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 Four
In which Retsin mopes about, Dadero drops some hints, and Kaya proves that her skills of observation aren’t next-to-none, they are none.
:Well?  I’m here.:  Kaya announced as she stepped under the trees of the Grove.  Looking around, the young Companion mare spotted the gently glowing form of the Groveborn a short distance away, and wandered over towards him.  :What did you want to speak to me about?:
Dadero lifted his head and gazed at her in a depthlessly calm sort of fashion.  Kaya had been convinced, ever since she was a young foal, that Dadero practised his ‘looks’ in a mirror somewhere.  And it’s not exactly subtle that he always ‘speaks to people’ in the Grove.  I mean… you’d have to be completely daft not to notice why he does that.  She sighed.  Which means that I’m probably in trouble.  Yay.
After a moment, he bobbed his head at her in acknowledgement.  :Good morning, Kaya.  I wished to speak with you about the boy you arrived with yesterday.:
Kaya twitched her tail and affected an ingenious expression and tone of voice.  :Radic?  He’s been Chosen by Ipka.:
:I did not mean Radic, Kaya, I was talking about Retsin.:
Oh, yeah.  I’m in trouble.  Kaya groaned internally.
:What about Retsin?:  She asked guardedly.
Dadero gave her an appraising look.  :I understand, from Saffia’s conversation with him yesterday afternoon, that it was necessary for him to accompany you to the first Waystation, in order to help Radic.:  The stallion shifted his weight slightly and glanced off under the trees for a moment, before returning his attention to Kaya.  :What I am not entirely clear on is why you did not return him to his home the following day, when it was apparent that Ipka’s Chosen was fit to ride.:
:I—: Kaya blinked.  Dadero’s tone wasn’t accusative in any fashion, but she still felt almost instinctually defensive.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t find anything really to argue with.  Dadero was right; she should have taken Retsin back to his home, rather than dragging him to Haven.
:I honestly didn’t think of it.:  She admitted finally.
:I see.:  The Groveborn’s tone of Mindvoice was still completely neutral.
Really, really big trouble… Kaya risked a sideways glance at Dadero.  His expression was quiet and unreadable.
:I guess I sort of kidnapped him by accident.:  Kaya tried.
Dadero didn’t seemed hear her.  :I also believe that you broke the Silence to speak to him?:
Big cart full of trouble—  Kaya flattened her ears and lowered her head, tail stilled from it’s occasional flicking.  :Um, yes… Yes I did.:
Dadero simply looked at her, and Kaya decided that chatter was slightly less worse than the uncomfortable silence, so she continued.  :Well, see, first of all I had to speak to them to make sure that I got Radic away from those bullies okay, and then I sort of needed to know what Ipka’s Chosen was actually called and to check that he wasn’t going to have his head drop off or anything.  Then… well… Ret— I mean, um, both of them are just really nice to talk to and anyway Rets— um— they were just thinking so loudly at me that I figured that I may as well talk with them and…: the mare finally began to slow down, :…and, well… Retsin’s my friend and… um…:
If Companions could blush, Kaya was convinced that she would have been a brilliant and unflattering shade of red.  Dadero hadn’t tried to interrupt her confused— and confusing— explanation, but if she were honest, then Kaya admitted that he could well have tried and she’d simply run over him with her babble.
:Um…:  She lapsed into embarrassed silence and twitched one ear towards the Groveborn.  He seemed to be thinking rather carefully about something.
:Kaya,: Dadero eventually said, :I would like you to do something for me.:
Well, Kaya sighed, here it comes… a month pulling carts, or whatever it is they make you do for kicking whacking great big holes in tradition.  Dragging herself away from her internal monologue, she twitched her other ear towards Dadero and gave him about a pitiable look as she could muster, her forelock flopping into her eyes.  :Yes, Groveborn?:
:Look inside yourself for a moment and tell me what you see.:
Kaya blinked, completely floored for a moment.  :Do what—: she began to ask.
:Just— look inside yourself, and tell me what you see.:
Shooting another puzzled look at the Groveborn stallion, Kaya complied, her expression going vague as she turned her focus inwards.  Oh look, it’s me.  Hello me.  Kaya decided not to mention her irreverent internal monologue to Dadero.
:Well, there’s me in here.:  She said finally.
:Is there anything different about you?:  Dadero prompted.
:Erm… apart from feeling a bit off balance because you haven’t started shouting at me for breaking Tradition, not really… no.:  Kaya blinked and looked at Dadero.  :Why?:
The stallion sighed.  :Please try again— look right down to your core this time.:
:O-kay…:  Kaya complied.  :What… am I… supposed to be… seeing?:  Her Mindvoice went slightly unfocused as she concentrated on the inside of her mind, right down to her soul.
:Kaya…:  Dadero sounded slightly uncertain.  :I must admit this was only a hunch that I had, which looks to be unfounded.  However; please think of the young man you brought back to Haven, Retsin.:
Think of Ret?  It seemed like such a non sequitur, that Kaya automatically complied, drawing an image-impression-feeling of the young noble into the front of her mind far quicker than she expected.  And, as soon as she did think clearly about Retsin— completely alone inside her mind, Kaya made a starling discovery.
Oh— Oh my—
Abruptly, she plopped out of her mind, like a frog abandoning a pond, and stared a Dadero with utter shock.  For his part, the Groveborn seemed to be looking suspiciously smug and vilified.
:He— part of— in my head!:  Kaya finally burst out with.
:As I suspected.:  Dadero nodded his head once, soundly pleased.
:What was as you expected?  Why have I got him in my head like that?!  Please explain—:
:Calm down, Companion Kaya.:  Dadero stepped forwards and touched his nose to Kaya’s neck briefly.  :If you think, it will become clear.  What are the most important things needed to cement the bond of a new Choosing?:
The rote lesson, shook Kaya from her paralysed shock and she answered without thinking.  :Physical and mental contact.  But I don’t see what—:
:Exactly.:  Dadero sounded pleased.  :I imagine that you are something of a unique case; in that you’ve managed over a solid week of the contact required, but bypassed the actual event itself.:
:What—?:  Kaya squeaked.
:I think what must have happened is that your Call itself manifested shortly before or after you met Ipka’s Chosen and Retsin, but it was practically imperceptible because you were already in extremely close proximity to the object of your Call, as well as active Mindtouch.:
:Object— of my—:  Kaya managed weakly.
:Yes, Kaya.:  Dadero stopped and eyed the young mare up and down.  Kaya blinked rapidly, trying to wrap her mind around a concept that seemed entirely outlandish to her.
:Oh— my—:  Kaya finally settled for, lifting her gaze to meet Dadero’s deep blue eyes.  :What do I… well, I mean…:  She trailed off.
Her mind slowed down from the frantic little circles it had been running in, mental arms wildly flailing at the metaphorical air.  Retsin.  The thought came slowly.  My Call.  The breeze drifted under the branches of the Grove trees, whispering through the leaves.  My… Chosen…
Her head jerked up, and Kaya gave Dadero a bright look.  :I have to go!:  She yelped excitedly.  :Thank you!:  Rearing and turning neatly on her heels, Kaya launched herself straight into a canter, heading for the distant grey smudge of the Palace-Collegia complex.
The whole day so far had been strange— even stranger, somehow, than waking up in a Waystation and spending the day talking to a Companion; activities that had become a routine over the past week— and Retsin was feeling distinctly off-balance.
Yesterday, somehow, whilst he had been making use of the bathhouse attached onto the Herald’s Wing of the Palace (and that had been unnerving enough) Saffia had managed to organise him a change of clothes, a room for the night and a place for dinner with the Court that evening.
After spending sixteen years on his father’s holding near Crescent Lake, where the largest gathering was for the Sovvan-night celebrations, experiencing the great and intricate showiness of a Court dinner was more than slightly overwhelming.  Retsin had been seated about as far from the Royal table as possible, and still be in the hall— which was actually quite a relief, if he was perfectly honest.
The dinner, and the gathering in the main Hall afterwards had passed in something of a whirl, but Retsin had been helped by the fact that his dinner partner happened to be very level headed and friendly.  She had introduced herself as Evielyn, “although everyone except my Mother calls me Evie,” and had managed to steer him over to her group of friends in the main Hall.
From Evie and her friends, Retsin had learnt what a ‘Blue’ was, and that Evie and three of her friends were Blues— two of those friends being common-born, rather than nobles.
When Retsin had expressed tactful surprise at them being present at a Court gathering, Evie had laughed, then pulled a wry face.  “They came to keep me company; this is my monthly Obligatory Court Appearance to keep Mother from having a kitten at me.  Usually, we’d be in the Compass Rose.”
One of the common born Blues, a boy named Garth, had ducked his tousled head and snickered at that.  “An’ Evie’d be on her third sausage roll—“ he’d said, earning an indignant swat from the subject of his teasing.
Although he’d initially been… well… Admit it Ret, you were damn-near petrified of going to a Court dinner.  Evielyn and her friends had put him at ease, and he’d stayed much later than he originally intended, finding himself more at ease with this new group of friends than he ever had with his peers at Crescent Lake.
Listening to their chatter about Haven, and life in it, Retsin found himself suddenly wishing that he lived here, instead of out in the country.  He’d even managed to avoid being a major subject of conversation and concentrate on listening and absorbing all this new information— up until a shift in the social ‘dance’ of the evening Court had brought him face to face with the Monarch’s Own Herald.
Saffia had inclined her head in greeting to him, and smiled clearly as she greeted him.  “Good evening, Retsin,” and then slipped away, her attention caught by the hails of another Herald— one of the few present at the gathering.
That had, of course, brought a slew of questions from Evie and her friends, and Retsin had found himself hesitantly relating the tale of how precisely he came to be in the capital city.  A very large part of him had thoroughly expected to be disbelieved and probably made fun of (which is certainly what would have happened back home).  He was entirely surprised, therefore, when not only was he not ridiculed, but that Evie and the others actually thought that it was exciting.
Of course, Ret shook his head, withdrawing from his memories of last night, they do live in close proximity to the Heralds and Companions and see them every day— and it’s not hard to see what they are like if you’re around them for any length of time.
The young noble sighed and quietly opened the door of the room he had spent the night in— a plain, but private and well-furnished room that was apparently part of the ‘overspill housing’ for the Heraldic Collegium.  Apart from one other room at the far end of the corridor, there were no other occupants, which Retsin had found slightly comforting.
Once in the corridor itself, Ret made his way to the exterior door at the far end, passing the other occupied room (he could hear faint snoring), and slipped out into the cool morning air.  He found himself standing in a semi-formal looking garden and paused for a moment, trying to orientate himself.  Some hope of that— a sigh, and the young noble decided to pick a direction at random and begin walking.
Thinking about last night had somehow brought Retsin’s thoughts around to Kaya— which made him inexplicably happy— and then, inevitably, around to the fact that he really needed to sort out how he was going to get home— which made him feel anything but happy.  In fact; it made the cold lump make an unwelcome return to his stomach.
Feet crunching on the raked gravel of the path he was following as it wound through the gardens, Retsin hunched his shoulders and resisted the urge to wrap his arms around himself.
For the briefest of moments, Retsin allowed himself to entertain the thought that his parents might consent to let him stay in Haven— with distant relatives, and me not even Firstborn or the slightest bit important?  Father would never allow it.
“Heyla, Retsin!”  The cheerful hail made Ret jerk his head up and blink, coming out of his maudlin reverie.  Just down the path from him, leaning out from under a vine covered arch of trellis against a stone wall, was Evielyn.  When she saw him looking, she waved madly with one arm, almost losing her balance.
Ret couldn’t help the smile that darted across his face at her antics, and walked down the path until he was standing just opposite the covered bench she was sitting on.
The red-headed girl grinned up at him and waved an arm at the carved stone bench.  “Have a seat— I just escaped from an advanced mathematics class,” she indicated her blue tunic and trousers with a shrug, “and I’m letting my brain cool down.  Up to anything interesting?”
Retsin shrugged.  “Just wandering around and getting lost.”  He admitted.  “I did think of going to see Kaya, but realised that I haven’t got a clue where the Companion’s Field is and… she’s probably busy, at any rate.”  Ret wondered if those last words sounded as bitter to Evie’s ears as they did to his.
“Well,” Evie tilted her head to one side and looked up at Retsin, “I’m done for the day now, I could take you to the Field, if you want, maybe show you around the grounds a bit?”
“Yes… I’d like that.”  Retsin gave Evie a faintly surprised look, which she met with a grin as she bounced to her feet.
“So, how long are you staying?”  She asked as she began walking along the path in the direction that Ret had originally been heading.
The young noble couldn’t stifle the bitter sigh that escaped his lips.  “I don’t know,” Ret admitted.  “I guess I should find out how to get into contact with my cousin and… I don’t know… she if she’ll funding me enough to get home to face the music from Father, I guess.”
Evie gave him a sideways look.  “You don’t sound like you want to go back home.”
Ret laughed, although not with any real humour.  “I didn’t realise how stifling it was until I… escaped, I guess that’s what it feels like, and came here.”
“Well, would your father consent for you to be fostered out to Haven?”  Evie asked as she led them across a junction of paths and around a small stone summer house.
Retsin shook his head.  “Not a chance.”  He said glumly.  “He’d maybe consider it for Jaspar— he’s my older brother, the heir— but never for me.  Especially not after my ‘running away’ like this, even if it wasn’t planned.”
Evielyn sighed and patted him on the shoulder in a sympathetic fashion.  “That’s really awful.”  She said slowly, then trailed off into awkward silence.  A few songbirds called around them as the path led them through a carefully planted copse of beech and birch trees, before emerging on the lazily meandering banks of the river Terilee.
“There, that’s the Companion’s Field,” Evie pointed to the immense green space stretching away from the far bank of the quietly flowing river.  The path they were walking down curved around until it met the gracefully curved wooden bridge that spanned the river and connected the gardens to the Field.
Retsin stopped and looked uncertainly at the bridge for a moment.  Evie seemed to divine the reason for his unease, and turned to smile at him.  “I’ll come with you, if you want— the Companions don’t mind people using the Field for walking.”
Ret nodded his head, and the pair of them made their way to the bridge, crossing it quickly.  Glancing down at the slatted planks, Retsin couldn’t help but notice hoof prints, and, certainly, the bridge was wide enough for a Companion to stand cross-ways comfortably, if they so desired.
Once they had walked a short distance away from the shelter of the trees that dotted the stretch of riverbank where the bridge was, Ret felt the wind beginning to tug at his hair and clothes, carrying with it the rich scent of grass and pleasantly sharp air.  “You’d hardly know there was a city out there.”  He waved his arm in a vague semi-circle in accompaniment to the last word.
Evie laughed.  “That is true.”  She agreed.  “Do you just want to wander, or do you want to head towards the Stables?”
“Uh, the Stables, I guess.”
“Okay, we need to go this way then—“ Evie turned and began following the line of the river, the gentle mounding and swelling of the ground under their feet almost resembling the ripples on the water.
The Field was a lot bigger than Retsin had initially thought, and he was beginning to get out of breath when he finally spied the wood-and-stone outline of the Companion Stables, and the nearby bulk of the wooden salle.  Evie led him unerring towards a flat bridge which crossed the river and into the yard in front of the Stables, smiling slightly as she did. 
“I’ve lived in Haven all my life, and here on the Palace grounds since I was four, I know almost every nook and cranny there is to get into.”  She said.  “Well, we’re here, do you know where this Kaya of yours will be?”
Retsin froze momentarily at Evielyn’s turn of phrase, but managed to shake himself back to sense without her noticing anything odd.  “Um, no I don’t, actually.”  He said, feeling rather more than a little sheepish.
Honestly, Ret, Kaya’s probably off doing… Companion things… and the last she wants is you to come moping around at her!  Retsin scolded himself.
“Well, we could always ask someone.”  Evie said practically.  “Let’s see if there’s anyone inside.”  She walked over to the Stables and ducked into the comparatively dark interior.  After a moment, Retsin followed her, breathing deeply as the scents of hay and ‘horse’ surrounded him.
They appeared to be out of luck, however, as the large open ‘room’ they were in was deserted, and the whole place held an air of silence about itself.
Evie frowned.  “They must all be out in the Field,” she said.  “I wonder if any of the grooms are around…?”
“Wait,” Ret waved one hand at her.  “I can hear someone talking—“  After a moment, the young noble figured out who the voice must belong to.  “It’s Radic, this way.”
Evie followed after Retsin, expression tinged with curiosity.  “Radic, isn’t that who you came in with, you were saying last night?”
“Yes, his Companion is injured so—“ Retsin broke off as they rounded a wall and he found himself looking at Ipka— who still managed to looking almost entirely noble and breathtaking, despite the obvious parallels to a string-puppet.  Radic looked up from where he was seated, in between Ipka’s front hooves and blinked in surprise.
“Hello Retsin.”
“Hi, Radic…um… this is Evie,” Ret gestured to the girl standing next to him and she bobbed her head and voiced her own greetings.
Radic paused for a moment, his expression going slightly vacant, and Ipka dipped his head to touch his Chosen’s shoulder with a gentle nudge.  “Ipka says that Kaya’s looking for you,” Radic gave Retsin a curious look.  “He says that she’s had a surprise this morning and she wants to share it with you; thinks that you’ll like it.”
“Oh... alright.”  Retsin looked at Radic, then at Ipka.  Radic just half shrugged, his face as confused as Ret was sure his own face.  Ipka, however looked— from Retsin’s limited experience at reading Companion facial expressions— distinctly amused about something.  “I’ll go find her then…”
Ipka voiced something that sounded far too like a chuckle for Retsin’s liking, and bobbed his head vigorously.
“Ipka says to just go back out to the yard, Kaya’s heading back this way.”  Radic shrugged again.  “He won’t tell me anything more than that.”
Retsin sighed and trailed out to the yard, Evie following him and stopped to look around, his arms wrapped around himself.
“I wonder what the surprise is?”  Evie mused.
Retsin thought about Kaya.  “Knowing Kaya, she probably wants to toss me in the river or something… she was always threatening to do that to people that displeased her.”
“Yes, but what have you done to displease her?”  Evie asked logically.
“I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ll find out.”  Retsin couldn’t hide the dark mood that was descending on him— mainly caused by the nagging little voice in the back of his mind.
Or… maybe she finally got her own Call— the thought made Ret feel miserable— and she wants to show off how she looks now that she’s actually going to find her own Chosen— Stop that!  Retsin bit his lip and shouted at himself.  So what if she has— if she is?  It’s none of your business, except what she wants to tell you as a friend…
… except that… how can we be friends once I’ve gone back home and she’s got a Herald?
The sound of chiming hoof beats, first on wood, then on stone, made Retsin blink and raise his head from the slumped position he didn’t even realise that he had adopted.  Kaya was walking straight towards him, ears pricked, tail flagged.  She wasn’t wearing the formal tack that Ret had been expecting to see, though.  That doesn’t mean anything.  He insisted fiercely.
:Hey Retsin!:  Kaya sounded ridiculously chirpy and Retsin managed to dredge up a smile for her.  :You’re never going to guess what, I got my Call!:
Retsin could feel the smile freeze on his lips, and begin to crack.  I knew it—
Kaya continued to walk towards him, head tilted to one side, before she stopped dead in front of him.  :So…: she suddenly sounded nervous for some reason.  :Did you have anything planned?:
Retsin shrugged in a hopeless fashion.  “Figure out how to get home, I guess.” He said in a dull tone, concentrating on keeping the unexplained despair he was feeling locked firmly inside.
:Oh.:  Kaya stared at him blankly for a moment.  :Well… you didn’t really want to go back, did you?:
Retsin looked at her blankly.
:Because, I was thinking, you see, that you’d like it better here in Haven and I’d rather like you to stay, actually.:
Ret continued to stare, not at all sure where this, rather one-sided, conversation was going.  His mind— as well as his voice— seemed to be completely paralysed.
:Ret?:  Kaya looked at him uncertainly with one dark blue eye, and Retsin blinked.  He couldn’t remember hearing her use the familiar form of him name before.
“I— yes?”  Ret managed to strangle the words out of his frozen vocal chords.
:Would you like to stay here, in Haven… with me?:
Retsin swallowed, hard.  “Y-yes…” he said softly.
:Oh—:  Retsin became fixated by Kaya’s blue eyes as she stared intently at him.  :Oh good.:  Her voice sounded like it was coming from a great distance away.  :Because, well, you see—:
Kaya stepped forwards then, head lowering, and Retsin trembled slightly as he felt her breath on his face.  :I really would like you to stay, Retsin.:
She filled his vision, his world and… Ret could feel her, feel Kaya, beginning to slip inside his head, wrapping him up in the warmest, most comforting embrace that he had ever felt.
:Yes.:  She said slowly, touching his cheek with her nose.  :Chosen.:
The End.
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