Note: This story is set prior to the episode "Jewel Quest" Part 1, and tells the story of how Tamara came to be the Heart Stone Jewel Rider.  Enjoy, and please tell me what you think! :D

Chapter 1: Egg

                The sun crested the eastern hills, sending bright rays down into the valley below.  Light sparkled on the dew-covered grass as the world awoke with the rising of the sun.  However, some people had been up long before the sun – Tamara was one of them. 

                That was something she loved about living on the Heartland Farms – she got to see the sun rise over the Great Plains every day.  This particular morning she had finished her chores early – all the animals were enjoying their breakfast – and she had settled down on the front porch swing to enjoy a few quiet moments with her flute.  She brought the mouthpiece to her lips, and began to play a sweet, melodious tune that reflected her mood today.

                She had been playing for a few minutes when she heard scratching at the front door.  Stopping for a moment, she opened up the door and Spike trotted out onto the porch.  Tamara smiled sweetly as the young blue panther rubbed her legs, purring heavily.

                "All right Spike, all right!  Breakfast is coming up," Tamara said, scratching behind his ears.  She picked up her flute off the swing and went inside.  Inside the cozy farmhouse, she heard her mother bustling around in the kitchen, getting breakfast ready for their family. 

                Tamara walked down the short hallway, Spike eagerly trailing her.  She stopped in the doorway of the kitchen to admire her mother.  I hope I age half as gracefully, she thought.  Tamara's mother Charity was a slender woman with thick red hair and pale skin.  Laugh lines crinkled the edges of her eyes.  She had been a Jewel Rider – a defender of Avalon against all sorts of Wild Magic menaces, wielding her Heart Stone with great skill before it was time for the Circle to turn, and the Enchanted Jewel was handed to Devon, a young man who was the current holder of the Heartstone.  After her stint as a Jewel Rider, Charity had found that she had been given a gift by the Jewel; she still had the ability to understand the speech of animals.  With this newfound talent, she and Tamara's father Doc had founded the Heartland Farm.

                The Heartland Farm was a place that raised both magical and non-magical animals, or took them in when they were injured or hurt.  They had visitors come from all over Avalon to consult with her mother about their animals.  Why, Tamara even remembered when the beautiful, haughty, raven-haired Princess Kale had come to ask questions about raising her pet dragon Grimm!

                Charity turned around from the stove, shedding some of the smaller animals that tended to cling to her.  "Good morning Tamara – I take it out little blue rabble-rouser is hungry again?" she said, the corners of her mouth pulling up in a smile.  Spike played along, mewling plaintively.  "He says 'Who, me?'," Charity translated for Tamara, who laughed.  "Well, just a moment, dears, and you'll both have some breakfast.  She took some of the milk that Tamara had brought in earlier, and poured it in a bowl for Spike, who lunged greedily for it. 

Tamara held him back and scolded the little blue panther. "Ah ah!  Manners, my dear!"  After he had calmed down, she let him have his morning milk.

"Sit down dear," chided Charity as she set the teapot on the table and two cups and saucers.  Tamara obediently obeyed as her mother brought over bowls of hot cereal and fresh fruit.  As Charity poured the tea, she remarked "I have to admit, Tamara, when Queen Anya first brought Spike to us, I wasn't sure what to do with him.  I've never seen a cub of Wintermane's that was so poorly behaved before that even a current Heartstone rider like Devon gave up on him!  Even I had troubles with that boy.  But as soon as he laid eyes on you, it was like something changed in him.  Oh, it's not like he hasn't stopped acting up totally, but he's much better for you than anyone.  I'm proud of the work you've done with Spike." 

"Thanks mom," Tamara replied as her mother sipped the piping hot tea.  "I guess Spike just likes me.  We clicked."  She scratched behind his ears to emphasize the point.  They discussed what needed to be done that day – Tamara needed to pick up a few things for the kitchen when she went into town for her music lessons. 

Doc and Charity had discovered early on that their daughter was something of a musical prodigy.  She picked up the flute they bought for her fifth birthday in under a week, and soon moved onto Charity's old piano in the parlor.  Doc helped her along with the guitar.  After she had gotten a good grasp on those, they decided to ask Lord Jairus to let her study with the town's Maestro who would be better able to cultivate her natural abilities.  She had even started performing in the local Craft Faires to much acclaim.

Just then, Doc walked in the kitchen.  "Is that breakfast I smell, my loves?" he asked, pulling out a chair at the table as Charity fetched him a bowl of cereal and Tamara poured him a cup of tea.  He thanked them, and then began to dig in, having been up and hard at work even before Tamara that day.  Between bites, he asked Tamara "Was that you I heard playing the flute this morning?" 

Tamara nodded.  "Who else plays around here?" she said with a twinkle in her eye.  "Why do you ask?"

Doc held up his hands in mock surrender.  "Just checking how the new piece is coming along.  Do you think it'll be ready in time for the Craft Faire at Fyfe in two weeks?"

The cup clinked on the saucer as Charity set it down.  "Well, from what I heard you playing this morning, I have no doubt that you'll be ready."

Tamara gave a shy smile to her parents.  She was always glad for how supportive they were when it came to her music.  "Thanks guys, but I'll leave it up to the Maestro whether or not I should perform it at the Faire.  Speaking of the Maestro, I had better get going – my lesson starts in a half hour.  Coming Spike?" 

The little blue panther lapped up that last of its milk and sauntered toward the front door as Tamara kissed both her parents on the cheek, grabbed up her flute case and basket, and headed out toward town.

It was a roughly twenty minute walk from their farm to Cantyr.   Even though they were a bit isolated, their family didn't worry too much.  Doc and the animals were good protectors, and the town's Sheriff rode out once a day to see that everything was all right (and enjoy a piece of Charity's famous Bubbleberry pie!).  Why, from time to time even a member of the Pack – more formally known as the Knights of Avalon – would stop by and check up on them.

As it was still early, the temperature was cool.  Tamara knew it would be heating up later in the day, but by that time she'd be home, hopefully enjoying the rest period of the day.  Spike trotted at her heels, pouncing at butterflies fluttering through the tall grasses alongside the road.

Tamara knew that someday Spike would probably leave them and enter the Friendship Ring to become the special bonded animal friend to a future Jewel Rider.  As Wintermane's cub, it was almost expected – after all, Jewel Riders tended to run in families.  She hoped beyond hope it was true for her as well.  She could count about a dozen Jewel Riders on her family tree, using any number of jewels.  One of her great-great grandfathers had been a member of the Pack, and even further back she could see ancestors who had held the Moon Stone, Fire Stone, and the Lightning Crystal.  However, the dominant jewel of their family line was the Heart Stone.  Its gentle magic meshed well with her family's peaceful nature.

The only jewel that she didn't see represented on her family tree was the Sun Stone, which was natural.  The Sun Stone had remained solidly in the care of the Royal Family of Avalon for generations.  Nobody even remembered a time when it had been held by a person outside the royal house.  As such, it had become a symbol of the Royal Family and determined the line of succession.  The most recent time it had done so was when it had chosen the current Queen Anya and the great cat Wintermane over her older sister Princess Kale and her dragon Grim, causing quite an upset at court.  Tamara was very young when it had all happened, but she had heard stories of how the Princess Kale had flown into a great rage, smashing things and screaming at the wizard Merlin and blaming him for her rejection by the Enchanted Jewel.  Kale had taken off that very day in her Dragon Wagon, and moved permanently into the royal family's castle in the Ravenwood Forest.

Anya had married after that.  King Jared was the leader of the Knights of Avalon, and still held the title of Commander-in-Chief even when he gave up his Forest Stone to the next leader Drake.  Jared and his great brown wolf Goliath had held onto the jewel as long as possible, but with more and more kingly duties filling up his time, he had decided to enter the Friendship Ring Ceremony and pass his jewel on.  It was rare – though not unheard of – for both monarchs to not only have been Jewel Riders, but hold their jewels well into their reign.  Of course, Queen Anya would keep her Sun Stone until the couple's only child – the young Princess Gwenevere – would be ready to inherit it.

As Tamara arrived at Cantyr, she took in the sight of the gabled cottages, smell of fresh baked bread, and the sounds of laughing children running through the cobblestone streets.  She loved this quaint village with its friendly citizens and charming demeanor.  If I never become a Jewel Rider, she thought, I'd love to stay in a place like this forever.

Tamara waved to the blacksmith as she passed his shop.  "Good morning!" she said in a cheery voice.

He looked up from his work and a broad grin split his tanned face.  "Och, good mornin' to ye, lass!  D'ye be off to yer music lesson this fine mornin'?"

"Of course," she replied.  "It's Second Day after all, and if I didn't come to my lesson the Maestro would throw a right fit."

The blacksmith's grin grew larger.  "Of course, lass.  Mustn't keep the Maestro waitin'!"

It was Tamara's turn to smile at the small joke between them.  Her Maestro was very strict and a little uptight – not at all like the cheery blacksmith.  "By the way good sir, my father asked me to drop this off if you have time."  She produced a broken hitch from her basket.  "I'm afraid Bessie got a little too excited and broke the cart hitch again.  Do you think you'll have time to fix it today?"

"Of course, lass," he replied, taking the broken hitch from her.  "That elephant of yours makes sure I always have business.  Come by anytime after yer lessons – it'll be done by then."  She nodded, and he waved as she stepped out of the shop and continued down the main avenue of town.  At the other end, she could see the small stone keep that housed the young Lord Jairus and his family.  The keep was where she took her weekly lessons

Tamara stopped a few more times on the way to greet friendly villagers.  When she arrived at the gates of the keep, she waved to the guard, who yelled down behind the walls "It's young Tamara here for her lesson.  Open the gates!"  He waved her through, and she yelled her thanks back up to him.

The inner courtyard was small but serviceable, with a well in the middle.  Lord Jairus was there with two of his boys, practicing swordplay.

"Good morning, Lord Jairus," Tamara said, executing a small bow to him. 

"Tamara!" the boys cried in unison, and rushed to hug her.

Jairus stopped, wiping away the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his tunic.  "Honestly, Tamara, I don't understand why you still bother with this 'Lord Jairus' business.  Nobody else does.  How many times do I have to tell you it's just plain Jairus."

"Mother always says it's good to show proper respect," she countered as the children began to play with Spike.

He grimaced, pushing a lock of sandy hair out of his eyes.  "Well if she doesn't stop giving out advice like that, I shall be forced to start calling her Lady Charity, as is only proper."  They both burst into laughter, knowing how much Charity had hated the title while she was a Jewel Rider.  It had always been a joke between her mother and Jairus.  "Well, I shan't keep you any longer.  Maestro will get cranky, and we can't have that," he said, winking at her. 

"Now boys," she said, addressing Jairus's children, "please keep a good eye on Spike for me during my lesson, and make sure he doesn't get into any trouble."  She grinned – everyone remembered what had happened when Spike and the boys had gotten into the kitchen's flour supply.

They grinned, remembering the incident as well.  "We promise, Tamara," the older one said, giving her a mock salute.  "See you at group lessons!"

Tamara started up a broad flight of stone stairs to the second level, where the Maestro's workshop was.  When she reached the top, she could see him standing at the door, tapping his foot impatiently.

                The Maestro was a small man – shorter than Tamara anyway – who had once lived in New Camelot and been concert master for the Avalon Symphony Orchestra.  His whole life had been that orchestra.  He had even been in line to be the next conductor, but the director thought he needed to be more "well rounded," and had sent him to Cantyr to "gain some perspective on life" as a tutor to Lord Jairus's and Cantyr's children.  Suffice to say, the Maestro had been most displeased.  But he had been here now since Tamara had been eight or nine, and didn't seem to show any signs of moving back to New Camelot, despite frequent threats of that nature.

                "You are late, my pupil!" he cried out in the overdramatic way only he could manage.  "If you, my star pupil, are late to our lessons, you will set a bad example for all my other pupils," he said, scowling up at her.

                "I'm very sorry, Maestro – I had a few errands to run in town."

                He waved his hand at her.  "It is forgiven.  Just do not let it happen again!  Come now, we waste no more time.  How is the new piece coming?" he asked, ushering her into his studio.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't challenging, Maestro," Tamara said, rearranging a few instruments to free up a chair for her to use.  "I'm a little concerned that it won't be ready for the Craft Faire at Fyfe in two weeks."

The Maestro waved his hand at her again.  "Nonsense; you are my best student.  We'll work overtime if necessary," he said, sitting down at the harpsichord in a sunny corner of the studio.  His voice suddenly softened.  "You have a gift, dear Tamara – you can touch people with your music in a very special way."  He resumed his crisp tone.  "Now, I believe we left off at measure thirty-two?"

They practiced for an hour, the breathy melody of her flute intertwining with the plucking harmony of his harpsichord.  The Maestro was as fastidious as ever, and they repeated a number of sections until he was sufficiently pleased with them. 

"I do not think you are having any more difficulty with the piece than I expected.  It is coming along quite nicely," the Maestro said.  "I have no doubts that you will be ready.  The children are another matter."  He grimaced, looking for a moment like he had swallowed something unpleasant.

Tamara stifled a giggle.  At her urging, the Maestro had gathered the children of Cantyr together into a slightly disorganized youth orchestra.  He was the Director, while she filled in as assistant director and concert master on her violin.  She loved doing it – it was a way that she could feel like she was giving back to the community.  And though he feigned distaste for the "juvenile noisemakers," Tamara knew that the Maestro loved it too.  No child who wanted to be a part of the orchestra was turned away, and Tamara worked extra hard to find positions for even the most un-musical children.

After several months of practice together, they debuted the group at the Harvest Party a few weeks ago, and while there were still a few kinks to be worked out, the town had loved them, and had cheered like mad when Lord Jairus had suggested that the Maestro and Tamara take them to Fyfe for the upcoming Craft Faire and give the group "a proper debut."  He had pulled a few strings with the Baron of Fyfe, and had secured the orchestra a spot in the musical entertainment lineup.  The children had practically been walking on air ever since that night, and were willing to put in extra practices for the temptation of getting to perform at a Craft Faire. 

Jairus probably just wanted to go to a Faire himself, Tamara thought as she cleaned her flute and put it back into its case.  He certainly takes precious little time off for himself and his wife.  Tamara knew that Lord Jairus worked hard for their town, and his time was always in great demand by people of the town.  But he didn't seem to mind.  He's just a good person who wants to make sure the people of his town are well taken care of.

She finished organizing her music, loaded up her basket, and left the studio with the Maestro, picking up the violin he kept there for her on her way out.  They returned to the first level, entering the great banquet hall.

The hall was set up for their mid-morning practice, and the kids were already there warming up.  Tamara greeted several of them with hugs; as the oldest "child" in the orchestra, she played the additional role of "older sister" as well as concertmaster, and would be a girls' chaperone on the upcoming trip.

"Good morning everyone!" she called out to the group.

"Good morning Tamara, good morning Maestro," they all chorused in reply.

After the Maestro had said a few greetings, he let Tamara oversee each section's tuning, and then they got to work on the middle third of the piece.  The woodwinds sound especially good today, Tamara thought with a sense of pride.  She had been working with that section in her own spare time after they had mobbed her at Heartland Farm one day after the Evening Bell had rung.  They had practiced in the barn several times, with the animals gathering to listen as well!  It was no secret around town that the animals at the Heartland Farm – for whatever reason – loved music, and that Tamara would often practice outside or in the barn so that she could enjoy an appreciative (if not especially talkative) audience.

Tamara closed her eyes and let herself be swept away by the piece.  Her fingers darted over the violin's strings as the sweet melody poured forth from the instrument.  As much as she enjoyed her solo lessons, she couldn't deny the pure joy she felt when playing in a group.  It made her feel like part of something greater – something she cherished almost as much as her dreams of one day being a Jewel Rider.

After a full two Bells of practice, the Maestro decided it was enough for the day.

"Good work everyone.  Keep up your practice, and I will see you all back here in two days time," he reminded them.

As she handed the violin case back to the Maestro, Tamara noticed Spike half napping in a sunny corner of the room, having sauntered in when his human playmates had reported for practice.  She walked over to him and knelt down to scratch behind his ears.

"Ready to go home Spike?" she asked.  He meowed a reply and got up, making a big show of stretching to show his obvious unconcern.  "You were very good today.  I think Mom may have an extra slice of Bubbleberry pie for you tonight."  His demeanor suddenly brightened, and Tamara laughed. 

She waved goodbye to her young friends, and paid her respects to Lord Jairus again before leaving the keep.  On her way back through town, she stopped by the Blacksmith's again to pick up the repaired hitch and made a quick stop at the grocer's market to purchase the items her mother had asked for.  As she passed the edge of town, she could hear the keep's bell tower toll the Noon Bell.  The sun was high, and it was much warmer on the walk home, but Tamara didn't mind.  She enjoyed the endless blue sky and the riotous color of the wildflower patches along the road.

Humming a tune, she turned down the road to their farm.  What she saw stunned her – in the middle of this warm day, her parents were burning a large bonfire in a clearing about a hundred feet away from the farm.  Tamara picked up her pace, jogging the rest of the way down the road, Spike close at her heels. 

As she neared the house, she called out, "Mother, Father, what in Avalon is going on here?"

As Doc and Bessie threw some more wood on the fire, Charity turned around and strode toward her, a pleased look on her face.  "Tamara dear, the most amazing thing has happened; you'll never believe what we found on the front porch after you left – a dragon egg!"