Disclaimer: All concepts relating to the world of Velgarth, and kingdom of Valdemar, are the sole property of the author Mecedes Lackey.
Notes: This little piece is the response to Elieth’s challenge in the challenge etcetera-cat to write (almost) anything! post over at my LiveJournal. She requested some expansion on the idea put forth, by King Theran (in Brightly Burning), that even a crippled Herald is of use. Oh, yes; she also wanted angst. Lots of angst. The ‘mage-made disease’ is a tweaking of something real; because I love being medical.
Hellif needs more sleep than I do; after all, she is the one who exerts all her time and energy moving around, whereas my body spends all of it’s time in a bed. I only exercise my mind, and yes, that’s tiring, but I still need less sleep than Hellif. That means that I wake up before she does and I get to spend the long candlemarks before dawn alone.
If I push myself a bit, then I suppose I could find something of interest to observe in the castle, but I can’t morally justify doing that. I mean; King Valdemar could need me to scry for something important— something vital to the safety of his newborn kingdom— and if I’ve spent myself spying on servants getting their pleasure and haven’t the strength to do as he asks…?
That would be unforgivable.
Besides; given what I am, what my life is limited to now I… I can’t ever get my own… pleasure… and eavesdropping on those more—less—more fortunate than myself achieves nothing other than to make jealously twist sharply inside of me, and I can’t afford that. I can’t afford to be weak.
I may be useless in body, but I am essential in mind, and I help keep the peace, I know I do.
That’s what makes this… this non-life almost bearable most of the time.
That, and Hellif; my only, my Companion.
Since the sickness that wasted and ravaged my body— a mage-made disease that the King is sure the Emperor’s elite sent to punish us for severing all imperial ties and fleeing into the wilderness— and left me a paralysed and reduced half-person, trapped in a bed, my Gifts have grown and strengthened.
Partly, I think it is due to the amount of time I spend in rapport with Hellif; she can go where I most definitely cannot, and there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the range of our bond that we can find. Rather, I should say that there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the bond my mind has to my pitiful body as, when I join with Hellif, a most assuredly move all that is still me into the comforting embrace of her mind and leave that battered, disfigured shell to the care of the Healers, connected to it by only the slenderest of threads.
But Hellif is sleeping; it’s not yet dawn, so I’m stuck in my ruined body, lying in my bed in my room in the centre of the castle that is already being called a Palace.
I was not even a child when Valdemar’s refugees settled in this strange land, setting up next to a crude peasant village on the banks of a wide, meandering river that the locals call the ‘Terilee’ in their language. In fact, I was born well after the migration, and was all of five years old when the then-Baron Valdemar, living in a fortified keep and town that his and his wife’s magic had helped construct, was petitioned by the local nobility and formally declared King and monarch of a land named for him.
I was thirteen when the King, beginning to feel his age, went to the grove of trees on the far side of the river, just outside the castle walls, and prayed for a way to preserve his ideals for future generations and was answered with the coming of the Companions.
At first, there were only three; Ardatha, who Chose the King, and Steladar and Kyrith, who Chose the Prince and the Seneschal, but there were soon more and the castle walls were extended to enclose the Grove and the vast rolling meadows that surrounded it.
I was fourteen and a kitchen assistant in the castle when Hellif came for me.
I think that day was the happiest of my life.
Heralds. That’s what the King decreed we were to be called. Heralds, dressed all in white to match our perfect Companions.
I was twenty when I caught the disease, out on patrol on the eastern edges of our new little Valdemar. At first, it was just like having a winter cold, so I ignored it; didn’t want to bother a Healer at all.
And then… I woke up and I was in this room— my room— and Hellif was hysterical in my head and the Healer told me that I’d been in a catatonic state for a month, and the only thing that had kept me alive was my Companion channelling life energy to me.
I felt different when I woke up, and not just because I couldn’t really feel anything below my neck, couldn’t move anything except for my head at all and could only stare in numb shock at the bandages that covered the remains of my hands and feet. Rotting sickness; gangrene, the Healer said. The disease cut off the blood flow to your extremities, we couldn’t stop it, only try to limit it… amputate to save you.
I remember crying so hard that I nearly suffocated myself, and the Healers had to dose me up with something that required one of them to sit with me, to make sure that I didn’t stop breathing, and I couldn’t feel Hellif in my head any longer.
Every time I came back to myself, came out of the drug haze, I’d sob myself sick again, until the Healers dosed me up again, sent me back to the misty nothingness of chemical dreams.
Then I woke up and I could Hear Hellif for the first time since I woke up, and I could her breath on my face, could sense the way the bed and my body shifted as she nosed my chest, but couldn’t feel the sensation itself.
She’d practically fought her way into the Castle, into the Healer’s Wing (the new building, by the river, that is to become their College and hospital is not yet finished) and now refused to leave my room. In fact, she wasn’t even sure if she could, she confided in me.
:Why?: I’d asked her.
:Because we’re on the fourth floor and going down stairs is a whole different kettle of fish from going up them.: She’d replied.
I think we were one of the first examples, to those outside of the Heraldic Circle, of just how far a Companion would go to be with their Chosen.
Eventually, after a week and a half of having a room floored in thick straw (and our own private page to ‘muck out’ as soon as, to stop the Healers having a collective apoplexy), I was deemed ‘stable’, and was moved to the room I now live in, on the ground floor of the Herald’s Wing of the Castle, with a second set of double doors, that open out onto the formal gardens, so that Hellif could come and go as she pleased. She did make it down the stairs, but she insisted that she never wanted to try anything like that again.
It was almost by accident that I discovered the new route my Gifts were taking; I spent most of my time in rapport with Hellif, and it was when she was talking to Ardatha one day that I noticed that I could trace a ‘line’ from her to Ardatha… and from Ardatha, back to King Valdemar.
Hellif and Ardatha were as surprised as me, and I spent the rest of that day testing this new talent; soon I discovered that, although I could only sense the Companions and their Heralds in Haven, on the ground of the Castle complex itself, on my own, if I melded with Hellif then I could find any Companion— and their Herald— in the Kingdom.
If someone else provided us with the extra energy, I could even communicate to some extent with even the furthest away.
In the space of one day, I went from being the useless, disfigured cripple, to being the core of a network that fast became referred to as the ‘Heraldic Web’. In a very real sense, I— with Hellif’s help— was the Web; I could tell if someone was in trouble, soon enough to get them aid.
It was… not like having my body and my health back… but I was useful, I was needed; the other Heralds came to depend on me, look out for me to an extent.
Hellif became an instantly recognisable sight on missions to the Border, or during conflicts; the only adult Companion tacked only with a blue and silver saddle blanket, carrying her Herald— me— with her in spirit and mind only. With her as my anchor, I could reach to wherever she was with ease, gladly abandoning my body to the squarely sterile room back in Haven.
I helped people— Heralds.
I helped to save lives.
:Dari?: The mental equivalent of a yawn accompanies my name and I feel Hellif’s welcome presence grow in my mind; giving me ghost-sensation snatches of morning sunlight and a chilly breeze that smells faintly of cut grass and pine resin.
:I’m awake.: I tell her, unnecessarily, reaching for her mind, hugging it to myself; letting me drip and slide down our bond.
Hellif blinks, and I see the Companion’s Field through her eyes, as she walks out into it, the grass stained a strange golden-green colour by the rising sun in the clear blue sky.
There aren’t any clouds that Hellif can see.
:We should scan.: I say, instead of voicing the wish to smell the morning with my own nose, hear the spiralling song of a lark with my own ears.
Hellif assents silently, holding onto ‘me’ with a sure mental grip. I said ‘we’, what I mean is ‘me’— I fly solo on my scans of the kingdom, Hellif as the steady weight that keeps me grounded; allows me to touch the network that links all the Companions together.
I quickly expand out my focus, skimming briefly over the bright points of light that cluster around the Haven-place of my mental map. Everyone’s fairly spread out at the moment; it’s peacetime, which means that the Heralds outside the capital are on Circuits, there are no clusters at war camps or staging posts for me to worry about.
A brief shiver from Hellif distracts me, but she reassures me. I can feel a faint impression of another Companion, in rapport with Hellif; watching me. After a moment, I identify the watcher as Ardatha, the King’s Companion. She’s taken to watching us when I scan, so I dismiss her without wondering at this sudden increase in fascination.
I can’t really explain how I do this; I could never do it before, and I don’t think I could except for the way I’ve become bonded with Hellif, but I can’t go beyond the borders of the kingdom, unless there’s a Companion and Herald there, and even then it’s… harder. I ‘see’ everything as a sort of map in my head— Companions are great glowing blue-white fires, Heralds are bright sparks attached to them, and the whole thing is linked together with silvery tracings, like the most complex snowflake ever to have existed.
It’s beautiful, and, when I do this I don’t only feel useful, feel needed; I feel alive.
It’s much later when I finally come back to the myself that exists inside Hellif, and I see through her eyes again. Ardatha is watching us— her.
:Is something wrong?: I ask, worried.
:No, no.: Hellif hastily assures me. :Not wrong, Dari.:
:What then?: I sound suspicious, I know I do, but something about the way Ardatha and Hellif are holding themselves has me unnerved.
:Ardatha’s been watching you when you scan.: Hellif says. :And she’s been sharing that information with her Chosen; and he with the other mages and Herald-Mages.:
:So?: Now I’m suspicious and confused. The mages spent the first month after I found out that I could do this; watch over all the over Heralds, camped at my bedside. Staring at me. Constantly.
They could never figure out what I was doing, how I was doing it, and they thankfully gave up.
Hellif’s Mindvoice is tinged with happiness. :So; King Valdemar thinks that he and the others have figured out how you manage to do…it.:
Hellif sounds happy, so it must be a good thing… right? The memory-me that lives in her head swallows and twitches in a nervous fashion. The real me in the Castle breathes in and out slowly and doesn’t twitch at all. I can’t articulate a reply.
:They’re going to cast a spell to make the Web more tangible; so that the Herald-Mages will be aware of it.: Hellif continues, still in a happy tone of voice. :You wouldn’t have to tire yourself out then, Dari— you’d have help.:
:B-but—: It’s not really supposed to be possible to stutter in Mindspeech, but I manage, reeling strangely off-centre. :But—I—I—:
:Ardatha says they’re going to try it with four, first; see if they can act as guardians, then try to expand it to include all the Heralds, maybe.: Hellif sounds so… happy.
Why is she sounding happy? That… being the guardian, flying through the Web, that’s… that’s me— my job, my role, it’s what I do—
—it’s all I can do.
:—you won’t have to always push yourself so hard, Dari. You deserve a rest—: Hellif’s happy chatter washes over me; a jumble of words that I can’t keep track of. She doesn’t seem to notice that I’m… what am I? Shocked, yes. Upset… yes. And— and—
I live inside Hellif’s head and she isn’t noticing this about me? I thought we were each other’s one and only, always together, never apart. But now… she agreeing with the King and the mages, who want to have the Web as something they can touch, can control, but don’t want me.
Don’t they trust me?
I thought I made a difference, I thought I helped people? But they don’t want me to; they don’t need me, I’m— I’m just dead weight; the useless, crippled Herald who lives in a bed in a room in the depths of the Castle.
:Dari? Are you alright?: Hellif’s concern breaks through the icy shell of shock that I’ve cocooned the myself-in-her in and my not-real self shivers.
I can’t tell her— I can’t— I thought she knew me inside and out and if she did then she’d know that this spell is a bad thing not a good thing and I don’t know what I’m doing or what I’m thinking— :I’m fine, just…a headache.: But I’m lying, because I— the me that lives in the bed— always has headaches, but I don’t think I can stay in Hellif’s mind any longer.
:If you’re sure.: Hellif accepts what I say without a protest and part of me inside cries out that she shouldn’t do that; that she should know that there’s something wrong with me, even if I’m choking it and burying it so that not even I can taste or see what it is.
:I think I’ll sleep.: I grasp for the strong white line of our bond, and the weak silver thread that is my link to my own body and I twist—
—and I’m staring up at a blank white ceiling that has dark wooden beams running across it in parallel lines. Shield. I remember to shield Hellif out— something that I’ve not done as much as I am now for so long and the silence inside my head eats away at me and I feel claustrophobic.
Trapped inside my own mind, in the body that is only half there and out of my control I feel like crying—screaming— I don’t know what I feel like at all and that scares me as much as knowing that Valdemar— the King and the country— they don’t need me anymore.
They’re going to cast a spell to link the Heralds together and make it so that any Herald-Mage can be a guardian; a guardian that can run and walk and ride to the rescue and call down lightning and save people who are in danger.
And that makes sense, it does.
They don’t need me because I can’t do those things, not anymore. I’m just the paralysed woman; the crippled Herald who lives in a bed in a room in the depths of the Castle and is…
There are seven beams on the ceiling of my room and they waver and dance like coiling snakes across the smooth white of the plaster as I try to blink away the burning in my eyes and I wish that I could sob.
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