Disclaimer:  Everything relating to the world of Velgarth and the kingdom of Valdemar is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.  Having said that, she-of-the-tangents is entirely the fault of etcetera-cat, who is beginning to wonder if there’s any kind of cream to get rid of her…

Notes:  Seriously.  A barrier cream against characters that should be content with the 30 chapter story they already have?  It would be heaven!  Also; have fun trying to fill in the other halves of the Mindspoken conversations, I know I did.

Feed(back) etcetera-cat.



:You’re being objectionable.:

She could hear the voices again.  They were getting louder— had been for the past week— almost as if their owners were coming nearing to where Lillin lived.  That in and of itself was nothing to exclaim about; it was a simple fact of reality that people’s voices got louder as they walked towards, and then past, you.

:Yes, you are being objectionable—:

It would have been so much more reassuring if said voices hadn’t been intruding into Lillin’s life for the past week and a half.  Oh, and the part where they were entirely in her head.  That was also somewhat inconvenient.

:You’re supposed to be on my side!  Not teaming up against me with the Objectionables!:

Like now, for example; Lillin was trying to wring out and hang up the washing— whilst keeping an ever-present eye on Jayk, who had just turned two and whom was convinced that everything in the world existed for him to try and eat it.

:Because I said so and I’m always right.  Name me one time when I’ve been wrong.:

“Jayk, sweetie, I don’t think you should be eating that,” Lillin expertly tossed the wet sheet onto the bramble bush and bent down to scoop the clod of mud from her son’s mouth before he could sample it. 

The small boy looked up at her, his expression quickly sinking into a juvenile frown, lower lip beginning to wobble alarmingly.  Lillin ignored this in favour of plucking a blackberry off of the handy bramble bush.  “Here, have this instead.”

:That was a rhetorical question, Alexander!:

Jayk’s expression transformed into one of surprise as his mother expertly posted the fruit into his open-in-preparation-for-a-damn-good-tantrum mouth.  “’erry!” He exclaimed happily, producing a rapidly-turning-purple smile.

:You’re all impossibly horrible to me.:

Actually, Lillin considered, it’s only the one voice today; the female one.  I wonder why?  Standing up again, Lillin began to spread the sheet out over the bush so that it would dry properly, simultaneously shifting her weight from foot to foot in order to free the other one up to corral her wayward child as he set about decimating the blackberries within his increasingly sticky grasp.

:You are:

At least it wasn’t mud.

:Why did I take up with you lot again, please remind me?:

The voice, for all of the complaints it was producing, didn’t seem to actually belong to someone who was that annoyed.  It had more of the tone that the old gaffers who spent their days sitting on the bench in front of the village inn used when they were indulging in one of their wrangling, circular arguments to pass the time.

:That was a rhetorical question as well.:

It even had that faintly sulky overtone to it as well.

:You’re all horrible.:

Lillin shook her head and broke out of the semi-daze that listening to the voice always seemed to induce in her.  Casting a look down at her son— who was now decorated in a theme of reddish purple— Lillin sighed, bending down to scoop him up before he could manage to lever himself into the basket of clean laundry that was sitting next to him. 

:So… where are we going?:

Blackberry dipped children and other people’s white linens did not mix well together.

Easily settling the child onto her hip, Lillin blessed the fact that today she had opted to wear a faded purple-grey shirt and black skirt; Jayk’s sticky handprints barely showed up at all.  The voice also seemed to have left her for the moment— it usually happened like that, as soon as there was any hint that Lillin might overhear something that would give her some clue as to who and where the voice (or voices) was coming from, she invariably lost track of it (or them).

Never mind; I hardly have time to be standing about daydreaming, she told herself firmly as Jayk tugged at her sleeve.  “Yes, dear?”

“Mummy, wan’ ‘erries,” Jayk informed her solemnly, pointing at the bramble bush to emphasise his point.

“I’ve got to take Sara’s linens back over to her,” Lillin told her son.  “After, that is, we clean you up.”

The wobbling lip started to make another appearance.

“If you’re good then maybe Sara will have a berry tart for you.”

“’erry tar!”  Jayk’s expression magically cleared again.  Like most littles he was almost entirely food motivated.  Particularly if said food was sweet and sticky.

Lillin chuckled and cuddled her son to her as she began walking towards the neat little cottage that was their home.


It was a singularly glorious day; golden sunlight bathed the rolling countryside in a rich pattern of light and made for a bucolic scene.  The peaceful nature of the scene was underscored by the gentle chiming of hoof beats and bridle bells as a pair of Companions— their respective Heralds sitting easily in the saddle— trotted side-by-side down the country road that arrowed between the neat, dry-stone walled fields.

It was an entirely peaceful scene.  It wasn’t going to last for long.

The road was anything but long and winding.  It was narrow.  It was narrow and straight.  It was narrow and straight and completely and utterly boring.  Not that it exactly took a lot to breach Teva’s exceptionally low boredom threshold at the best of times, but this road was almost tragic in its unrelieved monotony.

Of course, it would be entirely selfish to keep all of the boredom to oneself.

:Alexander, I’m bored.:  The scruffier looking of the two Companions proceeding down the road heaved her sides out in a sigh and cast a long suffering look back at her Herald.

Alexander rolled his eyes.  “That honestly doesn’t surprise me,” he said in a resigned tone of voice.  “After all, we’ve had silence for, what?”  He looked over to their travelling companions for confirmation.

“A whole half candlemark,” Samyel decided, after squinting skywards for a moment.  “That must be a new record.”

:Hey!:  Teva objected loudly.  :You’re disparaging my sainted existence and I’m not sure I like it.:

Alex snorted with what sounded like amusement, swatting at the back of Teva’s head with the reins he held in one hand.  “Do sainted beings indulge in extremely messy dust baths at the start of the day?” he inquired in an innocent tone of voice.

:I had an itch.:  Teva flicked her ears and looked defensive.  :You try scratching your back when you haven’t got any hands.:

“You could have asked me,” Alex pointed out logically.  “After all, I have hands.”

Sam wobbled in the saddle as Harali snorted loudly in derision.  :You were already busy with them.:  She pointed out tartly as her Chosen resettled himself in the saddle.

:Exactly,: Teva nodded firmly in agreement.  :Honestly, you pair still act like a pair of adolescents!:

“And how is that a problem?”  Samyel asked, exchanging an amused look with Alex.

:You really don’t want either of us to answer that question.:  Harali said in a superior tone of voice.

“That is probably true,” Sam decided prudently.

:Probably?: Sarcasm dripped from Teva’s Mindvoice and she turned her head so she could eye both her Chosen and his partner in a sardonic fashion.

“Excuse me,” Alex tapped Teva between the ears with a finger, “but I hardly think Companions who don’t even know in which direction their feet are taking them— despite having spent the better part of eleven years riding Circuit— are in any position to make fun of people.”

Teva’s ears flattened and she returned her attention to the road.  :Picky, picky, picky.: she muttered rebelliously, before apparently decided that it was a good time to change the subject.  :There’s someone coming up behind us pretty fast.:

“Oh?”  Both Heralds spoke in unison, half turning in their respective saddles to stare back down the road.

:Yep.:  Teva dropped from a trot to a walk, then ambled to a halt precisely in the middle of an angled cross junction in the road.  The mare squinted at the signpost hammered into the ground just in front of the wall that made up the farthest ‘point’ of the cross junction.  :I guess we’re going to Northolt, then.  You could have told me that earlier.:

Alex sighed.  He’d had Teva in his head for well over a decade, and he still couldn’t get used to the fact that her attention span was less, on average, than the life expectancy of a snowflake in a frying pan.  “Who is coming up behind us?” he asked.

:What?: Teva blinked and looked around at him, before widening her eyes.  :Ooh, uh, right.:  The Companion shook her head slightly then unfocused her eyes as she ‘looked’ down the road.

:Oh, my—: That was Harali; her Mindvoice amused.

“Oh my, what?” Sam looked down at his Companion, who was staring at Teva, her sides shaking with silent laughter.

:I don’t believe this.:  Teva muttered, her ears flattening briefly.

“Believe what?”  Alex asked in an exasperated tone, only just beating Samyel to it.

:It’s Radi,: Harali informed both Heralds with a chortle; a chortle that became an outright laugh when both men’s expressions became identical ones of surprise.

“Radi as in your brother Radi?” Alexander asked in a bewildered tone of voice.

Teva’s tail flicked from side to side as she shifted her weight from foot to foot.  :How many younger brothers called Radi do I have?:  She asked, snippily.

“But why is—“ Alex trailed off as he realised just how obvious the question was.  “Did he mention he was feeling his Call?” he instead asked.  After all; the four of them had only left Haven a scant five days ago, and most Companions had at least some inkling that their Call was manifesting for a good few weeks.

:No, he didn’t.:  Teva grumped.  She and her brother had a typical sibling relationship; mainly it involved a lot of sarcasm and bickering.  Still; he should have at least mentioned that he was beginning to feel Called.

“It could be a sudden one— an emergency, you know,” Samyel tried to inject some calm into the situation, as the unmistakable sound of Companion hooves and bridle bells became audible.

:If it was an emergency, then we would know,: Harali pointed out.  :Besides, he’s can’t be moving at more than a lope; that’s eagerness, not emergency.:

Further conversation was forestalled by the young Companion himself hoving into view, then sliding to a thoroughly graceless halt in front of the two Companion mares and their Heralds.

:Teva?: Radi’s tone of voice was something very akin to aghast, and it was matched by his facial expression.  The bells on his formal tack chimed quietly as the young stallion nervously twitched his hide.

:And just how many older sisters out riding Circuit do you have?:  Teva wanted to know.  :You never mentioned you were feeling your Call, you insufferable mule!:

At the insult, Radi drew himself up to his full height and stamped one foot.  :Because It didn’t manifest until after you’d gone— and besides, if It had and I had, then you’d have talked my ears off with useless advice!:

Harali snickered.  :He’s got you there, Teva.:

:You’re not helping, ‘Ali,: Teva shot her friend a significant look, then returned hr attention to her brother.  :What do you mean ‘useless advice’?: she demanded.  :I will have you know that I have been riding Circuits and dealing with Heralds for longer than you’ve been alive, pest—:

:Oh please, can’t you make her stop?:  Radi appealed to Harali, his ears flattening against his head.

Teva began to splutter nonsense, something that both her younger brother and her friend ignored.

:I think she’s already stopped.:  Harali said cheerfully, :Which is more than a slight blessing.  Is your Chosen in Northolt?:

Radi looked at the signpost, then he looked at his sister.  :You’re going to Northolt, aren’t you?: he asked suspiciously.

Teva sniffed and bobbed her head.  :Some of us have work to do, you know,: she said snippily, :well, I suppose we’d better get a move on so you can find your Chosen and Alex and Sam can get on with being all Heraldic at the locals.:

“Oi,” Alex swatted at the air just above Teva’s ears.  “Less of that lip, missy.”

Teva sniffed and looked pointedly at her brother, giving the distinct impression that— had she possessed one— she was raising an eyebrow.

:I’m not going to Northolt.:  Radi said hastily, his eyes darting from side to side.  :I’m going to…um…: his eyes lit upon the signpost.  :Ranger’s Beck, that’s where I’m going!:

Harali exchanged a sceptical look with Teva, before both of them turned to look at the signpost.  Ranger’s Beck was in the opposite direction from Northolt.

:Well, bye!:  Radi produced something very like a nervous cough, backed up a few steps and then whirled around to trot down the narrow track of a road that led towards the mysterious Ranger’s Beck.  There was more than a hint of ‘retreat’ about the whole thing.

Samyel sighed in an exaggerated fashion.  “You can tell that you two are related,” he said to Teva.

:And just what is that supposed to mean?:  Teva flattened her ears back and looked belligerent.

“Nothing, nothing,” Sam held up his hands in a conciliatory fashion.  “Why don’t we continue on to Northolt?”

“Yes please,” Alex said in a resigned tone.

Teva sniffed.  She sounded offended; something that she was actually very good at portraying.  She’d had lots of practice.  :Well, I’m not the one time wasting,: she sniped, before abruptly jumping forwards into a bouncy trot. 

Harali scrambled to follow her, yelping slightly at the unexpected movement.  Within moments, the road dust was settling gently back on the deserted crossroad.


“Sara?”  Lillin kept a firm grip on Jayk’s hand, her other arm fully occupied with holding the basket containing Sara’s freshly cleaned linens.  The door to Sara’s neat little cottage was ajar, which was just as well; Lillin didn’t have a third hand with which to knock on the door.

“Mummy, look,” Jayk leaned his whole weight to one side, so that he was practically hanging from Lillin’s arm.  He was pointing excitedly at the wire-and-wood run that Sara kept her chickens in.  For some reason, Jayk’s obsession of the moment was birds, although he was fast becoming enamoured with all things equine— something that Lillin was not entirely happy about.

Chickens, after all, could not trample a little boy into the ground without noticing.

“We’ll go and look at the chickens in a moment, Jayk,” Lillin promised, hefting the basket slightly, so that it balanced better on her left hip.

“Mummy, look!” Jayk repeated, swinging himself back and forth, making Lillin’s shoulder ache.  He really was getting to big to do things like that.

“Sara?” Lillin nudged at the ajar with one foot, ignoring her son momentarily.

“Hang on a moment!”  A muffled voice sounded from within the house.  A series of thuds sounded from the upstairs of the cottage, followed by footsteps on a wooden floor, then coming down the stairs.

The door was pulled open, revealing the short, grey-haired figure of Northolt’s resident weaver and seamstress.  “Lillin!”  Sara exclaimed with pleasure.  “You’ve not finished all those bolts of fabric already?”

Lillin laughed and turned slightly to show the basket.  “It was only rinsing them after you’d dyed them,” she pointed out good naturedly.

Sara pulled a face.  “Fetch says that he should have my washtub patched by tomorrow,” she said, shaking her head slightly, “it would be sooner but he’s ‘waiting for wood preservative’.”  The weaver snorted.

Lillin rolled her eyes.  “More like he doesn’t want to miss out on his weekly game of cards with Miller and the others at the Companion,” she said snippily, before continuing, “I’m sorry, Sara, can I put this basket down before Jayk pulls my arm off?”

“Oh!”  Sara flushed and stepped forwards to relieve the younger woman of the basket.  “Look at me standing here gossiping whilst your poor arms are being abused!”

Left arm now free, Lillin could actually pull Jayk back to something approaching vertical.  “Abused arms are a known hazard of having a two year old.”

“That is true, my dear,” Sara chuckled, “now, you must stay for a cup of tea, and then Jayk can help me look for eggs.”

“No, wanna see da ‘orsies, Mummy!”  Jayk insisted, his stock-trade pout coming out to play.

“Jayk, sweetie, the horses are all going to be out in the fields, working, at this time of day,” Lillin explained.  “We can’t go all the way out there, can we?”

Jayk’s face creased up as he thought about this.  “Not dem, da shiny ‘orsies, look Mummy,” he insisted, tugging at his mother’s hand persistently, half turning around to point at the chicken run again.

Lillin exchanged a confused look with Sara.

“Alright, then, let’s go and look at the shiny horses,” she said, turning around and allowing her son to tug her along.  Sara put the basket of laundry down just inside her door and curiously followed a few paces behind them.

Instead of heading for the chicken coops, as Lillin had expected, the young boy completely ignored them.  Instead he towed his mother towards Sara’s front gate, which was standing open.

“Look!”  Jayk said excitedly, scooting out of the gate, into what passed for Northolt’s main street, and trying to continue up the road towards the village square.

Lillin looked up the road, puzzled, then exclaimed, “oh!”

“What?” Sara asked, then got her own look in.  “Oh my, I didn’t think the Heralds were coming until after Midsummer; that’s not for over a month!”

“Want to see!” Jayk insisted loudly, sliding his feet towards his mother’s, so that he was swinging from her hand once more.  “Mummy, want to see.”

“Well, we can go to the square and look at them,” Lillin temporised.  “But, Jaykie-boy, you have to remember that Heralds are very busy people, so they probably won’t be standing around for long.”

“See the shiny ‘orsies, Mummy!”  Jayk insisted gleefully, seemingly ignoring what Lillin had said.

Lillin turned to Sara.  “Sorry to run out on you,” she apologised, only to have the older woman wave her hands at her.

“Pish!”  Sara exclaimed, “I’m coming with you to look at the shiny horses; it’s not every day Northolt is visited by a Herald, after all.”

“There is that,” Lillin agreed, as the three began walking he short distance up the road to the village square.

Sara moved up to walk on the other side of Jayk, accepting his outstretched hand.  Anchored in this way, the young boy began the ever exciting game of Swing— lifted his feet from the ground and allowing his mother and Sara to swing him back and forth, laughing delightedly the whole time.

Lillin, Sara and Jayk weren’t the only members of Northolt converging on the square.  What seemed to be every resident, excepting those out in the far fields, had arrived, and were all gawking shamelessly at the White-clad Heralds, and their angelic looking mounts.

The closer they got to the quartet, the more in awe Lillin became.  The last few times Northolt had been visited by a Circuit Herald, she had only gotten a brief look from a distance.  Northolt wasn’t exactly a hotbed of dissension or treason, so the Heralds usually just passed straight on through without anything more than the briefest stop to exchange greetings with the mayor.

Harnin Fletcher— the current Mayor, and furniture maker, of Northolt— was exchanging somewhat flustered (on his part, at any rate) pleasantries with the two Heralds, who had just dismounted with almost unearthly grace.

Lillin moved closer to hear what was being said, aware that Sara, still holding onto Jayk’s other hand, was following her.  The sight of the Companions seemed to have rendered the small child dumbstruck, his eyes wide with fascination.

“—ten yearly census for the Crown, this is just a preliminary survey.  We just need a tally of the births, marriages and deaths over the past decade.”

:Counting hatchings, matchings and dispatchings, how very… heroic.:

Lillin jerked in shock.  It was the voice again.  She looked around, but could determine no source for the sarcastic sounding female narrative that slotted itself neatly around what the brown-haired Herald was saying.

:Yes, I’m fully aware that ‘heroic’ generally involves being shot at, but right now, that’s beginning to look like an attractive option.:

The brown-haired Herald faltered for a split second, his gaze flicking sideways to his Companion, then he continued smoothly.  The other Herald, the blond one, had on a serene and neutral expression, but his eyes were bright.  If Lillin had known him better, she would have said that he was trying to stifle laughter. 

:Because those children are looking at me, Alexander.:

“If you have them to hand, we would also appreciate any profit reckonings you have for the village,” he paused and smiled, “but mainly, we’re here to warn you about the impending government officials.”

:Yeah, sticks work well.  Sticks with nails in— what?:

Lillin blinked and shook her head slightly as Fletcher managed to look even more flustered and began gesturing the Heralds towards the Companion and Apple, Northolt’s one and only tavern, to wait whilst he and the Priest sorted through the relevant paperwork.

:Oh, like you don’t want to hit every toady-clerk you ever met over the head?  And no getting drunk—:

Lillin rather thought that she was getting a headache.

:Because Harali, I, and the bedsprings know only too well what happens when either of you pair get the slightest bit tipsy—:

The brown-haired Herald suddenly burst out with a coughing fit that took him several long moments to control.  “I’m fine,” he insisted, waving away offers of help.  “Probably just some road dust down my throat.”

“Is there a free pasture that our Companions can graze whilst we are waiting?”  The blond Herald asked the square at large.

Lillin missed who replied— and just what that reply was, because the voice was suddenly loud in her mind, with waspish overtones.

:If you’re implying that I’m fat, Alexander Malken, you can damn well walk the rest of the way.:

Given that Fetch was walking slowly away from the square, looking nervously over his shoulder as both Heralds and Companions followed him, she surmised that he’d offered the use of the small paddock that abutted his smithy.

“Mummy, ‘orsies!”  Jayk commanded, tugging on Lillin and Sara’s hands, urging them to follow after the Companions.

Lillin resisted for a moment, then followed her son’s prompting.  Sara seemed happy to do the same, and the trio trailed towards Fetch’s black smithy, and the short-cropped field that adjoined it.

Once there, the Heralds stripped both Companions of tack and saddlebags in what seemed to be a phenomenally short amount of time and, after a brief whispered colliloquy with Fetch, stowed them inside the large store room in his smithy.  They then moved off; heading back towards the village square, and the inn that occupied most of one side of it.

Surprisingly, practically all the crowd followed them, leaving only Lillin, Sara and Jayk standing a short distance from the paddock fence.

“’orsies!”  Jayk shouted, twisting his hands free from both Lillin and Sara and toddling towards the fence, where he draped himself over the lowest horizontal bar and stared unashamedly.

Lillin cautiously approached the fence, aware that both Companions, whilst overtly cropping at the grass, were keeping a close eye on all three people.

“Look, Mummy!”  Jayk giggled delightedly, pointing at the Companions with one hand.  Inexplicably, in the few moments it had taken for Jayk to get from his mother’s side to the fence, his hands had gotten sticky and faintly purple.  Lillin sighed.  She must have missed some blackberries when she checked his pockets earlier.

One of the Companions— the scruffier one, that looked as if it…she… had had an altercation with an irate haystack and a pile of road dust— stiffened, her gaze locking on to Jayk.

:Harali, protect me.:

Lillin blinked.  It was the voice again.

The other Companion twitched an ear, but continued eating the grass.

:Because that child is looking at me and it’s sticky, that’s why!:

Lillin started, shocked.

Sara looked quizzically at her.  “Is something wrong, dear?”

:We’ll see who’s laughing when someone has to get their Chosen to wash purple handprints off their legs.:

“I— it’s…” Lillin trailed off and found herself walking towards the fence.  Her legs didn’t entirely feel like they were under her own control.  She reached out to rest both hands on the topmost rail of the wooden fence.  It felt smooth, warm and comfortingly solid under her hands.

Both Companions raised their heads and looked at her, although the scruffy one kept on shooting glances in Jayk’s direction.

:Harali, I don’t wish to alarm you, but that woman is staring at us.:

Lillin was indeed staring.  It seemed to be about all she could manage at the moment.  The voice— the voice she had been hearing inside her head for the past few weeks— wasn’t a figment of her imagination, it was—

:Oh, I don’t know, in case she turns out to be some crazed disciple of… something… and tries to…um… beat us to death with…a… spoon?:

—it was a Companion.

:She could.  She looks as if she’d be the kind of person to have a spoon in her pocket.:  The voice continued relentlessly.  :Because our respective Chosen got a taste for the bouncy, and haven’t stopped it since, that’s why.:

“You, you’re the voice!”  Lillin was appalled to realise, after the moment of dead silence that followed the words, that the speaker had been herself.

Everyone— including Jayk, stared at Lillin, expressions of confusion plain.


:Oh, honestly, Teva!:  Harali rolled her eyes and shot an accusative look at her travelling partner.

Any attempts that the dust-covered mare might have made to protest her innocence were completely undermined by her expression and general bearing.  In short; she looked acutely guilty.

:It’s not like I was Broadsending!: Teva protested, something that was met with a disbelieving snort from her friend.  :I wasn’t!: she insisted, looking sideways at the woman who’d made the surprising accusations.  Said woman appeared to be in a state of shock, staring frozen at both Companions.

:How, then, is it that she has been Hearing you?: ‘Ali questioned, drawing Teva’s attention back to herself.

Teva rippled her hide; a cross between a shrug and an embarrassed twitch.  :She must have been eavesdropping.: she said, not sounding at all convinced, or convincing.

:Right.:  Harali sounded cynical in a way that could only be achieved by spending over a decade with Teva as a friend and Circuit-partner.  It was a state of mind that developed around about the fifth fight with a bush, or seventh game of hind and hounds (with the attendant outrageous and failed attempt to cheat).

“I have not!”  Both Companions swung around to stare at the woman; having just realised that she had shouted, she was now turning a positively intriguing shade of red.

‘Ali gave an exasperated sigh.  :Teva, were you actually planning on shielding any time this month?:

:I’m shielding, I’m shielding,: Teva muttered, shooting a glare from under her forelock— which had picked that moment to flop into her eyes— at first Harali, then the woman.  :See?  She’s not hurling completely unfounded accusations at me now, is she?:

Harali looked as if she was seriously considering banging her head against one of the fence posts.  :Completely unfounded?: she queried.

:Yes.:  Teva nodded emphatically.  :Because I’ve hardly been Broadsending; just enough for you, Alex and Sam to pick up… and Radi earlier, of course—: the Companion suddenly broke off and stared at the woman by the fence.

After a long moment of silence, Harali sniffed and tried to prompt Teva to resume whatever tangent she’d been on.  :Of course, what?:

:’Ali, look at her,:

Harali stared at Teva.  :What are you going on about?:

:Just… look at her.:  Teva insisted, jerking her nose in Lillin’s direction, not removing her gaze from the woman.  :And tell me that I’m not hallucinating, please.:

That fence post was looking increasingly attractive.  ‘Ali sighed internally, but obeyed her friend’s command and shifted her attention to look at the poor soul that Teva had been mentally traumatising for who knew how long.  :Just what, precisely, am I supposed to be—oh!:  Harali stared at the woman in surprise.  Faintly, but unmistakably, she was surrounded by the corner-of-the-eye blue-white glow that related (uniquely, as far as Harali knew) to Choosing magic.

The handy thing about Mindspeech was that it allowed others to follow your train of thought; Harali could feel Teva agreeing with her before she actually vocalised anything.

:Exactly.:  Smug tone of voice, directed to Harali, then— shockingly loud— a less focused sending.  :Oh, Raaah-deee!:

Teva shook her head from side to side as she Reached for her brother, at the same time stepping daintily in the direction of the gateway that led to the paddock; the boys had left the gate itself open when they’d left.

:What do you want?:  The young stallion’s sending; with the slight echoing quality that indicated ‘distance’, was suspicious.  Given whom his older sister was, this was not surprising.

:How’s Ranger’s Beck?:  Teva asked facetiously.  :Found your Chosen yet?:

Radi’s Mindvoice became even more laden with suspicion.  :Why are you so suddenly interested?:

:Oh, you know, just sisterly concern.  I think there’s a law about it somewhere.:  Teva said airily, planting herself so that she was between  the three humans by the fence and the rest of Northolt.  :Incidentally, your Chosen wouldn’t happen to be female, in her late twenties, average height and build, would she?  Black hair and grey eyes?:  Without pausing in the slightest, Teva continued.  :Answers to the name ‘Lillin’, has a small child— which, I might mention, is a subject we need to have a talk about— and does in fact live in Northolt?:

Sensation of a shocked snort.  :How did you know all that?:  Radi demanded.

Teva made a disparaging sound.  :Because I’m unspeakably wise and mystical,: she said, :also, I’m standing right in front of her.:

Harali just sighed.  :Only you, Teva, only you.:


Lillin really didn’t know what to do.  Jayk had moved away from the fence and was now attached to her right leg; peering around the plain linen of the split skirt she was wearing at the Companion who was now standing in the road directly in front of them.  There didn’t seem to be any kind of hostility in the mare’s posture— if anything, she looked rather smug.  Lillin wasn’t sure what about, because she could no longer hear the Companion talking in her head.

“Lillin, what is going on?”  The slightly exasperated tone, and the touch on her arm made Lillin turn to face Sara.  The older woman’s face was wrinkled with confusion, and she was looking between Lillin and the Companion mare.

“I—“ Lillin’s voice cracked slightly and she had to clear her throat before continuing, “I’ve been hearing… voices— a voice… for the past week or so.  Voices in my head.”  Lillin curled one hand protectively over the top of Jayk’s head as she spoke.  What she said implied a somewhat more than theoretical kind of madness.

Sara merely blinked, her confused expression remaining firmly in place.

“I’m not going mad,” Lillin felt obliged to add.  “They kept getting louder and then, today…” the young mother trailed off and looked sideways at the Companion blocking them from the rest of the village.  “I found the source.”

“You can hear Companions?”  Sara’s eyes widened in disbelief, and she looked quickly at the two mares; the second Companion had moved so that she was standing just outside the open gate to Fetch’s paddock.

A snort, and the sound of one hoof stamping.  The Companion in the road fixed Sara with an indignant look and snorted again, shaking her head slightly.  What Lillin found even more unnerving— and apparently, Sara did as well— was the fact that the second Companion gave a resigned sigh that sounded entirely human.

“Mummy,” Jayk piped up suddenly, “why’s da ‘orsie standing there?”

Lillin groped around slightly until she caught hold of her son’s hand.  “I’m— I’m not entirely sure, sweetie,” she said, proud at how level she managed to keep her voice.

:Stopping you from vanishing off somewhere, actually.:  The words arrived in the front of Lillin’s mind and she stared at the Companion in the road, who gave her a knowing look, before lifting it— her— head and looking past Lillin, down the road that led to the little village of Ranger’s Beck.

After a moment during which Lillin wondered what in the name of Kernos was happening to her stable little life today, she suddenly became aware of the sound of hoof beats.  They sounded strangely musical, and, since both of the mares were standing where Lillin could see then, they must be coming from another Companion—

:You took your own sweet time in getting here.  Want me to make introductions?:

Lillin couldn’t help it, she started slightly; then jumped once more when something large and white and covered in blue harness and gently chiming bells brushed past her and stopped dead in front of the mare in the road.

It was a third Companion.

It shook its head, making the bells stitched to its hackamore ring wildly and stamped one front hoof, attention firmly fixed on the scruffy looking mare in front of it.  The mare sidestepped slightly and tossed her own head, tail flicking from side to side, then lifted her head so she could pointedly look straight at Lillin.

The third Companion snorted and, stepping lightly, turned around.  Lillin noticed, with the small part of her mind that wasn’t succumbing to the trend of standing around gaping blankly (as she could see Sara doing from the corner of her eye), that the Companion was a stallion.

And then he looked at her— oh, my— and the rest of the world seemed to fall away until there was nothing left except for herself and Jayk and Radi. 

:Hello Lillin, I Choose you.:

Lillin came back to herself to find that Radi— my Companion!— was nosing at her chest, and that both of her hands were tangled in his mane.

:I really must apologise for Teva, as well,: Radi lifted his head and gave Lillin an apologetic look, :she has some twisted belief that older sisters are supposed to make their younger sibling’s life’s difficult.:

“Oh… alright…?” Lillin couldn’t really think of much else to say.

:She promises to be good and not just Speak at you anymore, though.:  Radi turned slightly to look at the scruffy mare.  :Although ‘good’ is a somewhat relative concept with my sister.:

The mare’s ears both flattened, and Radi whuffed out his breath.  A feeling of amusement washed over Lillin and she fought the urge to smile.

“I should pack,” she said.  “Jayk will need clothes and things for the journey.”  Lillin looked down at her son; the small boy was staring straight up at Radi, his mouth hanging open slightly and his eyes wide and as round as plums.

:You will both need things,: Radi corrected, :and I can wait, I’m hardly going to drag you off to the Collegium with nothing, am I?:

Lillin did laugh this time; she could feel the laughter that under pinned the teasing tone of his voice, and rearranged herself so that only one arm was resting comfortably over her Companion’s neck, the other dropping so she could take Jayk’s hand again.

“Oh, Lillin!”  Lillin turned around to find Sara looking at her, hands clasped in front of her and what looked suspiciously like tears in the corner of her eyes.  The older woman jumped forwards suddenly with a laugh and gave Lillin a hug, perforce including bits of Radi and Jayk in the proceedings.  “If anyone deserves it, you do, lovey.”

Lillin felt another wide smile break across her face in response, but didn’t get a chance to say anything as Sara, eminently practical, continued.

“We need to sort out what you can take and what you want putting in storage— whether you want to sell your cottage or not, telling the mayor and the rest of Northolt—“

:Teva and Harali have already told Alexander and Samyel,: Radi told Lillin.  :They are telling the mayor and everyone who crammed into the inn with the tax records now.:

Lillin nodded, her head beginning to whirl.  “Radi says the Heralds are telling everyone,” she said.

Sara nodded with satisfaction.  “There are still lots to do!” she insisted, making shooing motions with her hands.  “And you don’t want to be hanging around Northolt for too long now, do you?”

“N—no,” Lillin agreed with a laugh, turning to face Northolt, Radi moving so that he stayed by her side; a warm, solid presence that echoed the one Lillin could now feel in her mind.

“Mummy,” Jayk tugged at her sleeve, and Lillin removed her arm from Radi’s neck, bent down and picked her son up.

“Jayk, this is Radi,” she introduced the toddler to the Companion.  “He’s going to take us on an adventure to Haven, where we’re going to live from now on.”

Jayk blinked owlishly at the Companion, then reached out with one small hand to touch the soft nose that Radi offered him.  “’lo,” he said shyly, as they began walking slowly back towards Lillin’s little cottage.

“Radi,” Lillin said softly, her voice worried, “what happens when… well—“ she tightened her hold on Jayk and looked sideways at the stallion.

Radi blinked bright blue eyes and sent her a wave of reassurance.  :Not every Circuit involves traipsing to the far end of Valdemar, nor does every Herald ride a Circuit for their internship.: he twitched one ear and looked sideways at her, :and as for the times when short absences are unavoidable, I think you will find that Jayk has just gained any number of adoptive aunts and uncles— even if most of them will be slightly bonkers.:

Lillin laughed again, the cold lump that had been forming in her stomach dissolving before it could properly take root.  “Then I can’t wait to get to Haven,” she said, her mood as bright as the sun shining in the sky above them.

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