Disclaimer: I disclaim all ownership of anything having to do with Velgarth, Valdemar, etc., by Mercedes Lackey, and am only doing this for fun as set out in the official disclaimer located at www (dot) dragonlordsnet (dot) com (forward slash) mlrelease (dot) htm Note: I've been wanting to revisit Jaelle for a while. I had so much fun writing Worlds Collide. Again, feel free to read and review. Or not. At this moment, I have absolutely NO idea how long this will be or when I might finish it. Actually, everything is a big, blank canvas right now. Fun!
"Mama," Lucia called up the stairs, "a pair of Heralds are coming!"
I straightened from where I'd been bending over a bed in an attempt to smooth the newly-washed spread, and stuck my head outside the door. "I'll be right down!"
Heralds were common enough this close to Haven, and more than welcome. I was grateful for the percentage back on my taxes that I received for the Heralds that stayed under my roof. This year had been exceptionally busy, and I expected that I wouldn't have to pay anything for taxes come spring.
I did miss Berrybay, however. But after that snowstorm had nearly destroyed my inn/orphanage, Treven had insisted I move closer to Haven. I knew he was right. Northern Valdemar was not the most hospitable place weather-wise, and Treven rarely got circuits up there. Furthermore, Lucia needed more intense training for her Gifts. But weather, business, and duty aside, I just missed my husband. Not seeing him for months on end—and me not being Gifted with Mindspeech—well, I sold what was left of the inn to a prospector, took all that I had saved up, along with the children, and purchased an old, three-storied house on the outskirts of Wellsmeet, a village just north of Haven, and started over.
And so, here I was, three years later: a wife, mother, and Innmaster, expecting the birth of my and Treven's first child late next spring. It had been five years since I'd come to live in Valdemar permanently, and I still wasn't sure if I'd completely adjusted. When I was doing mission work in Romania, all the books said it took two years of living in a foreign culture to fully adjust to it. Unfortunately, there were no books written about adjusting to the culture of a fictitious world. Just when I thought I'd made it, I'd smell something or hear something that would remind me of home—obviously, I haven't adjusted if I still refer to America as "home"—and I'd feel a pang of homesickness so sharp it nearly sent me to my knees.
The last time that had happened, however, had been over a year ago, and the "homesickness" I now tended to feel since I was near Haven was for the Valdemar I had originally lived in. I missed "my" Selenay and Elspeth and Talia. But mostly, I missed Landon. Berrybay rarely entertained Heralds and Companions, and "out-of-sight-out-of-mind" was just as true in Valdemar as it was in America. But Wellsmeet was so close to Haven that I saw several each month, and the sight of a glowing white horse always brought the image of Landon (and a certain mistiness) to my eyes.
It wasn't going to get any better, either. With me being pregnant, Treven wanted me to move into his suites at the Collegium, and the Healers had been hinting at enrolling Lucia as a full student. Moving into the Collegium didn't bother me so much, but I wasn't sure about committing Lucia to full-time work. She was only nine, still a child, and while her Gifts were active, she still had the intellect and emotional maturity of a nine-year-old. There was no way she could handle the workload of a full-time student—nor should she be forced to. Treven agreed with me, and we decided that when I moved to Haven, Lucia would have classes in weaponswork and Gifts, but that she would not be enrolled to take the academic classes until she was at least twelve.
The bedcover smooth, I joyfully headed downstairs to greet our guests. Treven was himself out on circuit, and I expected him back within the week, according to his last letter. If these Heralds were fresh from Haven, they might know something more recent of Treven.
The common room was nearly full, as it tended to be in the evenings. I wove my way through the villagers with a smile and the occasional greeting or acknowledgment of a comment. I would normally spend more time amongst them, but there were Heralds waiting, and even the newest villager knew that Heralds took precedence over everyone else...at least, to a wise Innmaster.
I glanced out the window and saw the pair approaching, and opened the door just as they began to dismount. It was a good thing they weren't looking at me, because I felt as though I'd just been hit with a board, and all the blood in my face rushed to my feet.
"Oh, my—" I breathed, staring at them.
Kris and Talia.
I hadn't seen either of them since Before (as I had taken to calling the time when I was in the "other" Valdemar), and while Kris looked relatively the same, Talia seemed so different. She was much younger, of course, than I remembered her, but she certainly didn't carry an air of youth about her. I did a quick mental calculation and, seeing the chirras behind the Companions, realized that they were just setting out on Talia's internship.
I sighed softly, remembering the information from the books. It was no wonder, then, that she looked so...harried, her face almost pinched. Her Gift was breaking down, and all my knowledge about the situation was of no value. You couldn't book learn yourself out of something like that.
She settled her expression as she turned to me, and I put on my own smile, and stepped forward to greet them.
"Welcome, both of you," I said.
Kris smiled at me. "We're Heralds Kris and Talia, and we'd like to put up here for the night if you have room."
"I do," I replied, "and I'd be delighted to have you stay." I glanced over my shoulder towards the front window of the inn. "Not to mention half of Wellsmeet." I smiled apologetically. They would get little privacy here, and they looked tired. "But let's get you settled," I said, stepping towards them. "Allow me to show you to the stables. Your Companions will be pleased to know that we serve them only the best feed and hay."
Tantris whickered, and Kris chuckled a bit. "He says to tell you that he's been looking forward to it all day."
I laughed and led the way to the stables. We settled the Companions into their stalls first, and then Kris and Talia spoke a few words to the stable hands about the chirras. I took advantage of the moment and moved across the stables to where the Companion stalls were located. Tantris was already helping himself to some hay, but Rolan was just standing there, looking at me.
It was an eerie moment, and I felt my heart suddenly pounding. The last time I'd seen him was in the field outside of Berrybay, watching him canter out of sight on his way to Choose Talia. As far as I knew, only he and Althea, Treven's Companion, knew who I really was.
"Hello, Rolan," I whispered.
:Jaelle: he replied. :It is good to see you again.:
"And you." I scuffed at the packed dirt with the toe of my left shoe. "I don't really know what to say."
:Last I heard, you wanted to kill me: he said.
For a fleeting moment, I thought he was serious, until I caught the teasing gleam in his eye. A memory rose in my thoughts of a wintry night in Berrybay and a Herald I never thought I'd see again.
"Thank you," I said quietly, not doubting that he would know what I meant.
He merely inclined his head to me in response as Kris and Talia came over.
"Take your time," I said to them. "There's plenty of food left. I'll see you in a bit."
I made my way back to the inn and headed to the second floor to set aside a couple of rooms for them. I found an adjoining pair that I thought would suit them. They were small, but had just been cleaned that afternoon, and both had windows that overlooked the stables. I set out some bathhouse supplies on each of their beds, and by the time I had finished and returned downstairs, Kris and Talia were just coming into the inn.
I rushed over to them, intercepting them before the villagers were able to smother them.
"Let me show you to your rooms," I said, ushering them upstairs at a pace that set some eyebrows to rising. "I'm sorry for dragging you," I told them, "but if they'd gotten a hold of you, you'd never have gotten away for hours, and I'm sure you'd rather clean up a bit before eating."
"We would," Kris replied, "thank you."
I showed them to their rooms. "I also posted a guard of sorts at the bathhouse," I said, "so that no one else can get in there until after you're done."
Talia smiled at me in genuine thanks, and, returning it, I left them alone, and went back downstairs to see to the kitchen needs. My thoughts, however, were far from the food supply.
Poor Talia. It's only going to get worse from here.
She and Kris descended a while later, and it looked as though she must have strengthened her shields, for the pinched look was gone, and she seemed a little more relaxed. They found seats at a table near the fire, and in the midst of my moving about, I couldn't help but notice that they had precious little time to eat.
But finally, they did get some peace in which to eat, and while Kris tuned Talia's harp—the famed My Lady—I edged closer to them to eavesdrop on what Talia was saying to the children, most of whom were orphans who lived here. Actually, it was only on account of one child, Jaren, a boy I'd brought with me from Berrybay. He was eleven now, and had a maturity far above his tender years, and an uncanny ability to grasp concepts that should have lay beyond his reach. I could—and frequently did—leave him in charge of the other children when I had to be away. Something in my heart told me that he was destined to be Chosen. I never said anything about it, as I couldn't be certain, and Lucia was still struggling with her recent understanding that she would probably not be Chosen because of her Healing Gift. From the attention Talia was paying Jaren, however, I suspected that I was probably right.
Kris played My Lady for quite awhile, to the great delight of all the villagers. Eventually, Talia joined in, accompanying the music with her voice. It was the first time I'd heard her sing, and her voice really was as pretty as the books claimed. I could only wish that her next eighteen months would be a lighthearted as her song was.
The villagers could have listened to the Heralds play and sing all night. So could I, for that matter, but when I saw Talia swallow a yawn in the middle of a song, I stepped into the center of the room as soon as it ended.
"All right, ladies and lords," I said, "we've tired these good Heralds out long enough." I caught Kris' grin, and turned to him and Talia. "You two, off to bed! I'm sure you have a long day ahead of you tomorrow, and I won't have it said that I was responsible for a Herald falling out of the saddle from lack of sleep!"
Kris and Talia both laughed, and there was friendly assent from the villagers as well, most of whom started calling good-humored farewells to the Heralds as they made their way upstairs. It would be a few more hours before the inn would be cleared of the villagers, and I knew I would be exhausted by then, but I determined to have a word with Rolan regardless of own state of sleep.