Disclaimer: All concepts relating to the world of Velgarth, and the kigdom of Valdemar are the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey. Any spelling, grammar or canon errors are all the fault of etcetera-cat.
Notes: This is past life-building. Myet is the prior incarnation of Heraldic trainee Syvin, who belongs entirely to Firefox over at In Companion’s Field. Thaddie is mine, and is the prior incarnation of my alter, Companion Kykiri. Kudos for Fox for giving me the go-ahead to thieve her alter for this and How Did it…
How Did it… and this are companion pieces- they can be read in either order and essentially tell the same story— I personally believe that you should read both, however I’m biased…
…Come to This?
There is a single sentence—
—six simple words—
—the same number of syllables—
—that echoes and drives—
—and shatters my soul.
Each day that question repeatedly asks itself, and each day I deny that I know the answer… I try to pretend that I’m not fighting against some unseen emptiness and that I’m barely keeping my head above the metaphorical water.
For three years I’ve existed—calling this ‘living’ is stretching truth to snapping point— like this. My world is made up of sharp edges and cold lines, of concentrating on one thing at a time in a vain attempt to keep away from the spiralling downwards of madness and grief.
I finally give in to the inevitable and sigh softly as I open my eyes and stare up at the ceiling above my bed. Long familiarity leads my eyes in an almost mindless tracing of the shadowy reliefs and thin lines that span their way across the white-painted plasterwork as I try to muster the energy to move. My bed is warm, and I guess it’s comfortable, but that’s not the reason that I wish to linger.
After a long moment of stillness, I shift slightly, rolling so that I am facing the partially curtain-shrouded window to my first story bedroom. The dim, flat quality to the light suggests that it is either early morning— a quick internal tally decides no— or that the weather is setting out to be truly miserable.
Misery loves company—
The faint chill to the air of the room confirms the latter conclusion and I sigh slowly before sitting up and edging out of the vaguely comforting warmth of the covers and padding across the chilly wooden floor to prod half-heartedly at the banked embers of the almost extinct fire with a short iron poker.
The dull red and orange glow of the coals, combined with the sputtering yellow sparks as I stir at the fire is hypnotic and I crouch on the worn rag-rug spread before the hearth and stare almost blindly into it’s depths.
How did it come to this?
The fire crackles to life and a rolling feel of warmth from in front of me only highlights the gentle caress of the cold down my back. I should get dressed… The thought drifts slowly across my mind and crystallises as I subject it to single-minded examination, and I make a move after a short while.
No need to wash— I visited the bathhouse last night, wasted a candlemark concentrating on the wisps of pattern created by the steam and the eddying air currents, and had a bath. That just leaves clothes to find and I reach out with one hand to pull open the dark wood door of the wardrobe that makes up one of the few pieces of furniture I possess. The contents are depressingly similar and many variations on the shade of grey- from pale buff to dark charcoal—
—but not white… Never white, not any more—
My mind is busy recoiling away from that train of thought, so my body continues coasting along— picking out a tunic and trousers in dark grey and a shirt of a lighter shade, the relevant selection of undergarments and pulling them slowly on and I find myself in front of the large piece of polished metal that serves as a mirror.
I concentrate first on the grey of my chest— covered as it is by cloth— and gradually pull my line of sight higher, running up my thin, underfed looking body, to the gaunt and shadowed lines of my lower face—
—and then I pause, staring at the polished dimness of my reflected nose for a long time. The mirror isn’t good enough to make out the stubborn cluster of freckles that are scattered across my nose and cheeks. Pops and crackles behind me announce the fire finding a particularly knotty piece of wood in the fuel I hadn’t even realised that I’d piled onto the fire after stirring it up.
I manage to set myself and painfully pull my concentration upwards by a final few inches, to meet my own gaze. Blank edged madness drowned in mossy green stares back at me, and I stifle a sob as silent tears slowly trace their way past the wayward freckles.
I stumble backwards— heels catching on the edge of one of the rag-rugs as I back away from the mirror and I hastily turn away, scrubbing at my face with one hand as I search blindly for a pair of boots. I find one black leather indoor boot lodged under my bed and pull it on whilst looking around my bedroom for its mate.
I lopsidedly hobble over to the plain wooden door that separates my bedroom from the other room in my ‘suite’ and push at the ajar door with a hand still damp with my own tears. The room I move into is as impersonal and basic as my bedroom— a table and a selection of wooden backed chairs and over-stuffed armchairs populate the square room and their sideways shadows slant away from the flat grey light that is streaming in by the un-shuttered bay window to my left.
The second boot is leaning against the more worn and battered looking of the armchairs, and I flop into its comforting embrace whilst I wrestle the shoe on. That accomplished, I rise once more to my feet and look about momentarily.
Deep breaths… There shouldn’t be too many people around at this time…
I slip out into the corridor and pull the door closed behind myself- leaning briefly against the warm wood as I dart my attention around the lamp-illuminated white plaster and varnished wood panelled hall. As I suspected, there is no-one else around— not that many people live at this end of the Palace at the moment. Most of them decamped off to the new wing when it opened- exclaiming over it’s improved amenities. I moved rooms as well, but stayed in the Old Palace.
Theoretically, I’m aware that I should be hungry— I last ate yesterday lunchtime… I think. Unimportant background events like that rarely stick in my mind for long. When I do them, they are all I think about— intense scrutiny is not the phrase for it— but afterwards… well, it all just drifts away. I’m not hungry however, and I really can’t face the interaction with other people I will have to force upon myself in order to brave the dining hall or the kitchens.
Especially not today.
My feet unconsciously set their own pace and path and I trudge to the far end of the well-lit corridor and down the staircase in my customary silence. Inside, I feel like I’m vibrating— so strong is the urge to scream, but I won’t let myself.
It didn’t do any good three years ago, and it won’t do any bloody good now.
The ground floor corridor is identical to the one above it, and I ghost along it until I reach the glazed double doors at the end of it. The opposite end to that of the staircase, naturally.
Opening the door and stepping outside presents the whole of my body to the elements and a chilly wind swirls around me, scattering fragments of raindrops out of the air. I shiver reflexively and wrap my arms around my chest as I step forwards, footsteps crunching wetly on the gravel path that leads towards the—the Field.
And the tower and the Bell and the memories. My memories—how did…?
My body knows exactly how to get to the place I am heading and I let it take over as I sink backwards into the past. Back to the time and the place when I was happy and whole—
Mountain air has a strange quality about it, a clearness that makes it seem like you can reach out and scoop up handfuls of the clouds, or run your fingers along the sharp edges of the distant horizon. It also has a fresh, sharp quality about it that cuts through your lungs and makes you feel lighter than is possible. This far north, the sharp scent of the cold air is also laced with the heady green-ness of pine forests and the earthy spice of undisturbed loam.
This is what I love about riding Circuit— the chance to see some truly stunning things. An amused snort brings my attention back to the immediate and I look down in time to catch a cynical sapphire stare.
“Well, it does.” I protest, with a shift of my weight in the saddle. In return I get a distinct impression of of course and the ghostly sensation of a pat on my head. “Jai—“ I protest and attempt to return my Companion’s stare, without much luck.
Jai is an expert at a wide range of expressions— pretty amazing considering he’s basically horse-shaped— and has practised them many times in the years that we’ve known each other. The eloquence and expansive nature of his non-verbal communication is easier to understand if you know that I don’t possess any kind of Thoughtsensing Gift— my only Gift is Fetching— and that I’ve only ever heard Jai’s Mindvoice once— on the day that he Chose me.
I sometimes wish that I could Mindspeak with him— or that he could Mindspeak me— but I dismiss that thought as un-worthy and not Heraldic. Our bond is more than enough as it is— we can sense each other, and can definitely communicate our feelings to each other with no problems at all.
Normally, Heralds ride long Circuits in pairs— and indeed, Jai and I do have company on this trip… or rather we did until Adza got the news of her father’s death whilst we were at our last village stop. I insisted that she leave for her home straight away, and I have the feeling that Jai said pretty much the same thing to her Companion, Curren, before we packed them of in the general direction of Haven a few days ago.
That means it’s just the pair of us to ride this last little loop, more of a scenic diversion around the edge of the Northern Mountains to bring you back to the eastern split-off of the North Road.
The portion of the trail Jai and I are currently on looks in need of some repair— I think that there might have been a rockslide here at some point actually, the path winding across the rocky slope of the foothills has a certain rutted quality to it.
Jai senses my concern, I think, for he pauses for a moment and gifts the dusty almost-road with a faintly disgusted look and a prolonged sigh, before picking up silver hooves and continuing once more.
The gentle chiming of his hooves and bridle bells lulls both of us into an almost trance and when I first hear the rumbling sounds I glance worriedly up at the sky, certain that we are about to get caught short in one of the area’s infamous thunderstorms—
Scalloped and distant white clouds drift guilelessly above in the deep blue sky as I stare up in puzzlement. Jai’s alarmed snort brings my attention crashing back down to earth and I have barely that much warning before he digs hooves into the ground and launches forwards.
“Wha—?” The half-word is jerked out of me, along with most of my breath as I struggle to find equilibrium, whilst simultaneously staring wildly about for the source of the growing sounds.
A single pebble ricochets across the path in front of us and my eyes are dragged to the right—
—to the slope rising on one side of us—
—and the slithering cloud of dust—
—growing roar of guttural anger—
Something— a rock, a clod of earth, something— bounces ahead of the swirling and ominous cloud of dust and smacks into Jai’s flank with a sickening sound.
He squeals in pain and I feel a distant burst of pain from him, but he keeps running.
We’re going to make it— we have to make it—
—and then it’s there, on top of us and around us and over us and it’s pelting us with stones from a thousand different directions. I open my mouth to shout and cloying earth and dust rushes to choke me, trying to crowd down my throat and into my lungs.
Distantly I hear Jai shriek again, and I tighten my grip on the saddle as we are swept sideways by the avalanche. I don’t even see the rock that thumps into my head and steals away consciousness.
And that was that. The bitter thought swims upwards and I fling it at the rain-shrouded and silent temple in the Field, in front of which I have halted. One rock in an avalanche injures me such that it triggers my Mindspeech, and the same avalanche takes away the one person I would want to use that Gift with—
The tears mingle with the rain on my face as I try to regulate my breathing. It still hurts as much as it did that day I woke up— back in Haven, and five weeks later— and found that the rock that had finally struck Jai had been a lot bigger.
My grief was hedged about by worried and hasty lesson in shielding and Mindspeech, once it became apparent that I had developed that Gift and that I could project with proficiency.
A Gift I don’t want…
I’ve become physically numb, the cold wind and penetrating rain have stolen every vestige of feeling from my limbs and skin as I stand in the Field, staring silently up at the hidden shadow of the Bell.
I wish the wind could numb my soul—my heart…make this bearable—
My bleak introspection is interrupted by the realisation that someone is standing close to me, watching me silently. I turn, half ready to snap and find myself—
—darkened blue eyes that have the same shadowed depths as my own, and a wave of compassion and complete understanding rolls around me, before retreating slightly.
A question forms itself silently in my mind and I hear a beautiful, sad voice.
:Not to forget, never to forget.:
A tentative offer, edged with a hint of longing and I stare into living sapphire.
:Never to forget, to remember.: I find myself assuring the Companion slowly as our broken hearts begin to weave closer.
:To remember—: she whispers, and I suddenly know that she is called Thaddie and she understands more than I could hope for, :Chosen.:
I reach out and slide my hands around her soaking neck and pull us closer as we turn to stare back up at the tower in the rain.