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. Trannen Ashkevron was originally thought up by Cat McDougall. I stole him, because I’m like that.
Notes: This chapter actually has some of the humour promised in the genre classification in it. I hope…
Her bark is worse than her bite… honest – Michael experiences a headache, dyheli style – A Bell rings – The plot thickens
:—was an unexpected side effect; his mind is somewhat different to a… normal…human mind.:
The very first thing that Michael was aware off was the darkness inside his head suddenly gaining texture.
:What do you mean? He is a normal human!:
Oh, and the little flashing lights that indicated that he was going to be in for it as soon as his involuntary nervous system noticed that he was in a position to receive pain messages once more.
:You found him on the other side of a trans-reality Gate, from a world that has public mage lights, but no magic and you think he’s normal? :
And the voices.
:My point exactly—:
They were actually rather loud, had a strange echo to them, and appeared to be having an argument.
:If we could please stop bickering about Giff’s Chosen?:
:I think he’s waking up…:
For some reason, Michael suddenly felt like he was being stared at by multiple pairs of eyes. It was not a comfortable feeling, but he refrained from opening his eyes because the thin ache centred above and behind his sinuses was a packet of ready-mix headache just waiting to happen, just add daylight.
:Chosen?: Gravel crunched close to his head and Michael could feel something looming over him. A blast of warm, damp air rolled over his face. :Are you awake?:
“Argh!” Michael opened his eyes, then immediately wished that he hadn’t, for several reasons. The first one was the awful looming white-and-red thing that was about two inches above his head. He dealt with that by convincing his afferent voluntary nervous system that allowing him to flail his left arm about was a good idea. His elbow connected with the surprisingly soft object with a satisfying crack, and it was jerked from view, with an accompanying yelp of pained sound.
:He hit me! Again!:
The second reason was harder to deal with; the daylight that shot straight through the back of his retinas, mixed up the packet of headache and banged it into the oven at gas mark four. Then, whilst it was waiting for the headache to cook, it apparently decided to pass the time by hammering red hot icicles through Michael’s frontal cortices.
“Argh!” Michael squeezed his eyes closed again. Now he just felt like he was having red hot icicles hammered into his head in the dark. It wasn’t really much of an improvement.
:Argh!: Nor was the other voice screaming.
There was definitely something strange about the voices that Michael could hear.
:Well, you two certainly seem to be getting on well.:
After a moment, he thought he had it; the voices (which were still bickering) sounded like every single B-movie sound recording of telepathy he’d ever had the (mis)fortune of seeing… or hearing… or…whatever.
:Companion Regin, you are not helping matters.:
:You’re being no fun, Dadero. Giff, your nose is bleeding. Again.:
Michael was coming to an uncomfortable conclusion. Maybe— just maybe— this isn’t a dream. On the scale of uncomfortable, that thought ranked rather far above being hit in the face with a wet fish, and only marginally below death by Africanised bees. Cautiously, Michael cracked open one eye. The offensively blue sky (he appeared to be outside) took that as an invitation to tap dance on the inside of his skull. In hob-nailed boots.
“Urgh,” he managed, after a moment. Instead of retreating back behind the comforting darkness of his own eyelids, Michael braved it out, and managed to crank open his other eye. The sky was still offensively blue and he appeared to be lying flat on his back on what felt like gravel.
After a long moment, the young man remembered that he possessed arms, and that they could actually be used for things other than whacking other things. Things? I’m making no sense, even to myself. Wincing heavily, Michael managed to dig his elbows into the ground and lever himself into something approaching a sitting position. Despite the ground doing a creditable impression of the high seas, and the tap-dancing icicles focusing their attentions immediately behind his right eye, Michael managed to look around.
If anything, his day got worse.
For one thing; he remembered the events leading up to him waking up. Events that involved the three white horses and the odd looking gazelle that were staring at him, right now. One of the white horses was sporting a bruised forehead and evidence of at least two nosebleeds.
The gazelle blinked large, liquid brown eyes at him.
:I’ve located a Healer trainee to bring out some headache tea.:
Michael’s eyes widened; for some reason, he knew that the voice belonged to the deer. It looked as if his earlier worries about unnecessarily anthropomorphising the animals were entirely unfounded. They were managing it quite adequately on their own.
:Ahem,: the white horse that insisted on faintly glowing like a cheap special-effect made a sound like someone clearing their throat, only… without the actual throat-clearing. When compared with everything else that had happened since ten-twenty pm on a Thursday evening in Chicago turned inexplicably into something-past-morning in Merry Olde Wherever (simply by the appearance of one weird white horse in his back yard), this actually seemed relatively normal. Besides, Michael’s head hurt too much for him to scream any more.
The glowing white horse— who the others seemed to be deferring to, as if it was some kind of leader, shook its head slightly and pricked its ears as it pinned Michael with an intensely blue stare. :He, not it,: the words arrived in Michael’s head in a very masculine voice.
“Oh,” he managed. Anything more intelligent would have to wait until the gears of his higher brain functions stops freewheeling. Oh, and until the killer headache of doom with went away or got on with it and killed him.
:I am the Groveborn Companion Dadero, Companion to the Queen’s Own Herald Gillan, and tacit leader of the Companions of Valdemar.: It—he— paused and gave Michael an expectant look.
Somewhat to Michael’s surprise, the arcane sounding titles did actually sound familiar to him. He wasn’t entirely sure how or why.
:That is Regin; Companion to the Queen of Valdemar—: the horse who’d introduced himself as Dadero nodded his head towards the white horse who Michael distinctly remembered was the one who had been giving him the pissed off look before, :—that is Yaul k’Rika, and the rather sorry looking youngling with the bloody nose is Giff; your Companion.:
Now they were all giving him expectant (and in Giff’s case, injured) looks. For his part, Michael was trying to come to terms with the fact that memories that didn’t appear to be his that were bobbing up from the nether regions of his brain and trying to compete with the headache for his attention. “I— what?” Michael managed, as a complete description of what a Companion was (apart from a horse that had a fetish about glowing in the dark) pasted itself into the front of his consciousness.
Any reply to his rather insensible question was cut off by the crunching sound of footsteps heading towards him. Turning slowly, just in case the top of his head fell off, Michael squinted in the general direction of the sounds.
Absently, he noted that the three horses, actually, they’re Companions— his mind supplied helpfully, and the gazelle isn’t; he’s a dyheli, turned to look as well. If his head hadn’t felt like the Broadway cast of Riverdance were practicing on his hypothalamus, Michael would have devoted his attention to where all this ‘useful’ information was actually coming from.
Michael’s confused introspection lasted long enough for the owner of the footsteps to arrive in front of him and give him a faintly worried look. The child— because she couldn’t have been older than about twelve— had hair that had possibly been tied back, but had eaten its restraints at the first opportunity— and was drowning slightly in a robe that was a rather distressing shade of pale green (although that might have been Michael’s headache).
“Uh,” the girl was giving Michael a wide-eyed stare, as if she’d never seen anything so weird in her life. Michael could relate to that. “Headache tea, y’s need t’take a good swig of it,” she thrust out one of her hands, and Michael accepted the proffered earthenware flask more out of automatic response, than because he’d understood what the girl had actually said—
Well, it was more that his brain had hit the solid wall of the realisation that he had understood what the girl had said, and a large part of him was insisting that that shouldn’t be happening.
:I really would do as she advises, young man.: Then again, his current surroundings included a gazelle— dyheli— who was giving him advice. Why shouldn’t he be able to understand what the people were saying?
In lieu of anything better to do, Michael managed to wrestle the cork out of the top of the bottle; although the cork looked as if it was going to win for a moment. A sharply herbal aroma curled up into the air under his nose, and Michael gained a dubious expression.
:I’d… um… just drink it fast,: without looking, Michael knew that the voice belonged to ‘his’ Companion. He wasn’t quite ready to confront the newly-acquired knowledge about that particular development just yet, and settled for taking a quick swig from the bottle. It wasn’t until about half of the large mouthful had already gone down his throat that the taste hit Michael, and he choked, spluttering the rest of the awful stuff everywhere.
:I told you.: The hesitant voice again. :It’ll get rid of our— I mean— your headache, though.:
The girl in the pale green robes was stifling a giggle, then she seemed to remember something, and her expression slid back into nervous, and she turned her attention to Dadero, Regin and Yaul. “Um,” she started, “I brung it ‘cos Halth’s caught up wiv’ the emergency that came up from the city…” she blushed, “um, Hirrn kinda overheard us, though.”
I can understand the words, sure, they still don’t make any sense, Michael stifled a sigh.
The three Companions and the dyheli gained expressions that ranged from worry to something approaching embarrassment. Michael wasn’t entirely sure how animals could have facial expressions that obvious.
:Oh dear,: the Companion that had been named as Regin observed.
:Oh dear?: This voice-in-his-head was a new one; it sounded sort-of female, low and almost like it was underpinned by a growling sound. That wasn’t surprising, because the owner of the voice was the giant killer wolf that had been menacing Michael earlier. :I’ll give you bunch of grass eating ninnies ‘oh dear’—:
Michael fixed his rather worried attention on said huge killer wolf, as she stalked down the path towards them. The unwelcome know-it-all who had taken up residence in his head informed him that the wolf was nothing of the sort; she was, in fact, something called a kyree—
Well, jolly good for her.
—and the young man following her was wearing robes that apparently proclaimed him as a full Healer (the capital letter made itself abundantly obvious), as opposed to the girl who’d given Michael the disgusting herbal drink, who was a trainee Healer. Said young man rolled his eyes and gave Michael an apologetic grin as the kyree stopped in front of Michael and did a fairly good job of intimidating the Hell out of him. It was possibly something to do with the fact that she was looming over him and staring at him in the most penetrating fashion.
:Now, Hirrn—: That was Yaul, the dyheli.
The kyree narrowed her eyes, although she didn’t outwardly shift her attention from Michael. :Don’t you ‘now, Hirrn’ me Yaul k’Rika. Just what in the name of the Seven Haighlei Hells did you think you were playing at?: The kyree’s ears snapped flat to her head. :Implanting that volumes of memories is bad enough— but in to someone who we are not even sure has the same physiology as our humans?:
Michael stared wide-eyed at Hirrn. She sounded almost exactly like the doctor that had supervised him on his rotation in the Emergency Room.
:It was at the behest of Halla—: Michael could see the Companion called Regin shaking his head and trying to draw himself up.
:You can just stick a turnip in it, Regin,: Hirrn twisted her head around to glare at the stallion. :Your Chosen may be the Queen of this country, but that is absolutely no excuse for you collection of idiots to come up with hare-brained schemes and execute them with as-much as a by-your-leave!:
:Hardly hare-brained—: Dadero objected, only to find himself the subject of the kyree Healer’s formidable temper.
She stalked over to stand in front of him and bristled at the Groveborn in a way that indicated that she wasn’t at all impressed by what Dadero’s faint presence (and Michael’s suddenly informative memory) indicated about him. :Hare-brained is exactly what I’d call this.: She said firmly. :You, Groveborn, have just imperiled the life of one of your precious Heralds-to-be simply because you were all too impatient to consider the ramifications of your actions.:
:I would like to know why you feel it is necessary to fling around such accusations, Healer Hirrn?: Dadero’s sense of presence increased— like feeling a thunderstorm building— and his ‘voice’ sounded disapproving.
Michael wondered if the Companion and the kyree would start actually fighting with each other, or whether they’d stick to exchanging verbal ripostes. The kyree certainly looked as if she wouldn’t be adverse to chewing on something in order to make her point.
As if to prove this line of speculation, the kyree curled her lip briefly, showing her impressive looking teeth. :You’ve just let Yaul stick a whole load of memories and foreign thoughts into the head of someone who not only wasn’t prepared for what you were doing, but hadn’t even given the most obtuse kind of permission! Incidentally—: here, the kyree shot a significant look at Michael, :—you chose to try this foolishness without the presence— or even knowledge of a Healer!:
Dadero looked as if he was about to reply, but Hirrn ploughed onwards. :Don’t you try getting sanctimonious on me, Mister Groveborn because I’ll damn well bite your nose off and make you eat it.:
“She will, you know,” Michael started and glanced sideways; the young man that had arrived with the kyree (the one he’d mentally labelled as Mumble-sneeze earlier) was kneeling next to him and offering a slightly embarrassed smile. “Try and bite Dadero,” he clarified, seeing Michael’s puzzled look. “It’s her standard threat and everyone used to think that she was bluffing until she took a chunk out of my uncle a few years ago.” A strange expression crossed Mumble-sneeze’s face and Michael got the impression that the young man was trying not to laugh. Obviously he did not get on with his uncle.
“You know, she complained about being unable to get the taste out of her mouth for a solid week afterwards,” he added, after a moment. “I’m not sure which was the worse patient; my uncle with the bite wound, or Hirrn after she was told that the only way she was leaving the room was if she drank a collection of brews to ward off food poisoning. I’m Trannen Ashkevron, by the way— although most people call me Tran, unless I’m in trouble.”
“Oh… I— uh, Michael,” Michael offered somewhat inanely, his attention still fixed on Hirrn; who was now threatening to educate Yaul on morals and ethics by chewing off his antlers and having one of her students forcibly stick them where the sun— most emphatically— did not shine.
“Hirrn has that effect on people,” Tran observed sagely. “Don’t worry, it passes. Do you want me to take that?” The Healer gestured towards the still-uncorked bottle that Michael was in severe danger of pouring into one of his shoes, removing it from the young man’s slack grip before Michael could really register what he was being asked.
The dyheli and the kyree were now glaring at each other with near-identical murderous expressions and Michael got the distinct impression that the greater part of their… conversation… was happening at a— volume?— level?— that he was not privy to. Judging by the way the Companions were occasionally wincing, and generally acting like spectators in the great sport of Insult Tennis, this was a good thing.
:—moral standards of a mentally retarded bark-beetle!: The occasionally audible insults compounded that opinion.
“Yaul and Hirrn don’t get on with each other at the best of times,” Tran seemed to have majored in mind reading. “And, well; this isn’t exactly the best of times.” The Healer’s attention was caught by the young trainee shifting her weight nervously from foot to foot, as if she wanted to leave, but feared that doing so without permission wound result in her being trampled and bitten. Possibly at the same time. “Jenna, I think Halth was heading over to the distillery, he’ll probably need you there.”
“Thanks, Tran!” Jenna gasped gratefully, then spun on her heels and vanished at an almost run, before any of the argumentative not-animals could notice. Michael wished he could follow her.
Trannen looked sideways at Michael. “Her bark is worse than her bite, honest,” he said. Michael would have believed him more if the Healer hadn’t sounded as if he was trying to convince himself as well as the foreigner.
“Right…” Michael said, for lack of anything better to say. Then he was distracted by the sudden sensation of someone— or something— looming over him. Giff, in all his multiply contused glory, was standing close to the two seated men.
:Um, heyla.: Giff lowered his head slightly and looked embarrassed. :Don’t take this the wrong, um, way, but… please don’t hit me any more, alright?:
“Okay…” Michael conceded, at the same time that Trannen squinted up at the Companion.
“Is that your Companion? Hirrn said that you’d been Chosen and that was how you got here.”
Michael looked at Giff, then crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m somewhat sketchy about the details,” he said.
Giff, who had perked his ears up and looked somewhat helpful, deflated once more. :I am, you know,: he said, :your Companion, I mean… um.: Michael’s shiny new memories of helpfulness indicated that such an admission should be something authoritative and to be marvelled over. Giff made it sound like an apology.
Michael wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to face— let alone accept with open arms— the ramifications these people seems to layer onto the word ‘Chosen’ and, actually, that brought something to mind… something about his mind, actually. “Why,” Michael looked from Tran to Giff, “am I suddenly able to understand you, hear you, and have all this in-depth knowledge about things that I’ve never heard of in my life?”
In the background, Hirrn and Yaul were still arguing, although it seemed to have devolved into a posturing match now. Yaul was winning in the looming stakes, but Hirrn was managing to be unequivocally carnivorous back at the dyheli.
Tran blinked and looked uncertainly at Michael. “They didn’t warn you beforehand?”
Giff produced an embarrassed throat-clearing sound. Except for the part where it echoed purely in Michael’s mind. It was somewhat akin to what Michael imagined having a dodgy sink U-bend stuck inside his ear would feel like. :Ah, we couldn’t actually communicate with you at all; your shields are very good you know— so we, well Yaul, had no choice except to take you by surprise once your shields opened a bit.:
Regin tried to intercede and nearly got a hoof in the face, and teeth in a leg, for his troubles. The Monarch’s Companion apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated behind the Groveborn to resume a purely spectator-like role in the burgeoning argument.
“My ‘shields’?” Michael looked confused. Maybe this whole ‘magical translation’ thing that seemed to be happening inside his head wasn’t all that great; he hadn’t understood more than half of what Giff had said. He became aware that both the Companion and the Healer were giving him incredulous looks.
“You don’t know what shields are?” Tran’s tone of voice was disbelieving. “But I can see yours practically without even invoking Other Sight, and I usually have to trance to see anything like that!”
Yeah, this whole translation thing is definitely broken, Michael thought cynically. “Apparently I don’t, since I’m asking,” he said out loud, his arms tightening defensively across his chest.
“Shields are… well, a mental barrier is the best way to put it, I guess… that you use to um… shield your mind from others and vice versa.” Tran looked at Michael. “I’m not entirely sure how to explain them to you, maybe your Companion can help. What’s his name, by the way?”
:My name is Giff,: the Companion supplied. :You’ll have to tell him; Companions tend to only speak to their Chosen and other Companions, although if we do break the Silence, it’s to talk to another Herald.:
“What?” Despite the positive flock of associated memories that Giff’s little speech spawned in Michael’s mind, he still felt fully justified in being completely at sea. “He say’s he’s called Giff, and so far all he’s doing is confusing me.”
:Sorry.: Giff gained a hang-dog expression.
Tran looked as if he was stifling a laugh. “You two are the strangest newly-Chosen pair I’ve met.”
Giff snorted. :He’s calling us strange, when he’s the one who had a kyree for a mentor when he was a trainee.:
Michael groaned and closed his eyes. “You’re not making sense!” he protested. “You’re giving me a headache—hey,” the young man blinked and gained an almost comical expression of surprise. His killer headache had gone away and he hadn’t even noticed.
Trannen correctly interpreted the look and held up the flask, shaking it so the liquid inside sloshed about. “Concentrated alem lily and mallow root extract, boiled up with willow bark; tastes like hoof shavings, but is great at getting rid of headaches.”
“…oh,” was the only thing Michael could think of to say.
:Sorry.: Giff said again, at the same time. :Um… the headache was because Yaul used a dyheli trick to give you Valdemaran— that’s the language of Valdemar— and also some basic knowledge of things like what Heralds and Companions and Healers are…:
Michael gave Giff a blank look, and Tran snorted with what sounded like amusement.
“I’m guessing by your expression that your Giff is being all Companion-mystical at you?” He asked, then, without waiting for a reply, “it could be worse, you know. This could be Karse and you could have been picked up by a Firecat; then you’d get the mysticism and a healthy dose of sarcasm.” The Healer trailed off and his eyes flickered towards Hirrn for a moment. The kyree was currently vibrating with righteous indignation as she apparently got an earful from Yaul. “Of course, you don’t always need a Firecat to get that.”
For perhaps the first time since he had woken up and had his hind brain brutally assaulted by the daylight, Michael found his mind curiously unforthcoming about an unfamiliar word. “What is a ‘Firecat’?” He asked slowly; not entirely sure if he wanted to hear the answer, as it would most likely confuse him even more.
Tran pointedly looked up at the young Companion stallion. “I’ll leave that up to you,” he said, before standing up and brushing flecks of dirt from his robes with one hand. “I’d better go and remind Hirrn that she left a ward full of scald and burn victims under the supervision of two assistant-Healers when she came haring out here to chew everyone’s ears off,” the Healer cast his eyes upwards, to the rapidly darkening sky, “and to point out that the day isn’t getting any longer.” With that, the dark haired young man, nodded decisively and began walking over towards the kyree, dyheli, and two spectating Companions.
:Ahem,: Giff made that funny clearing-throat-in-the-head sound again and Michael turned to look at him. The Companion sidled a few steps closer and Michael could feel him warily gauging Michael’s response to this action. When Michael failed to thump him one, Giff relaxed slightly. :Firecats are the Karsite equivalent of Companions—:
Michael blinked as a detailed image of a large looking orange and white cat inserted itself in front of his attention.
:—Ridan, the current Son of the Sun… er, the ruler of Karse… has one.: Giff trailed off for a moment. :Karse is to the south of Valdemar, and we’re both parties to the Alliance.:
Well, Michael thought cynically, I guess I understood some of that. His attention was caught by Trannen waving his arms around and stepping in between Hirrn and Yaul.
“—a ward full of patients from the explosion in the tanner’s quarter this afternoon—“ the young man was saying loudly and slowly. “I’m sure you can finish this discussion later, right?”
Regin rolled his eyes and appeared to have made a comment, judging by the way the Groveborn reacted to him.
“Couldn’t I hear them before?” Michael asked Giff. “The other ho—Companions, I mean.”
:Could you?: Giff looked faintly surprised. :I suppose that we weren’t really shielding before you woke up.:
A sigh. Great— more sentences that make no sense. Michael thought sourly.
:I’m sor—: Giff apology was suddenly broken off, and he swung his head around to stare off at nothing, his entire posture rigid. Regin and Dadero were in identical postures; staring in the same direction as Giff.
Michael uncrossed his arms and leaned sideways to see what the three Companions were so intent on. It appeared to be a perfectly ordinary garden wall, parts of it obscured by a leafy green creeper. He looked in askance to Tran, but the Healer— and Hirrn and Yaul— were watching the three Companions with intense expressions.
“What is going on—?”
The rest of Michael’s question was drowned out by the sudden tolling of a bell. Despite there being no clock-tower or anything similar nearby, the deep, almost painful, sound was loud enough to reverberate in Michael’s ears and send an unexplained chill down his spine. It felt like someone was pouring iced water into his very bones.
The Companions suddenly moved as one; ears flattening as they nervously shifted from foot to foot.
:Who?: Hirrn’s short question made no sense to Michael. He was therefore surprised when— not only was she answered— but that the answer came from Dadero, and Michael could somehow hear him again.
:Zica and Nattan—: the Groveborn tossed his head and looked agitated, pawing at the grass with one fore-hoof. :We have to go to the Grove—:
:Sheka!: Michael may not have recognised the language, but Hirrn’s tone of voice and expression made it abundantly clear that it was a curse word. :Tran—: The kyree pointed her nose at her assistant, :you have to go and find Luci now, she’s Empathic and—:
“Nattan!” The almost incoherent shriek that echoed out from the bulk of the large building the garden was attached to made Michael wince involuntarily; the sheer amount of pain and despair in that single word was almost like a knife across his senses.
Hirrn’s eyes widened, and she produced an explosive stream of expletives, before springing around and setting off for the nearest doorway at a flat-out run. :Trannen! Get a move on!: The kyree vanished through the open doorway, Tran running after her, his flaring robes making him look like a large green bird of ill-omen.
:I—: Giff looked distressed; bobbing his head from close to Michael’s shoulder, to pointing his nose off in the same direction he’d been staring in a moment earlier.
As Michael wondered what on earth— although I suppose the whole point is that I’m not on Earth anymore— was going on, Dadero swung his head around and fixed first Giff, then Michael, with a piercing blue gaze that was like no kind of scrutiny Michael had ever experienced in his life.
:You will come with us,: the Groveborn said, :both of you, now.:
Regin was already halfway across the garden, heading for an open wicket gate, by the time that Michael stumbled to his feet, prompted by the command that the Groveborn’s voice carried. Without really knowing why, the young man found himself walking quickly towards the same gate; Giff walking by his side, and Dadero a few lengths ahead of them.
Really… I’d love to know what the Hell is going on…