by Susan O'Fearna

AKA Herald-In-Training Flora Greywolf

In the village-town of Zoe, on lake Evendim, boredom ruled Aylar Moonspark and he loved it. He preferred boredom to risking death; he served the Queen so much better alive than dead, he felt. Boredom meant not being raided by the pirates and bandits so common to the region.

His circuit (nearly over) kept him from what he loved: teaching history to the newcomers at the Collegium.

He sighed deeply, knowing it would be at least three more moons till his relief would arrive from Haven so he could go home. "Come on Rhodry, let's go on rounds." Rhodry, his Companion, was eager to get his poor sensitive nose away from the unwashed natives of the region. They looked for signs of bandits and checked on the older children who were standing guard around the settlement. Traveling in a semi-circle from north to south took most of an afternoon. Heading north for a candlemark, to the first look-out spot, they shared a comfortable silence born of eight years of partnership. At the northen-most point of their round they headed south and east. At the southernmost point of their rounds, Aylar saw a strange sight, blowing his boredom to the winds like dry dust.

"Rhodry, am I seeing things?"

:No, I see them too. I wonder why a kyree would escort a human out of the Pelagirs, though.:

They watched as the kyree turned and loped off to the west. As the pair neared the now-lone human figure, Aylar realized the person was female.

She was crying softly and silently, her tears leaving white streaks through the dust that caked her face.

"Hello!" Now even with her, he dismounted and offered his hand to the woman. "Well-met traveler."

"#@&&%." Aylar didn't recognize the accent or the language, a totally unfamiliar experience to the highborn Herald.

:If you wish I can bespeak her. Traveling with a kyree, we can assume she has the gift of MindSpeech.:

"Please." His strange language drew a glance of confusion from the stranger.

:You don't speak Valdemaran, do you? Well, don't worry; we'll get you off to civilization soon enough. My name is Rhodry and I'm the horse-figure with the man. My Chosen's name is Aylar Moonspark.:

:Jhran didn't tell me horses had this MindSpeech thing, too. Can your friend not speak to my mind as you do? Listen to me, the only being I ever met who could before was Jhran, and now I'm assuming everyone can. You look like a horse, and yet you don't. I see you all surrounded by white if I look at you just right.:

As she mentioned it the white aura vanished, damped by the Companion, and might have thought it odd, but she ceased to remember it being there even as she noted its disappearance. :Jhran has tutored me in this MindSpeech and this area, the Pelagirs, while we walked. My name is Flora Greywolf and I apologize for rambling, but it's been some time since I saw another human.:

As Rhodry and the girl talked mind-to-mind (as Aylar could only do with Rhodry), Aylar looked her over. Noting the griminess of her person, he hoped she wouldn't be averse to bathing as the lake-folk were. Dust covered everything about her: her hair, her leathers, her pack, her boots, her weapons (bow, sword and dagger). All he could tell was that she was rather short, her eyes were silver-gray and her long hair was braided tightly. She moved as if she knew how to use her weapons. Threaded through a loop sewn in her breeches was a long strip of leather, which was some-what familiar to him though he could not put a name to it at the moment.

:'Lar, she says she can ride. Why don't we take her on to Zoe? That's where she says her kyree-friend told her to go. To be among other humans.:

Though leery of getting the dust all over his white, Aylar couldn't think of any reason not to offer her a ride. He passed his assent on through an amused Rhodry; the Companion knew he was loath to begrime his whites.

"Oh, well! I'll just clean them tonight." At another confused glance from the girl he just shrugged.

:Her name is Flora Greywolf.:


She earned his heartfelt gratitude by taking pains not to get her dust all over his cleanest set of whites. Since the inn was full, he offered her the trainee's room at the Herald's Waystation. Rhodry passed the invitation on and she accepted, obviously grateful, trying not to gag in reaction to the reek of the Evendim populace. Her apparent delight at the sight of the bath heartened the highborn Herald.

Over dinner that night he began teaching her Valdemaran. She showed promise; the lessons became easier after they discovered mutual partial knowledge of the language of Seejay. After a bath and a change of clothes, her silver-brown hair and darkly tanned skin became visible. Although not beautiful, she was attractive in an athletic way.

When the visiting neighboring village's headman and his family and entourage left the local tavern/inn Aylar decided he liked her company so much he asked her to stay in the Waystation with him and Rhodry. She loved to groom Rhodry, so there were no complaints there. It was almost a surprise when they wound up sleeping together one night under the new moon, but what was more surprising was that he was obviously her first. He wisely decided not to question her about her sexual inexperience, waiting for a more opportune time to bring the subject up. It was a long time coming. That night she told him of her exile from the clans.

Two weeks after her arrival Aylar was called to mediate a family quarrel. A young boy had been caught lying to his mother about stealing from their neighbor and the father wanted to punish the boy. According to rumour-mongers, the boy was a chronic rule-breaker and the mother would never let anyone near enough the boy to do anything about it. The mother had taken the boy and fled to her parent's house and the father was being held by the town militia (two farmers) till Aylar could come to decide what would happen there.

Flora came with him.

When Aylar arrived the militia-men introduced the members of the dispute. Mydan the mother, Selnik the father, Seldan the theiving lying son, and Jeen the neighbor.. Over two candlemarks of questioning the boy, who broke into tears and hid behind his mother if Aylar, Jeen or Selnik looked at him straight-on, Mydan getting hostile toward the father and her neighbor, wand even Aylar, with Selnik trying to grab the boy. Things got very hectic in the town hall.

Finally Flora intervened. "Sorry, Aylar," she whispered. She reached around Mydan, taking the boy by the shoulder. "Did you lie to your mother?"

"Y-y-yes!" Seldan sobbed.

"So stole you Jeen's money."

"I did,' he moaned, trying to turn to his mother.

Keeping her hold on the boy's shoulder, Flora turned to the Selnik. "And you would punish him?"

"Absolutely!" the man emphatically yelled.

"No need to shout. I just may be learning you language, but I hear well." No one quite had the guts then to mention her errors in speech. Flora turned now to the mother. "And you would have your mate punish not the boy for doing wrong?"

"No!" the mother yelled.

"Very assertive in this town, they are," Aylar mumbled, but Rhodry shut him up by bumping into him. Hard.

"Why?" Flora asked the mother.

"My son is delicate," the mother declared.

Flora squatted and Aylar did too, just to make it seem he was still somewhat in control of the situation. Aylar looked up at the mother, "He looks rather healthy to me. Do you have a good reason why your son should get away with lying to you?" The woman thought about it for a while and finally shook her head that besides his 'delicate condition' she had no reason.

Flora turned to the father. "And what would you do to punish the boy?"

The man honestly seemed to think about it. Then, "I'd have him stand in front of town-hall and admit that he's a liar and a thief." Flora turned to Aylar, obviously deciding it was time for him to take over again.

Aylar thought about it and finally Rhodry butted in :Sounds good to me. Make the boy admit his guilt and face the consequences. He can't go through life lying to everyone. His mother can't protect him forever. He must learn to grow. And if he steals from someone not as forgiving as Jeen...:

And so it was that Aylar, Rhodry and Flora got front-row seats at the boy's public confession, though Rhodry did have a side-view, so as not to block the audience's sight. The boy seemed honestly humbled, but his mother acted as if her son's punishment were actual physical pain for her. All three of them noted that none of the townsfolk seemed to like the woman much, except her parents, but other than warn his replacement and have it placed on note, there was nothing more that could be done.

Flora's language lessons advanced at a very fast rate and she could speak with little error by the first moon's end. Aylar found himself genuinely liking her and wondered if she could be persuaded to return to Haven with him when he went home.

During the second moon his respect for her grew by leaps and bounds. She seemed shy unless she disagreed with you, then she made sure you knew why she disagreed.

During this period another foreigner came to the area. Bregan seemed overly nice and neither of the three of them trusted the man much. He was large and muscular and somehow threatening to both the humans and Rhodry couldn't quite explain his instant dislike of the man either.

At mid-moon a very disturbing incident occurred.

Shortly before dawn one morning a runner came to the Herald's Waystation. "Herald! Herald! You must come quickly! She needs help!"

Aylar woke with a start as the girl began repeating herself. Flora sat up, listened, deciphering what the child was saying and grabbed her clothes. Aylar looked at her.

"Why are you dressing?"

"Someone needs help."

"But that's my job."

"I can't not help," she answered with a smile.

Aylar sat, trying to determine her meaning... if the double negative was apurpose or not.

:Hurry and get dressed. The child is obviously in some distress. Do your job and don't frown on company.:

Aylar was by now used to this, and didn't feel as if they were ganging up on him. He just sighed and got dressed.

Flora beat him outside and by the time he arrived she'd calmed the girl down. When she saw that he had finally made an appearance she winked at him. "Now, can you tell the Herald what he's needed for?"

"They're going to kill him! If they find him! They'll kill him! Oh, poor Narana!" and the child was bawling again into Flora's jerkin.

They exchanged confused looks. :What now?: Flora asked Rhodry, knowing that he'd either answer himself or pass the question on to Aylar without further distressing the child.

:'Lar? Flora wants to know what to do now. Maybe you should say something.:

Aylar saw Flora nod and knew that for the first time Rhodry had included her into their MindSpeech. He had no idea why, but saw that this wasn't the time to discuss the matter. "Who're they going to kill and why?" Aylar said, moving himself into the role he'd learned at the Collegium.

"Bregan. They said he raped Narana, but I just know he didn't do it. If he did it he can't marry my Mother and she'd just die!"

"What happened," Aylar said, enjoying immensely the look of pride Flora was giving him and the feeling of warmth emanating from Rhodry. He knew he'd said the right thing.

"They said Bregan raped Narana, but she's still asleep and Mother's Healer and can't wake her because she's gone. I know she'd tell them it was someone else who did it. But Bregan's gone and Mother, too. I was at Aunt's house watching the baby because Aunt's sick but we're on the main square there so we heard the commotion." The girl, obviously calming down by the telling of her tale, was no longer gasping for breath and the tears were almost halted. "By the time anyone went to look for Bregan he was gone. Headman thought maybe he was at our house, but when they checked there, Mother was gone and so they figured maybe Bregan had heard the commotion and left. They all think he's guilty, but I know he's not!"

Seeing that the child was again working herself into a fervor Aylar interrupted. "How would you like to ride back to town with us on Rhodry here?"

The child seemed enchanted at the idea, almost forgetting Bregan's dilemma, but not quite. They all mounted and rode to town.

The Headman, who was so old his name had been superseded by his title for some reason Aylar couldn't understand, was waiting on them outside the meeting hall. "How long will it take you to find the man who did this to my granddaughter!" he demanded as soon as they were on the ground.

"First of all, we don't know that Bregan is the culprit. Second of all, I need to know where he's from and how well he and..." he turned to the child, who he'd not yet thought to ask a name of. "What's your Mother's name, girl?"

"Oh, Lanal. I'm Draval."

He turned back to Headman, "Lanal know the area and exactly what happened."

For the next quarter-mark various people came and told Aylar what they knew about Lanal, Bregan and Narana. One thing emerged to him as most important: Narana had only been in the village for three days visiting her grandfather and hadn't even met Bregan. Bregan had been very busy in his marriage suit for Draval's mother and all the old-wives agreed that it appeared to be a love-match.

Shortly before noon the entire community began a search, not knowing if the couple they sought were mounted or where they could be. Turned out Lanal was the local Healer and was more adept with herbs than her Gift... therefore knew the area better than most anyone.

For three days the search for the missing couple continued. And the beautiful young woman remained unconscious, trapped in a nightmare, from which she could only scream, wordless in her terror. Flora had been unable to remain in the room while the examination was given by the old midwife, Feeling, somehow, the pain the girl was in.

On the third day two older people came to town, unaware of the plight of the Headman's granddaughter.

The elderly gentleman called for audience with the Headman, and got Flora and Aylar, too since they were both in town reporting on their fruitless search.

"Velar, my old friend," it seemed someone still knew the Headman's name. "Have you seen my grandson?"

"He didn't come back from hunting the other night," the graceful old woman added.

Aylar and Flora both looked at each other, seeing another search in the works.

But Headman surprised them both. "No, I haven't saw that demon your daughter birthed!" The old man spat with venom. "You should know we'd've had him hanging from a rope before anyone could spit on him." The old man was shaking with anger.

Aylar stepped forward, "What's going on here?" he asked in his most important-sounding voice, feeling Flora and Rhodry's curiosity at his back.

"We used to all be friends," the elderly woman explained.

"But when my daughter returned from the city," which city could only be Haven, in Aylar's eyes, but he knew there were other small cities nearer the village, "with Skurm--"

"Darlin, Velar's wife was killed by Skurm's pet. We were glad to have a chance to kill the creature, it scared us--"

"But the boy was to blame! Teaching his pet wolf-thing from the Hills to hunt so near a settlement. And the boy went wild when we killed the animal." The Headman finished for the couple. "And ever since has been nothing but trouble. Killing stock, eating it raw--"

"That's a horrible rumor started by your granddaughter!" the elderly visitor shot back, obviously getting angry himself. The old woman began to cry.

Suddenly a scream came from the edge of town nearest the Hills. Without hesitation everyone in the group turned and ran to see what else could possibly be happening now. Half-way there Flora yelled in delight and ran forward dropping to her knees and hugging the kyree that, it seemed, was now another visitor.

The Headman stiffened and reached for his ceremonial sword, an old rusted thing used in the Mercenary Wars, but Aylar stopped him.

:Maybe the 'wolf-beast' that killed his Darlin, too cute, by the way, was a kyree?:

:Maybe. I feel like if anything more happens, my head's going to explode.: Aylar answered, unsure if this was an ill-timed joke or the real thing. None of them had had any real sleep since being wakened by the child days earlier and they were all frustrated by the ineffectual search.

"The kyree is a friend of Flora's."

Headman turned a questioning look on the girl he'd previously tried to ignore because she was an outsider. She was on her knees, still, hugging the creature. Her back was to them, or they'd have seen that she was in deep mental communion with her friend, telling Jhran everything that was happening at the moment.

:I can help,: was obviously echoed through Rhodry from Jhran. Her mind-voice was different than that of Flora from earlier.

:Ask her how. Please!: Aylar Sent through his link.

:I am an excellent tracker. We kyree are gifted with MindSpeech and tracking is natural for us, but some of us get extra Gifts. Mine is an other-sense.: The kyree turned to Flora. :I was trying to explain that to you. When I was pregnant, that sense turns inward and becomes rather useless, but I'm not pregnant now and if you'd like I can track the man who is missing.:

Aylar noticed she did not say 'the rapist.'

:'Lar, it sounds like a very good offer.:

:Let me see what Headman has to say about it.: "The kyree says she can track Bregan for us. If you have no objection?"

"That--that thing looks like the creature that killed my wife!"

:We are not them. What killed your wife was more bear-like, wasn't it?: The Headman jerked as if pinched then nodded. "Yeah..."

:We kyree are prey to them, also.:

"Well, if you can find the man who raped my little girl. Go ahead, track him down so we can kill him."

"Now hold on. No one's going to be killing anyone without following the Law," Aylar was quick to interject. "The Law says that before a death-sentence is carried out a man, foreigner or native gets to have his say." At a mental nudge he added, "Or woman for that matter. Everyone is entitled to defend themselves." He turned to see the shock on Flora's face and decided to ask her later what had shocked her.

"Well, due process and all that," Headman grumbled.

Four candlemarks later Aylar was shocked to find that the much-sought after couple were still in the woman's cabin. Apparently the former owners had been outlanders and built the huddle out of their tradition and it had come in very handy. It was where Lanal kept all winter-stored food.

The militia-men, all two of them, marched the caught pair down the road to the meeting house. As soon as they arrived Headman stood and stated loudly, "I accuse you, Outlander Bregan, of raping and maiming my granddaughter, Narana."

Aylar took his place in the rather rushed legal proceedings, "Bregan, it is my duty to inform you that you have the right to defend yourself before your peers, or at least the local public. If you wish you might even call upon me in my official capacity to place you or anyone else here under Truth-spell, but if your full defense fails and the public still feels you to be guilty, such a heinous crime is punishable in this region by death."

:Quite a mouthful,: Aylar 'heard' from Jhran through his link with Rhodry.

:Some Ceremonies are best longer. It allows all the parties to think a bit, usually.: Rhodry answered before Aylar had the chance to try to relay legal precedent through a strange link.

:We have something like it at home, but what is Truth-spell?: Flora asked.

:I'll explain later. For now I need to pay full attention, as does Rhodry. You might get the chance to witness the spell before we can go to our rest, today.:

He felt the link shut down and was surprised at the empty feeling it left inside his mind.

Bregan stood up, straightened the tunic he'd obviously been wearing the entire cramped time in the itty-bitty room under Lanal's house and faced the newly gathered crowd. "I didn't rape anyone. You can put your witch-spell or whatever on me, but I'd also call for it to be placed on the 'victim.' If she's accusing me of raping her, she's the one who lies."

Aylar could positively Feel the waves of conversation coming from Flora and Jhran, but couldn't take the time now to question them. He began the spell and explained it before speaking the final words, the part that made it a spell. "Bregan as a foreigner you are entitled to an explanation of the Truth-spell. The Truth-spell is the only surviving real magic in Valdemar. Our princess has gone Out in search of someone strong enough to bring magic through our border, but hasn't returned yet. The truth spell has two stages. The first is simple and places no strain on you. I call a cloud of white to surround you. You can't see it, but we can. If you lie, the cloud leaves; tell the truth and it stays.

"The second stage is harder for the caster and the spelled. It makes you unable to lie, or even refrain from telling the truth and if you try everyone, including you can see the white cloud disappear. It is the undisputed Judge in any case such as this. If you pass the stage two Truth-spell, all charges against you will be dropped and a new avenue of investigation will have to be found. Do you understand?"

"I think so. Which are you going to use?"

"That is for you to decide. If you pass stage one but refuse to be placed under stage two you will be transported to Haven to face formal trial."

"Well, since Lanal finally accepted my marriage proposal this morning, I don't want to be paying a visit to your far-away capitol. Place the 'stage-two' on me and get this over with."

Aylar Spoke the words that brought the vrondi.

From here it was Headman's place to ask the questions that Bregan must answer. "Why did you rape my granddaughter?"

"I didn't."

"Why did you hide, then?"

"I am an Outlander here. You've all made certain that I know that. It made me act crossly to most of the people here. You have your witches," He looked at Flora and at Aylar, "and your magic," here he waved his hand in the air, "things we have outlawed in our land. I traveled a long way to be accused of something punishable by death, so Lanal and I were going to hide under the house till someone slipped up, get Draval and be gone before anyone was the wiser that we'd been here all along. Then you got your witch-beast to track us down."

There was no change in the white cloud, so everyone was forced to accept. Headman hung his head and Aylar thought he was fighting tears. "Then who raped my granddaughter?" he wailed in anguish.

"Perhaps you should place this spell on the girl."

Aylar Spoke the words that dismissed the spell and Bregan looked around as if he noticed something gone now. "It is not possible to place one in such a state under Truth-Spell. Frankly, it never occurred to most of us that you might be innocent."

"I always knew you were innocent!" Draval yelled from somewhere in the crowd as she worked her way loose of all the well-meaning villagers who'd been keeping her away from what was happening on the platform. She hugged her mother and Bregan, then turned, arm-in-arm with the recent fugitives to face the crowd.

At this point Flora stepped forward. She seemed rather nervous to be speaking in front of so many people, but what she needed to say was obviously necessary. "Jhran just told me something. As kyree she is constrained by rules of her kind. As human with the Gift of MindSpeech, as Herald Aylar calls it, I can reach the girl and maybe bring her out of her mind-room."

As the crowd began talking all at once Aylar took her and whispered to her, "Her 'mind-room' is called ' being catatonic'. She's shut herself off from the rest of the world."

Flora nodded her head. Headman reached out to her. "You can Heal my granddaughter? How?"

"Well, according to Jhran, I'll enter her mind and find her and try to convince her to come out. If she won't come, then the plan failed, but Jhran thinks she'll come."

"Please bring my granddaughter back," the old man seemed to crumble in upon himself, which obviously disquieted Flora.

Candlemarks later Flora emerged from the link Jhran had helped forge without entering. The girl Narana was awake and aware. She saw her grandfather and began sobbing. He held her gently and asked, "Who did this to you?" Aylar noted that she seemed unusually tiny, even awake and wondered if she'd reach Rhodry's belly.

"It was Skurm! I was out looking at the stars because they're so bright when the moon is dark. And he grabbed me and -- and --- " she broke up, unable to continue. Her grandfather held her.

Headman turned to Jhran, "Can you find him as you found Bregan?"

:Yes, if someone here knows him well.:

"Are his grandparents still here?" Aylar found himself asking.

Two candlemarks later, as it was getting dark Jhran found him. Aylar and Rhodry came forward to capture the hidden man, not really looking forward to his first execution in three circuits. "Skurm, come out. We know you're in the cave and will have to smoke you out if you don't surrender now."

An unkempt young man exited the small cave with a sword. Skurm was very large, almost seven feet tall and built like an ox; he made Aylar look underdeveloped. Aylar could see how such a man could be called demon-spawn and how he could overcome and rape the tiny teenager, with no perceptible struggle from her.

Aylar wondered how the bear of a man had fit in the tiny cave and why no one had reported his being there during the detailed search of the last days. He was shocked when Skurm leapt at him and tried to gut him with the filthy blade, but no more than Skurm appeared to be by the dagger that flew from the petite woman at Aylar's side. The dagger landed in the fleshy part of the giant's arm, making him drop his weapon.

Aylar turned to face Flora. Her chin was set in determination, but she showed no apparent fear of the huge man. "He doesn't scare you?" he whispered.

"He's not even as big as my littlest brother," she breathed back.

The next evening after they'd both slept inordinately, gratifyingly late Aylar decided to get to know something about Flora while Jhran was off hunting or whatever she'd wanted to do away from the humans. They didn't expect the kyree back till long after dark. "Um," he blushed, "how... why... that first time with me was your first time..."

She smiled and took pity on him. "In the clans, where I come from, women are not allowed to be with men till they've married. They can, under special circumstances, lead as I was hunt leader of a clan whose chief was a woman. But it is rare. If a woman is found alone with a man she isn't married to, she is killed or exiled permanently. Permanent exile for these women is the same as for married women found with men other than their mates. They are taken to the edge of the burning waste and stripped nude. Then left with no food or water. All our unmarried women are unsexed."

"How cruel, and the word is virgins."

"Oh , Okay. But as you can see, having bodies with you, I made myself one of your people and put up a permanent wall between my past and myself."

"It's not having bodies, but having sex. That's what we call it."

Flora just nodded, as red in the face as Aylar as a result of the topic of discussion. So Aylar decided to change the subject. "When I was explaining the Law, you seemed shocked. Why?"

"In your laws, women are as important as men. In the clans, women are not included as equals in anything. They are barely classed above slaves in most cases. If a woman is suspected of a crime, her husband or her father must punish her. If she has done something like that Lanal woman did, her husband would be entitled and expected to execute her. If she is no parents and still unmarried it is up to the clan-chief. If the case gets complicated, like my case was, we go to Capitol.

"Your Laws include women as equals and free of themselves. That is totally new to me, I guess that's why I was shocked."

"Having no parents is 'orphaned'." Aylar supplied. After that he asked no further questions, and they sat in companionable silence till Jhran returned then they went in, groomed themselves and their friends and went to bed.

Two weeks before Rhodry's relief was due and Aylar was trying to figure out how to ask Flora to come to Haven with him, they were awakened in the middle of the night by a child from the village, screaming for them to hurry. Jhran loped off in the direction of the village, not bothering to wait for her fur-less friends. They dressed rapidly and rode quickly to see what was happening, leaving the child to stay in the Waystation. When they got there they saw armed bandits setting fire to the dwellings and the boats and the local vegetation.

Without hesitation, Flora hopped off Rhodry and began aiming arrows into the melee. Aylar had time only to note that she was deadly accurate, then he started firing, too. Headman and Narana were organizing a fire squad, running buckets of water to kill the flames, even before they arrived.

One of Aylar's arrows almost hit a local and he decided it was time to wade into the fracas. He turned to tell Flora and saw that she'd already discarded the bow (carefully, he noted, distractedly) and was rearmed with her sword and dagger. She flashed a quick smile his direction and flowed into the fight.

I think I'm in love, he thought and turned to defend the town.

It was over before dawn. Three villagers were dead, among them Mydan, the mother of the dishonest lad, and two of the village youths who were supposed to have been on look-out were missing. A body count showed the raider's numbers to be close to one hundred. They were all dead, except the one who'd tried to get away when he noticed that all his comrades were down. The culprit had turned, racing away into the wilderness of the Pelagirs. Aylar gave chase with a mental shout to Rhodry to help, knowing that since his bow was on the other edge of town where he'd left it, if he didn't catch the felon he would get away clean. Before Rhodry could reach him, though the brigand fell, holding his right knee and wailing in pain.

Rhodry galloped up to Aylar, then and he mounted and went to restrain his prisoner. Looking around to see what might have caused the man to fall and hurt himself, Aylar didn't see Flora jog up and stow the leather strip through a loop in her belt. She examined the man, determined that he'd live and commenced to watch the distracted Aylar.

Finally, Aylar stood and noticed her. "I can't figure it out. Why did he fall?"

"She hit me with a rock, you dimwit!" the captive snarled.

Aylar looked at Flora and saw her nod and smile and silently thanked her. They tugged the man to his feet and lugged him to the town-hall. When they got there the two militia-men took possession of the hostage. They turned to face the infirmary that Narana was setting up.

"I wish Lanal was here. We don't have a healer or even a herbalist with her gone."

Aylar stepped forward, "My Gifts are Healing and FireStarting. I was never fully trained, but I can still Heal most wounds."

The young woman turned and hugged him, surprising him greatly. She then grabbed his arm and dragged him to the most seriously wounded. Her grandfather. "Can you Heal him?"

Headman had an arrow through his side, going all the way through, but the missile was barbed on both sides, preventing anyone from pulling it out. Flora dropped to her knees at the man's side and cut the arrow on either side where it penetrated the skin, leaving enough room for a handhold and pulled the arrow out. Aylar nearly gagged, seeing that the arrow had also been barbed in the middle. Flora blanched and Narana fainted clean away.

"I can maybe heal him," Aylar said to Flora as Jhran limped up. Flora dragged-carried the girl, who was almost as big as she was inside, looking for a clean place to set the not-child.

:If you have both Healing and FireStarting, a very unusual combination, I must add, maybe you can do more than you think. I once heard of someone who had both those gifts, and could integrate it into another. We call it 'white-fire.' You focus both your gifts at once and the result is a kind of fire that Heals, instead of consuming. I've been looking around and there are seven people who will die with no Healer. Most Healers cannot heal that many. It is the only chance I see to save all of them.:

"How could this allow me to Heal all of them? And how do I know I can do this white-fire thing?"

:I don't know about whether you can do it, but the fire Heals all it touches, according to theory. I suppose you could try it on me.:

It was then that Aylar noticed that Jhran was bleeding from her rear left leg. "What happened to you?"

:Dagger. I jumped into the lake to get clean or I think the locals would be having kyree-roast. I was covered in blood. I was hoping it wouldn't be serious, but it feels more serious than a surface wound.:

Aylar looked closely at the wound, seeing that it was easily within his capabilities, but knowing that if he wasted his energy on the wound he'd be unable to save the two or three he would otherwise be able to Heal. He decided to give it a try, for the others he'd be too exhausted to Heal if he used the traditional talent.

He focused on blending his gifts, hoping that he wouldn't fry Flora's friend. He kind of liked the kyree himself, though it was indisputable that she was Flora's friend and only a pleasant acquaintance of his. Minutes later he emerged from his Healing trance to see that it had worked! He wasn't over-drained to heal more, but the hole in Jhran's leg was now gone.

Quickly he turned to the matron who'd taken over the triage with Narana senseless and instructed her to bring the critically and seriously wounded together and went to prepare the tea he always liked to drink after Healing more than he should.

Flora watched at Jhran's side as Aylar arranged the wounded into a mass, with all of them touching each other. He then took Headman's hands, closed his eyes and tranced. Suddenly a white light enveloped him, spreading outward till all the injured gathered were enclosed. Then the light grew too bright in the near-dawn for her to watch, so she turned to the interrupted conversation.

:Are you well enough to lead me to the children?:

:Yes. It's as if I was never wounded at all. I'm very pleased that the Gift was his. I need to know either where they were supposed to be or exactly who they were to find them. I only hope they're not dead.:

They hiked off to find the missing guards.

When his relief was due any day he finally got the courage to ask. Rhodry encouraged him in asking her. He went in search of her and found her doing something he found odd. She was chewing on a strip of leather about half as long as she was tall.

He sat beside her. "What in the stars are you doing?"

"Chewing on this leather," was her unfazed reply.


"Oh, it makes it softer. I wear it when I'm riding or running so I don't bounce so much." He was blushing as furiously as she. "I mean, I'm not large, but it can be uncomfortable..." she allowed the thought to trail off. "Jhran said you'd probably be leaving soon and I saw you packing your saddle-bags this morning. I figure if you're leaving I might leave, too. 'Specially since Jhran said she's going to come into season soon and left this afternoon."

Aylar's feelings were a bit hurt that the kyree had left without a farewell, but he'd known that she'd be leaving soon since usually kyree weren't all that fond of humans. "Um, why don't you come to Haven with me and Rhodry?"

"Really?!?" She seemed genuinely surprised which hurt Aylar just a bit more. "I thought you had to go back to the castle and your family..."

"Oh, I do, but you can come with me. Rhodry suggested we buy another horse for you to ride so we'll have room to take our stuff. I-- I really want you to come." He didn't add that it wasn't just personal; he really wanted her to meet Kero. Or was it the other way around?

She seemed to think it over for less than a minute, then jumped up, hugged him and said "YES! Yes I'll come. Of course I'd come, you silly!" Her grin was so large and different than the thoughtful one she seemed to always wear, and with her svelte muscular frame pressed into his that he decided that even though it was still not yet dark they would do no one harm in bunking down early.

Early the next morning, while Flora was bathing in readiness for the trip and he was wondering where he was going to find the money to buy a horse and Rhodry was rolling in the new hay he'd put in the stall for him, the replacement Herald arrived.

They began talking, Aylar telling Herald Deraian about what to look out for in the village and it's neighboring areas that fell under the station's authority and jurisdiction. They'd barely begun when Flora walked out onto the porch with her hair down and wet, combing it She wasn't wearing shoes, a mark of comfort he very rarely saw. Aylar, still unused to seeing her so relaxed ached to see the shutters rise in her eyes almost instantaneously upon noting the new arrival.

Aylar introduced them and was pleased that she smiled at the stranger. She sat down and began braiding her hair, facing the Pelagirs and the Heralds continued their conversation. When Deraian started to tell the Haven gossip and the highborn gossip (Why they insist on sending up highborn Heralds out here to the boonies will always escape me) Flora turned and paid attention.

All that gossip and news took close to four candlemarks to tell and by then it was time for supper. Surprisingly, Flora cooked. Not very well, but Aylar wasn't going to say anything and hoped Deraian wouldn't.

"A good cook is always an asset to herself," the middle-aged bald Herald said, causing both of them to look at him in wonder. "Compared to mine, and I had to eat it for the past se'enday, this is pure ambrosia."

Flora choked on a laugh and Aylar nearly spat the bite of meat on the floor. "I don't cook well at all. I have to eat it often enough in my travels, too," she said, showing that her syntax still wasn't quite mastered, but good enough that Aylar didn't correct her.

"Yes, but you don't have to fear food poisoning from your cooking!" It was apparently an old joke to Deraian, so they let the matter drop.

After catching up on all the non-gossip news from Haven after supper Deraian yawned, stretching hugely. "So, who sleeps with whom, since you've obviously recruited a new tenderfoot?"

Flora blushed, but said, "I'll sleep with Aylar."

As the moon set, they found themselves awake again, nestled in the furs on the Way-cot. "Where do we buy horse here?" Flora asked.

"Oh, depends on how much we've got to spend. And how picky we are."

"I ride well and like to get a horse I can maybe keep. I've got my collection to use, so you don't have to pay for it."


"I collected coins from out-clan lands. Mostly silver and gold, but some real money, too."

Aylar couldn't believe that she'd not noticed that gold and silver were the 'real money' here in Valdemar and decided that time would show him what she felt was real in coinage. "First we'll have to determine how much you've got and how it'll convert here, then decide where to go."

She got her pack from the corner and rooted around in it till she found the rather surprisingly large bundle that faintly jingled when she took it out of its fur-lined pocket. She walked back to the bed, seemingly comfortable without a stitch, and handed him the money.

He untied the bundle, removed it from its wrap and unrolled the elaborately made sheath. He saw that she had easily enough money to buy the best horse in Haven and still have enough money left to buy a small estate in the prestigious part of town. "Lady! You mean you've had this all along? If anyone knew, you'd be thief-bait."

"It's much?"

"Oh, yeah. Gold and silver are our main economic base, that and bartering, but diamond and obsidian coins, exquisitely carved like these are, can be worth small fortunes to collectors." He picked up a small ruby coin, with a fire-bird carved on the front and an elaborate symbol, possibly a letter, on the back. He inhaled sharply at its beauty and faced her, "This alone is worth about ten of the best horses that you can buy. Shin'a'in horses."

She looked at the coins again, selecting one that was in a full-nucleus sheath. "This one is my favorite." The coin she held up was made of a milky white diamond-like substance, one that Aylar had never seen before. "The white-sheer is hard to find and when my brother made it to trade for the gnrok-fur I'd trapped I thought I'd cry. He wanted the fur for a betrothal gift and, naturally, Senalia accepted. Gnork-fur is very valuable. This would have been my dowry if I'd ever married. Dowries are rare, but I am--was--tainted by being a hunter and not very domestic or attractive, and this would have assured me a good marriage. I dreaded having to give it to someone."

Aylar just looked at her, seeing tears in her eyes. She looked up at him and beamed. "Does this mean I'm rich?"

"Oh, yeah. In your own right, you are a very wealthy Lady." "Bright!"

Two days later, after breaking their fast with Deraian, they mounted, Aylar on Rhodry and Flora on her beautiful new mare, and rode toward Haven.

"I know I'm going to be very glad to eat something I haven't cooked."

Flora just laughed and Rhodry commented on fresh hay and proper Companion housing. Seven days on the road had proven to Aylar that he was sorely sick of being in the saddle. Flora seemed untroubled, but anxious to see what Haven was like. Just over the hill, lay the capitol and at its heart, the Palace.

It only took about two hours to work their way to the gate into the Palace. "Herald Aylar, looks like you brought back some attractive company," Hertan the guard at the gate smirked.

While Flora blushed alluringly, Aylar fielded the comment, "Either that or she brought me back. We'd probably be dead of my cooking by now if not for her."

Flora finally decided to join the bantering, "But you're a better cook than I am."

"But I can't hunt nearly as well as you and would have probably cooked something poisonous into the meals in my fatigue."

"Well, I suppose I can't unagree with that."

Hertan looked oddly at her, only noticing now that Flora was in no way from Valdemar. Her medium beige skin was fading back to her light, natural skin color. The sun inValdemar apparently couldn't maintain the tan that the desert would.

Hertan noted the arrival of the foreign visitor and the return of the Herald and waved them in the opening. Seeing all the green in the Palace gardens, Companion's Grove and such, Flora sat up in her stirrups. "Green," was all she said.

Aylar grinned at her, eager to get to the Herald's wing and a bath. "It's not as verdant as the Healer's gateway, what with their herbs and all, but we call it home."

She turned to answer when a Companion trotted up to them and actually nudged Flora's mount. "Do all the horses run loose around here?"

:That's another Companion. Note she doesn't even have her tack on... that's rather odd, really. Charellia is usually so fastidious,: Rhodry answered.

:Well, I don't have road-dust all over me, either, so I wouldn't be talking, Mr. Meticulousness,: an ultra-feminine mind-voice interjected, Aylar was surprised to be included in the Companion's banter. :Now, look at me,: the new Companion said only to Flora, her 'voice' no longer exaggeratedly ladylike, but somehow compelling. Flora turned to face the horse-figure and nearly fell off her horse. :I Choose you,: the gentle voice from the blue-white aura said.

Flora literally jumped off the horse, throwing her arms around the Companion and burying her face into its neck.

"Ahem... I hate to be the one to break this up, but now that you are an initiate, I need to take you to the registrar," Aylar said to Flora. "You could at least have let us get baths before all this." He added to the Companion, grinning.

Charellia nudged his leg, without having to shove into Rhodry. Aylar was disappointed that she didn't MindSpeak him.

Flora laughed and hopped onto the Companion's back, leaned down and grabbed the horses reins, her eyes out of focus. Then her attention snapped onto Aylar, "'Rel says we should get our bath first, then go to see the registrar."

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