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 7- Circuits and Spirals.

I can’t believe it.  I’m so excited and so proud.  I only Chose Alex in the summer, and it is now the spring, and we are going to go out for his first Circuit!  It seems like hardly any time at all since I skipped my way into Alexander’s heart, but at the same time I can’t ever imagine what life was like before I Bonded to him.  It seems like I have always had An Alexander residing in my head, and I have always been able to rummage around his head.

Our Bond is now at pretty much full strength, I think.  It got a lot stronger after the, ahhh— trouble— with Alexander’s half brother, Baren.  

Baren was, and probably still is, jealous of my Alexander.  First off, I think, because Alexander was the firstborn and the heir to the Malken estates.  Alexander’s mother dies when he was only a baby and his father remarried and Baren resulted less than two years later.  Baren’s mother, from what I can tell, is a complete social butterfly.  Of the worst kind; all simpering and fluttering saccharine with hidden poison darts.  Needless to say who Baren took after!  

Anyway, Baren’s mother also resented Alexander because he was in the way of her precious son gaining the attention and wealth that the both of them so desperately craved and she and her odious son took to poisoning Lord Malken’s ear against his firstborn son.  Unfortunately they didn’t have to try very hard as Lord Malken himself is an emotional cripple and resented, and still resents, Alexander and blames him for his mother’s death.

The three of them are at the top of my ‘People for Me to Gloop’ list.  Don’t tell Veran that I said that though, he’ll have my ears!

Baren, ‘He Who Must Be Glooped’, also took exception to my Choosing Alexander and wasn’t exactly subtle about it either.  Him and a bunch of his goons and hangers-on cornered Alexander in the Palace Gardens one day and attacked him.  I still have guilty wallowing tendencies about that day.  Sigh.  Because our Bond was new, I didn’t know Alex was in trouble until it was almost too late.  Luckily I did get there and I took, ahem, steps.  

As a group, the whole lot were fined heavily, and something that stung them far more, were also named and shamed in a full Formal Court by King Arden himself.  In addition to that Baren’s pair of goons and Baren himself had to work in the Palace for a month, doing squiring duties and the like every day.  Eheh heh heh.  Pre-dawn until after dark those three were made to work.  Not that any Companions at all stood around the stables and salle looking smug, oooh no.  Especially not Companions called Teva.  Heark at my innocence!

Of course, they couldn’t begin work immediately owing to the fact that little old me had attacked them slightly.  Only slightly, honest!  Baren in particular was confined to a single room at Healer’s for quite a while, and even when he got out the poor dear had a rather odd way of walking.  Sarcasm?  Me?!  I’m sure that this here innocent Companion has no idea what you’re implying.

Back to the present, I am currently standing in the yard in front of the Companion’s stables, kitted out in my full working tack, waiting for a certain Heraldic Trainee to arrive.  With me is Harali; her Chosen is to be Alex’s mentor for this Circuit.  

Harali, ‘Ali for short, isn’t that much older than me, she Chose Samyel when she was younger than me and he was just twelve.  I think Samyel is now twenty-one summers old and he got his Whites two years or so ago.  Harali says that his main Gifts are Fetching and Mindspeech.

Speaking of which, a certain pair of White-clad young men have just appeared at the doorway set in the wall of the Collegium and are making their way towards us and ‘Ali and I both turn are heads to regard our respective Chosen with sky-blue eyes as the spring sunshine breaks through the wispy clouds.

:Good morning dearling.:  Alexander greets me warmly.

:Good morning to thee fine sir!:  I reply with a silent chuckle of laughter.  :Don’t we look fine all done up in Whites?:  Alex grins back at me and I bat my eyes and look innocently at him.

:Silly Teva.:  He sends back to me as Harali greets her Samyel.

:I know.:  I snort at him.  :That’s why you love me.:  Modest?  Me, of course I’m modest!

Sam and Harali look over at the pair of us.  “Are you ready Alex?”  Samyel has a nice voice, it’s a tad lower than my Alex’s and still carries the gentle burr of his childhood accent from the North-east of Valdemar.  As well as having a slightly deeper voice than Alexander, Samyel is also slightly taller than my Chosen and has grey eyes and a mousy blonde hair that is cut to fall so that it brushes his forehead and partly covers his ears.

Alex turns to look at Samyel while his right hand strays upwards to scratch along my crest and I sigh quietly in contentment and close my eyes briefly.

“I guess so, and the butterflies in my stomach are agreeing.”

Samyel chuckles and grins at my Chosen as he swings himself up into Harali’s saddle with a creak of leather and a slight jingle of bridle bells.  “Let’s get on our way then.”

Harali waits until Alex has mounted me and settled himself comfortably into the saddle before moving of at an easy walk.  I fall into step beside her and our hooves and bridle bells chime in time with each other.

:Mmph.:  ‘Ali sends to me.  :I much prefer travelling in sunny weather.:

:I agree, in fact, any weather that isn’t cold or wet suits me just fine!:  I reply to her with a grin as she snorts with amusement.  Harali and I are friends, which will definitely make the next year or so fun!

During this exchange, Samyel has been talking to Alex about what will be expected of him on this Circuit, and where, in fact we will be going for this Circuit.

I’d better listen to this actually.  I decide to myself as I prick my ears up and twist them backwards slightly to catch Sam’s voice.  Unfortunately he has just finished talking and we have now reached one of the Palace gates so he is busy talking to the guard.  We are at the east gate, and within short order are moving at a steady pace through the eastern districts of the city.  I doubt that we’re going west then.

I might have to ask Alexander to tell me where we’re off to, I mean, knowing that we are going east is one thing, but there are several Circuits in the east of Valdemar.  Well, there were several Circuits when I was last corporeal, given how much else has changed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that the Circuit routes are different!

:Alex sweety…:  I send to my Chosen in a slightly wheedling tone of voice.  Let’s shovel on the sugar so he won’t make fun of me for not paying attention.

:Yes, Teva?:  Along with his reply Alex sends a slight impression of a half raised eyebrow.  My damnable Chosen can even mentally raise his eyebrows better than I can!  That is just not fair.  Hmmph!  Men!  Sigh, and now my little whine at myself has meant that Alex is now tapping me gently between the ears, trying to get my attention back.  :Dreamer, wakey wakey!:  His sending is tinged yellow with humour.

:I heard you.:  I reply.  :I was just—ahem—thinking.:  Sound convincing, don’t I?

:Of course you were.:  My Chosen doesn’t sound convinced.  I have absolutely no idea why he might doubt my thinking abilities, I mean, it’s not like I ramble on and on without ever getting to the point, do I?  Looking back on that last ramble, don’t answer that question.  It was purely rhetorical.  Honest.

:I was.:  Yes, I do sound very serious and convincing.  :So, uh… where exactly are we going on this Circuit then?:  Nonchalant Companion, doo be doo, just checking my Chosen is paying attention, dum de dum, not at all being a daydreamer, la la—  Alexander is laughing at me.  I flatten my ears slightly as he shakes in the saddle with suppressed laughter.  Vocally suppressed laughter.  I can hear him through our Bond loud and clear.

:Teva, you were daydreaming, weren’t you?:  Alex’s Mindvoice is no longer tinged with laughter.  In fact, you could currently use it to illuminate caves.  Yes, it’s that yellow.  Sigh, I’m so under appreciated.

I maintain my silence as I follow Harali around a snarl up of drafter’s wagons at one of the main intersections on the beginnings of the East Trade Road.  The morning sunlight is filtering down into the crowded streets, highlighting the snarl of humanity that ‘Ali and I are moving through.  The mule teams don’t seem to be impressed and are expressing their displeasure by braying loudly and generally kicking up clouds of dust that glow gold in the weak sunlight.  I squint slightly against the dust and briefly bare my teeth in warning as one of the lead mules eyes me with the view to lashing out at Alex and me with a hoof.

I hate mules.  I really do.

Once past the tangle, and Gods, am I glad to get out of that mess of arguing people and foul tempered mules, I return my attention to my Chosen.

:I was not.:  I state seriously.  :I simply…ah…had other things on my mind.:  I’m almost convincing myself here, I’m that good.  Ego the size of Lake Evendim?  I think not!

:Of course you weren’t.:  Alex replies to me, sending a stronger impression of a raised eyebrow at me.  :I believe you, too.:   Pffttt… Call me a pessimist, but this here white horse isn’t convinced!

I can feel Alex regarding the backs of my ears.  He reaches forward and messes up my mane with one hand.  :You know I’m teasing, love.:  He assures me.  Mmmm… ‘scuse me, I’m just going to go melt for a minute or two, I’ll be back soon…

All right, I’m back, and I still don’t know exactly where we are going dammit.  I twist my head round slightly and look beseechingly at Alex.  Whimper, tell me…how can you resist these big blue eyes?  I think to myself as I flutter my eyelashes slightly.

Alex gives in to me.  Finally!  :We’re on East Circuit One.:  He informs me with a slight mental grin.  :We go east as far as Trevale and then go north to the Armor Hill villages.:

Ooo… that means we’re going to be right up near Iftel for a while then.  Interesting, interesting.  I never did an eastern Circuit when I was a Herald; I was on the southern and western ones most of the time.  Hairy, that was, with Karse that close and Mage-attacks raining down on you all the time.  But I’m being naughty, I’m not supposed to say the ‘M’ word.  Tsk tsk, bad Teva!  Back to the real world now I think.

We have now reached the Eastern Gate of the city, and have just, in fact, passed through it.  Nothing but open road and blue skies before us!  Since there is minimal traffic along this stretch of road I move up alongside ‘Ali again.  It makes gossiping easier, eheh.  Something that Alex and Sam are now indulging in, comparing childhoods before they were Chosen I think.  Well, I can find out all that from Harali!

:This is most definitely the weather to be travelling in.:  I remark to her as we jingle along, kicking up slight clouds of dust with our hooves.  Because of the rain earlier in the week the dust on the road is still mainly damped down, which is good, because sneezing is not high up on my list of ‘Fun Things To Do’.

:It most certainly is.:  Harali replies, before turning to look sideways at me.  :Teva, I meant to ask you before, but it didn’t seem polite,:

:Mmmm?:  I wonder what in the Havens she wants to ask me abo—

:Did you really attack your Chosen’s half-brother?:  —Ye Gods, that is going to haunt me until I’m old and grey!  Yes, I know Companions are white already and that we don’t go grey, it’s a figure of speech.  Picky picky.

:I did indeed.:  I send a snicker along with those words and Harali sends me a grin in reply.  

:So what I heard was true then?:  She asks.  :Samyel and I were running Courier duty at the time, so we missed out on all the fun!:

:Mainly true, I imagine.:  I reply with a chuckle and let her see my memories of that day briefly.

:Lord and Lady!:  ‘Ali exclaims with a snort of laughter.  :I wish I’d been there!  I seriously doubt that anyone from the Court is going to mess with a Heraldic Trainee for a long time!:  Eheh heh heh, smug preening Companion at your service.

Harali turns her attention to her Chosen.  :Oi, gossip!  It is true, I told you it was!:  Bet you didn’t know that either, unless the Companion in question is specifically shielding then we can all Hear each other’s conversations with our Chosen.  We can also Hear the human’s replies.  Most of the time we don’t use the ability, or we keep it dulled so that we only Hear the unshielded conversations in our vicinity, rather like normal hearing.  There is such a thing as being too nosey.  Sometimes.

Samyel looks down at his Companion.  “Yes, dearest?”  He asks mildly.  “I’m afraid that you’ll have to specify what it is now that you’re correcting me on.”

‘Ali shakes her head at Sam before continuing.  :That Teva kicked Courtier brats round the formal Gardens.  She did!  I told you that she did, didn’t I?:

Samyel looks over at me with slight surprise, as Alex looks at him with a hint of confusion.  “You seriously did do that?”  Sam asks me.

I smirk slightly and bob my head in confirmation.  :There was more biting and flinging against things than kicking however.:  I say to Harali, who relates this to her Chosen as I turn my attention to Alex briefly.  :Confirming that I have noblicidal tendencies, soul-sib.:

:Oh.:  Alex replies weakly just as Samyel bends over the pommel of his saddle with laughter, before turning back to my Chosen.

“Remind me to never get on either of you pair’s wrong side!  Whoever I offend, I’ll still get made into jam by Teva!”

:The technical term is gloop.:  I announce to Harali and Alex with a snicker. 

Alex looks at me and then at his mentor.  “Teva says the technical term isn’t jam, it’s gloop.”  This causes Sam to go into a fresh bout of laughter and this time Alex joins in too.  Good good.

“I shall have to remember that, milady.”  Sam tells me as he attempts an extravagant bow while still in the saddle.  He looks like a travelling faire clown rider.

The rest of the day continues like this, there’s no particular need for us to rush, so we move at a fairly relaxed pace.  Well, a relaxed pace for a Companion, at any rate.  The road is fairly easy going as the land around us is mainly used for growing arable crops and the like.  To the north of the road is the vast expanse of the Vineyard Hills, a rolling vista of fields that are patch-worked in green and gold, depending on which crop they are growing.  To the south end of the Hills it’s mainly easily perishable crops like vine fruits and the like that are grown as they need the milder weather of the south end of the area to allow their crops to ripen without failing or getting blight.  Further north the Vineyard Hills are mainly given over to cereal crop farming and a fair amount of the cereals used by Haven are supplied by these farmsteads.

Heh, heark at this horse, I sound like I’m trying to sell this part of Valdemar to prospective buyers!  Ah well, I suppose I may as well continue!

To the south of the road is the Terilee River and between the road and the river are more arable farms, taking advantage of the well fertilised soil of the greater flood basin of the river.  The portion of the river almost directly south of us is known as the Snake Bends as the river winds it’s way back and forth across the countryside.  Although the soil of this area is rich and good for growing crops the land isn’t exclusively made up of fields.  The green and gold checker of the field is broken up by darker green patches of woodland and shrubby areas.

Although there are obviously farmsteads and small hamlets scattered all over this area, our first stop is the town of Traderest.  There is still a Heraldic presence in this area though, as there is in all of Valdemar.  Single or pairs of Heralds will make semi-circular sweeps out from Haven in order to visit all the inhabitants.  These short Circuits obviously don’t take as long as the long Circuits, like the one that Alex and I are embarking on at the moment, but they are good practice for new Heralds to do on their own.  The proximity of the capital city makes the locals behave to a certain extent!

We won’t make Traderest today.  Oh, we could if Harali and I felt like running full tilt the whole way.  But we don’t, so we don’t.  Lazy?  I’m sure I have no idea what you mean.  As we’re not going to get to the town today, that means that tonight we will be stopping at one of the Herald’s Waystations.

By the time we reach the Waystation the sun is staining the sky to the west in a glory of red and orange and the shadows underneath the bushes and trees nearby are patches of inky purple.  The Waystation itself is set back off the road, concealed in one of the small copses that litter this area of countryside and it is a very neat and tidy looking grey stone building at the side of a small clearing amongst the trees.

Despite not having done anything much involving effort on my part I am still fairly tired and there is a vague ache in my lower limbs.  If this kind of thing is what oldsters have to put up with, the aches and so on, then this here Companion is staying young.  I’m serious, and I’m going to look superior about it too.  

I’m not alone though.  My dear darling Chosen has just dismounted rather stiffly.  Laughing?  Me?  Would I be that mean?  On second thoughts, that was a rhetorical question too.

Samyel looks over at the pair of us with a slight smile.  “Feeling stiff?”  He inquires innocently.  Too innocently, Alex doesn’t look too impressed snicker snicker.  My Chosen turns to look at me as my sides are shaking slightly with suppressed laughter and I blink wisely at him.

:Yes Chosen?:  I even manage to sound wise, and that doesn’t happen too often!  Alex looks at me and raises an eyebrow.  Methinks that Alexander is suspicious of me.

“We should see to the ladies first?”  Alex asks Samyel somewhat hesitantly.  Bless him, my Chosen still have a shy streak.  Admittedly that streak has gotten a lot smaller since I waltzed into his life.

Samyel grins in approval at my Chosen.  “I think we should, else we’ll never hear the end of it!”  Harali shoves her Chosen in the small of his back with her nose and snorts at him.  I’m glad that Alex has Samyel as his mentor; I think Sam is going to try attacking Alexander’s shyness pretty much like I have.  Heh heh heh, a partner in crime!

Samyel and Alexander make themselves busy unburdening us ‘ladies’ of their packs and our tack.  Once free of the saddle and hackamore I nudge Alex in the shoulder. 

:Before you start with the grooming and general pampering, sir,: I tell him, :I would like a drink, and I’m sure Harali feels pretty much the same.:  

Alex scratches along the crest of my mane.  “Of course, dearling.”  With that he strides over the small well that stands to one side of the Waystation and begins to haul up buckets of cold, clear water to pour into the carved stone trough set against the side wall of the Waystation.  Yummy.  I’m not exactly slow to step over after my Chosen and bury my nose in the water.  Harali quickly joins me as Samyel produces a beaker so that he and Alexander can also enjoy the water.

Once we have all guzzled our fill of water our lovely boys proceed to pamper Harali and myself for almost long enough, unfortunately we have things to do, Circuits, living and so on, so eternity isn’t really practical.

It’s almost dark by the time that the boys are finished and they quickly stir up a fire inside the Waystation to warm it up and to cook their dinner, leaving Harali and I to enjoy our grains and hay in peace.

After briefly wishing me a good night Harali disappears into the lean-to stable on the side of the Waystation whilst I stay outside, chewing slowly on a last mouthful of hay and staring in near-spiritual contemplation of the star-scattered night sky whilst the windows and propped open door of the building behind me glow yellow with the firelight.

I am indeed, very proud.


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