A/N at end of chapter.
From the warmth I felt from the sun once going through the Gate, it was clear that we had returned in the summertime. I looked around myself and recognized nothing. We were in a field, but it certainly wasn't Companions Field. In fact, I rather doubted that we were even near Haven.
Lucia started after a butterfly, and I turned to Rolan. "Where are we?"
:Outside of Berrybay.:
"Berrybay?" I repeated. "Why?"
He tilted his head to better look at me. :Is this not where you wanted to be? Somewhere near Sorrows:
"But I didn't say where I wanted to go," I replied. Not that being near Sorrows was bad. If there was any chance that Landon/Yfandes might know me, it would be worth it. But it didn't seem very practical for us. "Shouldn't I be in Haven? I mean, Selenay and Talia and Elspeth might not know me anymore, but I could start over." With Lucia needing training, if we lived in Haven, there was a chance I might run into those I had known before.
:I'm sorry, child: Rolan said, :but that will not be possible.:
That didn't make any sense to me. Why couldn't I reestablish a relationship with them? I shook my head in confusion. "I don't understand."
:I have not yet Chosen Talia.:
I could only stand there and blink at him like some bizarre owl. "What—I—"
Rolan shook his forelock out of his eyes. :It was the time appointed for you to return.:
"But—" Now I really didn't understand. What was that supposed to mean?
:Have you never wondered why it took me so long to "find" Talia: he asked.
His words washed over me like a cool spray of water, and as they settled down in my mind, they sent a chill down my spine.
"I don't understand," I whispered.
Rolan snorted. :Of course you do: he contradicted. :You're as much a part of the canon as I am.:
I felt like the world was suddenly spinning like a top. I was supposed to be here? The reason Rolan took so long to Choose Talia was because of me? Because he Gated me to Sorrows while Talia was waiting for him on the other side of the kingdom? I looked at him. "How?"
:You simply are: he replied. :There is no explanation. At least, not one easily understandable or explainable.: He looked around. :Do you want to stay here, or would you rather I Gated you to Haven:
I shook my head. I was now old enough to be Elspeth's mother, and even old enough to be Talia's mother. To go back now would be too difficult for me to bear, to say nothing of how it would affect Lucia. How could I possibly explain that to her? I didn't even want to try.
"I have nothing, Rolan," I whispered. "No friends, no home—"
He stepped over to me and nudged me with his nose. :I will be your friend. And the other Companions...they know, too. We do not forget you.:
I looked at him. "How can they know of me?" I asked. "Everything has changed. In fact," I continued, "how do you know of me? How can you remember what happened—I mean, it never actually did happen anymore."
:Do you really think all of our secrets are revealed in the books: He asked. Before I could reply, he nodded his head in the direction of a hill. :Berrybay is just on the other side of that hill. There is an inn at this edge of town, the Sorrow's Song, run by a husband and wife who will treat you well. Why don't you go stay there until you decide what you want to do:
Apparently, the topic of Companion secrets was not open for discussion, so I just nodded my assent to his suggestion. At the moment, I wasn't sure what I wanted, and to decide anything now would be a bad idea. I called Lucia back from her play, and gathered my bags. "Thank you for you help, Rolan." I tried to sound cheerful, in spite of how depressing it all seemed, but my attempt was pathetic at best, as Rolan came up to me and nudged me once more with his nose.
:Do not lose heart, child: he said. :All shall be well.:
I nodded politely, though I didn't feel as confident as he seemed to be. "Go on, now," I said softly. "Talia's waiting for you."
He nuzzled my cheek, and then turned and trotted off, soon breaking into a canter. He swiftly disappeared from sight.
"Where did Rolan go?" Lucia asked, coming back with a handful of wildflowers.
I took her hand in mine. "He had to go get Talia," I said. I started walking up the hill.
"Where are we going?"
"There's a town just over this hill," I said, "and there's an inn where we're going to stay for a while until we can find a place to live."
"Oh," she said. "Okay." Her young voice held no worry, no fear for the future. It was the embodiment of perfect trust in me, and it was more than a little humbling.
As Rolan had stated, the inn stood on the edge of town, one of the first buildings, and the only three-story building I could see. We walked through the open doors into an empty common room filled with long tables and benches and sporting a large fireplace at each end. Off to one side of the room was a stairwell to the second floor, and in the back of the room were a set of closed doors.
"Hello?" I called. My voice echoed in the empty chamber.
A moment later, the doors at the back opened up, and an middle-older aged man came out. He smiled at me and Lucia. "Good day to you! How might I be of service?"
I returned his smile. "We are in need of a room, sir."
"No 'sir'," he said. "My name is Thom, my dear, and you've come to the right place." He stuck his head back through the door and called to someone named Jula. An older woman—his wife, I presumed—came into the room and smiled at us. He relayed our request to her, and she proceeded to show us to a room upstairs. It was small, but clean and bright, and had a lock on the door.
If the inn had been empty before, it was packed by dinner time. I hated crowds, especially crowds of strangers, and, unfortunately, Lucia seemed to be picking up on my emotions, as she seemed determined to hide behind me and never come out. Jula must have seen us standing there with heaven-only-knows-what expressions on our faces, for she laughed and invited us to eat with her and Thom at their table in their private quarters in the back of the inn.
"Business seems to be doing well," I commented, taking a slice of freshly-baked bread from the plate in front of me. Jula's cooking was some of the best I'd ever tasted, either in Earth or Valdemar.
"It is," Thom answered. "Too busy, I think."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
Jula smiled. "We're not as young as we used to be, my dear. Not like our Sylla. She's in Haven, running her own inn with her husband, and raising three babies as well."
"What we'd really like to do is move there to help her, but we can't just abandon our inn," Thom said.
I thought of my gold upstairs, and a plan began to form in my mind. I smiled at Thom and Jula. "Perhaps I could help..."
"Lucia! Denya!" I called, as they dashed down the stairs and headed for the door, "be sure to take your cloaks!"
"We will!" they yelled back in unison, and grabbed their cloaks on their way out to play.
I just smiled and shook my head and set about to cleaning up the dining/common room. I looked about the inn that I'd owned for the past three months. Thom and Jula had readily agreed to sell it to me, and I'd promptly turned the third floor into an orphanage, while keeping the second floor and common room open to travelers that might be hungry or in need of shelter. After I'd gotten approval for the orphanage from Haven—and seeing Selenay's signature on the documents nearly tore my heart out—I'd started advertising for children. So far, I'd gotten three: Denya, a little girl of six years; Arnon, a boy of nine years; and, Elsa, a girl of four years.
I didn't need to provide instructors, as there was a temple in the town that taught them basic subjects, but I felt the lack of a weaponsmaster keenly, and I missed Marin. I wasn't sure where to look, so I had written a letter to Alberich, introducing myself, and asking him if he knew of anyone, either in the Berrybay area or not, who might be willing to be a weaponsmaster here.
He wrote back, and his written grammar was as Yoda-like as his spoken was. I smiled the whole way through it. He recommended a few people, and I was disappointed to discover that Marin's name was not on the list. Of course, at this point, he was far from retirement age, and probably had a job. Still, I was grateful for the names, and I wrote to the one nearest to Berrybay, a man named Harten. He responded with interest and had now been here for a week. He had a patient, quiet manner that suited the children well, and we both seemed quite pleased with the arrangement, so he was here to stay.
I finished cleaning up the common room and took my book bag from the counter and headed for the stables. The children were away for the day at various friends' houses, and the inn was fully staffed for the day (I had hired some help for the inn after I started the orphanage), so I was finally able to have some time to myself. I had decided to take a day trip to Sorrows, since we were so close.
It was a short journey, and my gelding was more than pleased, it seemed, for the exercise. The weather had turned cold early, as it was wont to do this far north, and he probably realized that this was his last chance for some real exercise before true winter set in.
The books always seemed to give the impression that there was a great sense of security in Sorrows for those who were friends of Valdemar. I didn't have any Gifts, and I had always found forests and woods to be peaceful, like a Robert Frost poem, so I wasn't sure if the sense of peace I felt was just normal, or because of Sorrows itself.
I went deep enough into Sorrows to lose sight of the edge of the forest, but not so far as to get lost. I dismounted and spread out the picnic lunch I had packed for myself. From my bag, I pulled out Stefan's journal and a copy of the picture Lucia had taken of Landon and me.
I missed him. I guess I was hoping or expecting that if I came to Sorrows he would somehow be there and materialize before me and we could talk. But he didn't show up. No one showed up, actually. I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me. After all, Landon never existed in this world. Still, part of me hoped that this might have fallen under Rolan's category of Companion secrets that weren't in the books. How wonderful would it have been to have been able to come to Sorrows on occasion and talk to Landon? I had lost the friendship of Selenay, Elspeth (the fact that she was little older than Lucia now just blew my mind), Talia, Marin, Alberich, and so many others from the House, and as winter approached with the promise of being isolated from most of the world, I guess I had hoped that somehow Landon might be preserved in some way.
I just sighed and packed up my things. I cradled the picture in the branches of a tree.
"Goodbye, Landon," I whispered.
I felt a brush against my mind—or at least, I thought I did. I could have imagined it, but it seemed to be accompanied by a sense of gratitude.
"You're welcome," I replied.
There was no answer, but it didn't matter. There had been something there, however slight it was, and that was enough for me. Could it have been Landon? I didn't know. It was probably Yfandes, the logical part of my mind reasoned, but it didn't really matter. It was something.
"Goodnight," Lucia said sleepily, drawing the covers closer around her ears.
I leaned over and kissed her and put another log on the fire in the fireplace before checking on the other children. They were all asleep, and I stood in the doorway just looking at them, and especially at my daughter.
Was she worth it? The question settled itself in my mind and demanded an answer. Was she worth the life I might have had back at home had I not adopted her? Was she worth leaving everything I knew to return to Valdemar for her sake? I remembered Romania, where children were little more than inconveniences.
Lucia was my future. I couldn't imagine my life without her, and I couldn't imagine throwing her away, and with that realization, I felt a deep joy fill my heart. She was more than worth it. They all were.
I softly closed the door to the children's room and made my way back downstairs to my rooms in the back of the inn. One couldn't have everything one wanted. You had to do the best where you were, and be thankful for the blessings you did have rather than waste your life mourning over those you didn't. The soft strains from a song from the movie Dangerous Minds came to my mind.
...This is the life. Everyone has to be somewhere. I am here...this is my life...
I was here, and this was my life.
So be it.
I yawned and headed for the back room. Winter had come in full, and there was a nasty snowstorm raging outside. I was fairly certain the children wouldn't be going to school in the morning, but they could still practice their weaponswork out back in the newly-constructed salle. Harten insisted they practice every day unless they were sick.
I grabbed a couple of logs from the common room on my way to the back rooms. I was almost there when I heard a knock on the front door.
Who in the world would be here at this hour, and in this weather!
I put the logs down and felt for my dagger in my boot. I drew it out, tucking it in my belt for easier reach. It was probably just a traveler lost in the storm, but one could never be too careful.
I went to the door and unlocked it, opening it just enough to communicate. "Yes?" I called above the wind.
"I'm sorry to bother you," a man's voice yelled back, "but I got lost in the storm...could I stay here for the night?"
Still with one hand on my dagger, I opened the door and let the man inside. He was covered in snow, more than I would have thought possible. He stamped his boots and brushed himself off, but it didn't seem that he was having much luck in ridding himself of the snow.
And then I realized...his clothes were white.
He was a Herald.
I looked up at him and felt the blood drain from my face in a rush that left me dizzy.
"I must look like a sight, I know," he said, presumably in reply to the shocked look on my face. "I'm Herald Treven. Thank you so much for taking me in. My Companion got lost in trying to find a Waystation, and yours was the first place we found. I've stabled her in one of your free stalls and given her some of your provisions. I'll pay for all of it, of course."
I couldn't think. I couldn't breathe. It was Treven. It was him, looking exactly as he did the day he left the House. "Umm—I—" I took a deep breath, trying to gather my thoughts into something coherent. "Please, take a seat near the fire," I finally said, moving quickly across the room to stir the embers into flames and adding more wood to it. "I'll see about getting you something hot to eat and drink." I deliberately did not look into his eyes. I'd never find my way out of them if I did.
"I'd appreciate that," he replied, settling himself down in front of the hearth.
I went into the kitchen, but had no intention of fixing food...not right now, anyways. I grabbed my cloak and headed out the back door for the stables. If Rolan was right—
Althea's voice invaded my mind before I could close the stable door behind myself. Even in the darkness, I could make out her glowing form, and with a cry of delight, I practically flew to her stall and threw my arms around her neck.
"I don't believe it," I cried. "Idon'tbelieveitIdon'tbelieveitIdon'tbelieveit!"
She laughed in my mind. :Believe it.:
I drew away and looked at her. "How is it possible? Treven should be just a child now!"
:Not here: she replied. :In the other world, both his grandmother and mother had children later in life, but here, it is as it should be.: She nudged me with her nose. :Why do you think Rolan brought you back to this point in time:
"He said it was the time I was appointed to come back!" I exclaimed.
Althea merely chuckled. :Well...wasn't it:
"But he said I was part of the canon," I protested, "that his bringing me here was why it took him so long to Choose Talia."
:Both can be true, you know: she replied with a laugh, :and I wouldn't dare call the Groveborn a liar, but between you, me, and this very study wall—if Rolan had wanted to Gate you back to the same time period, he would have.:
My mind was spinning. "But why didn't he tell me?"
:And spoil the surprise: she answered. :Besides, if you had known Treven was here, would you have worked as hard to build a life for yourself and the children here, or would you have tried to move to Haven to find him:
I shook my head in disbelief at Rolan's ploy, and in embarrassment at my falling for it. "I'm gonna kill him the next time I see him," I said, but the raw delight in my voice belied the seriousness of my words.
Althea laughed with me. :You should know something—I didn't get lost, whatever Treven says.: She snickered. :This storm won't let up for two weeks at least. We're "stuck" here until then. That should be enough time for us to get Treven to fall back in love with you, don't you think:
Two weeks? With Treven? I felt a smile try to split my face in half. "I think we could make some progress." I hugged her once more. "I have to get back. Let me know if you need anything."
:I will: she replied.
"I still can't believe it," I said, shaking my head once more.
Althea's laughter followed me back into the house. I think I practically floated around the kitchen as I heated up some stew and bread and made some tea.
Treven was here. He was actually here. I would never have thought it possible. I had moved on after his death, and never even thought of seeing him again, especially not in this point of time in Valdemar's history. But he was here. He was back. My Treven—
The reality of it all overwhelmed me and I burst into tears right in the middle of the kitchen. The stew and tea were done, however, and I could just stand there all night. I managed to dry my eyes and gain control of myself. I fixed up a tray and brought it out to the common room.
Treven looked up at me as I came out and smiled. "That smells wonderful," he said.
"Do you mind if I join you?" I asked. I'd made up enough for both of us. There was certainly no way I'd be able to sleep now, so I might as well take advantage of the situation.
He smiled at me. "Please do," he replied. "I'd like some company."
We sat down at the table closest to the fire and started to eat. As he began to talk about his current assignment, I allowed myself, for a moment, the luxury of losing myself in his voice and his eyes and his smile, and all the feelings I'd had for him before came flooding back.
I was home, my heart whispered to me. I was finally home.
Wow. I can't believe I finally finished this.
On to comments and questions:
Fireblade K'Chona: And...as for the journal, will it do a Back-To-The-Future thing where the words erase?
Not if she took it with her. Landon mentioned that whatever she took with her would be free of the effects of the time change. Whether that's actually true or not is a question for the theoretical physicists! lol
Tsukinoko1: I live in a small town west of Kobe. That line about the fire's lunch made me think of Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle :) Have you seen it?
No, I haven't even heard of it! I never did make it to Kobe when I was there, either.
Wishingicouldthinkofsomething: Prediction for later in the story, Lucia is going to be Talia's successor,
No, actually, she's not. With the canon set aright, that postion (according to Elspeth—in Winds of Change, I think) will go to Lyra. In my mind, I made Lucia a full-fledged, un-Chosen Healer.
ShianeCollins: How long has it been since that traitor was there?
I don't know. It wasn't really necessary for me to figure that one out :-)
Glaciours: There are no plot holes, other then the lack of appearance of some of the husbands...which could be because of their schedules...
Okay, the question here is mine…what husbands? Dirk? Kris? If so, you're right…they didn't make much of an appearance, probably b/c they were so busy, and there really was no reason for Jaelle to interact with them, so it probably would have been simply a gratuitous appearance anyway.
Tira: I like Landon and I have a distinct feeling that he either was Vanyel- or Tylendal, and that Stefan didn't exist.
Tira, kudos to you! From the beginning, I had mapped Landon out as being Vanyel, but for several reasons changed it to Yfandes right before I wrote the chapter in which he confesses who he was.
Etcetera-cat: - as much as it was 'wrong'-- I think I shall miss the characters of the altered Valdemar...
Me, too. By the end of the story, I did NOT want to make Jaelle leave. I really enjoyed working with everyone there. But with the Mage Storms coming, there was no believable way I could have kept her there. Yeah, she could have said no and stayed, but she'd be risking not only her own life, and the lives of all of Valdemar, but Lucia's, and given her character, there was no way she was going to do that. It would have been way out-of-character, and besides, I'd been looking forward to bringing Treven back since before I killed him off! LOL
To those who asked about Lavan…to be honest, I never gave it any thought, b/c it wasn't relevant to the story. Having now considered it, though, first, let me say that I haven't read that story since it was first published, so I don't really remember a lot about it. So if it says somewhere in there that Lavan was born specifically b/c there were no Mages, then I would say, no, he would not have existed in this AU. However, if you remember what Vanyel said about regular Heralds and their Gifts being, in some cases, more useful than magic, then I would say that just because magic continued in this AU, that does not mean that strong non-magical Gifts no longer existed or are not necessary. So, yes, he existed in the AU…why not? Just because the Heralds still have magic does not mean that they don't need other kinds of Gifts, especially strong ones (and especially in the face of war). Check out Vanyel's conversation with his father on this subject.
To Dragonborn: as far as dealing with Daniel Landon on the mountain….a few possible explanations. One, Jaelle could not risk a conversation with him b/c she knew that Rolan would soon be opening up a Gate, and she did not have the luxury of engaging in a conversation at that time, to say nothing of risking having Daniel see that. Two, she couldn't just stop him and tell him not to "play" with grenades, as, to his perspective, there is no way she could know that he has them. She would had to have engaged him in conversation for a time before "trying" to find out what he was doing…this leads back to the first problem. Third, according to Landon's observation, he was actually quite skilled in using grenades, and once Landon told this to Jaelle, she wasn't as worried about him. I probably should have put a sentence or two about this in the scene.
To yellowsundragon: No, the "Sahm" thing was just a plot device. I haven't given it much thought...if I ever decided to revisit this AU in Vanyel's time, I might develop it.
Personal comments: First, thanks to all of you for sticking with me on this one! Just going back through the reviews, I was totally blown away by all the amazing things you had to say about the story and my writing. I'm truly flattered…you've seriously boosted my ego big time! Most of the time, I didn't know where I was going with this until I started writing a particular chapter, so it's been a lot of fun. And, if I can be forgiven the shameless plug here, for those of you who were so kind to comment on my writing, I've got an original fantasy story being published by Deep Magic e-zine in their May issue (available May 1st), which is free to download (pdf) from their website, www (dot) deep-magic (dot) net. The title is "Jodhin" under my pseudonym Q. S. Archer. The world/culture in which it takes place has some similarities to Valdemar, but in the grand scheme of things, very little. Unfortunately, in this short story, all the similarities are there, so it might seem like parts of it are something of a rip-off, which was absolutely not my intention.
I have finals coming up in the next couple of weeks, which is why I posted so soon. If you still have questions, please feel free to email them to me.