Disclaimer: Valdemar & concepts belong to Mercedes Lackey. Original characters and this story belong to Senashenta.
Sena: Damn you, Writer's Block Demon! I. Am. Going. To. Finish. Devil, Mine! _;;
WB Demon: Roar! I have kidnapped your fic! Roar!
Sena: Back foul beast! Back from the shadows whence you came!
WB Demon: AHA! You shall never vanquish me!
Sena: Smite you I shall! *waves big pointy stick* Have at thee!
Chapter Four: Lives Long Past
Celeste—Mia—slept deeply, aided by my mental nudging, but I wasn't so lucky. There were more thoughts and worries clambering at the back of my head than there had been in my entire life up until that point, and there was no way I was going to get any more rest than I'd already had.
I wasn't entirely unhappy, though, as my Chosen was cuddled into my side, huddling against me as if she were still hiding from the horrors of her previous life. I watched her silently, unable to comprehend what she had gone through... what she had seen, or what her life had been like.
And that was the problem.
I couldn't understand, and though I loved her with all my heart, I probably never would.
I hesitated, glancing down at her through the shadows inside the Waystation, and my hide twitched uncomfortably. But what other choice do I have, really? If I was ever to know what she was feeling—what she, herself, actually was, even—it seemed to be my only option. Still, how could I... how could I...
Celeste shifted against my side, whimpering softly into my shoulder, and a firm resolve washed over me. I had saved her from the Priests, and I was not going to spend the rest of my life not knowing her—not knowing my own Soul Mate.
Gently, I reached with my mind, brushing my own consciousness against her, and—
I was playing in the barn, with one of the family dogs. Sathie and Pepper were out in the corn field that bordered our gardens with Papa, tracking down gophers that had been pulling out our carrots and stealing lettuce and other vegetables from the garden, but Layla had just had puppies a little while ago, so she stayed behind.
The puppies were less than a month old, and still only roly-poly balls of fuzz and tongue. Since they opened their eyes, they had been getting into everything—so Papa had gotten my brother to move them and Layla to the foaling box stall, because it had a full door across the entrance. I had begged and begged Urian to let me help him, and he had said alright—as long as I didn't get in the way.
So I carried three of the seven soft, furry pups over to the foaling stall and set them down in the hay as gently as I could, and Layla followed me back and forth all three times, sniffing around each of her babies once I put them down, to make sure they were alright. She was a good mother, that much I could tell, even though I was only five years old.
After he was finished, Urian went off with my other brother, Nolani, to work in the fields that surrounded our farm. They took two of the horses—Aman and Nadin—with them, and because of that I knew they were going to Harvest. They wouldn't be back from the fields for the rest of the day.
"See, Layla? Your babies are fine here." Layla was still sniffing around the stall, making sure everything was okay, and I sat down in one corner to watch her and her new family. The only one that was missing was Pepper... but he had never shown much interest in the puppies, anyway, and Papa said that he never would. It was different with papa-dogs than it was with papa-people.
One of the puppies toddled over to me, bumped against my knee, and looked up at me with shiny puppy eyes. I patted his head gently, and his stubby tail wagged happily for a moment before he turned around and wandered off to play with his brothers and sisters.
It was funny, you know, but Layla didn't seem to have any trouble with her babies. I wondered, sometimes, how she could so easily take care of not one—not two—but seven pups, all at the same time. Nolani had told me, though, that she'd had nearly that many babies once before—back when I was just a baby myself.
Sathie was one of them, he said, and I had laughed because Sathie didn't look anything like Layla at all! And where had the rest of the puppies gone, if there had been so many of them?
"Well," Nolani had said, "two of them didn't make it."
I hadn't understood. "What didn't they make?" I asked.
He smiled and shook his head, "I meant... they died, Celeste."
"Oh." That I understood. "Like Mama..."
"Sort of." Nolani nodded, "but the puppies were sick, you see, so they were supposed to die."
"The Gods. See, sometimes puppies or other babies are born wrong... they're sick and weak, and very unhappy." He had been working at shoeing one of the horses, and then he stopped and let Solana's hoof drop back to the floor of the barn; "but the Gods don't like them to suffer, so they let them die. Then, the babies who had been sick and in pain can be happy in the Havens, and their mothers can concentrate on taking care of the healthy babies... understand?"
"Sort of." And I had—sort of. What I didn't understand was why, of they cared to much, the Gods would let something be born sick, after all. "What happened to the rest of the puppies, Nolani?"
He picked up Solana's foot again and continued cleaning under the nail; "well, we kept Sathie, but you know that already. The other three we gave away to other families who needed dogs to work, or wanted them for pets."
"Oh." I said. "Are we going to give Layla's babies away again?"
"Probably," Nolani agreed, "we don't have the room to keep seven more dogs, and there's people in the village that would take good care of them..."
My mind drifted back to the present when Layla sat down beside me and nosed at my ear. It ticked, and I giggled and pushed her away, and then leaned back against the wall of the stall to watch the puppies play.
I didn't want to give them away. In fact, I had already started giving them names; the one with the black spot on its chest was Ciara, and the one that had a crooked ear was Ilo. The one that slept all the time was Sasson, and the two who looked almost exactly the same as Layla—puppy twins, I said they were—were Thom and Tameka.
"I only have to name two more." I confided in Layla, who blinked at me.
She curled up next to me, then, and rested her head in my lap, and she was so warm and soft that I found myself drifting off to sleep, comfortable and contented, surrounded by cuddly balls of fuzz and love...
Celeste shifted in her sleep and I swam up from her memories long enough to check on her once more. She was still as I had "left" her, sleeping soundly against my side. Her brows were furrowed, though, and uneasiness had begun to seep down our newly forming Bond.
:Sleep, Chosen.: I whispered once again, and nudged her consciousness back into dreamtime.
She mumbled something under her breath and drifted back into a neutral dream. I watched her for another long moment, and then sighed softly and closed my eyes again, to delve back into her tortured subconscious. I was still searching—
...I woke up to the sound of shouting from the gardens, and it took me a while to get past the mental fog that had set in enough to recognize the voice. But then it finally penetrated into my thoughts, and as I rubbed vaguely at my eyes I realized that it was Papa's voice that I was hearing—but it wasn't the only one.
Other voices were shouting, too, but I didn't understand the words. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear the sound of many horses, moving down the road—or maybe up it. They seemed to be coming toward the farm.
Layla was growling, softly, under her breath, and standing near the door to the stall. Her puppies had fallen asleep too, I guess while I was sleeping, and were piled in the corner, snoozing through their mother's growls. In her stall, Solana was shuffling and making nervous noises, and I got up and slipped out of the box-stall to check on her and see what was wrong.
Solana was a lot taller than me, but I was big enough to reach her nose at least. I rubbed it gently on my way past, and looked back toward her for a second just before I peeked out around the barn doors.
Papa was in the garden, and Pepper was with him. He'd had Sathie with him, too, but I couldn't see him from where I was. There were other men, too, wearing strange clothing, and beyond them in the front yard were even more, still. Papa was shouting at them, and they were shouting back, in the same strange words that I'd heard before.
And then, suddenly, one of the men raised a sword and swung—
Bright red spurted outward from Papa's shoulder, splashing out and across his own face and that of the Man with the Sword. Pepper ran. He ran fast, with his tail between his legs and his ears back against his head, and before long I couldn't see him anymore.
But I could still see Papa—and for a long time, he just stood there, and I could see that his eyes were wide and he was shocked. He just stood there, staring, and the Man with the Sword jerked it back out of Papa's shoulder again. It was then that Papa's knees buckled: he fell forward, landing at the feet of the Man with the Sword, and the man just looked at him—just looked at him, and wiped the blade of his sword on the edge of his tunic before putting it away again.
Somehow, I knew Papa was gone... but I didn't feel anything. Papa was gone, but... not. The person that was lying on the ground, soaked in blood, not moving—that person had nothing to do with my Papa. My Papa was gone... but he would be back.
He would be back, and the Man with the Sword would be sorry.
He would be so sorry that he made a mess of Papa's favorite jacket—
He would be so sorry that he scared Pepper, and made him run away into the woods—
He would be—
I realized that someone was whimpering, the kind of sound that Layla's puppies made when they were hungry, or cold, or afraid. For a minute, I couldn't even place the sound: I wasn't afraid, because Papa would be back—would be back, and then the Man with the Sword and the Others would go away, and I would go back and play with the pups some more.
I wasn't afraid...
The Man with the Sword turned to look at the barn, and I scuttled back out of the doorway, hiding in the shadows just beyond the entrance. I stayed there for a little while—just a very little while—and then heard someone coming, so I got up and ran back to the box-stall, and slipped inside and huddled there, in the corner, with Layla's puppies.
Layla was still growling, and she couldn't come to sit with the pups and me. Instead she stayed by the door to the stall. Her hair was all standing up, and her tail was bristled out. She was very angry, and very scared...
Someone was inside the barn, then, and talking in the same words that I just didn't understand. I heard Solana shuffling in her stall, and then the creaking as the gate that kept her in was lifted. I heard the footsteps of a person and Solana as they left the barn, but Layla didn't stop growling.
She growled, and growled, and—
The door to the stall opened, and at the same instant, Layla launched herself at the person beyond—more blood, as bright as before, splashed across the stall walls, and Layla fell back into the hay, lifeless and gone, just like Papa. Her eyes had rolled up into her head, and she stared blankly at me and her babies, and suddenly I knew—I understood.
My lungs didn't want to work. They just stopped.
I couldn't breathe. I hugged one of the puppies close to me, and the rest of them cuddled against my sides, whimpering and trying to hide as the Man with the Sword stepped into the stall, kicking Layla out of his way, and looked down at me—at us—with cold, black eyes.
He said something to me, but I didn't know what.
I hid my eyes against the fur of the puppy I was holding, and didn't look up—didn't look at him—didn't want to see—
One of the other pups squealed, and its scream made me jerk my head up—just in time for the Man with the Sword to throw it down next to its Mama. He looked at me—looked at me and then stabbed downward with his sword, killing another of the precious babies that Layla had died to protect.
I cried and wept and held that one singular puppy as he slaughtered the rest of them—and then dragged even the last innocent pup from me, raised it in front of my eyes and then dropped it and stomped down with his boot—and the puppy screamed, high pitched and ear piercing—and bones crunched, so terrible and loud—and then he shook his sword to rid it of the bits of meat and skin that clung to it, and blood flecked across my face, mixing with my tears, and I continued to cry—
The Man with the Sword picked me up and held me under his arm, like I had seen Papa do with sacks of grain. He laughed then, while he held me, and wiped the last of the puppy's blood onto my tunic and pants.
He carried me out to the yard, where the rest of the men were waiting. I was still crying, but I could see that they had Solana, and Aman and Nadin, too: Aman and Nadin, who had been out in the Fields with Urian and Nolani, and I didn't want to think about what had happened to my brothers.
He carried me past Papa, who was lying in the yard, still, like he was sleeping, but drowning in a wide pool of blood. His eyes, white as the Companions he had told me about in bedtime stories, stared up at me, and I looked away before he could see how afraid I was.
He carried me up to one of the horses, and threw me into the lap of another man, and shouted something at him, and the other man wrestled me onto the saddle and held me there while the rest of the men, and the Man with the Sword, began to burn the farm, even as I watched—
Began to burn—
I jerked out of the memory with a physical flinch, with my heart and soul screaming at me and a lump the side of an apple in my throat. I was gasping, hyperventilating, unable to breathe, and my sides were heaving, though Celeste continued to sleep through my distress. :By the Gods..!:
:Sera?: Meriol was standing in the doorway, concern written in his very posture. :Are you alright?:
It took me a minute to compose myself, as visions of blood and carnage continued to run rampant in my Mind, and I nodded mutely. He seemed reluctant, but bid me a soft 'goodnight' and retreated from the Waystation door, leaving me alone, again, in the darkness of the building, to deal with what I had just seen.
And there was more...
So much more, but I just couldn't... I couldn't deal with any more.
Not that night.
Still shivering, though not actually cold, I curled myself back around Celeste, who muttered something in Karsite in her sleep, and closed my eyes, trying to banish the visions that continued to whirl through my thoughts. I had no idea... Celeste... I had no idea...
Sena: WHOO! HOO-FREAKING-RAY!! ^_^;; I will finish this! Hopefully, the next chapter won't take so long!
I almost made myself cry with the Man with the Sword killed the puppies. ;_; *sad Sena*