Title: In Dreams (Chapter Four)
Fandom: Heralds of Valdemar
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Characters: Companion Lyntar, Spirit Avalbane, Spirit Sashara, Spirit Aterya, Brianna Osias, Meena Norcroft, Leshie Rakmour, Heraldic-Trainee Gabriel Maxwell, Companion Niressa, Heraldic-Trainee Dragan Fulton, Companion Cheyne, Heraldic-Trainee Mel Truant, Companion Arlam, Heraldic-Trainee Dragan Fulton, Companion Cheyne, Companion Yauvani, Companion Rella, Spirit Zeshawn, Jemeste Coriydue, Bard Fradrick, Housekeeper Ellyn, Herald Mirim Crofter, Companion Turaan, Hallette Montenegro, Herald Jenica Nansen, Herald Lamont Kiri.
Disclaimer: Valdemar and concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey; characters belong to their creators; this fic and AU belong to their author.
Summary: They are Spirits of the Forest, crystal eyed and white as freshly fallen snow, and seen only occasionally in fleeting glances. They are said to be ethereal, angels of another time and place, bound to the Earth by a spell… or a curse. And it is the destiny of those chosen as Collegium Trainees to search for a Spirit to call their own. Only two or three of each year's Trainees manage it, and those lucky souls have been lifted to a place of honor in Valdemarian society. A place where they are among the elite guard of their Monarch and Country. A place where they can call themselves "Heralds". Now a threat to the Spirits has risen, and thanks to a "Spirit" named Lyntar, things around Valdemar are going to change...
Chapter 4: That Was A River
Rella stared Lyntar down, unblinking, as the younger Companion attempted to finish explaining what he had done, and also why. The disconcerting thing was that Rella's eyes were a deeper shade of blue than the eyes of most others, which gave anyone who looked at her the impression that she had no pupils.
And Lyntar was more than aware of that as he stumbled through his explanation, with everyone listening and Bri rolling her eyes as he tripped over the words and stammered occasional, all the while kicking himself for being so intimidated by—of all people—his aunt.
He had to admit that she wasn't exactly as he remembered her, though: among other things, she had a thin but angry looking scar running across her face from above her left eye to just below her right ear. It was an old injury, but looked painful nonetheless, and gave Rella the look of a seasoned warrior.
She definitely wasn't someone you wanted to tangle with for the fun of it.
Or meet in a dark alleyway, for that matter.
:Lyn,: she interrupted finally, after his words became so mangled that he wasn't making any sense. :Let me get this straight… you've Chosen this girl because you sense she can help to save the Spirits from the Shadows of the Pelagiris. But to do so you blatantly went against all Custom and Tradition?:
Put that way…
Lyntar's ears drooped. :Bascially, yes.:
The Companion stallion who stood just to the right of her—Turaan, as his Herald had introduced him—gave a snort that Lyntar couldn't interpret. He might have been angry or sarcastic, or even amused. In any case, he wasn't saying anything so Lyntar turned his attention back to Rella, who now shook her head and sent a glance back over her shoulder toward Her Chosen, Herald Dillin.
:I can't say I don't see where Yauvani was coming from, then.: She conceded with a sigh, :though, had it been me, I probably wouldn't have gone with stopping you at the gates and picking a fight.: Then she added, :she's always had a kink in her tail.:
Mel, who had been silently grooming Arlam but listening intently anyway, paused long enough to ask; "you mean she's a bitch?"
Rella's ears flicked, and she seemed to be trying to decide if she should reprimand the girl or snicker at what she had said. Arlam choked back a laugh at Mel's words and ducked his head to hide the amusement that was flickering through his eyes. After his initial surprise upon learning about Lyntar's Choice, he seemed to have decided to cope. Lyntar could already tell that he was going to like him, considering the sense of humor the other stallion boasted. It was probably a good thing, too, as Bri and Mel seemed to be getting along well. They would probably be spending quite a bit of time together in the near future as they both settled into their new lives.
"I can understand why Yauvani was upset, too." Dillin commented, "but she had no right to say the things she did."
:I agree, even though I only half-understand what's going on.: This was from the other Companion mare, Niressa, who was standing with a young boy named Gabriel and allowing him to comb her mane while they both paid very close attention to the conversation at hand.
Gabriel and Niressa, they now knew, were the ones who had been caught in the middle of Lyntar's little confrontation with Yauvani and the other Companions. The girl who had been with them was named Leshie—she had declined to tell them her last name—and she was in the process of rubbing her horse down in a stall near the back of the stables.
Lyntar and Rella, as well as Turaan and the two full-Heralds, were all standing in the stable yard. Bri was perched on the fence, gazing out into the Field and probably thinking about what was going to happen to her, though Lyntar wasn't going to pry into her mind to find out.
:What are we going to do?: Turaan asked, finally.
"What we always do with new Heraldic Trainees," his Chosen, Herald Mirim, sighed. "We're going to present Bri to the King along with the others, and then we're going to train her with them as well."
:Alright, Miri.: Turaan sounded resigned, but not completely displeased with her decision. :Alright.:
"I can't believe you made me do that."
:Well what did you expect me to do, huh?:
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe cross the damn river?"
"You're insane, do you know that?"
Cheyne shook her head and flicked her tail primly, her gait staying level and unchanged as she tilted her eye toward Dragan. :Says he who can start fires with his mind. Look, we're across, aren't we? Just accept it as Fate that you had to build the bridge and get over it.:
Dragan groaned. "Am I really stuck with you for the rest of my life?"
:Oh, poor baby.: She teased, her voice mocking.
He gave a suffering sigh, and Cheyne nickered happily.
Despite the troubles they had already had in their newly formed Bonding, he had to admit that he wouldn't have given her up for anything. And her fear of running water aside, she was probably more compatible with him than his own mother; that was most likely due to his rebellious personality. And that, he had learned, was probably because of the nature of his only-just-forming Gift.
A firestarter, Cheyne had called him—he knew what that meant, even if he had never known anyone with the firestarting Gift before. Or, he had, but not anyone who had the Gift in any sort of real power. Herald-Chronicler Jestel was known to have firestarting, after all, though it was so slight that the most he could do was light campfires with it.
Dragan wondered vaguely who would train him when he got back to the Collegia.
:They'll find someone, never you worry.:
Worry? Him? Not likely, though he had to admit he was considering worrying about Cheyne's mental health…
What kind of a Spirit is afraid of water?
She sniffed redundantly. :This kind, apparently.:
"I hadn't guessed." Dragan chuckled.
No. He wasn't the kind to worry about things: everything had a way of working out in the end, he had found, so he tried to focus on the positive and let time and fate run its course. That particular trait, and his rebellious streak, had made life in the middle-class section of Haven interesting to say the least.
To be blunt, he had been a pain in the ass.
But he'd had fun, so he figured it had all been worth it. His mother had been more than happy to ship him off to the Collegium when he had been accepted for the basic training, which had eventually lead up to his Hunt and meeting Cheyne, though. Not that he really blamed her.
Now he couldn't wait to get home and pop into his old neighborhood for a visit, trailing a brand-spanking new white horse.
At that thought, Cheyne made a sound akin to clearing her throat and he edited the words, changing "horse" to "Spirit" and then to "Companion" as she poked him mentally to remind him of the transition in her title.
"What's the difference, anyway?"
:A Spirit hasn't Chosen and a Companion has. Basically, it's so that we all know who's been exposed to humans and who hasn't.:
"Exposed to humans?" Dragan demanded, "you say it like we're a contagious disease or something."
There was a long pause before Cheyne replied, and then her words were tinged with mischief. :Actually,: she giggled childishly, :that's the best way of describing it I've ever heard…:
Why had she taken Gabriel up on the offer to help out in the Collegia, again? Oh yeah... she needed food to live. A sigh, and Leshie followed the previously thought of boy through the halls as he lead her off toward the mending room, where the Housekeeper was supposedly working at the moment.
Shortly, she supposed, she would find herself up to her elbows in one set of chores or another. Not that she was going to complain, as she was happy to have somewhere to keep both herself and Aimee. But… somehow, she felt as if she had stepped into something she had no right to be a part of. Certainly, as she wasn't Chosen, she couldn't understand why all of the Companions were acting the way they were toward the one named Lyntar and the girl… Brianna? She thought that was her name.
"Huh? Sorry?" She glanced up at Gabriel, who had stopped walking and was looking at her with concern.
He raised an eyebrow. "Are you okay? You look upset about something."
"No, I'm fine." Leshie shook her head. "Just thinking I shouldn't be here."
"But… didn't you want to join the Guard?"
He sounded confused, and she had to smile. "I mean I shouldn't be here."
:She thinks she shouldn't be barging in on the whole Herald-Companion thing, and what's going on with Lyntar and Brianna.: Niressa supplied for him, though Leshie couldn't hear her.
Gabriel tisked. "You belong here as much as I do."
Leshie blinked, "what? But—"
"Would it make you feel better if I told you I was glad you were here?"
Surprised, Leshie blinked blankly at him, unaware that Niressa was laughing mirthfully in the back of his head. Or his part, Gabriel was looking distinctly embarrassed, and cleared his throat uncomfortably before adding to his prior statement; "I mean, I don't know anything about you, really, but I think we could be friends." He grinned sheepishly, "and I'm glad to have the chance to get to know you."
She was taken aback by his words, and continued to just stare for another second, then rubbed her left arm a bit nervously and gave him a tentative smile. "I guess… me, too."
"Ah, good." He laughed, then; "so… we'd better keep going. We're almost there."
Both of them seemed unable to come up with anything else to say, and Gabriel started walking again, shaking his head minutely and kicking himself for not being quite as glib as he had intended.
:She took it well anyway.: Niressa pointed out.
:Still…: he winced inwardly, :I mean "would it make you feel better if I told you I was glad you were here"? I met her yesterday for crying out loud.: A sigh, and he glanced over his shoulder discreetly. Leshie was following him, her eyes on the floor and a slight frown of concentration on her face. He wondered briefly what she was thinking about. :I think I might be going crazy.:
:Now, now.: His Companion tisked, :as I mentioned before, you are a teenager, Gabriel.:
:And how long will that last, do you think?:
She rolled her eyes, and even though she wasn't there with him, he could see it. Then she vanished from his thoughts, leaving him to brood over the idiocy of what he had just out and said to Leshie, whom he didn't know anything about. Not that he wouldn't like to know more about her…
Gods. She certainly wasn't the first girl he had ever met, and it frustrated him to no end that he was acting so incredibly stupid around her and couldn't seem to do anything about it. He shook his head again and sighed in resignation before stopping outside of the mending room and waiting for Leshie to catch up with him before making a vague gesture toward the half-open door.
He was resorting to speaking monosyllabically, now…
Leshie looked toward the room and then waited while Gabriel poked his head around the corner to make sure the Housekeeper was actually in the room, then stepped inside, motioning for her to follow him.
A dozen pairs of curious eyes watched them enter, not the least of which belonged to a stout middle-aged woman with pepper grey hair and a warm look about her. And though she still wasn't comfortable with the idea of invading the Collegia, as she wasn't Chosen, Leshie relaxed minutely, deciding she was going to like the woman, assuming she was the Housekeeper that Gabriel had been telling her about.
"Gabriel," she said after a momentary pause and with laughter in her voice, "what have you brought home with you this time?"
He smiled at her charmingly, and she gave him a suspicious glance. "Ellyn, I have a favour to ask."
Her eyes narrowed minutely, and she set her sewing to the side before giving the other occupants of the room—all but two of whom were girls—a look that sent them all scrambling back to work. "I take it this favour has to do with your new girlfriend, then?"
"My—" Gabriel's face flushed red and he hastily shook his head, giving an embarrassed laugh. "No, no. She's just… a new friend of mine." He cleared his throat, the effect of which was to cause all of the girls who were currently sewing to burst into fits of giggles. They were silenced shortly by Ellyn, who eyed them again. "Um, she's new in Haven and I wondered if you might have something she could do in exchange for room and board for a while?" A shrug. "Chores or something, maybe? I figured you'd be the best one to ask, since you've always got things to do around here…"
"Hm." She turned a critical eye on Leshie. "What's your name, then?"
She couldn't help it, she wasn't proud of it, and she certainly wasn't going to admit it, but Leshie found herself more than a little intimidated by the strength she recognized in the woman's gaze. "Uh, Leshie?"
Ellyn had to laugh at the question-statement. "Is it or isn't it?"
Leshie nodded. "My name is Leshie."
"Alright, Leshie. My name is Ellyn, and just Ellyn. Don't go starting with the Ma'am This and Ma'am That's, you hear me?" Her hands went to her hips as Leshie shuffled nervously and Gabriel tried to ignore the fact that his face was still bright pink and everyone in the room was tittering at his expense. "So what do you think you can do around here, to earn a room and food?"
"For me and my horse, or just for me?"
"You brought a horse with you?" Ellyn's lips twitched, but she managed to retain the serious expression. "Well then, you'll have to do quite a bit of work to earn enough to feed an animal of that size, as I'm sure Gabriel can vouch for."
:Was that directed toward me?: Niressa asked incredulously, :how does she even know you were Chosen?:
:Logic, silly horse.: Gabriel responded, trying not to make it too obvious that he was conversing with her under Housekeeper Ellyn's nose. :If I hadn't been Chosen I wouldn't have come back here after my Hunt, right? Besides, you haven't been here long so you don't realize how fast word travels around the Collegia, especially among the servants. And Ellyn just happens to watch over all of the afore mentioned…:
Ellyn turned her sharp eyes toward him for a moment, and he was thankful when Niressa disappeared again and he could look at her and not worry about seeming as if he was a million miles away.
Leshie was standing rock-solid, but he could tell she was worried—probably either about the impression she was giving the Housekeeper, or about what the other woman was scheming…
What am I thinking? I don't know how Leshie feels…Bright Lady, I'm an idiot.
:You're also very quickly developing an infatuation with our lovely friend Miss Leshie Rakmour.:
This time, Gabriel ignored her entirely, and Niressa chuckled before her consciousness took its normal place in the back of his thoughts. About that time, Ellyn stood up and wandered over past him to tower over Leshie, who thought nothing of tilting her head up and meeting the Housekeeper stare for stare.
"What do you know about mending?"
At least she was truthful.
Gabriel had to resist the urge to chuckle at the look of surprise that flashed across Ellyn's face as Leshie shrugged like it was no big deal that she couldn't sew. He was sure by the time she left the Collegium Ellyn would have seen to it she could do everything from mending to embroidery.
"But," Leshie continued as Ellyn tried to think of a response to her bluntly-put admission. "I can do all kinds of cleaning, since it's all basically the same. And even though I can't cook, I'd be willing to help out in the kitchen, too. Washing dishes or serving…"
"You'll have to ask Arram about that," Ellyn told her, obviously resisting the urge to smile and completely destroy her stern image. "But I can think of one or two rooms that could do with a good scrubbing, and I'm sure that I can find odds and ends for you to do around here in exchange for food and a bed."
She nodded, "that sounds good."
"For you and your horse."
"Even better. I'm sure Aimee will appreciate it."
"Good then." Ellyn waved Gabriel over before her hands returned to her hips. "Gabriel can show you to the servants quarters, which is the only place I have any authority to put you, unfortunately. You won't have anything special, but you'll have a room of your own. I'll also have to get you into uniforms if you're going to be working here, but we'll deal with that later." The efficiency in which she dealt with the situation and worked everything out in her mind was astonishing. "You can look around the Collegium today and get your bearings, but be sure to get lots of sleep tonight. You'll have a long day tomorrow."
Leshie nodded mutely, and headed for the door after Gabriel.
She paused and turned back toward the other woman. "Yes?"
"What's your last name?"
Even though she felt badly doing it, she replied with; "Hamlin. My name is Leshie Hamlin."
Ellyn seemed to be storing the information away, and gave a brief nod—and an even briefer, though genuine, smile—before turning to go back to her mending. Leshie took that as a dismissal and vanished into the hallways after Gabriel, who was leaning against the wall beside the door, his arms crossed and a look of concentration on his face.
She waited for the inevitable question, but still winced when it came.
"Why did you lie about your last name?"
She just wasn't used to things being quite so big—that was the biggest problem she was having as Herald Mirim showed her around the Collegia. Despite her maturity, Bri's eyes were easily the side of saucers as she attempted to take in just how huge and intricate the compound was.
:Far better than that deplorable inn you were living at, right?:
The response to Lyntar's abrupt comment was immediate, though really more of a set of feelings and images, as opposed to words of any coherent kind. Get out of my head, horse. She had yet, he decided, to figure out the whole Mindspeech thing. He decided to ponder on it later, as he was getting a distinctly threatening air from Bri, and faded from her mind.
Bri's lips had compressed into a thin line, but now she relaxed minutely and returned her attention to her surroundings.
Currently, she was alone with Mirim, as it was she who had offered to give her a tour of the Collegium. She had introduced herself as the Orientations Instructor—whatever that meant—and as soon as Rella was finished interrogating Lyntar she had swept Bri off toward the Palace with a grin and an air of efficiency that was a little bit overwhelming.
The others had gone off on their own, as most of them had been living in the Collegium for years already. Granted, the girl whose name was Leshie (and Bri had barely met) was new, but Gabriel, who was also a Heraldic Trainee, had been more than willing to show her around. In fact, Bri got the impression that the entire Tour Experience that Leshie was about to get had been Gabriel's idea in the first place.
In any case, Mel had gone back to her quarters in the Trainee's Wing of the Palace, as she obviously already knew her way around. Mirim—"Miri" she had said to call her—had explained that anyone who was Chosen on their Hunt would be transferred from the General Trainee's Wing to the Heraldic Trainee's Wing within a day or so of their return. So far, the Herald had told her, the transfers were confined to two people: Mel and Gabriel.
"You'll most likely be put into the Heraldic Trainee's Wing, as well." Miri said, "because you're already Chosen."
"Ah." Bri nodded vaguely. "Are… there just the two?"
She looked a bit confused. "Sorry?"
"Mel and Gabriel." She clarified, "are there just going to be the two Chosen this year?"
Miri paused and cocked her head to the side. Bri could tell she was listening to her Companion, and she figured the Herald had probably asked him about the Season's Hunts. "Ran says there'll be one more." She shook her head, "he's just coming back from the Pelagiris, though, so he won't be here until late tomorrow night or the next morning-"
"Really?!" A new voice demanded, making Bri jump and Miri roll her eyes, and a head—clad in shoulder length brown curls—poked around the nearest corner. The head was followed by a thin and boyish body, which stepped into the hallway and then paused. "So there'll be three this year? Are any of them my age?"
Bri blinked at the girl who was now fixed determinedly on Miri. She was wearing a dark blue uniform, which bore the crest of Valdemar on the front tunic pocket, and seemed to be waiting for Miri to respond to her questions. The Herald had put her hands into the air in a joking motion of self-defense and the girl raised an eyebrow before placing her hands on her hips and tapping her foot on the floor in irritation.
"Actually Hallie, this year at least two of them are around your age." She sighed finally, waving a hand in the girl's direction. "But I can't guarantee anything about the third, since he's not here yet… and what do you want, now?"
The girl—Hallie, Bri noted—smiled innocently. "My classes are done for today because of Council meetings, and I heard some of the Trainees were back from their Hunts so I figured I'd come and bother you into introducing me."
Miri seemed amused, but turned to nod in Bri's direction. "Well, you're in luck."
"Hm?" Hallie's eyes shifted from the Herald to Bri, "you're a Trainee?"
Bri shrugged. "I am now."
"But you're not even in Grays."
"Ooh. Sarcasm." The other girl chuckled, "I'm Hallie, by the way."
"I'm Brianna… but most people call me "Bri"."
Miri watched the rather short introduction in silence, then sighed when she was shoved out of the way by Hallie, who quickly took it upon herself to finish the tour in her place. Still, as the Orientations Instructor she would have to tag along and make sure that Hallie made sure to show Bri everything important and explain the rules of the Collegia. Besides, she still had to assign Bri a room and, come to think of it, find the Housekeeper and see about getting her some uniforms.
Sometimes I wish I was still out on Circuit.
:Oh?: Turaan asked, :you enjoyed living on way rations and being in the saddle for days on end?:
:Not particularly,: she admitted, :but at least it was a little more exciting than being assigned to the Collegium.:
:You know they put you here because you're good with the younglings, right?:
:Yes, Ran, I know.:
:But that doesn't mean you have to like it?:
:Exactly my point.:
Turaan gave a mental laugh, but didn't try to persuade her any farther. He knew that she understood the reasons for her station, and on most days she even enjoyed it to a certain extent. But, of course, there were other days when she got bored and wished that she could be out somewhere adventuring.
Personally, he was of the mindset that adventure was somewhat overrated, especially if it meant waling up any time before noon.
With Turaan silent again, Miri turned her attention back to the two girls who were walking only a yard ahead of her. Hallie had Bri by the arm and was talking animatedly, her monologue interrupted routinely with random information about the various hallways, rooms, artwork, and occasionally people that they passed.
"—basically, I'm just tired of being on my own." She was saying, "see, there are plenty of Blues and even a few Bardic or Healers students that are my age, but until this year all of the Heraldic Trainees have been older than me, so they didn't want to hang around with a little kid. I mean, I wouldn't have wanted to, either… oh, and down that hallway is where the Trainee's Wing is. Not the Heraldic Trainee's quarters, mind you, but the Collegium Trainees. All the Trainees who have Companions are in another wing, across from that one and kind of diagonal. Anyway, I've been dying of curiosity about the Spirits and Companions—that's something I have in common with Bard Fradrick, actually—but I didn't really know anyone from the Heraldic Trainees so I didn't have much contact with the Companions at all." She sighed somewhat sadly. "But now Reiley and I are fourteen, and that's an average age for going on your Hunt and being Chosen, so now I've got people to bug!"
She seemed monumentally pleased with that, and Bri took the lapse in her talking to open her mouth and interject a question. "Uh, Reiley?"
"Him?" Hallie made a face, "Reiley's my older brother. Well, he's my twin, but he was born a little bit before me. He's in the Collegium with me for schooling, but we're not Heraldic or Bardic or Healers so we're actually called Unaffiliates. Hence the Blue uniform."
Bri barely managed a weak "oh" before Hallie continued walking and her rambling began anew. Miri finally took pity on the silver eyed (an odd color, she noted) girl, and made an interrupting noise, causing Hallie to turn around with Bri in tow. Once they were both focused on her, she raised her eyebrows for emphasis.
"Hallie," she said, "in case you had forgotten, we have to present today's Trainees to the court in about a quarter of a candlemark…"
"Oh yeah." The girl shook her head and released Bri, who gave Miri an appreciative look. "Alright, then… um, I guess I have to go then." Within seconds she was practically flying down the hallway, waving a quick goodbye before she disappeared around a corner and her footsteps faded into the distance.
Bri stood, staring, still trying to comprehend what had just happened.
"No worries," Miri laughed at the expression on her face, "you'll get used to it quickly, I guarantee it."
:Or she'll go insane.: Turaan commented, :which, considering Hallie seems to have taken a shine to her, is probably a distinct possibility.:
She stood nervously for a moment, then finally lowered herself onto a bench, her eyes on the table in front of her and her mind going over what she was about to say. Across from her, Gabriel's arms were crossed on the same table and he was watching her intently, obviously not going to leave her alone until he got an explanation. Leshie also thought that Niressa was pushing him into interrogating her as well, but she didn't have any proof of that so she hadn't asked.
"You don't want your family to know you're here because of that arranged marriage thing."
It wasn't a question, it was a statement, and Leshie was surprised by its accuracy.
:That's probably it, Chosen.: Niressa told him, :but there's bound to be more to it than just that.:
:That's what I figured.: He waited for Leshie to respond, his eyes focused on her as she studied the table intensely, her hands in her lap and her gaze downcast. She looks sad, not that I blame her. To go from being part of the wealthiest family in Valdemar to a common servant girl in a matter of three minutes…
Niressa seemed to snort at the thought, but didn't say anything.
"If they find me," Leshie said finally, "they'll drag me back and make me marry, and I can't let them do that. If I'm here under the name Leshie Hamlin, at least I have a chance of keeping them off of my trail."
Gabriel closed his eyes with a sigh. "If Ellyn finds out that you lied to her, she won't be happy and neither will the Dean. They'll probably kick you and Aimee out, and then where would you be?"
She looked worried. "You wouldn't tell them, would you?"
A long pause, then; "no… but you have three siblings who train here. How do you expect to avoid them? You won't be able to do it forever, and as soon as they know you're here they're bound to send word to your parents to ask about it."
Leshie hadn't thought of that. "But—" she faltered and tried again. "As soon as I talk to that Leftenant Malcam, I'll be in the Guard and then—"
"You're assuming you're going to get in." Gabriel interrupted gently, "you should think of all the different outcomes that could happen. What if you aren't accepted? Then what will you do?"
Leshie was silent.
She had no idea what she would do if that problem arose. She couldn't stay at the Collegia indefinitely, because—as Gabriel had pointed out—Broderick, Sibley and Dolli were training in the same place. And he was right that she wouldn't be able to avoid them forever. So if she wasn't accepted into the Guard, she would have to—what? Leave Haven and try to find somewhere far enough away that her family couldn't find her? Go home and resign herself to a political marriage?
I won't. Her resolve was stronger than ever. I'd rather die.
"Look," across from her, Gabriel leaned back and regarded her thoughtfully. "You can probably stay here for a week or two and maybe manage not to connect with your brothers or sister, so keep thinking about your options. I'll see about finding Leftenant Malcam and getting him to talk to you. If nothing else, I'll talk to Herald Lamont and try to convince him you're in need of asylum."
"I'll try to help you, Leshie, but I don't know how much I can do."
:No matter what, it's more than she would have had without you.: Niressa pointed out softly, and Gabriel could tell she was feeling more than a little sympathy for the girl he was currently talking to. :You're a good boy.:
:Even if I'm one big walking hormone since I'm a teenager?:
:Of course.: She laughed softly, then: :Um, Gabriel, I know this is important to you and Leshie, but you have to be presented to the King Darrick…:
:Right.: He nodded mentally and then spoke again, making Leshie—whose eyes had gone downward again—look back up from the table. "I have an appointment in the Court." He told her, "so I have to go. You should keep exploring and figuring out the lay of the Collegia, and I'll find you again after I'm done."
"Alright." She stood after him, managing a smile, though he was more than convinced she would rather have been crying. And when he started to head for the dining room door, she added; "…thanks…"
Gabriel forced a grin. "No problem."
He hoped the short statement would prove to be correct.
"Well, I don't know about you but this is my most hated part of being a Trainee."
Bri shrugged. "I've never had to do this before, so…"
But Mel groaned, "I have. When I was first picked to come to the Collegium. And we had to sit in on routine council sessions for our classes that dealt with politics, too. It's the most boring thing possible."
:It'll only get worse, now that you're Chosen.: Arlam pointed with good-naturedly.
Mel stifled a scowl, and Bri had to chuckle—she was glad, though, that Lyntar wasn't trying to put his two cents in as well. She was still not pleased with having been up and dragged out of her life, and having him poking around her mind was not her idea of fun. Really, if she could have been a Trainee without the talking horse, she would have been more than fine with it.
The two of them were standing by the doors to the King's chambers. Not his Private Chambers, but the rooms where formal presentations were made. The Queen wasn't going to be present, Miri had told them, but the Prince and Princess were required to sit in on such formalities as a form of training.
Images of spoiled-rotten royal brats ran rampant in Bri's head, but she didn't mention them to anyone.
"Here he comes." Miri announced from the doorway, where she was peering down the hall on lookout for the third of the Trainees who was to be announced and presented along with Mel and Bri.
A moment later, Gabriel dashed into the room, looking slightly winded and muttering apologies which Miri waved off before straightening his collar for him and knocking tentatively on the doors to the inner Chambers.
After a second, the door creaked open and a Herald stuck his head out. "All present and accounted for?"
Miri nodded. "Three Trainees today, Lamont, and another tomorrow or the next day. That's one more than we've ever had before."
The Herald—Lamont—looked serious, but agreed. "Yes, but that's not necessarily a good thing, Mirim."
She gestured vaguely toward him. "This is Herald Lamont Kiri, the King's Own Herald and the highest-ranking Herald in the circle. Lamont, these are Trainees Gabriel, Mel and Bri."
His eyes shifted among them, and then rested on Bri. "I heard about her from Yauvani."
Bri winced. This was the man who was Bonded to Yauvani? All she knew about the mare was that she had a terrible attitude problem, and she got the feeling that Lamont wasn't all that much better than his Companion. Still, she hoped that by giving him the benefit of the doubt she would prove herself wrong.
After another moment, Lamont waved a hand and another Herald spirited around him, and without waiting for instructions, approached Mel, who looked at her dubiously. Miri smiled and explained that Herald Jenica was going to Search them to find out what Gifts they had, so that they knew what to say when they were presented to the King.
"Mindspeech and Fetching." She murmured after a long few seconds of staring through Mel. "Both at normal strength." Moving on, she repeated the process with Gabriel, proclaiming; "strong Mindspeech. Stronger than most… and a touch of the Healers Gift as well."
Interesting to know.
Bri waited as Herald Jenica's focus shifted to her, and shivered a bit when she felt the stirrings of someone else inside her thoughts with her. It wasn't Lyntar, that was for sure. She wasn't fond of him, but she was used to his presence at least. This touch was vague and distinctly human, and she had to assume that it was the Herald's mind brushing against hers.
A frown graced her lips, and Jenica pulled back suddenly, surprise showing in her eyes.
"Jenica, what is it?"
She turned to look at Lamont, still frowning worriedly, and everyone reacted with more than shock when she finally spoke, the words seeming to echo as if the silence that had descended upon the room made it cavernous.
"Lamont… this girl…" Jenica paused, seeming unsure of herself, then: "this girl has no Heraldic Gifts at all."