Chapter 11- Past Lives and Poisons.
We stayed at a Waystation last night. Boring. Very much so. Harali hasn’t managed to find anything conclusive in her Chosen’s head. Well, she’s managed to establish that Samyel likes Alexander, but she can’t figure out if Sam likes Alex, or likes Alex. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge and so on.
The boys still think that we’re up to something, which is just plain nonsense, as ‘Ali and I keep telling them, but neither of them believes us. I can’t imagine why, I mean, who wouldn’t believe us? Look at me! I mean, I’m an absolute picture of innocence, so much so that it practically drips out of my ears and—na, you’re right. This particular white horse isn’t fooling anyone.
So. We haven’t done much today. Walked a lot along the road, and either side of the road, doing the whole Heraldic thing and visiting all the little farmsteads and the like. No one really needed us. Just the obligatory ‘how are you?’ and the kiddie checks. Most of the people we’ve seen so far are ridiculously healthy. Maybe there is something to living out in the country air all the time. It certainly smells nicer out here compared to some parts of Haven. The animal markets and tanner’s lane, for instance.
Then again, it can smell pretty foul out here too, what with all the animals, and the obvious by-products thereof.
I was right, by the way. About the farmstead set-up around here. Several families, one of each parent and usually multiple kiddies, living together in a kind of communal run-together of buildings and outhouses.
Actually, we’re about to see one up close. We reached the Waystation that we were supposed to be stopping at tonight, only to find that, of all things, a tree had fallen on it, taking of most of the roof and buckling one wall. Obviously, this meant that the Waystation was totally uninhabitable, so it looked briefly as if we were in for a fun night of outdoor camping, with practically no supplies as all the ones that were in the Waystation had been thieved by the local wildlife.
Luckily, as well as the overly adventurous plant life, there was a note on the door inviting the next pair of Heralds to happen by to stop for the night at a small farmstead called Ruska’s Holt. Harali and I weren’t complaining at the prospect of proper stabling for the night, and neither were either of our Chosen at the prospect of food, proper food, and a bed for the night.
Which pretty much brings us right up to the present. Harali and I are ambling along the road, the red and orange of the sunset staining both us, and our Heralds, a brilliant burnt orange colour. And, as if by magic, there’s a branch in the road just ahead of us, to the right, with a battered looking wooden sign hanging from a nearby handy fencepost.
‘Ali and I reach the sign and the branch in the road, and draw to a halt. I curiously eye the weathered piece of wood. Written roughly on it, in a black paint that is crackled and worn thin and grey in places, are the words ‘Ruska’s Holt and Barden’s Farm’.
:I think this could be our stop.: I send to Harali as I absently stir at a patch of dust with one fore-hoof.
:Indeed,: she replies, :should we start off on our own, or wait for the Boys in Whites to notice the sign?:
I snort and meditatively regard Samyel and Alexander, who are still deep in conversation, this time something about…um…actually, I don’t know, I stopped listening several marks back when they started on the laws thing again.
:Considering I don’t think that they’ve noticed that we’ve even stopped, I’d say lets get going, else we’ll be here all night!:
Harali laughs and bobs her head in agreement and moves off down the narrower branch road. It’s more of a track really, and it is very much narrower than the main trade road. Harali and I could go side by side still, but I have the feeling that either Alex or Sam would end up with a face-full of overgrown canopy from the trees and bushes that have sprung up either side of the path.
Samyel blinks, and looks around. “Is this the way to Ruska’s Holt?” He asks, eliciting a snort of confirmation from both ‘Ali and myself.
:It is indeed,: Harali informs her Chosen, :and judging by what I can smell, we’re going to arrive at the farmstead very soon.:
I test the air myself, and I have to agree with my fellow Companion, there is most definitely the scent of farm and cooking fires on the breeze. Our noses prove to be accurate, we round a kink in the track and the scrubby trees on either side of the road fall down to hedgerow height, revealing a beaten down earth clearing with patches of grass, in front of a complex looking sprawl of wooden and stone buildings, looking as if they have actually grown there, given how many different styles of building and ages of materials there are to be seen.
The farm is a hive of activity, with farmhands bustling around, getting milk cows into the cow shed after the evening milking. As well as the busy adults, there are several small children running around, taking care not to get in the way of the big farm animals. One of the children, a boy of about four I think, looks up from chasing after a ball and catches sight of us, just on the other side of the gate into the farm yard.
“Dadda! Dadda!” The boy squeals and runs over to one of the men near the cow sheds, latching onto one of his legs. The man looks down at the boy, who continues burbling on in a high pitched voice. “Dadda, Heralds an’ C’mpanions! Over by the gate, Dadda, look—“
The man, the child’s father obviously, looks in the direction that his son is pointing and catches sight of us. He waves in our direction, obviously signalling that we should come into the yard proper and begins to walk over towards us with a welcoming look on his face, after passing on some instructions to one of the others by the sheds.
Alex dismounts and swings open the gate to allow Harali and myself through before shutting it again. Whilst my Chosen is re-hooking the catch, Samyel also dismounts and holds out a hand in greeting to the farmer, who has now reached us.
“Good evenin’ to ye sirs,” the farmer says, “I take it ye saw t’note we left?” He clasps Sam’s hand and firmly shakes it, before switching his attention to shaking my Alexander’s arm around. He doesn’t know his own strength, I’m just going to snicker quietly in the back of my Chosen’s mind.
“That we did.” Sam replies genially. “I hope that we’re not going to be much interference for you?”
“Ah, no problems, we done most of crop planting and t’like, now’s the fairly easy time, we just gotta look after t’cows.” As the farmer continues making small talk with our Heralds, I dubiously regard the black and white patched milk cows. They’re big. Very big, I hate to think what he classes as hard. Remind me never to come back as a farmer.
Once I’ve finished my analysis of the bovine residents of the farm (big, black and white, big, bony, big and big) I turn my scrutiny back to the farmer. He is a big man himself, not fat, just big, maybe there’s something in the water around here that turns people and animals into giants? Well, anyway, he’s big, and florid faced, not that that’s much surprise given that he’s been bossing around those big cows all evening, and he has black hair, and fairly deep set, almost black eyes that are almost hiding under the biggest set of black eyebrows I have ever seen.
Now I understand what the phrase ‘beetling’ means. They are huge, no joke of a lie, if he wanted to raise one of them at someone or something, he’d have to apply for a buildings permit from the Council first!
His son, who is still attached to his left leg, is an exact copy of his father and I get the feeling that he’s going to be impossible to keep fed once he really starts growing. He’s also switching his gaze between myself and ‘Ali. I get the feeling that I’m going to become very sticky again soon. So, about time to listen to the conversation again I think.
“…Ruska’s the fam’ly name but you’m call me Jonoton, ev’ryone else ‘round these parts does.” Farmer Jonoton concludes.
“Well, thank you for the offer of a bed tonight, if you could show us where we can bed down our Companions we’d all be grateful.” Alex smiles at the farmer. Possibly the low grade feelings of hunger and thirst I’ve been projecting at my Chosen might have something to do with that. Eheh heh heh.
“Aye, of course, iffen you’m follow me.” With that, Jonoton turns and begins to walk towards the stables, set between the cow sheds and the main complex of living buildings.
Alex and Samyel make sure that mine and Harali’s reins are looped over the pommels of our respective saddles before following the farmer, and we Companions trail along behind them, our hooves chiming dully on the packed earth surface of the yard.
:I take it that you’re a hungry Teva?: Alex asks me with a mental grin as we enter the stables through a set of large wooden doors.
:You’d guess correct.: I inform him with a twitch of my hide. :I’m the one who’s been doing all the walking, after all!: Alex chuckles and pauses to pat the side of my neck.
Once in the stables, Jonoton shows the boys to the two large loose boxes, normally reserved for foaling mares, that are to be mine and Harali’s for the night and Alexander busies himself with removing my tack and brushing me down, as Samyel performs a similar task for Harali and Jonoton goes in search of food and water for us.
Within short order, the farmer returns with two buckets of fresh water, plus a gangly boy of about twelve summers, who is obviously another son of Jonoton’s as he has the characteristic black hair and eyes, although his eyebrows aren’t any competition for his father’s. Not yet, at any rate.
The son, who Jonoton introduces as his oldest, Garth, is in possession of two more buckets, these ones filled with mixed grains which he hangs near the front of each stall.
Whilst he is running a curry comb down Harali’s flanks in long, even strokes, Samyel engages farmer Jonoton in conversation once more.
“So, I notice that you don’t seem to have many milk cows in your herd at the moment.” Harali sighs in contentment and leans into the brush as Jonoton hangs the water buckets on the opposite sides of the stalls, but still to the front.
“You from a farming background then sir Herald?” Jonoton answers Sam’s question with another question, rather than with an answer.
Samyel smiles slightly. “I grew up on one, to the north of Haven.”
“Ah,” the farmer’s face clears, “that’ll explain it. Yes, we’m be running only half of what we normally have milking at this time of year.”
“Only half?” Samyel asks in surprise, as myself and my Chosen listen on with interest.
:Only half, he says.: I send to Alex. :Those animals are huge and there seemed plenty enough of them out in that yard before!: Alex smiles at me.
Jonoton nods ruefully. “Aye, had a right bad run o’luck this past several months. Fust we’m found that the upper pastures were seeded with the mould beastie that causes spring fever and we lost several calves t’that, stuff’s worse’n childsbane to cattle. Then t’others jus’ seemed t’start losing condition all gradual like and more of them started losing calves before ‘twas their time and we’m thought ‘twas the aborting sickness, so we had t’kill at least thurty outta the herd.”
Samyel draws in a hissing breath. “That’s some bad luck!” He exclaims.
“That ain’t worst of it.” Jonoton informs Harali’s Chosen mournfully. “They seemed t’get over t’abortion sickness, and then they got all thrifty again and some of them keep on scouring and the rest aren’t much better an’ non of them be producing near half as much milk as they should.”
Sam tuts and shakes his head. “I’d suggest that you had your wells tested or something, but nothing else has been affected?”
“That be right, an’ all our water comes from the same well, we had a Healer come out and check it fer us a while back.
Sam finishes with Harali and untangles her tack and checks it over whilst continuing his discussion with the farmer. Alex finishes on my mane and I move forward enough to stick my nose in the bucket of grains to my right. I sniff warily, and then lift my head to look at my Chosen.
:My dinner smells…odd.: I inform him.
“Odd in what way?” Alexander asks quietly, and sticks his hand in the bucket and pulls out a handful of grains to examine and smell for himself.
:I don’t know, different somehow.: I say with a sigh.
Garth, Jonoton’s son, who had been sitting on a bale of straw owlishly watching us as Alex got me settled for the night pipes up. “Be there anything wrong sir Herald?” He asks timidly as both Alex and I turn to look at him.
“My Companion says that the grains smell different.” Alex says in a friendly voice.
“Oh, sorry sir, you see there was only enough grain left in the bin in the stable feed room for one, so I had to get that bucket from the new bin, over in the cow shed feed store—“ The boy immediately launches into a high speed apologetic explanation.
“Whoa, okay!” Alex exclaims as I scrutinise the bucket again and the lad stumbles to a stop.
:Tell him that it’s okay,: I inform Alexander, :it’s probably just the fact that they’ve been kept near silage and cattle cake that’s made them smell funny.:
Alex repeats pretty much what I said to him. “Don’t worry, Garth. Teva says that them being near silage is probably what made them smell different, there’s nothing to apologise for.”
Garth relaxes at Alexander’s words and gives him a grateful look as I cautiously stick my nose back in the bucket, and begin to eat. The grains taste slightly odd as well, mind you, some of that silage that the milk farmers use stinks pretty strongly, so I shouldn’t really be surprised that the grains taste odd if they’ve been kept in close proximity to it.
A few minutes later our boys, in the company of Garth and Jonoton retire to the main dining room for their evening meal, and Harali and I are left to ourselves, with only the last vestiges of the sunset and a lamp hung near the entrance providing illumination.
Harali sighs quietly to herself and shifts her weight from leg to leg as she chews on her grains. I’ve stopped eating mine, despite my assurances to Alexander, they do taste really odd, and I’m not sure that I can stomach much more of the taste of the silage that seems to be permeating them.
Actually, now that I think about it, I feel a bit sick. Oh, dear, I don’t think that silage or cattle food agrees with Teva’s digestive tract. I shuffle my hind legs forward slightly and arch my back, but my stomach is still aching and making bizarre noises.
I flatten my ears and shake my head in an attempt to distract myself, but all that succeeds in doing is making me dizzy, a dizziness that doesn’t seem to want to go now that I’ve introduced it. I blink my eyes and squint at the wall opposite.
How odd, I never noticed that rainbow effect around it before. Come to think of it, the bale of straw Garth was sitting on has a rainbow surrounding it as well. How strange.
I blink my eyes again, and suddenly, we’re back on the road, except that it’s pouring down with rain and I’ve just spotted the lights in the distance that I’m hoping belong to Traderest…but that’s not right, we’ve already been to Traderest, haven’t we?
Another blink and I’m…where am I? I’m in the Field, back home, looking at a patch of grass and yellow flowers, and I must have been day dreaming because I have this bizarre feeling that I should be telling Alex that I think something’s wrong.
Who in the Havens is Alex? I don’t know anyone called Alex…where did I get that name from? I get the impression of white when I think about the name, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to focus on what I’m thinking. It can’t be a Companion, no-one is called Alex, so, a Herald? But no-one I know has a Herald called Alex, wait, Brandyn got back with his new Chosen this morning, Alex could be a girl’s name, it could be her name—no, wait. Brandyn’s Chosen is called Keth.
I stare at the patch of grass and snort in frustration.
What in Havens is happening to me?
:Teva?: There, that was a voice calling my name. But who? :Teva are you alright? Teva! Speak to me!: There it is again! Female, and I feel like I should recognise it, and if I concentrate, I get the vague impression of a stable, and a large white shape, another Companion? I think that I’m not feeling too good. I think I’m…word...thing, begins with ‘h’, hallucinating…everything’s going grey, the colour of dawn time mist in the winter and I feel like I’m floating.
Far, far away, I can vaguely feeling that I’m standing hunched over, no wait, now I’m lying—falling down, legs folding beneath me like wet paper, but that seems distant and unreal. There are voices as well, two—no, three Mindvoices, strident with concern, and…fear?
:Teva! Can you Hear me? Teva!: The female voice again, quickly followed by a male voice that sounds achingly familiar.
:Teva! Teva! TEVA!: The voice is almost crying, I can Feel the sadness and panic in it and I don’t know what’s causing it.
Now vocal voices, drifting half-heard up to me, in the formless silvery mist, floating blind. “…up with her? I can’t Hear her! What’s wrong?!” That voice sounds like the frantic Mindvoice, and the fear and impression of tears and panic is much stronger in the vocal version.
“—don’t know…Harali just said she went odd and started stari—then she called us…” That voice is new, but familiar at the same time, but I can’t make either the mental or vocal voices out clearly, they keep jumping and skittering all over the place, like smoke in a storm, and as well as trying to hear them, I’m trying to decipher the sensations and images I keep getting.
I’m lying collapsed in a stall, moaning, with my Chosen frantic at my head.
I’m chasing my friends through the Grove, I’m going to win, I’m going to catch them!
I’m having my first lesson in the Mage-Gift with Herald-Mage Jaysen Kondre, he scares me a bit.
I’m standing in the stables, covered in mud, Veran is next to me telling me not to feel bad.
I’m Companion Teva.
I feel sick, Mama-Derri said not to eat yellow flowers but I didn’t listen and now my tummy hurts lots.
I’m in Haven, walking towards my destiny, my Chosen.
I’m on a Courier run down south, near to the Karsite Border, I think I’m being tracked.
I’m running through the Palace Gardens, ripping up grass as I skid around corners.
I’m Herald-Courier Myri.
I’m screaming and rearing and menacing those who would hurt my Chosen, my Alex.
I’m not going to let the Karsites through.
The Mindvoice, the female one briefly breaks into my mind again. :—think it’s poison…she’s hallucinating I thin—Teva! Can you Hear m—?: But I don’t respond, the memories are all mixed up and confusing in my head and I can’t make out what’s real and what’s not so I’m just going to stay here and remember everything until the mist and the pain and the dizziness go away.
I don’t know anyone called Teva, my name is Myri.
We’ve been riding Courier Circuits for months now, Karse has stepped up it’s attacks and the only thing meaning it isn’t war is the fact that Karse haven’t declared it yet, and King Randale is loath to declare war on Karse, for that would give them all the justification that their crazed Sun-Priests need to roll over our Border and invade properly.
The Karsite Border is Hell, quite literally, at the moment, only recently there were five Herald-Mages attempting to keep back the Priests and their Demons and horrors, now it’s down to one mainly, Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron. He scares me, so much power, some would say too much. Me, I’m happy with being a Journeyman, verging on Master, to be an Adept as powerful as Herald Vanyel would be too much, I don’t think I’d be able to cope with that amount of power.
Mage-Gift or no, I’m still on Courier, Dallian is the fastest of all the Companions, and my Mage-Gift means that I can shield us enough to hide from the Karsite Mages and Priests.
We’re carrying dispatches and spied troops plans of the Karsites from the Valdemaran encampment near White Foal Pass, where Herald-Mage Vanyel is, to the Lord Marshall and the reserves to the east and north. The Karsite Priests are using spells that prevent the Farspeakers and Mages from sending the plans directly to the Heralds and Herald-Mages at the Lord Marshall’s camp, so Dalli and I, and the other Herald-Couriers are the only way of exchanging intelligence fast.
Dalli has been running flat out for two days now, we only stop each night for a brief rest to get our wind back, there will be time enough to rest once we reach the Lord Marshall.
He has to see these plans. The commanders at the Border near White Foal are worried, there don’t seem to be nearly as many Karsite troops there as there should be, and no-one knows where they are. Herald Vanyel also says that the Priests have stepped up their bombardment of the border recently, almost as if they’re trying to distract attention from something else, and there is no way that he can spend the time to Look for whatever it is they’re trying to hide, not without the Karsite Mages getting through his shields and protections and unleashing Demons into Valdemar. A thought too horrible to comprehend. So we have to run, Dallian and I, we have to get these plans to the Lord Marshall so the reserves can be mobilised ready for another attack.
The wind is howling past me as I hunch myself over Dalli’s neck and try to present as small an area for the wind to catch on as possible. The countryside, looking grey and washed out in the cold winter air, flashes past us at a blur as my wonderful Dalli carries us on a cresting wave of sound, a thundering cacophony of chiming only audible to us as I strive to keep the tightest shields I can clamped around us, muting sound and blurring vision.
It’s still three days at least before we reach the encampment, but we’re going to make it, we have to make it.
I can sense a sick feeling in the air, in the earth, around us and I fight to keep my balance in the saddle. I know what the feeling is, I’ve felt it before on the Border. Karsite Mages and their pet Demons. I think they’re hunting us.
Dallian’s ears flatten and his eyes roll slightly, showing the whites. :Can I feel what I think I can?: He asks me, the sending heavily laced with worry, a touch of fear, and the constant exhaustion that has been with all of us since this started.
:Karsite Priests.: I reply with a touch of fear myself. :But there’s something wrong, they don’t feel as if their probes are coming from the South, they feel as if they’re straight ahead of us.:
Dalli can’t spare the breath for a snort of surprise, but he sends me a mental equivalent as his muscles continue unfaltering in their rhythmic surging beneath me. :Ahead? But…we’re running parallel to the Border at the moment, all that’s ahead of us is—: Dalli cuts off his sending abruptly and I stifle down a moan of panic.
The only thing ahead of us is Valdemar.
They must have gotten past the Border defences somehow, and now they’re behind our lines. Karsite Priests and their Demons. This must be what the assaults on White Foal were to distract us from, this is what the plans I’m carrying mean.
:The reserves will be caught off-guard!: I frantically send to my Companion, and feel a corresponding surge of alarm from him.
:Not only that, the other camps, the refugees from the Borderlands, and the villages and towns around here—they won’t stand a chance!: Dallian’s sending has a harsh edge of barely controlled panic to it. :What’s more, no-one will be expecting this, even the Foreseers are being blocked by the damned Karsites!:
Gods. What are we going to do? What can we do?
My mind is running around like a mouse in a barrel, spiralling inwards with panic, looking for a solution, any solution to the imminent catastrophe.
:Wait!: A simple solution, it has to work. I open my mind fully to my Soul-brother and show him what my solution is.
:Yes!: His sending is harsh, with the fear being drowned out by the red of anger. :We can do it, we’ll show those damn Karsites!:
Dalli slows his pace and looks back at me, there’s no need for breakneck speed now. :How close are they?: He asks.
:Close.: I send back, they are close, and my skin is crawling at the proximity of the Abyssal Plane creatures that the infiltrating groups of Karsite Priests and their guard have with them.
:We shall charge them then.: Dalli says it matter-of-factly. :Can you try to Send whilst I run?:
:As long as you help me, my love, I’m going to need your strength to break the damping spells on distance Mindspeech.:
:With you all the way my Myri.: Dalli opens himself to me and breaks into a menacing and deliberate gallop, not the headlong dash of before, as I take his strength and combine it with my Mage-Gift and my Mindspeech. Then I check that my lines to the local ley lines are intact and I Reach and push outwards with my mind, straining to break the insidious steel-strong gossamer net of damping spells all around us.
I push and push, and just as I think that I’m about to tear in two, I feel the edge of an aura I recognise. Carlyn, one of my best friends, and the Lord Marshall’s Herald.
:Lyn!: I call her, as loudly as I can and I feel a start of surprise as she thins her shields and extends a probe.
:Wha—who—Myri?!: But there’s no time, no time, Dalli and I are running up the side of a hill, and just over the top are the Karsites, and there’s no time.
I take all of my knowledge about the troop movements, and the hidden group of Karsites and shove it forcefully into her mind, causing her to yelp, both physically and mentally in pain. :Myri? What are you—Oh, Gods!:
I can feel her frantically shouting for the Lord Marshall, for the commanders, for someone, anyone, now.
Dalli is cresting the hill, we can both see the gold and black of the hated, hated Karsite Priests but a few furlongs below us and I drop all my glamours and Dalli’s thundering hoof-beats reverberate through the icy air, and now they see us, and there is shouting in their harsh tongue and the bodyguards with them are hastily readying weapons as the Priests goad their monsters into action with incantations.
I open myself fully to the ley lines and I feel the power rush to fill both me and Dalli. Somehow, Lyn is still hanging on and I Feel a flood of panic and despair as she senses what I am doing, what I am about to do.
:Myri—: Her sending is a wail of just realised grief.
:Goodbye my soul-sister.: I send to her and cut the connection. She does not want to be around for what we are about to do.
We have reached the outermost edges of the Karsite group, and several soldiers try to stop us, their hastily shot arrows shattering on my physical shields, as they are dashed beneath Dalli’s silver hooves, and then, we’re upon the mages, but I want the lead one, the Adept, and Dallian writhes around the others and charges for the Black Robed Priest, who stares at us in shock, Demon forgotten as we crash to a halt before him.
He flings up one arm as if to ward us off, or to fling a levinbolt at us as Dalli, my beautiful Dalli, writhes around sideways.
I reach down and grab hold of his outstretched arm and yank him in close to Dallian’s side, as Dalli twists his head around and sinks his teeth into the man’s other arm.
“For Valdemar and the King!” I scream into his face, echoing the cry in Mindspeech as I drop all of my shields and Reach for not only the ley lines that I’m tied to, but for the node that feeds them and the Priest’s face dissolves into fear as he realises, too late, what we plan to do.
Everything around us vanishes into a glare of harsh actinic blue-white light and heat and somewhere there is screaming as the men and the Priests and their monsters are burned up by the power that is roaring through me, too bright to look at, but at the same time compelling and hypnotic. I can see the Demons tattering into shadows around us as the Karsite spell lose their grip on their essence and they are burned by the power and flung back to the Hells.
The sensations are beyond pain, and it seems to last forever and for no time at all, Dalli and I are the light, we become the power, and all around us the screams has ceased and all we can see are rigid, frozen statues of powdery darkness that used to be the guards and the soldiers, and blazing pyres of fire that were the mages.
Everything starts to fade to black, not just the black of a smoky afterimage on the eye after you stare at a too-bright light, but the essence of black, a blackness and peace that is so profound I could never ever explain it fully.
Dallian and I, Herald-Courier Myri give ourselves up to the darkness and everything drifts away…
The profound blackness of my memory gives way to the more mundane blackness of the inside of my battered head, and I gratefully give myself up to the oblivion, as everything, once again goes black and I float away into nothingness.
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