Finally...it's complete! I can't believe it! I have to say, I had a lot more fun with Worlds Collide than I did with this one (and I think WC is just a better story), but I'm glad I did it, and even more glad that I finished it. I have to say, though (as pathetic as it is), I don't think I cried writing WC, but I cried all the way through this chapter.
I changed my screen name for reasons stated in my profile.
Eighteen months goes by pretty quickly, sooner than I had anticipated. The time with Treven's family was wonderful, and they were all as nice I had remembered them to be. When we returned to Haven in early spring, Treven resumed his circuit duties, and I returned to work at the inn. Lucia turned eleven, and started adding one or two academic classes to her Gifts and weaponswork training, so I made day trips to the inn when she had class until late afternoon. As predicted in the books, Alberich did retire from teaching all but the advanced students, and I felt quite humbled that he continued to teach me as well. Spring soon turned into summer.
And I found out I was pregnant. Not being Earth, there was no EPT test, so I was nearly three months along before the Healers confirmed it. Treven was out on a particularly long circuit, so I was starting to show by the time he returned. I hadn't wanted to inform him by letter.
The trees shed their leaves and before I knew it, were budding again. I was as big as a house, and had given up my work at the inn during this final month of pregnancy. Treven's mother had come to stay with me, and Treven had worked his circuit duty so that he would be home for the final two weeks of my pregnancy. He had just returned, and we were so consumed with getting ready for the baby that it didn't even phase me when Lucia came back from class one afternoon to announce that the Queen's Own was back from her internship.
It wasn't until I looked up at Treven after not receiving an answer to a question, and seeing a stricken look on his face, that my mind actually registered my daughter's words.
Rolan was back.
I felt suddenly ill. Every nerve was afire, waiting to hear his voice in my mind, telling me he wished to see me, or to hear Althea relaying his order.
But nothing happened that day.
I could not bear the suspense. And after everything we'd been through, I had too much respect for Rolan to play games. The following morning after breakfast, I excused myself from the company of my mother-in-law on the pretense of an errand, and slipped outside. The stables were quite close to the Heralds' wing of the Palace, but Rolan wasn't there.
I entered the Field (via the gate this time) and started walking. I intended to find the first Companion I saw and have them bring me to Rolan. It didn't take long to find a shining form amongst all the new greenery. And I didn't even have to say anything. The Companion turned and started walking towards the Grove.
Half the herd must have been there, and from the snorts and whinnies I heard when I pushed through the trees, I doubted that they were expecting me to show up. Rolan was standing in the midst of them, and the sea of white parted, as it were, to allow him to pace, unobstructed, towards me.
I couldn't help but smile a bit, even though my voice was only a whisper. "Hello, Rolan." I reached out and touched his velvety nose. "I am glad you returned safely. I knew—" I broke off, for it was unnecessary to complete the thought. He was well aware that I'd known what was going to happen on Talia's internship. I turned to the other Companions. "Would you excuse us, please?" If I were going to lose most of my life, I didn't want an audience.
One by one, the other Companions turned and left. As they passed by me, I heard whispered apologies from some of them who told me they'd "tried." It wasn't hard to guess what they meant. I appreciated the gesture.
I was surprised to find Althea absent from the group. But then, Treven had left our suites before breakfast. He was even more upset than I was over what was to come. We had spent the past eighteen months as ourselves, as who we really were, and used that time to learn of each other in ways we hadn't been able to before. I didn't want to lose that any more than he did.
All but one Companion had left. A mare.
"Your presence is not required here," I said to her, taking full advantage of my final opportunity to speak to her knowing who she really was.
She snorted, tossing her head. Rolan turned to look at her, and a moment later, she wheeled about, and, in human terms, stomped off.
I just shook my head and turned to Rolan. "Okay, I have to ask—what were you people thinking when you brought her into existence?"
:She is young,: he stated, but his tone was flavored with amusement.
Being almost nine months pregnant was no picnic. My back was hurting, and the baby must have turned, because it felt like he—or she—was pressing all the wind out of my lungs. I found a stump and seated myself.
I took a good look at the Monarch's Own Companion. He looked as though he'd lost as much weight in his ordeal as I had in mine.
"I'm sorry, Rolan," I said. "Before we get down to business, I just wanted you to know that. I never meant to abuse the trust you placed in me."
:You did not abuse my trust,: he said. :You did not tell what is to come, not even regarding my Chosen.:
"But I should have destroyed all of my things before I moved to Haven," I replied. "None of this would have happened if I had."
:My Chosen should have been better trained in her Gifts,: he countered. :None of our ordeal would have happened if she had been. But,: he added:she would not have learned important lessons had she not faced such difficulty.:
I reflected on his words. Had I destroyed everything, the thief-mage wouldn't have noticed my things, and taken me for a mage, and attacked me in the market place. Perhaps the thief might have succeeded in his mission. My baby would be almost two years old. But Treven would have remained in the dark as to who I really was. And we would never have had the past eighteen months.
But was it worth it? The loss of our baby for the closeness we now had in our relationship? If I had to do it over, would I take the same path?
"I don't know how to make those kinds of choices," I confessed.
:I know,: came his simple reply, and with it a mixed sense of amusement and pride. :You are only mortal, child. What do you expect? To have the wisdom of the gods?:
I supposed that was exactly what I had been expecting. I looked up at Rolan in sudden realization. "You knew all along that I wouldn't be able to do this, didn't you?"
"Then why risk it?" I asked. "Why set the whole future on the balance of my weakness?"
:Because you needed to see your inability for yourself,: he replied. :You would not have believed me if I had merely told you.:
I glanced away, knowing he was right. Until a few moments ago, I thought I could handle it all. And then I remembered Althea, and the other Companions who had argued on my behalf, and mentioned them to Rolan. "Was it all just a game to them? To humor me?"
He shook his head. :They were quite sincere. They are also as mortal as you are.:
We sat in silence for a few moments, but I knew it couldn't last. Rolan was going to have to do what he was here to do. "What about Treven? I don't know where he is."
:Althea is bringing him here.:
I nodded, but was uncertain as to our procedure. "Do we wait?" I asked.
"I wish I could say goodbye to Landon," I sighed, it suddenly hitting me that I would never see him again. But he hadn't visited my dreams since I had been prisoner. I supposed that now that things were over, he went back. I didn't need him anymore, and he had accomplished what he had come for. That was that.
:Or not,: came a voice from behind me. I turned to see an ethereal shimmer before me, translucent and Companion-shaped. :It's not goodbye,: Landon said. :Not forever anyways.:
"You're here," I whispered. "You're really here? It's not a dream?"
:It's not a dream,: he replied.
I couldn't believe it. He was here and real and— I turned to Rolan. "Could I—could we have a few moments?"
:Of course,: he said, wheeling about and trotting away.
I turned back to Landon.
:We were right,: Landon said, falling into our customary conversational mode. :That thief was working for Ancar, magically spying out the capital to determine its weaknesses.:
"And I just happened to get caught in the middle," I said.
:Unfortunately, yes,: replied Landon. :He saw your things, thought you were some kind of new mage, deemed you a threat, and tried to kill you. More than once.:
"But Ancar's plan didn't work," I replied. "The thief is dead, and I'm sure it didn't take Ancar long to realize his mage wasn't coming back with the information he wanted."
:No, it didn't. And since the thief was the only one who knew how to banish the vrondi, Ancar will have to take a different tactic to take over Valdemar. He can't risk sending someone who might be caught.:
"He's already taken it," I whispered. "He's gotten his father to make an offer of marriage to Elspeth." It had been the talk of the Collegium for weeks now. In fact, if the books were accurate, Talia was in Council meeting at that very moment, vetoing the measure. And the images from the books—Kris dead, Talia nearly so—jumped into my mind with such clarity, I had to close my eyes against them. "I can't tell them, can I?"
:No,: replied Landon, his mindvoice hushed with sadness.
"Then this is all for the best," I replied. "I thought I could live with this knowledge and stay silent, but I can't." I looked up at him, fighting to keep my voice steady. "And I don't know how I'm going to be able to live without you."
:We make a pretty good team, don't we?:
"You're my best friend," I said, and losing my composure, I burst into tears.
He stepped towards me. :Don't cry, Jaelle. I won't really be gone. Even after you forget me, I'll still be in your heart.:
"I don't want to forget you!"
:I know,: he said soothingly, and I felt a velvety nose on my face. I glanced up through my tears to see him whole and solid. Without hesitation, I threw my arms around his neck and wept into his mane, just as I had in my dreams and Before. :I would have Chosen you, you know, if I could have,: he said, echoing the last time we parted. :You would have made a damn fine Herald.:
But I couldn't smile this time, and even his voice was unsteady.
:Maybe in another life,: he suggested wistfully. :You'd be surprised at how quickly they pass.:
"But you told me Before that the only Chosen you were meant to have was Vanyel," I pointed out.
:Perhaps,: he said, though his mindvoice was doubtful. :Perhaps as Yfandes, that is true. But things change when you're dead. After all, I'm here, aren't I?:
But he wasn't. He was starting to fade, his solidity disintegrating.
"Please don't go," I begged, but he was fading quickly.
:It won't be long, even if you live to be a hundred.:
"Landon—" I could hardly see him now, and my tears blurred whatever was left of him.
:Goodbye, Jaelle.: His voice was dim. :I love you.:
"I love you, too," I whispered. "Don't forget me."
And then, he was gone.
A rustling in the trees made me glance up to see Althea and Treven walking towards me, with Rolan behind them. There was a strange, dazed look on Treven's face that he didn't shake off until he noticed me kneeling in the grass.
"Jaelle?" The dazed look turned to one of concern. "Are you all right? You've been crying."
Mutely, I shook my head and held out my arms to him, tears falling. As he came to my side, I glanced questioningly at Althea and Rolan, and the solemn nod I received from Althea confirmed my suspicions: Treven's memories had been altered.
:I'm sorry, Jaelle,: came Althea's voice in my mind, heavy with sadness and regret.
I know, I thought, and then realized that hers would be the last voice I would ever hear in my mind. With things going back to 'normal,' there probably would be no need for her to talk to me anymore. I was glad that we had become friends again while at Treven's home. Even if I couldn't remember it, she would, and I was glad I wouldn't have to leave her with a rift still between us.
I buried my face in Treven's chest, like a child who didn't want to see the scary part of a movie. Scenes from my life flashed through my mind: my parents, childhood friends, school, work, Romania, the other Valdemar and all those who were no longer.
The book covers flashed and stayed. They really are beautiful, I thought, as I felt a strange, overwhelming presence in my mind. Instinctively, I fought against it, before I even realized who it was. And when I did, I let go, let it carry me away into a peaceful darkness I never wanted to end.
I woke in Healers, to see Treven bending over me, a worried look on his face.
"What happened?" I asked groggily.
"You fainted," he replied, turning as Devan came into the room. "She's awake."
Devan came to stand beside the bed. "How are you feeling?"
I took brief stock of myself. "A little disoriented," I replied. "Something just . . . doesn't feel right." I couldn't put my finger on it. Something was wrong—missing—like the feeling of forgetting where you'd just last seen something you were looking for.
"I'm not surprised," Devan said with a grin. "Your labor has started."
"What?" Treven and I both cried, and the sense of displacement was shoved to the back of my mind in light of this little piece of news.
He laughed. "What did you think those back pains were?"
"The same pains I've been feeling for the past two months!" I stated.
"The baby's coming?" asked Treven, dazed.
"Not for awhile," Devan said. "But if you feel up to it, you can get up and walk around a bit. It'll help."
Just before dawn the following day, our son was born. They took him away to clean him up before wrapping him and bringing him back to me. Lucia, poor thing, had worked all night with the Healers, and had dropped off in a corner just after the baby was born.
"Well," Treven said, as we both tried to stifle yawns, "what shall we call him? We never did get around to picking out a boy's name."
"Landon," I said firmly without thinking, glancing down at the bundle in my arms. "His name is Landon."
"Landon?" Treven asked. "Is that a family name?"
"I—" I thought for a moment, tried to remember. And then it came to me. "He was my friend. My best friend—back in Berrybay." I looked up at Treven with some dismay. "I can't believe I had to stop and think about that."
"You've just been through labor," he told me with a smile. "I'm surprised you remember who I am." He looked back down at our baby. "Landon," he mused. "Wasn't he the one you used to get into all that trouble with? Roaming about, sticking your noses into everything?"
I nodded, and couldn't help but smile at the memory.
"Well, Landon," whispered Treven, taking one of our son's hands in his fingers, "it will be interesting to see whether you live up to your name." He then leaned over and, brushing my hair from my face, kissed my forehead. "It's a good name."
"Yes," I murmured, closing my eyes as the weariness of the past hours finally caught up with me. "It's a very good name."
Thank you all for your reviews!! And, especially, thank you all for your patience with me. There were some pretty big gaps in time between some of these chapters.
To answer a question asked in a comment some time back (I wasn't ignoring it):
ShianeCollins: I previously established that Jaelle was part of this world, in that she is the reason it took Rolan so long to Choose Talia. He was busy Gating her to Berrybay and had to go clear to the other side of the kingdom. But even if not, they couldn't go back to her world for various other reasons. Lucia needs training for her Gifts. And with Althea being a Companion and Treven being a Herald, they could never leave their world. Althea is tied to the god/goddess who sent her, and a Herald's sense of duty takes second place to nothing. Which, as I type, gets me thinking...if Jaelle HAD to go back to her world, Treven couldn't follow (ooh, that would be an interesting turn of events...). In AFl, the implication is strongly made by Keren (using Teren as proof) that when it comes to permanent romantic unions, for a Herald, it's either a lifebond, or nothing, and for anything less, Heraldic duty will eventually trump romance. Which makes things interesting in the later books, given Elspeth/Darkwind and Kero/Eldan, as neither pair is lifebonded. But Misty changed several things as she went along, so it's not surprising that changed as well. And I'm way off track here...