Vana sighed as her younger brother Clevis, Heir to the throne of Valdemar, burst into the small alcove she had unofficially claimed as her reading room. "Van!" he shouted, skidding to an undignified halt. "Van, you've got to come see this!"

At thirteen, Clevis was everything a king could possibly want in a son. Someday he would have his father Theran's commanding build, but his heart was all Fyllis. Blond, small, and wiry; cheerful, endlessly enthusiastic, and more than a trifle wild, he made everyone he met smile.

"What do you want, Clev?" Vana asked, not closing her book completely. The sun was close to setting, she'd been reading in the near dark without realizing it for some time.

Clevis's grin didn't fade, even at her exasperated tone. "Eltan says the new King's Own is coming."

Well, that was something. "Monarch's Own," she corrected. As a second year Heraldic Trainee and member of the royal family, he should have known the proper title. Replacing her bookmark, she glanced quickly at the page number just in case, then followed him down the hall.

"Van, she's young," Clevis explained, voice suddenly going high and cracking. Vana bit her lip, fighting the urge to snicker. She nodded gravely at what he told her, not exactly following why it was important. He looked at her, then sighed. "Someday, I am going to be King, you know."

It shouldn't have surprised her, but it did. Her parents, wonderful and brave and strong as they were, were only mortal. Her brother would someday be king, and the king needed someone he could trust absolutely. Of course the new Monarch's Own Companion would choose someone young. Whoever this new Trainee was, she would have to support Clevis when he was crowned.

"But Clev," she started suddenly, afraid of what it all might imply. Not once breaking his stride, Clevis reached out and grabbed her shoulder lightly. "I know, sis," he said. "I don't think it'll happen for a long, long time."

Some pressure inside her relieved, Vana followed her younger brother out of the palace and down to the Collegia, where Clevis's Companion Eltan had obviously promised they would meet.

Two tall, proud stallions stood there in the ankle deep snow. She had always admired Eltan, for he was a fine Companion, as rangy and seemingly born to run as her brother. However, standing next to the Monarch's Own Companion, Eltan seemed an ordinary horse. The new Companion was built powerfully, born to fight as well as he ran. And there was something-a glow, perhaps-ethereal about him, something that drew the eye and would not let it turn its gaze.

The new Companion nodded, and Clevis listened for a moment. "Kelvin," he said at last, bowing formally. Despite being away from Court, he hadn't forgotten all his diplomatic training. "I am pleased to meet you, though one wishes the circumstances were better."

The Monarch's Own Companion, Kelvin, inclined his own head, then turned, revealing a girl who had been hidden by his bulk. Vana immediately paused, but Clevis walked right up to the older girl.

"Heyla!" he said cheerfully, and was that a tinge of red on his face? She shook her head, once again fighting the urge to snicker. There were tales of the King's Own loving her King, such as Queen Jisa and King Treven, but never the King first falling in love with his Own. But what was she thinking? Clevis wasn't even King yet (she mentally knocked on wood) and what did it matter whom he pined over?

The girl smiled in return, reaching out a hand to ruffle his blond curls. "Heyla," she replied, and Vana realized that the new girl must have no idea who Clevis was. "So you're the welcoming committee? Kelvin said someone would be waiting when we arrived."

"You can hear Kelvin? That's good," Clevis said, tilting his head shamelessly that the new girl might scratch him behind the ears like an overly affectionate puppy. "I'm Clevis, this is Eltan. I've got Animal and regular Mindspeech. And that's my sister Vana. She's not gifted, but she's a Blue. You might see her around."

It took the new girl a moment to catch up to what he was saying. "Clevis...and Vana? Oh, no," she said faintly, recognizing the names, then looked beseechingly at her Companion. "You said-" she went to curtsy, then realizing she wore trousers, shifted awkwardly into a bow.

"Don't do that, get all formal and whatnot! And besides, why can't we welcome you? Is it so strange that we would be friends?" Clevis demanded, voice going all high and squeaky again. This must have been familiar somehow, or too funny to ignore, for the new girl looked up and caught Vana's eye, amusement apparent to both of them.

"Sorry," the girl said, refocusing on him and swiping her shoulder length brown hair out of her face. "I'm Siri. This is Kelvin, like you said." Siri reached up and ran a hand along Kelvin's neck and up into his mane, threading her fingers through it. To Vana's surprise, a hot wave of jealousy surged through her. She quickly tamped down the ugly feeling. Why should she be jealous of this girl? Would she really want to handle her brother forever? Thinking that made her smile, and even made her feel a little sympathy for Siri. Clevis was a handful. "He says my gifts are still opening, whatever that means."

Vana perked up, seeing a place she could enter the conversation rather than standing around like a silent fool. She stepped closer, feeling herself warm to this Siri. "Most gifts open during adolescence, but some take years to become fully reliable. Some gifts never become usable, others only open due to trauma." At Siri's somewhat stunned look, she shrugged, immediately regretting her runaway tongue. Why did she always have to open her mouth? "Sorry, I read a lot."

Siri smiled gratefully. "I need all the help I can get. I swear, I lived no more than four days away by cart from Haven my entire life, and only now am I realizing how much I don't even know about the place."

Clevis grinned, clapping a hand on her shoulder. "You'll settle in quickly. Want us to show you to the Dean's office?"

Siri accepted, and the group moved away. Kelvin and Eltan remained in the field, though she turned back at the last moment. "I'm sorry!" she told Kelvin, wishing she didn't have to leave him. "I've got to go and get tested, and move into my quarters, and..." she felt so overwhelmed in that moment. There was so much to do, and so much to learn! How would she ever know it all, and be at ease like the other Trainees?

:Don't worry,: Kelvin said with a chuckle. :Run along and play nice.:

Sticking her tongue out at her Companion, Siri hurried after her new friends.

Sasaki Haruka, as she still thought of herself, slowly stretched out from her meditation pose, rolling her ankles and ignoring the little cracks and pops they made. :What was that, Isa?: she asked her Companion, languidly rolling her neck as well, ridding herself of any stiffness. She braided her long black hair, tying it off with a small ribbon as she waited for the reply.

:Dean Lettie needs you, Haruka,: Isa's attention went elsewhere, then returned. :There's a new Trainee, the Monarch's Own. Her name is Siri.:

Rising to her feet, Haruka brushed off her gray uniform. She slid the cushion she had been seated on under the bed, then gave her room a once over. Tidy as ever. Outside she could see the outdoor lanterns along the walls and gates being lit by various servants and guards. Dusk had fallen, the supper bells would be ringing soon.

Shutting the door behind her, she made her way swiftly to the Dean's Office. A tall brunette sat outside, one hand cupping her chin as she stared rather fixedly at the door. At Isa's mental nudge, Haruka went to sit on the bench beside her. Folding her hands in her lap, she turned to examine the new girl, only to find herself being examined in return.

"Hello," she said, inclining her head slightly. "I'm Haruka, third year Trainee. My gifts are Mindspeech and Fetching."

"I'm Siri," the girl replied. "I'm new. I guess it shows." She seemed to take no offense to Haruka's blatant stare. She was tall, well, that was a hard thing to judge for Haruka. To a petite girl, everyone was tall. Still, she was taller than the average Valdemaran woman. Definitely in her late teenage years, she had hazel eyes and an abundance of freckles.

Haruka nodded, smiling a little, as Valdemarans did, to show that it was not a bad thing. "We all were new once," she offered.

Agreeably, Siri smiled in return. "I feel a little out of place. All the trainees I've met so far have been much younger, or much farther along in their training. And I just met the King and Queen. Me, an innkeeper's get! They thanked me, can you believe it?" She slumped back against the comforting curve of the bench, shaking her head. "Kelvin told me it would be different, but I didn't know to expect all this."

Isa interrupted in the back of her mind. :Lettie wants to know what you think of her.:

Giving the girl a quick once over, Haruka replied quickly as she patted Siri comfortingly. :Kind, friendly. Overwhelmed, but it'll pass soon. It's not culture shock, certainly not like mine.: Isa chuckled at that. A diplomat's daughter from Isiro, Haruka had been the most foreign Trainee in the Collegia. Luckily, her family had been stationed in Hardorn at the time, so she'd known enough about Valdemar so as not to be completely out of her depth.

:We need her in weapons classes immediately,: a strange, feminine voice said in her mind. Haruka blinked once, a large reaction of surprise from her. The Dean was not the type to waste time with communicating through Companions. :Do you think she'll be able to handle it?:

Looking at the lanky girl, Haruka noted the calluses on her palms as Siri gestured, describing the audience she'd just left. Obviously she was no stranger to work, even mundane work such as chores. She had some muscle, too, not the type built by deliberate exercise, but the type built by casual heavy lifting. No sword calluses, so no bad habits to unlearn. And best of all, though she was describing quite vividly what she had just experienced, the wonder in her eyes and the eagerness in her voice told Haruka that she wasn't bragging. A good temperament was one of the most important things about learning weaponswork.

:Yes.: she replied finally, knowing Lettie would be able to draw her own conclusions as soon as she saw her.

:Excellent. I'll be ready in a moment.:

"What did you think of the King and Queen?" she asked Siri, genuinely curious. As an outsider, her perspective of the Monarchs had been very different from most Heralds.

"The King was majestic, but so sorrowful," Siri remarked after a moment. "So was the Queen, though she hid it better. It was just there, in the room, like. Well, until His Highness told Their Majesties about me ruffling his hair like he was my little brother." She paused. "Kelvin says it's all right to talk about these things with other Heralds. He says you're all trustworthy."

"We," Haruka corrected, noting the disassociation. She doubted it was purposeful. No, it was likely connected to that earlier disbelief and sense of being overwhelmed. Best to reinforce the Heraldic camaraderie early. That had been one of her issues as a new Trainee, realizing that all the Trainees were in this together. "You're a Herald Trainee, too, now."

Siri smiled broadly. "It's a little hard to believe right now."

The door creaked open, and Dean Lettie, an imposing woman with sharp eyes, stepped into the hall. "Believe it," she said. "Now come in, I want to get you placed in your classes before the supper bell rings."

Siri walked through the Collegia a day later, shivering from the cold. She'd just finished washing up after her Equitation class, first class of the day. While she was a little embarrassed about her lack of riding skills, she was far more embarrassed about the class she was heading towards. Advanced Reading and Writing! Who honestly had to take that class at seventeen years old?

Haruka had reassured her, though, at breakfast. "I'm in that class as well," she offered. "And if you think that's embarrassing, try taking Beginning Reading and Writing. I was the oldest person in the room besides the teacher, and possibly the worst off of them all! My tutors would have wept to see me there, getting extra help after class from a child years my junior. But that's the way things are at the Collegium. We're all good at something, and sometimes the most unlikely of people will teach you the most important lessons."

So she trod into the class, unable to keep from flushing as the Trainees already present eyed her speculatively. Some of them were new, supposedly, but many of them had been Trainees for a year or two now. That was how it was supposed to be in all her classes.

The olive skinned, dark haired Haruka waved to her from the middle row, patting a seat between her and the window. Siri took it with relief, unpacking a sheaf of paper, pen, and ink. Immediately the other three students began to introduce themselves.

There was Erek, a second year trainee, who was one of the Lake Evendim fisherfolk. His dark hair was oddly wet, his brown skin flushed much like her own. "I've got weaponswork before this," he said offhandedly, nodding at her own damp appearance. "Nothing like a workout to get you up in the morning."

Siri nodded. "It's so cold here!"

"Ah, 'tis nothing," said the third and final girl in the course, another new trainee named Geena that she had met yesterday. "Wait 'til you see a real north blizzard, maybe when we start circuits. Then you'll know cold." Siri didn't know much about her beyond that she was fourteen and surprisingly capable and clearheaded for someone of that age. Her own cousins of that age were not nearly so sensible, and Siri herself was not as put together and calm at seventeen as Geena was at fourteen. She sighed.

"You'll get used to it," the third trainee added. He smiled, showing a slight dimple to one of his cheeks. "I'm Zach. I'm a third year trainee." He looked to be about her age. At least it wasn't her, Haruka, and a bunch of children. Siri wasn't sure she could have taken the blow to her pride.

:Like the one you took this morning when you fell off your horse?: Kelvin chimed in with a tone that sounded oddly as if he were laughing at her. Siri jumped a bit. Their range was barely more than a few feet, how could he-she turned to the window in time to see a blue eye wink at her, then a white mane flutter as its owner dashed away. Damn, now she wouldn't be able to retort. He was far too clever and much too willing to use it against her.

"I suppose I will," she said slowly, then laughed. "I suppose I will."