Meriden stood alone in the middle of the Companion’s Field, wishing today didn’t exist. She hated days like this- especially today. It was the tail end of winter when heaven and earth were arguing whether spring would arrive or not. Tiny blades of tender, succulent grass, barely visible through the mat of last year’s growth argued valiantly for spring; the iron grey sky and biting winds, for winter. A few tiny, defiant snowflakes drifted down to land on her nose. Meriden sighed. Perfect...just perfect. The snow made today just EXACTLY like the terrible depressing day a year ago - exactly a year ago - when Mother left, and didn’t return.
She hadn’t been left all on her own, of course. No Companion child ever was, with most the mares and no few of the stallions willing to watch over and take care of any foal. But Companion foals stayed with their mothers almost exclusively for the first few years, before gradually joining the herd at large. Meriden had been several months shy of two when her mother had gently said good-bye early one morning, promising to return shortly from the routine message run her Herald had been called on. That night, the Death Bell had tolled.
*Meri* - a cheerful voice interrupted Meriden’s gloomy thoughts -*it’s time for lessons, dear.* Meriden’s ears went back. Jehani, her surrogate mom and instructor, insisted on using the nickname Mother had given her. Meriden hated it - hated that that anyone but Mother would call her that. Hated that Mother never would again. Then, with a sigh, Meriden turned and slowly went to her lessons. Life went on, even when she didn’t particularly want it to.
*The bond between Heralds and their Companions is vital. Heralds understand this, though they do not fully understand the bond itself. We permit them their ignorance, in this as in many other things. As Companions, however, you must understand the nature of this bond in order to best help and protect your Herald. Your lives depend on this. Literally. Though there are perhaps a half dozen ways for the Herald/Companion bond to be broken, the most common is through the death of either. A Herald can survive the breaking of the bond, the Companion cannot - with the single exception of the Grove Born, whose bond is unique. If the Herald dies, the Companion follows. If the Companion is killed, the Herald, though crippled, can survive, though often does not. In the case of……*
Is that what happened to Mother? Meriden wondered, her attention wavering from what Jehani was saying. Did her Herald die, pulling her along, too? How unfair that she would follow and leave me!
An insistent buzzing pulled Meriden from the bitter grief of her introspection. Blasted fly! she thought, flicking an ear. Despite the wintry chill, she’d been bothered by flies on and off the past month. And she seemed to be the only one so afflicted. Buzzzzz….. She shook her head vigorously to persuade the fly to go bug one of her classmates instead.
Meriden became aware of the silence. Jehani and her four yearmates were watching her curiously… and the stupid fly was still buzzing in her ear.
~~What!?~~ she asked defensively. ~~That fly is buzzing me buggy.~~
Someone snickered. Probably Rohan, if the look Jehani gave him was any indication. As Meriden shook her head again, Jehani asked, *Does it seem to be moving around? Have you heard it before? As there are no flies at this time of year, Meri, you may be hearing the first stirrings of your Herald-to-be’s Gifts. You will eventually be able to find him or her by following the noise you hear.*
Now that she thought about it, Meriden realized that the fly had been at her right ear the whole time. She told Jehani this, adding ~~but last time it was behind me, and the time before that it went back and forth all around my head. I don’t think it could be a Herald’s Gifts awakening.~~
Jehani cocked her head, amused. *Were you facing the same direction you are now, or moving around? Unless your Herald-to-be is roving around a great deal, I suspect you’ll find this buzzing would’ve led you out of Haven in the same general direction each time.*
Rohan snickered again, and Meriden promised herself she’d “accidentally” kick him sometime soon. ~~I-I suppose so. But…I don’t want a Herald!~~ … ~~Not yet.~~ she amended at the shocked looks around her.
*Don’t worry about it too much, Meri**, Jehani soothed. **It can take several months for a Gift to awaken sufficiently to truly Call you. Some gifts never do.* She looked around at the class. *You are all young enough I wouldn’t have expected any of you to be hearing the possibilities of the future, yet. However, as the subject has come up, let’s turn our lesson today to some of the other possible ways you may each perceive your intended Herald’s awakening, and how to recognize a genuine Call….*
As class ended, the sun emerged from the clouds, however momentarily. The grey mood of the morning didn’t reclaim her completely, though with the anniversary of her mother’s death still hanging heavily on her spirits, she wanted solitude. Meriden managed to escape her classmates’ ongoing discussion of what, to her, was an irritation. A buzzing little bug she couldn’t even swat. Hrmmph! Who needs a Herald anyway? Why would anyone want to be bugged into bonding with someone just to die. Hrmmph!