:Aren’t we forgetting about the Empire that tried to invade us?: Garridan thought he was being rather tactful with that “we” part.
There was an awkward pause as the other Companions in the stable realized that he had spoken. It was Caryo who responded, :I know it all seems dark right now, Garridan, but life will improve. Just wait. You survived for a reason.:
She kindly did not directly mention that his Chosen was dead. Elric had been dead for a year now and still no one said his name because for some reason Garridan himself was still alive. Garridan kind of hated her and the whole world for it.:And maybe that reason is to warn you that an enemy still waits beyond our borders.:
:The Empire was defeated, Garridan,: Caryo spoke soothingly, which had pretty much the opposite effect than what she was gong for. :I know you were focusing most of your attention on, on Elric. But the Empire was defeated.:
And there she went and did say Elric’s name and Garridan hated her just as much for speaking it now as for not earlier. He could hardly deny having gone half mad with Elric’s death, but he had been aware of the world, no matter that he didn’t want to be. He knew about the magic storms that had come from the Tower of Urtho.He knew that a companion had died in the complex spell it had taken to stop them.:It’s a bit naïve to think that an Empire would consider itself defeated due to a temporary magical disaster that effected everyone.:
:I know it’s dark and dreary today, but tomorrow will be better. Just you wait.:
Garridan missed Elric with a constant ache at all times, but he missed him at this moment with a sharp and practical need. Elric would have paid attention to him. And with a Chosen Herald at his side, the rest of the Companions would have paid heed as well. Instead, he was now half of what he had been, and people paid less attention to his words than they did to those of the young Companions who hadn’t Chosen anyone at all.
Maybe they were right to ignore his warnings. Maybe the world wasn’t as bleak as it looked to a person missing half his self. The warm, cozy stables felt stifling and claustrophobic, and he didn’t feel up to continuing the argument. He went back outside into the cold and wet. For all the pitying looks he could feel them giving him, none of them called him back.
On such an unpleasant day—cold, overcast, with periodic spurts of rain—all the smart Companions had left Companion’s Field in order to stay warm and dry in the stables. That left the younger Companions who hadn’t Chosen yet still outside making use of the bad weather to gossip without undue supervision. The young idiot Companions, Garridan thought, plus Garridan himself who was also an idiot, but didn’t even have the excuse of youth to protect him.
On the far side of the Grove, with his head hanging low enough that his nose brushed the dirt at his hooves, he doubted the group of fillies and foals were even aware of his presence. He let their words wash over him. At least they weren’t talking about the so-called ‘great victory’ over the Empire.
:He told me to go away!:
:At least he didn’t run away like he did with Farley.:
:And at least you made the attempt, unlike Rabin here.:
:Hey, it wasn’t my fault. I knew I wasn’t the right Companion for him, so I didn’t press it.:
:Yeah, you knew the right companion wouldn’t be scared of him.:
:I wasn’t scared! He was just… overwhelming.:
Garridan almost wanted to snicker. This whole conversation of theirs was ludicrous. Garridan remembered finding Elric for the first time. Garridan had known his Chosen immediately. That’s how Choosing worked. Multiple Companions didn’t simply try their luck on the same person.
Expect, apparently, when they did, the young idiots.
:Oh yeah, like you’re one to talk. You didn’t try either.:
:I didn’t feel the pull. So clearly he isn’t my Chosen.:
:Hah. You may not have felt the pull, but you know he feels like a Chosen.:
:Doesn’t matter. He may be a Chosen, but he’s not my Chosen.:
:He’s important, though.:
:So what are going to do? One of us needs to Choose him.:
:Maybe there’ll be another Grove borne for him?:
There was a long pause at that and Garridan couldn’t help but let his ears flick up. Companions didn’t talk about the Grove borne, those Companions who appeared, full-grown, with no recorded sire or dam. For the most part, they didn’t even think about Grove borne. In theory, only the Queen’s Own Companion was a Grove borne. In practice, well, the archivists throughout the years had discovered a few discrepancies in the records that could only really be explained by the introduction of an extra Grove borne Companion here and there.
:I think we need to tell someone.:
There was another pause. :Yeah, but who?:
:Rolan is the obvious one. He’s the Queen’s Own Companion.:
:Yeah, but do any of us want to admit to failing to Choose someone to him?:
:What about Kantor? He had trouble with his Choosing and his Chosen is the Arms Master.:
:What about Garridan?:
Garridan had been still before, but now he felt frozen. What? He wasn’t anything special. Not like Rolan or Kantor. They had more power than the average Companion; he had less. He was the Companion half in the grave.
:Garridan?: One of the younger Companions sounded just as surprised as Garridan did, although less disturbed.
:Well, he’s still alive, right?:
Suddenly eavesdropping wasn’t as amusing as it had been. Yes, Garridan was still alive. And Elric, his Chosen, wasn’t. It had been three years since Elric had taken the blow that broke his back, and a year since Elric had died.
His connection to Elric felt like someone had chopped off one of his legs, leaving Garridan bleeding out and limping, but it hadn’t quite killed him yet. Elric had held on to life for two years with a broken back. After that, Garridan couldn’t allow himself to simply stop eating like most Companion’s did after their Chosen’s death.
:So, the only times I can think of that a Companion or a Herald survived the death of the other, it was because there was a second Choosing.:
:But it’s been a year, already.:
:And someone would have to tell him.:
That apparently stumped them all. There was much shifting from hoof to hoof, and Garridan wondered when young Companions had gotten so nervous of their elders. Surely they weren’t that intimidating. But they did differentiate between those Companions who had Chosen and those who had not. Hadn’t he done as much, thinking of the smart Companions happily in the stables, cared for by their Chosen, while these young idiots stood outside in the cold, too immature to make their Choice?
And here he was, caught between the two groups, already having Chosen and yet without a Chosen. It made him feel guilty for mocking the youngsters for their youth. They would grow up eventually and maybe he could make it a little easier for them.
He forced himself to raise his head, and pull away from the tree he had been leaning against.
:No need. Tell me who it is and where I can find him, and I’ll see what I can see.: The young Companions all flung up their heads in surprise, a few of them wheeling around to look at him. Their eyes wide.
:We didn’t see…:
He shook his head. :I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.: Not entirely a lie, and hopefully it would reassure them a little bit. :Who is this man who feels like a Chosen? If he is as important as some of you think, he will need to be Chosen, but we need to be wary if the feeling is magical in nature.:
He hadn’t really thought of it until he said it, but if anyone could infiltrate the Heralds to the degree of being Chosen, then there could be a serious problem. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to the others, either, but now that he’d mentioned it, they looked nervous too.
:His name is Mathes Bredon. He’s a master of the Brewer’s Guild, but he also has a small tavern near the guild hall.:
:Thank you.: Garridan tried to think of something else to say, but couldn’t think of anything. After a somewhat awkward pause, he moved off towards the gate.
He had only gone a few paces, though, when one of them shouted, :You’re going now? But it’s raining!:
:I was planning on staying outside anyway. Once you go on patrol, you’ll realize this isn’t so bad.: Once they went on patrol, they would realize it was exactly that bad. It was just that he missed even the discomfort of walking through increasingly cold rain because he used to have a Herald on his back and a mission directing them both.
At least now he had a mission, temporary and self-selected as it was. He would see this man and judge whether or not he was of a quality to be Chosen. And if he was, then maybe he would act as match-maker between the man and the Companions, making sure the Companion was neither scared nor scared off. And if the man was not appropriate, Garridan would ensure the Companions knew that, too.
“Mathes…,” Guild Master Heron sounded pained.
Methos paused with the fist full of ashes to offer an inquiring look. It was just the two of them left in the tavern, late at night on a cold, rainy day.
“Why?” Heron asked plaintively. “You’re a Master Brewer. Your ales are served at the Queen’s table. You have a dozen apprentices and could have a dozen more if you wished. Why do you insist on running this dive as you do?”
Heron looked pointedly at where Methos had reverted back to spreading a fine layer of ash over the freshly swept floors. “It’s small and dirty – and you’re making it dirtier.”
“But only clean dirt.”
“But why dirt at all? Why a tavern at all? And if you want a tavern, why not a large, successful one? With staff?”
“If I had a bunch of staff, would you still come to visit me?”
“Of course, I would!”
“Like you visit Master Gayle?”
Heron glared. “Master Gayle’s tavern is a credit to him.”
Which was not, Methos noted internally but refrained from pointing out verbally, a response to the question. At least he refrained from specifically pointing it out. “Yes, it is. It’s a busy, loud, shiny, wealthy, credit to him that is about as intimate as the city’s main square.”
“At least I would be able to sit in his chairs without getting my clothing dirty.”
“But why would you want to?”
Heron sighed, apparently accepting the caveat. Master Gayle was a highly successful, if not particularly innovative, brewer. Mathes’ tavern, on the other hand, was a dive bar where patrons drank whatever was put in front of them. Given that Methos liked to experiment, the patrons came self-selected as either uncritical or adventurous. Master Heron was definitely one of the latter.
They fell into companionable silence, as Methos finished spreading a fine layer of ash over the floors, stools, benches, and tables. The people who came to his tavern were prepared to get their clothes dirty. And they kept their food on their plates or consumed a bit of extra ash. It created a special ambiance. The rest of the day’s fireplace ash had been collected for sale to the soap makers, and logs were placed in position for the morrow when it would likely be just as wet but slightly more cold.
Maybe in his next life, he would go to Karse? It was warm there, and they’d stopped burning witches. The most recent Son of the Sun sounded like an interesting sort, and her capital city might be an interesting place to live.
He hadn’t actually been in Haven that long, a single decade only, but it was long enough to build a reputation as a brewer, implement a few new processes he’d been wanting to try out, and get bored again. Thus, the tavern.
Seeming to follow his thoughts, Heron broke the silence. “But why a tavern, Master Mathes?” Heron was not actually a mind reader, Methos knew; he was merely a very good Guild Master.
Methos smiled slightly. “I only became a brewer because I like good beer, and no one was making it to my tastes.”
“It’s a good reason.”
“I thought so. But I don’t much care for large crowds talking of popular things.”
Heron snorted, but nodded his sympathy for the feeling.
“Better to have a dark and grimy tavern, where few people come. Those who do come in like shadows and conspiracies and speak of interesting things.”
Heron jerked up at that. “Conspiracies? Or treason? Mathes, the country is doing amazing things, please tell me you’re not conspiring against it. I know you’re a foreigner, but as wonderful as your ale is, I can’t let you…”
“Mostly conspiracy, sometimes treason,” Methos said airily. He added innocently,“Her majesty’s spy master comes semi-regularly.” Methos teased Heron, for all that he told the absolute truth. Herald Alberich was a fascinating individual with a very distinctive face. The fact that no one recognized him when he was out and about on the town always tickled Methos’ sense of humor.
Heron eyed him with some alarm. “Her majesty’s…”
“Relax, Heron. I am loyal. Or at least, I’m not disloyal; I just like knowing things. It’s not a bad thing, to have a place for conspiracies to be spoken. Otherwise they might be spoken in a place where there’s no one to listen in.” Methos gave Herald Alberich’s various identities their drinks free of charge, as a way of keeping the man coming back. Also as a way to subtly tease the man about his disguises. But mostly to let him know that he was welcome to listen in, since it saved Methos from feeling any obligation to report the conspiracies himself.
Heron still looked at him with wide eyes. “I would not want to be from where you are from, my friend.”
Methos thoughts flickered through his long life and all the court intrigues he’s seen and some few of them he’d participated in. “No, my friend, you would not. But I’m here now, and I’m glad for it. I am keeping my apprentices out of it,” he added. For the most part anyway, and certainly as far as the Guild Master was concerned. There was no reason to mention that a few of the journeymen that he’d trained up had made politically interesting choices regarding the destinations for their journeys. Methos kept a regular correspondence with them.
Heron started drawing circles in the ash on the table in front of him. “No one wears their best clothes in here.”
It was a bit of a non sequitor. Methos quirked an eyebrow, but allowed Heron to carry to conversation where he would. “No, they don’t. Not even me.”
“And certainly not any Heralds in their pristine white.”
Methos winced. So that was what had brought his friend and Guild Master out on such an unpleasant night. “Yes, well. Nothing of much interest happens when there are Heralds in white around.” It was a rationalization rather than a reason.
The existence of the Heralds had nearly been enough to keep him out of Valdemar entirely, back when he was first looking for a new life. Stories of mind-reading law-enforcement with an overwhelming moral purpose kept most Immortals far, far away from Valdemar. Methos, however, knew how to guard his mind and was willing to put up with mind-readers in order to avoid other Immortals. That they rode upon glorious white horses while clothed in gleaming iconic white, however, had nearly turned him away.
Somehow he had wound up not only in Valdemar, but in Haven itself, the seat of the Herald Collegium, continued to baffle him. He wondered sometimes if he had settled in Haven for valid reasons or merely to prove to himself that he could live in a city rife with white riders.
But Haven was hard not to like. It was the center of progressive civilization, open and friendly to foreigners, without any war mongering. And the Heralds actually did a pretty good job of supporting the law and providing protection to the people.
It was just unfortunate that their all white uniforms and horses with the touches of woad-like blue, made an unpleasant parallel to his own past. During that time, he too had made the law. His laws had just been less about protecting the populace and more about taking whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it.
Heron nodded. “You don’t like the Heralds.”
“It’s not that I don’t like them…” Methos said but trailed off. He was too old to allow superstitions from one culture to stay with him as he traveled on. If white was the color of death in one culture, then it was a color of celebration in another, and innocence in a third. He should have gotten over it by now, a thousand years later. But it wasn’t just a culture, it had been who he was. And that was much harder to shake off.
“Are you from Karse? Raised on stories of the white demons?”
Methos sighed. “No, it is a different story from my homeland. A single white demon who rode -- and I’m fine with them, really.”
“And yet, when a Companion approached you yesterday, you ran.”
“Ah. So you heard of that.”
“No one is quite sure what to make of it. It wasn’t a Herald come to accuse you. It was a Companion come to Choose.” Guild Master Heron spoke with only gentle curiosity. His ability to hide his own thoughts and reactions so well was part of what made him a good Guild Master.
“Maybe,” Methos said. Probably, Methos knew.
“And it wasn’t the first time you’ve avoided a Companion.”
Methos winced, but also couldn’t help grinning somewhat wryly. No, it had not been the first time.
Companions had started approaching him about the same time he had finally stopped flinching from their appearance. The stories of mind-reading had been true, but apparently true mostly for the horses or Companions rather than the riders themselves. Whatever the Companions were or where they came from, they were clearly empathic and telepathic and more besides. Because Methos could guard his mind and his thoughts, but they could still almost certainly sense his Quickening and weren’t sure what to do about him.
He had been approached half a dozen times at this point by Companions who looked at him with uncertainty. It was clear that they were drawn to him without understanding who or what he was. They weren’t aggressive but the whole situation reminded him a bit too much of how Immortals were drawn to one another as either student or challenger, regardless of if they knew of The Game or not.
At first he’d run away from them. On open ground, a Companion would out run him with ease; in a busy market square, on the other hand, he had the distinct advantage of being smaller and with fewer legs. The last he’d seen of that first Companion had been her attempting to apologize for knocking over a food cart. He hadn’t thought anyone else had noticed that he had been her target. More recently, he’d taken to just telling the Companions to go away.
Regardless of who had seen him on that occasion or one of the later ones, though, he would not explain himself. He could not explain himself, not to this man, his friend and Guild Master. Master Heron thought himself ruthless with his business practices but had never so much as raised a weapon to another person.
“What are the rumors going around?”
“Well, all of your apprentices went together to visit Companion’s Field last Open Day, to loiter at the fence and see if you had been trying to keep one of them from being Chosen. You do tend to argue loudly against your apprentices being poached by other master brewers.”
“That’s because any master—who shall remain nameless—who needs to poach my apprentices should learn to train his own apprentices,” Methos sneered. Methos not spreading malicious rumors regarding the other brewer been part of the agreement Guild Master Heron had brokered between Masters Mathes and Bandor.
Heron nodded agreement but didn’t say anything further, which was probably wise. Methos took a calming breath. “But I wouldn’t prevent any of them from changing trade, if they wanted to.”
“I know that. They were less certain. Or at least, more hopeful. Most people would be honored, you know, to be Chosen.” Heron spoke rather pointedly. “I think they were all too embarrassed to try it on their own, but most of them were hopeful that they might be Chosen.”
“I asked about the Heralds when I first moved here. To me, they look like a particularly vicious evil from an old legend, but the Companions here are supposed to Choose ‘the best and brightest, the kindest and most loyal.’” Methos quoted the common description of Heralds.
Heron’s eyes went soft with patriotism and national pride, for all that he was a ruthless merchant. “Yes, they keep us safe.”
“I am none of these things.” Methos spoke softly, trying to tell his friend without losing him as a friend. “I don’t know why they are approaching me.”
“You are all of those things, my friend.”
“I assure you, I’m really not,” Methos lied. It was easier to deny those traits he had than explain that the problem was what additional traits he had. He could be kind and loyal, yes, and he had been to Heron over the decade of their friendship. But he could also be vicious and deceptive, at need, and not even he knew when that need might arise.
Heron gave him a long considering glance but did not directly respond to the almost-threat of Methos’ words. “Or they may simply have a need for you,” Heron continued philosophically. “Sometimes they do that, you know. Pick a person with specific skills to meet a specific need. Times are changing, we have peace with Karse and there are creatures of myth and legend wandering our streets.”
“And drinking our ale.”
Heron looked smug for a moment, as well he ought. “And drinking our ale. What skills do you have other than as a brewer that they might need?”
Methos thought of death and survival and five thousand years of stories and skills and accumulated experience. He said, “Nothing that they should want.”
“Mathes. You are a good man and a good Brewer. But you opened up a dive bar because you were bored. If nothing else, a Herald’s life is not boring.”
Heron really was an excellent Guild Master, Methos thought, mostly to avoid thinking about anything else. Rain was falling sporadically, and he could hear it hit the cobblestones outside. He also thought he could hear that odd chiming noise that Companion’s made as their hooves hit cobblestones. He hoped it was only the talk about Companions making him imagine that sound.
Then Heron said, “I believe you are about to have another talk with a Companion. I hear one outside.”
Methos grimaced. “I could leave by the back?”
“Mathes,” Heron sighed. “Go out and talk with the Companion. At least this time you’ll have some privacy and won’t be chased through a market.”
Methos sighed too. “Very well.”
Heron smiled. “I, on the other hand, will be leaving through the back. Good luck, my friend.”
Methos snorted, but headed towards the door.
Outside was dark, cold, and wet. It was not a pleasant day, and yet there stood a Companion. The palms of Methos hands tingled with the desire to stroke its hide; his legs bent with the desire to spring onto its back and just ride.
There was a reason why Methos had ridden white horses for a thousand years: he liked them.
He only had the vaguest of memories from his childhood, but he thought there were white horses in the legends he had grown up with. White horses were glorious. They were powerful. Just seeing one made him want to ride on it.
Companions only looked like horses in the way that they looked like the most beautiful, most powerful, most archetypal perfection of a horse, all in gleaming white and silver. They looked like the horses that legend said that Methos had ridden.
None of his horses would ever have matched them.
“What the devil are you doing here?”
:To see you, of course.: The Companion inspected him and Methos took the opportunity, couldn’t not take the opportunity, to return the appraisal.
The other Companions Methos had seen periodically looked perfect and untouched, almost fragile, as if they could be damaged by Methos even looking at them for too long. They came, perfectly groomed, with their beribboned saddles and reins, wanting him to ride, asking to be broken. They were perfect but fragile in their perfection. The world would harm them, life would harm them, and Methos had no desire to be part of that harm. Their innocence made it easy to turn away.
This one was different though, and the difference made Methos uneasy.
This one was shaped for battle and shaped by battle, with scars showing on his hide, highlighting his muscle rather than impeding it. He didn’t have a saddle or reins that would allow any rider to command him. He was powerful and experienced. And as appealing as that experience made the Companion, it also made him unnerving because there was no Herald in sight.
He was also getting soaked by rain that was going to turn to sleet at any moment. He should be home in a warm stable not out here staring at Methos.
“You have seen me. Now go away.”
:No, I don’t think so. My name is Garridan. You feel like a Chosen, do you know that?:
“I don’t even know what that means.”
The Companion—Garridan—continued to inspect him. :It means that you feel like someone who would make a good Herald for Valdemar. You have... dedication.:
“Dedication? And you can sense that just from seeing me?”
:Yes.: Garridan responded. There was something about the way Garridan spoke that almost seemed, not hesitant or uncertain like the others had been, but resigned. As if he weren’t sure he was happy with what he saw. Methos wondered what exactly the world looked like to a Companion, who could see dedication in a person just by looking. He kind of wanted to ask.
“I think you need to check your vision,” Methos said. He was many things, many of them that a Herald shouldn’t be, but one thing he wasn’t was dedicated. The last time Methos had had felt dedication to a cause, he’d borrowed his sense of purpose from Kronos. It had taken centuries of hatred and pain before he’d been willing to give it up.
This Companion had survival and strength and purpose written in ever line of his body. He had dedication, not Methos.
“Where’s your Herald?” Methos spoke abruptly. Methos didn’t get dedicated to a cause but he knew how to be dedicated to people. It would be all too easy to become dedicated to Garridan, who was already claimed by someone else.
But rather than producing that someone else, Garridan shied as if Methos had whipped him.
:Elric is dead.:
Methos closed his eyes to block out the sight. He had buried too many lovers not to know that tone of pain and grief and bewildered survival. When he opened his eyes again, to see Garridan breathing hard, but not running away as he clearly wanted to, Methos reached out a hand to gently stroke Garridan’s nose. “I’m sorry.”
Garridan lowered his head and leaned into the touch for a moment, but then visibly pulled himself back from the emotions.
:You feel like someone with an important future.: Garridan stated. And then, before Methos could say anything, Garridan asked, somewhat tangentially, :What do you think of the great victory over the Empire?:
“What victory? The invasion was postponed for a few years due to inclement weather. Much as this conversation should be.” Methos spoke lightly, following Garridan’s lead.
:You think it’s only been postponed, too?: The Companion responded to the first half of the statement and ignored the second.
Methos sat down on the steps to the tavern, so that he was at eye level with the Companion and could glare appropriately. The glare helped him keep a barrier between them, preventing him from relaxing into Garridan’s eyes. And sitting down meant he wasn’t as tempted to spring onto Garridan’s back and ride. Garridan had loved and lost and somehow survived and didn’t need Methos messing with him. “Why exactly are you here?”
:To see you. To see if you felt like a Chosen or not. To see if we need you.:
Methos shook his head. “You left out goodness in those things that make a Herald.” For all his years in Valdemar, he still wasn’t even sure what goodness meant to Valdemarans. In all his changes between cultures, between times and places, he had learned that each culture had a definition of what was ‘good’ and what was ‘evil,’ and the only universal about those definitions was that each culture thought their definition was universal. Methos wasn’t sure anything at all was universal. “You don’t need anything that I can give.”
Garridan ignored him. :I also came to see if you need us.:
“I don’t need much,” Methos said with forced mildness.
Methos had come to Valdemar because he hadn’t been before, and he had become a brewer because he wanted better beers. Nothing he created lasted and everything he destroyed just disappeared a bit sooner. Time got to everything eventually.
He had learned not to get so attached that he couldn’t look forward to the next life, the next home, the next group of friends.. He wasn’t entirely sure of how Companion’s Choice worked, but he was fairly sure that if he allowed himself to fall into a Companion’s eyes, he would fall in love. Judging by the look in this one’s eyes, there wasn’t any coming back from that.
He was half in love with this Companion already.
Garridan was powerful and beautiful and had survived a catastrophic loss without losing his internal sense of purpose. If Methos had ever had a sense of purpose, it had been worn down to nothing long ago. But Garridan knew where he was going and was offering Methos the chance to have a solid direction, too, at least for this lifetime.
Methos had changed over the centuries since he had left his brothers, left the horsemen. He had forced himself to change. He tried to leave the past behind, but it always seemed to be right there, the shadow that followed him. He had loved white horses before he had ever become Death. He still loved them, but they were so tightly tied to his memories of Death that love of them was one more thing he had to put behind him.
“You don’t need anything that I can give,” Methos repeated for the third time.
“You don’t need anything that I can give,” the man said for the third time, but it seemed more of a warning than a rejection.
He was trying to protect Garridan from his own experiences.
It was not uncommon for Companions to Choose Heralds who had had troubled lives, who needed fixing in some way, for all that Elric hadn’t been like that. Elric had grown up in a noble Valdemaran family and had wanted to be a Herald all his life. There was no need to convince him to accept Garridan’s Choice. Elric had wanted to ride Garridan as soon as he had seen him.
Mathes did, too. Even as Mathes warned Garridan away, he wanted with the same appreciation as Elric had once wanted, except that where Elric had wanted with a pure desire, Mathes desire was mixed with self-hatred and resignation, held back with conscious control.
The only unusual thing about Mathes’ emotions was how calm they were. This was not the sharp despair or the nightmare fears of some of the newest Chosen. This was the pull of a settled scar of self-hatred that was present but not incapacitating. That serenity, more than anything, made Garridan want to run away. That might be what Elric’s loss would feel like if Garridan survived long enough. He didn’t want Elric’s loss to become nothing more than an ancient ache in his psyche. And yet, at the same time, he wanted to soothe this man before him and make the ache Mathes felt even less than it already was.
It was stunning to realize that he was no longer thinking in terms of matchmaking between Mathes and the Collegium. In his mind, Mathes was his Chosen, or no one’s.
At first glance, an established Master Brewer needed nothing that Garridan or any Companion could give, but maybe there was something there after all. As he studied the man, he realized that whatever else the man might bring to the Heralds, he had an oddly ingrown Healing Gift. It would likely have extended his lifespan and prevented him from physically scarring or aging.
Garridan would need to fully bond to Mathes to get a better sense of who his Chosen had been and what he had experienced in the past, but maybe that was what Mathes needed: someone to know him in a way that most people didn’t get. It wound mean opening himself up again to bond to someone else who could leave him like Elric had. And this man was already damaged in a way that Elric hadn’t been, at least not to begin with. It was a terrifying thought and yet it was the right thing for him to do. And they were both survivors, Garridan knew, he and Mathes; they would be well matched.
:We don’t need your ale, and I doubt we need your ingrown Healing Gift, but we might well need your perspective. The court doesn’t listen to me when I say that the Empire will attack again. They think they’ve won. It would take a Herald speaking of the dangers to change that.:
“My perspective is no good for you, either.” And yet, Garridan could still sense the longing in the man, poorly masked by a glare.
Garridan cocks his head, clearly curious. :What is your perspective?:
“That the country is doomed.”
The man was irritating. That was so obviously an attempt to scare Garridan off just as he had the younger Companions. If his pain couldn’t scare Garridan off, then his cynicism wouldn’t either. It was probably good, though, that Mathes hadn’t allowed himself to be Chosen by anyone too young and innocent to match him. But Garridan was no longer young or innocent.
:There is still time to prepare; to prevent whatever ‘doom’ might be threatening.:
“There is no preventing it,” Mathes spoke harshly. “Empires such as that one can only survive by constant conquest. They must have a standing army and that army must be kept… entertained. They will come back eventually.”
:And so we must prepare.:
“And by preparing, you will destroy the country even sooner. Tell me, Companion. Would you change Valdemar into the sort of country that could fight off the Empire? Have you thought through what it would mean?”
:In the last few years, we have made peace with Karse, allied with the Hawkbrothers and rediscovered Gryphins. Valdemar is already changed beyond all recognition. There is nothing wrong with change.:
“There is when it is violent and destructive and turns you into the exact thing you had hoped to avoid.”
There was definitely a story there, Garridan could tell. At some point, Mathes had tried to do the right thing and failed. It was a useful realization: Mathes was scared of failing again. Or no, not scared, there was no fear there, just determination that he wouldn’t fail again, even if that meant that he wouldn’t make any attempt that could fail.
The severed bond where Elric had been was painful but it was also survivable, Garridan realized. For the first time, it didn’t feel like a fatal wound. It was something he could survive, and such a wound was also, he now knew, something he was willing to risk a second time. And if he could Choose again, then Mathes could try again, too.
:And with your assistance, maybe we can avoid that. We are changing. That is inevitable, yes. Five hundred years ago we were a different country than we are today; five hundred years from now, we will be a different country still. But whether we are a country we can be proud of… if we will become who we want to be rather than what some other force wishes us to be… that we can work towards.:
Mathes stilled at that. Garridan could tell that he had finally struck a chord in the man. Mathes was clearly much older than he appeared, and maybe he wasn’t used to talking with beings whose own perspectives were more closely linked to a kingdom than any mortal lifespans. Most Companions were born and they could and did die, but they were still much more than mortal. Garridan let the argument sink in and tried to ignore the sleet that continued to fall. He was silent and still until he began to notice Mathes was shivering. He wasn’t sure if it was the cold or the thoughts that were causing it, but either way, he wanted to comfort the man. To comfort his new Chosen.
:And in return,: Garridan spoke gently, :I will give you companionship. That is what a Companion is, after all. A Companion is a companion. You may have been right to reject the others, although I think you might have been surprised by their wisdom if you had accepted. But I have known pain and loss.: It as painful to use Elric’s loss like this to court his replacement, but Garridan knew that Elric would have been pleased. His despair at the end had always been about feeling useless.
“Ah, it would take a great deal of experience with awful things to handle me,” Mathes said distantly, like he wasn’t paying attention. It felt, Garridan realized, like a final effort, only half-heartedly performed.
:You might need all your awful things to handle me,: Garridan said more sharply than he’d intended. He was offering to Choose Mathes, to replace Elric. Mathes might decide to reject the offer but he’d better respect it. :I am offering you the use of my conscience. It has been well tested. We need an agent of change. And I think you know a great deal about change.:
His anger actually seemed to calm Mathes down. “Yes.”
:Yes, you do know about change, or yes, you’ll come with me?: Garridan studied the man, keeping eye contact even as Mathes’ glare softened into resignation.
Mathes watched him for a long moment, and then Garridan saw the tightness across his shoulders unknot with the slow release of a tightly held control. “Yes.”
The wall in Mathes’ mind thinned and vanished, and Garridan could look into his very soul and Mathes, no, Methos could look into him.
There was darkness in Methos, and long history and pain and Garridan found himself relying on his experience with Elric’s long drawn-out death and their prior experience in battle and in war. He needed to understand pain and survival and the determination to keep living in order to understand Methos. And understanding Methos was vital, vital for Methos, vital for Garridan, and vital for Valdemar itself.
“Valdemar will fall,” Methos reminded him, though he sounded as dazed as Garridan felt. “Eventually it will fall no matter what we do.”
:I’m not immortal, not truly, not like you, and neither is Valdemar. But I and Valdemar will be with you for a very long time, I promise, Methos. And you will ride a white Companion and you will not be Death. For as long as we are together, you need never fear becoming Death.:
And Methos smirked, attempting to insert a lighter note into the darkness and re-find his balance. “Then I had better make sure that you and Valdemar survive for a very long time.”
:Indeed. Shall we start now?:
:Indeed. Shall we start now?: Methos’ Companion asked.
His beautiful white mount with eyes as blue as a summer sky and as deep as the ocean.
Methos had never before fallen into anyone’s eyes like he had fallen into Garridan’s. It had felt like the softest and most gentle Quickening ever, the warm welcoming of another soul. He had fallen into Garridan’s eyes and had taken in his soul. Or maybe like a shared Quickening except that they shared one another’s lives rather than anyone else’s.
He felt like he should be dizzy, but when he stood up, the world was as solid around him as it had ever been. His knees did hurt, though, from straightening up after sitting down for so long in the cold and wet. He had stretch a bit before finally reaching out and touching Garridan’s side.
“So what now?”
:Now, you get on, and we go to the palace, get dry, get some sleep, and then introduce you to people.:
Methos couldn’t help but smile as he finally lifted himself up onto Garridan’s back. He hadn’t ridden bareback in a long time but wrapping his legs around Garridan felt as natural as breathing. The muscles under him felt like strength and speed. For all he had just given himself to Garridan, had bound his life to Garridan’s, Methos had rarely felt as free as he did now with Garridan’s strength and speed under him and Garridan’s mind, warm like a hearth fire in the back of his own.
“Very well. Let us go save this kingdom of ours, for as long as we possibly can. After we get warmed up.”