Disclaimer: Everything relating to the world of Velgarth, and the kingdom of Valdemar, is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.
Notes: Written for Cat McDougall— happy birthday, lady!
This can be considered a sequel (if you tilt your head to one side and squint a bit… yeah, like that)— or, at least, inextricably linked— to a story called Cough. This time I haven’t got the excuse of having overdosed on writing ‘funny’ things, so I’ll just come clean and admit that this is the batshit that appears in my head. Aren’t you glad you aren’t in here with it?
The breeze is a ghost whisper that drifts through the trees.
It had been a routine patrol, through newly-gained territory. There had been a fight and the front lines had been pushed forwards, to the foot of the low line of hills that had been the near-horizon.
A lot of people had died during that battle.
The breeze is a ghost whisper that curls and crawls and insinuates itself inside tents and under clothes, carrying with it the chill of the pre-dawn air.
But it was a routine patrol. It was supposed to be safe— as safe as the Border ever gets— which was good because she’d badly pulled a tendon in the battle to push the lines forward to the hills and she couldn’t run at all at the moment. A Herald and a Companion were too valuable to just sit around, however, so they’d volunteered for the patrol. The Commander had been desperate enough for bodies to fill the hundred and twelve jobs that needed doing as of yesterday morning that he’d accepted their offer.
So they’d gone on the patrol, keeping to an easy walking pace, ghosting silently like only a Companion with a Mage-Gifted Chosen could. They hadn’t seen any Karsites in the area between the hastily erected Valdemaran front lines and the foot of the hills.
They didn’t even see any evidence of fortifications at the base of the hills, to mark out the new front of the Karsite offensive.
That had worried her.
The breeze is a ghost whisper that carries rumour far more easily than it carries truth.
It was quiet, once they reached the tree line. It was quiet and cool and night-time dark as the thick foliage of the canopy captured the weak almost-daylight and jealously held onto it all.
For the first time in her life, she had regretted being white— normally such a simple thing as her colour didn’t bother her; even on scouting missions she’d been comfortable that she could move silently and remain unseen— but… not now. Now she feels like exactly what she is; a large, white horse-shape that practically glows in the twilight of the trees.
She feels like a target; feels like she’s making them both a target, as her Chosen’s Whites are, despite being his ‘best’ set, stained, patched and more the shade of trainee Greys.
The breeze is a ghost whisper that claws and pinches at the edges of the woodlands that cling to existence on the battered hillside.
The first shout had been loud, but distant, and she’d shied backwards, wheeling around on her haunches and trying to beat a hasty retreat before the shouted words brought reinforcements.
But the second shout had been closer—
And the third shout had been even closer and then the air seemed to be full of the zip-sing whine of flying arrows and she’d found herself scrambling frantically around trees and bushes, bad leg burning and aching and her Chosen clinging grimly to the saddle. The alarm and growing fear resonate back and forth between them so hard and fast that it blurs her vision and she can’t tell whether it’s hers or her Chosen’s and a sharp, bitter taste crawls up the back of her throat.
The high pitched scream of a horse being forced to turn violently was the only warning that she has before the large, dark, sweaty shape crashes into her side, throwing her roughly through sharp thorny bushes that gouge at her legs and sides.
Her Chosen screams once, his sword arm tangled in the reins as he fights to free his sword from the scabbard, and then there’s a sickening crack-thump that she feels and hears and knows that—
—and then something bright and silvery flashes across her vision and it leaves behind it a line of white-hot fire that brands itself into her skull and steals away more than half of her vision.
She doesn’t remember how, but she manages to run.
The breeze is a ghost whisper that carries dead voices, death screams, dying cries and seems to delight in polluting the air with such nonsense, evil sounds.
She calls for him, now.
She calls and calls and cries and begs but he never responds to her, never answers.
The sense of him is fainter with each passing candle mark and she scrabbles ineffectually after the faint little glow that outlines their Bond and his Self; something that seems to be coated with goose-grease and soap for all the grip she can get on it.
The breeze is a ghost whisper that dances across the blood-red morning sky.
She’s falling; falling after her Chosen and soon they’re going to be so deep in the darkness that she won’t be able to pull them back towards the light. If she lets him go, then she knows that she will rebound upwards; her hold on reality is strong enough for that at least.
The idea of leaving him; abandoning her Chosen to the deep dark silences, repulses her and she recoils away from it, desperately trying to gather the slippery-slick bubble of her Chosen’s inner self against her as they slowly drift downwards.
A brief spark of thought; she remembers the day that she Chose him; her one, her only— her Chosen. He was a baker’s son and they’d been making sweet-things that day, the day she came.
He’d been holding a large jug of raw treacle.
This feels like drowning in warm treacle.
The breeze is a ghost whisper that drums on tent canvas and plucks at guy-ropes like a tone deaf, fingerless minstrel, creating a discordant song that echoes around the camp.
She drinks what they give her. It doesn’t taste like water.
She can’t call any longer; they’re both too far under and fading fast and she vaguely wishes that she could still see the light, feel the sun on her back.
Sometimes, she screams; hating herself because this is all her fault— her fault— if she hadn’t been injured, if she’d protested when he’d volunteered them for the routine patrol, if she’d heard the Karsite advance—
The screams drift away from her and loop in and around themselves in the treacle-thick darkness, encapsulated in little bubbles of something that isn’t air; distilled essence of self loathing and hatred and despair that bubble and corrode and splash back into her to acid-etch their way deep into her soul.
The breeze is a ghost whisper, it scours and roams the land, trailing behind itself a cloak of dust and ash that tatters and shreds; making shadow-lacework pictures against the ruddy dawn time sky.
There is a man standing next to the body that she no-longer considers her right to own, and the empty shell that holds the battered mortal remains of her Chosen.
The man coughs.
He gives her willow bark tea.
As he leaves the tent, the morning light rushes around him, silhouetting him against the wound-coloured awfulness of the red dawn sky.
She no longer wants to see the light and she shudders and turns from it, sinking into the darkness.
The breeze is a ghost whisper, it carries the dead voices.
It’s warm and she has finally managed to catch up with her Chosen; no more chasing him ever downwards through the black of the awful nothing that exists when bad things happen. No more scrabbling after him under she feels as if her ‘hands’ are bleeding, raw and dawn-sky coloured.
They drift, together.
She feels warm.
The breeze is a ghost whisper that dances over the top of a freshly-dug mound.