Oh, thank you!" I wondered, now, if she hadn't also asked so that she could have someone with her again. It was hard, being alone. "We'll be better off together! I just know it!" I wasn't sure, but I certainly wasn't going to say that out loud! "You'll be the master strategist, and I'll be the peerless warrior!" She certainly thought big. And I couldn't say I wasn't working already to become the master tactician. "Oh!" She let go of me, flushing slightly. "Sorry, I shouldn't have… not with your wounds… Are you in pain?"
"No, I seem to be good." This was going to be a headache. But, hey, she was cheerful. "I do have one question, though."
"How old are you, Lyn?" Just wanted to check that I was right in her being young.
"I'm fifteen." So, four years younger than me. At her age, I'd been a second year at the tactician's school. "Why?"
"I was just curious, really." I smiled at her and began eating my soup again. Even cooled, it was good. "So, I'm guessing I'll take another day to recover before we leave, so make your preparations today, all right? We'll talk later tonight as to where we'll go from here."
"Okay!" She bounced to her feet and smiled down at me. "Thank you a lot, Katri. I'll do my best."
"You and me both." I held out my hand, wondering if the Sacaeans knew anything about the civilized handshake. It seemed so, as she gripped my hand firmly without even a second's pause. "To our partnership."
"May it be long and prosperous!"
Notes on Lyn:
· Uses just swords. Doesn't seem to fight mounted, though.
· Seems to rely heavily of speed and skill, and has some decent strength. I want to get her some armor, but that'll probably interfere with her swordsmanship. Maybe I can train her up to wear some chainmail underneath? Relying on dodges just seems like a too risky gamble.
· Sacaean of the Lorca tribe. Not… much like what I've heard.
· Young, stubborn, and kind. And a little strange. Who else brings a stranger into their home to tend to them?
Author's Note: So, here's the start of another fire emblem novelization. Yay? Anyway, meet Katri, our narrator. For those concerned, yes, her prejudice is intentional, and, no, she will not be keeping them. But considering how so many see the Sacaeans, I figured she'd have at least a little prejudice, just from the culture she's been around.
I'm just going to go ahead and stating this. Due to the large cast, there's a high chance, especially in later chapters, of characters only get a brief mention or even just cameos. I'll try to minimize it but… well, large cast again. Also, yes, there are romances, but they aren't really a focus to this, so I'm choosing to not list them here.
Next Chapter – Footsteps of Fate