Disclaimer: Everything relating to the world of Velgarth, and the kingdom of Valdemar, is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey. Original characters, the plot line and the general outbreaks of strange belong to etcetera-cat.
Notes: This plotting thing is actually turning out to be a remarkable amount of fun…
Kit has a point – A prospective headache – Moonshine at midnight – Darling revealed
:You want me to what?: Giff gave Regin— Companion to Queen Halla— an incredulous look. :I think I must have misheard you—:
:No you didn’t.: Regin gave Giff a jaundiced look. :You heard me perfectly well; when Yaul gets here, we want you to get your… Chosen… angry.:
Giff flattened his ears and looked from Regin, to the currently silent figure of the Groveborn, Dadero, then back again. :How am I supposed to do that— and why do you want me to do that?: He asked plaintively.
Regin twitched an ear, and tilted his head towards Dadero, deferring to the older stallion.
Dadero sighed. :Because I— we— do not believe that Yaul will be able to bypass Michael’s formidable mental shields, without causing him serious trauma—:
:—and you’ve already managed to do that quite adequately on your own.: The snippy aside made the three male Companion start in surprise and turn to look at Kit, who had popped up out of nowhere, as was her habit. Giff swallowed and manoeuvred himself so that Dadero and Regin were between him and the still irate looking Companion mare. He really wouldn’t put it past her to try kicking him into the Terilee, if she got a chance.
:Companion Kit,: Dadero said in a neutral tone.
:Kit…: Regin eyed his friend up and down, his attention flicking quickly from Giff to Kit, then back again.
Kit flattened her ears and pulled a face. :I’m not going to shout at him again— even if he does deserve it,: she said irritably, :I simply thought that I may as well do the thinking for you lot, since you don’t seem to want to.:
She really was in a fine temper today, Giff decided, sidling even further away from the mare, just in case she exploded unexpectedly (he wasn’t convinced, despite what she might say, that she was in a better mood).
Dadero tilted his head to one side. :Yes?: He queried, seemingly unfazed by Kit’s extremely abrasive manner. Being technically immortal made for an unflappable personality.
Kit rolled her eyes, both physically and mentally, before speaking. :You’re worried about his—: she jerked her nose towards Giff, sheltering behind Regin, :—Chosen getting some mental trauma from having a dyheli stick a crash course in the Valdemaran language in his head, right?:
:Well, yes,: Regin said. :Although Halla has also authorised Yaul to give Michael a basic understanding of Valdemar as a kingdom, and of the Heralds and Companions, when he arrives.:
Kit snorted and gave the semi-circular bruise visible smack between Giff’s eyes a pointed look. :I imagine once he finds out that ‘we’ want him to be a suicidal maniac who wears white, he’ll pitch something heavier than a wooden beaker at twit’s head.: She appeared to consider this for a moment. :I want to be there when he does.:
Giff flinched and gave Dadero an appealing look over Regin’s back.
The Groveborn sighed. :You had a point, besides physical assault, Kit?: He prompted her.
:Of course I did,: Kit sniffed loudly and flicked her tail. :Have you considered the mental trauma that you’ve already inflicted on this Michael; dragging him through a Gate to another plane of reality?:
:Ah—: Giff felt the familiar feeling of embarrassment begin to wash over him, as Regin and Dadero exchanged inscrutable looks.
:You have a point—: Regin said in a faintly sheepish tone of voice.
Kit gave him a superior look. :Of course I do,: she said. :I told you; at least one of us has to use the brains that the Gods gave us.:
Regin gave Dadero a slightly helpless look. :What do we do?: He asked.
Giff supposed that he should be annoyed that the three older Companions were discussing his Chosen as if he wasn’t even there, but, to be perfectly frank; he was just relieved that no one was shouting at him at the moment. Although… by the sounds of it, what the Groveborn and Queen’s Companion wanted to do was to stick Giff in a position where Michael could shout at him to his heart’s content. I can’t win, Giff decided glumly.
:Hmmm,: Dadero looked thoughtful for a moment, his expression going distant, before shaking his head and blinking several times. :I do not see that we have any option except to continue as we planned; at least if Michael can understand us then we shall be able to help him cope with any culture shock he will be feeling.:
Giff’s ears flattened and he dropped his head. They were proposing that he put himself in the firing range of another attack— verbal or otherwise— from his supposed Chosen. I really can’t win.
:Heh.: Kit even managed to snort in a way that eloquently expressed her opinion of Giff and the problems he had created.
:Yaul should be here by later on today; he was out visiting the Home Farms dyheli herd,: Dadero said, with a reproving look in Kit’s direction.
:Oh…: Giff said in a non-committal fashion; he wasn’t entirely sure what the Groveborn expected him to say, so he decided to stick to something that couldn’t possibly be viewed as argumentative or otherwise likely to get him shouted at.
Except for by my Chosen, Giff sighed internally.
Regin twisted his head around and gave the young Companion a knowing look. :Having Yaul give Michael Valdemaran is not the only reason that we are suggesting this,: he said. :Yaul is adept at creating Mindlinks that bypass even the most impenetrable of shields…: The stallion trailed off significantly.
Giff blinked, then comprehension flooded over him; with the dyheli helping him, he should be able to established a Bond with Michael. A Bond that should survive when (not if) Michael’s shield slammed back up. :That would be… good.: He said cautiously.
Kit rolled her eyes. :I have to go meet Kristin’s Shilla, let me know when Yaul gets her; I want to see the aftermath.: She smirked in Giff’s direction, then flagged her tail and trotted off.
The three stallions stared after her in a faintly bemused fashion. Kit often had that effect on people.
It had been a stupid idea, a stupid idea. He should never have agreed to go with his brother out to the woods in the dark.
So what if local rumour had it that the Widow Mersdan had a secret moonshine still hidden away in a clearing?
What had seemed like a really good idea, early this evening, sitting around their usual corner table in the Queen’s Head Inn, was now the one thing in his life that Farl was beginning to regret the most. Stifling a sob, the young man wrapped his arms tight around himself and tried to fit all of his gangly frame into the meagre shelter offered by a hawthorn bush.
He’d not seen his brother— Jees— since they’d reached the small clearing in the woods that did indeed contain a cobbled together collection of barrels and pipes that made up a still. They’d slapped each other on the back and unhooked the empty wineskins from their belts and had crept forwards to help themselves and then—
—something had moved in the shadows and a cold, quiet voice had said, “Take them,”
And then those… things… had leapt out of nowhere.
Farl clenched his jaw and tried to regulate his frantic, fear motivated pants into normal breaths. He couldn’t hear anything; no matter how much he strained his ears, and that should have been a reassuring thought, but it wasn’t because the things hadn’t made any sound at all and for all Farl knew, they could be right on the other side of the bush at this very—
A twig snapped, close by and Farl bit down on the urge to scream, catching his tongue between his teeth in the process. A rush of hot, salty blood filled his mouth with sharp daggers of pain, and Farl began to cry silently. The tears made it even harder from him to see his surroundings and the young man blinked frantically as he looked around.
There was nothing moving.
That was somehow worse.
Something started to click and chitter to itself, right above his head, and Farl knew with absolute ice cold certainty that the thing was laughing at him.
And then, before he could scream, black strobing pain lashed out and captured him and that was the last thing Farl knew.
A short distance away, two figures were listening; one was seated gracefully on a low boulder, its expression cold and imperious, and the second was standing a few steps away, in a pose that was both fearful and subservient.
The seated figure raised one hand, which contained a plain wine glass, half filled with a translucent liquid that the crescent moonlight bleached to a grey-silver colour. “This doesn’t taste too bad; empty the rest of the still, Dupe.” A command.
The standing figure bobbed its head. “Yes mistress,” it said softly, and began doing as it had been instructed.
Off to one side, there was a rustling, dragging sound, which both of the figures ignored; the seated one taking another ruminative sip at the liquid in the glass.
One of the trees creaked and groaned then a limp bundle fell to the ground. The faint moonlight made it look as if had been dipped in glossy black paint. It was just about recognisable as having once been a person. An odd, hunched figure jumped down after it, landing on the ground and balancing on what were presumably its hind legs, in a furtive looking crouch.
The seated figure tilted its head to one side and, even though the shadow cast by the hood of the cloak it was wearing obscured its face, the frown was evident in its voice. “You were not given permission to start eating.”
The hunched figure shuffled from foot to foot, most of its body hidden beneath swaddling layers of tattered and mismatched clothes. Its hands, which reached out to touch the corpse in a possessive fashion, were clawed and covered in scaled skin. Hungry— It protested in something that wasn’t quite Mindspeech, and could only have been considered Empathy if viewed through a thick pane of cheap glass.
“I did not give you permission,” the seated figure leaned forwards, icy disapproval radiating from it.
Hungry— a whining chitter underscored the not-quite word.
“You were not given permission,” an even tone of voice. The figure by the still froze, then carefully slunk sideways, trying its best to make itself as inconspicuous as possible. “I do not like being disobeyed,”
The hunched figure by the corpse suddenly doubled over, clawed hands scrambling at its abdominal area. A faint sound escaped from between its clenched jaw as it scuffled backwards, feet kicking furrows in the damp soil.
Unconcernedly, the seated figure finished the glass of moonshine, before gesturing negligently with one hand. “You may be my darlings, but you will not disobey me, is that understood?”
The hunched figure shivered convulsively, then slumped as the spell holding it evaporated. Drawing back, the creature tilted its head back to expose the pale furred line of its throat to the seated figure in a submissive gesture. Moonlight created thin highlight lines across long, twitching ears and twisted mammalian features. Sorry— Mistress—
“Hmm,” the seated figure straightened up, apparently satisfied. “You will wait until the others return.”
Yes— Mistress— the creature settled back on its haunches, one hind leg extending to reveal matted fur and a paw-like bare foot. It absently scratched at itself with one claw-hand and snuffled at the air.
Around them, the woodland was absent of the usual nocturnal noise. Instead, the air was ghosted through with an intermittent clicking and hissing that was full of unspoken menace.
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