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Old 06-07-2016, 01:07 AM   #1
Armphid
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The Life of a Herald (closed for Hookerboots)

The world of Velgarth was a land of wonder, terror, mystery, and magic. The land, water, and wind all still bore the marks and legacy of the ancient Mage Wars that were no longer even a legend among most of the sentient beings that lived on the planet. Each land had its' own monsters, its' own horrors and marvels, and its own magic. Each nation within those lands had its' myths and tales, gods, traditions and cultures; some more than others.

Remarkable among them all was a large nation in the northwest formed over a thousand years ago by a displaced nobleman and his people, fleeing war and wicked politics. Valdemar was a nation founded by refugees and it had taken in thousands more in the centuries since the Founding, making it a patchwork of religions, cultures, and beliefs, all within the borders of one land. Joined by the uniting belief that "there is no true, one way" the many peoples had become one. This surely would have led to its destruction, either by outside parties such as the hateful Sun Priests of Karse who despised the open minded society, or from pressures of the different cultures within, yet it endured.

In so small part, this was due to one of the few universal forces in that unusual nation. The Heralds of Valdemar in their white uniforms were known through the country and beyond it as powerful, extremely well trained, fair, and were the utterly loyal and duty bound force that created unity and held the nation together. Chosen by the mysterious equine-like Companions, the Heralds possessed magic of their own; potent Gifts of the mind that allowed them to see great distances, read minds, and more. The Heralds were incorruptible and devoted to duty more than anything else in their lives...which tended to be short. As such, Heralds had a reputation as hedonists and rakes, tending to take joy in their lives where they could find it as the Crown could send them to their deaths any day. The order might be given with a heavy heart but it would be given if needed, and they would obey. They served as circuit judges, marshals, arbiters of disputes, messengers, advisors, assassins, spies, diplomats, and more. When the ruler gave orders, they flew like arrows. Without the Heralds and the Companions, Valdemar would have fallen centuries ago. Even with them, it was sometimes close.

As it was now. This last year, the Tedrel War had been fought on the southern border. Nationless mercenary nomads, the Tedrels had been given safe have, arms, and a promise by the Sun Priests of Karse. They could have all of Valdemar for their new home if they could bring the nation to its knees. So last winter, the Tedrels fortified in the demilitarized zone between the two nations and then in the spring, ravaged into Valdemar. They killed indiscriminately, stole what their forces could carry and burned or spoiled what was left. They obeyed no rules of war, gave no quarter, raped and ruined all those they did not outright kill. The lands they left behind were barren, worn, and practically depopulated; straining the resources of the kingdom. As autumn turned cold, they fled back to safety in Karse and knew that Valdemar's mighty Guard could not follow without outright war erupting. King Sendar knew this and knew the Karsites and Tedrels did as well. He knew also they would come again and winter was already waning.

The mood in the capital of Haven was one of desperate cheer slathered over grim fear. Many were trying to convince themselves the Tedrels had fled for good, that their defeat at the last few battles had demoralized them too much to continue, that the Karsites surely wouldn't spend the money to hire an entire half nation of killers again. But almost as many knew better. They saw the preparations the Guard was making and heard that every Herald not on circuit or required elsewhere was in the south. They knew another war was coming.

Owyn Lavellan heard plenty of both kinds of talk. The oldest son of a master woodworker, his father discussed it with visiting customers and fellow tradesmen alike, particularly since his mother was a sergeant in the Guard infantry and had left home a week ago with her unit. Duty to the south was all they knew but that was enough. His twin younger siblings were brave and grief stricken by her departure at turns. He had a hard enough time dealing with it but he was kept busier.

Being fourteen, he was now an active part of his father's trade and business. With his mother gone, it was Owyn who kept the books and made the notes of accounts, the youth having a talent for scholarly work that both pleased and distressed his father. His parents had educated the boy as they could best afford to but both had also expected him to be more interested in woodworking; as eldest he was intended to take over the business, after all. But he had little passion for it. He did have skill and a good deal of knowledge of it, having grown up with it, but it did not move or speak to him. His work was solid but lacked heart. He had always been bookish and read voraciously all his life, always studying about the rest of Valdemar, stories and history, always looking away over the horizon or into the past. His present and future paled in comparison.

He had not grown as tall or as broad as his parents had hoped, though he still had plenty of growing yet to do. Owyn had a slender and agile build that made him almost look frail at times. His features were clean and shapely; a bit to the pretty side of handsome, with deep set, thoughtful brown eyes and full lips. His hair was a pale platinum blond and hadn't been cut in the winter to give a little extra warmth; a clean but otherwise unschooled mess of wild locks.

Today his eyes were brighter even than normal and he was keenly interested in the day's labor. They were delivering a load of chairs that had been months in crafting and finishing but not for one of Haven's nobles or the new money merchant families; these were going to the Collegium. Where the Heralds were trained...and Bards and Healers too, but it was the Heralds who caught his imagination. Well, them and the Companions. Would he get to see any of them up close? He'd seen a few at a distance several times, you just did growing up in the capital, but to see one close would be...incredible.

He and his father had loaded up the cart and got their old mule underway in the light just after dawn. The sun had risen brightly on a chill winter day and their breath steamed in the cold air. They were bundled up in quality thick coats and clothes, a bit worn, but of good make in somewhat faded brown and grey. These were work clothes, after all, and even going to the Collegium which abutted the Palace, there was no sense in wearing nice work clothes.

The boy's wide, dark eyes moved eagerly as they approached the walls of the joined Palace/Collegium complex. They were waved through the gates and directed by an older woman in the midnight blue of the Guard to where the furniture was to be unloaded. She made Owyn feel a slight pang of worry for his mother, so far away. He was aware of his father and the Guard speaking as he swung down from the cart. Owyn paused to sweep his curious gaze over the yard they'd been let out into. That was Bardic there, with the red shutters and the students in rust colored uniforms. Healers there; the largest, which made that...that was for the Heralds. He could see students in grey uniforms quickly leaving the morning meal and heading to class. But not a Herald was to be seen. His gaze swept out over the ground as well, noting the Salle and other outbuildings and then resting on the huge stable that adjoined the Companion's Field and the Grove. None of them seemed to be about either. It was cold, but...surely one could just stick a head out one of the windows or something.

He sighed and turned to start working on the ties to the tarp that covered the chairs for delivery. "Owyn." The youth looked up at his name but didn't speak. His father gave him a patient smile, knowing he had his son's attention even if he didn't respond. "I've been asked to take a look at something inside to see if I can build one like it. Get started out here while I'm gone."

He nodded, "All right." His voice was soft and cool, a light tenor.

The guard pointed at an entrance to an outer chamber, "That store room there, lad. It's open. I'll have your father back quick enough, and maybe see if any of the trainees are free to lend a hand."

Owyn pursed his lips and shook his head, "They have bigger things to do than move chairs. I'll be fine." After a few beats that quiet voice spoke again, as if realizing he'd forgotten something. "Thank you."

She raised an eyebrow. His father nodded, "Big things are made of little things, son, remember that. If someone comes by to help, you let them now, understand?"

Owyn's eyes were rebellious but he inclined his head in acceptance. The two adults turned and walked away. The woodworker's son looked back at the cart. No matter what the guard and his father said, anyone here had more important and better things to do than help him move wood. They were learning amazing things. Preparing to help the kingdom and the people in so many ways. That was a better use for their, for anyone's time.

He got to work unloading and carrying the cargo into the storeroom. One at a time, it was slow going, but he didn't mind. The more time he was here, the more time he might get to see a Companion or a real Herald.

There was a faint bell-like chime as the thought crossed his mind and he felt a sudden presence watching him. The bells...Companions' harnesses had bells for formal occasions...could it really be one?

Owyn glanced back and felt his chest tighten and the air in this lungs catch. Perhaps twenty feet away stood the most beautiful creature he'd ever beheld. The Companion stallion was big, even for his kind, and had a brawny and solid build that was different from other Companions who often looked almost delicate. He was as big as some of the huge plowhorses he'd read about or the warhorses of the heavy cavalry in height and nearly so in bulk, but enough less so that he kept a certain nimbleness. His coat was gleaming white, as were his long, flicking tail and his proud mane. He was tacked out fully; saddle and stirrups, the bitless bridle the Companions wore, and the formal bell straps. He wore no saddlebags. The horse like creature tilted his head as he looked at the boy.

Owyn felt his breath return and he quickly turned back. "I...I'm sorry if my work bothered you." It felt almost indecent for him to look at so splendid a creature while doing so mundane a task. "But...thank you. I'd so hoped to see a Companion, and..you're amazing. Just as wonderful as I...I'd imagined."

The Companion let out a pleased snort and he heard the bells chiming and soft footfalls as it drew closer. The bells...wait! Owyn glanced back at the Companion, which was indeed walking towards him. He was fit to go out and find his Chosen! And no saddlebags, it meant he must be looking for someone in Haven. Owyn kept his eyes on the Companion's tack and then smiled, turning back to his work. "Thank you for the closer look. I'm sorry I don't have anything to give you in return. But you should go. You're looking for someone and both of your time would be better spent than giving me a look at you."

He picked up another chair with a grunt and carried it towards the storeroom, noting the white shape of the Companion in his peripheral vision. He heard the stallion give a whicker that sounded like a laugh and a sigh together and then the bells again. Following him?

Owyn shook his head. "Go on already. You have somewhere important to be." And he didn't. He'd never be in an important place. "Go find whoever you're supposed to." He marched into the storeroom and set the latest chair down.

Turning, he all but ran into the Companion. He was standing just in the doorway with his head lowered and stuck into the room. Owyn sputtered and stumbled back, arms flailing. "Gah!" He felt a flash of embarrassment and irritation; enough to dare to raise his eyes to meet those of the stallion, "Why don't you go get who you're looking f-"

His brown eyes went wide and open; ultimately vulnerable and true as they met the brilliant summer sky blue of the Companion's eyes. He felt...everything; a whirl of sensation, of emotion, more complex and deeper than anything he could ever know again. There was a kind of click inside him; mind and soul, as if something that had been a missing part of him had just been set into place. His world seemed to fall away and expand endlessly outward all at once and the whirl of complexity gave way to love, love and acceptance so deep and so pure it made his heart ache and his eyes stung with unshed tears.

"I have," came a voice that was somehow inside his head. It was masculine and eager, energetic, and both pleased with itself and amused with him. "I am Fahn and I Choose you, soul brother."

His jaw worked. Owyn was not a boy who spoke a great deal but...but he had to say something to this. But what could you say? "...okay."
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Old 06-08-2016, 12:51 AM   #2
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Alaine, daughter of Lord Ameridan, sat reading a book in the garden. The young woman was just fifteen, and had already begun preparations for her debut in court, so the chance to sit and read was a bit of a luxury. Not that she wanted to debut, really, or be one of those useless, lovely hothouse orchids that tended to decorate the court. She'd rather be useful, helping the kingdom in some way.

She sighed and looked up. Her mother was home, which was excellent. Herald Telana was a vibrant light around the manor when she was there, filling the old house with laughter and joy. At least, that's what she told them when they groaned at her jokes. Telana was well known among the Heralds for both her generous nature and her fondness for jokes and laughter.

That was the source - perhaps catalyst - of her desires not to become a frippery. Her mother was a Herald, and there was an unspoken expectation that she would be Chosen as well. She had been allowed to ride her mother's Companion from the time she was little, and brought up to be everything a future Herald should be - kind, compassionate, loyal, dutiful, and selfless. But no matter what, she hadn't been Chosen. Not two years ago, not last year, and not this year.

A slight breeze brought the sweet scent of lilac and gardenia to her, and she sighed again. The air ruffled her straight, pitch black hair. Alaine knew that she probably painted a pretty picture here, dark hair and violet eyes, pale skin, and a fashionable gown of light green silk. But the whole thing was just . . . dull. She could almost feel her heart, her soul, hungering for something more.

What if that was all her life was fated to be, though? Always to feel like she could have been more, and then never to actually be more? To always feel like something amazing might be waiting around the next corner, and never be able to turn it?

Another sigh, and she stood up, carefully marking her place in the book. "Enough of this. I shouldn't still be out here anyway." As she made her way through the paths of the gardens, she caught a familiar sound, the tinkling of bells.

They were a ways outside of Haven, but they still got a fair number of Companions and Heralds stopping overnight and passing through, so the sound wasn't startling or out of place. And Telana had taken to keeping the bells on Celandyne when they were at the manor - the horse didn't have quite the same sense of humor her bond-mate did, but had a tendency to sneak up on unsuspecting servants and startle them.

Alaine turned to face the chimes coming towards her, her welcoming smile fading a bit as she saw the two white equines heading toward her, both of them riderless. "Oh, no," she said, her eyes searching a bit. "Did something happen?"

The two pulled up in front of her, and Celandyne shook her head. Alaine sighed a bit. "But it's got to be urgent, or you wouldn't be alone." She smiled at them. "All right, come along and we'll get mother."

She started towards the manor again, purpose in her stride now as she lifted the hem of her dress up to keep from dragging it in the grass. When she was about 50 feet from the house, she paused, and yelled, "Mother!"

A shape clad in white poked its head out of a second floor window. "Alaine, what is it? You know you shouldn't bellow like that, it makes your father's ear twitch."

The dark-haired girl gestured at the Companions, who had been frisking about around her like giant puppies. "You've got a visitor."

"Oh!" A grin split the older woman's face. "Right, I'll be right down." Instead of shutting the window and coming down the stairs, Telana reached out and around, hooking one hand around a rainpipe. She pulled herself out the window, and as Alaine covered her eyes and the Companions stared, slid down it. She landed with a thud and headed over to the trio waiting for her.

"This Companion has come from Haven to get you, you should get your things and get your tack ready." Alaine was not quite agitated, but close to it.

"Celandyne, why didn't you tell me?" The auburn-haired woman looked at the horse with a quizzical expression. "If they needed me, and they sent . . . oh." She stopped, then grinned madly. "OH! So . . . you mean . . . ?" Both Companions nodded. "Alaine, dearling, she isn't here for me."

Her daughter gave her a blank look. "If she isn't for you, then who else could she possibly be here for?" Silence greeted her, and realization slowly dawned on her face, eyes going wide. "Me?" She looked at the newcomer, a mare just old enough to Choose, snow white all over, with the delicate features common to all Companions, a high arched neck and a forelock that seemed perpetually doomed to drape down in a curl. "You're here for . . . me?"

"Yes, soul-sister," the voice in her head was soft and feminine and full of laughter. "I am Rhonwen, and I Choose you!"

As she lost herself in the deep, clear blue of Rhonwen's eyes, Alaine could hear her mother saying, "Well, it's about time!"

Last edited by HookerBoots : 07-02-2016 at 01:11 AM.
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Old 06-12-2016, 11:48 PM   #3
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The room he shared with his brother was warm and well provided; always a place where he'd felt welcome and secure. He'd spent many hours, days of time if looking at the raw numbers, here reading books or studying maps. Owyn lay on his bed and stared up at the ceiling in the dark of the Midwinter night. It was hard to fall asleep now. It was like...it didn't fit him anymore, like most of his old clothes.

True they didn't fit anymore because he'd grown like a weed this last year at the Collegium...but perhaps the same could be said of this room. Perhaps he had outgrown it too. And his family? It was a troubling thought..but one that may be true.

He knew from his time overhearing Heralds at the Collegium that while many kept in touch with their kin, it was usually distant. Duty always came first, even above blood, and in many families that reality was hard to adjust to. It was easier to stay apart and slowly drift further over the years. Owyn turned his head to look over at his brother Orin as he slept. Would it come to pass that in a few years he would look and not see his younger brother but a stranger?

"Stop that. You're keeping ME awake with all this topsy turvy thinking." Fahn's mental 'voice' was annoyed but there was a note of compassion in it. "It won't get that far, believe me. You don't have some of the underlying crap that makes other Heralds distance themselves from their kin. Besides, your Mom won't allow it." There was a mental laugh, "She'll be having you hauled back here every chance she gets, whether you're in whites or not."

The teenager smiled at that but the expression was short lived. "She may not be able to make that choice." She was back from the wars, though they'd continue in the spring, most likely. But without her. Kynereth Lavellan's right leg now ended two inches below the knee; no more marching for her. She was still in the Guard but now served with the quartermasters as part of the vast logistical machine that supported Valdermar's armed forces. The healers had saved her life and the rest of the leg. It was healthy and there was no trace of infection. But...

"Nothing is more terrifying to a child that realizing that your parents are mortal," he whispered to the darkness of his room. One knew, of course, but to have the full truth of it brought home was sobering. Much of the news from the wars was sobering. Much of his training was as well.

"She will," Fahn intruded on his thoughts again, "And if she doesn't, I will. Gods know you need more anchors to life, soul brother. There's more than study and training." There was a familiarly exasperated tone to his Companion's thoughts now. "Heralds are devoted to duty about all else, yes, but they're also supposed to live life as much as they can in-between. That goes even more for Herald trainees!"

Owyn sighed and closed his eyes. They'd had this argument all year. And probably would for years to come. Fahn wanted him to socialize more. To mingle with the other trainees and the Heralds who were at the Collegium, either permanently or just briefly before one assignment or another. Owyn had quietly but firmly avoided it. He wasn't rude or unfriendly to them, and he was in classes and did chores with the other trainees all day, but it ended there. He retreated with his texts and the books he had taken out of the library, not that he was supposed to do that, and studied more. Or he went out to the training field and worked more on his fighting and his physical conditioning, or rode the training courses with Fahn. His free time was spent continuing his education.

He thought again of his mother's injury. Lucky, she said. It meant she'd be home and get to see her children grow up. He didn't disagree. She was quite right. If her bones and splintered just a bit differently, she'd have bled out before any healer could have saved her. Death had been just a hair's breadth away. And so it was with anyone alive. "There are better uses for my time, as I may not have much left," he spoke the words softly aloud and MindSpoke them to Fahn as well.

"Lady's heavenly tits." He could mentally feel the stallion shaking his head. "Teenagers. Go to sleep."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Why did I have to get Chosen when I did? There's no justice!" Tedric sighed, the broad bodied youth flopping dramatically into the large central pool of the boys' bathroom.

Owyn merely raised an eyebrow at his yearmate's proclamation. He and a few others were all taking a bath before turning in for the night. His dark hair plastered to his head and his beautiful features damp, Kris lifted his eyebrows, "Not for the rest of us, no."

Next to him in the water, straw haired Dirk chortled. He was tall like Kris already too, and strongly built. He was an ugly kid; none of his features quite going with each other but had a powerful charisma. "You may want to go to the cold pitcher after that."

Tedric rolled his eyes, "You'll agree with me after this news! The last of the Companions that went out is back with her Chosen. Another girl! A real beauty too; I got a look at her coming in. Long, dark hair, a face to challenge the stars! That's two girls in the new year group! And not one in ours!"

Kris shrugged, "There are more male Heralds, so it only makes sense, really."

Dirk looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Yes, but it's still about a third that are girls. So shouldn't a third of each year group be female?"

"Not our year, or the one before," Owyn said. The three other boys looked at him with surprise. He flushed but went on. "It's, well, it's just...practical. We're all likely to get trained up and go off to the wars. And...and if we go to the wars, we may die. And...well, it's easier for males to pass on their traits than females, so...of course the Companions wouldn't choose girls when there's such a danger of them dying. There may be too much of a need to have girls to, um, to have more Gifted children."

The others stared at him. Kris was nodding and his eyes were distant. "That makes sense. Well reasoned. Do you think then, that if they're trying to prepare that way, then-?"

Dirk made a show of shivering dramatically, "You scholars think too cold blooded for my liking," he interrupted. To be honest, Dirk felt certain that Owyn was right. Having come from a farm family, he understood the concept. All animals were valuable but the males were always more expendable. "This is too deep a subject for the bath." He glanced over at Tedric, "So you saw this new girl and she's a beauty, eh? Details, man! Don't keep us hanging."
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Last edited by Armphid : 06-21-2016 at 05:11 PM.
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Old 06-14-2016, 12:28 AM   #4
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Alaine waited nervously outside the throne room while her mother, dressed in Whites made of a silk so bright it almost blinded, walked in, head thrown back in pride. The girl had arrived about twenty minutes after her mother, since all newly Chosen were supposed to make their own ways to the Collegium. She knew the way, of course, and her mother was literally a half-span ahead of her the whole time, but it was the form, really.

The two guards at the door watched the young woman as she struggled not to look to worried or impatient. What if the Regent said no? What if she said yes? She glanced up and thought she caught a hint of a smile on their faces, quickly erased.

There! She could hear, just barely! ". . . the right of a candidate to enter the Collegium."

The Regent's response was as audible, her voice pitched to carry as well. "Very well. What is the candidate's name?"

"Alaine, daughter of Lord Ameriden and myself, Herald Telana." The pride in her mother's voice was clear and strong, and made Alaine's eyes tear up a bit.

She could also hear the smile in Selenay's voice as she responded, "We are pleased to welcome Alaine into the Collegium, Herald. She is welcomed on her own merits, and so long as she is willing to abandon her noble legacy."

And that had been the one thing that made it bittersweet. Not the loss of the title and its adjacent privileges, but the loss of the legacy. She would always be welcome in her father's house and lands, but she would never be able to provide him with a grandchild of his line - she was of the Collegium now.

"She is willing, Your Majesty. At your word, I shall pass the news to her, and we shall have her enrolled immediately."

"That is our wish, Herald. And our congratulations as well, to both our newest Chosen and her parents."

Alaine sprang back from the door, trying hard to look like it didn't matter to her, or that she knew what was happening inside and expected the result. She was trying not to look too casual leaning against a pillar when her mother came out and took her by the arm. "All right, dear, since I'm here, I'll take you to get fitted, and to meet Dean Elcarth to get your schedule."

". . . Mother, please." None of the other trainees would have their mother showing them around! Of course, very few would have Heralds who were their parents, but regardless!

"And I'll probably stay a few weeks here, see about teaching a class or two to make sure you're settling in well," Telana went on, tossing russet curls over her shoulder. "And I can give you a great tour, make sure you find all the best spots!"

Alaine swallowed hard. "Best spots for what?"

Telana gave her a roguish wink. "Everything, sweetheart! Don't want you to get caught, of course!"

"Mother!" Alaine's cheeks were bright red, and she pressed one hand to her face to try and cool them.

"I've got to make sure you're well-taken care of, dear." They turned a corner, and both women stopped short as an older gentleman met them. "Ah, Elcarth, how lovely to see you again."

"Telana, a pleasure as always." He looked over at Alaine, dressed in a plain but well-made gown of blue linen. "I take it this is your daughter, Alaine. A pleasure, my dear girl."

She curtsied. "Dean Elcarth." Then she paused, mid-motion. "That's not right, is it?"

He chuckled. "Not now that you're Chosen, no. But you'll learn in time."

"Exactly what I was saying!" Telana said, eyes bright with either pride of mischief. "So I should stay a few weeks, shouldn't I, to make sure she . . . ."

"Don't you have something else to do, Telana?" the dean's voice was softly chiding.

The white-clad woman shrugged. "Not really. I was taking a small break from working with the Healers in Talltrees, so I was home for a bit when . . . well." She smiled fondly at Alaine.

Alaine looked at the older Herald, her eyes pleading silently with him. He smiled at both of them. "Well, why don't we see if we can cook up a class for you, for a week, so that you can feel of use? Something for the students with Gifts like yours, hmm?" He laced an arm through Telana's and began to guide her off down the hall.

Alaine sighed a bit in relief. Not a total reprieve, but trained for Gifts started much further along than she would be. Thank goodness for that. In the split second between that thought and the realization that they were leaving her standing there alone, Elcarth paused and rapped on a door. He kept a firm grip on Telana's arm, but poked his head in and talked briefly with a person inside. As the two of them headed down the hallway, the girl inside stepped out.

She was a tall, lithe girl with short blonde hair, dressed in student grays. Her eyes, when she looked at Alaine, were a shockingly pale shade of green. "Hi! You must be Alaine!" She held out one hand. "I'm Helena, it's great to meet you."

"It's nice to meet you too," Alaine said, taking the other girl's hand. "I'm sorry, I hope this isn't too much trouble for you."

"Don't be silly, it's no problem!" Helena smiled at her. "Come on, let's get you situated. Tell me about yourself while we walk."

~ ~ ~ ~

There were six people total in her yeargroup, when all was said and done, four boys and two girls. The other girl was a petite, golden-haired girl from one of the Border sectors named Larina. Two of the boys, Conrad and Beckett, had lived in the same town, and were Chosen on the same day. Zayne was from one of the fishing villages, and was tall and lean; Bertram, a former farmhand from one of the big family farms near the center of the country and built like a draft horse himself.

Even though they were friendly, Alaine's closest friend quickly became Helena, who went out of her way to make sure that the younger woman was doing all right, and tried to engage her in some of the trouble and fun her other friends would get into. There weren't that many girls there, so there was a certain camaraderie among them.

The deciding experience came after they were in the dining hall for lunch one day during the second week she was there. As Alaine, Helena, and Larina had sat down, a group of boys from the year group ahead of Alaine's were getting up. Seeing one of them, she blinked. "Kris?"

The dark-haired boy stopped. "Alaine?" He smiled tentatively. "I hadn't heard the new girl was you."

She gave him back a smile, and could feel the tension in him ease a bit. "Well, it's not like anyone knows me here, really."

He looked over her shoulder to where Telana was peering over at them. "Ah, isn't that . . . ?"

"Yeah," Alaine sighed. "Yeah. She doesn't count, really."

He laughed. "Fair enough." The two other boys with him, a broad-shouldered boy and a boy who was painfully plain bordering on ugly, shifted a bit, and he looked around a little shame-faced. "Sorry, we should probably get going." He held out a hand to her. "It was good to see you again, though."

"Likewise." She extended her own hand, and he paused for a moment as he took it, shaking it as though he wanted to see how she'd react. When all she did was shake back and give him another small smile, he seemed to relax a bit more. "See you around," she added, turning back to the table and her friends.

As they walked away, Larina cleared her throat. "Who was that? He's gorgeous!"

"That's Kris," Helena supplied, "Lord Peregrine's son, and probably the handsomest trainee we've had in a long time." She grabbed a bowl of greens and served herself some. "What I want to know is how Alaine knows him."

The dark-haired girl rolled her eyes and picked two rolls off the platter that was making its way by. "We're both nobles, remember?" She cut one open and filled it with ham and cheese. "We're close enough in age, our parents made us play together when we were little."

"Oh?" Helena sounded a little skeptical.

"Well, okay." Alaine took a bite of her sandwich, chewed and swallowed it before continuing, keeping her audience in suspense. "There may have been talk about the two of us getting betrothed before he was Chosen." The other two girls gaped. "Not on either of our parts, mind you. Kris is a very good person, but we wouldn't have picked each other, not by a long shot."

Larina looked over her shoulder at the door the boys had gone out of. "You don't think that he . . . well, you know."

Alaine shrugged. "No, not really. But, as I said, neither of us would have picked it. We might have done well, regardless, but it's a moot point now."

"He seemed almost scared of offending you," Helena observed.

"Yeah, well," Alaine took a long drink and shrugged. "A lot of people would have seen it as a slight." She paused, then inclined her head. "All right, a lot of nobles. It wasn't, and you certainly can't tell a Companion who's come for you, 'wait, no thanks, I have an arranged marriage that I'm not really excited about'. But they'd be offended anyway, so he was probably worried that I might be holding a grudge."

Scooping up a spoonful of soup, Larina nodded. "Okay, that makes sense." Her eyes lit up with interest. "But that doesn't mean you can't tell us what sort of things he likes so we can see if he might like us!"

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Old 06-20-2016, 11:23 PM   #5
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A shout and a cheer from outside made Owyn lift his head from the book on his desk. It was a text on Gifts, specifically into the use and limits of Fetching. The young trainee was clad in a gray uniform, as always, and a notebook was near at hand, a quill in his ink stained fingers.

He rose from his desk, walking to the window. The woodworker's son was lucky enough to that his room was higher up, giving him an excellent view of the grounds of the Collegium. The opened the shutters and looked out. Below him, a few year groups worth of students were having a snowball fight. It appeared that a number of Companions had also joined the fray. He spotted Kris and Dirk, operating as a team, of course. Tedric went flying into a snow drift; a trio of girls pelting his fallen shape with snowballs before one of the Companions raced by, kicking up a spray of snow that crashed over all the nearby combatants.

A sad, wistful smile curved his lips upward. They were all having so much fun and were so free. Part of him wanted to join them. ...But there was more studying he needed to do. He wasn't where he needed to be, not yet.

Besides, he had to get through this book tonight before he Fetched it back where it was supposed to be in the library. Owyn lingered for a few more seconds to watch the fun below and then deliberately closed the shutters to shut it out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

His breath steamed in the winter air as he went through the movements again. The long, slender, slightly curved blade he wielded danced and lashed through the air. His muscles stung and his lungs burned. Owyn felt sweat on his skin and little pricks of cold as the chill in the air started to cool them.

It was one of his free periods, and as was his wont, he had come to the Salle. He had come to Collegium with no training in combat whatsoever and it had not come naturally to him. So he trained. He trained as hard and diligently as he could in his classes and much of his free time he had devoted to it as well. He wasn't good enough. He had to be good enough.

From the shadows of the Training Grounds building, the Weapons Master watched with dark eyes. The boy had gotten good. Very good, compared to most of the other students. Dirk was better but he had more natural talent. He felt a vague sense of concern that he should send the child away. He should be a child more, train less.

Then he shivered and sighed. No. If he wished to train, he would train. He may need it. They may all need it. Winter was fading, and with spring, the Tedrels would come again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Owyn stared down at the still form sprawled on the cobblestones. The spring night was cool but not cold and there was the faint taste of rain from the clouds overhead. The wetness on his face and hand was hideously warm, thick, clinging to his skin, streaking his gray uniform.

He heard Olena yelling for the help and though she was just behind him, her voice was faint. He felt her fingers clutching at his left shoulder, heard her voice thanking him, asking him if he was all right. He nodded but did not speak, his eyes not leaving the figure lying in front of them.

The man he killed was not young but neither was he old. His skin was weathered and worn from work and his body was lean muscle that was too lean, hungry and needy. He smelled of stale sweat, staler beer, and a sharp tang that his mind identified as joyleaf. His clothes were ragged and their exact color was hard to determine, muddled and blanched from many washings.

He had come at the two of them on their way to the Night Market, a bright knife in hand, and a desperate need in his eyes. The man he killed had ordered them to hold in a ragged voice and lunged. Owyn had trained hard for just such an attack. His body moved with muscle memory and all the fruits of his training. He threw the man he killed down and the knife was in his hand, the man he killed dug in his tunic for a second one, and Owyn's training kept him moving. The knife he'd taken struck cleanly and sharply across the neck of the man he killed. And he died.

Owyn blinked and looked up, suddenly aware that there were more people around now. More members of the Guard, curious onlookers, and there were his parents, pushing through the crowd. Their faces were pale. Owyn felt the knife fall from his hands and it seemed to ring like a bell as it hit the flagstones. "...I'm sorry," he said and he wasn't sure who he was speaking to.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Owyn Lavellan." Dean Elcarth was at his desk in his office; stacks of papers and books cluttering up much of the space. The short, thin man studied a file in front of him for a few moments. "His Gifts?"

The office was further crowded by the other instructors at the Collegium, not all of them but quite a few, who had managed to cram into the small space. Teren cleared his throat, his warm basset hound voice, calming as always. "His main Gift is Fetching and it is strong, very strong. I'm not sure if he or Dirk is stronger, actually. He also has potent MindSpeech, enough to detect and scan minds, not just talk over distance. He's got very weak Empathy and a touch of the Bardic Gift; not enough for either to be really useful or even able to train."

Elcarth nodded, "Just those?"

"They're enough." Teren shook his head. "The boy's strength in MindSpeech and Fetching is considerable and he has studied hard. He'll know how to use them almost as well as any field Herald by the time he's ready for his internship." He sighed a little, his brown eyes warm. "The same could be said for his academic subjects, for that matter."

"Fighting and riding too," his twin spoke up. Keren was perched on one of the shorter bookcases. "The lad trains his body as much as his mind; he's over at the riding or obstacle courses twice a week and if not there, he's with the Weapons Master."

Elcarth nodded, "Strong skills all around then. His marks are high."

"Maybe too high," Teren said cautiously. "Studying and training is all he does, Elcarth. He does his work duty and attends classes with the other trainees, but that's it. He's friendly enough with his year mates but I wouldn't say he's close with any of them. Most of the other trainees know him by sight but only a handful know his name." He grimaced, "I'm worried he's not properly socialized. A Herald has to be able to reach people emotionally as well as be detached and impartial."

Elcarth looked around at the other instructors. None spoke up to gainsay Teren. "And his Companion?"

Keren shrugged, "He's that big lummox Fahn. From what mine will tell me of their conversations, he says the boy's fine. His Companion's tried to get him to engage more but before he felt he had too much to learn. Then his mother came back from the wars minus a leg. And then there was that other incident."

Everyone knew of Owyn's defending himself and his sister with lethal force the night of the Vernal Equinox. It was admirably done and his training had served him well. Even though he had acted rightly, it had clearly shaken him. He'd spoken about it with a few of his teaches and they'd even had him sit with one of the Mindhealer apprentices. No lasting damage, they said, nothing serious, anyway. She wondered about that. "Fahn thinks he'll come around, from what my Companion says."

"Well." The Dean sighed, "We'll have to trust them. To be honest, if all this training keeps him alive, he'll have the time to loosen up."
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Old 06-26-2016, 10:44 PM   #6
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Alaine pitched her last ready-made snowball at Tedric, then threw herself behind a nearby bush to rearm and shield from the most of the fray. As she was packing the snow into a sphere, she paused and looked up, feeling as though someone were watching her from the Collegium. She thought she saw a set of curtains rustling higher up on the walls, but there was no one there.

She shook her head. Starting to see things, that's never good, she thought. And then she shrieked as Kris and Dirk dumped four hands full of snow down the back of her coat. She spun around to face them, eyes blazing purple, and was met with a pair of wicked grins. "Oh, that is it," she said, eyes narrowing.

Kris elbowed his friend, and they both started to run in opposite directions. "You'd better run!" Alaine yelled, starting after the handsome young man. "I rubbed snow in your hair when we were six, Kris, I'll do it again!"

"Not if you can't catch me!"

~ ~ ~ ~

The test in front of her was complete, well ahead of her classmates. Alaine sat and waited, her hands clasped over the paper. This wasn't the first time, nor would it likely be the last. She'd had some kind of intuitive flash about the test, despite not having had time to study. And it had happened last time, as well, even though history was far from her strongest subject.

"You really shouldn't rely on it, you know," Rhonwen's voice sounded in her head. "Study for it on your own and you'll be better off."

Alaine ignored her. What did it matter? She was doing the course work, and learning the material anyway, so why did it matter how the tests went, or how she passed them, so long as she did?

She looked up from the test to see the Elcarth poking his head into the room. "Ah, good, she's already done." He smiled. "Alaine, if you would, please, there's something I'd like to talk over with you."

~ ~ ~ ~

"I haven't even been here that long, Gift training already?" She was excited but confused.

Elcarth nodded. "Yes, well, you've got some strong gifts, and we like to make sure that those get trained as quickly as possible." He shifted a few papers in a folder. "So you've got Foresight, and Farsight? And some Mindspeak and Fetching as well?" He whistled. "That's an impressive suite of powers."

She shrugged. "The Mindspeak is just enough to talk to Rhonwen, nothing else, really. And the Fetching . . . it isn't regular Fetching, you know?" She gestured, and one of his books lifted into the air. "I can move things like that, but I can't make them *poof* back and forth." The book floated down to where it had been.

"That's still very useful, and unusual." He smiled at her. "The other two, however, I think you know how useful and how much trouble they can cause. We'll get you into a training class as soon as we can."
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Old 07-02-2016, 08:35 AM   #7
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His feet danced over the uneven ground, his well worn and fitted boots bracing here and springing lightly away there. Owyn let out a frustrated breath as he lashed out with his practice weapon only for there to be a sharp crack as the Weapons Master parried the blow without seeming effort. The youth, almost a young man now, was moving before the result of the blow was fully known, fully expecting the counter attack.

Both of Alberich's weapons came in and Owyn shifted his light, curved weapon to 3rd position as he took a stuttered half step to the side, deflecting the force of the blows enough to divert them out of the way. He followed the line of the blades back and the tip of his weapon slashed up and it was the grizzled warrior's turn to dodge.

"Lord and Lady!" Tedric shook his head. The burly trainee's uniform was drenched in sweat; he'd already had his one on one with the Weapon's Master, as had the rest of the year group. His had not taken so long. Kris and Dirk, both similarly sweaty and worn, watched as well. "Look at them go!" He glanced over at the blond, "Looks like our ghost could give you a run for your money."

Kris smiled, the expression one that would cause the heart of many a woman to swell. "He might at that, Dirk." Kris wasn't half bad himself but he knew his best friend was the superior fighter. It was part talent and part that fighting just...spoke to Dirk in a way that it didn't to Kris. It was a necessary thing, certainly, but not one he enjoyed. Dirk liked it. So did Owyn, though he hadn't at first. Maybe that was why the two of them were the best in their year group. Among the best of the trainees, really. Though he'd heard Alaine was good, which didn't surprise him. And that new girl that was just Chosen, Jeri. But he hadn't seen either of them fight.

Dirk just grunted; his stunningly blue eyes watching the match. "Careful, Ghost," he murmured to no one. "He's almost got you tangling your feet." A small voice in the back of his mind wondered which of them was best. He grimaced and dismissed the thought. What a stupid thing to worry about. His eyes caught the edge of the practice area and he grimaced, "Got you now."

Owyn's eyes widened a hair, having figured out the trap a half second too late. His feet moved and caught the low line strung around the edge of the training area. He noted a slight gleam of approval in the Karsite instructor's hard eyes but also a hard judgment. He felt his body begin to tilt, his balance off, and the twin wooden blades swung in-

He wasn't sure what decided him to do it. It was both a conscious and unconscious choice. Owyn's eyes focused and he bared his teeth and then-

Alberich's weapons struck the wooden post behind where Owyn had been and for the first time, perhaps the only time in their lives, the students saw a look of complete shock on his weathered features. It mirrored their own though; Owyn was gone! No, there!

There was a thump as the flat edge of his practice sabre struck across the teacher's back. Then there was silence. All those present stared in disbelief. The tall, slender youth was now fully behind Alberich and off to the opposite side of where he'd been. And he had not gotten there through physical means. He was gone one moment and there the next, almost in between the time it took to blink.

Owyn blinked and shook his head as if trying to clear it, like he'd taken a hit to the skull instead of striking his instructor's back. "Well...you can do it," he said, his voice wavering and uneven. A thin trail of blood was seeping from both his nostrils and his eyes were notably bloodshot. "What do you know?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"He Fetched himself?" Kyril's long, clever face was incredulous.

He and Elcarth were in the Dean's office. The older man chuckled; it was rare to see the unflappable Herald so taken aback. "He did indeed. Managed to get a kill on Alberich doing so, though it was good for him he was fighting one on one. If there'd been anyone else, they'd have clobbered him. Once they got over their shock."

"Remarkable." The dark haired Herald shifted in his seat. "I've read about doing so in theory, but there have never been any accounts of anyone actually doing it. I must-"

Elcarth held up a hand, "I know you want to talk to him and I'll arrange it. He should be out of Healer's tomorrow."

Kyril's sharp eyes narrowed. "Reaction headache?"

The Dean nodded, "A very serious one. It seemed to take quite a bit out of him too. From what I can tell, having looked a bit at the lad's notes during his imposition, he's been studying some of the same records you have and come to the same conclusions. I'm quite certain that was the first time he'd ever done it though."

The visitor's fingers rapped on the arm of his chair as he turned it over in his mind. "His Fetching is strong. But the boy Dirk..."

"Just as strong. I daresay he could do it too. I'm sure he'll attempt it now, at least," Elcarth's voice was wryly amused. "I doubt it will be as draining for him; young Lavellan did it when he was already worn and on impulse. If you were ready for it, it would be a different matter, I should think."

Kyril nodded slowly, "Yes. Yes, I think you're right. And with practice..." He sighed and shook his head, "Well, I shall have to talk to them both then."

"I hoped you would," Elcarth nodded. "No one has made as much of a study of Gifts as you."

The taller man raised an eyebrow, "Owyn Lavellan may have. In this are, at least."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Owyn groaned as he eased into the bath. His limbs ached; on top of his other duties and classes, he was having to clean...well, it seemed like everything. It had been a month already and no end in sight. The Weapons Master had also pulled out all the stops against him. Or he had before he went south to the latest campaign with the King against the Tedrels. His stand-in had kept it up, however.

"It's your own fault, you know." Dirk was drying his hair, which somehow managed to make it look messier than when it had been dirty. "Once they figured out what you were up to. And I thought you were such a straight arrow!"

"I never damaged any of the books," the agile youth protested. Then he sighed, "But...I knew I'd get punished when I got caught." Elcarth and Herald Kyril, who he'd spent quite a few hours with now, had figured out that he'd been doing extra and advanced studying by Fetching books out of the library after hours and then Fetching them back. Elcarth had praised his creativity and then promptly and cheerily assigned him punishment. He suspected the Dean's deep reverence for books had caused him to deal out such a harsh one.

"When?" Dirk laughed, "My dear ghost, the idea isn't "when" to get caught, but "if" you do!"

Owyn ignored him for a moment, then opened an eye to look at his yearmate, "...Why do you keep calling me that?"

The other boy shrugged, "It's what practically everyone outside our year calls you. You just float around, quiet as a mouse, do your chores and work without most noticing, and just vanish. I don't know that anyone outside of us, the teachers, and the staff knows your name. So, they call you "the ghost." instead." He flushed a bit, "...Does it bother you? I don't think any harm's meant."

The other boy was silent a few moments. "No, it's fine. I've been called worse."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The toll of the Bell rolled out over the grounds of the Collegium and the Palace. It had tolled often the last few years, enough so that even to the trainees it was familiar.

Owyn looked up from where he'd been brushing down Fahn and then gasped, the brush falling out of his hands as knowledge swept over him. "Gods! King Sendar-!"

Fahn whickered and shook his head, "And Taver!" The Companion of the King's Own, "But Talamir lives." There was pity in the stallion's mental voice. For a Herald or Companion, the loss of their partner was the greatest of griefs. There were many tales and just as many verified accounts of the surviving partner choosing suicide to follow their missing half.

He stumbled out of the stable, Fahn behind him and other Companions as well. All around the Collegium, windows and doors had been flung open. Stricken faces seemed to be everywhere and there was the sounds of weeping and heartfelt cries. King Sendar was the ruler but he was close to his people, especially his fellow Heralds, and well beloved. He had been their war leader against the Tedrels as well; leading from the front in battle after battle. And now he was gone. Victorious, Owyn somehow knew, and was aware that others with strong Gifts or a closeness to the man would know as well, but gone.

"The King is dead." Owyn's head turned as Herald Kyril's voice rang out over the landscape. The tall and serious man stood in his gleaming white uniform and as he spoke, his own minor bardic Gift pushed out into his words to make him heard more than his voice should have carried and to give those words power. "But Valdemar still needs us each, as does her ruler. The King is dead! Long live the Queen!"

The Queen! Selenay, the heir who had been Queen-Regent, now Queen alone. "Long live the Queen," a group of guards in midnight blue called out. "Long live the Queen!" More voices took up the call.

Owyn was almost surprised to hear his own voice joining them, along with most of the rest of the stricken mass that had been stumbling outside at the tolling of the Bell. "Long live the Queen!" Could she hear them? No, impossible. His mind hummed as scores of brilliant white, beautiful Companions came out from the field and he felt them joining the cheer with their MindSpeech. With that and with Gifts...maybe. Maybe. He hoped so. Perhaps it would be a comfort. For all of them. "Long live the Queen!"
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Old 07-04-2016, 01:20 AM   #8
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"Well, she's doing well in her classes," Elcarth's voice was hesitant. "Her instructors say she's attentive, and gets good grades on the tests and the homework." He glanced out the window to where Alaine and Jeri were sparring under Alberich's watchful eye. "But I'll be damned if anyone knows how."

Kyril followed his gaze and shrugged. "I couldn't tell you. Some people are just like that, you know. No studying, they can just absorb what's being said." He shook his head and leaned back in his chair. "She's doing well at weapons training, and that's not something you can fake or bluff out of. And her Gift training went amazingly well and quickly, and that's something else you can't shortcut."

Elcarth shook his head. "I feel strange about it, somehow, but we need as many active Heralds as we can get, things being what they are." He made a few notes on the file in front of him. "We'll see how this spring term wraps up, but I'm comfortable with it, I suppose."

Kyril peered out the window where both girls were watching a move that the weapons master was demonstrating. "We'll present her with the boys to the Council, then. And Gods willing, it's not a mistake."

There was a silence in the room, and then the older man laughed softly. "It feels like it couldn't have been this hard to decide to move Teren forward."

"He was closer to our age, and an exceptional student," the Kyril replied, a small smile on his face. "Even for well-educated men like ourselves, it might be hard to feel that confident about a young woman who never seems to study." He paused for a moment. "But it was, you know. It's always hard to make that kind of decision - so much can fall apart if we're wrong."

~ ~ ~ ~

Alaine was soaking in the tub, hair piled on top of her head and covered in water as far up her body as she could. She ached in places she hadn't been certain she had, after the sparring Alberich had made her and Jeri do earlier in the day. She was good, maybe better than good, but Jeri was amazing. If she hadn't had her mother come home with tales of skirmishes she'd been in and how she'd managed to make it out, she might think the man was a sadist.

She shifted a bit, and stifled a moan. She'd planned to go out to Companion's Field tonight and spend some time with Rhonwen, but moving anywhere except bed seemed like a terrible idea. "Will you be devastated if I don't show up, dearling?" she mind-spoke to the mare.

A mental snort came in response. "Don't be daft. Rest up." There was a quick beat, and she added, "Unless you wanted to see Kris, of course. He and Tantris are sitting here looking quite poetic."

Alaine snapped to an upright position. "I'm pretty sure that's cheating." She stood up slowly, reaching for a towel.

"Yes. See you in a few minutes, soul-sister."

~ ~ ~ ~

The book Alaine had been about to put back onto the shelf tumbled from her fingers as the bell tolled out over the grounds. She didn't know how she knew, but she knew, that the king was dead. Her knees were weak, and she was trembling, but she made her way to one of the tall windows in the library where she'd been assigned for the day.

She leaned out, hands clutching the sill so tightly her knuckles were white. She'd known him, not well, but he'd always been very kind to her. She remembered, the tears that had threatened before now making their way down her cheeks, the first time she'd come to court with her parents and he'd spoken to her like a lady, and given her a sweet. How could that man, their leader, be dead?

Outside, she could see the others, patches and clusters of grey and white, standing in shock, people in the same colors leaning out windows and huddled in doorways. But then a voice sliced through the silence. "The King is dead." Herald Kyril's voice rang out over the landscape. The tall and serious man stood in his gleaming white uniform and as he spoke, his own minor bardic Gift pushed out into his words to make him heard more than his voice should have carried and to give those words power. "But Valdemar still needs us each, as does her ruler. The King is dead! Long live the Queen!"

The crowd took up the cry, down to the last person capable. Alaine heard her own voice mix with the others, wobbly and weak, but growing stronger. "Long live the Queen!" The Companions marched forward, and from where she was, she could see it was clearly in a formation of some kind, even if her mind couldn't process what it might mean. "Long live the Queen!" The star-bright equines joined the cry with their own Mind-speaking, and she thought that it might be possible that somehow, the new Queen might know that her nation grieved with her, and was behind her in total.

~ ~ ~ ~

The coronation took time to prepare, of course, but within a month, Selenay was back in Haven for the ceremony and celebration. In that month, Alaine had her eighteenth birthday, to her delight. Her parents both came into the capitol for the coronation, and brought her a few gifts - a silver necklace that had been her grandmother's, and a small leather-bound book filled with blank pages that her mother told her she could fill with a list of her conquests. Her father mentioned that he'd imagined it would be a good journal of her travels on her internship, and gave Telana a wry look.

The ball for the coronation was suitably stupendous. Nobles from the kingdom came, as well as representatives from most of the neighboring kingdoms. It didn't escape the notice of many that the foreign contingents all had at least one young, handsome, high-born man in the group; a marriage to the new Queen could put any of their nations in a very good position.

Alaine stood a little apart from her friends, feeling odd in her formal gown - she hadn't worn anything but Greys since she'd arrived, and being in a sapphire blue velvet dress was a change. She didn't want to talk with them right now, but didn't want to leave, either. These things had been a lot simpler when all she was expected to do was look pretty and dance occasionally.

The truth was that she didn't want to unpack her feelings about something she'd overheard Kris and his uncle, Lord Orthallen, talking about earlier in the evening. Orthallen had suggested - that wasn't the right word, he'd flat told Kris that he would do it - arranging a marriage between his nephew and Selenay. They'd developed a . . . it wasn't love, both of them were sure of that, but they were certainly not just friends at this point. She didn't want to see him sold off like a prize breeding stallion, but wasn't sure how much might be jealousy at this point.

A sudden presence at her side made her jump slightly, and she turned to see Selenay standing there, the simple coronet on her brow seeming to stand out even against her golden hair. "It's terribly dull, isn't it?" the new monarch asked, sipping from a goblet.

"I'd imagine it was fairly exciting for you a bit ago, Your Majesty." Alaine inclined her head. "Is there some way I can assist you?" She paused. "That sounded more polite in my head, I'm sorry."

A light laugh came from the Queen. "Not at all, Alaine. I just thought I'd come and see how you were doing - you looked a bit lost in thought."

Nodding, Alaine accepted a goblet of her own from a servant with a smile. "Thank you. I was, really. I was . . . wondering what you'll do about a consort. And an heir." She took a sip of her drink. "Not that I mean to put pressure on you, I'm sure you've already gotten enough tonight. But it's the question on everyone's mind."

"It is, true." Selenay sighed. "I don't know. Lord Orthallen has made some noises about matching me with Kris," Alaine tried not to blink - the man was damned fast! - "but I don't want to enter into a marriage of convenience if I can help it, and I don't think he wants to either."

The dark-haired girl nodded again. "I can see that. So what, then?" Her eyes scanned over the group of young, foreign noblemen not-quite posturing on the far side of the room. "One of those fine peacocks?"

Selenay put the goblet to her lips, then took it away again with a smile. "The one from Rethwellan is quite handsome, you know. Karathanelan, his name is." She finished her drink and smiled. "Come on, then. Let's dance with some of them and see who's more than just a courtier."
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Old 07-04-2016, 10:49 PM   #9
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The Palace was awash with lights and the sounds of music could be heard even from the Salle. Owyn sat on the fence there, his breathing returning to normal, looking back at the building. The feast and ball were to celebrate Selenay's coronation and the offical end of the Tedrel Wars. The mercenaries had been practically annihilated in that last cataclysmic battle; what was left of their fighters had either fled towards Karse or was living in caves near the border. Alberich had led a raid that had captured, actually liberated from the Karsites, the Tedrels children and dependents. They were spread out through Valdemar now; fostered and separated to become part of the Kingdom they had once threatened.

The war was over. But not too many people were happy. Relieved? Yes. But the war had come with a heavy cost to both sides. As many as Valdemar had lost, soldiers, Healers, and Heralds alike, the Tedrels had lost even more. The savagery and depth of the killing had taken a mental toll that would be slow to subside.

There was also uncertainty. Selenay was young for a Monarch and had no Queen's Own. Talamir hovered at death's door and there was no Companion yet come to replace Tavar from the Grove. In his absence, Alberich was serving as Queen's Own but there was tension between he and the Queen. And her counselors. And everyone, it seemed. Everyone was worried about a new attack from Karse or somewhere else. An heir was needed and soon.

He felt sympathy for the Queen. Not for anything would he have traded places with her. He wondered what was happening in the grand ballrooms now; what deals were being made, what alliances offered, and how it would make life hard for Heralds in the decades to come.

He'd know soon. His year group, and a few others who showed promise, were finishing their studies early. Many Heralds had died in the wars and the Kingdom needed replacements just as desperately as it did an heir to the throne. In just a week, they'd be put on internship and then into full service. There were few mentors to go around, so they were all doubling up too. Each mentoring Herald would have two trainees under them.

Which was why he was here, training alone. Alberich, of course, was acting Queen's Own at the moment, but his substitute wasn't there either. But Owyn had come anyway. He needed to get in all the training he could before he left. Once out there in the world...it would be too late if he wasn't good enough.

Owyn reached out to Fahn, finding his partner still awake as well. "Fahn...I'm scared." It was embarrassing but his Companion was part of his very being, his soul. What point was there in lying to him or not being forthright? "I don't know if I'm ready for this."

"Are you kidding?"
The stallion's burly, enthusiastic voice was bemused. "You're more ready than any candidate in years, maybe in my lifetime! All that damn training and studying you do will be worth it, you'll see. You're needed, little brother. And no matter what you may feel, they wouldn't send you out if they didn't think you were ready. And I think you're ready. And I AM pretty great."

Owyn laughed in spite of himself, "You really are" he acknowledged with only a hint of sarcasm. In truth, he thought so. Fahn was so bold and confident. But maybe it was overconfidence. "But even if I am, it doesn't mean I'll succeed. It doesn't mean I'll survive."

"There's no guarantees, you know that. That fence you're sitting on could break and you could break your skull on the ground." He could imagine Fahn tossing his head as he spoke, "You're not safe anywhere and you could die anytime; that's life. But you'll be ready to face threats to give you and everyone else the best chance. Remember your Mom's leg."

He grimaced. She gave her training credit for saving her life. She could have easily died in the situation that cost her the leg but what she knew gave her enough of an edge to survive. It did make a difference. All the difference sometimes. "...You're right. Thanks, big horse."

"Heh. I'm about to go show Rhonwen how big...if Tantris isn't monopolozing her." Owyn blushed. His Companion really had no shame. "Anyway, I'm always right. Just remember that next time I tell you to loosen up."

"Uh huh. Right." Owyn shook his head and slipped off the fence. "Like when you made that play for Caryo and she ended up running you into the creek?"

"That could have happened to anyone!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"There you are!" Owyn stumbled forward as Dirk grabbed him from behind, the crooked faced young man grinning at his year mate. "I knew I'd catch you trying to sneak off to the library!"

Owyn shifted and pivoted, pulling Dirk off of his back and swinging him about. The eternally rumpled looking trainee turned with it, keeping a grip on the scholar's shoulders. "I'm not sneaking! I'm walking up there in broad daylight!" Okay, so the sun was setting, but still! "What are you on about?"

Dirk pulled back and then went limp, flying towards Owyn as the resistance to the other boy's pulling went away, "You're trying to slip off and spend the whole night with your nose in a book when we're all off on our internships tomorrow! Instead of coming to the gathering like everyone else; don't deny it, Ghost, old shoe, I know you."

Other trainees, not just Herald ones, moved around the two young men as they each sought the advantage in the grapple, both showing great skill and in Owyn's case, surprising strength. Many gave them amused looks as they passed. One, a beautiful girl with dark hair they both had come to know well, despite her being a new student, called out, "Practicing even here, boys? It won't help you beat me!"

Dirk jeered with a wink, "We've not wrestled yet, Jeri, why don't you come over and join us?"

She laughed and winked right back, "Both of you in public? Even I'm not THAT daring." She waved and kept going on her way.

Dirk and Owyn had both more of less frozen at her blatant insinuation with each of them having the other in a partial headlock. They watched her run and catch up to a group of other girls and heard laughter. Owyn raised his eyebrows, "...Wow. She's..."

"She is," Dirk agreed. The two separated as if by mutual agreement. "Right. What were we even...ah!" The taller young man clapped his comrade on the shoulder, "You're coming to the gathering tonight. It's all of our last chances for a good time before we're out on the road. And as you've never had a good time, it may be your only chance. And you're finally of age for it! Since you turned 18 last week and all."

Owyn really wanted to argue but he tilted his head. He'd seen Dirk get like this a few times before. "Lord and Lady. There's no point resisting is there?"

"None at all." He grinned; the expression making him suddenly just as handsome as Kris was. "If you don't show, I'll just Fetch you myself."

"Hm." He could do it too. Wouldn't that be embarrassing? Especially if he was in the bath or something. He also thought of Fahn at that moment. Maybe...he was right about this too. "I know better to argue with you when you're like this. All right."

Dirk looked a bit disappointed, "I even had a speech ready. But! Good, good, Kris and I'll come get you in a candlemark then."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The gathering was in one of the guard stations that was still empty; the unit occupying it was still helping to rebuild in the south. The space was decent sized for this kind of gathering. Heralds, and those about to go on internship, often held these impromptu celebrations when a number of them were in Haven. Kris, Dirk, and Owyn had paid their way in with food and a few bottles of wine taken from the kitchens via Fetching.

There were groups of white clad men and woman all over; talking, laughing, drinking. Occasionally there was a gray clad form as well but far fewer of them. A rough 'stage' had been set up and a Herald who looked to be in his thirties was playing a spirited song on a lute, his fingers flying as the merry tune jangled through the air.

The three were soon separated after entering. Dirk and Kris were pulled away by a group who demanded they go on to perform next. Owyn slipped off, not wanting to get involved in that. That left him without really knowing anyone there. There were all his comrades, soon to be colleagues, and he knew some of them by name but not really close enough to want to do...whatever happened here with them. Most of the teachers were here for instance.

So he moved from place to place. He listened and watched, enjoying the happiness of the people around him. It was a good thing to see people who worked so hard and endlessly have this time to just relax and be comfortable.

Owyn leaned against a railing on one the upper level of the place, looking down at the main area. Kris and Dirk were still on stage, apparently being pinned by popular opinion and requests for more songs. He felt eyes on him and slowly turned his head. A woman in white was watching him from nearby. She said something to the group of other Heralds she was chatting with that made them laugh and a few blush; he thought he caught one of them saying something about 'robbing the cradle' and she walked towards him.

She was tall for a woman but still an inch or so shorter than him. Her hair was a mane of russet curls that reached the nape of her neck and her face was pretty; her skin was light but weathered as if from time traveling in the sun. Whites made anyone look good and she was no exception; they flattered a slender body and curves that were pleasingly round and plentiful but that could not be called large. Her lips there in a smile as she came towards him and her eyes were bright with merriment and more than that. "And I thought I knew all the pretty boys. Hi there, handsome, I'm Telana."

He blinked, "Ah, Herald Telana, it's a pleasure-"

"It will be if you're lucky," she interrupted with a wide grin.

He blushed but smiled himself, "I'm Owyn."

"Nice to meet you!" And more by the time the night was out. She was in the mood for a young man and this boy was gorgeous! She'd heard he was something of a wallflower and she could see that. But she had a feeling there was something more underneath him. And she loved shy boys; teasing them, making them blush, and making them moan her name. He was just her type, she could tell already! "You're one of the trainees off to internship tomorrow, right?" He nodded and she stepped next to him at the railing, their bodies almost touching. "You shouldn't be just watching singing tonight then. You should be enjoying yourself, well, having someone enjoy you, anyway."

Owyn felt like he was blushing up to his ears. She was...well, she was direct! But it was...kind of fun. And she was...certainly attractive. But no, she was just flirting. Surely. "Well, it would be the night for it, I, uh, I suppose."

"It absolutely is." She leaned in and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in like they were old chums. He swallowed as he noted she had slightly turned so that his arm was pressed against the softness of her chest. "So who've you got your eye on, huh? Meeting up one of your lovers from your time at the Collegium? Who? Point her out to me. Or him, I don't judge."

"Uh, n-no, I don't, I mean..." Owyn took a deep breath. She was very warm and she smelled pleasant; of sage and something else he couldn't quite identify. "That's not really an option, so..."

"Oh, did your partner not come? Heh." He was silent and she looked at him. Telana tilted her head just a bit. "...Oh, no, that's not it. You...you're not..."

How did she know? Gods, it was probably easy. He was likely broadcasting the thought right at her; if she had any MindSpeech, she'd be picking it up. "I am, yes."

He then jumped as she let out a squeal and turned to face him directly, her hands on his shoulders, "You are! Bright Lady, unicorns are more common creatures than you!" Impossible! A virgin trainee about to become a Herald? "How?" She leaned in to study his face, "You're not sick or anything...flatulence? Excessive, I mean, you're only human, after all."

"No!" Owyn was blushing brighter than ever. No one really seemed to have noticed their interaction thus far. There was plenty of teasing and laughing going on all over, so it wasn't much of a shock. "I just...it's not complicated, but I just haven't made...many connections among the other trainees. Or the Heralds. There was always more training to do. More to study. I need to learn all I can. And be good at it."

"Ohhhh, I get it. Hm. Well, still a very rare boy you are, Owyn." She looked him over openly, her eyes speculative and warm. "Mm. Tall but not too tall, agile, got those large, clever hands, such pretty eyes. Serious, studious, dedicated. A quick study too."

"Well, yes," he said with a little hint of brag in his voice.

Her grin widened somehow and took on an almost mad look. Her eyes were brighter and...and hungry, he suddenly realized. "I bet you are. But I am sure I can teach you a few things you will definitely want to know before getting out on the road."

He licked his lips, feeling suddenly...hot and a bit excited. "The curriculum's been very thorough." And a little unsure. She couldn't mean that. "What things?"

"What an opening!" Telana then turned him about and pushed him back against the wall. His slightly panicked expression made her cackle softly before her body pressed against his and their lips met. Her kiss was hot and sweet and there was a sense of merriment and joy in it that sizzled through him as much as the sensuality and blatant lust of it. His lips answered hers and she let out a pleased sound.

Their lips parted and there came a few catcalls and whistles. Telana turned and waved, then looked back at Owyn. "That's just to start." She took one of his hands in hers, "Come on, my impossible boy, let's go study."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hhnn! HAHHH! LADY! Yesss, ohhh, that's good! Such a good boy!" Telana lay on the bed of Owyn's room, naked and sweaty. Her body was toned and honed muscle but her breasts were still bouncy delights that fit a palm perfectly and her hips and ass were sweet. One of her hands was tangled in Owyn's blond locks as his head moved between her legs, "Uhh, that's...ohhh, three. Are...you sure you...haven't done this before?"

He lifted his head, licking his lips. Her taste and smell were in his nose, filling his senses. ...He liked it. And he loved how she'd moved, the cries, the sounds she made when he'd done that! "No, but, well, I do read a lot."

She blinked, "Are...there books about this?"

He blushed, which was amusing considering he was naked and had just finished going down on a woman old enough to be his mother. "Well...yes, actually. They're not part of the general collection, but apparently in the past, there was a need to train a few Herald spies and seduction was considered an important skill set for them, and...I happened to find them when I was, ah, perhaps unintentionally in the restricted section."

"Ha! Really? Elcarth, that dirty old bird! I'll give him SO much hell for that! You are a blessing, Owyn sweetling." That mad grin was on her lips again for a few seconds, "Oh, but that really primed me, you lovely boy. I really, really need you in me."

He stared for a few moments; incredulous and awestruck. "You...I...I want that too."

She shifted back on his bed and her legs spread wider, her fingers slipping down her body, "That's my unicorn." She spread her lips apart and beckoned him, "First one's just instinct and fun, don't hold back, and don't regret. I'll teach on the second." A young man like him should be good for that many. "After this anyway, don't keep a woman waiting. Get up here and fill me."

~~~~~~~~~

He did well the first time, for his experience level. And much better the second. And the third. The fourth had surprised her, she had to admit. Ah, young men.

The room was almost fully dark. The candles he had lit when they entered had burned down almost to the nub and would soon burn themselves out. The smell of sex filled the chamber and she sighed contentedly before going to the window and unbarring it, pushing it open.

Owyn watched her from the bed as moonlight streamed over her body. She was...amazing. And she'd made him a man. He didn't even know her but a part of him would be connected to her forever. "Telana...thank you." He flushed and laughed a little. "That seems so insufficient."

"Heh, I know. After that blowjob I gave you too, right?" She looked over at him. "But you meant it, so it's quite suited. Now scoot over, we should try and get out a little bit of sleep tonight."

He complied and she slipped into bed beside him. The older woman turned on her side and nestled next to him, his arm slipping around her to cradle her close. She rested her head on his shoulder with a sigh, "If you weren't a Herald, I'd ask Ameridan if I could keep you," she murmured.

He yawned, having not quite heard her, "What?"

"Stray thoughts, my impossible bo...man." She chuckled. "One last lesson tonight. Anyone who's good enough to fuck, is good enough to sleep with. Unless they decline. It's," she yawned as well, "just good manners."

He nodded, "Yes, teacher."

"Oh, 'yes, teacher' he says. I like that." She yawned again and her eyes closed, as did his. "Maybe...you can call me that during...next time."
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Old 07-05-2016, 01:27 AM   #10
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It was after midnight, and the Herald's party was still going strong - as was the usual, really, for those types of things. Alaine, dressed in her gleaming new Whites, had been cajoled into joining Larina and Helena in a demonstration of a popular peasant dance, something full of twirls and spins and kicks, while Kris and Dirk played. When that wrapped up, the crowd clapped and cheered - and yelled in delight when the dark-haired girl reached out and pulled Dirk into one of the more intricate court dances - he was as wonderful a dancer as he was homely-looking, and she'd only increased her ability in it over the time she was there. At the end, she leaned in and whispered something to him that made him blush bright red.

The crowd yelled, wanting to know what she'd said, and she held up her hands. "I just told him to meet me behind the tack shed in an hour! What did you all think?" Laughter met her statement, and she winked, looking up into the open loft of medium-sized barn they'd co-opted for their party. She couldn't see much, but she saw the gleam of white topped by russet curls, and sighed as she and the others left the stage. Her mother was at it again - the woman was insatiable! She couldn't tell who with, but if the Gods were merciful, she wouldn't find out it was Elcarth or Alberich.

A trio of Heralds took the stage next, playing and singing a soft, lovely folk song in perfect harmony. Alaine was swept into the crowd, hugs and claps on the back and congratulations on her elevation to full Herald. She met and matched their enthusiasm, but made a steady path towards the walls, where she leaned and caught her breath. She had enough time to get something to eat and listen to a few more songs before she wanted to head out.

~ ~ ~ ~

An hour later, she made her way to the tack shed in Companion's Field, wrapped in a thick, warm blanket. When she got there, she spread the blanket over the ground, settled down on it, and waited. She'd almost started to doze when voices approached.

". . . I'm pretty sure she was joking. I can't imagine that it could . . . be what you said." Dirk sounded like he was full of conflicting emotions.

Kris laughed. "We'll see, won't we? If you're right, I'll apologize. But I'm pretty sure I'm not."

They turned the corner and Dirk stopped dead, looking a bit gobsmacked. Kris kept going, and went to kneel on the edge of the blanket. "Alaine, Dirk here seems to think you were teasing him earlier."

She gave him a small smile, then turned to face Dirk. "I wasn't. The crowd there may have thought I was, but . . ." she blushed a little. "We're all leaving on internship tomorrow, and you two have been wonderful friends to me. So I thought . . . ."

He was bright red, even in the pale moonlight. "You . . . but . . . how - I'm - Kris is . . . really?"

"I keep telling you, man, there's more to life than looks!" Kris look exasperated, and his voice certainly was.

Alaine nodded. "That's very much the truth. But, that's not the point. You're as wonderful as Kris is, you know. Just different." She stood up and held out a hand to him. "I understand if you're not comfortable with it, but . . . I really want to spend my last night here with both of you."

~ ~ ~ ~

An hour after dawn, Alaine woke up, bleary-eyed, wrapped up in the blanket behind the tack shed, to the feeling of Rhonwen nosing her shoulder. "Wha?"

"It's time to wake up, lazy bones! You have to be packed and ready to go in half a candlemark." the Companion's voice said cheerfully in her mind.

"Oh, Lord and Lady!" Alaine jumped up, jostling Kris and Dirk. "Wake up! Get up, it's past dawn, we're all going to be late!" She started grabbing Whites, trying to determine what was hers and what wasn't as she glared at the horse. "Why didn't you get here sooner? Or why didn't Tantris or Ahrodie wake us if you wanted to wait?" She tugged on a pair of trousers, swore when they were almost a foot too long, and started swapping for another pair.

Dirk and Kris started to move as well, and the three of them went into an elaborate, frantic swirl of white fabric as they tried to sort their clothes. The action was punctuated by the swearing and grumbling of the males as they went.

"Well, we all thought you three needed your rest," Rhonwen said in a prissy tone that Alaine knew was faked. "And besides, we were sure you'd wake up sooner. One of you, at least."

Alaine had finally gotten a pair of trousers on, and was tugging on a tunic that she was pretty sure wasn't hers but she no longer cared. "I don't even have time to tell you what I think of your sass right now, madam. But we will have a talk later, don't question it."

The white mare whinnied. "We can have a talk, but we'll see how it goes. I think you'll forgive me." She put on big, wet eyes and batted her long lashes at Alaine, who sighed.

"I have to pack, you manipulator! But you're probably right." She started marching towards the Collegium, then stopped, turned and came back to the two men. She kissed each of them thoroughly, then jogged away.

~ ~ ~ ~

"Good morning!" Alaine chirped as she made her way to the courtyard. "I'm so sorry, I needed to finish packing a few things, and . . . good morning, mother."

Herald Telana looked at her daughter from where she'd been talking animatedly to the Herald with short dark hair. "Good morning, sweetheart! Have a busy night?"

Alaine stuttered a bit in her steps, but kept moving. "The party broke up quite late, didn't it? But I'm all ready!" she hefted her packs and set them next to the short-haired woman's. "Herald Candra, it's a pleasure as always."

Candra had been Telana's best friend for years, and had been a regular visitor to the manor when ever she was able. Alaine respected and idolized her a bit, and Ameriden was just glad she provided a restraining influence on the somewhat erratic Telana.

"Alaine. It's wonderful to see you, you look lovely." Candra's voice was husky and lightly accented, but warm. "We're still waiting on our last compatriot, but he should be here shortly. And then we'll head out."

"The ghost, right?" Alaine fidgeted. "I hope we all get along - Kris and Dirk and Tedric say he's nice enough, but I don't know that I've seen him more than a handful of times, and we've never spoken."

Telana put a hand on Alaine's shoulder and leaned in with a wicked grin. "The quiet ones are always the wildest once you get them to open up. The boy I spent last night with was like that - a virgin, can you believe it?!"

Alaine sighed. "Mother, please. I don't want to hear about your conquests, you know I feel strange about that."

A quirked eyebrow. "Really? Because I know all about yours, it's my favorite hobby to keep track of that kind of thing." Alaine gaped, and her mother turned her around and hugged her. "Be safe, love. I can't wait to see you when you get back." Alaine was just able to get her arms up and hug back when Telana let her go and waved cheerily to Candra. "Keep her safe for me, sister! And write when you can!"

Both of them watched her walk confidently out of the courtyard. "You'd think you'd be used to her by now, Alaine," Candra said with a suppressed grin.
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Old 07-05-2016, 12:36 PM   #11
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Owyn had woken an hour before light, partly out of habit and partly because Telana was stroking his cock, coaxing them both to attention. "Wake up, my impossible boy. You've got a big day ahead. Got to pack and-"

"I already packed," he said with a shake of his head. He gestured to the far wall of his room where a trio of bags sat in the shadows. Then he groaned and closed his eyes, "I'd, hhn, wanted to double and triple check things, and, ahh, b-be early to m-meet Herald Candra."

"Candra? Oh, you'll be fine. She's a good friend." She'd have to get there first and tell Candra about this kid! It was important she continue his education in the sensual arts. Heralds did have a reputation to keep up. "But since you're already packed..."

Owyn blinked and then moaned as she rolled on top of him and scooted back to rub her bare ass against his stiff prick. "Oh, Lord and Lady! Telana...you're...damn, you're unbelievable!"

"Heh, yeah." She raised herself up and licked her lips, one hand positioning his dick. "So's...thiiiissss, oh, fuck, now that's how you start a morning!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He'd had to take a bath and shave after, not wanting to stink of sex or show up looking slovenly. Telana had left him with a searing kiss and a wink as he went to shower. It was only after he returned that he discovered she'd gone through his packs and apparently stolen a pair of his underthings.

Which meant he'd had to go through and check everything to make sure she hadn't absconded with any other trophies. Then he double checked it. Then checked it again. Then did a little repacking that made sense, which meant he needed to check it all again.

"Lady's Tits, little brother, you're going to be late! Everything's there already, you're ready, now get going!" He heard a whicker and stuck his head out the window to see Fahn standing below looking up at his room. The massive charger was already outfitted himself. "See, this is what happens when you let it back up too long."

"I...really don't want to have this conversation." Owyn slung his bags on his shoulders and went to the door. He paused and looked back around his room. Would he see it again? Even if he did...would it be the same? He surely wouldn't be. But after last night, he wasn't even the same as when he'd-

"For the love of all that's holy, Owyn!"


"All right, all right!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~

He saw the two women in whites waiting in the courtyard and flushed. He had wanted to be the first one there, not the last! Fahn had gone off to wait at the stables after giving his Chosen a shoulder bump that was meant to be congratulatory but had nearly sent him tumbling. Owyn took a deep breath and approached.

They both turned to look as he drew near. The years at the Collegium showed; he was no longer the small, slim boy who'd come bearing chairs on a winter morning. He was tall, not quite so much as Kris and Dirk, a hair under six feet. He had filled out as well, having a gymnast's body that was muscled and strong but graceful and kept maximum agility. His face was still pretty but was more masculine than it had been as a boy; adding firmed features and a clean, strong jawline. His lips were fuller and plusher than those of most men still. His eyes remained large and deep; thoughtful pools that betrayed little of what passed behind them. His nose had a slight divot and swell in the middle where Tedric had accidentally broken it during their wilderness survival training. He was clean shaven and his pale blond hair was trimmed out above his ears and had been hastily combed, parted, and swept to one side, though the morning breeze was undoing much of that labor. He wore his first set of pristine Whites and was painfully conscious of the weight, psychical and metaphorical, of the multilayered cloth and leather uniform.

In addition to his bags, he bore his best weapon at his side, a slender and curved sabre used by the light cavalry. A knife was belted opposite that and he had another in his boot. His bow and arrows were already with Fahn's tack. His only decoration was a bracelet of tooled and polished wood that was around his right wrist.

Owyn inclined his head as he approached. He came to a stop and stood a moment before he remembered he should say something. "Good morning. I'm Owyn Lavellan."

"I'd expected you earlier," the taller of the two women answered him. She was as tall as he was and her body was strong and well muscled but certainly she had more than enough roundness int he right places to leave no doubt to her gender. She was a warrior woman, every inch of her. Her skin was a darker olive shade that most of the fair skinned people of Valdemar and it was clean and smooth, save for a long scar that went down the right side of her face from her ear down to her jawline. It was clearly older, the scar faded enough to not look livid but to still stand out sharply against the rest of her skin. Her features were strong and sharp, her cheekbones high and her jawline firm. Her eyes were dark and sharp as a razor. Her black hair was trimmed shorter than his was and there was no sign of gray in it. She was older than he or his fellow intern but he could not place her specifically...likely in her late twenties at least. "But that's all right. The celebration coming before the start of our internship, I suppose it was inevitable. I'm Candra."

"Pleased to meet you, Herald Candra." Her accent was faint but clear. Where did she hail from originally, he wondered? Outkingdom?

"I hear you're something of a hermit. You'll have to get over that. The three of us will be sharing space for the next year and a half at least." Candra indicated the other girl, "This is your fellow trainee, Alaine."

He'd seen her before, but never this close. Always across the cafeteria or on the other side of the training ground or from his window when she was going somewhere. He'd seen her with Kris and Dirk a few times as well, but they'd never spoken. Owyn's pensive eyes turned to her and he felt...something stir in him. He wasn't sure what and it was gone almost as soon as it was there. Maybe it was nothing. She was beautiful. Perfectly so? No, but almost as close as he'd seen. Her skin was creamy silkiness, what he could see of it, and her hair was a midnight glory of sleek black. She was smiling, a bit unsure, but then so was he. "Alaine," he said and it felt...pleasant to say her name somehow. That was odd. "It's good to finally meet you. I've heard about you. Kris and Dirk think very highly of you, and I've no reason to doubt them."

He then gave a somewhat chagrined expression, "You also scored higher marks than me in, well, everything, so I'll admit I may have cursed your name a time or two." Though some subjects didn't have marks per se. He then blinked. That didn't sound friendly. "In jest, I mean. I didn't actually curse you or..."

Candra sighed, "Let's get going. We still need to get our supplies and mules from the Quartermaster and then get out of Haven. I want to make it to a Waystation before nightfall if it can be helped. It's a good ride out to our Sector."
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Old 07-06-2016, 12:57 AM   #12
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Alaine studied the young man she would be traveling with for the next eighteen months. He was handsome, no doubt - it was lucky he'd never let any of the girls get too good a look at him, or he'd have had no time to study! She felt an odd twinge at the idea of how popular he would be when they got back, but it was gone fairly quickly. He was tall and lithe, with that pale blond hair and those pretty looks - whoever'd broken his nose had done him a favor, really, she thought. It saved him from being pretty, added a sort of roughness to his features that balanced the whole of it.

"It's nice to meet you, Owyn," she said, inclining her head briefly. She gave him a small smile, and added, "I understood what you meant. And Kris and Dirk have told me a great deal about you as well. Hopefully, we'll become good friends while we're out."

She knew she was pretty - her body had filled out well over her years at the Collegium, turning her from a skinny girl into a young woman with an ample bust and softly rounded hips. She was shorter than her mother, less than half a foot over five feet, but made up for it with those added curves. Her hair had stayed straight, pitch-black, and down to her waist, and she had it now partially held back in a silver clip her father had given her, an abstract melange of curves and twists. Her eyes were more prominent, shining deep, rich purple against her pale skin, and her lips were a delicate petal pink that seemed to gleam in the morning light. And Whites, somehow, made everyone look their best. Even Dirk, whose clothing seemed to wrinkle as soon as he put it on, looked more poetic than messy when he was dressed up.

Alaine gave Owyn another smile - she felt like they would be close, yes, almost like they were already. Which was silly, since they'd only said about a dozen words to each other. But that was a good sign, right? She picked up her packs and looked at Candra. "Ready to go, Herald Candra!"

The Amazonian woman grinned. "You can just call me Candra, both of you. We're all Heralds here, even if I'm the senior." She lifted her own packs. "So, a little information as we get ready and load down those poor pack mules." Candra motioned for them to follow her, and both young people fell in behind her. "We're going to be riding Pelagris Central, which is between Rethwellan and Lake Evendim. Lots of odd things happen there."

Alaine nodded. "They've got wild magic, right? Gryphons, and meat-eating plants and such."

"Among other things." They'd arrived at the stables, and their Companions were walking over, each of them fully caparisoned and saddled. "Hopefully, we'll see little of that - most of our time will be spent in the villages in the area, but the weather can be . . . difficult up there sometimes." She took the reins of two chirras they'd been given. "That's why we have these lads - well, lasses, actually."

"Oooh, they're so soft!" Alaine reached out to pet one, and was rewarded with a chirping sound from it as it leaned into her hand. She petted the other one as well, and then turned with a little smirk to Rhonwen. "Don't be jealous, hooves, you know you're still my favorite." The mare snorted and stamped one hoof, making the bells on her tack jingle.
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Old 07-07-2016, 12:56 AM   #13
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Owyn felt a little uneasy at Candra's announcement of their Sector. All of the Pelagris Sectors were unusual and dangerous. It could be argued if they or the Border Sectors were more hazardous but in the Pelagris, there were dangers that were far different than any encountered elsewhere. Unless the stories about Sorrows were true...he'd wondered about that.

But he pushed the thought aside as he followed in the wake of the two very different but very attractive women to the stables. The Companions were waiting for them. Fahn was obvious, of course, easily a hand and a half taller than the other Companion stallion that was trotting alongside him and a good two hands taller than the dainty and graceful looking Rhonwen. He'd seen her in Companion's Field before and Fahn had mentioned...pursing her, but much her Herald, he hadn't met her.

Candra nodded, "Good of you three to meet us." She reached up to brush a hand along the neck of the new stallion. "This is Tamlin. He knows you, of course, and your Companions."

Fahn's voice came into Owyn's mind, "Tamlin's a little serious but he's good. He knows how things work and he's very wise. We're lucky to have him."

The blond youth inclined his head to Tamlin, noting that one of his ears had a slight nick out of it and there was a barely noticeable scar on his right rear flank. "It's good to meet you, Tamlin. Thank you for accompanying us. I hope that I and this brute won't be too much of a trouble to you."

"Brute? Hmph!" Fahn tossed his head and tried to look indignant but then let out one of his whickering laughs, "You're not wrong though. Hey, it works."

Alaine had been investigating the chirras as he introduced himself to their other traveling partner. He had studied them, of course, but never seen them before. They were advantageous over mules in a number of respects; almost as strong but smarter and far, far less stubborn. They were mostly used in places where a harsh winter could be expected...or where it would be dangerous enough that their sensibility would be more of an advantage than a mule's comparably better strength and stamina.

He couldn't help but smile a little as Alaine petted the creatures and teased her Companion. But then he walked over to one of them and started to lay his bags in place and start strapping them to the beast of burden's tack. After a few moments, he looked at Alaine and then the chirra. "...Sorry to interrupt, but we need to load them up."

"We do," Candra agreed. He was doing a pretty good job of it. "Here, let me show you both how first. It's a little different than loading a mule or a Companion, or even a normal horse." She demonstrated on one of the chirras to secure her own bags as well as the bags the Companions had brought over which contained the bulk of their supplies from the Quartermaster. Owyn and Alaine then loaded the other with their bags and what was left of the supplies. Candra inspected their work, pronounced it acceptable and the three mounted up.

They rode from Haven and the Collegium as the sun was full in the sky but still a few marks before noon. They were one of the last internee groups to get going due to scheduling more than anything. "That means," Candra said, "That today's ride will be harder once we're out of town. We'll be riding a bit faster than normal but not enough to stress the chirras overmuch." The Companions wouldn't be bothered by a brisker pace at all. "We'll eat in the saddle as well, for lunch at least, I intend for us to make to a Waystation and get as proper a supper as we can."

It took them the better part of an hour just getting out of Haven. The capital was a large place and the streets were busy. Owyn felt a bit of trepidation as they passed through the long gatehouse and out past the wall of the city. Other than for training trips, he'd never been past it before. Even then, it was only for a few days. A year and a half before he'd return...

IF he returned. It was far from certain. Especially with them patrolling the Pelagris. Owyn glanced over. Candra and Alaine had been talking amiably, though really Alaine was doing more of the talking. Candra seemed to be something of a laconic type, though perhaps she'd speak more once she was comfortable with them.

Not that he was one to talk about that.

"Candra," he said and then flushed, feeling a bit gauche at suddenly speaking up. "Ah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. But it seems as if you're familiar with this Sector, am I right? I know this is a very broad and open ended question, but...what can we expect? How should we prepare?"
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Old 07-13-2016, 12:00 AM   #14
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Alaine was happy to be on the road. It was exciting, and a little scary, but it was new and wonderful! They were Heralds, going out on their internship! She wanted to chat with Owyn a bit, to see what he was like after all their friends had told her about him, but he seemed to be quiet and a little shy - which was part of what she'd been told, really. Maybe he'd warm up as they traveled?

In the meantime, as they rode out of the city, she and Rhonwen walked alongside Candra and Tamlin, chatting a bit about things that had been happening. ". . . and I don't know about it, really." Alaine smiled at the guards as they passed, giving them a little wave. "I don't think she'll go as far as marrying him." Her face turned pensive. "She certainly shouldn't, in my opinion, not that it matters."

"Mmmm. I don't like him much," Candra offered, looking at the road ahead with a small frown.

"No one does, except Selenay!" the girl exclaimed. "I shouldn't talk about her like this, as she's the Queen and my elder and a senior Herald, but . . . well, youthful rebellion can be taken too far. He's bad news, I can feel it."

"Caryo doesn't like him either," Rhonwen offered. The mare snorted. "He's slimy, I think."

Alaine relayed her mount's words, and then sighed. "I had a dream, you know . . . ." She trailed off as Owyn came forward to talk to them.

"Candra," he said and then flushed. "Ah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. But it seems as if you're familiar with this Sector, am I right? I know this is a very broad and open ended question, but...what can we expect? How should we prepare?"

The older woman gave him an encouraging smile. "That's a good question, though. We'll get all of the seasons, so you should expect the norm as far as that goes. But extremes of all of it; summer will be hot and humid and nasty, while winter will be bitter and ice-covered." She thought for a moment. "Preparation is a good idea, though the way to be best prepared is to not assume you're prepared."

Alaine gave her a look, and the dark-haired woman laughed. "That sounds like we may as well not bother, since we won't be prepared as soon as we think we are."

"Don't be silly." Candra leaned back a bit in her saddle. "The more prepared you are, the better off you'll be, especially in case of weather. But you can't ever assume you'll be totally ready for anything." She gave them both a smile. "What did Alberich teach you about taking a fall?"

Both of them, at the same time, said in an almost-perfect imitation of the man, "The tight muscle snaps, yes? But the loose muscle absorbs and flexes." Alaine and Owyn glanced at each other and shared a small smile.

"Exactly," the older Herald said blandly. She'd caught the look, and wondered what that meant. At least they wouldn't be at each others' throats. "So, you keep your reflexes tight and sharp, but you don't plan hard for anything specific, so that you can cover as much as possible without too much strain."

Alaine nodded slowly. "I guess." She looked at Owyn again. "But you didn't tell us what to expect as far as, say, wildlife. Or people."
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Old 07-24-2016, 04:22 PM   #15
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Owyn was a bit surprised at the double quote and imitation of the Weapon Master from himself and Alaine. He'd heard she was another of his top students too; right up there with Dirk and Jeri. They exchanged a smile and he felt another odd lurch in his chest; a non-physical one. What...what was happening here exactly?

He pushed the thought aside as his fellow intern spoke up. This was more what he had wanted to know as well.

Candra raised her eyebrows and shrugged, "I could not tell you of every creature that lives in the mountains and the foothills. I have not rode all of it, nor have I seen everything there. You must keep your minds open." Preparation and foreknowledge was good but it was dangerous to trust it too much, in her judgment. "Still, it is something to speak of as we pass the time." Not that she'd fully relax or let her guard down but they were still close to Haven.

The warrior woman thought for a moment, "Let us start with the people, that is the easier matter. Those living in the Pelagris are Borderfolk but not like those to the north or to the south. The land is both more and less forgiving in different ways, and the threat of raiding is somewhat lesser, so they are not a severe. That said, they tend to be very proud and stubborn. They have many superstitions that come from the unusual creatures and weather about them. Many of the families that originally settled this area were once criminals or those who wished to try and live apart from others; starting new lives as Valdemar expanded westward."

She smiled a bit, "They are wary folk but few risk insulting a person who may be a dangerous magical beast in disguise openly. Hospitality and manners are very important there; the people think it helps to create...a bulwark of form that will appease or push away any wild folk or disguised beasts come in out of the magical wilds. For all that, when a person is accepted, they can be very warm and they celebrate life vigorously, for they know how suddenly it can be cut short. Marriage is often alliance and duty based but marriages against the will of the involved parties are considered bad luck, so there is that."

"There is only one town of any size, Westhome ; the original hub from which colonists departed when we expanded into the area. The rest are villages spread out based on where settlers managed to thrive." Over the next few hours, Candra told them of the land they'd be spending the next year and a half in. It was hardly exhaustive but very eye opening and interesting. Particularly when she started talking about the wildlife.

She spoke of the firebirds, which they'd heard of, the extremely rare but occasionally sighted gryphons, but also of other things. Wyverns, giant owls that could carry away children, walking trees that moved about and from place to place with no clear reason or purpose, predatory plants whose leaves smelled sweet to lure in small animals but whose toxic sap could sicken a human badly, foxes with multiple tails that could change the shapes and movement of shadows to distract and trick, spectral lights that were lures for a lurking creature that dwelled in a cave but could not move, and more.

After a time, however, she grew tired of speaking and shook her head. "My tongue is dry. I have spoken more in the last three hours than I have in the last three years." Candra looked at her two charges, "You will learn more as it is needed. From me and from the people we meet as well. For now, we should focus on riding. I want to make the quarter way Waystation tonight if we are able."

The three Heralds spoke little for the rest of that day's ride. Their Companions moved at a gait that would have been a brisk gallop for a horse but that they could manage with ease for half a day or more. There was still a bit more than an hour of daylight when they seemed to have covered enough ground for Candra's liking and she guided them to the Waystation; clearly well familiar with it and the surrounding area.

Candra slowed Tamlin as they drew close to the secluded structure, "Here we are then. Why don't you two show me how to do a proper set up?"
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Old 08-12-2016, 11:14 PM   #16
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"Of course, Candra," Alaine said, dismounting and grabbing a coin from her pocket. She looked at Owyn and grinned. "Call it for horses, okay?"

He nodded and waited until she had flipped the coin into the air. "Heads!"

The coin came up heads, so Alaine sighed philosophically, pocketed her coin again, and then rummaged in one of the packs on the chirras, grabbing a small, tightly wrapped bundle, steel, and flint. She lit the end of it and threw it into the small cabin they would be sleeping in, closing the door quickly before turning to the rest of the tasks. Since she'd lost the flip, she'd be in charge of laying in whatever firewood they'd need, as well as cooking dinner and setting up the bedding once the smoke bomb she'd tossed in cleared out any vermin.

After mustering up a bit more firewood - this one was fairly well-stocked, thankfully - she turned to the cabin again and opened the door. The last traces of smoke wafted out, and she started carrying in the packs four at a time to get them inside, since the first thing Owyn had done was relieve the beasts of their burdens.

This Waystation had a nice stone hearth, which she decided not to use. It was just past midsummer, and the nights were still just this side of uncomfortably warm. Better to cook and leave the coals outside where one of the Companions could alert them if there was a problem. So Alaine grabbed a hunk of beef she'd managed to persuade the kitchen to part with, a pan, a pot, and some of the other cooking supplies. She wasn't the best cook, but she hadn't made anyone sick yet, so she felt pretty confident.

The cut up the beef into thick steaks for each of them, and sliced some carrots and onion before heading to the water pump to get the water she would need. As she set the pot over the fire, she could hear Owyn murmuring to the animals as he brushed them. She started the hum to herself, barely registering that she was doing it, as she seasoned the water and dropped in the vegetables.

Candra had been leaning against the wall of the cabin watching, nodding to herself occasionally, and pushed herself forward. "You're both doing well," she said. "Go on inside and finish up the bedding, Alaine. I'll watch this for you." Telana and Mero had both warned her about the girl's cooking, and she didn't want to make Alaine feel bad. But she also didn't want to chance something going wrong.

"Oh! Okay." The raven-haired girl straightened up and went into the cabin, thinking how nice that was of Candra. But she probably just wanted to make sure that the beds were done properly. There were two "beds" in the cabin, really just raised platforms that a bedroll could be put on. Chewing her lip thoughtfully, Alaine put Candra's bedroll in one, and Owyn's in the other. She didn't think he'd go for it, but she had to at least try to be considerate like that. Her own went on the floor in front of the hearth, and she placed the packs that weren't shared near each person's bed.

After laying out soap and towels for everyone, she poked her head out of the door to find Candra and Owyn standing near the fire and watching as the steaks sizzled in the pan. "All done!" she said cheerfully, walking out to them. "There's soap and towels set up if anyone wants a wash after dinner, and the beds are all ready so we can fall into them when we're ready."

Candra gave her a smile. "Good, Alaine. Dinner will be a few minutes, so you two have a little bit of rest time before you need to do anything."
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Old 08-14-2016, 11:37 PM   #17
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Owyn paid close attention to removing the bags and tack and then brushing down all five of the four legged members of their group. The chirras bore it well, seeming to like the attention. The Companions, of course, knew it was their due and well needed. They all seemed quite pleased with themselves for getting the Heralds here with plenty of sunlight left to prepare camp and an evening meal.

"You did well," the agile youth thought spoke to his other half. "I've never ridden you for so long; I knew the amount of ground you can cover, but to actually feel it..."

"That's what she said,"
Fahn retorted with a physical wicker to accompany the line. "But thanks, little brother. Don't think you're really seen what we can do yet though. This was still light running for us." Rhonwen tossed her head in obvious agreement. Tamlin simple shook his, not quite rolling his eyes at the bravado of the younger Companions.

"Well," he said out loud, "As that's just light running, I'll see to the chirras food first."

"Hey!"

He fed the Companions first, of course. Whether due to the influence of the magical creatures or just plain good nature, the chirras didn't seem to mind waiting, though they tore into their oats with a vengeance once the feed bags were on. Once all five had eaten, he took the bags and turned them loose. The chirras just settled down and fell almost immediately to sleep, clearly far more fatigued by the day's journey than their equine compatriots.

The Companions wandered about nearby, partly keeping an eye out and partly just enjoying the end of the day. Fahn was doing a little grazing as well, the big lug, Owyn noted.

He came back around to see Candra tending to a fire and breathed in the smell of rich meat and vegetables. Gods great and small, that smelled incredible! "They're brushed down and fed," he reported, "The chirras are bedded down, I think they were tired. The Companions decided to walk about a little."

"Tamlin told me. Good. I'm not very concerned about our safety this close to Haven, but you should never let your guard down, and we couldn't ask for better sentries." The dark haired woman seemed as though she were about to speak but then Alaine called out to them and walked out.

She moved with considerable grace, Owyn noted. And her footing was placed with practiced care. She had a reputation as a skilled fighter; he'd heard others talk about her at the Collegium. He believed it. The way she carried herself was more than simple fighting preparation, though. The set of her shoulders, the way her hair was pulled back and moved, the...the extremely intriguing way her body moved under her Whites...

"Damn! And you were, like, celibate until yesterday. Telana really lit a fire under your crotch, huh?"

Owyn blushed brightly and sputtered, causing the other two Heralds to blink and look at him, "Ah, sorry, it's Fahn, just...being himself." He tried to laugh weakly before sending an indignant, "It's not like that!" He coughed, "It's good we've got a little time. I wasn't sure if I'd get my regime in."

He inclined his head to the other two and without further explanation, looked around for an open enough area and walked towards it. Owyn drew his sabre with a steely rasp and assumed a ready position. He then started to work through a series of forms, moving with practiced speed and force.

His ears picked up the sound of footsteps behind him before he heard Candra speak, "What are you doing?"

"Practicing, Her-, ah, Candra." It still felt improper not to address her with a title. He didn't pause in his workout. "I prepared a regime of training for when I'd have time. Weapons work three times a week, general fitness the other days."

"I see." The older woman was watching with a somewhat baffled expression. This was a first for her, she had to admit. "You've been training for years, why do this?"

"To make it worth it," he answered. He shook his head, never stopping in his increasingly swift and complex drills. "The Weapons Master says everyone gets rusty on circuit; they don't have time to practice. I'll make time. I won't rust. I'll get sharper instead. So I'll be ready." His mind flashed to his mother showing off her newly carved peg the last time he was home; a beautifully shaped and detailed piece of cedar.

Candra leaned against a tree and felt a familiar feeling at the back of her head. This was going to become a thing. Heralds tended to be workaholics, it was true, but this was going a bit far. Today wasn't too bad but there would be many days when they'd be exhausted at the end of their ride. If he tried to push it further, he could injure himself. "And when will you be ready?"

"...I'll...know when I get there." He didn't say what he was thinking. He would never be ready enough. You could never be ready enough. There was always more study, more practice, more work.
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Old 08-28-2016, 10:11 PM   #18
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Candra watched him start his routine, her eyes speculative. She hadn't realized that he was going to be one of those trainees that felt like he would never be ready. They'd have to have a talk at some point about the fact that all the training in the world wouldn't ever make you feel ready, but she shrugged mentally. Let him do it tonight - maybe it would lose its charm after a few days on the road.

For her part, Alaine was watching his motions with some interest. She'd heard about about the Ghost to know that he was supposed to be good, very good. The way he was moving through his sabre forms was proof enough, even if Dirk and Kris hadn't both vouched for it. And there was interest that wasn't professional or detached, and she was aware of Rhonwen's amusement over it. She settled down next to the fire with Candra, putting her eyes towards the fire and the food with some effort of will. "So, Candra, what else did you add into the porridge? It smells way better than what I normally come up with."

~ ~ ~ ~

After eating and bathing, the three of them sat around the fire a bit, talking and getting to know each other before bed. It was interesting how much and how little the three of them had in common, but they all sort of agreed that they would get along fairly well, even if it wasn't a voiced opinion.

As the Companions settled in for the night, the Heralds headed for their own beds, Alaine leading the way, Owyn second, and Candra taking the little extra time to put out the fire and bank the coals a bit.

Alaine went straight to her bedroll by the hearth, pausing when she heard Owyn stop behind her. "That's not right. I should be sleeping on the floor," he said.

She turned and smiled brightly at him. "Well, your things are already there, so go ahead. It's no trouble."

His face was determined and firmly set. "It's not about whether or not it's trouble to switch. It's not proper for me to sleep in a bed when a lady is sleeping on the floor."

She was stunned into silence for a moment. "Are you joking?" There was a light in her eyes that might have been dangerous. "You think I should get the bed because I'm female?"

"Shouldn't you? It's only fair, since you did most of the work as well, that you get the most comfortable bed. Besides, I don't need it, and it will be cold down there. I weigh more, so I'll be less likely to get sick."

She seemed to swell with indignation for a moment. "I am . . . I am plenty hearty, and I don't deserve special treatment because of my sex!" Alaine opened her mouth again, and snapped it shut when Candra broke in.

"Perhaps you should both share it, if you are going to be so stubborn."

Both of them turned bright red. Alaine looked at their mentor, eyes wide and one hand to her chest. "Herald Candra!"

The older woman smirked. "I don't know what you thought I was suggesting, Alaine. I merely meant you could use the bed for sleeping. It might be a snug fit, but I think you could manage."

When she turned her attention back to Owyn, his face was smug, almost triumphant. She looked at their bedrolls, and turned back with a scowl. "You Fetched them, and switched them? That's cheating!"
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Old 09-05-2016, 08:55 PM   #19
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Owyn shrugged, "Perhaps you didn't remember where you put them. One bedroll looks the same as any other." He was actually fairly pleased at being able to switch them so quickly. And with so little noise! Good practice.

Alaine looked as though she may be about to resort to violence. The young man felt a strange...thrill at having her fury directed at him like that. It was terrifying but also oddly...nice?

"You're a weird one, little brother. Whatever raises your flag, I guess."


"Shut up," Owyn hissed, both aloud and with his mind. He blanched, "Uh, that was for my Companion."

"Enough!" Candra was tired of this argument already. "Alaine, leave it for tonight. He'll regret his gallantry with his stiff muscles tomorrow." The olive skinned beauty shook her head, "You two will also work out some kind of schedule as we ride tomorrow. If I must listen to this argument again, you will both regret it." Owyn looked suitably chastised, though the girl looked a bit mutinous. To be expected; she was Telana's daughter and had known Candra for some time. The boy opened his mouth to speak but she raised a hand, "I don't want to hear whatever it is. In bed, both of you."

She'd miss this part of the internship eventually, giving orders and watching them jump. It was fun and circumvented so much pointless bickering. Owyn looked a bit shamefaced but complied, slipping into the bedroll and pulling it over him. "Good night," he said softly.

Candra couldn't help but smile a little at that. It was so...simple a thing, but charming. She reached out a hand towards the hearth and the fire there shrank on itself to a cheery red banked coals. "You both did well today." It was the last thing she said before settling back and, with the skill of a seasoned veteran, fell almost immediately asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They rode for four days before reaching Westhome, but covered what would have been the distance a horse would have gone in at least half again as much time. The Companions were very smug, except for the sedate Tamlin, all claiming that the new Heralds still hadn't seen anything yet.

If Candra had hoped that time on the trail would make Owyn give up his training regimen, she was disappointed. Each night after everything was set up, he would train. It wasn't always his weapon work, one night it was pure physical fitness, another he pulled out maps and a few books and spend the time before bed studying, then it was back to his weapons. The senior Herald hadn't yet tried to talk to him about it. It was early in the journey yet and he may still tire of it. Or perhaps get some confidence in his abilities.

They had come over a small rise a few hours into their ride and the walled town was before them, only a few miles distant. The wall was a wooden palisade with a southeastern gate that they were approaching and a western gate that they would leave from. They had already passed some of the farms that ringed the town and there were wagons on the road ahead bringing goods to or from the gateway to the west.

"There it is, Westhome. And your first bit of real Heralding." Candra looked over at her charges. In truth, they would do little but watch her and answer her questions to see how things were done. "Alaine, what should our first order of business be?"
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Old 09-18-2016, 12:23 AM   #20
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The girl blinked, startled out of an idle study of their surroundings. "Oh! Um, the first thing we should do is . . . uhhh, check in town to see if there are any messages, and deliver the ones that we're carrying?"

Candra shook her head. "Close, but not quite. We need to alert the town council that we've arrived, and the schedule we'll set for our time here. We will drop off and pick up messages as well, but the real reason is the first part."

Alaine flushed a bit, even though she hadn't been chided - she shouldn't have gotten that wrong. "Of course. I'm sorry, Candra."

"That's all right, Alaine. That's part of why the internship is done." She looked at the palisade, growing closer, and now scattered with people watching the trio approach. "Remember, we're on duty as of this moment. You'll be fine, but remember that eyes are upon you." She almost grinned at the way the other two straightened in their saddles, tugging their Whites into proper alignment.

They made their way towards the town, their Companion strutting and showing off a bit - even staid Tamlin was high-stepping. Making an impression was part of the job, of course, but the Companions, Alaine thought, sometimes reveled in it. There were people lining the street as they came in, and small children just old enough to be off apron strings were sitting, watching in awe, as the Heralds paraded into town.

The council, a quintet of 2 men and 3 women in their forties, met the three outside the town hall, and waited patiently for them to dismount and approach before offering greetings. The woman in the middle, clearly the eldest by the white in her hair and the large wooden medallion she wore, stepped forward from the others. "Heralds, Westhome bids you glad welcome! Please, come inside and we shall talk of what will be done." She made a curtsy, as elegant as any matron at court, and turned to lead them inside.

~ ~ ~ ~

The town hall was small but clean and well-kept, with a main room for meetings, a small room directly off the entry for the town's post, and a door in the back that Alaine knew from her studies lead to a smaller room where the council could meet in private - the design was common enough around the kingdom.

The council sat down at the table in the meeting area, and Candra, Alaine, and Owyn took the empty chairs that had been placed there. The headwoman smiled a bit, her formal demeanor relaxing. "I am Gheyna, and this is Jehen, Mynilda, Joice, and Odo." The others each nodded as she named them, and added their greetings as well. "We are pleased to see you, though we were, honestly, not expecting three Heralds. It is a blessing!"

A more suspicious person, Alaine thought, would wonder why it would matter. But Candra smiled slightly. "Yes, we had a very good class this term. I am Herald Candra, this is Herald Alaine, and Herald Owyn. We will be present for three days, starting tomorrow, for hearings and reviewing accounts."

It took a great deal of her self-control to keep from starting when Candra referred to her as 'Herald Alaine' - it wasn't a title she'd heard much, and knowing these people would only ever know her as that . . . daunting, a little.
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Old 09-29-2016, 12:04 AM   #21
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The next three days turned the words they heard over and over at Collegium into a forceful reality. Adventure and risk were part of a Herald's life but a great deal more of it, and just as important, was book keeping and the necessary tedium of records. While Candra took the lead, the two junior Heralds were expected to assist and assist they did. For Owyn, the task of checking books and tax records was made easier by his mercantile background but it was keen eyed Alaine who spotted the only cooked set of books in town, those belonging to the spice merchant. The numbers were large and round, which seemed odd to her in that the only other person's who were similar was the local horse breeder. Owyn looked and agreed that a spice merchant's ledger should have many smaller transactions, often with fractions.

When confronted, he confessed and brought out his actual ledgers. It turned out he had been wooing the horse breeder, a striking widow in her early 30's, but she had demanded to see his books to even consider any match to be sure he knew how to run a business. Feeling she'd expect to see numbers like hers, he rounded up and made his figures whole to try and match her expectations.

That was the big excitement of the first day; as the sun began to sink, they rode for the Waystation and made camp. As was the rule of the road, they could not stay in any community on their circuit to stay seen as unbiased. It was the first experience for the younger Heralds of the nature of the rest of their lives; to be separate from those they would always be among and risked all to save.

The legal matters awaited them on the second day. Most were fairly straight forward but there were two they'd been warned about that would not be easy to resolve. In the first, a man and a woman had married and ended a feud between the two most powerful local farm families; one of which had the most land of any family and the other which held less land but land that was naturally irrigated and much more fertile. The wedding joined the families lands into one. All went well until the husband found his wife in bed with another man. When he brought his grievance to the council and demanded a divorce. The wife countered that she only cheated because he had and demanded a divorce as well. The husband and his kin demanded that the land be split up as it was originally while the wife and her relatives insisted that for her trouble and shame, they were owed a portion of the land that had been joined in addition to their own lands.

As bad as that was, the second was worse. A young man and woman had gone to bed together, but the man was dead in the morning with blood coming from his mouth yet the woman who'd been sleeping with him claimed she hadn't woken at all. She had been accused of the murder and protested her innocence.

Candra sighed as she set the dockets down. "Well. These are both messy, aren't they?" The land dispute annoyed her. She knew such things were important but they seemed so petty. And if they didn't solve it to either everyone's satisfaction or having everyone mad at them rather than each other, there might be bloodshed. The murder...was it even a murder?

She turned to the two junior Heralds. "We'll investigate both of these and see what solutions we can find. Your thoughts on the cases?"
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Old 10-13-2016, 04:26 PM   #22
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The two younger Heralds looked at each other, and Alaine said slowly. "In the first case, the land dispute, the only way to be sure if both parties were at fault is to use the truth spell?" She tapped her fingers on the table. "And we need to review the terms of the marriage and land contracts if possible to determine what we do in either case."

Owyn nodded. "The other is more complex - the truth spell will tell us if the woman is guilty, but it won't tell us who did commit the crime if she isn't." He sighed and looked at the tabletop for a moment, tracing one of the seams in the wood with one fingernail. "That will probably take old-fashioned investigation, supplemented with use of the truth spell to make sure we're not being lied to."

Candra nodded. "Both very good." She grabbed the contracts they had from the land dispute and handed them to Alaine. "Start reading these tonight - it will take less time to make this decision than it will to investigate a murder."

Alaine took them, looking at them in a little bit of trepedation. "All right, Candra."

The older woman smiled briefly, then looked at the guard standing by the door. "Please bring in Mistress Leonmar, if you would." He nodded sharply and stepped out of the room. As they waited, she turned to the others again. "You can both do the second-level truth spell, correct?" They nodded, and she tapped one finger on the table. "All right. Alaine, you will perform it on our suspected murderess."

"I . . . all right." What if she messed it up? Could you mess it up? She'd never done it outside of practice, and . . . that was the point, wasn't it? Practice makes perfect. She still felt a bit of trepidation, but made herself sit straighter.

"Owyn, you will be in charge of the investigation, if one is needed, and using the spell on the husband in the land dispute." The dark-haired woman gave him an encouraging nod. "Alaine will render the verdict in it, since she'll be doing the research." She was proud of herself for setting up the division of duty like that.

She turned back to the door as it opened, letting in the guard followed by one of his fellows, leading a woman would might have been plumply pretty if her eyes weren't red and puffy from crying, and her dress tattered and stained from her time in the local gaol. She went to stand in front of the three Heralds, and three of the members of the town council filed in as well, taking seats near them.

Candra looked at the woman, her face serious. "The charges are serious, Mistress Leonmar. Do you submit yourself to our judgement?"

The woman nodded, her eyes tearing up again. "Aye, Herald. I will abide by your verdict, I didn't kill Shawm, and I know you'll find the truth!"
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Old 10-14-2016, 09:36 PM   #23
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Owyn's brown eyes were impassive as he looked at the distraught and disheveled woman before them. It looked as if he had no emotions at all. He was far less calm inside. Investigate a murder? He'd never done that before! Yes, he'd been trained but this...this was real. What if he got it wrong? His eyes slid to Candra. Why do this? Wasn't this the part of the internship where they watched her work?

He could hope Leonmar had actually done it. But if she had, submitting to the Heralds was a bad move. Everyone knew about the truth spell. Even as he thought it, the faintly glowing blue mist appeared around the plush bodied woman's shoulders. Candra gave an approving nod and the expressions of the council members were both amazed and relieved. Alaine also looked a little relieved. Candra then stood up and came around the front of the table "Mistress Leonmar, you are accused of the murder of Shawm Abel. You have claimed you are innocent. Did you kill the victim?"

The young woman shook her head, "No. No, I'd never hurt him." The blue glow did not waver in the slightest.

"Did you injure or kill him by accident or happenstance?"

"No, Herald."

"Did you arrange his murder with another party?"

She blinked, "What? No, of course not!"

"Do you have any knowledge of how he died or who is responsible?"

"No," she said, her voice cracking a little. "I don't know how or who or why, I wish to the Lady I did."

The aura of the spell had remained throughout the questions. They were clever ones, fully ruling her out as a suspect in any way. Candra looked at the councilors, "Satisfied?"

All three nodded and Gheyna added, "And comforted. No one wanted to think Leonmar had anything to do with this."

Jehren, one of the male council members, frowned, "But if she didn't..."

"Yes," Candra acknowledged, "We have to find the true culprit." She indicated the serious looking young man, "Herald Owyn will be handling the investigation. Your recommendations?"

All eyes in the room turned to him. The youth dared not flinch from the gazes or the weight that went with them. Some of the eyes on him were hopeful, some considering, some doubtful. They were heavy but it was a weight he must become used to. He thought for a few moments, "Mistress Leonmar...I am sorry for what you have endured but there will be a little more before the end." He looked to her and then the councilors, "When we finish here, she will go back to the gaol." The silence in the room was striking. "Have her cell cleaned, hot water for her to bathe and a fresh change of clothes brought. Have her meal brought from her inn."

"Go back to th-that hole?" He was unsure if she was more sad, shocked, or angry. "But I'm innocent! And you know it, Herald!"

"So does the real killer," he answered before anyone else could object. He hoped he sounded as sure and confident as he wanted to. If only he felt like it. But this seemed right. "But for now, you are the one accused and the only suspect. If you were declared innocent now, they would know we were looking."

"And would run and hide before we even know who we're looking for," Candra finished the line of thought to make it clear. Largely because Owyn wouldn't, she suspected.

Leonmar's lower lip quivered but she then sniffed and looked at Owyn with challenge in her eyes, "For Shawm's justice, I'll not fight or argue. But you'd best know what you're doing, boy, Herald or no."

Owyn's eyes narrowed and his lips pressed together. Gheyna gasped, "Leonmar! Show some respect for the Heralds!"

The young man interrupted before anyone else could, "Your concern and frustration is understandable." He bit his tongue before he said that it wasn't useful. That would not go over well. "I consider myself in your debt for assisting us in the investigation."

That seemed to mollify the innkeeper somewhat and she inclined her head. Candra nodded, "Go now, Herald Owyn will come later to ask you some questions. Thank you." Leonmar exited, one of the councilors with her to see to Owyn's requests.

The young man let out a long breath when the door shut. Damn. Damn! He had so much to do. See the healer who looked at the body, if they were still in town. This place should have a permanent healer or two, right? Talk to Leonmar's staff and friends. Investigate the scene. He was rising to his feet without realizing it. He needed to start now. What would he ask? What were the right questions? "I'll begin-"

"Once we've heard from the couple in the dispute," Candra interrupted, giving him a pointed look. Owyn sank back down into his chair without comment but his eyes glowed with frustration. She nodded and shifted her shoulders, "Bring them in then."

After a few minutes, two deeply scowling young people were shown into the chamber. The man looked to be in his early 20s and the woman the same age as the younger Heralds. He was tall and brawny with dark hair and eyes, his nose clearly had been broken more than once. The woman was an average height brunette with a nice enough shape, her features handsome rather than pretty, her frame slender and her brown hair up in braids. "Thank you for hearing me, Heralds," the young woman began, "I'm sure you'll understand the rightness of my family's position when-"

"Hear you?" Her husband interrupted, "They're here to hear me. I'm the one as demanded divorce first because of-"

"What I did because of what you did, you goat smelling oaf!"

Candra stood and slapped a hand on the table, "Quiet!" She eyed them with aggravation plain on her face. "You will not speak to one another. You will answer the questions asked to you. You will not comment on what the other says unless asked about it or you will both be gagged and I will have the truth dug out of your minds, is that clear?"

Both paled and looked at one another, then back at Candra. "Yes, Herald," they chorused.

"Good." She glanced at Owyn and gave a scant nod. He took a breath and focused his gaze on the man as the senior Herald began to go over the base facts and assertions of the case. He let the image of blue eyed mist enter his mind and wrapped it about the man; Bron was his name he recalled. Under his breath he whispered the rhyming couplet of the truth spell. He forced the mist in his mind to wrap around his shoulders like a mantle. He didn't bother to keep it at just the first level but moved it up to the second level.

"Now. Bron Calend, you caught your wife with her lover?"

"Yes." The second level of the truth spell prevented lying; the man was telling the truth. "I found her with that Bard, Soren, I suspected-"

Candra silenced him with a wave of her hand. "And had you been unfaithful to her before your discovery?"

He grimaced, "Yes. But-"

"I need none of your buts," the warrior woman interrupted. "That seems to settle the charge."

"You're not going to ask her if she-"

"Quiet!" Bron flinched and glared at her. Ketil, his wife, smirked. "I think we've heard enough."

Owyn frowned. Was that really enough? They'd only heard a few answers and none of the detail behind them. And shouldn't the wife be questioned? But...Candra was the senior here...
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Old 10-19-2016, 11:46 PM   #24
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Alaine looked at the senior Herald in surprise. The woman had a reputation of being strict, but this was well outside the bounds of normalcy. She looked back and forth quickly between the man and Candra, then took a deep breath. "If you please," she said firmly, proud of how little her voice shook, "Herald Candra, as you've asked me to render verdict here, I'd like to hear what Master Calend has to say."

Candra looked at her with an appraising look. "Of course, Herald Alaine," she said perfectly calmly and politely.

Taking a deep breath, Alaine looked at the man. "Please, go on with what you had meant to say."

Bron glanced at his wife triumphantly. "What I'd been going to say, Herald, was that I s'pected she'd been having . . . relations," he seemed to be almost shy about talking about the specifics of now that he was speaking to her, "with Soren, the bard for a while."

"What made you think that?"

Ketil piped up, "He's suspicious, he is! Wanted to cover his own wrong-doing by -" Candra's glare silenced her.

He cleared his throat. "It started with her talking about him all the time, 'Soren did this' or 'Soren said that' or 'Soren's got some wonderful romantic songs'. I admit I got a little jealous as he was clearly courting her, and she weren't resisting at all." He looked at his wife, whose eyes were on the floor. "But it wasn't til she stopped, ah, allowin' me to . . . begging your pardon, Herald Alaine, she and I hadn't been having the same sort of activity of an evening. That's what made me think she'd been letting him have illicit access to . . . things."

It would have been hilarious if the circumstances had been different. "I see." Her voice was level and smooth. "So you sought comfort elsewhere."

"Aye, though I didn't wish to. I know what's in our contracts well, but that . . . lute-carrying Casanova was working his wiles on her, and I had no other recourse!"

Alaine nodded. "I see." She looked at Owyn. "Would you move the spell to her, please?" He nodded, and she could see the glow shift from Bron to Ketil. "Now, Mistress Calend. You do not deny your affair with this bard, Soren, am I correct?"

The women nodded. "That's correct, Herald. Soren and I are lovers." She darted a look at Bron. "It started . . . well, you may not know how nice it can be to have someone pay special attention to you, after a while without."

Oh, this load of horsecrap. Alaine just nodded sympathetically, trying to keep the eyeroll that was building from coming out.

"So when Soren told me I deserved better than a marriage I didn't want," her cheeks flushed, "and that I was beautiful, and he . . . well, I didn't want to say no."

Alaine's gaze was firm. "So he had persuaded you that he would be a preferable companion," she said blandly. "But I am to understand that prior to this, you two had gotten along quite well, correct?"

"Well . . . ."

"Mistress Calend."

"We did!" The woman twined her fingers together. "We did. He's a better husband than many women have, and the land we have is good. It just . . . Soren was so compelling!"

An inkling of an idea came to Alaine. "What else did he tell you?"

The woman looked confused, but the spell kept her from fabricating anything. "That I could . . . all I needed to do was stop, um, being intimate with Bron, and he would go and find someone who would give him a tumble and I'd have grounds to claim part of the land our families gave us." She blushed and put her hands over her mouth.

"I see." Alaine leaned back in her chair. What was that bard playing at? "So you did, and the rest followed."

The couple looked at her, silent. She sighed. "Right, well." One hand ran through her dark hair. "Here's what will happen. I'm going to take the evening to look over your contracts here," she tapped the stack of papers. "I'll render my verdict in the morning. In the meantime, you two will go home - and not speak to other people on your way, please." She gave them a hard look, and both of them flinched. "It seems to me that, despite your problems here, you'd both be happy enough staying married, and without having to worry about any resulting fallout from your families."

"But she -!"

"He's a -!"

Alaine held up a hand. "I'm just saying that maybe you should take time to be around each other and see if you still like each other. And perhaps you'll find that divorce and the time and loss of land," she made sure to emphasize the words, "aren't worth it." She gathered the papers up and shuffled them together. "But if you still do think that throwing away two years of marriage and your families' happiness and a family of your own is worth a few honeyed words and a tumble, then I'll be happy to give you my decision."

They stared at her, until she gave them a bright, sharp smile. "Good evening."
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Old 10-21-2016, 08:32 PM   #25
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Owyn was impressed. And a little intimidated. He made a mental note to try and avoid making Alaine mad if he could help it. She had also very cleverly put the minds of Bron and Ketil back on the base of their marriage and its value, what would be lost if things went forward.

The two were shown out, leaving just the Heralds and Gheyna and Jehren of the council. Candra nodded, "Well, that gives us a great deal to go on." She looked over at the two council members. "Do either of you know much of this bard Soren?"

Jehren nodded slowly, "I've heard the name. We get Bards through here, of course, but most stay a bit and then leave. A few head out to the west but most go back inKingdom. Soren is a full Bard but a journeyman, not a master. He's been here for...nigh on half a year, I think."

Gheyna looked thoughtful, her wrinkled face a bit troubled. "I thought it odd that a Bard would stay here so long. I have actually spoken with him; he says that being here is a good way to get the news and tales from the caravans when they come in. He's a very charming young man, as most Bards are, I suppose."

Owyn steepled his fingers in front of him, "Six months is a long stay for a Bard in any place. A journeyman in particular should be searching for the material for his masterwork. Has he spoken about that with either of you?"

The two councilors shook their heads, the older woman speaking again, "I have asked him about it once or twice, but to think on it, he always changed the subject."

"What is he playing at?" Candra snorted, "Well, we'll find out. Thank you, councilors. May we speak privately?"

"Of course, Herald Candra." The two of them rose, Owyn doing so as well, the young Herald going to open and hold the door. Ghenya gave him a smile and a little wink as she left and he inclined his head, firmly shutting the door behind him.

Candra's arms were crossed under her breasts and her face was thoughtful. But then she shook her head and gave a small smile, "You both did well invoking the Truth Spell for the first time, as well as asking good questions." She glanced at Alaine, "Alaine, you in particular. When I refused to let Bron speak, you made sure he was able to. A Herald must always be watchful for bias and unfairness, even from other Heralds."

Owyn blinked, "That was a test?"

"It was." The young man grimaced. He had failed that test. His hands curled into fists and he cursed inwardly, not at Candra but himself. "I know both of you may not be expecting it from me, but I will test you when I see fit, even this early into the internship. I do not believe in holding back or in holding your hands." She stood up, "That is why you both have the tasks you do. I will be watchful and I may be consulted, I will not let you give a verdict that I think is in error or unfounded, but the point of this is for you to do the work of Heralds when there is someone to catch you if you fall, not for me to do and you to just watch. Do you understand?"

Owyn nodded. Candra returned the gesture, "Good. Now, Owyn. You clearly have plans for your investigation."

"Yes." The pale blond youth was fingering the hilt of his saber, fingers tapping the metal. "I will speak to the Healer who was called that day, if they are still in town. Then to speak to the staff at the inn and Mistress Leonmar's friends and family." He grimaced, "I'd like to speak to Shawm's co-workers but his caravan left weeks ago."

"Still, he was a regular with that caravan and they come here each season, so he will have associates here other than Mistress Leonmar." Candra was regarding him carefully. He was so tense! Hiding it as best he could, but she could tell. "You should speak to Mistress Leonmar as well, though she may be tart with you."

"Yes, you're right." Owyn licked his lips. "I should start immediately."

"Go then." He squared his shoulders and turned without further word or gesture to leave the room, closing the door as he left. The short haired woman glanced at Alaine, "We may have to work on teaching him manners." But she understood that he was deep in his own mind, pondering his actions and what to do, as well as the stakes of being wrong. "Alaine, I am proud of you. You spoke up in front of not just your senior but someone who has been an authority figure your whole life." Her face then became more serious, "Now, have you thought of your next step? I think in light of what has come up here, reading the contracts is only part of this case."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Damnedest thing I've seen in years, Herald." The man who spoke was bald, his head shaved to deal with a severely receded hairline but there was a faint dark stubble on the back and sides of his head. He was a hardy and broad bodied man of middle age; his eyes dark as well as his hair and his features blocky and rough. The green robes he wore marked him as a fully trained Healer but were a bit faded from time and usage so they almost looked like the pale green that trainee Healers wore. "You get strange shit out here, with the magic about and all, but this was a new one for me."

Owyn considered a moment. Westhome was a key enough town to have its' own on-duty Healers, even during the wars, though instead of the usual three and interning trainees, there was only one full Healer and one trainee. The Healer hoped to have them back up to full count within the season. A reminder of how much the war had strained the Kingdom's resources.

He was meeting with the stationed Healer, a man who'd been there for twenty years and was essentially a local at this point, in the small infirmary. The older man sat at a simple desk while Owyn stood against the wall by the lone window of the office. "Anything you can tell me would be useful, Healer Dannid."

"Just Dannid, Herald. I don't like ceremony much, I only make folk call me "Healer" if they're bad patients. Reminds 'em what's what." The thick bodied man thought for a few moments, "I've my notes here also, I pulled 'em out thinking you would be looking into this. Though I expected it to be your senior, truth be told." Owyn just looked at him. After a few seconds without a response, the healer shrugged. "Right. So, the victim was Shawm Abel, a roustabout and guard for the trade caravan of a merchant by the name of Wenda Greyhame. He'd been with her for three years before this, never caused any trouble in town. Generally well liked, never had to see me either. I was called when he was found but there was naught I could do. He'd been dead for hours; it was the chill of his body as woke poor Leonmar."

"Dead for hours." Owyn's fingers tapped softly on the hilt of his saber. "But not in any way as to wake the woman sleeping with him."

"Aye, that's the tale, though you'd need to speak to her for her piece of it." Dannid frowned, "He was very pale and had dried blood at the corners of his mouth and more of it in the back of his throat. I thought he might have drowned in it but there's be more mess with that, he'd have hacked and coughed, gotten it everywhere. But there was no sign of any kind of big movements or thrashing about; just the normal stirring of shared blankets." The big man paused to give a chance for a question and then went on. "He looked like he'd bled out but there was no mark on him and no pool of blood neither. I was right confused...but then I moved him." He shook his head, "His belly sloshed like a full waterskin. I don't know how Herald but he bled to death from the inside. I'm guessing he wasn't even aware of it, just felt tired, you know?"

"From the inside, like with an ulcer?"

Dannid seemed to approve of that question, "That was my thought but Shawm never complained of any such ailment, and no one who knew him said he had anything of the kind. Doesn't mean he didn't, of course, but that kind of thing is usually pretty noticeable."

Owyn nodded, "I imagine." He thought for another few moments, "I don't know the customs here. Did you inspect the body further?"

Dannid grunted, "Not as I'd have liked. It's considered powerful bad luck to cut open a dead body; they put them in the ground as soon as they can here, trying not to attract the attention of anything magic. With mysterious deaths, they burn the bodies; happened once there was a disease that came out of the mountains that made the bodies of those who died of it walk around after they passed, so anyone who dies in a way that's not apparent gets burnt."

Owyn frowned. That did not bode well for his investigation. In Haven, with such a mysterious death, the body would have been examined to try and determine a cause. He bled to death from the inside. No wounds. That meant a poison. Or...could he have swallowed something sharp? A bone? "What happened to the ashes?"

"Poured out in one of the unused plots in the city cemetery." The Healer shook his head, "Not buried in case, well, you do bury 'em and something grows out of it."

"...Has that happened?"

"Not that I know, but it's accepted tradition that it might. You can go look if you like, but it was two weeks ago now that the ashes were scattered." Dannid shook his head, "Wind and dew'll have washed them away."

"Unless it was something heavy." It was a long shot. But he should go look now while there was still light in case there was something to see. And it would put talking to more people off a bit. "Is there anything you can think of, about the body or otherwise, that might help? Any rumors you've heard?"

"Nothing that means anything, Owyn." The Herald noted that he'd done away with his honorific as well. "Tarn the tinker's said he wouldn't be surprised if Mistress Leonmar had done more men the way she did Shawm but kept it hid somehow. He's just a mean gossip though."

"Is he?" Owyn stood up from the wall, "Thank you for your time, I know a Healer is always busy."

"Healers and Heralds, as they say," the larger man rose and offered his hand, Owyn taking it and giving a firm shake, "If I can be of further help, let me know. I've had a bad feeling ever since it happened and I'd like the truth as much as anyone save Leonmar herself, I reckon."

"I'll let you know." He inclined his head, "Again, thank you."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

As in most towns, the wealthy or the farmers had space on their own lands to bury the dead, but those without were laid to rest in a communal cemetery. It was a still place, as they always were.

Owyn found the place where the ashes were dumped easily enough; it was a patch of ground that was nearly bare. He knelt by it and searched with his eyes and fingers, looking for several minutes until he felt a slight wetness on one of his fingers. He looked at his hand and saw that his ring finger was bleeding from a small cut. His dark eyes narrowed and he pulled his belt knife out, careful to keep the bleeding finger away from his whites. He stirred in the dust and dirt a bit until the blade encountered a few small, hard objects. Three of them. He brushed them to the surface; small, oddly shaped, black...no, not quite. He picked them up using the edge of his cloak and rubbed at them and some of the black came off. Blackened in the cremation of the body then? Yes, that made sense. They were irregular in shape and size and were smooth in some places but he could also feel edges on them.

He carried them to where Fahn waited, the Companion watching him curiously. Owyn took a waterskin from his tack and splashed water on the objects, then rubbed again with the cloak. After a few minutes, most of the black had come off; and what was revealed were three pieces of a hard, transparent material. "I think...it's glass. Pieces of broken glass."

"I think you're right," Fahn agreed. "That would do the job. But you'd have to notice something like that in your mouth. How did he swallow it if he could feel it?

"Good question." Owyn wrapped the glass fragments in a piece of paper and then slipped them into his belt pouch. "Let's see if someone at Mistress Leonmar's inn can answer it."
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"It's a shallow life that doesn't leave a few scars."--Garrison Keillor

"Nothing can happen unless you swing the bat." -- Haruko Haruhara
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