by etcetera-cat
Disclaimer:  Any and all concepts relating to the world of Velgarth, and the kingdom of Valdemar, are the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.  Grammatical slip-ups, spelling mistakes, bad puns and predictability are solely the fault of etcetera-cat.
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Chapter Two
In which Radic is not Chosen, Retsin burns porridge, and Kaya discusses her options with a patch of grass.

What the Hells have I gotten myself into?
Kaya had actually, somewhat to her own surprise, slept well last night.  Of course, being able to get rid of that damned tack helped, she admitted to herself.  She had woken up early and had wandered out of the lean-to stable butted up against the side of the Waystation she had brought them to last night, the better to enjoy the early morning sun.
The mare sighed and shifted her weight from foot to foot.  Really; what have I gotten into?  She asked herself.  I sally off to pick up Ipka’s Chosen for him— something theoretically very simple— and what do I end up with?
Kaya stared at a patch of grass between her front hooves, it didn’t seemed inclined to answer her questions.  I’ll tell you what I get; Ipka’s injured Chosen, and some damn noble brat.  I am not amused!  Since the grass was continuing to make zero contribution to the conversation, Kaya snapped up a mouthful of it and began chewing in a grumpy fashion.
Around the edges of the clearing, songbirds trilled and chirped, adding to the impression that the weather was trying to give of it being a beautiful day.  Hah.  Kaya snorted a dipped her head to grab another mouthful of grass.
The soft creaking sound of the door to the Waystation opening caused Kaya to flick her ears backwards, but she continued cropping mouthfuls of grass, showing no other outward signs that she had heard the creaking sound.
A sound halfway between a cough and a nervous throat clearing broke the peace of the clearing and Kaya rolled her eyes, cropped a final mouthful of grass and raised her head, turning it slightly so that she could stare at the cause of the noise.  As she had half-suspected, it was the other one, and not Ipka’s Chosen.  Well, at least she could turn this to her advantage and pump the useless noble for some information.
Kaya blinked, chewed slowly on her mouthful of grass, turning around so that she was facing the boy fully, and gave him a bland look.  He was entirely unpreposing; average height and build, averagely blonde hair, averagely attractive features—  In other words, the design model for ‘average’.  He was dressed in finely cut brown riding leathers, the tunic of which was absent, revealing the white linen shirt that had been underneath.  He was also barefooted; Kaya assumed that his boots were somewhere in the Waystation with his tunic.
“Um, good morning.”  It wasn’t until he spoke that Kaya realised— average or not— that he had done a fair job of captivating her attention.
Hmmm.  Her frown was purely internal and directed at herself.  Swallowing the grass, she regally bobbed her head to him in an acknowledgement that it was, indeed, morning.
“Um,” the boy seemed incapable of saying anything without prefacing it with some kind of stutter.  “He’s still asleep, but he looks, um, better than yesterday…” he trailed off and stared at her in an owlish fashion.
:Good.:  Kaya eyed him up and down.
“But, um… I guess you know that already…”  The blonde boy coughed and his face reddened as Kaya continued to look at him.  It was actually rather amusing, she decided.
However, his statement reminded Kaya that she really needed to clear up and find out several things.  Like; he isn’t my Chosen, but incidentally, what’s his name?  Yeesh… this is going to be fun.
:Actually, no, I don’t.:  Kaya cocked her head to one side and rippled her hide in a shrug.  :I don’t even know what his name is, what with him not being my Chosen, and all.: 
The boy made a sound along the lines of wffst?! and stared at Kaya with eyes that were so wide, they appeared to be bulging slightly.  Heh heh heh— Kaya had heard about subtlety once, but had decided against it.
“What—?” the boy finally managed to articulate.
Kaya allowed herself an audible snicker.  :Exactly what I said; boyo in there isn’t my Chosen.  I’m merely… acting as a courier for someone else.:
“I— I didn’t know that um… you did that.”
:Myself in particular or Companions in general?:  Kaya flicked her tail and gave him an amused look, continuing before he could clarify.  :Companions in general… it’s been known to happen; like now.  Myself in particular?  Only because my idiotic best friend broke his leg falling in the river.:
“O…oh.” He blinked at her in an uncertain fashion.
:So what is his name?:  Kaya paused for a moment.  :For that matter, what’s your name— I can hardly keep calling you “oi, you!” can I?:
“I— um, I’m Ret, um— Retsin and, um, he’s Radic,” Retsin managed, any further stuttering interrupted by a cough from the direction of the open Waystation door.  Both Ret and Kaya turned to look at Radic, who was staring at Kaya with an awe-struck expression.
“I—“ Kaya gave him her full attention as he stepped slowly towards her.  “I— thought I was dreamin’ from being hit on the head…”
:Nope.:  She said cheerfully.  :Hello Radic, I’m called Kaya and I don’t Choose you.:
The younger boy— now that she actually had time to compare them, it was obvious to the mare that Ipka’s nearly-Chosen was several years younger than Retsin— froze at her words, his face going blank. 
:I do however, ferry you off to your actual Companion so that he can Choose you.:  Kaya pricked her ears and tried to project good-natured amusement at the nervous child.
“Oh,” faintly.
I seem to be inspiring a lot of that at the moment.  Kaya resisted the urge to roll her eyes; it was bound to be confusing for the boy.  I’ll just blame Ipka.
:Yes,: she continued, :Ipka— that would be your Companion, when we get back to Haven and he Chooses you— managed to break his leg just before he was supposed to come out on Search.:  Kaya lifted her head up and looked pleased.  :So you get me instead.:
“How is your head this morning?”  Kaya slid her slightly surprised gaze over to Retsin; she had to admit to herself that she’d almost forgotten about the young noble until he’d spoken to Radic.
As Radic assured him that he was feeling much better this morning and the pair of them began to sort out some kind of breakfast for themselves, Kaya dropped back to her former state of musing.  I think I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t firmly attached.  She watched as the two boys pottered around— managing to produce porridge that smelled somewhat edible— not really realising that her attention almost defaulted to Retsin.
Any notions that Retsin may have had of the events of the previous day being a dream had taken a serious beating when he had woken up in one of the two simple wooden cots inside the Waystation.  And if that wasn’t a big enough hint, then seeing the Companion certainly was.
The Companion— Kaya, he’d heard her tell Radic— he could feel her watching him as he and Radic managed, after some investigation of the inside of the Waystation, to set up a small fire in the sunken fire pit outside the door, and produce some fairly edible porridge.  Well; it’s hot and only a bit burnt.
And the way his stomach was rumbling, it only mattered that it was food.  From the way that Radic was inhaling his portion, the stable boy had no complaints and was similarly hungry.  He certainly looked a lot better than the preceding day; and had been quick to assure Ret that he had no headache, despite the thin line of a cut being visible across his forehead.
“How do you feel?”  Ret asked finally.
Radic glanced up at him, spoon laden with porridge hovering above his bowl.  “I said, milord, me head doesn’t hurt much at all—“
“It’s Retsin,” Ret insisted quietly, “not ‘milord’, and I didn’t mean your head.  How do you feel, knowing that you’re going to be a Herald?”
“Sorry, mil— Retsin,” Radic smiled apologetically and set his spoon down in his bowl.  “I don’t, not really… feel like I’m gonna be a Herald, I mean.”  He shot a look over at Kaya, who was grazing her way across the small clearing.  “I mean… I don’t feel any diff’rent at all, ‘cept that I can hear her in my head…”
Retsin found himself nodding.  “That is certainly an experience,” he agreed.
:Well I’m hardly going to communicate by tapping out code with a hoof, am I?:  Ret felt himself stiffen with surprise at the unexpected comment from the Companion, Radic doing the same.  From where he was sitting, he could see that she hadn’t looked over to them at all.  :My ears.:  A… feeling?... like laughter.  :Are not just for show.: 
The silver hairs of her tail rippled in the morning light as she flicked it.
:You should eat up before that gets cold, we have a long way to travel, you know.:
Ret was halfway through swallowing a second spoonful when he realised that her had unthinkingly done as the Companion had told him.  It wasn’t even that she was particularly intimidating— well, it was partly that— it was just that she was, well…
A Companion.  Talking to me.  In my head.  Retsin wondered briefly if anyone back at the keep would even believe him; even though ten of them had seen him and Radic spirited away by Kaya.  Probably not, he decided sourly, then bit his lip and tried to think of something else as his memory began to wave the image of his older brother around.
I am going to be in so much trouble.  Companion or not, Retsin knew for a fact that neither of his parents would be impressed at him just disappearing like he had.  And Jaspar is going to find all kinds of interesting ‘accidents’ for me to have, I bet.  The cold, hard lump returned and sat in his stomach and Retsin swallowed a last mouthful of porridge with difficulty, before standing up.
“I’ll tack up… Kaya,” Radic offered quickly, before standing up and shooting into the Waystation to retrieve the blue and silver tack from where Retsin had left it; laid out over a table as neatly as he could manage, last night.  She had apparently heard, as she ambled her way easily over to stand near to the door.
“I’ll tidy up then…” Retsin mumbled to himself, and set to cleaning the crockery and pot that they’d used in a bucket of water from the ingenious stone trough built onto the front of the Waystation; somehow, someone had managed to engineer it so that it filled with water of its own accord.
Radic came out of the Waystation, carrying the saddle and blanket, managing to get it up onto Kaya’s tall back with her help.  :There was a spring.  They piped it to the trough.:  She mentioned absently, before shifting so that the saddle settled on the blanket to her liking, before adding, :You think loudly.:
Not entirely sure what to think of that, Ret took the now clean crockery indoors and stored it away, then tiding up the rest of the Waystation’s interior.  Walking back outside, he found that Radic had already extinguished the fire with dust and was standing next to Kaya— resplendent in her tack— apparently waiting for him.
“Kaya wants you on front, sez the weight’s better spread for ‘er then.”  Radic traded a look with the Companion.  It looked like they had been talking privately.
“Oh,” Ret managed.  “Alright,” Mounting Kaya was easier and more difficult than yesterday; easier because he wasn’t having to stabilise a practically comatose Radic, and more difficult because Kaya was standing up.  And she was much bigger than any horse he’d ridden before, something which hadn’t registered yesterday.  She must be at least sixteen hands…he thought as he managed to swing up into the saddle.  Kaya’s hide twitched momentarily, as if she were stifling a chuckle.
Holding one arm out for Radic, Ret managed to pull him up into the pillion position on the saddle.  Kaya stood still for a moment, letting them both get settled, before turning her head to look back at them.  :Ready?:  She asked.
“Yes,” Retsin placed both hands on the pommel of the saddle, once again avoiding the reins that were looped over it.  “I guess we are.”
:Haven, here we come, then!:  Kaya shook her head, setting the bells on her tack to ringing and pivoted round, starting off down the track to the main road at a trot, with a few easy steps.


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