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.
The concept of the AU Valdemar with the Spirits, General Trainees, Hunts and so on is the property of Senashenta. Go check out her stuff, it’s spiffy, with side orders of spiff.
Notes: This is a bit of past life building for one of my RP characters (Spirit Tarii over at Senashenta’s AU RP Dreams of Blue).
The pale, wraith-like figure, dressed entirely in white, ghosted across the garden, flitting from shadow to shadow, avoiding the warm summer sunlight as if it was the plague. Blank and unfocused eyes the colour of slate stared straight ahead, barely noticing the plants and the other occupants of the garden.
A slight breeze crept around the enclosing and sun-warmed wall of the garden, bringing forth susurrations from a stand of giant grass plants and stirring the snarled mop of black hair that crowned the head of the other-worldly figure as it— no, she— paused for a moment in the shadow of a honey-apple tree, before continuing her never-ending and aimless trek.
She didn’t notice the pitying and knowing looks she was gathering from those out enjoying the morning air of the last days of summer.
She didn’t notice much, these days.
Not much at all.
General Collegia Trainee Fitch Tanner stifled a sigh of frustration as the fire failed to catch. Again.
I wish I were a Firestarter. The fifteen-year-old girl fixed grey eyes, dark with irritation, on the stubborn pile of kindling. At this rate I’m never going to eat!
The pile of broken twigs and crumbled wood dust and leaf litter did not seem overly concerned that it’s failure to ignite was depriving Fitch of a hot evening meal and she muttered imprecations under her breath as she picked up the pair of striking flints and tried again to coax the sparks to catch on the tinder.
Fitch had enrolled at the Collegia at Haven at the age of eleven and had taken to the multitudes of lessons like a duck to water. Most of the lessons at any rate. As her current situation was showing, the Trainee had not entirely got the hang of the Survival Techniques course that all those at the Collegia had to take.
Oh, she had passed the course, she knew the ins and outs of woodsmanship and how to subsist entirely on ones own wits. The theory was no problem at all. Fitch just took rather longer than most with some of the practical aspects.
I almost wish I were back at Haven.
Although the thought drifted across her mind, Fitch honestly didn’t mean it. She had been looking forward to going on Hunt for the past four years, and she really hoped that one of the Spirits would take a liking to her and Choose her.
If that was even how the mysterious horse-like beings picked who was to be a Herald. For all Fitch knew, they could have some kind of check list with which to appraise all Hunt candidates, and those who had the requirements then got accosted by a Spirit.
The girl jerked her head upwards, eyes torn away from the just-smouldering pile of kindling. Which promptly went out again.
“Gods damn it!” Fitch glared back down at the blackened pile, before returning her attention to the trees bordering the clearing she had picked for her camping spot. “Who’s there?”
Instead of answering the question the unknown— and currently unseen— owner of the voice chuckled. :You appear to be having some trouble there.: It observed.
“I would have been fine if you hadn’t distracted me!” Fitch shot back with annoyance, looking around her with narrowed eyes.
:I do apologise.: The voice sounded contrite.
“Well, you can just totter out here and light my fire for me to make it up then.” The Trainee crossed her arms over her chest in a no-nonsense gesture and rocked back on her knees, back straight.
:Can’t help you there, I’m afraid.: An amused tone again.
A stirring of the foliage just to the left of her, and a large silver-white shape resolved out of the dusky green shadows. :Not overly burdened in the hand department, you see.: The Spirit stallion whickered with amusement at Fitch’s thunderstruck expression, sides shaking and blue eyes sparkling..
“I—I can see that.” Fitch managed, with much opening and shutting of her mouth.
:You look like a fly-catcher.: The Spirit blinked and Fitch started slightly as a wash of humour and amusement momentarily engulfed her.
“I do not!” She managed after a moment of shocked silence.
:Maybe a gulping-fish then?:
Fitch glared at the Spirit and scrambled to her feet. “That’s not funny.”
:Yes, it is.: The stallion gave her a knowing look.
“No it’s not!” The girl clutched at her arms and shot an irritated look across the intervening space between herself and the horse-like being.
:I’m going to win this argument, you know.: The stallion looked away from Fitch and seemed to be appreciating the forest around them.
“What makes you think that?” Fitch demanded, taking a few steps towards the Spirit. Near-divine being or not, she did not like people making fun of her.
:I’m going to miss this place.: The Spirit suddenly said, making Fitch stop in her tracks.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” She asked blankly.
:Quite simple really—: The stallion turned it’s head back and Fitch suddenly found herself pinned in place by eyes of intense and bottomless sapphire. :—Fitch Tanner. I’m called Adavan and I Choose you.:
…and she fell into endless blue and bottomless love and welcoming…
The green-man was following her again.
Always a few lengths behind her, blue eyes watching her—
Don’t think about it.
Don’t think about it ever.
A brief struggle and she managed to push away the black thoughts and memories, the demons that tore her apart in dreams and shattered her waking moments.
Steadying breaths and she set off again.
For once, the weather seemed to be playing along with Fitch’s ideas of how things should be. Even though it was autumn, the day had dawned bright and crisp with stunning blue skies that were almost a match for Adavan’s eyes.
:Why thank you.: The Companion cast an amused looked back and up at the young woman seated on his back.
:Eavesdropper.: Fitch accused with a grin, causing Adavan to twitch his hide and project innocence down the bond between them.
Her mentor, Herald Dundory, exchanged a look with his own Companion, a mare by the name of Madali and then cleared his throat.
“I get the impression that we don’t really want to know what you pair are teasing each other about… now.”
:Fitch was simply complimenting me on being the most handsome Companion in Valdemar.: Adavan arched his neck and picked up his hooves, near prancing along the country road, with a smug impression on his face.
Madali rolled her eyes and gave a disbelieving snort as Fitch exclaimed and swiped at her Companion’s ears with one hand.
“’Davi! You are such a fibber!”
:My dear, Adavan was always full of tripe.: The Companion mare cast an amused and knowing look over at the younger pair. :He drove the Elders and his parents half to distraction with his fairy stories when he was younger.:
Adavan snorted and jerked to a stop. :Madali!: He protested. :Stop trying to pollute Fitch against me!:
“Too late for that, apple-thief,” The Intern-Herald fixed Adavan with her grey eyes, “you already Chose me and managed that.”
Dundory laughed out loud as the stallion gained a put-upon look. “Looks like the ladies have united against you Adavan.”
:No fair ganging up on me!: ‘Davi protested aggrievedly.
“You deserved it, sir.” Fitch said judiciously and tapped Adavan between the ears.
:I’m so under-appreciated.:
:Learn to start fires for me, then maybe I’d appreciate you more.: Fitch grinned. Looks like I might actually win an argument here—
:I couldn’t deprive you of the fun you have getting all smudged up, besides, isn’t ash supposed to be good for the complexion?: ‘Davi cast a wicked looks back at his Chosen.
“Who is that?”
The question, voiced in a wavering tenor caught Healer Yarlen’s immediate attention and he turned to find the source. Standing a short distance away from him, by one of the doorways that led into the rabbit warren of the Collegia, were a small knot of adolescents. By the colour of their mutual uniforms, they were all General Trainees.
Three boys and two girls, who all had that gawky look that spoke of imminent and continuing growth spurts. They must be almost at an age to go on Hunt. Yarlen observed absently, as he followed their collective gaze, which was fixed on the same person he, himself, had just been following.
“Excuse me—“ The Healer blinked, pulled out his reverie by the question directed at him by the oldest boy of the group, who had moved un-noticed closer to the swarthy Yarlen. “—do you know who she is?”
Yarlen could now see that the sandy haired youngster in front of him was dressed in lighter Greys than the other four, indicating that he had been on Hunt and had been Chosen. As he assimilated this, the two remaining boys and the girls moved up behind the Herald Trainee, group attention now firmly fixed on him.
“Yeah, I mean, she’s dressed in Whites so she must be a Herald but I’ve never seen her take any lesson or anything—“ The taller of the two girls, brown of hair, skin and eyes announced, only to be interrupted by the other girl, who seemed to be the complete negative of the first girl, with pale, almost white hair, porcelain skin and almost colourless blue eyes.
“Because you’re such an old hand Cassi—“
“You know what I mean, whoever she is, she’s not a teacher or anything, and I thought most of the Heralds did teaching.”
The banter between the two was friendly and it was obvious to Yarlen that the two girls were firm friends.
“Hey,” One of the boys, who had the reddest hair Yarlen had ever seen, waved a quieting hand at the pair of girls, “if you’ve finished? Sorry, Healer.” The boy produced an infectious grin and turned his attention to the Greens-clad man in front of the group. “But we’re curious. I know I’ve seen her from a distance a few times but this—“
“Was the closest we’ve gotten.” Back to the Heraldic Trainee again.
“And—and there’s something odd about her.” He trailed off uncertainly, as his friends muttered their agreement and then looked expectantly up at the dusky Healer.
Yarlen took a steadying breath as his mind re-ran the events just before the Trainees had spotted him.
The blank greyness of her face, the brief spark of recognition, followed quickly by the impending wave of grief and madness and then—
—lock down. The descending of the shattered and mazed mask that kept her isolated from the world, and cocooned in scattered portions of non-feeling.
He swallowed the ball of sorrow that always formed when he spoke of her.
“That was Herald Fitch.”
My best friend…
Yarlen blinked back the tears that were threatening at the corners of his eyes, and beat a hasty retreat as the Heraldic Trainee let out a gasp of shocked recognition, and the other four exchanged puzzled glances.
Herald Fitch Tanner straightened her posture and stared at her reflection in the mirror. A serious-faced young in a brand new set of Heraldic Whites met her gaze, and an impromptu smile lit up her grey eyes.
I look so… grown up! Yarlen will be shocked when he sees me! Fitch marvelled, amazed at how the mere presence of the Whites seemed to command order and co-operation from her crow’s-nest mop of black hair, somehow making the mess look almost deliberate. Almost.
:Your head will swell up and pop and your Whites will be Reds.: An amused male voice floated into the new Herald’s mind.
:Davi!: Fitch protested, as the Companion, Adavan, raised his head from his current occupation of cropping grass in Companion’s Field, and snickered audibly.
:I was just warning you.: The stallion reasoned in an effervescent yellow voice, which was met by Fitch crossing her arms and raising her eyebrow at her reflection, sure that Adavan would pick up the gesture, either by sensing the movement, or by observing it through his Chosen’s eyes.
:Are you still eating?: Fitch inquired after a moment of silence, accompanied by a slight amount of mental hoof-shuffling on the part of a certain Companion stallion.
:Yes.: Davi nodded. :I’m on the grass now, any more oats and I would’ve turned into one, but I need to get back condition after our Circuit.: The Companion whickered slightly. :At least I’m not preening.:
Fitch sighed and allows the mental link to fade. I never win any arguments with him, not even after five years of trying. The young woman contemplated this thought for a moment as she reluctantly turned away from the mirror. In fact, I think I lost the moment that I went on Hunt and Adavan Chose me- not that I’ll ever let him know that I know I’ll never win… Fitch smiled to herself. He’d be unbearable.
With a shake of her head the new Herald started towards the door of her quarters— My new quarters… so much space, and it’s mine, all mine!— and exited the warm wood-panelled suite into the lamp lit corridor that ran the length of the floor of Herald’s rooms in the Heraldic Wing of the Palace.
It hardly seems like yesterday since I was in the Heraldic trainee’s quarters…and the day before that I was a mere General Trainee! Fitch marvelled as she padded confidently down the hallway.
Fitch and Adavan had returned from their first Circuit a scant few days ago, and Fitch was definitely still getting used to this whole wearing Whites business, despite being required to wear a white uniform whilst on Circuit. This was different though, now Fitch truly was a Herald, and she didn’t have anyone shadowing her, making sure that she was coping.
In fact, Fitch was on the way to see the Dean of the Heraldic Circle at this very moment. Herald Larri had left a polite note in her rooms, requesting her presence in his office at three marks past noon.
Adavan had been singularly unhelpful when Fitch had asked him if he knew what the meeting might be about, claiming that Larri’s Farlle hadn’t told him anything about any meeting. Given that Fitch hadn’t specified that Larri had asked for a meeting with her, rather than just passing her a message, the Herald got the distinct impression that certain Companions were being somewhat creative with the truth.
Well, I guess I’ll find out soon enough…
“Come on Randen, tell us.” Cassi crossed her arms and looked pointedly at the still somewhat shocked looking Heraldic Trainee, as the other three murmured agreement. The four General Trainees hadn’t been able to get a word out of their friend since the Healer had shot off, and they’d been forced to trail after Randen as he made a beeline for Companion’s Field.
The Trainee in question finally seemed to snap out of the near-trance he had been in and blinked slowly, looking down at his hands which were resting on the smooth and weather-worn wood of the fence that bounded the Palace-Collegia end of Companion’s Field.
“Tell you what?”
Pale and ethereal Vekki sighed in frustration. “For one thing, who exactly is that woman? For another, why did you hare off after hearing her name?”
:Because it scared him.: The authoritative female voice resonated through the five adolescent’s minds, and the speaker, a large Companion mare emerged from a nearby stand of trees and stopped beside the Grey, nuzzling him affectionately.
Randen lifted one hand and returned the caress. “That’s not it, Enaril—“ he protested softly.
Enaril gifted her Chosen with a disbelieving look. :Don’t be daft, Ran.: She admonished. :Fitch gives me the shivers… I think she gives all of us the shivers.:
Karic, silent until now, brushed his dark hair out of hazel eyes and exchanged an uncomfortable look with the carrot-topped Taffre, before vocalising in a soft tone.
“What’s wrong with her?”
Enaril turned frank blue eyes on Karic. :My, you certainly don’t beat about the bush, do you?: She observed, causing the young man to blush. :No mind, it makes a refreshing change.:
The mare paused for a while and seems to be thinking something through. :What Yarlen told you is true, Fitch is a Herald, her Companion was called Adavan.:
Enaril’s voice became sad. :Yes. Was.:
Adavan’s hooves kicked up puffs of dust from the road as his bridle and tack bells chimed in counterpoint to his pace and Fitch grinned in pleasure as she revelled in the wind that streamed around and over them.
:I can’t believe it.: She marvelled, yet again.
:You’ve been saying that since Larri told you.: Adavan whuffed out his breath in an equine laugh.
:Well, I can't.: Fitch insisted. :I mean, how many Heralds do you see getting to hie off on a holiday so soon after gaining their Whites?:
:How many Heralds stop bandit attacks practically single-handedly on their Field Circuit?: Adavan countered, :and how many Heralds have Foresight as strong as you, my Chosen?:
Fitch paused, caught— for once— without words. :I—guess you’re right ‘Davi.: she finally managed.
:Of course I am.: Adavan cast a superior look back at Fitch, causing her to giggle and swat at his ears with the ends of the blue leather reins.
The Herald went back to silently exclaiming over their good fortune, it was over a week now, since the meeting with Larri, in which he had told her that she deserved a rest— that both her and Adavan did— and that she was to hie their tails out of Haven before someone found something else for them to do.
Normally, Fitch would have put up more of a fight, but something had happened the day before that meeting which had knocked the Herald off balance.
A dream—or rather a vision. A strong one, her Foresight manifesting like she’d never had it do before, the intensity of the Foreseeing had made Fitch feel as if she was the one experiencing the events, rather than being an impartial observer.
And horrific events she had experienced—
A Herald and a Companion, alone on a road, maybe on a Courier run, maybe on a Circuit—
—screaming and laughter—
—the Companion lying dead, blood pooling around the arrow pierced body—
Fitch shivered slightly and altered her posture in the blue tooled saddle.
:You told Larri about that, and he told Hadai, and she’s the Monarch’s Own… her Akati promised to Speak all the Heralds and Companions on Circuits and Runs and warn them.: The Companion responded calmly to the feelings of unease that his Chosen was emitting. :It won’t happen Fitch.:
“Mmm.” The Herald gave a non-committal hum, that Adavan chose to believe was agreeing and the pair continued down the road in silence.
The sun was dipping towards the western horizon, hints of colour showing that a spectacular spring-time sunset is due later, several candle-marks later and Fitch blinked slowly. A headache was beginning between her eyes, and she raised one hand to rub at it, hoping absently that her medical pack had something more impressive than willow-bark tea to offer her when they stopped.
:What’s up?: Adavan flicked an ear and glanced backwards at her.
:Nothing, just a headache—: Fitch winced slightly as the pain arcs behind her eyes.
:Are you sure?: ‘Davi gave her a suspicious look.
:Let’s just get to the Waystation… please?:
The stallion huffed slightly and lengthened his stride, kicking up dust as he chimed along the road, the grassy verge bounding either side flashing by in a flicker of a thousand different hues of green.
Fitch squinted uncomfortably and tried to focus on the direction they were heading, trying to work through the now insistent throbbing in her head.
It almost feels like a reaction headache… except I haven’t used my Foresight recently…
The thought broke off as Fitch stared at an approaching stand of trees on the left side of the road in a puzzled manner.
I recognise this place… But ‘Davi and I have never been this far south before—
The throbbing in Fitch’s mind peaked, and a lance of pain seemed to stab right through her skull, causing her to gasp and lean over the pommel of the saddle.
:Fitch?: Adavan sounded worried now, although his pace didn’t abate, pulling them ever-closer to the shadowy copse of trees.
A welter of images flashed across her vision, jerky stop-motion pictures—
—Herald and a Companion—
—on a Courier Run, maybe on a Circuit—
—herself and Adavan, cantering down the road—
—shadows detaching from underneath the trees—
:’Davi!: Fitch wailed suddenly. :Run!:
:Wha-?: The Companion balked and stumbled, loosing speed. :Fitch what are you—:
Fatal, deadly humming, a vicious whine, backed and pushed on by cruel and coarse hollers and arrows raced from the shadows under the trees.
Adavan squealed and shied violently sideways in an attempt to avoid the bolts.
Shuddering impact and Fitch screamed in pain as white hot fire raced along Adavan’s body and dove down the link between them, scattering Fitch’s sense and perception.
Garbled voices, floating behind the screaming.
Flashes of colour— silver and green and the red of blood.
Adavan stumbled forward, going to his knees and Fitch was flung violently against his neck, overburdened by the horrific sensations she was not able to grip at his mane, and she pitched over his blood streaked head, to crash into the sticky dust of the road.
Profound and sudden silence enveloped Fitch. Somewhere, somewhen there was screaming, and laughter, followed by the sounds of horses galloping away, but that place was far, far away.
Cold and empty silence.
‘Davi… where are you?
A sound— a bell.
Fitch let out a soundless wail and curled in on herself, tears streaming from her unseeing eyes and faster-than-thought cracks spiralling across her mind, until she was nothing.
Nothing left but shattered memories and isolated pockets of shadow.
—the Companion lying dead, blood pooling around the arrow pierced body—
Randen barely noticed the late afternoon sunlight that was casting its honeyed glow across the Field. His dark green eyes were fixed on a single figure, dressed in white, that was weaving towards him.
:Ran,: Enaril appeared at his side soundlessly, as usual, :it was terrible, but it won’t happen to us.: The mare pressed her velvet soft nose against her Chosen’s cheek, blue eyes watching Fitch approach.
:I know…: the Trainee sighed. :It’s just—: He broke off as the wraith-like Herald drew level with them, grey eyes staring straight through the pair.
Randen shivered and unconsciously sidled closer to Enaril at the look in Fitch’s eyes. Cold, flat, but with the sharp edges of crazed and bottomless grief.
“Adavan?” The voice was harsh and worn, essentially a whisper, and Ran couldn’t stop jerking away in surprise. In the five months since Fitch had been found, Randen had got the impression that she hadn’t talked to anyone, that she wasn’t even aware of the other residents of the Palace-Collegia complex.
:No Fitch, I’m sorry—: Randen had never heard that wavering and unsteady tone in his Companion’s voice before, and he could feel her shivering, pressing against him as much as he was trying to mould into her.
The haunted and empty look that fleeted across the young woman’s face cut straight through Randen and he suppressed the urge to whimper as tears filled Fitch’s eyes and she stumbled past them, heading out into the Field.
“An echo from the past..” Randen whispered softly.
Enaril didn’t say anything, she just wrapped Randen in the tightest mental hug she could manage and held him like that for a long time.
The full moon ghosted high in the sky, highlighting the occasional wisps of cloud that scurried across the sky, the silvery light frosting and etching Haven and the surrounding countryside into sharp relief.
Fitch stumbled across the Field, watched from afar by a number of concerned sapphire eyes.
An ethereal wind drifted and twined through the Grove and across the black and silver grass, raising hairs and heads around the Field.
Something was happening.
Fitch halted her weary and never-ending search and lifted her head, looking around herself with reddened eyes.
“’Davi?” A hopeless whisper, caught by the breeze and stolen away.
Crackles of something in the shadows.
Silent silver and white shapes emerged from the Stables and headed towards the Field, answering an unspoken call.
The trees in the Grove creaked and swayed in the rising wind, and Fitch turned to stare at them with slate eyes. A few tentative steps forwards, and she reached out one hand in a longing gesture, lips forming a single word.
Blackness descended as the moon dove behind an unexpected bank of clouds and the Companion Enaril flared her nostrils, all her attention focused on the Grove, and the susurrations of sound emerging from within—
Voices, one male and one female, wrought through with grief and joy, laughter and tears.
The moon burst clear of the entangling clouds and spilled it’s silver light over the Field, defining the single crumpled figure, dressed in white, lying sprawled in the grass in front of the Grove, eyes closed and expression peaceful.
No longer looking.
The Bell began to ring.