Disclaimer: Verily I shall disclaim (albeit in slightly different wording) that everything relating to the concept of Velgarth, such as Heralds, Companions, the Shin’a’in and so on and so forth is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey. I’m just the slightly odd creative writer… please stop the poking with the sticks… okay?
Notes: Whatcha again ‘Sethi-type personage! This one-shot type dealie was originally written for Kierseth as part of her package in the Package of Stuff exchange that Senashenta, herself and myself have entirely too much glee participating in…
Dust does not become me. Unfortunately, dust is what I currently have an abundance of; I’m absolutely caked in the stuff. Uniformly, I’m a dull grey colour that no amount of shaking or rolling can affect and that only a really good bath could hope to shift.
If I could find a patch of water larger than a puddle then I would gladly soak until my hooves fell off. This part of the world seems to have a distinct lack of the wet stuff, however. Flat, scrubby plains land; yes.
Unexpected, precipice-like cliffs as major boundaries; yes.
Quite frankly disturbing forests; a definite yes.
Rivers, lakes, streams or ponds bigger than a half-hearted trickle; apparently not.
My presumptive Chosen had better have a thing for providing equine hygiene, that’s all I can say.
Most Companions confine themselves to Valdemar when they go out on Search— a few of the ridiculously lucky ones merely have to saunter around the capital city, Haven, in order to find their missing half. Madiline, one of my friends, didn’t even have to do that; she literally had to step out of the Companion’s Stables one day and she practically trod on the Palace page who turned out to be her Chosen.
I am not so blessed and have now been away from Haven for nigh on four months. For nearly three of those months, I’ve not even been in Valdemar. You see, my Chosen is an Outlander… more than that, he— or indeed, she— is one of the Shin’a’in; the mysterious nomads that dwell on the Dhorisha Plains. I’ve got no worries about the equine hygiene thing then, have I?
It seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? Myself— a Companion of Valdemar— should have to travel so far in order to find the person she will Choose to serve and protect Valdemar.
Life’s funny like that, I guess. Quite a few of the more notable Heralds have not been of the kingdom that they ended up devoting their lives to. Offhand, I can think of at least two Weaponsmasters and four Couriers who were born— and in some cases spent a fair portion of their lives— nowhere near Valdemar.
I left Haven on the south Trade Road, and followed it’s entire length until I reached the mountain range that separates Valdemar from Karse and Rethwellan. The amorphous internal directions floating in my subconscious mind prodded me towards the Comb and Rethwellan and I spent three cold and thoroughly unimpressed days picking my way along the poor excuse for the trail. I know know why most of the merchant trains from the southern lands travel north via Karse and the White Foal and Burning Pines passes, or through Hardorn.
When I get my Chosen back to Haven and they’ve become a full Herald I’m going to insist that we never ride a Circuit anywhere mountainous or cold, and definitely not anywhere that’s both. Wise Spirit’s perogative.
I don’t think that I’ve ever liked the cold— and in my current form I can remember more than a few evers.
Once I got into Rethwellan itself, the weather was much more amenable and enough people knew what I was that I managed to get a few free groomings and more substantial meals than the foraging I have otherwise been living off.
Of course, that changed the further I got into Rethwellan and I had to begin spending longer each day grazing in order to keep up my energy levels. I also began to bless the fact that I had swanned off on Search without my formal tack.
For one thing; no matter how comfortable the geniuses at the Palace can make the Companion saddles and hackamores, prancing around in them for months on end would not be. Secondly; the sound of the bells makes me incredibly antsy. As far as I’m concerned, my hooves make more than enough of the chiming sounds when the occasion demands, and there is no need for me to go parading around with half of a silversmith’s shop hanging from me.
You go with your opinions, Rallio. I sigh and shake my head as I berate myself. You’ve been on the road for too long, silly horse.
I blink and look around the wooded clearing in which I have just spent the night, before stretching my neck out, then rising to my feet to incorporate the whole of my body into the wakeup routine. The clearing I’m in is actually on the very edges of the Hawkbrother claimed lands of the Pelagirs. Despite the huge setback of the Changlings caused by the Great Storms in the time of Selenay, the Hawkbrothers have pretty much eradicated most of the nasty beasties that infested the eastern and northern reaches of the Pelagir lands.
If I had been on Search fifty or sixty years ago I would have stood a fair chance of being munched by something hairy with pointy teeth, whereas now I just have to deal with mosquitoes.
Of course— I point out to myself as I wander across the clearing to a small brook— if this was fifty or sixty years ago, I probably wouldn’t know anything about the Hawkbrothers other than vague rumours and I definitely wouldn’t mention the words ‘true magic’ anywhere near a human.
I shake my head again, droplets of water flying from my muzzle as I finish drinking. Definitely been on the road for too long.
Hopefully all this journeying should soon come to fruition.
I exit the clearing using the same narrow game trail that I picked my way along last night and quickly find my way to the edge of the forest— and the border of my to-be-Chosen’s homeland; the Dhorisha Plains. It’s not exactly hard to miss, really. Three hundred foot sheer cliff drops are the kind of geographical feature that even a blind rabbit would notice.
I actually arrived at this obvious border yesterday, as the sun was just beginning to set but— short of jumping off the edge— I couldn’t see a way down.
And, silly horse, going splat rather defeats the entire object of matters.
The clear morning sunlight streams over the tops of the trees behind me, chasing the shadows ever into the west as I approach the cliff top. A chilly breeze dances around me, plucking playfully at my snarled mane and tail before diving down to the grasslands below.
To my left— in a south-easterly direction— the cliff looks entirely cliff like… not going to be getting down that way then… but to my right I can see what I couldn’t the previous evening; the decreasing zig-zag line of a path down.
I sigh loudly and stump towards the trail wearing a disgruntled expression, an expression that grows more pronounced as I reach the head of the gravelly track and stare down the first part of it.
Wonderful. Just wonderful.
Apart from the cold, the other main reason that I never intend to ride Circuit in the mountainous regions of Valdemar is the heights. Can’t stand the things.
Well… standing here staring at it won’t get it over with any sooner. Another heartfelt sign into the sweet smelling air and I set my hooves onto the stone and gravel-strewn path and begin descending.
By the time that I finally reach the foot of the cliffs and find myself in the Dhorisha Plains proper, the sun has almost reached its zenith and the sky is a brilliant blue dome overhead. I am tired, thirsty and I made the mistake of looking down once.
After that, I kept my eyes fixed firmly onto the ground until I made the grass.
There is a gentler cousin of the cliff top wind down here and it dances invisible fingers along my side and makes the rolling expanse of flower-dotted grass ripple and sway. I raise my head and narrow my eyes; the whisper at the center of my being thrills forwards and crystallizes into an insistent tugging.
My Chosen is that way.
I flag my tail and prance in place, tiredness forgotten, and am about to start forwards when a welcome scent flicks across my nose, carried on the back of the wind.
Which would definitely be an advantage, Rallio. The thought announces itself and I have to agree with its logic; I tilt my head over slightly and half close my eyes as I concentrate on what my nose is telling me. I can smell water and wet earth and mossy stone, off to my left and behind me.
I turn around and eye the fractured immensity of the cliffs before flowing forwards at a fast walk. Around a massive curving bluff— the base of the twisty path I tracked down— there is a small pool of water, surrounded by dense green bushes and some small trees and fed by a clear trickle of water that emerges from the rock face at about human head height.
I grunt happily and push through the dark greenery and bury my nose in the water and slurp my fill. Nice water.
When I’ve sated my thirst I make my way back out into the open, ears twitching absently as I survey the country before me. I’m coming, my Chosen.
My pace quickly levels into a rolling trot which I can keep up indefinitely and I stretch my head out joyfully as I follow the Call in my soul.
It is coming to late afternoon and my stomach is growling at me by the time I catch the smell of cooking fires and horses on the wind. I slow and circle around a low hill rather than over the top of it and find myself practically nose to nose with several exceptionally ugly looking grey horses.
Shin’a’in battle steeds… I hold still and the largest of the mares approaches me and sniffs me thoroughly from muddy nose to dusty tail. Behind the other mares I can see the rest of the Clan’s heard— the more compact and graceful looking saddle horses interspersed with the blocky, watchful forms of the battle steeds.
My attention is drawn back by the mare in front of me concluding her examinations and voicing a whicker.
Belatedly, I notice the watchful stances that the other horses had adopted, relaxing at the sound and a large part of the herd return to grazing, ignoring me entirely.
I guess I’ve been accepted then.
After a moment to orientate myself I move forwards and mingle with the horses; I blend in remarkably well as the dust and grime liberally coating me has made me a speckled grey colour.
Keeping my head low and snatching mouthfuls of grass as I go, I head towards the collection of vividly patterned and coloured tents that comprise my Chosen’s current home.
Musical voices; one adult and one child catch my attention and I pause, one foot raised, and prick my ears. I’m glad, now, that I had one of the Haven dyheli ‘give’ me Shin’a’in before I left.
“—really and truly, father?” Male, young and filled with excitement.
A deep laugh. “Yes, Joskin. It is time for you to pick your own saddle mare.” The older voice is indulgent and amused. “So, Liha’irden’s herd is before you, my son; pick your jel’enedra.”
I twist my head around the flanks of the horses beginning to converge on the pair— looking for treats— and get my first look at my Chosen.
Lanky… tall— that’s the first thing I notice about him. He also had the trademark golden skin and black hair; a rough cut mess haphazardly contained by leather thongs— of his people and is dressed in green breeches and a striped blue and green tunic of some description. In one hand he is loosely holding a bridle decorated with white tassels, and in the other is a rolled up saddle blanket. Standing a short distance behind him is a swarthy man dressed in vivid yellow and red.
I laugh delightedly to myself as I note that the blanket in Joskin’s hand is geometrically patterned blue and silver.
He approaches the herd, face screwed up with concentration as me runs dark eyes over the horses milling in front of him. I move with them, edging my way closer to him. Hopefully I can catch his attention before he picks a mount—
I freeze, as do the mares around me. Joskin’s father walks forwards, expression puzzled. “Which one?”
“The dusty one, there.” He sounds excited as he starts forwards and I covertly look about for my equine rival.
A hand on my neck makes me start with surprise, as dose the voice next to my head.
“This one, father.” I blink and stare down into bottomless dark eyes and vaguely, somewhere far away, I can hear Joskin’s father muttering to himself.
“—don’t recognize that mare as one of ours—“
I struggle to collect myself as Joskin gapes back at me. “You—you have blue eyes—“ he whispers.
:Hello Joskin.: I lower my head and press my nose to the side of his face. :I am Rallio, and you are my Chosen.: