Chapter 43

Afiona sat behind the large desk normally reserved for the Haven's Herald Judges. People from every walk of life had packed the courtroom and awaited Afiona's judgment in near silence. Only a few metres in front of her stood Seviot, bracketed between two burly City guards and chained hand and foot. He had become a wraith of a man in the months since his arrest. His cheeks were gaunt, and his fingers were almost skeletal from his stubborn refusal to eat anything in case the Heralds poisoned it. His gaze was fixed on her face, with a glare that was creepy enough to cause the hair on the back of her neck to rise, but she ignored it.

Afiona was dressed in dark blue, not the Whites she had yet to earn, to make it clear she was making the judgment as a civilian. In these circumstances, with the crimes occurring in what was technically another country she could pass any judgment she wished, even death. It had been tempting to order him beheaded or hung for his crime against her father's victims and in revenge for his attempt on Nico's life, but eventually the Herald-to-be won out over the irate mother.

On the benches closest to her were members of Seviot's family, as well as victims and relatives of victims of the Mavelan family. In the back benches and along the walls there were Heralds, Healers, Bards, soldiers, and macabre sightseers from every rank in society.

Seviot's relatives had pled for leniency, the victims of the Mavelans held him as responsible as the culprits themselves and demanded death. There was no way she could appease them all. She had spent her time recovering searching chronicles for some idea of how to proceed and eventually found a case in the earliest years of Valdemar that was similar.

Straightening in the ill padded chair she gave thanks the title was going to be given to Tashir's second son soon and she would never be giving judgment as a Lady again.

"Seviot, you violated your oaths as a healer and helped perpetrate a great crime against many innocent people." Afiona said just loud enough to be heard. People in the back leaned in with anticipation. "For the next two years you will be under the direct care of Healer Adilia, a Mindhealer in Lineas. You will act as her assistant and work towards healing the wounds you and my family created."

Seviot's eyebrow twitched upwards slightly, the only sign of his surprise at her leniency.

"After two years, if Adilia believes you to be of sound mind, you will be tried by the Lineas people themselves for crimes you committed while in the service of the Mavelans." Afiona announced. "You will not fool her, she is the one who taught the majority of our Mindhealers before moving to the Lineas Temple. May I suggest you make the best use of those two years and try to create some goodwill among the people there?"

"Two years?" A young man, a nephew of Seviot's, bolted to his feet. "You are merely delaying his trial until there is less attention so you can kill him."

Heralds and Healers burst out with protests which were quickly silenced by Afiona's sharp demand for peace.

"At this trial thirteen good men and women who have no relation to any of the victims or you will listen to the evidence presented and decide your fate." Afiona continued. "A Herald from Haven, with no connection to the region, will supervise the proceedings and judge the accuracy of evidence before it's presented to the jury. The decision reached by the jury, if it can be upheld by the law, is final. No appeals."

There was a wave of muttering amongst everyone present.

"If they are lenient and set you free you must leave Valdemar immediately. If you return then you will be tried on the attempted murder of a Companion. With so many Heralds and Healers as witnesses you will be executed." Afiona said calmly but her fists clenched at the memory of Nico charging Seviot and the deadly glint of the knife. It was a little foggy from the drugs she had been given at the time but it only made the memory more horrific to her. She couldn't help but think what would have happened if she had been just a second slower. Nightmares of the event still plagued her.

"If you are found to be unstable or unfit to stand trial you will spend the remainder of your life in the custody of Mindhealers , locked away from the world." Afiona warned.

Seviot glared up at her.

Afiona stared at him impassively. "Seviot, if I see you again I will not care if it's unethical, I will kill you by any means at my disposal. Am I understood?"

Seviot glared at her, unmoving.

"Am I understood?" Afiona repeated with steel in her voice.

"Yes." Seviot snarled.

:And if you miss, I won't.: Daric commented for the first time during the proceedings.

:He won't get close to you, I promise.: Lance assured her.

Afiona suppressed a smile at their comments. Lance was still prone to treating her like she's made of glass where as Daric was back to treating her as his partner.

Afiona stood and carefully walked away. She was still weak from her rescue but they could delay the judgment no longer. It had already been several months, over which she had changed her stance from angry mother saying 'kill him' to the more Heraldic one.

Exiting by a small door in the back Lance met her.

"How are you doing?" He asked softly as she wrapped her arms around him and burrowed her face in his pristine white tunic.

"Do you think I did the right thing?" She asked. It was the first time she asked his opinion since the early days when he had told her it was her decision and he didn't want to influence it.

"I would have ordered him killed." Lance admitted as he rested his chin on the top of her head. "But your decision will give your people a chance to make a judgment against your family in a way. I suspect it will also make the transition to Valdemaran a bit easier for them."

"I hope it will." Afiona sighed. "Tashir has been under pressure from them to separate again. They preferred being their own country."

"The nobles would. Now they are small fish in a big pond where they used to be the big fish in a small one. I doubt those who work the land care as much for who is in charge as they do for the weather." Lance observed.

Afiona chuckled.

"Mama-afi, Lance, I thought I might find you two here." Shain greeted them as he entered through the door. "Good call on Seviot's punishment. I, personally, would have had him strung up by his toenails, but then again, I am not a Herald."

Afiona stepped away from Lance and smiled at her friend. "You came all this way to hear me pronounce judgment? Who is taking care of the Temple up north?"

"My replacement." Shain grinned. "The Speaker for the Healers is getting old and asked me to be his replacement."

"What?" Afiona gaped.

"Good choice." Lance said. "You have the noble blood to impress the nobles and the youth and idealism to off set the cynicism and age of the old fools."

"I wonder if Mia knows." Afiona grinned at Lance.

Shain rolled his eyes. "She doesn't give up, does she?"

"You aren't her healer anymore." Afiona pointed out.

"True. But I think she likes the challenge." Shain winked. "Speaking of being someone's healer and the responsibility it entails, shouldn't you be resting still? You look exhausted."

"I was about to escort her back to the Palace." Lance assured him. "Nico is anxious to have his Mama-afi back where he can check on her."

"He is still worried she is going to vanish?" Shain asked with a note of concern.

"A little." Afiona admitted. "It's more that he has been told so many times to be careful because mommy's tired that he wants to make sure I am resting like I should."

Lance chuckled. "Like last night?" He asked with a wink.

Afiona blushed a bright red. "Lance!"

"You supposed to rest in beds Mama-Afi!" Lance quoted the young Companion.

Afiona poked Lance in the ribs with her elbow, which only made him laugh.

"Sounds like my nephew." Shain grinned. "He walked in on my brother and his wife and asked if he could have a ride too."

"One of these nights we should get together and catch up." Afiona said after a chuckle. "I'm tired so we should get going."

With Lance's free arm around her waist they made their way down the hall and towards the snowy, winter day and to the carriage that awaited her.

Shain watched them go with a hint of sadness on his features. He had no doubt that Afiona was with the man she deserved, but he still wished she was on his arm.

Shaking his head he stepped back out into the courtroom where people were still standing around talking, not yet prepared to face the winter weather.

"Heyya gorgeous." Mia purred as she sidled up next to him. "What are you doing this evening? You owe me a picnic."

"It's a trifle cold for a picnic." Shain pointed out seriously.

"Outside perhaps. But I do have a nice cozy room, all to myself." Mia looped her arm through his. "Just you, me, and the bed sheets. Whaddya say, hmm?"

Outside Lance helped her into a carriage they had borrowed from the royal stables then climbed in next to her. Afiona rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

"Are you alright?" Lance asked worriedly.

"Yes, love." Afiona assured him. "Just a little tired. As usual."

Lance wrapped an arm around her shoulders and stared out the window at the snow lazily floating down. "I like your Judgment but some people will say you are merely delaying the inevitable or leaving the dirty work to someone else."

"I am too biased to make a decision." Afiona admitted. "All I could rule on was his involvement in my family's activities. The few survivors I could talk to could not say he ever hurt anyone, he just kept them alive so they could continue to be used. What he is responsible for is the mental anguish he caused with his healings. The Law there was that if someone refused Healing you could not force it on them."

"So, he is going to end up a scapegoat?" Lance frowned.

"No. The Herald that will preside will see to that." Afiona assured him. "I asked Herald Tantras to do it. He's fair and related to the king which will let the people there feel like the monarch does care."

"Good choice." Lance reassured her as she rested her head on his shoulder and went limp with emotional exhaustion. "Any regrets?"

"About what?" Afiona asked in confusion, straightening to meet his gaze.

"Seviot." Lance clarified.

Afiona shrugged. "No, I don't regret letting him live."

"You don't regret that you won't get revenge for what he and your father did to you?" Lance asked.

"Ah, but I do get revenge." Afiona grinned. "My family's title no longer exists, everything they built has been destroyed, and even their country has vanished. A hundred years from now only scholars will know they existed and even then they will probably be little more than part of Herald Vanyel's legend. And best of all, I survived and I can say their legacy stops with me."

:Bravo, heart sister.: Daric cheered. :Well said.:

"Bad enough that if we do have children they are the children of the Famous Herald-Healer Afiona." Lance teased.

Afiona laughed. "They'd be pretty spoiled, wouldn't they? Bards for uncles, Heralds for grandparents and parents, and a Healer for a mother."

"Do you want children?" Lance asked. "Since we both will be assigned to Haven for the rest of our lives we wouldn't have to leave them behind for circuits."

"I never thought of it." Afiona said honestly. "Nico was a complete surprise, remember?"

"You've done great with him." Lance pointed out.

"Well, it will be at least another year before I could handle pregnancy health-wise. Plenty of time to think." Afiona pointed out.

:Mama-afi: Nico interrupted.

:Yes: Afiona asked.

:I want a brother. A two footer is ok. Or a sister.: Nico said eagerly. :Are they really little:

Afiona rolled her eyes. :Maybe:

Afiona sat back on her heels and wiped some sweat from her brow. The day was easily one of the hottest this year. Most of the trainees that didn't go home for the couple months they had off had headed out of town to paddle in the river or study in the shade. Her three protégés were currently among the trainees trying to escape the heat of the day.

Her two former protégés, Esrich and Ulther, after being feted as heroes had manage to find their place. Esrich was now a priest in a temple in the city and Ulther had joined the military and was doing very well. Both visited her as often as their busy lives allowed.

The Council had all retreated to their country homes, at least those wealthy enough had. Shain and Mia had opted to take their two children, both energetic handfuls, to visit his relatives. Even the Royal family had decided to relocate to a grand summer home just a candlemark's ride by Companion away.

Even among the Heralds there were only a handful still here to help the three newly Chosen adapt to their new lives and get a start on their lessons. Lance, as the geography and tactics teacher, was currently with them.

:Are you out of the sun: Afiona asked Daric.

Daric chuckled. :Yes, I am in the shade and have no intention of moving. Nearly done digging in the garden:

:I am going to call it a day.: Afiona said as she stood. :Finding a patch of shade of my own and a book sounds wonderful.:

:You are welcome to join me. I'm at the far end of the field, near the river.: Daric invited.

:I think I will.: Afiona said as she went inside to change her clothing.

"Are we alone?" Lance asked as he poked his head out the door.

"You're early." Afiona greeted him. "And yes, the coast is clear. Nakita is off with the trainees and Nico is in the field."

"Good." Lance drew her towards the seclusion of their bedroom. "Any emergencies expected?"

"No. And Tika can deal with any heat stroke." Afiona assured him.

"Excellent." He grinned wickedly.

Afiona was about to close the door when they heard the childish shriek.

"Nakita." Lance sighed.

"Mommy!" A little girl with her mother's honey colored curls and her father's brown eyes ran into the room full tilt and hid behind Afiona's legs. Hot on her tail was the sheep dog Afiona had adopted a year earlier.

"What are you up to?" Afiona asked.

"We're playing tag." Nakita explained.

The dog obediently sat in front of Afiona and waited for her charge to run again.

Out in the hall the voices of the trainees who were their protégés echoed slightly. All three were young men, one was a cousin to the king, another was a farm boy, and the third a merchant's son but they had become close friends since being Chosen roughly a year earlier.

Lance scooped up his daughter and carried her out into the main room. "Have you seen Stefan?"

"I saw him out in the Gardens singing for some ladies." The farm boy, Elex, explained. He grinned when he noticed Afiona standing in the door to their room. "You know, I think today is just too nice to stay inside. Why don't we go join the Companions in the shade?"

"Me too!" Nakita said eagerly and squirmed to be let down. Lance obliged by releasing her. Almost immediately she was off and running again with the dog on her heels and the boys trailing behind.

Nakita was always on the go, usually running as fast as her four year old legs could take her until she was tired, at which point she's curl up in the oddest place to sleep and recharge before taking off again.

"Now then." Lance limped back to her. "How soon do you think we will be interrupted again?"

:Mom: Nico said hesitantly.

"You jinxed it." Afiona teased. :Yes:

:I need to talk to you. Now.: Nico said with uncharacteristic seriousness.

Lance frowned. :Is everything ok:

:Yes.: Nico quickly assured them. :I just need to talk to you, it's important.:

Lance gathered his cane, which he still needed for longer walks and Afiona led the way out into the sunlight. Nico quickly led the way to the Stables.

Afiona stopped and glanced back at Lance. :Do you think…: She asked, careful not to allow Nico to hear her.

:I think so.: Lance answered. :He's a bit young but Carmia says the ones with special abilities tend to Choose young.:

Afiona grabbed his hand for strength. :He is only ten years old:

Lance squeezed her hand reassuringly. :He wouldn't be hearing the Call unless he was ready.:

:He maybe ready but I am not: Afiona bit her lip to keep from saying anything.

In the stable Nico stopped at his stall. :I need you to saddle me.: He said with undisguised eagerness. :The good stuff.:

Lance released Afiona's hand. "I'll go see about some provisions for you."

Afiona wished he had stayed but was glad for the few moments alone. This would be the last time she would be the center of Nico's life. "Are you sure?"

:Very.: Nico said confidently. :Don't worry, I'll be ok. No heroics.:

Afiona gathered the brushes and started to groom. "Do you know where you are going?"

:Northish.: Nico answered vaguely.

"Be careful. And when you find them, tell me, alright?" Afiona asked.

:Of course. Just promise you won't follow.: Nico requested.

:I won't.: Afiona promised.

:Don't even Watch, alright: Nico pushed.

:I'll check on you.: Afiona said firmly. :I won't lie and say I won't.:

:Just don't watch all the time, please.: Nico said plaintively.

:I won't. But if you or your Chosen need Healing to call me immediately.: Afiona set aside the brush and moved around to his head. He was tall enough now that he looked down at her. The spindly legs that had once foiled games of chase were now long and swift. His mane cascaded over one shoulder and his tail fluttered down around his hocks. "I'm proud of you."

Nico lowered his head so his forehead was against her chest. :Do you think they're scared? It doesn't seem right that I am happy when he could be frightened or alone. What if they're in danger:

Afiona scratched Nico's ears. :You wouldn't get the call now if you couldn't arrive in time and if they are scared their fear doesn't have much longer to last.:

Nico sighed and lifted his head again. :Thanks.:

"I packed some traveling food and a skin of water."Lance said as he reentered. "I also packed a medic kit, some spare clothing, a blanket, and some of those honey cakes. There is a small pouch of money, in case you need it."

:How long have you to known what to pack: Nico asked suspiciously.

"We've been talking about it for two years or so." Afiona admitted.

Lance set aside his cane and saddled Nico while Afiona stayed by his head trying not to act like a clingy mother.

Much too soon his hackamore was in place and his saddle cinched.

"Take care." Afiona reminded him yet again as they stepped outside.

Nakita, running as fast as her legs could carry her, barreled towards them and threw her arms around Nico's forelegs. "You going now?"

Nico nodded, unable to speak to the little girl he considered a sister. It was one of his dearest hopes that she would one day have mindspeech so he could tease her about her childhood scrapes. He also wouldn't mind having another person to tell his stories too. They had progressed far past the childish 'Nico' stories.

Nico lowered his head to allow the little girl to kiss his cheek. :Tell her I'll be back soon.: He asked of the two humans who had been his parents.

Afiona ruffled Niki's hair. "He says he'll come back soon."

Nakita heaved a huge sigh. "He better."

:Not coming to say good bye: Afiona asked Daric.

:I already did.: Daric assured her. :I knew it was coming, he was getting restless. Don't worry, He'll be back, safe, sound, hale, and whole with a new chick for your nest.:

Nico started away at a brisk trot, his ears up and every muscle quivering with excitement. :Wish me luck: He called as he trotted out the Gate and into the city.

Nakita pulled at her mother's hand. "When do I get to Choose?"

Afiona laughed and knelt down to hug her daughter close.

"I am going to Choose a girl though, there isn't enough girls here." She said as she returned the embrace.

"Want to go swimming?" Lance asked Nakita, hoping to distract her.

"YES!" Nakita shouted and grabbed his hand and tried to drag him the river. She was only allowed to go near the river with her parents.

"I'll get towels." Afiona said as she stood.

On her way back to their rooms she closed her eyes and took a quick peek at Nico's progress.

:He's not even out of the city.: Daric pointed out.

Afiona grimaced at getting caught. :I was just checking to make certain he wasn't running through traffic in his excitement.:

:Good excuse.: Daric said dryly.

:Don't worry, I'll think up a better one for next time.: Afiona said as she continued on her quest for towels.

The End