Disclaimer: Mercedes Lackey owns Valdemar and it's universe. I don't.
Author's Note: Yes, I know the theme of "what would I do if I ended up in Valdemar?" has been done to death. I just want to make sure it's truly mutilated! LOL Feel free to read and review (or not).
I dipped my pen in the inkwell, careful to ensure that just the right amount of ink clung to the feather-pen. Still, a drop escaped to stain my parchment, and I blotted it with a sigh of frustration. Would I ever get used to this writing system? I returned my attention to my journal.
Six months. I can't believe it's been six months already. I can't believe I will spend the rest of my life in this place. It's not—
I paused, raising my pen from the parchment. I was going to write "fair," but I knew that, in all truth, it had been my fault, my choice to come here, and that it wasn't really their fault for not being able to return me. Had it really been six months? In some ways it seemed an eternity. In others, a mere breath of time. I glanced to the window of my chamber, watching the rain make endless patterns on the glass. It was a far cry from the sunny day when I'd first met those who would change my life forever, merely six months ago....
My parents had asked me to come housesit for two weeks at their home in rural Maine while they went on vacation to visit my brother and his family in Colorado. Having just returned from an overseas mission trip, I had agreed, looking forward to two weeks of solitude to recover from the horrors of poorly-kept orphanages and sick children.
I had spent nearly the entire time alone, interrupted only by the occasional squirrel that happened upon the windowsill for a curious peek inside. My surprise, therefore, was great when, two days before my parents' scheduled return, someone knocked on the front door early one evening.
I rose from the couch, pausing the movie I had been watching, and moved across the room to answer the summons. I opened the door to find a four people, three men and one woman, dressed all in white, standing on the steps.
"May I help you?" I asked.
Before they could reply, a movement behind them caught my attention and I looked over their heads to see four white horses standing on the lawn, and behind them, a pearl-colored, ever-shifting swirl of air. I don't know how else to describe it. It was odd, but odder still was the feeling of familiarity. I looked back to the horses and one tilted its head just so, catching my eyes, an evident intelligence behind its own sapphire gaze.
With a shock that must have been evident on my face, I remembered. Half a lifetime ago—more, even—I had been given a brand new book by my librarian who knew of my love for fantastic tales. The heroine, a girl of thirteen years, as I was, had been swept away by an intelligent horse with blue eyes.
It was impossible—
"I know this must seem odd," the woman said, drawing my attention away from the horse (it simply could not be a Companion), "but we are in desperate need of help."
I stared at them for a stupid moment, and then realized that they were awaiting an answer from me. With a start, I came to myself, and stepped back. "Please, come in." As they filed past me, I looked back to the horses. They were now all looking at me.
It's impossible, I thought again as I turned into the house, closing the door behind me. "Make yourselves comfortable," I said to my guests. "I'll be right back." I went to the kitchen and got some glasses of ice water and made up a quick tray of fruit and cheese. I returned to find the strangers seated, but staring in barely-concealed wonder at the television. The pause on the movie had run out, and it was playing again: Ladyhawke, an old fantasy movie. I set the tray down on the coffee table, and reached for the remote, turning off the tv itself.
"Please, help yourselves," I said, indicating the tray. I took a seat in a worn-out chair as they accepted the refreshment, and waited until they were settled again. "It is, as you said, very odd indeed. How can I help you?"
It was a good thing that they had anticipated shock from whomever they told their story, because I could not have been more stunned at their revelation—though not for the reason they suspected. They were Heralds from Valdemar, and while they declined to comment on their "horses," they did say the swirly mass in the air was a Gate, one unlike any they had ever seen. They had been on their way to Haven from somewhere else, and had ended up here early this morning.
"It follows us wherever we go," said the woman, who seemed to be the spokesperson for the group. "And it has not collapsed. In our world, this is impossible."
"Why do you just not return to your world through it?" I asked. I still couldn't believe I was talking to people from a fictitious world. I deliberately refused to think about what was standing just outside my door. Impossible, my mind cried once more. And yet, the proof was in front of me.
"We can't," one of the men replied. "We tried."
"We had someone else with us, but he died in the transit," the woman said. "We think this is why we cannot return. There were nine of us before, and now there are only eight."
"Nine?" I queried.
"Our horses," one of the men answered. "They are living creatures as well. We think that since we came through the Gate with nine, we can only return with nine."
"We don't expect you to believe us," the woman said, though there was a desperateness in her eyes that pleaded with me to do just that.
"Why should I not?" I replied. "You are plainly here."
"That we are," she replied.
"Furthermore," I continued, "this Gate is just as plainly here as well." I looked at them. "Why don't you stay here for the night? You must be tired and hungry. Some rest would do you good."
"We would not want to impose," said the woman.
"It is no imposition. I have plenty of room," I said, "though I'm afraid I have no stables or provisions for your horses."
"We can take care of them," the woman said, and then paused, looking at her fellow Heralds for a moment before turning back to me. "Thank you. We appreciate your kindness. May we have your name?"
I shook my head. "Forgive me. I hadn't even thought of that. My name is Jaelle. And yours?"
"I am Elspeth," the woman stated, "and this is Dylan, Sandor, and Cardon."
I carefully controlled my reaction, keeping it as neutral as possible. I didn't know the men, but Elspeth I knew. It had been so long since I had read the books, but she looked in real life as I remembered her character having been described.
"I'm pleased to meet you," I said to all four, and then rose. "If you'd like, I'll show you to your rooms. I'm afraid you'll have to share sleeping space, as I don't have separate rooms for all of you."
"That is not a problem," Dylan said, as they all rose.
My parents had a four-bedroom house. I was sleeping in my old room, and I showed the Heralds the other three bedrooms. Elspeth slept in my brother's old room and let the men split up the remaining two rooms. I then showed them the bathroom (and how to use the furnishings), and where the towels were, and then left them to go make dinner.
I had taken some chicken breasts out to thaw earlier that day. I had packages of vegetables in the freezer, and a bag of potatoes in the pantry. I was certain I could come up with something that wouldn't be too foreign to their tastebuds. As I washed the chicken, through the window over the kitchen sink, I could see them tending to their Companions. It all still seemed so unreal to me.
An hour later, dinner was ready. Most of our conversation tended to discussion of the differences in our worlds from government to technology to religion. The Heralds were worn from their ordeal, however, and after a dessert of chocolate brownies and ice cream (which Elspeth suggested they take back with them to Valdemar), they sought their beds. I cleaned up the kitchen, and in the process, found some carrots in the refrigerator.
It was not yet true night, but the Companions wouldn't have been that hard to spot against the dark green grass anyway. They were practically glowing. I paused at the kitchen door, wondering whether I should go at all. Would it serve any purpose to talk to them when there was nothing that I could do?
My curiosity was stronger than my logic, however, and I pushed the door open and stepped onto the porch. I headed down the stairs and across the lawn to where the four Companions were.
"I'm sorry I haven't got proper equine provisions for you," I said as I approached, "but I do have some carrots, if you're interested."
They merely turned their heads and looked at me. I waited, but nothing happened.
Dropping the carrots, I crossed my arms, and sighed. "In this world, when someone offers you hospitality, however meager it may be, it is polite to answer them."
Still no response.
I tried a different tactic. "I know who you are," I stated, meeting their eyes. "and you are no more dumb horses than I am."
That produced a whicker or two of surprise, and three of the Companions turned their gazes to the fourth, as though looking for direction, but none made any overtures of response.
"Fine, then," I snapped, disgusted, and turned my gaze to the fourth Companion, whose identity I suspected I knew. "If you want to be a stupid cow, Gwena, and play these childish games, then do so, but when all of you are marooned here in this world, it will be no one's fault but yours." With that, I turned on my heel and stalked back to the house. I wasn't even halfway there before a strong, feminine voice in my head stopped me in mid-stride.
I stopped and turned just enough to look over my shoulder. "Oh, found our tongue, have we?"
:It would be no more wise to reveal ourselves in your world than it would be for you to show your technology in ours.:
I turned and retraced my steps. "But I know who you are," I replied, "and I strongly suspect that you were aware of that before I even came out here." I recalled the gazes of Companions when I first saw them from the doorstep.
:Yes,: she admitted.
I half expected her to lie to me and deny it. When she didn't, my respect for her inched up a notch. "You're not in Valdemar anymore," I remarked, "and playing your little horsey games isn't going to help you here. And from now on," I added, "please extend me the courtesy of not invading my mind without first asking my permission."
"Thank you," I replied. Perhaps we could start getting somewhere constructive in our conversation. "Your Chosen are not familiar with this type of Gate. Are you?"
:Only enough to know that if we came through with nine, we must return with nine,: Gwena said. :It's just as Elspeth and Sandor mentioned.:
"And this person that came through with you---"
:Is dead,: Gwena replied, and it was plain from her short tone that she was unwilling to discuss the matter. :We must find someone to take his place.:
The Companions stared at me expectantly.
I pretended I didn't see.
"How much control do you have over this Gate?" I asked. When all I received in response was an uneasy shifting of weight, I continued. "You're not in your world. Playing your games won't help you here."
In my mind, I heard Gwena sigh. :Gates are constructed of magic, and as you know, we Companions are magical creatures.:
"Especially you," I interjected.
:Yes,: she replied. :Especially me. The magics of this particular Gate, however, are wild, and not easily controlled. Working together, I suspect that we can direct ourselves back to Haven, and even send the person who comes with us back to their own world once we are home. There's no guarantee, of course,: she added.
Again, I ignored the implicit invitation to join them. "Of course," I responded, and then looked at all of them. "You need your rest as much as your Chosen do. Sleep well." I turned to make my way back to the house, but I had barely started before Gwena's voice sounded once more in my head.
:We carry vital information for Selenay.: She waited for a moment, but when I refused to turn around, she continued on smoothly. :Thank you for the carrots.:
I paused in my long strides for a brief moment. "You're welcome. Good night."
Their answering murmurs followed me back to the house.