The rumors existed, of course. An unexplained disappearance here, a complete change of personality there. But rumors were all they ever amounted to. The disappearances were passed off as an unhappy child running away from home. The transformed personalities were attributed to some unspecified traumatic event, and spoken of only in hushed tones. Healers were at a loss to explain, but curiously, no one ever tried very hard. Rumor had it that the ones who got too close to the truth were encouraged to forget. But rumor it was, and rumor it would remain.
Even the Heralds of the Circle remained oddly complacent about how Trainees joined their ranks. They accepted those who came to them and never thought about the Talented children who never found their way to the Collegium. The few high-ranking Heralds who did know the truth were held in such thrall by their Companions that they would never speak of it to anyone.
And so Valdemar moved forward, run by a four-legged committee from the shadows of the Grove, and their white-clad puppets.
The loss of Talimar was a blow to everyone, Herald and Companion alike. He was one of the few to know the truth about Companions, and after some initial reluctance, was persuaded to accept it. Ultimately, he had been one of the few to whom the Companions had gone when a situation needed a more human touch.
His second Companion, Rolan, knew he needed to find a replacement for the Queen's Own position as soon as possible - Caryo was insistent that her Selenay needed more support than she was getting from the Circle.
And so Rolan set out, heeding the pull that only a Companion can feel, across the country in search of his next Chosen. He returned nearly a month later, shaken, weary - and riderless.
:You were unsuccessful, then?: Dantris asked, as the senior Companion made his shaky way across the field.
:Obviously,: Rolan said sourly.
:Enough with the attitude, Rolan. Just tell us what happened,: scolded Caryo.
:I found her alright. And the girl was willing enough to come.:
:So what happened?: a fourth Companion asked, joining the other three in the small knot of white that had clustered within the Grove.
:Her family, Sayvil. Her family happened,: Rolan replied with a shudder. He pawed the ground in distaste. :They knew well enough what my appearance meant, but as soon as it became clear I was not looking for any of the boys, they drove me off.:
:Barbarians,: Caryo huffed.
:Indeed. They even threatened to kill the girl, rather than let her go with me.:
:Better that they should have done that,: Sayvil said with her customary brutal practicality. :Better that they should have killed her, compared to what we are going to have to do to her.:
:I know,: Rolan said with a sigh. :I just. . .: He hesitated, for the first time feeling distaste for what must be done.
:You touched the girl's mind,: Dantris accused.
:I did,: Rolan admitted. :What a mind she has! Her potential is incredible. Just imagine - a fully functioning Empath, able to not only read those around her, but influence them as well! A shame to waste such a resource.:
:Can you get her out? Either with our help, or with someone like Alberich?: Sayvil asked bluntly.
Rolan shook his head, silver mane flying this way and that. :No. They had her locked in a closet by the time I left, with one of her brothers standing guard outside the door. If I could have spirited her away, I would have, but now the only way to get to her would result in bloodshed. Her spark was nearly broken anyway, by the time we got back to her, she would likely be a shell of what she might have been.:
:Then you have your answer right there,: Caryo said.
Rolan sighed and looked up at the silvery moon that illuminated the Grove. :Lend me your power, brothers and sisters? I will do what must be done, but I am weary from the trip.:
First one by one, starting with the three who stood with him, and then in pairs and small groups, Rolan felt the Companions add their power to his. Questing, he reached out with his mind, past the small towns and village settlements, out to the sparsely populated boarder. It was easy to find the girl's mind again, a beacon of light against the darkness.
Gently, Rolan slipped into her mind and carefully burned out every last trace of the Talent that she had.
In a dark closet far to the southeast of Haven, a thirteen year old girl whimpered in her sleep, mourning for that which she never knew she had lost, and then quieted once more.