Grass is Greener
by etcetera-cat
Disclaimer:  Everything relating to the world of Velgarth and the kingdom of Valdemar is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.  Any spelling mistakes, abuse of grammar, plot inconsistences or other nonsense is solely the fault of etcetera-cat.
Rating:  'T'.
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Chapter Two – Choosings and Speakings.


  It has been almost a week since I’d had the talk with Veran about my dream and each day the sensation, the Call is getting stronger.  It’s strange, I can feel it all the time, and no matter what I’m doing a small part of me is concentrating on the pull at my inner self.  I know my Chosen is male, I’d figured that out almost immediately, and I also know that his family is fairly rich, he is landed nobility of some sort, given the impressive architecture of his house.  I also know that he has siblings, I got that this morning, one brother I think, and possibly a sister.

It’s exciting, and at the same time, a bit infuriating.  This knowledge of him is trickling through so slowly and I already have this distinct need for him.  I flatten my ears back in irritation and look at my reflection in the river.  I’m currently standing on one of the many bridges in the Field that spans the Terilee River.  It’s still glorious weather, with almost incandescent blue skies and hot sunlight.  Thankfully the breeze from the north has continued so the heat is bearable.  Well, bearable here where there’s space and time to relax.  I imagine that it’s much nastier out in the city, in particular in the poorer districts.

Now I know why Brandyn spends most of his time nearly bursting, I haven’t even Chosen, Hells, I don’t even know his name, and I’m practically bursting!

I can’t even find Bran or one of the others to pester as Bran has equitation with Keth again, Derri has all of her attention focused on her Herald who is currently in a Council meeting, and Sinna and Henri are somewhere.  Probably hiding from me in case I squeak about my incipient Choosing and bounce around them any more.  

Not that I really want company at the moment, now that I think about it, I want to concentrate all my attention on what that inner pulling is telling me.  Veran, and Derri, assured me that I will know when it is time for me to go out on Search.

I sigh and clop my way across the bridge, heading towards the stables in an indirect fashion.  I’m not actively heading towards the buildings, more just rambling along for lack of anything else to do.

Then, between one step and the next, something hits me between the eyes, mentally speaking.  And suddenly I know, with total and utter certainty that it’s time.  His name is Alexander Malken, he lives in Haven, in one of the city manor houses not a half mark from the Palace, and it’s time for me to Choose him!  With an excited whicker, half under my breath, I pick up my pace and jog towards the stables.

Clattering to a halt on the paved expanse of the yard in front of the stables I look around impatiently for a groom.  Within moments one has appeared, not Tel this time, but a grizzled looking older man, who looks very much like Tel.

His father.  I think to myself briefly as I prance in place slightly and look at him in mute appeal, with my ears up and forward and my eyes sparkling.

“Going on Search my lady?” His voice is roughened by age and holds a hint of amusement.  I nod vigorously and step forward to point towards the tack shed with my nose.

He pats me familiarly on the neck and begins to move towards the shed.  He picks out my custom made blue tack with no difficulty since he recognises probably all of the Companions, although he never uses our names when addressing us, it was always ‘my lady’ or ‘my lord’.  I think it’s a kind of joke he has.

The saddle and hackamore feel… odd… that’s all I can really say.  I’ve only worn them a few times, firstly when they were made and then only to check that they still fitted and to keep them supple and comfortable.

Tel’s father finishes cinching the saddle girth and pats me lightly on the flank.

“There y’go my lady, all set.”  He turns to go, as I turn to leave the stables and I hear him speak again.  “Hullo my lord.”

I look round and see Veran standing at the gate that leads to the road out of the Palace complex and into Haven.

:My Call!:  I say excitedly, pacing towards him.

:I know Teva, go and find him.:  Veran’s Mindvoice is shaded with love and amusement.  :It isn’t far, is it?:

:In Haven.:  I reply.

He reaches forward and nuzzles me with his nose.  :Have fun.:  He says gravely as he moves aside to let me pass.

I nicker thanks to him and set off down the road.  The chiming of my hooves is counter-pointed by the gentle sound of the bells on my bridle, which glitter in the midday sun.

Within ten minutes or so my pace has carried me to the Palace wall and the main gate into the city.  Just before I enter the cool, dark tunnel, one of the Palace Guards, dressed in dark blue and silver, steps out in front of me.  He has a clipboard in one hand and smiles at me briefly.

“Good day Companion… Teva.  Going out on Search?”  The slight pause had been as his eyes slide back to my saddle, to the contracted form of my name carved there.  I bob my head at him and he makes a mark on a piece of paper with a silverstick before brushing his light brown hair back out of his eyes.  His tanned face splits into a grin and he stands aside for me.  “On you go then Lady, good luck!”

I need no further encouragement to clatter through the dark tunnel and out into the hot, dry air of the city.

Although I’ve never personally been into the city I have a kind of mental map in my head, given to me by Derri when I was young and I used this now to work out how to get to the source of the insistent pulling at my soul.

Despite it being very hot out of the cooling breeze, and the sun beating down unmercifully, the streets were busy, and only get more busy the further I head into the warren of streets that make up Haven.  As the crow flies, he, Alex, was close, but I have to wind my way through the spiralling streets in order to move towards him.  The spiral layout is a throwback from the Founding, when it was very possible that Haven itself could be attacked.  It’s very defensible and would have given any invading force a severe headache.

Being a large white horse has it’s advantages however.  In Haven everyone knows what a Companion is, and they clear a path for you pretty fast, which is nice.  Definitely better than being jostled.  The only disadvantage is that because everyone does know who and what you are, they stare at you, and you can tell that they are secretly hoping that you’re going to stop in front of them and drown them in endless sapphire.  

The other irritation is the small children.  Don’t get me wrong; I like children, just at a distance.  And with the guarantee that you can give them back to their parents.  I think it’s the stickiness that puts me off.  Small children always seem to be sticky for some reason.  The fact that I kept moving at a steady pace meant that they can only stand and stare at me, which suits me fine.

So far I have mainly been in the Commercial district of Haven, which runs parallel along the road that becomes the South Trade Route when it leaves the city, but now I turn down a side street and move into the Housing District of the rich inhabitants of Haven.  The streets are a lot wider here, wide enough in places to catch a vestige of the cooling breeze that has been whispering around the Companion’s Field.  The houses are very grand, though by necessity smaller than the country estates that the owners of these surely have, and are interspersed with small formal gardens and leafy parks.

I slow my pace to a gentle amble and look around, I’m very close to him.

The large white house on the left.  I decide, it’s slightly smarter than the others and is set back from the road and, rather than having a tall wall around the front garden like most of the others, it has ornamental iron railings that allow the house to be fully appreciated by passers by.

The gate is open so I step through it and crunch my way up the curve of the semi circular driveway, this is a very old manor house that had obviously been built when there was a lot more land available.  There was no one visible, and, after a moment of hesitation I walk over to the large wooden gates at the left of the house.  I presume that they lead through to the stable yard of the house, and there are bound to be people around back there.

One of the gates is ajar so I nudge it with my nose and it swings inwards with a slight creak, revealing a large paved yard, bordered on one side by a line of five or six stables and loose boxes and on the opposite side by the side wall of the house itself, which has a large, ornate doorway in it.

That must be what the Lords and the like use when they come for their horses.  I think absently.  Before I can look around any more there is a gasp from my left side and I catch sight of a stable hand frozen in the doorway of what could be the tack room.  The child looks up at me and edges around in front of me as I watch him with curiosity.  As soon as he is past me he turns and runs for a smaller door, also set into the side of the house.

Within short order the sounds from the house increase and excited voices drift out of the open windows to reach my pricked ears and I have an audience of silent, but excited watchers in the shape of the servants and house staff.

Then the large doors bang open and I turn to face them as a tall, slightly florid faced man comes striding out, trailed by his butler and a finely dressed woman who is obviously his wife, and another, younger man, a boy really, who is equally obviously the couple’s son.

“… don’t see any Herald, and why would a Herald be here anyway?”  The Lord finishes speaking to his butler and comes to a halt about three large paces into the courtyard.

“I do not know Lord Alexander.”  The manservant says in a long suffering tone of voice.

Lord Alexander?  Surely he can’t be my Chosen…can he?  I admit that I have a few doubts for a moment or to, but the pulling at my soul confirms to me that my Chosen is still in the house.

The boy, Lord Alexander’s son, shakes off his mother’s hand and ventures forward to stand next to his father.

“I don’t think there is a Herald, sir.” He says in a slightly nasal voice that grates on my nerves slightly.  He is also dressed in finery suitable for the High Court and looks to be infuriatingly full of himself.

“What do you mean Baren?”  The Lord sounded annoyed for some reason.

“I think it’s looking for a Herald.”  That really sets my teeth on edge.  It?  I am most definitely a she!

The boy, Baren, then moves towards me.  If he thinks I’m going to Choose him, he has his head on backwards.

There is another figure in the doorway, and as soon as I catch sight of his shadowy outline I know that he is my Chosen, the pull inside me centres on him, and now that I’m so close I’m picking up other things as well, flashes of his thoughts and emotions.  He’s sad, and very upset over something, I think he’s crying, or had been crying and for some reason I know that the cause of that upset is the little toad in front of me and the Lord behind him.

I fix Baren with one of my best Looks and brush past him and his father as if they are of very little importance to me.  Of course, at that moment in time, everything else in the world is of very little importance, so at least they have company.

As I approach the shadowy figure, he steps out of the doorway and into the sunlight and I get my first proper look at him.  He is tall, not as tall as his father, but tall enough and he has dark brown, almost black hair that is cut fairly short and green eyes.  He’s also fairly skinny, if I were being kind I’d say wiry, which I suppose is a better description anyway.

He blinks, obviously trying to clear the spots from his eyes caused by stepping into the bright light, and tries to see what is causing the fuss in the yard.  I stop in front of him and lower my head slightly, so that our eyes are level, and as his eyes meet mine I, quite calmly, speak to him for the first time.

:Hello Alexander.  My name is Teva and I Choose you.:  Possibly that phrase is a bit overused given the fill-the-names-in quality of it, but it seems suitable and, as I utter it and his face takes on a look of utter shock and surprise which leaves his mind wide open, I rush into it, filling his mind with textured and infinite blue light and tying us together forever.

I don’t know how long we stand there, staring at each other, it seems like forever, but it can only have been a few minutes because everyone else is roughly where I remember them being before I caught sight of Alexander.

Speaking of which, he is looking rather pale and has frozen with his right hand half extended towards me, as if he wants to touch me, but is afraid to.

I’m not having any of that.  I decide and quickly extend my neck so that my nose touches his hand, eliciting a slight gasp from him.  Isn’t that sweet?

:I’m not made of glass you know.:  I inform him gently, layering that sending with humour.

“Uh, sorry.”  His voice is hesitant and almost a whisper.  

Mmm…nice voice…  I also decide to myself.  Looks like this place is going to get a redecoration in the theme of ‘Companion internal organs’ in a minute, eheh heh heh.

Well, time waits for no man, or Companion for that matter, so I turn slightly and nudge him towards the saddle with my nose.  Alex looks at me, and then at the rest of his family, rather nervously, making no move to mount.

His father looks like someone has slapped him in the face with a wet fish and I snicker to myself as my overactive imagination takes that idea and runs off to paint pretty pictures to accompany my internal commentary.  His mother is sitting on a hastily acquired chair, in the process of having vapours and I sigh and shake my head slightly.

:Alexander, mount up.:  I prompt him gently, and he swings himself easily up into the blue and silver tooled saddle.  I can immediately see an advantage to having a high-born Chosen.  He already knows how to ride well.  Brandyn is going to want my tail.  Not that I’m going to tease him, well, not much at any rate.

The butler type approaches hesitantly and looks up at my Chosen.  Mmm… My Chosen…I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of saying those words.

“What should we do about your things, clothes, m’lord?”  The butler shoots a quick nervous glance at the Lord Alexander as he asks this, but Mr. Head of the Household is still doing an ‘attacked by rabid trout’ impression, so he says nothing.

Alexander shifts his weight in the saddle and I can feel his confusion, along with a mixture of confusing emotions.  Joy, certainly, but also shock still and bewilderment as well as the remains of the upset and sadness.  Those two in particular seem to be very deep rooted.  I might test my teeth on some people later.

“I—I don’t k-know um…” He trails of, sounding more like a frightened little child than himself and my heart does a fair attempt at melting and dripping out of my skin.  I want to hug him!  And then I want to kick some behinds!  And biting…biting is becoming increasingly attractive as an option.  I think I may be a tad biased in my Chosen’s direction.

:Tell him that someone from the Collegia will come for your things.  We have to go now Chosen.:  I’m never normally this quiet, or gentle sounding, but I think if I speak in my normal fashion he’ll fall off me and then I’d have a concussed Chosen.  Not really a good option.

Bless him, he repeats what I said to him almost verbatim and once the butler has moved aside I turn around, slowly- I really don’t want a concussed Chosen, and head for the gate.  Which is blocked by a certain toady-social butterfly hybrid called Baren.  His eyes are filled with jealousy as he looks up at his older brother, sitting rather limply in my saddle, and he steps forward in preparation to grab my bridle or something.  I stop short, so his hand misses.  That makes him overbalance and stumble slightly, which brings him right under my nose.  I figure that Veran’ll have my hide if I return with my Chosen and his brother’s blood on my teeth, so I settle for looking down my long nose at him and sneezing.  Petty revenge, but the expression of disgust on his face is worth it and I laugh quietly to myself.

Alexander shifts his weight again and looks fully at his brother, drawing himself up in the saddle.  This is weird, I’m getting a kind of double vision, with what Alexander is seeing hovering in the back of my mind.  I don’t think that it’s reciprocated.  So I can see Baren from two perspectives.  Doesn’t improve him any.

“Get out of the way Baren.”  Alexander’s voice sounds a lot stronger as he faces down his brother.

“But you can’t have been Chosen!”  Baren’s voice is ripe with self-righteous indignation and I scrape one front hoof backwards along the gravel slowly in warning.

“I mean, you’re nothing but a—“  Whatever Baren is saying is cut off by my Alexander, his voice harsh with anger, and riddled with the sadness and fear from before.

“Just shut up Baren.  I’m not interested in your petty prejudices anymore.  Just shut up about it.”  I wonder what ‘it’ is.  Something major, and to do with Alexander personally.  I’m not sure what though, although I do know that whatever ‘it’ is, it’s what has caused the –atmosphere- between my Chosen and the rest of his family.  See!  I can be diplomatic sometimes, not often I admit.

Enough is enough though, and I want to get out of this place, it’s making my skin crawl.  Yuk.  I decide that it’s time for shock tactics, plus, I’ve always wanted to do this…

I fix Baren with my best icy Look.  :I suggest that you move, now.:  To add emphasis I begin to crunch slowly forwards.  It works, and Baren scrambles out of my way, white as a sheet and giving his father a run for his money in the slapped by a fish stakes.  Eheh heh heh, that was fun.  Bespeaking to the unGifted is one of those taboo things, but it felt good doing it.  I doubt that Baren is going to think of me as an ‘it’ ever again.

I continue down the driveway at a leisurely walk and Alexander turns in the saddle to look back at his home.  Through his eyes I can see that the servants have followed us outside the yard and are standing in a crowd.  All of them have smiles on their faces and some of them wave, causing Alexander to wave back tentatively.  Then, we are off the driveway and onto the paved road and my hooves begin to make their characteristic chiming sound.

The chiming of my hooves and bridle bells is the only sound from either of us for a few minutes.  I can sense that Alexander is thinking things over, still not really believing that this isn’t a dream.  Finally, he clears his throat and I can sense his eyes focusing on the back of my head and I obligingly cock my ears backwards.

“Are we going to the Palace?”  He still sounds hesitant, of me!  Bless him.

:Yes.:  I reply.  :More specifically to the Heraldic Collegium which is next to the Palace.:

“How are you talking to me?”  He asks, after a moment to digest what I just told him.  I can see another advantage to having a slightly older Chosen, his Gifts are actually quite well developed, particularly his Mindspeech as I can hear his mind echoing everything he is saying out loud.  Good good.

:It’s called Mindspeech, it’s a Gift.  All Companions and most Heralds have it.:  I pause a moment to wind my way through a snarl up of several wagons at a road junction, and then continue.  :You have it, in fact.  Instead of talking out loud to me, try to think what you want to say.:

I can sense his slight scepticism at the notion that he has Gifts, but he has a go anyway.

:LIKE THIS?:  Loud.  Very loud, in fact.  Loud enough to make me start with shock, wince and wish that I had hands to clap over my ears still.  Even though they wouldn’t be any use.

My start of surprise and wince alarm him, and he leans forward, desperately trying to look at my face.  “I’m sorry!  I did it wrong, didn’t I?  I swear I didn’t mean to hurt you, really and truly—“

I twist my head around and look at him with a reassuring sapphire eye.  :There’s no need to apologise, you just gave me a start is all.  Lets try that again, but a little –quieter- this time.:

:Like this?:  His second attempt is much better and I send him a flood of approval.

:Exactly!:  I applaud.

I can feel him grinning and I smile to myself as I turn a corner and reach the gate into the Palace complex.  The same gate from which I left not a mark ago actually.  The same guard emerges from his little office thing at the sound of my hooves and regards me with slight surprise.

“Back so soon Teva?”  He asks.  “Well that certainly didn’t take long!”

I pose slightly and try to give the impression of looking innocent but amused without actually sending anything and the guard laughs and marks off something on his ever-present clipboard.

“Through you go then.”  He indicates the tunnel and I chime through it, emerging into the hot sun on the other side.

Alexander is looking around with interest, and then he blinks and seems to remember something.

:Teva?:  His Mindspeech is definitely improving.

:That’s my name, don’t wear it out!:  I reply with a whicker.  He’s going to find out what I’m like eventually.

He bites back a laugh.  :How did that guard know your name?  Did you speak to him?:

:Havens, no!:  I exclaim.  :Companions only Mindspeak to their Herald and the other Companions.  Well, that’s what we like people to believe.  As you saw before that isn’t exactly true.:  I have the grace to sound a bit contrite, but only a teeny bit.  It was fun after all.  :Look at the saddle, on the right, near the pommel.  That carving is a contracted form of my name.  All Companions have one, it allows the non-Heralds like the guards to identify us.  Apparently we all look very similar.:  I laugh.  :Can’t think why they think that!:

As I hope, my humour is cheering Alexander up and he joins me in laughing.  Just as well, we’ve just reached the stables and his welcoming party is waiting for us.  The Dean, Herald Sidri, and Gacher, who is one of the oldest Trainees.  He’s probably going to be Alexander’s mentor.

As the Dean goes through the obligatory welcome speech I blink and look about myself.  Alex gets coaxed down from the saddle and led off into the Collegium for registering and other such delights.

:Don’t worry.:  I tell him.  :You can come and see me after all the boring stuff is done.:  His worried expression clears and he follows after Sidri.

I turn and head to the stables, as soon as I get this tack off, I’m going to go squeak at people about Choosing.  I can hardly wait!


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