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Black, Blue, and White

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The horses could not be saddled fast enough in the predawn light. The greybeard with the bald head lifted the youngest boy of five into the saddle in front of the next elder brother. “You and Johan have the fastest horses, Kaylen. Remember your training. Johan is leading. Get across the border with Arronin. Your parents will be close behind.”

“What about Vikor?” asked the teen, voice shaking as he hugged his little brother against his chest.

An older teen stepped forward, “Uncle and I will take the rear, we are best with blades. Besides, Johan is heir and Dad’s shoulder is still not recovered from the fight with that temple spy.”

A taller young man about 20 took Kaylen’s horse’s reins and led the way out of the stable. “If we get separated, keep the rising sun to your left. That will keep you pointed north. Valdemar will be safe…. Well… safer.” They started a light but quiet trot.

Parents followed behind at an equal trot, “I hate that we have to turn to the northern demons,” grumbled the lord about to head into exile with his family.

Vikor and their uncle watched them part. The two nodded to one another as if they spoke mind to mind and dashed through the estate to set the last of the explosive powders they were supposed to sell to the local mines. The uncle rested a hand on Vikor’s shoulder, “I will draw as many as I can in here. Did you teach Kaylen how to shield his mind?” At the nod, he continued. “Good. Remember, the white beasts are not demons.”

“We know, Uncle.”

“Get your sword, protect them. Arronin has such a Gift, and the things he has seen. They need to know before he is gone.” The older man shoved the teen out of the house. Then he dropped his mental shields and summoned up a scrap of flame in his palm that he had long ago stopped using. On this border between Karse and Hardorn, having a Gift got you executed. His son and son’s wife had no such Gifts to his relief. Neither did the eldest born of them, Johan. Vikor was good at Midspeaking with people. Kaylen, if he had anything, it had not manifested, but he learned to shield his mind far more swiftly and solidly than anyone and seemed to be able to extend that shield over the littlest and most Gifted, Arronin. The boy was blessed and cursed. Born with seizures so severe people wondered if he would survive each time one hit, and they often hit at night when the dreams became foresight and he screamed the horrors into everyone’s sleep. Kaylen was the only one who could contain him and keep him somewhat calm. The old man prayed that the white horses would want the child and help him. If not, at least their Heralds would know what to do with these visions, and might have someone Gifted with some ability to heal the child. He doubted it, though. The boy would be lucky to live past the year… like the brother and the sister born before him who both died of similar afflictions before they turned 6 years old. Some spy from a local temple found out. Execution of the whole family had been ordered, but not before the father had fought the spy and lost sight of him in the night. The uncle killed the first guards that held the family under house arrest. Now he would await the larger lot that would come to “cleanse” the household. He planned to teach them a thing or two about cleansing… by fire.

Vikor ran for his horse, he could see the dust rising in the east. They were coming. He kicked his horse hard into a run. The eastern group split in two. There were so many, nine or ten could be seen when Vikor looked over his shoulder. Those nine or ten angled to pursue him. The rest, at least two dozen, headed for the estate. Vikor whispered a prayer of farewell. He knew his uncle would not be joining them.

Five horses charged in a line, four farther ahead and closely packed, with one lagging behind. The border was almost fifteen hours at a long hard run. They knew a place to rest the horses, but it would be a short rest. Just enough to all relieve themselves, eat lightly and drink then ride again. Johan got Kaylen and Arronin ahorse again and started at the gallop for the last stretch as the sun descended. They rested too long. Their parents wanted to wait for Vikor, who arrived breathless and sagged off his horse. “Go! They are barely an hour behind me! GO!!” Their parents hesitated only for a moment. The desire to live outweighed their desire to rest. Fear drove them to their horses and into a gallop behind their other three sons.

The smoke still rose in the south. The estate must have been blown apart fiercely, Vikor hoped, with all the attackers inside. He felt only a little badly for the servants, but it could not be helped. He let the horse pace, drink, rest as he did, though he watched his pursuers. He would have to fight. The border was maybe three hours from here. He climbed up onto his horse again. Maybe he can harry the assailants, coax them to the boarder where the Valdemarans would defend against them. He dropped his mental shields and YELLED into their minds. Two of the pursuers fell from their galloping charges to be trampled by the horses behind them. The others did not stop. He looked over his shoulder to his family taking flight north. He kicked his horse and followed them, turning to mentally blast the enemy again, and again.

Two turned out to be fine horse archers. The running, dodging, and darting to try to avoid the shots slowed Vikor. It slowed him enough that the pursuers caught up. The dry dust of the barren hard packed ground got into everyone’s eyes. He heard his family, they were too close! He blasted them with a mental impulse to run. Johan took out the riding crop he rarely used and whipped Kaylen’s horse. “Do not stop! Not till you are in Valdemar!” He wheeled his horse around and also drew his sword as his parents rode hard past him. The two eldest brothers now fought side by side less than an hour from the border. When the pursuers were thinned out, the two turned tail and bolted northward. Johan had to snatch his brother’s horse’s reins and practically drag the horse after his. They were not going to make it. He made a wild grab, yanking Vikor from the saddle into his own and drove his horse into a lather. He could hear two horses hard on his tail.

Kaylen’s horse crashed through the bushes as three white horses with white riders and five brown ones  with blue riders shot past him. One white clad rider pulled up as a riderless white mare trotted forward. “Put the boy on her and climb into my saddle, your horse is about to drop.” Kaylen hardly understood the dialect after such a panicked dash. The Herald tugged the terrified and exhausted five-year-old from Kaylen’s protesting arms and put him on the Companion. The riderless white horse took a swift and easy stride away with the boy as the Herald then pulled Kaylen into his own saddle. Just in time! The long-legged courser collapsed. A good fast running horse, but not one meant for long runs like this. “We’ve been waiting for you. We had word, but cannot cross the border to get any of you.”

Kaylen heard his parents’ horses finally arriving. They all started to head away from the line of danger, deeper into the woods and towards a fort. They were all taken inside to a healer. Kaylen declared he was fine and stood at the open gate waiting for his other two brothers, listening into the darkness.

Johan drove his horse right to the gate before the poor beast fell to the ground dead. Guards ran out and were met by the other two heralds riding in to protect the two wounded brothers. Johan carried Vikor, refusing to let anyone touch him. It was clear though, Vikor no longer drew breath. Several arrows stuck out of him and blood dripped a free trail on the ground. Their fight permitted the flight of the rest of the family into safety. If only no one had to die for it.

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The child was kept snuggled and bundled with the riderless white horse. The refugees were informed that these blue-eyed white horses were called Companions and were to be considered as intelligent as humans. The parents of the family kept quiet and remained skeptical, still believing in their superstition of white devils and their demon steeds. However, it was these very white devils ensuring their survival at the moment. So they mourned the loss of their now dead family, the greybearded bald uncle and their older teen son Vikor. They also mourned the loss of their youngest son, considering him dead now that he was with a demon steed and would not be parted from it. They had already wondered if the boy was possessed anyhow.

Johan, once the healer finished tending his wounds, assessed the three Heralds, unsure which was the leader. Before approaching them, he turned to his brother, reassuring Kaylen that he was fine and to stay with Arronin. Kaylen understood that Arronin wouldn’t be staying with their parents any longer, so he had to make a choice. Be the good son and remain with his parents. Or, be the defiled son and join Arronin and the “demonic steed” no matter where the boy went. It was his first trial of adulthood, if you did not count the flight for life. He nodded to his eldest brother and cautiously reached out to the Companion to lightly touch its nose. He wanted desperately to just cry for the death of Vikor, but his little brother would not understand, especially not having had much contact with the elder siblings. It had always been just Kaylen in the nursery, no one else wanted to deal with the boy having fits.

Johan watched his parents scowl and then look away from Kaylen, adding him too to the list of dead children. Kaylen sided with the white devils. He sighed and walked over to the three Heralds. In his best Valdemaran, he said, “I humbly beg sanctuary for my family. We were nobly ranked and have much to offer by way of skills with dyes, powders, and alchemy.” He swallowed and tried to stay calm, though his heart ached with the fresh losses of uncle and brother.

“I think our news came from an elder of your family, not your father, though,” queried the eldest of the Heralds, with hair more grey than black. Maybe he was the one in charge? Johan began with that assumption due to the man’s age.

“That would have been my uncle,” Johan’s voice hitched on the sudden lump in his throat.

“I see. He did not make it,” the second Herald finished for him. His longer hair was a dusty brown and blond mix, and he had the most vibrant green eyes. “We are sorry for your loss. Was it he who taught you our language?” He spoke with a feeling of authority that made Johan rethink his earlier judgement. The younger man apparently was in charge.

Johan nodded as he recomposed. “He taught all of the children, except Arronin. Arro only knows a few words, but then… he hardly even speaks our home tongue.”

The third Herald came as very much of a surprise for this Herald was a young woman. A woman! That put everything Johan understood about the roles and places of women on their ear. Her hair was bound back in a tight weave down her back. It was a rich brown that made him think of imported chocolate. She had eyes to match in her young, barely 20 years old, face. She smiled at him. It might have warmed him inside had the situation not been what it was. “He will learn quickly with his Companion’s help. Her name is Noey. We will all take good care of the boy.”

The boy in question was enraptured by his beautiful new friend. He loved looking into her sapphire eyes, loved rubbing his face against her soft neck, and was very insistent that Kaylen pet her and hug her. Watching his littlest brother be happy relaxed Johan as he deeply thanked the Heralds. He knew his parents wouldn’t give their thanks, that he needed to be the better man, as well as the intermediary since neither aren’t could speak Valdemaran.

The female Herald’s voice drew his attention back to the three of them. “I think he is the youngest Chosen ever.”

“What does that mean?” asked Johan.

The eldest Herald answered, “Companions are like… hm… Great Spirits, extremely honorable Great Spirits. They Choose someone to be their partner, someone with an equally good heart nd a Gift that can be used to serve and protect Valdemar. These partners are bound together at the soul level. Once you are settled, you can request some history books and learn about the country are now part of.”

The other Herald ran his fingers through his dusty hair, “Oh, and yes, you are granted sanctuary. I have that on official word.” He looked over at the small boy. “Wow, youngest Chosen indeed. I wonder how they will handle that back at the Collegium.”

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They painted quite the contrast as they took the roads northward to Haven, the capital of Valdemar. The refugees all wore black. A couple guards in a dark shade of royal blue were on their way too, so as to have a three month break after being on duty at the border fort for six months. And two of the three Heralds rode upon their Companions stood out in stark white. Johan thought they looking like giant white targets and wondered how any of them ever survived any battles. He looked away again if ever the woman Herald looked curiously his way. The Heralds were Eddon, the older man for the younger stayed to take over as Herald at the fort, and Niksy. She seemed occasionally amused by Johan’s moments of shyness. On the other hand, she contained her nasty words when she came to the understanding that Johan’s parents firmly chastised him to not dare show interest in her because she was… clearly something distasteful.

On one of the stop overs, she corners Johan in the stable. “You know, they… your parents… are going to have to get over it real fast about us Herald. Otherwise, they can get escorted right back over the border to their fate. I know enough of your language to figure out what they are saying.” Her words were a warning, even though they were not spoken with any sharpness. “It does not matter that it is me. You are in mourning and you have no idea if I am with someone, which I am. But I don’t want you to limit yourself just because a girl is wearing whites. Also, you got a really good feel about you. And your brothers… they really need you. They are scared. Don’t let your parents make all this more difficult for them.” She didn’t bother to let him answer as she strode out to the little roadside inn. She wanted him to just think… think and accept.

Kaylen rode with his little brother on Noey, Arronin’s Companion. That would take some serious getting used to. The refugee family’s parents regarded Kaylen and Arronin as if they were ghosts. The ride was long. LONG! Three weeks long. Stopping at inns and farms, they were able to rest and gather supplies to continue on. LONG! Long because Arronin was not instantly cured of his seizures. Summer was just waning. Arronin’s visions still came fiercely. The boy still blasted them into everyone’s minds, though less so with both Kaylen and Noey there to dampen the leak.

Thankfully, the leaked visions were minimized to just the mindspeaking Heralds and Companions. The two Heralds exchanged quiet words as they were impressed by Kaylen’s mental shields. Johan as well had similar shields. Someone had taught the children well, if not the parents. All except the small boy. The visions never seemed to be anything good, as if the boy was plagued to only see the horrors. Four days out of Haven, one such series of visions hit in the evening. Arronin was asleep in a room. The parents had retired for the night. The older brothers had taken advantage of the moment to be together. The Heralds at the next table both winced when it hit. It had not been the first time on this long ride north, but this was definitely the worst. Kaylen was off like an arrow, tearing through the patrons and up the stairs, slamming open the door and gathering up his little brother. The intensity of the vision suddenly faded to bearable. Then the vision suddenly cut off in the frayed agony and terror of seizures. Johan felt helpless in this, but a look over at the girl herald and he recalled her words. He got up and headed for the room. He still could do nothing but be present. That was all Kaylen really needed, the reassurance that he wasn’t doing this alone, that he didn’t have to be brother and father and savior all at once, that he had someone to lean on, just a little.

With the help of the Companions, the visions were swiftly picked apart between the two Heralds. “I think that was Jakyr in that vision,” she said.

“He has a route that passes some mines. Do you think you can ride to him and let him know?” The elder Herald asked. Both pauses a moment as their Companions informed them that a Companion was on his way to the mines, but it would still be good for Jakyr to be warned.

“I will leave now. Jakyr is not hard to find. He usually hops from Guard Post to Guard Post.” She gathered all her belongings, gave Johan a reassuring smile in passing. On her way out she asked the other Herald, “What about the other vision, of a foreigner, blood and the king?”

“I make sure that our refugees are out of their black clothing and into more Valdemaran styles before Haven. But… I will keep an eye on the parents more, just in case.” He decided to stay an extra day here and two extra days at the next village, where he arranged for everyone to be clothed in something fresh and clean, if not new. He hoped Jakyr did not have too much trouble with the newly Chosen from the mines. The vision, though, implied the mine owner would be problematic. Normally, the Herald present when someone new was Chosen often became the mentor to that new trainee. He huffed a light chuckle because Jakyr was a great person but not exactly one to be committed and chained down by anyone, not even a trainee. On that note, he wondered who would mentor Arronin. The boy was too young to apprentice with anyone, and those seizures. He needed to see a really good healer, a master at the Collegium, preferably. Eddon felt very much out of his league on this one. The boy was too powerful a foreseer. He had no idea what to do with him. Maybe this new program with the new Collegia would work out. It would certainly be better for this boy than the old system.

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They were a somber and exhausted sight entering Valdemar’s capital city. Herald Eddon led the way with one of the guards taking up the rear. The other guard had split away from the group at the last outpost before the city. This guard would part ways at the palace’s guard station. Black, blue, and white. They rode through the gates of the city and through the main streets.

The parents kept their chin’s high and eyes forward, still trying to decide how they felt about taking refuge with the white demons. Johan looked at as much as he could from the saddle of a loaned horse from the guard that he will have to give up when they reach the palace. He had been in large cities before with his father to negotiate trade or meet with other local lords or officials from temples or the magistrates of districts. Haven was larger than any city he had been in. The diversity astounded him. The colors and craftsmanship of homes and shops. The shops! There were so many with such variety. It was like going to an international market. His mind already started working on plans of how to integrate. He and his father had made sure to bring enough wealth in gems and gold to buy a home and shop and support a large family, now dwindled to him and his parents. He looked over at his younger brothers on the white horse. Companion. He had to keep reminding himself. Father would not provision them now, considering them both dead. He vowed to set funds aside secretly for them, just in case. Kaylen had not been Chosen. At some point Arronin would not need a keeper and Kaylen would not be able to come home. He would save for Kaylen. It was the right thing to do in his mind.

Arronin was hard to hold in the saddle. He kept grinning hugely and leaning far one way or another to look at things as they passed them. Kaylen held the boy around the waist protectively. He kept his head down and did not look around. He listened though, listened to the reactions of people to their passing. They stood out as foreign in their black clothing, which was traditional to their homeland. The family shared strong resemblance to each other. All has black hair, fair skin and dark eyes. All except Kaylen whose eyes were as blue as a Companion’s. The bells on the Companion’s saddle and bridle were a bit distracting, but made him smile. Arronin loved them because they were like the little bells he wore on his waist sash all the time. Kaylen would never tell him the boy wore them so people could know where the boy was at all times. The bells were useful, but not when there were many other bells jingling.

The busy streets gave way to residential homes of the upper middle class with their courtyards and servants. Small estates but not too small. Large enough to say you had money, but not large enough to say you were among the nobles or the wealthy. Johan wanted to have a home here and would discuss with his father later about that, if there were any homes available. The weather was still warm with the late summer slowly waning into early autumn. Winter had a festival for the Solstice, he vaguely recalled from his uncle’s lessons on Valdemar. He wondered what it would be like here at midwinter. He wondered if it really got more snow than he ever got at home. They hardly ever saw snow at home and it never stayed when it did fall. His smile faded as he thought about Vikor, who would never get to experience snow now.

They rode to the palace gates where the guard parted from them. They headed to the stable to leave the horses in the care of the hostler there and the stable hands. Johan and his father helped with their horses. Eddon brought the younger boys to the Companion’s stable where they brushed down Noey and stored her saddle. Some of the other companions came by out of curiosity, wanting to see the tiniest Herald-to-be. The boy giggled and grinned and babbled a few sentences about his joy and what the Companions looked like and how he felt. Kaylen’s eyes just widened, “He… is talking now.”

Eddon chuckled and patted Kaylen’s shoulder. “Noey has been helping him. He just felt ready now to speak is all. Enjoy.”

Kaylen enjoyed it indeed. It lifted his spirits to know Arrinon was happy, comfortable and felt safe enough to be… chatty. He could not believe his little brother was chatty after so much silence. Chatty. Well-rested. Fewer seizures. Maybe there really was hope for the boy being healed and living a normal life.

Once the Companions were settled in their strange open stalls, Eddon gathered the refugees and newly Chosen. He led the way into the palace where they were met by other Heralds and guided to the King’s Hall. There were equal nervous expressions on all the refugee’s faces, except the small boy who was innocent of politics. They were going to meet the King, not an official who would sort them out. The king! Eddon commented to them by way of trying to reassure them, “The King does his level best to be involved in the lives of his people. No one is insignificant. He will try his best to ensure you are properly settled.”

“Himself?” asked Johan in surprise.

Edoon chuckled again, “Yes… and no. He will likely want to know a bit about who you are and all and thus how best to place you then hand you off to someone who will finalize the arrangements. Arronin will be taken to the Herald’s Collegium to be educated and trained. And yes, Kaylen can stay with him, at least till the boy is a bit older and able to be on his own in a school setting. We understand that five is too young to be without a personal guardian.”

Both Johan and Kaylen relaxed at that news. They followed into the King’s Hall, Kaylen held Arronin’s hand firmly, though the boy skipped beside him and waved at everyone he passed. He was the news of the day, this littlest Herald trainee. Nobles and Heralds alike gave the small boy smiles and little waves. The child’s grin infectious in the King’s Hall. Even the King smiled and waved at him before greeting the rest of the newcomers.

Johan handled the conversation for his father because of the language barrier. He felt he would have had to anyhow for diplomacy sake. He explained how his family are business men, alchemists, good with black powders for mining and with dyes for clothing especially. He thanked the King and the Heralds for granting them sanctuary and swore that his family would do all they could to be deserving of the protection given. He assured the King that they did not need or want charity, preferring to not owe anything to anyone, that they brought some wealth with them. He was careful not to specify. Eddon looked surprised for Johan had not mentioned this before at all. Probably to protect it, not trusting guards or people talking on the road. Not wanting to be robbed. It was prudent, if unnecessary.

The King listened carefully to the man before him. Sometimes he would tilt his head and give an almost imperceptible nod. “Thank you for being so honest and frank with me, Johan. Your family is welcome in Valdemar. Reassure them that their children will be well cared for.” Eddon winced. The King looked over at him sharply, then his eyes widened and he nodded. “Ah, you may visit them whenever you choose Johan.” He somehow received the message mentally about how the younger boys were considered dead. “Mind our laws and respect our Heralds and Guards.” That was his warning for the parents. “We will try to find you temporary accommodations in the palace till you can secure a home in the city, unless you would like to be in a different city.”

Johan smiled and bowed his head politely, “You are very gracious. I would like my family to stay close together, despite their belief differences, in case … well… just in case. We had passed homes in what Herald Eddon called the Middle Upper… Upper middle estate district.” He hesitated unsure if he got that right. He was too busy looking around amazedly and had not paid as much attention as he wished he had when Eddon was talking as he guided them to the palace. “If there is a home vacant in that area and it is within the means of the funds we have, I should like to reside there. And if we have left over, I would like to establish business unless I would be uh… interfering with someone who already does what we do.”

“Herald Ordo will see to assessing the wealth you brought with you and helping you find such places should they be available. I believe we can accommodate,” said the King. He gestured to a grey-bearded limping Herald who came forward. “You will have a suite here in the palace for tonight while he evaluates. Then tomorrow you can travel into the city with him to look at some possibilities.” He glanced to a Herald by his side and back to Johan, “When you are settled, seek out Master Soren. He is the Master Builder here in Haven. He will help you establish your business.”

Johan bowed deeply with his thanks. He wanted to speak with his younger brothers before leaving but it would be awkward with his parents watching. He turned and guided them to follow Herald Ordo out of the King’s Hall, explaining in their native language what he negotiated so far and what would happen next for them.

Kaylen’s hand tightenedd around Arronin’s. This was it. His family was gone now and he might never see them again. He took in a deep breath to steady himself. He had to be the grown up now, the adult, and the guardian. He had to be father and brother. Arronin looked up with curious concern. Kaylen has been his whole world mostly since no nurses wanted to tend him once he had been weaned. His parents hardly came to see him. Just a strange older man Kaylen called Uncle, and sometimes his brother Vikor. Vikor was gone. He understood death better than a five-year-old should. Arronin gave his sash a little shake to make the bells jingle, making Kaylen smile just a little.

“Kaylen,” the King addressed him gentle amusement, “You and your brother will share a room in the New Herald’s Collegium. The Dean, Herald Caelen, will guide you. He will assign classes for you both, and a uniform for the wee one. I am given to understand the boy needs a healer?”

Kaylen thought that this might end up being terribly confusing. He being Kaylen and a Herald also named Caelen. “Yessir. Arronin suffers terrible seizures, often and especially if he is Seeing. They have been less frequent and less intense since he had been Chosen by Noey, but… they are still bad and unpredictable. I would rather not have classes and sit in his classes, if I may. In case he has a seizure in them. He has never had classes or tutors before, nor been around so many people. And, I suspect much of what he would learn is what I would need to learn too.”

Herald Caelen gave his assent to the King that this could be arranged, “But at some point, you will have to let him on his own or he will never learn to be so.”

Kaelyn glanced in Herald Caelen’s direction and dropped his eyes again. “I know… just… for now.”

Anyone in the room could see that perhaps Kaylen needed the company more than the boy. Caelen led them out of the King’s Hall and to the under construction Herald’s Collegium dorms. “It is a bit noisy still, but this section is ready. I will give you the room on the end. We have many new Chosen arriving. I am not sure where I will put them till the other dorms are finished.” He sighed. “At least you get a room. The last rooms.” He waited for them to put their meager belongings down. He then took them to where they could get clothing. Uniforms for Arronin in Herald trainee grey and some cast offs from nobles that looked like they would fit Kaylen.

“For the sake of avoiding confusion, do you mind being called Kay instead of Kaylen?” asked the older Herald.

“Kay!” cheered the small boy. “I like Kay.”

Kaylen chuckled and ruffled the boy’s hair, “Kay is fine.”

Caelen led them then to his office where a Herald and a couple newly Chosen stood waiting for him. “And it begins,” he sighed to himself. “I will see you two,” pointing to the newly Chosen, “in a minute.” Those two looked like they would be full of mischief. His Companion informed him that one boy could Farsee and the other could Fetch and have already played about with their abilities all the way here. The Herald that found them is desperate to pass them off. He sighed dramatically again and closed his door. He sighed a third time when he saw the state of his room. Yet more books had been sent there creating two new almost waist-high piled. “I cannot wait for these Collegia to be done with the construction so we can move you all out to proper dorms and proper classes. It will be a sardine can in your dorm. Here.” He made a list on a piece of paper and handed it to Kay. “There are his classes. If you cannot read it, just ask anyone around and they will help you get where you are going. A trainee is coming to guide you back to your room, to the baths, and to the dining hall. Dinner will be in the hour, you will hear a bell to inform you of it.” His tone was one of dismissal.

Kay and Arronin stepped out and the two other boys were ushered in by a very frazzled looking Herald.

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Herald Ordo was kind enough to provide Johan with a few ledgers and a few blank journals upon request. Johan agreed to a banking account on the Herald’s advice, though against his father’s wishes. This wasn’t the rural country. People didn’t keep all their money locked under a floorboard or in a chest. Although, Herald Order did advise Johan to keep some hidden but accessible, just in case and for negotiating any impromptu trade. It was prudent and Johan had not considered it, so he appreciated that the Herald recommended this action. The Herald returned with some Valdemaran coin of various denominations and the formal King’s seal upon a bank note with an address where to take the note to formally establish an account for savings.

After meals and some quiet fruitless arguing with his parents, Johan sat in the bay window of the suite with one of the blank journals. He looked out over the grounds as the full moon illuminated them. He had never really kept a journal before, but thought… maybe… this could be a way to communicate with his brother. It was another suggestion from the Herald. Johan could exchange the journal back and forth with his brother. If he wrote it in Valdemaran, then his parents would not be able to read it and he could claim he was communicating with officials on the Hill (for the palace was on a hill above the city). It was a good idea. However, he knew he couldn’t really get away with passing a journal to Kaylen. Kaylen couldn’t read Valdemaran. Maybe one day, someone could read it to him. So he looked down and put stylus to paper.


Day 1 in Haven


I like the short version of your name. I heard it from Herald Ordo when I asked about you. If you ever get to read this, and I sincerely hope someone eventually reads it to you, I thought you should know the name given to you at your naming ceremony. It would have been told to you at your rite of manhood on your 16th birthday after you passed your ordeals. Our flight from home, our losses, your sacrifice and choice to stay with Arronin, are all proof that you have passed your ordeals and rite early. Know you are a Man, ceremony or not.

ShieldBorn That is your soul’s name.

It is a funny tale actually. Mother gave birth to you so suddenly outside while father was training me with sword and shield. There was no time to get her inside. I was just a small boy then. Vikor a toddler with the nurse inside. Father held Mother while yelling for aid and I caught you coming out… In the under curve of my little shield. Your eyes were the color of the morning sky just as the sun was about to rise. I will never forget.

Kay ShieldBorn. You are the best of us with shielding. Your name is extremely appropriate.

Mother and Father are very distraught. They are not comfortable here, so afraid for their souls. How was it that all of us were born of them and became so open-minded? Do you think that was Uncle’s influence and teachings? Anyhow, they want to go back home, but know that they will die if they do. I angered them with the decisions I took with Herald Ordo about our wealth and finances. Father wanted to keep it all stuffed in a mattress, like a peasant! I told him that was beyond ridiculous. We are not peasants. And the Valdemarans have never treated us as such. We may not had titles as we did in Karse or Hardorn, but we are Lords, lesser Lords but still Lords. That includes you. I have no children of my own yet, so you are named heir after me. I have that in legal writ with the King’s seal of approval, even if our parents still regard you as dead, I do not. I have also made arrangements for a savings fund for you that I will add to regularly, so you will never be without. This I promise you as all the Gods and Spirits are my witness.


Johan regarded his very first entry. Herald Ordo was right. Writing helped him feel much better. He tucked the ribbon in between the last written page and the next blank one before closing the small journal and gazing once more out the bay windows. The Companions in the distance in what was called Companions Field seemed to shine in the moonlight. They were so beautiful. He watched a large destrier Companion walking through the field trussed him his gear as Noey had been. It looked like a medium warhorse. It also looked like the saddest Companion ever. Its head hung low and it dragged its hooves as it headed to the stable. Several other Companions joined it as if friends had come to give comfort. Johan wondered if perhaps that one’s Chosen had died. Then wondered, based on the timing, if maybe it had traveled so far with the intention of Choosing Vikor. It was the perfect steed for his brother, but Vikor was gone, dead before crossing the border.

Johan tucked the journal in his room and pulled on a cloak. “Father!” he called. “I am going for a walk. I need some air and will be back soon.” He left before any answer could be made. He managed to find his way outside and strode purposefully to the stable where he saw the Destrier go. There was a stablehand there removing the gear. “I would like to help, if I may.”

“Sure, if Morrin will allow,” replied the young man with a hint of a question. The large head turned, gave a small nod after seeing Johan and dropped again. “He done missed his Chosen this one. He’ll recover and another will call his spirit.” He patted the Companion and carried away the decorative but sturdy bitless bridle.

Johan helped, having the greater height than the other man, he had an easier time removing the saddle. “Vikor would have loved you with every tiny scrap of his soul,” he whispered. The ears perked up suddenly and the Companion gave Johan a small nuzzle, knowing Johan must feel just as much loss for his younger brother. “Perhaps to stave off loneliness, till you find another Chosen, you can help keep an eye on our younger brother, Kay. He is going to have a hard time fitting in. Arronin will not understand his pain. Can you do that? Will you do that? For Vikor?” There was a feeling of a light brush on his mind, like he sometimes felt from Vikor. “Yes, of course you can mindspeak me, anytime, for any reason. You have that permission till the day I pass from this world.”

::Thank you.:: The mindvoice was deep and strong and like rolling thunder, yet comforting. ::I will of course watch over Kay for you and for Vikor. Know this, Vikor is safe and in a good place and you will one day meet him again when it is your time.::

“I know. He made me promise to Live, no matter what. He would tell you the same thing. Live. Live vibrantly with the passions that make you you.” Johan groomed the Companion as the stablehand seemed to have known there was a private conversation happening and backed off.

:: Can Kay ride?::

“Yes, enough to say he won’t fall off too easily. But ride like I have seen some of you ride? No. And not as well ahorse as I.”

::Then I will ensure he is a good rider at least.:: The mindvoice sounded less saddened now with a new purpose. ::I cannot sense him. Noey says he is shielded.::

“Yes, he is really good at shielding. He doesn’t seem to have any uh… Gifts as you call them. But he had lots of time to himself and spent most of it practicing that. He is pretty good at martial arts, too. Again… lots of time to himself to just practice. I suppose you can’t really do anything with him on that measure.”

::No, but we have a weaponsmaster and all trainees take lessons. He may also go to the Salle to practice anytime so long as the weaponsmaster is there.::

One day, he hoped, one day he and his brother would get together. Johan left Morrin after grooming him and setting out water and sweet oats. He returned to his temporary suite, after asking a guard to please help him find his way, with a little embarrassment. Someone, for Companions were not mere horses, someone would have eyes on Kay and that reassured Johan a great deal.

Chapter Text

There was no time to grieve his losses. Exiled from the only home he knew, knowing the two family members he was closest to had died to get the rest of the family over the border, shunned by parents, Kay had to hold it together at his tender age of 15, the age of manhood. His parents did not even give him his rites of adulthood. He had spent his life in a wing of the house, raised by his uncle. He had seen his eldest brother Johan a few times a week for lessons in languages. His elder brother Vikor hung out the most with him, sparring and sharing lessons, learning about Valdemar and secretly learning about mind gifts. Then he took care of his younger siblings. The first was a boy, the next a set of twins (girl and boy), the last Arronin. The first died from the seizures at the age of three when the twins were born. The twins lived to age two and four respectively. Kay had buried all three himself. The last was Arronin, born soon after the twins. They all suffered the same ailment. Arronin was not expected to live past his fifth year. Kay had had no time to grieve the loss of uncle and older brother for the sake of Arronin. He, at 15, had to be mother and father and brother to this gifted sick boy.

He stood in the king’s court as the rest of his family left. He was tall and lanky with an unkept mop of dark brown curls. Rare for his family, he had dusty blue eyes to their commonly rich brown. The five year old clinging to his leg had the same family look, the thick brown curls and large liquid brown eyes. They shared the pale mocha complexion of the family. There was no doubt of their relation. The small boy reached sown and jingled his sash that had tiny bells on it. Kay had gifted it to him when he was three. It was the best way for Kay to keep track of a very energetic child. The jingles told anyone where the boy was, and if he was having a seizure. Now Arronin used them to shake Kay from his frozen uncertainty. Right, he had no time to grieve. His little brother needed him.

“It will be ok,” Kay wasn’t sure if he was reassuring the boy or himself. He kept to the Valdemaran speech here because this was the new land they were in and he had been trying to teach Arronin. Arronin seemed to understand. Maybe that was because he was Chosen by a Companion. Kay didn’t know. It was hard to tell. Arronin had yet to speak any words at all.

The many people in the court started to make their way out like a chaotic sea of colors mixed with greys and a great many whites. The sounds of the velvets and cottons were almost a cacophony. The light jingle of Arronin’s sash kept his focused on the child clutching his hand now. “Come with me,” said the herald that spoke to him earlier, the one who has almost the same name as he. “Let’s get you settled in a room. We have just started to move some people into the new collegium dorms. We’ll give you two a shared room at the end, close to the stairs in case you need to get to the healers quickly. Then we will head to the Healers Collegium and Healing House. Get you two checked out. I understand the littlest herald to be is in great need of attention.”

Kay turned at the herald’s voice, eyes searching before him and hoping he did not appear as lost and scared as he felt. “Yes please… and thank you.” He encouraged Arronin to walk and they followed Herald Caelen, Dean of Heralds Collegium (Dean of all three collegia really, but each collegium had a respective dean that answered to him). Arronin skipped and hopped, jingling as he did. His tugs this way and that brought a small smile to Kay’s lean face. Arronin was bright and curious. Today was a good day. He had not had a seizure, nor any visions. He knew the respite would not last, but it was worth showing Arronin he was happy, too.

“Sir, Arro is very young and does not yet speak. How will he learn? And… I cannot be far from him on account of his condition. Or will we have to be separated for lessons? And maybe, maybe… May I learn alongside him?”

Caelen smiled warmly, “I would not dream of separating you two just yet. He has a great deal to learn and yes, is both young and will need you in case he has problems. For now, yes, you may learn with him. Though, I think the lessons will seem remedial for you. Let’s settle you both in before we tackle the list of lessons. One stressful thing at a time.”

Kay let out a breath of relief.

They left the palace proper and walked through the garden to a gravel road. The walked crunchingly along that for a little while till the sounds of construction could be well heard from the larger building that was partly finished. The hope was that it would be complete before the snows, but it looked like just the dorm and tower would be. The kitchens and larger dining hall, the classrooms and the rest of the dorms and library would likely have to be worked on after winter.

Calen explained, “The dorms just opened up this week, so you are very lucky. The last couple weeks had us getting very creative with where to put people. Trainee mags is in a room in Companions Stables. And some others took bedrolls and are crammed in like sardines in the old dorm. We are started to move them out to the new one now. The dorms will be the first to be finished in the spring and the rest should be complete by the summer. So you will room here, but eat in the old student dining hall and take classes in the palace and in the other collegia.”

“We take classes in the other… I’m sorry… what?”

“Oh! Right. There are now three schools here on the palace grounds. Heralers Collegia for those with a healing gift. You will know them for their light green and dark green robes for trainees and full healers respectively. The other is Bardic Collegium for the bards. Many have a bardic gift, but some are just excellent artists with song, poetry and music. You will know the bardic trainees for their rust colored robes and full bards wear scarlet robes. Heralds Collegium is new this year. Herald trainees are all in grey while heralds are in white. Please do not call us white devils.”

“Never sir. My Uncle,” Kay choked a moment and took a breath. “My Uncle was fond of a herald.” He winced as he was not sure how accepted same sex relationships were here. There were very much unwelcome in Karse. Part of why Vikor visited Kay often was because his older brother also leaned to being interested in boys and fancied one of the servants in that wing of the house. They had a secret love relationship. It was sweet. Kay didn’t himself know what his interests were as he had no time to really think about that caring for much younger sibling doomed to die.

“I am so sorry for the loss, Kay. Truly I am.” He lead the way into the new construction and up a flight of stairs. This room will be for the monitor of the boys dorm, a senior trainee. He’ll be moving in later today. His name is Bren. He’ll be graduated in the spring sometime. Once he finished moving in, he will guide you about for clothes and supplies.” Down the hall to the very end where there was an emergency set of stairs, Caelen brought them to a corner room. It had two cots and two wardrobes and one desk. “There are trunks under the bed for other belongings. You can leave your bags here. Someone will guide you back here later.”

Arronin put his bag on one of the beds as directed and the poked into EVERY corner of the room that he could. Both Kay and Caelen chuckled softly. Kay was more cautious and careful in his steps. He waited for the boy to stop bouncing on the other cot before he set his own bag upon it. This was going to take a great deal of getting used to. “Come on, Arro. Time to see the healers.” He held out his hand and the jingling grew close till the small hand took his.

Caelen nodded to himself and walks back the route they had come as a way to help them remember it. On the gravel road, the tool a left and followed it along its path for a good ten minutes or more. Caelen spoke about the palace, the grounds, and the gardens. He told them bits of history and lore to help them become familiar with things they would hear from other trainees who grew up in Valdemar.

The Healers Collegium was much quieter. There were many different smells. Where the Herald Collegium smelled of fresh cut wood and the sharp dust of granite, the Healers Collegium had a clean spring scent hinted with eucalyptus and other medicinal herbs over a slight sting of disinfectant. All those were very subtle though, clean and neutral was the strongest scent, or… non-scent.

“I have to leave you here, but you will be in very good hands. The healing trainees will make sure you both get something to eat and Trainee Bren will find you here after.” Caelen patted Kay on the shoulder and ruffled Arronin’s curly head.

Kay listened to him depart as he faced the new strangers who wondered about the brothers. “YES!” cheered a teen boy’s voice around a corner. Kay tensed at the sudden loudness. Arronin giggled as the healer trainee who had cheered poked his head low around the corner at Arronin’s height. His blond hair had short little dreadlocks that bounced as he waved at the boy. Arronin bounced on his own heels in delight. Kay could not stop the very baffled expression that took over his face.

“Hi! My name is Stefry,” said the need coming properly around the corner. “I am going to be the healer trainee in charge of keeping your medical files in order. I’ll also give you both the preliminary look over before one of the master healers comes in. We got word already of you … Kay? And… Arronin?” He grinned so brightly that it was infectious. “The little one here will likely be seeing Master Mindhealer Gregor. Just call him Master Gregor. And just call me Stef. Have they given you the tour… or just the Caelen Brief?”


“Right, just the Caelen brief. Figured. You look like deer stuck in mud surrounded by wolves. Come on. Let me get you to a quiet room.”

Kay wasn’t sure ‘quiet’ really existed in Stefry’s world. Stefry was nothing Kay was ready for. Hand on, friendly, chatty, dynamic and dramatic. His voice flowed up and down like music that captivated you. His movements emphasized every word perfectly. Arronin adored him! Kay knew because the boy let go of his hand once in the small room to take Stefry’s hand and explore yet again. Kay just sat in the nearest chair to try to relax himself. Stehan entertained the boy at the same time as he explained everything he was doing. From opening files to writing in their names. From measuring and weighing Arronin who thought this was great fun. Kay turned his attention to the window to tune out a little. He was drawn back when there is quiet. A mug of something hot was pressed into his hands.

“Here,” said Stefry more softly. “Tea, bergamot and vanilla with milk and a bit of sugar. Karsites like darker stuff to the herbals and greens we usually drink. We don’t have coffee readily available here, nor coco. In the dining hall, sometimes. But this… I think you will like.”

It smelled like a warm hug. Kay murmured his thanks, impressed with how easily Stefry could shift and know just the right thing to say and do. Perfectly fun for a five year old, and soft and soothing for Kay.

Stefry lifted Arronin to sit on a healers examining table where he checked the boy out from head to toe, mostly with his gift, sensing through the boy’s body. He sometimes leaned down and shook his short blond dreads at the boy who laughed and touched at them with glee. He would pause now and then to write things down in the file. Another trainee came in with food and set the tray at a desk. “There you go, Arronin. Have some food wile I examine your amazing big brother.”

Kay looked up in surprise for no one, not ever, had said to him he was amazing, not for any reason at all.

A finger almost surprised him when it gently touched under his chin to get him to close his gaping mouth. “Never doubt how amazing you are to be the brother he needs.” Stefry guided him to the examining table where Kay laid down and felt very awkward, blushing red down his neck and blotching his cheeks. “Wow, I… you have some serious shields. Can you take them down so I can use my gift to sense through you?”

“I’m sorry… I… I can’t. They are just… there.”

“Oh, hm… ok… we do this the old fashioned way then.” He did much of the same things he had with Arronin. Measurements and weights. Checked teeth and bones. Tested reflexes. “Look left. Look right. Look up. Look down. Good.” There was a long pause that almost worried Kay. Stef put a hand over Kay’s, “Deep breath. It’s ok. You’ve had a long ride and you are exhausted. Sit with your brother and eat. I’ll go get the master healer to come in.”

Food helped ground Kay. He heard Arronin take a huge yawn. It was contagious and he yawned right after, just as the master healer came in.

“Hello, Master Gregor would like to see you both but he is currently with some patients today. You too seem well enough to head back to your room to rest. I just want to ask a few questions about Arronin’s condition before you do.” The healer in dark green and a pale mint green overcoat sat on a stool with Stef’s files. Stef hovered in the doorway to listen and learn and provide a familiar face.

Arronin climbed into Kay’s lap as Kay described the visions, how those visions were often dark and invaded everyone’s minds and dreams. He described how they didn’t do so when he held Arronin. Likely because his own natural shielding extended to the boy. He described in detail the seizures, how often, how severe. He added that is seemed to be in the family. He mentioned how he had been caring for all his younger siblings who suffered similarly, though they did not seem to have the visions. The other three, however had died. The healer noted it all.

Stef thought his own heart would break listening to all this. A whisper behind him made him jump.

“Stef, I hope you are not flirting with him. He just got here. Could you give him a week first? And maybe find out if he is shaych or not?” Bren stood tall and imposing behind him, his dark blond hair tied in a little tail out of the way.

Stef smiled broadly at him. “You grew in a beard. Looks great. And no… I was not flirting. Not yet. His story hurts my heart though. Someone needs to write it and tell it. It is sad and heroic…” His face pouted with sad eyes.

Bren rolled his eyes, “Ever the bard still, eh? Did you make the little one laugh?” Because he knew Stef would. Stef nodded. “Good. Are they ready then to leave? I have four more newly Chosen to sort out.”

“Holy roasted crows! That many… just today? Can you come back in an hour? I think the master healer has a lot of questions for them and they just sat to eat.”

Bren agreed and gave Stef an affectionate pat on the cheek. “If I don’t see you, start planning a graduation party for me. For May Day.”

“You know I will. I run the very best.” Stef really did. He knew all the right hidden places for not so reputable parties, but also kept a good eye that no one took things too far. He likes the fun, and the openness and the alcohol, but it all had to be safe and consensual. No minors crossing lines they shouldn’t. Mitigated fun that leaned heavily in the grey zones. Or was that red zones. Hard to say when you were a former bard whose mother was from a brothel and whose father was a theater performer. His healing gift woke late, five years into his bardic training. He was now training as a healer, had it really been a year now?

Kay and Arronin were ready to go when Bren returned again. They were fed and very tired. Bren took them first to the Seneschal’s office and housekeeping for supplies and uniforms. Most would just be delivered to their room now that proper sizes were determined. The next stop was the bathhouse. There was a large bath as big as a child’s room as far as Kay was concerned, and there were perhaps a dozen smaller tubs. All steaming with fresh water. Baths like this were quite the blessing. By the time they got back to their room, Kay and Arronin were almost asleep on their feet.

“The water closet is directly across the hall from your door. Sorry about that. It is also the only one for this floor. So everyone will be using it. I’ll try to remind them to keep quiet. I’ll come knocking in the morning for you. Do you need anything else?” Bren asked.

Kay just shook his head, “no, I think we are fine for now. Just… need some sleep and some time to adjust to the new room.”

“Great. I’m at the other end of the hall in case.” Bren left them and closed the door.

Kay hated changed. And the last few weeks have been full of constant changes. He prayed that settling in would not be like today every day. He really wanted some stability and routine.