Disclaimer: Everything relating to the kingdom of Valdemar, and the world of Velgarth, is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey. The silly idea— and even sillier title— are all the fault of etcetera-cat.
Notes: Happy (nearly) Birthday Kierseth! For once I’m early, rather than late, go me! This story actually relates to canon events; most notably those at the beginning of Winds of Fury, although canon characters are thin on the ground, and only exist as a single cameo appearance for expositional sakes.
Or; A pair of Companions were walking down a road and—
:Your Chosen sounds like she’s single-handedly trying to promote the Heraldic reputation for hedonism.: Ragin shook his head slightly and cast an amused look at the younger Companion stallion who was keeping pace with him as they trotted down the dry-stone wall lined road.
Keef snorted and pulled a face— he looked like he was trying to lay a particularly large egg— before replying. :I’m beginning to regret telling you now.: He said.
:Pish—: Ragin flicked an ear backwards, indicating the pair of Heralds who were deep in conversation and therefore pretty well oblivious to what their Companions were up to. :In case you hadn’t noticed, as well as being a complete hedonist, your Shilla is also one of the biggest gossips at Court. The only person who doesn’t know the intimate details of every single one of her bedroom adventures is the blind beggar outside the Hollybush Tavern in Exile’s Gate!:
:Gods—: Keef moaned, hanging his head down, although his pace continued unabated. :Don’t joke about the truth like that.:
:Who says I’m joking?: Ragin asked drily. Wrinkling his nose, the older Companion squinted up at the late afternoon sky, before making a satisfied sound. :We should make Haven by this time tomorrow, if we keep this pace.:
Since Ragin had included his Chosen in that last statement, it was no surprise when Lila shifted in the saddle and broke off her conversation with Shilla to direct a look down between Ragin’s ears. “Really?” she asked in a faintly pleased tone of voice. “We’ve made good time.”
“It hardly seems like two years since we set out,” Shilla agreed. “I’m looking forward to getting back to Haven and catching up with everyone.”
Ragin cast a wicked look sideways at Keef and pitched his mental laugh so that the other Companion was the sole audience.
In return, Keef pulled another egg-laying face. :I really wish I hadn’t brought the subject up with you,: he said. :You can laugh about it, but I’m the one who’s not going to be getting any sleep tonight; and who’s going to have to play ‘distraction’ when Shilla decides to chop and change and move onto the next one.:
Stifling a snort of laughter, Ragin shook his head. :Lila isn’t exactly a dried up old stick you know and she does have Garth waiting for her—: an amused toss of his head, :I doubt if either of them will be seen for at least three days after we return and Lila and Shilla have reported to the Circle.:
:I guess…: But Keef’s tone of voice indicated that he was doubtful. Perhaps he had a point; whilst Ragin would be deprived of his Chosen whilst she and her husband got… ‘reacquainted’… with each other, Lila’s Gift of Mindspeech was limited and both her and her Companion had long ago perfected the art of shielding each other out of their respective assignations. Keef was not so lucky; Shilla had a formidable Gift of Projective Mindspeech, and it was a rare occasion that she managed to fully shield out her Companion.
Ragin tried very hard not to laugh again, but he couldn’t stop his sides from shaking in a way that wasn’t anything to do with his gait.
The injured looks that Keef kept directing at him didn’t really help Ragin’s composure in any great way, and he had to take great pains to muffle his laughter so that Lila didn’t start asking unfortunate questions.
Ragin was up to something. Lila would have bet money, her Formal Whites and her husband on it, although she wouldn’t tell Garth that she’d be willing to use him as collateral.
It wasn’t as much the fact that Ragin was being suspiciously quiet— although that was certainly a large part of it— it was more the fact that Lila kept on getting wisps of amusement down their Bond and the way Ragin’s sides were shaking, he was either choking down a monumental fit of giggles, or having some kind of seizure.
Seeing as how he had entirely failed to tip Lila out of the saddle, fall over and spasm his way into the roadside ditch, she was betting on the giggles.
The only important question was; what was Ragin so amused by?
Usually, by this point on the way home, Lila’s Companion would have been teasing her solidly about greeting Garth and how Ragin would be completely neglected for the better part of a week whilst she and Garth gave their bed a thorough work out.
This comparative silence— disregarding Shilla’s enthusiastic chatter (and really; Ragin had no room to tease Lila about hedonism if half of what Shilla was saying was in any way true) — was somewhat unnerving.
Lila needed to get to the bottom of it. :Ragin—: she caught her Companion’s attention with a brief Mindtouch. :What on earth and you trying to keep under your hat?: Lila had been the despair of the amiable old Bard who shared the teaching duties for the tactics and diplomacy classes for trainees.
Ragin’s sides immediately stopped shaking and his gait smoothed out even more. The innocent look he directed back to his Chosen was patently false, however. :I’m not wearing a hat.:
:Don’t try and wiggle out of explaining things, mister,: Lila mock threatened, reaching forwards to tap between Ragin’s ears with one gloved hand. :I know how your devious little mind works.:
:I object to that.: Ragin sniffed and tossed his head, sending his short mane dancing every which way. :My mind is not ‘little’.:
:You’re still changing the subject.:
Lila felt a surge of satisfaction as Ragin heaved a sigh and flattened his ears. An ability to keep his mouth shut if he was in possession of a prime piece of gossip was something that the stallion definitely lacked. Garth often compared him to an old fish-wife; something that had once resulted in Ragin shoving the surprised Healer into an ornamental pond.
Neither of the two men in Lila’s life showed any inclination to grow up anytime soon.
:Well—: Ragin began in an exaggerated whisper, :—I was just having a talk with Keef and—: her Companion’s Mindvoice suddenly faded out, displaced by an insistent buzzing sound that made Lila feel unbalanced and caused her vision to blur inexplicably.
“What—?” she managed, fighting to keep her balance in a saddle which half of her was completely convinced was bucking and rolling like an Evendim fishing boat in a storm, and the other half was not entirely convinced was actually there.
:Lila?: Ragin’s worried question billowed towards her as if from a great distance.
Lila coughed and shook her head (which didn’t help her balance one iota) as the utterly bizarre sensation of pressure building enveloped her. It felt almost like a storm was coming, but the sky— the bits of it she could see in between the pitching, rolling blur that comprised her vision— was a clear blue.
“Lila?” That was… Shilla?
:What is that—:
And then the feeling of pressure increased exponentially and Lila felt as if she was being wrung out of her body and scattered to the winds and then something white-hot and powerful exploded inside of her head, leaving behind it a starburst of glittering particles that plunged down with Lila into blessed unconsciousness.
For some reason, the air smelt like road dust; a strange admixture of warm soil and manure, overlaid with a faint hint of decaying plant life and a good helping of grit-at-the-back-of-the-throat. Ragin drew in a deep breath and immediately regretted it; what felt like half of the road tried to crowd down his nose and into his lungs.
After a bout of hacking and coughing that shook his whole body, Ragin finally managed to open watering and gritty eyes and blink rapidly. The sky was still blue and, against all odds some birds were singing in a nearby copse of trees.
What the Hell just happened? Ragin wondered in a disorientated fashion. It had felt like a massive surge of energy in the ley; somewhat akin to some of the attacks that Ancar had tried on the Border, before the demilitarised zone and the current period of quiet had happened. The only problem with it feeling like one of Ancar’s attacks was that they were several tens of leagues north of Haven, returning from a Circuit up by Sorrows.
“You’re awake!” The voice sounded relieved and it took Ragin a moment to identify it as Shilla; the internee Lila and himself had just completed a Circuit with, and—
Lila! The events that had preceded Ragin ending up flat on his side in the middle of the road suddenly crashed into the front of his memory. A brief, frantic mind probe revealed his Chosen to be completely unconscious, apparently a short distance away.
Ragin flailed about in an uncoordinated fashion, kicking up a veritable cloud of dust, before managing to get his legs underneath himself and lurch unsteadily to his feet. Once the world stopped pitching and rolling, the Companion focused himself enough to take in his surroundings.
Keef was to one side of the road— to be more precise, he was actually halfway in the ditch, rear planted firmly in the dirt, front legs splayed over the road, and an expression of acute suffering on his long face— Shilla slumped on the ground next to him, leaning on his neck.
“I think I’ve broken my wrist—“ Shilla said in a faint, pain-filled voice. Ragin belatedly noticed that her face was tight with pain, and she was clutching her right arm close to her chest.
This is not a good situation, Ragin thought sourly, as a headache sidled up and tapped him on the metaphorical shoulder.
Twisting his head around, Ragin found his own Chosen. Lila was lying sprawled in the middle of the road, limbs akimbo. Although a thin patina of road dust had settled over her, and she was still completely out for the count, the Herald did not appear to be injured in any obvious fashion. Squinting, Ragin extended himself enough to probe his Chosen’s body with the low-level Healing Sight that the Companions preferred to keep a secret. She’s fine—ow! The relief at determining that Lila appeared to be, physically at least, the best off of the quartet was somewhat negated as the headache coalesced from a vague, all pervading ache, into a sharp, stabbing pain right between his eyes.
:My head hurts…: Keef’s Mindvoice was thin and strained sounding. :If Ancar’s annihilating us, do you think he could get on with it and put me out of my misery?:
Ragin froze. Although Keef’s unfocused sending illustrated that he wasn’t taking what he was saying seriously, he brought up an uncomfortable point. What if this was an attack against the Heralds?
Damn, damn, damn, damn. Ragin cursed to himself. Damn it all to the lowest Circle of Hell and back again. With a rusty spoon!
:Can you get up?: Ragin squinted at Keef. :And can Shilla pull and tie Lila into my saddle so we can get to the Waystation and all fall over together?:
Keef grunted, but must have relayed Ragin’s words to his Chosen, because the younger Herald levered herself into a standing position, her injured arm still curled protectively against her chest. Once Shilla had finished using him as a standing aid and had stumbled out of the ditch and onto the road to stand next to Lila’s prone form, Keef managed to scramble to his feet, wincing the whole time as the numerous cuts and scrapes that adorned his hide pulled at the scabs forming over them.
Ragin limped over to his Chosen and presented a silent shoulder for Shilla to lean one for a moment; the young woman was white-faced with pain and swaying slightly.
“Thanks,” Shilla managed to dredge up a watery smile.
Bobbing his head slightly, Ragin looked down at Lila. The ground seemed uncomfortably far away. If he lay down, Ragin wasn’t entirely sure that he’d be able to get up again. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to get Lila safely into the saddle, though, so needs must. Damn. Steeling himself, Ragin shrugged off Shilla as gently as he could; the last thing they needed was for her to fall over and break something else.
This was not going to be comfortable at all.
The interior of the Waystation smelt like one of the still rooms at the Healer’s Collegium; sharp, spicy and green plant scents mingled in the air, rising from the assorted balms and poultices liberally covering the current occupants. Between the dust, grime, occasional streaks of blood and the multicoloured daubing of bruise and wound ointments and poultices, both Ragin and Keef resembled particularly outré pieces of art.
Companion Seen Through Brainstorm In Rain, perhaps? Ragin pondered to himself as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. Well, it hardly matters.
As he had predicted, the short journey to the Waystation had been several shades less than pleasant, and Ragin was mortally glad that they hadn’t encountered anyone on the road. He was also glad that this Waystation was as close as it was, and that the Healing kit stashed under one of the simple wooden cots had been almost over stocked.
In addition to the standard packets of powders to be mixed with water to make assorted teas and potions— things that both Heralds also carried in their field kits— there had also been lead sealed pots of concentrated long-life concoctions (most of which had been dumped in a bucket of water and sloshed over everyone) and enough poppy extract to ensure that everyone’s day had been distinctly improved by no longer feeling as if the top of their head had been lopped off.
Ragin was trying to ignore the fact that everything was now surrounded by a tiny rainbow halo of light. The side-effects were worth no longer having a killer headache.
Lila had even woken up; currently she was propped up at one end of one of the cots, leaning over Shilla and squinting slightly as she finished putting a proper brace-bandage on the younger Herald’s much-abused wrist. So far, none of them had talked about what had happened. The look on Lila’s face, however, spoke volumes to Ragin and he hastily made up his mind to remove himself from the Waystation while he tried to formulate some answers to the questions that Lila was inevitably going to start asking.
:I’m going out for a moment.: He said shortly, not offering any further explanation as he limped (although he hadn’t stiffened up as much as he’d expected, so the vast quantities of goo all over him seemed to be doing some good) towards the door.
Keef, who was lying gracelessly on the hard-wearing felt rug covered floor, his head resting on the cot next to his Chosen, looking for all the world like an overgrown dog, gave Ragin a curious look. Well, his expression would have been more obvious if he hadn’t been floating around somewhere near the ceiling on poppy juice; when he’d fallen over during the… incident… Keef had managed to give himself a serious concussion and what both Shilla and Lila suspected were cracked ribs.
“Why?” Lila questioned; her expression sharpening as she looked up at her Companion.
:I’m going to try and contact the Groveborn,: Ragin said, :and, out of all of us, I am— sadly— the most equipped to do that at this moment in time.:
“Oh,” Lila examined that statement from all angles, but couldn’t seem to find anything wrong with it. “Don’t take long.”
Ragin rolled his eyes. :I won’t.: He assured her, nudging open the door with his nose— the only part of him, somewhat surprisingly, that wasn’t mottled with bruising.
Outside, it was still an incongruously bright and normal seeming day. Ragin took a few moments to glare suspiciously at a pair of blackbirds who were fiercely proclaiming ownership of a pair of trees, then settled himself a short way in front of the door, one hind foot tipped over onto its rim, standing hipshot. After taking a deep breath and clearing his head as much as the residual headache and the poppy juice would allow, Ragin extended his mind and Reached for the unmistakable presence of the Groveborn.
What the—! Ragin jerked his head in shock and widened his eyes as he ‘approached’ Haven. There appeared to be a brand new and alarmingly powerful node slap bang under the Palace itself. Powerful enough, in fact, to near eclipse the Grove and hide the fact that the Groveborn was there.
:Rolan—: Ragin directed the single word towards where he thought the Groveborn stallion was; the unexpected node where no node should be was rather hampering Ragin’s ability to See anything much of Haven at all.
:Companion Ragin?: Rolan sounded faintly surprised— but only faintly— almost as if he had been expecting Ragin to contact him, but just didn’t know when. That annoyed Ragin out of all proportion to matters, but he decided to arbitrarily blame it on his headache. Or the poppy juice.
:What in the name of the nine festering circles of Hell is going on?:
Rolan still didn’t sound surprised, despite the fact that Ragin was trying his best to mentally froth at the mouth in the Groveborn’s general direction.
:Ah, you are heading back into Haven, I believe— due to arrive tomorrow afternoon, yes?:
:Are?: Ragin yelped, :Are? We were heading-back-into-Haven, due-to-arrive-tomorrow until something attacked us and knocked all four of us completely unconscious with some kind of spell—:
:It wasn’t an attack.:
Rolan’s calm pronouncement cut straight across the tirade that Ragin was warming up nicely to, and he faltered, uncertain. :I—what?:
:It wasn’t an attack.: Rolan repeated patiently. :Nor was it exactly a spell.:
Ragin stared at his hooves in bewilderment. :What?:
Rolan sent a wave of reassurance towards Ragin. If there was one thing that Choosing Talia had done for the Groveborn, it was to vastly improve his general empathy. :It was an unexpected side-effect of something that Elspeth and Gwena are involved in with the Hawkbrothers.:
The who what? Ragin’s feeling of utter confusion didn’t fade in the slightest and he had to work to shape his Sending into something coherent. :The last I heard, Gwena had every intention of leading her Chosen around by the nose down in Rethwellan until they found some friend of Kerowyn’s—:
:Ah, yes— well, they ended up with the Tayledras shortly after you departed for your Circuit with Keef and Shilla.: Rolan sounded slightly apologetic. :In hindsight, this would all have been a lot easier if we had spread the word of what Elspeth was doing amongst the whole Herd.:
:Rolan, you’re making no sense.:
Another sensation of apology. :I’m sorry. To put it briefly; Elspeth and Skif ended up in the Pelagir wilds somewhere north of the Shin’a’in Plains. As I has suspected, Elspeth turned out to be an Adept potential mage, and she began training with several members of the Hawkbrother Clan that she and Skif allied with. They had… several encounters with a rather nebulous sounding person known as Falconsbane, which culminated in him becoming lost in the Void between Gates. After this, Elspeth offered to help the Clan stabilise their Heartstone— a specialised kind of node that the Hawkbrothers apparently use to sustain their homes— and transport the energy of it to the Clan’s new home.:
Ragin closed his eyes. His headache seemed to be getting worse, and he understood less than half of what Rolan had said. :Right,: he said vaguely, as the stallion paused. It was apparently the correct response as Rolan continued after a moment.
:It was whilst they were performing the spell to ‘move’ this Heartstone energy that something happened; Gwena reports that some unknown power centred in the far north of Valdemar intervened and somehow redirected the energy from its intended direction to Haven. More specifically; to the quiescent Heartstone located in the Old Palace.:
:What—: Ragin felt his mouth dropping open in surprise. :How in the name of Kernos do we have one of these Heartstone things in the middle of the Palace?:
The sensation of throat-clearing from the Groveborn. :A Heartstone was created to power the Heraldic Web and replace the older, original, Web-spell that required four Mage-Gifted Guardians, in the time of King Randale.:
Something suddenly clicked in Ragin’s mind. The time of Randale was also, more commonly— at least in ballads— known as the time of Vanyel, the last Herald-Mage. Vanyel who, rumour and legend had it, haunted the forests on Valdemar’s border until this very day.
:Rolan, you’re not telling me that—:
:We don’t know yet, but we’re recalling all Mage-Gifted Heralds to Haven as a precaution. This would appear to be a time of significant change; Valdemar will have Herald-Mages once more.:
Ragin digested that portentous statement for a moment. :This… energy… reactivating the Heartstone, was that what knocked us out?:
:Yes,: Rolan said succinctly. :The Heartstone appears to be inextricably linked to the Heraldic Web and the surge of power spilled over, with unfortunate results.:
:Well, at least it’s not some new attack by Ancar.: Ragin tried to sound philosophical, before a thought occurred to him. :Oh—no—: he exclaimed, before dissolving into a stream of curses.
Rolan divined the other stallion’s reason for foul language. :Yes,: he said calmly, :as your Lila is Mage-Gifted I am formally recalling you back to Haven so that she can be trained.:
:How am I supposed to explain that to her?: Ragin asked somewhat plaintively, but there was no reply. Rolan’s attention appeared to have been directed to something— or someone— else. Given the sheer number of Heralds out in the field at any given time, it was probably another equally confused and aggrieved Companion shouting for the Groveborn’s attention.
Ragin snorted and favoured the still carolling blackbirds with a filthy look, before turning himself around and making his way back to the Waystation. He’s barely managed to get his tail in the door before the other three were demanding answers.
“Well?” Lila asked impatiently, putting down the mug of fragrant tea she had been drinking, and crossing her arms uncomfortably across her chest. “What did Rolan say?”
:A lot of confusing things.:
“Is this a new attack from Hardorn?” Lila demanded.
:No, but we have been recalled to Haven.: Ragin temporised. He really did not feel like explaining to Lila that what she thought was just strong Farsight was, in fact, Mage Gift. Especially given that he felt like one big contusion with a headache balanced on top of it. So, we leave that subject well alone until we’re back in Haven, and then she can fling lightning at the Groveborn rather than me…
“Did Rolan say why?” Shilla asked, one hand nervously picking at the bandage on her fractured wrist.
:It’s too confusing to explain until we get back to Haven.: Ragin waited for Keef to relay that to Shilla before continuing. :Besides, I’m not even sure I know what’s going on myself, so we all will find out when we get home. Additionally, we all need a good night’s sleep, which I suggest we get starting from some time now, as we’re going to have to make a push home tomorrow.:
And I refuse to say any more on the matter. Ragin silently added to himself, before walking across the Waystation and firmly sticking his nose into the bucket of grains that Lila had measured out for him whilst he had been conferring with Rolan. Taking care with chewing each mouthful— as even his teeth hurt— he ignored the somewhat rebellious whispering coming from the direction of the Heralds.
After a moment, Keef sidled up to him. :What did Rolan say?: he asked quietly.
Ragin flicked one ear and looked at Keef out of the corner of one eye. :In the simplest terms; The dormant node under Haven has been reactivated and is part of the Heraldic Web, Valdemar has Herald-Mages once more, and they need training.:
Keef looked suitably shocked. :Oh my blessed Lord and Lady…: he managed after a moment.
:Exactly,: Ragin said sourly. :What I wouldn’t give for a quiet life.:
:Is your Lila…?: Keef glanced covertly over at Lila, who was sulkily finishing of her tea and giving Ragin’s rump suspicious glances.
:Yes,: Ragin said flatly. :Next time, I’m opting to come back as house cat.:
There didn’t really seem to be any reply to that, so Keef busied himself with finishing off his own food, and silently contemplating the sudden changes that were going to happen— changes that would affect everyone, and not just the Heralds and their Companions.
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