Disclaimer: Anything related to the world of Velgarth and the kingdom of Valdemar is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey. Ambassador Shadowflame k’Treva is used with permission from Cat McDougall.
Notes: Regin seems to have become some kind of endemic mental disease of mine— just when you think he’s gone, up he pops again. Rather like a fungal infection.
In this case, after the fun I had poking at clichés with A Question of Style, I decided to dust Regs off and let him have at another of the trends in this fandom; the omg I’ve fallen into Valdemar bling bling! phenomena. Be warned that sarcasm and a poor attempt at humour follows…
Fish Out of Water.
:So, let me get this straight—: Regin shook his head from side to side, dislodging his forelock from where it drooped in his eyes, giving him a wall-eyed look and obscuring his vision. The subject of his gaze shifted his weight from foot to foot uncomfortably. :—you felt your Call,:
:Yes,: the young stallion agreed with alacrity, nodding his head vigorously.
Regin sighed. :At which point you got yourself tacked up…?:
The other Companion nodded in further agreement, although there was now a hint of embarrassment to his demeanour.
:And then you ran out of Haven—: Regin continued slowly, :—and you Gated yourself to some ridiculous foreign land and Chose, then Gated back.:
The young Companion dropped his head slightly, ears flattened to his head. :Well,: he said wretchedly, :when you put it like that, it does seem a little hasty…:
If the Queen’s Companion had possessed eyebrows, they would have whipped skywards in an expression of disbelief. :A little… ‘hasty’.: He repeated, a faint tone of disbelief overlaying his Sending. :I’d use language slightly stronger than that— I know Halla already has.:
The stallion— Giff by name— twitched his hide and radiated acute embarrassment. :Um,: he offered inanely.
Regin eyed him for a long moment. A bird chirped in a nearby tree; the pair of Companions were off in a secluded corner of Companion’s Field, Regin having hustled them there within a quarter mark of Giff arriving back in the Palace Compound. A brief discussion with the Groveborn had given Regin the right to question the Companion alone— at least for the moment.
Besides, Dadero’s attention was more concentrated on stopping his own Chosen from marching out into the Field and repeatedly hitting Giff over the head with a shoe. Having a Queen’s Own who had descended into somewhat irrational behaviour was also not helping the Queen’s state of mind and, the last Regs had heard, Halla was plotting with Gillan on how to disguise a brick as a shoe.
Regin had decided to steer well clear of that; not only because his track record of changing his Chosen’s mind, once she was set on a particular course, was moderately abysmal. Besides, she might start trying to throw things at him if he annoyed her too much.
Tipping his head to one side and sighting along his nose as the younger Companion, Regin added, :And that’s nothing compared to the language that exploded out of Mage’s Collegium when you pulled your little stunt. I mean! Pulling power from the Haven Heartstone without warning anyone first?: Regin shook his head from side to side and heaved out his sides in a large sigh. :About half of the senior faculty and all of the Haven based Adept Herald-Mages had a collective apoplexy.:
Giff winced. :I—: he ventured.
A snort. :The way they went off, you’d have thought we were at war with Karse again.: Regin rolled his eyes. :Nor do you wish to know, I imagine, just how many Healers are after your hide as well.:
:Uh…?: Giff blinked and finally looked up from the patch of grass he had been studying intently. :Healers?:
Regin nodded firmly. :Oh yes, because, you know, the first reaction of a group of mages when they think their main power source is under attack?— particularly when said power source is sitting smack bang in the middle of the capital city— is to drain themselves to the point of reaction to throw shields around it.:
Giff’s eyes widened slightly and he managed to look even more worried and embarrassed.
:Which, of course, means that the Healers then have to go and mop up the mess made by half a hundred mages dropping like stones all over the Palace.: Regin twitched his nose. :Not to mention the fact they had to break into the stores of willow bark tea they’d been trying to stockpile for this winter in order to deal with all the reaction headaches.:
Giff swallowed loudly, as Regin continued relentlessly. :And you know how irritated Healers get when someone mucks up their medical stores…:
The Queen’s Companion finally paused and looked again at the younger stallion, who appeared to be seriously considering trying to disappear into the ground, never to emerge again.
:Oh… dear.: Giff finally managed.
A neutral blink. :Something like that, yes.: Regin agreed, before his expression sharpened into interest. :Where exactly did you Gate to, anyway— I saw your Chosen and he doesn’t look like he’s from any of the northern kingdoms…?: Regs shifted his weight from side to side, before continuing in a ruminating tone of voice. :He doesn’t look like he’s from one of the Haighlei Kingdoms, nor from any of the lands between the Haighlei Empire and our southern border— maybe from somewhere past the Eastern Empire? Tolmassar, maybe?: He glanced sideways at Giff, who looked uneasy.
:Not… exactly…: The young Companion said softly. :I went a bit further afield than that.:
:Oh?: Regin asked in a confused tone of voice… as far as he was aware, places like the Haighlei Empire and Tolmassar, were about as far afield as you could get.
:You! You knuckle-headed idiotic flea brained halfwit!: Both stallions jumped as the enraged shout echoed through both of their minds. A frantic look around revealed the owner of the voice to be stamping up to them, her ears pinned back to her skull and her tail lashing from side of side in a way reminiscent of a furious cat.
:Hello Kit.: Regin said calmly. He was well used to his friend’s fiery mood swings and knew that the cause of this particular snit would reveal itself rapidly. Giff shuffled sideways until he was peering around Regin’s side, no longer in the annoyed mare’s direct line-of-sight. Not that it mattered, as Kit brushed past Regin as if he wasn’t there, and confronted the newly Bonded Companion.
:Do you have any idea what getting a face full of your Chosen’s backlash reaction feels like?: Kit demanded loudly.
Ah, Regin told himself. That would be why she’s so annoyed; Venni’s one of the Mage’s Collegium teachers—
:Especially when said Chosen is linked to the damn Heartstone and teaching a pupil when some idiot tries to Pull insane amounts of power from it!: Kit was audibly gritting her teeth, her relatively immobile facial features still managing to give the impression of a scowl. Giff looked suitably cowed.
:Kit?: Regin ventured after she finished, although the glare she was still directing at Giff spoke volumes. At the top of its voice.
:What?: Kit snapped, whipping her head around fix Regin with a sour look.
:Is Venni alright?: Regin opted for the diplomatic approach.
The mare snorted, and shot a sideways frown at Giff. :Over at Healer’s and complaining about being cooped up, no thanks to this straw-brained ninny.:
:S—sorry—: Giff managed to stutter, backing away from Kit one careful step at a time, as if she was an unexploded Artificer’s experiment.
:So you damn well should be!: Kit was off again; the bit truly between her teeth as she built herself up for launching into another tirade. :If I—:
:Ah, there you are Regin, Giff,: The calm— and powerful— Mindvoice cut Kit off in mid yell, and she squeaked in an undignified fashion, before joining the other two Companions in staring at the newest arrival to the rapidly less secluded corner of Companion’s Field.
Dadero, the Groveborn Companion looked back at them. Arrayed a short distance behind him were his own Chosen; Queen’s Own Herald Gillan, Queen Halla— both of whom looked about fit to chew up iron bars and spit out tacking nails— and an assortment of official looking people.
Regin widened his eyes. Uh oh, he decided to himself, surveying the crowd. In addition to the obvious Heralds, there seemed to be a distinct lack of Councillors, and a distinct presence of Outland Ambassadors and high-ranked magic users. The Kaled’a’in, Haighlei and Shin’a’in representatives between them, had more than colourful enough outfits to compensate for the comparative dullness of Whites.
Almost hidden, towards the back of the group, were a pair of Palace guards, clad in silver trimmed royal blue uniforms. Standing between them, looking entirely confused, and wearing some of the strangest clothing Regs had ever seen, was Giff’s new Chosen. The young man was wearing some trousers made out of a strange looking blue fabric, a dark coloured shirt that was lacking in any kind of seams, or fastenings, down the front, but did have some kind of stylised insignia (what was a “Vans”, anyway? It looked like some kind of writing, but it could equally just be a pattern of some kind). His feet, just visible from under the hem of his trousers, which seemed far too long for him, the edges frayed and torn, were clad in even stranger looking off-white shoes of some description. The whole outfit was topped off by a raggedy hair style that wouldn’t look out of place on an Ice Wall mountain bandit.
:Dadero,: Regin said in cautious greeting as Giff swallowed audibly and seemed frozen between hiding behind Regs again, or scooting over to his Chosen.
:What’s this all about?: Kit demanded in a suspicious tone of voice, her tirade against the hapless Giff forgotten in lieu of staring shamelessly at the crowd gathering on the grass.
:Kit,: Dadero nodded his head in acknowledgement to the mare. :How is your Chosen?:
Kit shifted her weight from side to side, the wind unaccountably taken out of her sails. :Venni’s fine.: She muttered, before falling silent.
:We are having some…problems in communicating with Giff’s Chosen.: Dadero said, his serene tone at odds with the exasperated snort that his aged Chosen vented.
“That is an understatement, Dadero,” Gillan said, stalking forwards to stand next to his Companion and glare at Giff. “Your Chosen—“ the grey-haired man told Giff, “—doesn’t appear to understand any of the languages that we can speak.” A waved hand indicated the small gathering who, between them, probably had at least some knowledge of all the languages commonly in use on the continent.
:Indeed,: Dadero added serenely. :In addition, we seem unable to Mindtouch your Chosen with any kind of coherent success; we hope that your Bond should overcome this difficulty.:
:Oh,: Giff flicked one ear and glanced about nervously, before walking over to stand in front of the two guards and his Chosen. The strangely dressed young man stared around in bewilderment, until he finally looked straight at Giff. And promptly froze.
Regin had been getting steadily more surprised during the conversation; if he possessed eyebrows, they would have been climbing into his hairline. A covert glance towards his Chosen revealed that Halla was watching the proceedings with a set expression, her lips pressed tightly together.
:Halla?: Regin picked his way over to the Queen and nudged her shoulder with his nose. She blinked and patted him absently on the neck, but didn’t remove her attention from the stock still figures of Giff and his alien Chosen.
Giff suddenly flinched, as his Chosen waved both arms around, completely incomprehensible and unfamiliar words spilling out of his mouth. The guards surreptitiously tightened their holds on their sheathed swords.
:This is a diplomatic incident looking for a place to happen.: Halla’s tone was curt, and her fingers tightened in Regin’s mane before she continued. :Half of the Council are convinced that this boy is the Changling forerunner of an invasion, and the other half are already in a hysterical state of incoherency; the mages are also less than impressed with how he ended up here.:
Regin spared a glance over to Kit, who was alternating a narrow eyed stare from Dadero to Giff, the latter of whom was still receiving what appeared to be an almighty ear bashing from his Chosen. :That last, I’d noticed.: He temporised. :How about you?:
Halla’s frustrated sigh was purely mental, and for the sole benefit of her Companion. :I don’t like this at all,: she admitted. :Why would a Companion need to go that far to Choose a Herald?:
:I’d been wondering that myself.: Regin admitted slowly, with a cautious glance to the Groveborn. :Honestly? We don’t know any more than you Heralds do.:
:That does not reassure me, Regs.:
:It wasn’t supposed to.:
Silence reigned for a moment, and Regin glanced around at the crowd of mages and diplomats, all of whom were staring at Giff.
Halla drummed her fingers against Regs’ neck, the nervous movement hidden by the fall of his mane. :Quite apart from that, I cannot help but worry that this is not something that will be good for Valdemar.:
:Companions don’t Choose wrongly.: Regin offered, although he could see her viewpoint.
:I know that, it’s just… we’ve had Outlanders Chosen before, but they’ve made their own way into Valdemar before now—:
:With a few notable exceptions,: Regin pointed out, throwing an image of the old stained-glass window of the Sun in Glory in the office of the Weaponsmaster, in the salle.
A sigh. :Yes, I know about those; but my point is, that they’ve at least known of Valdemar, and have been from somewhere that we’ve heard about.:
:That’s a good point.: Regin was forced to admit, before turning his attention back to Giff. Who was nervously twitching his hide and glancing around. His Chosen appeared to have run out of breath for the moment.
:Well?: Regin asked, in perfect synch with Kit, albeit somewhat less caustic than her tone of Mindvoice.
:Companion Giff?: Dadero prompted.
:Uh,: Giff wilted as he realised that he was the sole focus of attention. Next to him, his Chosen crossed his arms, a rebellious expression on his face.
:What?: Kit demanded impatiently. :Although I have to admit that I hope that what he was saying to you was what it sounded like.: She ignored the sharp look directed at her by Dadero.
:I…um… this is Michael.: Giff managed. :He’s not from around here.:
:With that name, we couldn’t tell, honest.: Kit snorted, once again ignoring a look from the Groveborn.
:Well, where is he from, then?: Regin asked impatiently. For some reason, Dadero was holding his peace… although a covert sideways glance revealed the stallion to be wearing the semi-distracted expression that one gained when one was having a discussion with one’s Chosen.
Giff swung his head around to look at Michael, who glared back at him, before producing an embarrassed cough. :Some place called the United States of America.:
Regin relayed that to Halla, sure that Dadero was doing the same; a fact that was born out by Gillan frowning suddenly.
“Yewnighted Statesofamehrecah?” The Queen’s Own asked, his mouth twisting around the unfamiliar sounds. “What kind of a name is that?”
Halla blinked uneasily. “I don’t know,” she admitted, before regarding the sullen looking young man. Despite his outwardly confident posture, he looked intimidated, which wasn’t really surprising. “Regin?”
Regin looked uneasily to Dadero, who rippled his hide in an equine shrug. :It is nowhere near here.: He said, in what Regs considered to be a completely unhelpful manner. :Maybe if Giff explains to us just how far he went to get Michael, we’ll know where his home is?:
All attention shifted back to the young Companion again, as Halla and Gillan relayed what the Companions were talking about.
:Um—: Giff said. It seemed to be one of his favourite words. :Well it was night-time when I got there, so I couldn’t see much… although they did have mage lights everywhere and the roads were paved with something that looked like sand, but was hard.: Giff offered a mental picture of a truly alien looking road, wide (and indeed made of hard looking sand), bordered with strips of grass, set back from which where what appeared to be dwellings. The dwellings also appeared to be lit— almost floodlit, in fact— by mage lights.
This information was greeted (after suitable relay) with varying degrees of scepticism.
“If they have enough magic to make sand hard, and use mage lights for public lighting, then why have we never heard of them?” This was from the Tayledras Ambassador, a youngish looking woman, clad in dark scout garb and leaning heavily on a simply carved walking stick. She stalked forwards a few steps, a bad limp apparent as her left leg dragged, then paused and waved her stick under Giff’s nose.
The Companion snorted and stepped back. “You tell me that, horse.” She demanded., levelling an icy blue stare at Giff that could quite possibly have dropped prey at fifty paces.
Sometimes, Regin decided, I think Shadowflame has spent far too much time with that eagle of hers…
:Um—: Giff glanced nervously at Dadero, an action that elicited a rude snort and another thrumming circuit of the stick under his nose.
“Don’t you play that damn “Silence” card with me,” The ex-scout demanded. “I can MindHear perfectly well and you lot—“ the stick executed a wide circle, indicating the Field, and nearly removing the Haighlei Ambassador’s left ear, “—normally can’t be made to shut up on pain of death, so don’t you dare try and mess me around now.” Another glare was marshalled up and dispatched; this time towards all four of the Companions present.
Kit flattened her ears and looked about ready to begin arguing, but a single look from Dadero quelled her.
:Very well, Ambassador Shadowflame,: Dadero said with dignity… well, as much dignity as one near-divine being can have whilst being menaced by a crippled Tayledras scout with a heavy stick. The Groveborn turned his attention to Giff. :If you would project the memory of your journey to me,: he said. A sideways glance to Flame. :I will relay it to the necessary parties.:
Shadowflame made a sound that Regin chose to believe was a snort and nodded sharply before—thankfully— using her stick to lean on again, rather than waving it around and nearly causing actual bodily harm to those in the vicinity.
There was a moment of almost preternatural calm, and then Regin suddenly found himself in possession of a small ‘package’ of memory. Judging by the assortment of surprised or knowing expressions dotted around, he wasn’t the only one. The Companion held his piece whilst he examined the brief collection of images.
They were truly bizarre.
Flicking one ear, Regs traded a surprised look with Kit, who had moved, unseen, to stand next to him. Wide roads made of a hard black substance that wasn’t stone? Lights everywhere that, if they weren’t mage lights, Regin couldn’t image what they were and some kind of metallic cart that was stationary in front of the dwelling that Michael emerged from. If anything, it looked like one of the artificers steam contraptions, but without the usual number of pipes and funnels.
However, the strangest thing of all was the feeling that the land itself was… familiar. If anything, Giff’s impressions of that strange place were that it ‘felt’ the same as the land around Haven.
“What in the name of the Star-Eyed Lady…?” Predictably, it was Shadowflame who spoke first— her disbelieving tone making her thoughts on the whole matter more than abundantly clear. Regin looked sideways at the Ambassador; she was standing with her weight unevenly distributed, sparing her bad leg, so that she could rhythmically tap her stick on the ground. It was an action that was more ominous than it had any right to be, unless you knew the Ambassador, and what the frosty expression currently gracing her face meant.
“I’m not sure,” that was Halla, blinking slowly, one hand still resting on Regin’s neck.
Various mumbles, shrugging of shoulders and independent bursts of speculative conversation— in a variety of languages— indicated that the rest of the assembled diplomats and personages were equally as baffled.
:I believe that I may understand, now.: Dadero’s announcement riveted all attention on the Groveborn.
Once again, it was Shadowflame who broke the silence. “Well, are you going to enlighten us poor mortals, or are you just going to be smug and superior?”
Regin often found himself wondering if Shadowflame had been appointed Ambassador because the Vales couldn’t wait to see the back of her, or because she was the most diplomatic person they had available. The latter option was a scary prospect indeed and played a large part in Regin’s decision— despite being Companion to the Monarch and perforce tied to Haven— never to visit the Tayledras held lands to the west, just in case.
Dadero exhaled slowly and gave Shadowflame a reproving look before elaborating. :I am sure that everyone here is familiar with the concept of different planes of existence?: The question was obviously rhetorical, as Dadero continued without pause. :What we have here I think, is conclusive proof that, as well as alternate planes, there is also at least one alternate dimension—:
The excited uproar that this provoked amongst the group of humans; the mages in particular, served to drown out anything else that Dadero might have added.
Shadowflame was the only silent one; she pivoted on her heels to fix Michael with a cool look, one silvery eyebrow arching skywards. “An interesting theory,” she admitted. That was about as close to impressed as the Tayledras woman ever got.
Michael warily tried to return Shadowflame’s stare; obviously not aware that he’d have better luck trying to outstare a cold drake. Giff sidled in front of his Chosen and gave Flame a look that was about two part rebellion to three parts worry; rather perfectly mimicking that of Michael.
If matters hadn’t been as serious as they were, Regin would have laughed.
“An alternate dimension?” Halla frowned faintly, her hand tightening in Regin’s mane. “One where there’s this Yewnighted Statesofamehrecah, instead of Valdemar?”
:Yes,: Dadero said simply. Regin belatedly realised that the Groveborn was Broadsending his Mindspeech.
Gillan cleared his throat loudly and tapped Dadero on the shoulder. “Alternate version of reality; that I can understand—“ a dry look over at the mages, who were still having a whispered set of conversations amongst themselves, “—just about. But… no Valdemar? Why?” That being exactly the question that Regs knew Halla had been about to ask, the Companion pricked up his ears and waited for Dadero to answer.
Dadero blinked. :Some… believe that each choice that happens has definable repercussions, and that reality has the potential to ‘split’ at each of these points, creating vastly different scenarios—:
“You’ve had your Chosen read a dictionary for you, very nice.” That could only be Shadowflame. “Now, how about actually speaking in simpler terms, so that we poor mere mortals can understand you?”
A long suffering sigh from Dadero and the concurrent eye rolling by his Chosen had Regin biting down on the inside of his cheeks to prevent himself from laughing.
:Very well.: A sharp glance at Shadowflame, who sniffed loudly. :More simply put; some key events, decisions, have a far reaching impact, one that can effect not just those immediately involved, but the wider world.:
“Like the Cataclysm,” Foxdance, the Kaled’a’in representative said slowly. Her intricately beaded black hair slipped sideways over her face and she brushed it out of the way with absentmindedly irritation.
:Yes, exactly.: Dadero nodded. :It is believed that sometimes, these ‘choices’ create such opposite potentials that the two different realities come in to being.:
Regin finally found his voice. :What ‘choice’ in this case?: He asked.
Dadero rippled his hide in a shrug. :That is anybody’s guess.:
“Helpful,” Flame snorted. “Given what we’ve seen from the prancing pony’s memories, however, I imagine that this choice you’re all enamoured with happened a long, long time in the past; given the huge differences between our world and his.”
Regin looked over at Michael, who had edged closer to Giff, although the pair of them still weren’t touching.
“Well,” Halla said, after a moment’s contemplation. “It has happened now— whether or not we like it— and we shall have to live with the consequences. As soon as is possible, I would like to have a dyheli give Giff’s Chosen the Valdemaran language…” a considering pause; Halla was definitely acting the Queen now, “and some kind of ‘introduction’ to his new home, although I imagine that Giff will be doing something along those lines.”
Giff looked embarrassed and nodded his head slightly.
“Good,” Halla nodded once, sharply. “Well, we are not going to achieve anything more standing about in Companion’s Field. Until further notice, Companion Giff, both yourself and your Chosen will be staying in one of the Herald’s rooms over at Healer’s Collegium; for the privacy, and also in case there are any strange after effects from your little stunt.”
:Hah.: Kit’s muttered comment was audible only to the other Companions. Giff winced and gave her an apologetic look.
“You seem to have everything planned,” Shadowflame observed, for once not managing to sound caustic enough to de-rust chainmail.
“A side-effect of being the ruling Monarch,” Halla dryly told her. “I shall also, however, be putting the Circle on high alert and all Foreseers are going to be reassigned to the Palace for the duration.” A gesture to the gathering of mages. “I shall also be convening the Council for a meeting at the third mark past noon today; I think we have a lot to talk about.”
“Hmm,” Shadowflame put in. “There aren’t any dyheli with the language Gift in Haven at the moment.” She pointed out.
Halla sighed and rubbed at her forehead with one hand. “That shall be one of the things we discuss in the Council session.” She said.
That seemed to be some kind of unspoken signal and the group began to disperse; most of the group, including all of the mages, heading straight for the new-looking building that served as the Mage’s Collegium, animated discussion already occurring.
Halla patted Regin on the neck, then finally unwound her hand from his mane. “If you would be so good to show your Chosen to Healer’s Collegium, Companion Giff,” she said to the young stallion. “The guards will accompany you for now; as much for your protection as ours.” Another weary sigh. Regs flinched in sympathy; he could feel some of the tension headache that Halla was beginning to suffer from.
After Michael, his Companion, and the two guards had vanished in the direction of the House of Healing, Halla leaned against Regin long enough to bang her head against his neck.
“Why me?” She asked plaintively to no one in particular.
A cynical snort from Gillan’s direction. “We happened to be in the right place at the right time, and have a long cultural history of interfering white horses.” The Queen’s Own ignored the indignant shove he received from his own interfering white horse. “Anyway, like you said; it’s happened now, we’d best go placate the nobles before they explode all over the Throne Room.”
Halla straightened herself up and nodded wearily. “I suppose we’d better get it over and done with,” she agreed dispiritedly.
The pair of Heralds said goodbye to the remaining trio of Companions and walked off towards the main Palace.
Regin followed them with his eyes, then turned his attention back to Kit and Dadero. :Well,: he said, then fell silent.
:This is trouble,: Kit prophesised in a dire tone of voice, :I can smell it.: She ignored Dadero’s sceptical expression at her claim. The Groveborn held his peace, however.
:If anything, it’s highly improbable.: Regin decided. :I mean— dropping in from another reality? It sounds like something you’d read in a one-copper sensational.:
:Hah!: Kit laughed and shook her head from side to side, sending her mane flying in every which way. :You have a point.:
:Hmm.: Dadero gave Regin and Kit a jaundiced look. :Penny sensational or not, we have the dubious honour of living in it now, so I suggest that everyone stays alert. I shall tell the others.:
Regin watched the departing Groveborn for a long moment, before looking back at his best friend. :As if we’d be anything else.:
Kit pulled a face. :With this pot of trouble bubbling away? Not likely.: A sigh. :I’m sure this is going to explode and we’re all going to get burned; Giff and his Chosen as well.:
:We shall see, I suppose.: Regin said with finality. :Although, if this is a penny sensational, it’ll be some Pelagirs-birthed Changed mage that eats us all up.:
:At least if we were eaten we’d get some peace and quiet.:
A long suffering sigh. :True. Very true.: