Disclaimer: Legend of the Seeker is property of its respective owners. The only thing I can lay claim to is the insanity that is my mind.
Timeline: There are two major AU points for this story. Obviously from 'Perdition' since Leo is still alive. The other is 'Walter' which won't become evident until later, but in short, Darken Rahl is alive but disappeared instead of killing the night wisps. This story starts shortly after that episode, although will occasionally mention how things changed with Leo's survival.
Author's Note: This story is going to alternate perspective between Richard and Leo each chapter. And, for the curious, the battle Leo mentions in this chapter is from the show. Leo mentions it to Kahlan in 'Perdition', I just expanded on things.
In The Blood
The weight of the sword felt comfortable, if not yet quite natural, in his hands. It was a comfort born of long practise and hard work. The blade was strong and the weight was perfect and, all in all, Richard liked his sword. It may not have been the Sword of Truth, but it was still a blade that fit him well, almost perfectly. The fact that it was a gift from Kahlan made it all the better.
Richard's opponent was good, really good – he was fast and strong and not unskilled, but neither was Richard. His motions were swift and true as he blocked and parried every blow sent his way. They traded strikes furiously for several minutes, and then he saw it; the flaw, the opening. A flick of his blade knocked his opponent's aside and a swift kick to the chest sent them sprawling on the ground.
"You're getting better," Richard said as he held out a hand to help the other man up. "You almost had me that time. You're still relying on the sword too much though."
Leo grinned and took the offered hand. Standing, he examined the Sword of Truth in his hands. "Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?"
Richard nodded. "To a point, yes. You can learn a lot by letting it guide you, not to mention save your life, but you can't let it control you either."
"You mean the sword's rage?" Leo asked and Richard nodded again. The dangers of the sword was one of the first lessons he instilled in the new Seeker. The last thing he wanted was another incident like with the Minders. It was good Leo remembered, but it wasn't quite what Richard was trying to get across either.
"Not just that," he told him. "You and I both know that the sword can guide you in combat – the hand of Seekers past," when Leo motioned he understood he went on. "The thing is, you're not the Seekers past, you're Leo Dane, Seeker of Truth, unique wholly unto you. The way you fight is going to be as unique to you as any of the Seekers before you was to them. Let the sword guide you, yes, but don't let it override your own instincts either."
"Another lesson?" Leo said, his tone amused but their was a seriousness in his eyes telling Richard he was taking in every word.
Richard still couldn't help but laugh. "I guess so."
Leo looked up to the sky before levelling his gaze back at Richard and raising the Sword of Truth with a flourish. "We still have some light left. Should we go again?"
Richard gave him an amused looked and raised his own blade with equal flourish. It was strange to find himself in the role of mentor, but he can't say he didn't enjoy it either. If nothing else Leo was an eager student, wanting to learn all that he could from his predecessor. He supposed he should resent the man who now held the title he fought so long and hard to honour. He didn't though. It was never about the titles after all; only about doing what's right.
He actually like Leo. The new Seeker had brought with him a humour and good-hearted nature that Richard hadn't realized the group had started to lose. It was a nice change.
Plus the way he kept getting under Cara's skin was a source of endless amusement.
The poorly hidden hero worship he could do without.
Richard supposed it was natural. Many of the people of the Midlands grew up with tales of great heroes called Seekers who arose in times of great need to help the people. Leo would have been no different. Then when he came along stories of a new Seeker's heroic battles against the D'Haran forces, somewhat embellished in Richards opinion, began to circulate the land and became a source of hope and inspiration to the people. The looks they gave him were something that Richard had never been able to get used to.
It didn't help that the first time he met Leo he had saved the man's life. He had only just dragged himself out of the Valley of Perdition, weak and confused, when he saw Nicci sending an arc of magic at Kahlan; saw the strange man with the Sword of Truth in hand throw himself between them. To this day Richard had no clue how he managed to travel the distance so fast, but suddenly he was there, knocking the man from the air even as he gripped his wrist and raised the sword to deflect the magic.
"Lesson number one, Seeker," he remembered saying as he took the Sword of Truth from the man's slackened grip and cut down two charging Sister's of the Dark. "When dealing with magic, block with the sword, not your body. You'll live longer."
It would be the first of many lessons Richard would teach the new Seeker as he slipped into the role of teacher like he was born to it. He had shocked everyone, even himself, when he had declined taking back the Sword of Truth and the compass. His instincts told him something wasn't right if he did, and Richard was one to follow his instincts even when he didn't understand them. If he was one to do anything else then Cara wouldn't be with them now.
The two touched blades to signal the start of their next bout and backed into ready positions. They stared each other down their blades, each waiting for the other to be the first to move, but Richard stood calm and patient, knowing that in this battle of wills he had yet to lose. Though, to Leo's credit, he was getting closer.
After their first meeting, hearing the way Leo spoke in awe of him, Richard had been worried that the man wouldn't have been able to strike at him at all. In truth Richard respected the man for his commitment and skilled fighting in the resistance like he had. Then Leo had to tell him about how his commander had abandoned them in the face of overwhelming odds and he and the others had all but lost hope before hearing about the Battle of Rising Ridge.
The Seeker. One man alone holding the line against hundreds. It had been the inspiration that had gotten them through their own battle and those to follow. If the Seeker could stand against overwhelming odds than so could they.
Richard had tried to correct him. Yes he had been alone, it happened in one of the rare moments when both Zedd and Kahlan had gone on ahead, but it had hardly been against hundreds of D'Haran soldiers. There had only been sixty, seventy tops.
Which, after he said it, Richard had to admit that it still sounded pretty impressive, but there was more.
Richard had stayed behind rather than go into town with Kahlan and Zedd. Rising Ridge had been hit hard in the past with a string of false Seekers and the last thing he wanted was to make them uncomfortable. Besides, he liked the woods and, as much as he loved Zedd and Kahlan, it was nice to get some time to himself every once in awhile. Time to do something he enjoyed without shouldering the weight of the world for a time.
Naturally that had been when he spotted the D'Haran forces pushing through the trail with all the subtly of a shadrin heading straight for Rising Ridge. Presumably its history with Seekers, false or otherwise, had drawn attention.
Obviously he couldn't fight so many soldiers, but neither would he be able to outrun them enough to help the farming town mount any sort of defence. Not one that wouldn't end up with a lot of innocent people being killed at any rate.
Instead Richard worked his way far enough ahead to put some of the skills his father had taught him to use. George Cypher had taught both his sons a great deal about the forest, how to track and hunt only the beginning. He remembered one summer in particular when Hartland had been having a problem with bandits. His father had told them that the forest could easily play tricks on the mind of even the bravest of men. A sound here, a shadow there and the mind could fill in with a far more terrifying image than any you could come up with yourself.
George Cypher had driven the bandits away without spilling a single drop of blood and left both his sons in awe. Naturally the boys were eager to emulate their father and put their newfound knowledge to use. When their father had found out he told them in no uncertain terms to stop tormenting the Chicken Man.
Here Richard had put those skills to a far less mischievous end than he and Michael had when they were boys. Not to mention more bloody than his father had employed. All it had taken was picking off a few stranglers for their weapons, particularly their crossbows and a perfect ambush spot in a forested incline leading down to the trail. With the right chimes to blow in the wind, some traps, and crossbows rigged with vines to fire together, and the D'Harans believed they were in an unfavourable position being ambushed by a much larger force and fled.
The real story had just made Leo respect him all the more.
And as Richard predicted Leo was the first to move, lunging forward with a thrust designed more to test his defence than any serious attempt to get through it. Richard barely had to move his blade to parry it, but his muscles started to burn with effort and his arms felt like leaden weights. Another strike and his blade was knocked out of place leaving a clear gap in his defence.
Dual Leo's filled his vision as Richard fought to stay upright. It's not the first time he felt weak, but never like this and never in a fight. As Leo moved to take advantage of the opening Richard feared it would be the last time and from the shock in Leo's eyes he felt it too.
His sword slipped from his grip as Leo's blade sought to strike him down, realization that something was wrong coming too late, the motion too committed to stop now.