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 Three
In which Ipka hangs around, Radic does get Chosen, and Kaya illustrates that her kind of ‘Companion’ is not necessarily the same as the standard definition.
:We’re nearly there.:  Kaya cast a look back at the two boys in her saddle and decided that they both looked tired and somewhat overwhelmed.  Of course— given that they were currently ensnarled in a noisy traffic-and-pedestrian jam on the main Trade Road, as it came into Threadneedle Square market place, during the busiest market day of the week, the week before Springfest— a degree of ‘overwhelmed’ was to be expected.
For all that he was a noble, Kaya considered, Retsin was on pretty much the same standing as Radic; they both came from what was politely referred to as a ‘country retreat’, and impolitely, as a ‘backwater’. 
I hope the Haven noble-born don’t pick on Retsin, she worried for a moment.  In the week it had taken her to reach the capital city, Kaya had surprised herself slightly without how much of a liking she had developed for the noble boy that she had initially dismissed as average.  Pish, there’s nothing surprising about it, I like him and we’re friends.  She scolded herself.
“It’s so big—“ Ret had to raise his voice to be heard over the packed crowd, “—and loud!”
:That’s Haven for you.:  Kaya said distractedly as she wound her way around the edges of the blockage in the road.  It appeared that a donkey had taken exception to a carter’s mule, and both beasts had managed to hopelessly tangle up their traces in the ensuing kerfuffle.  That, added to the rest of the foot traffic, and the ever present ‘audience’ of street hawkers and plain nosey people, had combined to create something approaching like a permanent addition to the city.
:At least it’s not summer.:
“Why not?”  She could feel Retsin’s weight shift as he leaned over the pommel towards her back-turned ears.
:Because in summer, as well as being big and loud, parts of it smell like a pig fart.:  Kaya snickered as she felt both Ret and Radic— his attention momentarily dislodged from gawping shamelessly at the crowds— shake with laughter.  :Apart from the riverfront, of course,: she added in a wicked tone of voice, :that smells like a rotten pig fart!:  The splutter that came from her back could only have been produced by Retsin, and Kaya mentally patted herself on the back for distracting the boy from his unease at the large crowds around them.
Now, if only I could magic us up a way through this mess— Kaya stopped and stared around.  Her plan of sticking to the edge of the street and skirting the thin lines of space between the crowds and buildings was being flummoxed by the fact that there was no space between the crowds and the buildings.  Oh, now— this is hardly fair!
It looked like the only option was going to involve joining in the fray, which, as jam packed as the street was, meant being jostled, shoved and generally not accorded the kind of respectful distance that a Companion usually got.
Damned if I’m going to end up with small child over my hooves and someone’s half eaten lunch in my mane!  Kaya decided rebelliously.
:Bugger all this for a laugh.:  She announced abruptly.  :Hold on.:
“What?”  Retsin managed to convey his confusion at the apparent non-sequitur, and his slightly horrified amusement at Kaya’s less than divine turn of phrase, in one word.
:I said, hold on!:  The mare gave Ret a moment to grab for the pommel and get Radic to hang onto his waist before she abruptly reared up, striking the paved ground loudly with her fore hooves.
That got the attention of those near her, and the piercingly loud whinny took care of the rest.
The attentive staring effect spread out in ripples until the majority of the now huge traffic jam was paying attention.
Kaya shook herself, drew herself up to her full height, and imperiously gestured at the opening of the street out into the market square itself with a jerk of her nose.  This is actually quite fun, she decided to herself, it’s not every day I get to bully whole crowds around!  Curving her neck, she stamped one hoof for emphasis, the ringing sound echoing slightly in the relative quite that now pervaded.
“What are you doing?”  Retsin’s strained whisper made Kaya glance back at him; he was sitting bolt upright in the saddle, face pale, and he appeared to be trying to speak without moving his lips. 
“Everyone is staring!”
:Yes, they are.: Kaya agreed, stepping forwards.  The crowd ahead of her rapidly managed to rearrange themselves so that she was travelling in a small bubble of private space.  :And, more importantly, they are also getting out of our way.:
“Oh,” Retsin sounded surprised and Kaya felt him relax slightly in the saddle as she easily picked her way through the crowd and across the market square.  The street she ducked into, on the far side, was lined with exclusive looking shops that quickly gave way to houses that gradually increased in grandeur.
:This is the Royal Walk.:  Kaya said, for both Ret and Radic’s benefit.  :It’s the main road that leads up to the Palace, the richest nobles have town houses here…:  The mare twisted her ears back to Retsin, wondering if he’d pick up on her unspoken question.
“I… think one of my cousins lives around here somewhere, then,” he said slowly, “she married into the Rathbourne family—“
:General Rathbourne is on the Council.:  Kaya said helpfully.
“Oh,” Kaya thought she could pick up a hint of… something?... in Retsin’s voice, but she couldn’t decide what it was.  And it wasn’t like she could go snooping in his head; he wasn’t her Chosen—
Or even anyone’s potential Chosen!  She insisted to herself.  The thought actually made her feel quite sad, although she couldn’t articulate why.
It’s just that we’ve become friends and it’ll be sad to have to say goodbye to him.  Kaya told herself firmly.
They rode on in relative silence; the Royal Walk district being one that did not look kindly on the kind of raucous street life that existed on the other side of the Threadneedle Square market, Kaya’s hooves chiming clearly on the well maintained paving stones that made up the road.
Despite this being the most open approach to the Palace, the sudden emergence of the massive stone walls that marked the boundary between city and Palace lands, from behind the massively fancy townhouses was still something of a surprise.  Kaya felt the weight on her back tilt as both Retsin and Radic leaned back to stare up at the walls as she continued to walk up to them.
“Those,” Radic said softly, breaking his silence, “are big walls.”
:Yep.:  Kaya said irreverently, slowing her pace and heading towards the end of the street, where a large gatehouse was built into the wall, the heavy gates that it guarded pulled open.
The practical introduction to just how big the capital city of Valdemar was had unnerved Retsin slightly, but it was of a secondary concern to the other worries that were occupying his mind.  Now that they were obviously within a mark of delivering Radic to his Companion, Ret was almost scared of what would happen next.
I mean— Radic’ll go and be enrolled into the Heralds, or whatever they do, Kaya will… I don’t know, go be with the other Companions, and I— he swallowed, his mouth suddenly feeling dry, —I’ll do what?  Head back home…though how, I don’t know.  And when he got back home?  I don’t want to think about it.
That wasn’t the only thing bothering him— although it was linked to everything else— Retsin also wondered, in a slightly sick fashion, just where he was going to sleep tonight.  He got the distinct impression that Kaya was hinting that he should impose on some of his family for the night, but that still left the question of how to get home.  I have no money, no supplies and no mount.  He could hardly expect his cousin and her— much more important in-laws— to just fund him without some kind of recompense.
Recompense that father would have to pay.  An almost silent groan.  And then he’d kill me even more than he already will.
For a short time, on the road, before they came in sight of Haven, Retsin had managed to almost delude himself that Kaya would be willing to take him back to his father’s holdings, as a sort of thank you for helping.  Except that, Ret reminded himself bitterly, I’ve not really helped; she’s had to lug me around as much as she has Radic.
Not to mention… well… Kaya was a Companion, and Ret wasn’t anything approaching a Herald.  She had absolutely no obligation to assist him in any way. 
I am in so much trouble.
Kaya suddenly halted and Retsin blinked and managed to focus on the outside world.  Her slow pace as she’d approached the massive stone walls that obviously marked the beginning of the Palace lands had lulled him into an almost-trance.  They were standing a short distance form the gates and a guard— clad in a dark blue uniform, trimmed with silver— was walking towards them.
“Heyla,” the guard bobbed his head at Retsin and smiled in a friendly fashion.  “Now, is this who I think it is?”  Ret looked confused, but the question appeared to be rhetorical, so he didn’t respond.
The man stopped just to one side of them and glanced at the saddle.  “I thought it was—“ he crossed his arms and looked at Kaya, “I thought I’d better check, what with you being all grown up now.” 
Retsin held himself still and tried not to look too ignorant. 
Even though I haven’t got a clue what he’s on about!
“I thought you were only supposed to bring back one, Kay?”  The guard was laughing.  For her part, the Companion heaved her sides out in a sigh and shook her head slightly, reaching forwards to shove the guard in his chest with her nose.
:Callum thinks he’s funny.:  The slightly sarcastic tone arrived in Retsin’s head. 
“O…oh?”  For a moment, Retsin forgot that it wasn’t just Kaya, Radic and himself, until the guard cocking his head to one side caught his attention.
“Ah, sorry youngling; me and Kay—I mean, Kaya— here go a long way back, don’t we dear?”  He bowed, doing a fair imitation of the current court style, then laughed when Kaya responded by snorting and rolling her eyes.  “As you can see.”
Retsin blinked, and attempted to think of an intelligent reply.
The guard glanced up at Retsin, then patted him on the leg in a reassuring fashion before continuing.  “My brother’s a Herald,” he explained, “his Companion is Kaya’s mammy, so we’re sorta honorary family.”
:Yeah, he’s like the annoying older brother I never had.:  Kaya interjected darkly.  :And before you ask, he can’t hear me.:
“Oh, that’s… nice?”  Ret was feeling more and more awkward by the moment.
“The Heralds and Companions are all bonkers,” Callum said, grinning widely, “But I expect you’ll learn that soon enough.”
“I— I’m not, I mean… I think you want Radic… um.”  Retsin cursed the stutter that seemed to have a stranglehold on his tongue.  “Um… K-Kaya came for Radic, not me.”
“Oh, really?”  Callum stepped back and gave Kaya a measuring look.  “Well, I’ll mark you on the list, I imagine they’re waiting for you up at the Stables.”
Kaya snorted again, bobbed her head and abruptly set off through the gate at a trot, leaving Retsin and Radic to squeak and try to rebalance themselves.
:It would have to be Callum on gate-duty.: Kaya groused as she emerged from the long, dark tunnel through the wall and into something that resembled a massive parkland.  :He is such a complete pain sometimes.  I am sorry that you had to meet him in such a perverse mood, Ret.:
Retsin stared at the back of the mare’s head as she quickly took them along the winding gravel path that led up the slight hill to the sprawl of the Palace itself.  “You… you don’t need to apologise,” he said.
:When Callum’s being a stump, I do.:  She insisted.  :I’ll boot him in the Terilee next time he comes to visit.: 
Retsin found himself blushing, he wasn’t entirely sure why, but trying to control his sudden embarrassment kept him occupied for a long moment.
:Here we go.: Kaya’s announcement coincided with her hooves chiming of paving once more, and Ret looked around as she trotted across a large paved yard, towards a building that superficially resembled a stable… but at the same time was startlingly different. 
Off to the left, Ret could see a bridge that led across some water to parkland.  That must be the Companion’s Field.  He realised after a moment.
:Home sweet home.:  Kaya said, before pausing and looking around.  Somehow— and Ret didn’t know how he managed it— Retsin could feel as her attention slid from her riders and she ‘went looking’ for something else.
Several large white shapes were watching them from the nearby Field; a couple of them beginning to walk towards the bridge.  Retsin watched them from the corner of one eye in a slightly nervous fashion.
:Hah,:  Kaya’s amused snort— both mental and physical— brought Ret’s attention back to the closest example of Companion; the one he was sitting on.  :Ipka’s swinging himself into a tizzy and wants to know why I didn’t Speak him as soon as I got within range.:
Speak?  Range?  Retsin wondered briefly.
:It’s because I knew, otherwise, I’d have to put up with his prattling in my head for three solid days.:  Kaya walked towards an open-sided shed, the high roof enough to accommodate riders without them having to duck, and turned right, heading down a straw-strewn walk towards what looked like a large, boxed off area.
:You might want to get off now, Radic.:  Kaya turned her head to look backwards at them both and Retsin felt Radic mumble an agreement and slide down from the pillion of the saddle.  :Ipka’s in there.:  As the former stable hand approached her head, she helpfully indicated the loose box with her nose.
Retsin watched as Radic cautiously approached the box, until he was obviously just outside the entrance.  He froze— for a split second— then cried out something wordless, but incredibly happy and disappeared into the box with an almost leap.  The jealously returned, then, and began to chew at Ret’s insides.  I have to get off. He thought suddenly, willing one aching leg to swing over Kaya’s back, before managing a slithering dismount.
Somewhat hesitantly, he walked forwards until he could look into the loose box.  There was a Companion stallion— That must be Ipka— quite literally hanging in the middle of the box, his weight entirely supported by an elaborate looking system of pulleys and cradles.  Ipka’s attention was entirely focused on Radic, who Ret noticed was hugging his neck fiercely.  He isn’t as nice looking as Kaya… the thought wisped across Ret’s mind before he had chance to really analyse it, and he froze for a moment as Kaya stepped up next to him and glanced inside the loosebox. 
Despite her earlier comment regarding him ‘thinking too loud’ she appeared to have missed that one.
:Blergh.:  Kaya swung her head towards him and rolled her eyes, before managing to somehow pull a face.  :They’re going to be mooning at each other for candlemarks now.:
Retsin couldn’t help the shocked look he gave her.  But— but she’s a Companion—!  His internal commentary yelped.
:As soon as I get my tack off, I’m getting away from here—: Kaya continued, apparently oblivious to the effect she was having on the young noble.  :Oh, hello Dadero.:  The abrupt change of topic caused Ret to blink and look around.  Kaya was looking towards the entrance they had used; standing just inside was an imposing looking Companion and a tall, hawk-nosed woman, dressed all in white.
“Hello, I’m Saffia and this is Dadero.”  The woman placed one hand on the stallion’s snowy neck, her voice warm and smooth.  She inclined her head towards Retsin.  “I believe that you helped Kaya with Ipka’s Chosen…” there was a momentary pause, during which Saffia’s expression unfocused, “… Retsin, isn’t it?”
“Um, yes, Retsin Jihaldi, from Crescent Lake,” Ret said, staring unashamedly at the second Companion.  Although he was quite compact, there seemed to be a distinct presence that surrounded him.
:Dadero’s the Groveborn.:  Kaya’s voice was a mere whisper— which wasn’t surprising really, Ret considered.  He was feeling a bit overawed himself because, if the second Companion was the Groveborn, then that meant that the Herald standing next to him was the Monarch’s Own.
Well, this is the part where I get told ‘thanks’ and asked to leave— Retsin wasn’t entirely sure why the thought upset him as much as it did.
Saffia smiled and stepped forward to offer Retsin her hand, which he reflexively took and was rather surprised when she clasped it firmly, before letting him go.  I seem to be doing a lot of surprised…
“Well,” she gestured to him, “since I’m sure you are quite tired of the smell of horses, even if the causes aren’t horses, I’ll spirit you away and we’ll see about getting you a bath of some sort and a change of clothes, hey?”
And here comes the surprise again.  Retsin looked at the Herald uncertainly.  “I—yes, thank you… but, why?” he managed, conscious that Kaya was snickering behind him.
“Because what else would we do with you?”  You didn’t think we’d just show you out the main gate—?”
Since that was precisely what Ret had been thinking, he flushed with embarrassment, “Um,”
“Oh, Kaya— you didn’t let him think that did you?”  Saffia seemed to be amused and disbelieving at the same time.
:I didn’t know he was thinking that!:  Kaya bumped Retsin’s shoulder with her nose— he hadn’t noticed her turning around— her response directed at Dadero, rather than the Monarch’s Own.
And how did I figure that out?  Ret wondered, before Kaya shoved him again, so that he turned to look at her.  She looked… irritated?
:I didn’t know you were thinking that!:  She insisted, and Ret was reminded of her waspish temper when he’d first met her, only a week ago.  :What do you think Heralds are?:
The flush had graduated up to a blush, and it seemed to be threatening to set up permanent camp on Retsin’s face.  “Um, I don’t k-know, I guess that I um…”  He was interrupted by Saffia placing one gentle hand on his shoulder and wagging her other hand under Kaya’s nose.
“Now, don’t you go nagging the poor boy, Kaya—“ Saffia suddenly broke out into laughter and Retsin felt as if he’d inexplicably missed part of the conversation; Kaya had flattened her ears, and the Groveborn was whickering quietly.  “That is quite true, Dadero,” Saffia managed.  “Now, I truly suggest that we get poor Retsin here to somewhere where he can clean himself up and collect himself, hey?”
Retsin managed something that must’ve sounded like agreement, as Saffia placed a second hand on his other shoulder and deftly turned him and steered him around the two Companions and towards a small door.
“You get your tack off, missy,” Saffia called over her shoulder as she jiggled the latch on the door and swung it open.
As the door clanked shut behind them, and the Monarch’s Own Herald began leading him along a gravelled path, Retsin heard Kaya’s voice in his head once more.
:I’ll see you later…okay?:  For some reason he couldn’t fathom, she sounded slightly wistful.
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