Leonard, in the dust

A story for the #DrakenierHoliday2023 exchange. The requester asked for a story about Leonard. A difficult character to write about! I hope this satisfies.

Content warning: this story deals with the subject of child sexual abuse, in similar ways to canon.

The sun.

Perhaps it lopes now through the thin birch wood, knotted and misshapen for the bodgers who would have trimmed these trees were long ago driven off by the war. Perhaps it licks the sweat from the weary Union soldiers, maybe it glitters from well-worn swords. It must be beautiful.

Leonard knows only this: the sun is setting, once again. He knows it from the warmth on his pitted face and the relieved murmurs of the soldiers, the muttered conversations about making camp. The air feels thick, as if the light has a texture.

It’s hard not to imagine metaphors crawling all over that sun. The old church of Rome, the proud Lords of the Land, the elegant Intoners, the vicious new Church of the Angels and its Empire—all of these suns have set, and no doubt soon enough the Union will have its sunset. The world will not permit things to last.

Not good things, anyway.

He’s home at last, and he almost walks right past it. The soldiers do not stop, and their voices disappear ahead as Leonard slows. But why should they? It’s just another ruin: they have seen a thousand like it on the long trail back from the Imperial City. Perhaps they have families waiting, somewhere, or perhaps they hope to build one anew. These young men lived, and won the right to bury these mad months under a layer of fresh soil. Leonard has no such right, of course—

“Welcome home, idiot!” A familiar voice punches through the marching self-pity. He feels its tiny body arc away, a clatter suggesting it must be zipping erratically around the charred rafters of his home. “So many memories. Look, look! Oh, wait, you can’t!” The fairy cackles away at its own inane jokes, and he hears it dip to the grass and rise, and then—abruptly—a rusty piece of metal drops into his hands.

Oh, of course.

Leonard takes the knife. Flakes of rust come away between his fingers, a chunk dropping from that once-keen edge like a mouse bite. The wound he made with this knife was shallow, but it left a small scar all the same, and Leonard’s fingers find that scar now—a gesture he’s repeated often across his campaign with Lord Caim, a fine physical reminder of his brothers and the cost of sin.

“Dumbass human! Don’t get any ideas now.” The fairy is abruptly right up in his face, insect wings battering his cheeks. Leonard almost falls on his arse. He swipes hopelessly at the creature, and gets a kick up the nostril for his trouble.

One of the ironies of the pact is that the creature now has a heavily vested interest in Leonard not killing himself, not that this has done anything at all for its attitude. It’s been needling him aggressively the whole long walk back, but now and then, when he looks serious about it, the creature might actually worry…

Despite himself, Leonard laughs. A morose laugh, but… he pushes his hair, no doubt shot through with grey, up and out of his blind eyes. He can feel a week of patchy stubble. His face must be a wreck. Who cares, anymore?

The fairy alights on his head and kicks his fringe right back down, drumming on his temples with its feet. “Hey! Shitlord. I know what’ll cheer you up.” Leonard sighs, and braces himself. “You buried those boys round here, dint ya? You should dig ‘em up, have a little play, you’d like that right, it’ll be fuuuuuuuuun~”

A slightly younger Leonard would take the bait, but not this Leonard. No, this Leonard merely emits a disapproving grunt, before picking his way carefully across the broken ground. His staff, probing forwards. Here? There?

A hollow clunk. Yeah, there.

“OhhhhHHHhhhh!!” The fairy’s voice betrays something like excitement for the first time in the evening. “Oh that’s riiight! You didn’t even bury them, did you? Just left them for the rats…”

Leonard kneels, his hands stretching forwards until he finds something hard and cold in the muck. His fingers drift across, confirming his find. A line of thin ribs, a fragile sternum. He searches. Here, the skull. Grass in its eye sockets.

“Laum.” Yes, this was where Laum fell. He crawls hither and yon, finding each of the bones in turn. Gathering Laum in his arms once more.

“Hey, you missed one.” The fairy seems, oddly, a little taken aback. Leonard feels the clatter of another bone landing on the little pile.

“Thanks.” Leonard says.


The fairy flits about rapidly, strangely perturbed. “Whatcha gonna like. Do with that shit, Leonard? Gonna like… turn the waterworks back on? Beg for death? C’mon—” the fairy cackles. “—throw me a bone here!”

Leonard starts uprooting the grass. Once a little space is cleared, he starts tearing up clumps of ash and soil. Throwing them over his shoulder.

The sun’s warmth gradually steals away.

Hours later, the fairy is still whining. “C’mon, man. Get a fucking spade or something.”

Leonard’s hole gets another inch deeper.

The fairy jumps up and down on his spine. “You think this is some kinda grand gesture of repentance, huh? You think wotshisname, ‘lame’ or whatever it was, is looking down from heaven and saying, oh, golly gee, I sure am glad my big bro Leonard is back to put me in a hole?”

Leonard hits a clay layer. He scrapes it away, and shakes his hand to get the sticky lumps to fall off.

“Come off it man! Kid knows what you wanted to put in his hole by now.”

Leonard’s lip twitches. He keeps digging.

By the time the sun comes back to warm Leonard’s face again, the narrow hole has reached somewhere around his waist. He sits at the bottom, face and hands coated in mud, panting.

“Pretty sorry excuse for a grave.” The fairy is sitting at the edge, kicking its little legs. “Like, what, you just gonna pile him up in there? Not ‘xactly, what’s the thing you’re always on about. Dignified. Kyahaha, you do you though…”

Leonard flings a clump of clay at it. The fairy yelps, and returns fire with a torrent of curses.

“Don’t you get tired of it?” Leonard says. Voice croaky, but still somehow mild.

“Kyahaha, you stupid shit, I’ll never get tired, I’m a magical beeeeing~” The fairy yawns loudly. “Hey, why don’t you get tired of it? Doesn’t the whole I’m-so-saintly thing run a little thin? We both know what you really are.”

Leonard sighs, heavily, massages his temples to try and squeeze out the tiredness. “Worked for the Greeks, didn’t it? You ever hear about Zeus and Ganymede?”

“Wot’s a Greek? Some kinda bird?” The fairy cackles back at him.

“Yeah, I figured.”

He climbs out the pit, and feels his way back to the pile of bones. With each one, he holds it to his lips, and lays it in the pit.

“Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t we?”

Leonard stops moving the bones. “He was my brother. I let him die for the most shameful reason. Don’t you feel anything for—for your people? The fairies?”

The fairy makes a loud fart noise with its mouth. “Loada cunts. Don’t miss ‘em.”

What do you say to that? Silence falls again on the forest clearing. Leonard counts some 193 bones into the pit. Some of them must have gone astray. But there was no avoiding it.

He begins to place dirt back into the grave.

Leonard sits on the ruin of his home, inches from the bones of Riversal. His teeth crunch on salted jerky. Digging graves is, it turns out, hungry work.

But it has to be done properly.

“Was he actually your brother? Like, not to put too fine a fucken point on it, but…”

Leonard turns his head down to face the little creature. “He was my brother.”

“Yah, yah, I know, spiritually or whatever, but like, are we talking same parents, or—”

“He was my brother.”

“Fine, fuck you too then.” The fairy dusts off, wings buzzing. “I’m gonna sleep, big guy. Wake me if there’s a troll or some shit.” It zips away into the treeline, leaving Leonard alone with his thoughts. He scratches at the patchy hair on his jaw.

Riversal was the one on his mind the night that—the night it happened.

He couldn’t have saved them. Any more than he could save the child soldiers with their red eyes from Caim’s sword. Any more than he could have saved the children who fell to Arioch on the ocean. Had he tried…

Had he tried, Leonard would have died honourably.

By a quirk of fate, he never actually saw the victims of the Red Eye Disease before the pact took his sight. He could only imagine what Riversal would have seen in his final moment. Were their eyes simply bloodshot? Did they glow with an inner light? Whatever the case, none of them would offer mercy. Riversal had fallen outside the house, so the fire had not taken him—as it must have taken Lukhege.

How will he bury Lukhege? Leonard doesn’t even know where to look. But, one problem at a time.

His head filled with memories of Riversal, with the fantasy from that night rising unbidden, as it surely would… Leonard starts digging the next grave.

“I need your help for Lukhege.”

The fairy stops midflight and mid-tirade. It zips up to Leonard’s face again.

“You’re asking for my help? Are you actually daft? Kyahahahaha, that’s rich, that’s so rich.”

“We’re pacted, are we not?” Leonard stands as straight as he can. His nails have chipped and frayed from the digging; his back, screaming.

“Kyahahaha, sure, yeah, yeah, we’re pacted. Fair deal’s a fair deal. But you got as good as I did, yeah? So what ya got for me thiiiis time?”

“Help lay an innocent soul to rest?”

The fairy laughs so hard that Leonard thinks he hears a sob.

“Psssht. C’mon. You thought I’d take that? Stupidest human. Idiot! Shit-for-brains! Why’d I have to get the duuuuumbest pact partner? Make it worth my while or I ain’t doing shit, good brother Leonard.”

Leonard sighs. “What, then? You want my hearing too? Sense of smell?”

“The fuck’d I do with that?” The fairy orbits Leonard’s head, buzzing first in one ear, then the other. “Oh, I geettt it! Look at you. Drowning in ya sweat. Yeah, I’d want to cut my nose off too.”

“So, if not my senses?” If there is a measure of relief in Leonard’s voice, it is slight indeed.

“It’s obvious! Entertain me. You’ve spent the last week digging fucking holes in the ground! Do something interesting already. Kill something, cut yourself, hell just take a particularly generous dump, just give me something here man. Where’s the drama?


“Hey, you know. There’s a village near here. If one of them went missing—well, that kinda thing happens these days, you get me? I bet I can find a little someone to fit your oh-so-particular tastes…”

Leonard’s face creases suddenly. “Don’t joke about that. Not now.”

The fairy gasps. Giggling maliciously, savouring every word. “You think you can give me orders? Oh, but that’s how you like to do it, isn’t it…” Somehow, the fairy’s voice pitches up even further. “‘Father Leonard! Father Leonard! Let me be in your choir, Father Leonard!’ Fine upstanding fellow, pillar of the community really, nobody would question it if he gives a few private—”

“That’s enough. I’m not a priest. And I never laid hands on them.”

The fairy lands on his shoulder and leans in to speak in his ear, sotto voce. “Missed your chance, didn’t ya? Bet it stings.”

Leonard is silent. He shrugs on his coat, hefts his rucksack once again. The fairy darts out of the way.

“So be it. If you won’t help me, I will have to ask for help at this village.”

The fairy is silent for just a moment. Then it sighs in exasperation. “That’s your plan? Find some poor sod and ask them to find which piece of charcoal looks most like a skeleton? Kid’s dead man, just put any old ash in the hole and call it a day.”

“You know,” Leonard says amiably. “I’m surprised you didn’t just lie to me about the skeleton, to get this over with.”

“Oh fuck.” The fairy lands on his head, cross-legged. “I didn’t think of that.”

Leonard’s arrival at the village brooks little fanfare. Why should it? Dirty men with unkempt beards are a common sight on the roads of late, and Leonard’s stature is enough to discourage anyone from shaking him down for his last few coins. But by the same token, nobody seems inclined to approach him with an offer of alms.

He approaches a small group. “I just need someone to help me search the ruin. My brother fell—” He feels their backs turning, already.

“You want me to pick a weak one to nobble, you just say the word, yeah?” the fairy mutters, its voice flowing through the pact. Leonard grunts a dismissal. He moves on down the road, his staff meeting soft horse manure. Amazing to think somebody still hadn’t eaten their horse.

Someone tugs at the leg of his hose.

Leonard turns, facing down. It felt like the tug of a child. “Good day, young man…” he says, gently. “How can I help you?”

“Big brother? It is you, right? Big brother Leonard?”

Leonard freezes.

The fairy is silent for a moment, and then it laughs and laughs and laughs.

Lukhege is quiet. They are seated on a bank somewhere, surrounded by the soft scent of wildflowers.

“I thought you were dead.” Leonard manages, lamely.

“I thought you ran away.” Lukhege says. “I—I don’t blame you, though. I hoped you ran away. Somewhere safe and far away.”

“If I’d known…” I’d have taken you with me. It’s the obvious thing to say. Of course, Lord Caim’s mad journey to the heart of the Empire was no place for a child. But it’s the obvious lie.

“I almost did die.” Lukhege reaches out a small hand and lift’s Leonard’s fingers up to his face, letting him feel the burn scars. “It’s so funny, that you can’t see me. You’d always say things about my pretty face. Probably for the best you can’t see what happened to it.”

Leonard tries not to scowl. He always would say things like that, wouldn’t he? Lord Caim levels of subtlety.

“Someone took you in, yeah? Kept you fed and warm.” Leonard says. He doesn’t want to imagine the answer might be ‘no’. He feels Lukhege nod, and lowers his hand, turning away from the boy. “That’s good. Yeah, that’s good.”

Lukhege watches him quietly. It’s like being stabbed.

“I—I went back there. Gave your brothers a proper burial. It’s why I—” look like dog vomit. “—am in such a state right now.”

He hears Lukhege’s breath become a muted sob. “That’s good, big bro. I’m glad you did. Everyone said you shoulda been a priest. You’re a good person like that.”

In the pact, the fairy’s laughter rolls on. “Oh, this is so precious, I love it. What’re you gonna do with him, Leonard? How’re you gonna break the truth? C’mon, show me. Show me!!”

Lukhege scoots closer and hugs Leonard. Awkwardly, Leonard reaches down to hold him back. Briefly.

“I’m so glad you’re alive, Lukhege.” There’s some kind of water on Leonard’s face. “But… I can’t stay here. I’m needed.” I’m afraid of what I would do. “At the capital, Lord Caim, Inuart, the new government. Rebuilding the seal system.” His words are a jumble.

Lukhege nods, as if he expected this all along. “Then. I’m glad I got to see you, one last—”

“Oh, laaaaaaaaaame.” The fairy’s voice is sudden and loud. No longer confined to the pact. “Is that it? After all this time? You get a touching final moment and go on your merry way, your heart unburdened? That’s coward shit, Leonard. Coward shit!”

“What the fuck is that?” says Lukhege.

“Language!” Leonard is so off-guard that it’s the only thing he can think to say.

“Oh fuck off.” Lukhege’s glare has such force that Leonard can feel it. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m not stupid, Leonard. I know you had some other reason for keeping us around.”

“I—” Leonard opens and closes his mouth several times. “Lukhege, I, I only ever wanted the best, for all of you. To take care of you and keep you…” Safe.

“And you think I didn’t see you eyeing us up? But I didn’t understand, you ass. It made me feel proud when you praised me. Told me I was special and all that shit. Read those weird poems in Greek.”

The fairy does cartwheels. “Now this is more like it.”

“I wanted… like, you did take care of me, like you would a doll. It wasn’t such a bad life. If you were gonna come back here… I wanted to part on good terms. Wanted to let you know I survived, because I know what you’re like with guilt. But you don’t get to walk back in here and tell me not to fucking swear, ‘big brother’!”

“Kyahahaha.” The fairy steps in, across Leonard’s dumbstruck silence. “Yeah, I like you, Lukhege. You’d have been a much better pact than this dummy.”

“Lukhege.” Leonard manages. “I’m… grateful you could be honest about how you felt.” His words sound pathetic even to him. “And. I’m… sorry.”

Lukhege scoffs. “It’s whatever, old man. You’re an adult, I know the score. Go do your important government thing and take your flying, uh, rat with you.” He’s standing by the end of this, fists balled, taking evident satisfaction. How much of this did Lukhege rehearse? No, he had to have improvised that last part. Well, let him have his satisfaction. Leonard deserves this.

“You know…” the fairy says.

“Don’t.” Leonard turns his shaggy head towards it, grimacing. “Let’s leave it at that. Lukhege has said his piece. We know he’s alive. Time for us to go.”

The fairy ignores him. “Lukhege, do you know what your big bro was doing on that night the Empire came?”

Leonard turns, and starts walking. He doesn’t hear Lukhege’s reply. But he hears every word of the fairy’s answer, in excruciating detail, relayed through the pact.

“You know, that really was pretty entertaining.” The fairy floats beside Leonard as he stalks back the way he’d come, his feet following the bumps of an old Roman road between the trees. “Really, I had no idea the kid would be there. I guess I can’t find you his skeleton anymore now? Tell you what, I’m in a good mood, call it a favour. Next time you want something poisonous from a high shelf…”

“Haven’t you done enough?”

“Oh, feeling sorry for yourself again? You heard the kid. It’s not like I told him anything he hadn’t already twigged.”

Leonard walks on, silent for a moment. “So you’re gloating for no reason, then?”

This, at least, earns a momentary reprieve.

“Heh. Kyahaha. You know what, I give you that. He’ll remember that for the rest of his shit life. But you’re free now! No more dirty little secrets! I did you a favour, really.”

Leonard stops. He sighs, and starts down another familiar road. “You just hurt someone. A child. For no reason. You had nothing to gain.”

“Oh, yeah. That I did.”

“It makes you feel nothing?”

“It makes me feel pretty good, actually!”


“Look, nitwit.” The fairy floats up, hands on its hips. “You’re no fucking different. You want to use someone, you take them. You don’t care if they’re hurt. But you have to tell yourself, oh, I’m such a bad person, oh, it’s me against these dreadful urges, oh, if only someone could see me and judge me for being such an awful, terrible, bad, naughty human. So funny. So pathetic. Kinda stale now tho!”

“I… I might have made it worse, if I hadn’t been so strict. I stopped myself. So many times.”

“And what good did it do ya?”

“It wasn’t about me.”

He washes the razor in the stream, wipes it dry. He’s gotten pretty good at using it blind now, but there are still a few cuts. For a parade ground he’ll be plenty presentable, a true hero of the Union.

The sun’s warmth touches his head, stretching over the treetops. Rising. With a grunt, Leonard shoulders his pack, and the fairy settles into its customary position on top.

There’s nothing left to say. They walk on in silence, into the sun. The air carries only the sound of wind, of crickets, of the boots of returning soldiers marching the other way.

Almost companionable.