Standard disclaimer applies.
A/N: I hit some writer's block for Worlds Apart, so I decided to do a little short story in the interim. Readers who have read Worlds Collide may remember that Landon gave Jaelle a cryptic remark about someone named Sahm to make to Yfandes to convince her of the truth. This is their story.
Chapter One"I know what happened to Sahm," Jaelle said.
A startled neigh escaped from Yfandes' throat. :How do you know about Sahm?: she demanded. :I never told anyone about him.:
"You told me," Jaelle replied softly.
---scenebreak---scenebreak---A polite knock on the solar door interrupted the conversation Fandessa Langen was having with her sister, Aris, as she practiced her music. Fandessa did not mind, however. A conversation with a five-year-old could grow quite tiresome, and Fandessa welcomed the change the interruption brought. After all, a fourteen-year-old girl had different concerns from a five-year-old, and Fandessa longed for some quiet in which she could just sit and think. As much as she loved her sister, she desperately hoped that whoever was on the other side of the door would require her sister's presence, and leave her along with her harp and her thoughts.
"Come in," she called.
The door opened to reveal the girls' mother, Lady Thena. "Fandessa, the servants are all busy preparing for your father's return from Haven tonight. I thought it would be lovely if we baked some apple pies—those are his favorite, you know—but Miriel cannot leave the kitchen in order to go to the orchard. Would you go pick some apples for her?"
"Oh, can I come, too?" Aris cried, before Fandessa could so much as foment a reply in her mind.
Lady Thena smiled indulgently upon her youngest child and Fandessa couldn't help but notice the new, tired lines that creased her mother's pretty face. Lord Dane hadn't been expected back for two more weeks. Business could not have gone well for him. Fandessa scrutinized her mother's face more closely, but she could detect no signs of concern. Just weariness. Always weariness.
"No, dear," Lady Thena said. "You're too small to reach the apples."
"Of course I'll go, Mother," Fandessa replied, standing and setting her harp aside. The only thing she liked more than music was being out of doors. Ignoring her sister's cries of dismay, she crossed the room and laid a hand on her mother's arm. "Perhaps you should go to bed early tonight. I'm sure Lord Dane will be tired from his journey. He won't even notice."
"Fandessa," Lady Thena began, "how many times must I tell you that I do not like how you refer to your father?"
When he starts acting like a father, I'll address him as one, Fandessa thought, but remained silent.
"And of course he will notice my absence," Lady Thena continued, and then favored her eldest with a sad smile. "You know he always does."
"Why must he come back so soon?" Fandessa burst out. "We were so happy when he—"
"Fandessa!" Lady Thena commanded, gripping her daughter's arm. "That is enough."
Fandessa sighed and lowered her eyes. It was as little use to complain about it as it was for a deer to complain about being ensnared. Nothing ever changed.
"Do not be concerned about me, my child," Lady Thena said in a soft voice. "I am well."
Fandessa raised her eyes to her mother's. Lady Thena was certainly not well, but there was nothing to be done. Or, rather, nothing legal to be done. More than once, Fandessa had entertained the notion of finding creative ways to rid themselves of Lord Dane, bastard that he was. Like all other notions, however, nothing had ever come of it.
"I'll be back soon," she said, slipping past her mother and down the stone stairs. With the advent of autumn—early in this northern part of Valdemar—the tower was getting chilly, especially in the early mornings or late evenings. Soon, she and Aris would have to move to the main solar until spring returned. Today, however, was one of those exceptional, warm autumn days, and, leaving her cloak, Fandessa snatched a basket and headed outside into the early afternoon sunshine.
As if the rays had turned back time, Fandessa felt as young as her sister and, with a rare smile on her face, she half-skipped to the orchard. It was glorious to finally be alone with her thoughts. All that was missing was a Bard hiding amongst the trees, playing beautiful music. As she set about her work, however, remembering for whom she was picking the fruit, her smile faded, and she set about to accomplishing her task with a single-minded practicality. So focused was she, she didn't even notice that she had a visitor until she turned and found him—her?—standing there, observing her.
"Oh," she said softly, setting her basket down. "Are you hungry?" Rising, she held out an apple to the shining creature before her.
The Companion, in full formal array, stepped forward and, ignoring her outstretched hand, turned his head to gaze into her eyes.
:My name is Sahm: a rich baritone voice rang in her mind. :And you are my Chosen.:
Fandessa felt a shock course through her whole body, one so delightful, she only vaguely realized that she dropped the apple she'd been holding. It was as though her whole world had collapsed into a sea of peace. For the briefest of moments that, paradoxically, felt like eternity, her soul soared in a joy no music had ever offered.
And then, she was herself again—though not quite the same. It took her a stupid moment of staring at the Companion in front of her to fully realize what had just happened. Without thinking, she took several steps backward.
"No," she said firmly. "You've made a mistake."
:Companions do not make mistakes, child: came the musical voice in her mind. :Let us go.:
Fandessa shook her head. "I'm not going with you. I must stay here."
The Companion cocked his head. :Why:
"Lord Da—my father," Fandessa replied. "I cannot leave."
Sahm looked at her for a long moment, and Fandessa had the feeling that he was staring into her very soul.
:Why would you want to stay with a man like that: he finally asked.
"Why?" Fandessa echoed. Tears filled her eyes. "This is why." And in one, swift motion, she pulled back the sleeve to her gown, revealing the remnants of a long, ugly bruise. "He gave me this before he left for Haven a month ago. If I leave, this—" and she shoved her arm under his nose— "will be my sister's fate. As long as I stay, she is safe from his temper."
:Here, you cannot protect those you love forever: Sahm said:but as a Herald, you can help ensure that such behaviors are done away with throughout all of Valdemar.:
Fandessa gave a cynical snort. "Lord Dane Langen is a respected noble in this kingdom, and yet, no Herald has ever come to stay his fists. How much less, then, is justice meted to commoners?" She shook her head. "I am not so naive...and I will not go with you."
He just stood there for a long moment. :As you wish: he finally said. And after staring into her eyes once more, he turned and trotted away.
Feeling suddenly empty, Fandessa watched his retreating form until she could no longer see him. There was a lonely, gnawing ache inside of her, one she hadn't known existed until he had first looked into her eyes...and one, she somehow knew, would never go away now that he was gone.
But like all things in her life, there was nothing she could do about that now.
She picked up her basket, and moved on to the next tree. A rustle of leaves to her left made her pause and turn to find her mother making her way through the orchard.
"Is something wrong?" she asked when Lady Thena had drawn close enough to hear her without shouting.
"Jessa said she saw a Companion here," Lady Thena replied, her voice slightly breathless from hope. "What did it want?"
Fandessa knew that her mother would never forgive her if she knew that Fandessa had turned down a Choosing. Since neither daughter had shown signs of either the Healing or Bardic Gifts (though Aris was too young, yet), being Chosen—or marrying—was the only hope Fandessa and Aris had of escaping their father's abuse. But the only eligible bachelors of Fandessa's acquaintance were of her father's bent, and Fandessa knew that her mother prayed daily for a Companion to come and carry them away as soon as possible.
But Fandessa knew that she could never leave, not while Lord Dane was still alive, in any case. To walk away would be to condemn her sister. She had long since learned that she could not save her mother, for Lady Thena refused to leave her husband. Fandessa had even suggested once that the three of them run away and seek the shelter of the goddess at one of the temples—anything would be better than remaining—but her mother had refused, saying that there was no temple that could protect them. Fandessa had only recently come to realize that her mother was doing for her what she was doing for Aris. As long as her mother stayed, Fandessa would be protected. And as long as Fandessa stayed, Aris would be protected.
Fandessa absently rubbed her bruised arm, a reminder that her mother's protection had recently begun to wear thin. How much longer, she wondered, before they would be powerless to protect Aris? Were she to have left with that Companion—with Sahm—Aris would certainly be on the receiving end of her father's wrath much sooner than she might otherwise have been.
Fandessa looked up at her mother. "Nothing, Mama," she replied softly. "It was just hungry."
"Oh," Lady Thena replied, her face visibly falling in response to the news. She turned back towards the house. "I'd best see to your sister."
Tears filled Fandessa's eyes as she watched her mother's soul-weary form grow smaller in the distance. Sinking to her knees, she buried her face in her hands and wept.