A/N: Finally, it's completed!
Fandessa trudged slowly into camp, barely finding the strength to lift one foot to place it in front of the other.
Thank the gods it isn't winter, she thought, shifting her grip on the back end of the gurney she was carrying. From the cold alone, we'd have lost half again as many as we did from the raiders.
She glanced down at the broken body that lay on the stretcher, having given up count of how many they'd brought back to camp from among the trees of their forested battlefield that day. Someone else was keeping track of the numbers, but Fandessa had spent more time bringing bodies back than she had actually fighting.
In spite of all the death, a fierce sense of accomplishment buoyed her lagging spirits and tired muscles. The raiders had attacked unexpectedly, and in greater numbers than even the Heralds had anticipated, but somehow, they'd managed to hold their own, fighting amongst the trees of this thrice be-damned forest, and eventually gaining victory.
They just wouldn't surrender, she thought wearily. Even when they knew they would lose, they wouldn't surrender.
She gave a tired nod to a pair of passing Heralds on their way out of camp to fetch another body. She would be so glad when the clean-up was over and she could just sit down and rest and—
"Damn!" she yelped, tripping over a concealed root, and nearly losing her grip on the stretcher. She looked up at Eddan, her partner who was walking ahead of her, carrying the front end of the gurney. "Sorry about that."
Eddan favored her with a tired smile. "No worries here, and I"m pretty sure he doesn't mind," he replied, glancing at the corpse between them.
"I hate this forest," Fandessa said, kicking the offending root. "If I never see it again, it will be too soon."
"I know what you mean," Eddan replied. "I'm Haven-born and -bred, and was never much for trees in the first place."
They carried their load to a table behind which sat a Herald and an army captain who were in charge of tallying up the dead among their ranks. The captain took one look at the body and then glanced back down at her paperwork, making some notes.
As they waited for permission to take the body away, a Herald dressed in blood-streaked Whites approached the table, directing his attention to his fellow Herald.
"We've rounded up all the Companions, partnered and not," the Herald said with a heavy sigh. "We have several injuries—two mortal, beyond even the Healers' aid. We've got them warmly bedded down in the stables."
The other Herald closed his eyes for a brief moment. "Who?"
"The Companion Ellyen—her Herald is with her—and the Companion Sahm, unpartnered."
At the mention of Sahm's name, Fandessa gasped, drawing the attention of not only the Heralds, but also the army captain. "Did you say Sahm?" she asked.
"Yes," the Herald replied. "Why?"
Without reply, Fandessa dropped her end of the gurney, and ignoring Eddan's shouts of protest, dashed through the camp, her fatigue forgotten.
Her heart pounding with anticipation and fear, she rushed into the stables, pushing past the Healers and Heralds who had gathered around the wounded Companions, pushing her way to the far end stall where one, lone Herald kept vigil over a Companion who lay unmoving on a bed of straw.
She had known that unpartnered Companions had joined the battle, but she had no idea that Sahm was among their ranks. As though it were at that very moment, and not years past, she could feel herself falling into his eyes and hear his voice in her mind. Tears filled her eyes as she glanced up at the Herald.
"Is he dead?" she whispered.
The Herald shook his head. "Soon, I'm told."
"May I?" she asked, glancing at Sahm.
If the Herald thought her request strange, he didn't show it. He merely nodded, and rose, stepping over a bucket of grain on his way out of the stall.
Without a word, Fandessa stepped into the stall and knelt next to Sahm's head. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she caressed his cheek and brought her lips close to his ear. "Sahm," she whispered.
Sahm's eyes opened and Fandessa could see him struggling to focus on her.
:They said—you were dead.:
"No," she replied. "I'm right here."
:I'm sorry,: came the whisper in her mind.
Tears streamed down her face. "For what?"
:Do you remember how I said Companions don't make mistakes: Sahm asked. :I was wrong. I should never have left you.:
"No," Fandessa said, "I should never have left you." Brushing away tears, she softly drew her fingers through his mane. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't sent you away, you'd be in Haven now, safe at the Collegium."
:I told them about your father when I got back to Haven: Sahm said. :I was hurt by your refusal, but I—I went back. But you were gone, dead your mother told me.:
"I'm sorry," Fandessa sobbed. "I'm so sorry." She brushed away more tears and tried to pull herself together. "I'm here now," she whispered. "You can—"
:No,: he replied, cutting her off. :You have your whole life before you. I won't risk that.:
"Forgive me," she wept, burying her face in his mane.
:There is nothing to forgive, my—:
His mindvoice ended abruptly and Fandessa raised her head to see the light in his eyes quietly fade.
"No," she cried. "Oh, please, no."
A soft white nose pushed itself into her face, and Fandessa glanced up to see a Companion, whole and healthy, standing before her.
:He loved you very much: came a soft, female voice in her mind, :and so do I...:
Fandessa's breath caught in her throat as, for the second time in her life, she fell into a pool of blue. A wave of comfort and love washed over her pain, sharing it with her, and imparting a certainty that she would never be alone again.