Disclaimer: I don't own what you recognize as Mercedes Lackey's. Also, if anyone has opened this in the hopes that they will find a fanfic about King Sendar's life, they will be disappointed. He was pretty cool though.

Feedback is much appreciated! And does anyone know how to get a beta reader?


Alys

"Here you are-two beers!" Alys beamed at her customers, as though the beer was actually drinkable. Her customers grinned at her, because despite this they were still going to drink it. It was rather curious, but their preferences weren't her concern-just their tabs. Seeing that they were satisfied, Alys hopped back to get the next orders, ducking flailing arms as she passed a particularly intense card game.

Her workplace was nowhere near Exile's Gate, but if anyone saw the tavern today, they might have been fooled. Although certainly the new customers had a hand in the ruckus, Alys wasn't sure if it was their rowdy personalities or the game that was being played, or perhaps even some celebration or event in town that she missed while she was in classes. Oh well, she wasn't the type to dwell on such matters, and so she ignored it.

Until it finally turned into an all out brawl.

I suppose I would have seen that coming, if I had thought about it, she admitted, as a mug narrowly missed her between the brows. But thinking about things was, admittedly, not her style. Alys never found this as a huge problem, but she was certainly paying dearly for that quirk now. Before she knew it, she was scrambling to find some safe ground in the small tavern, ducking mugs and escaping thrown chairs as the angry yells multiplied around her. Perhaps I should petition the owner for softer mugs. She tried to remember everything she learned from weapons classes about evasion, but nothing had prepared her for this, especially since she was unarmed and, honestly, didn't remember much from weapons classes anyway.

Maybe I should have listened to Elyssa and brought something for protection, she conceded to her absent friend, who always seemed to think Alys was going to be assaulted the moment she stepped outside of the Collegium. Okay, so some kind of shield or knife to parry off the flying plates would have been comforting. Or maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, since she was hopeless with anything involving a blade. She attempted to reach the safe cover of the bar but, in the end, managed to get farther away from it as she danced around the breaking mugs. The owner was nowhere to be seen, and the tavern guards couldn't contain the unusually large brawl. Just as she was applauding herself for having cleared all obstacles so far, she tripped on an overturned chair, ungracefully slamming into the floor.

Lord and lady, that hurts! It hurts! She winced, clutching her head and waited for the stars to clear. Hearing a particularly piercing yell behind her, she turned just in time to see the table coming toward her. Oh gods that's going to hurt more-

Unable to escape in time, she squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself for the impact. The impact, however, mysteriously never arrived. She dared to open an eye, wondering if it toppled over before it hit her, but instead she found a tall man in front of her, his foot having stopped the table. Though his back was turned to her, his hardened physique was unmistakeable as he kicked the table back into the thicket. The sword in his right hand pointed to the door, and he said one, heavy word.

"Go!"

Elyssa

"And that's when I fell in love!" Alys swooned, falling back into the bathing basin. Elyssa sighed with a palpable exasperation.

"Alys, every time you tell this story he gets taller, stronger, deeper voiced and more handsome. You still realize that there's no way you could have seen his face, right?"

"Ooh, maybe I have Farsight then!" Elyssa rolled her eyes and threw a sponge at her.

"Fantasy sight is what you have! I've known blind men who could see better than you!" Elyssa scrubbed her friend down, as the girl wasn't actually bathing more than blowing bubbles of mirth in her bath. Even when Elyssa picked out a splinter from her back (those thrice damned mugs!), Alys paid her no attention, her brown eyes gazing lovingly at some point in the distance. "But now you see my point, yes? Your job is dangerous. Your orphanage is already being cared for by the Crown, so there is no point in you trying to make extra money. You should quit." But Alys was having none of that.

"Elyssa, you know Midwinter is coming up! Sure the Crown is taking care of their basic needs, but how can it be Midwinter festival without presents?" Hearing her joyful tone devoid of any doubt, Elyssa refrained from mentioning that presents weren't part of any tradition on her side of the Border.

"Haven't you been making blankets at the sewing room?" Elyssa asked rhetorically. Having grown up in a poor orphanage, Alys's eyes bulged when she'd first spotted the mountain of feathers in the sewing room that was the chaff of Collegia dinners. Ever since, she'd spent countless marks hording them, turning her room into a sea of cushion with only one bare spot for her boots. "Why not simply gift those? Those will be useful in winter, and they're also not anything the kids could afford." Alys shook her head.

"I've been giving each little a blanket on their Birthing Day, so I have to give them something new this time! And don't say pillows, because I'm going to be giving them some on their next Birthing Days!" Elyssa closed her mouth, wondering how even Alys was starting to read her correctly. "As an older sib, I have to take care of them. It's my job to have a job!" Alys laughed at her wordplay, though Elyssa just sighed.

"You realize you're not supposed to have one, yes? Especially one as a serving girl! I hope you realize-"

"Yes Elyssa, I've heard all your stories about serving girls at Exile's Gate," Alys retorted promptly, taking the soap from her fussing friend. "Don't worry, the owner takes good care of me!"

"The owner does not take good care of you. If he did, he would have discharged you by now!" Elyssa was trying very hard not to wring her hands, but her anxiety went unnoticed. Alys was by no means the sharpest blade in the salle, much to the chagrin of the unrequited Hannan.

"Oh you worry too much!" Alys chirped brightly. "The owner hasn't discharged me only because he's still looking for a replacement. In any case, I think nothing's wrong-Lani thinks nothing's wrong, and therefore there's nothing wrong!" Elyssa wanted badly to tell her that Lani was quite the prankster, but one of the few things Alys was sensitive about was her inability to speak to her Companion, so she simply stared at Alys with disapproval, hoping to get some message across. "Besides, I met the man I love there! He was really wonderful! Perhaps this is the feeling of a lifebond?" She was looking off to the roof of the building, but for some reason her eyes were reflecting stars.

"Oh no, don't you dare start on that again," Elyssa interjected quickly, and desperately changed the subject. "Tomorrow we have Weapons class, yes? We're going to meet that evil Karsite Trainee that everyone's been talking about." The topic change had the desired effect, as Alys's expression quickly returned from the clouds.

"Do you think he's going to pick on me? He didn't last time, but that was just because we were working with staves-if we work with blades, I might be the first to be punished!"

"Well, he's not going to punish you more than what you've already seen," Elyssa reassured, though she was only giving this Alberich the benefit of the doubt. Alys shivered, as though finally realizing how long they had spent in the bath.

"I've seen beat up people, that's who I've seen! Jehan looked like he got caught in a pack of raging mules!" Elyssa wasn't sure about Alys's choice of analogies but figured this was the least of her worries.

"Well, admittedly he deserved it. He was getting full of himself," Elyssa said, with just a tinge of superiority. Her parents had taught her much better than whatever tutors Jehan's family had bought. Her styles were less flashy but much more practical. Of course, it would be too unseemly to pull off some of the moves her father had shown her-

"Elyssa, I'm cold!" Alys sneezed as if for emphasis. "Let's get out of here!" Elyssa laughed and agreed to the first sensible thing her friend had said all night.

Eldren

"Right! Left! Right! Right!" Dethor's voice carried over the salle, each order a blow itself. Eldren attacked Hannan accordingly, and for the most part, Hannan was parrying well. Eldren watched him closely, and the moment the boy's brown eyes misted over, Eldren hit him as fast as he could.

"Ouch-hey! That was uncalled for!" Hannan rubbed his arm for emphasis. Eldren simply shrugged.

"You're supposed to be practicing with me. If that were a real sword, that arm would be nothing but a stump," Eldren grinned, resuming the old pace once Hannan regained his bearings. The other boy was still rather disgruntled but unable to glare at Eldren as his gaze was too busy wandering elsewhere. "Hannan, you know Alys obsesses about something or someone every moon-you shouldn't let it bother you so much." The boy jumped, looking at him with a startled expression, and Eldren used the opportunity to hit him again.

"I-I di-didn't-I mean, I didn't say anything-"

"You never say anything!" Eldren palmed his face, wondering why he transformed into a pile of jelly every time he thought of Alys. "Don't you think that's part of the problem?"

"But Eldren-what if-what if she's really lifebonded this time?" he whined, stealing a glance at Alys, who was busy being guided by Elyssa. The idea of Alys being lifebonded to anyone made Eldren laugh, as he was unable to picture what kind of person could be that girl's lifemate.

"Right! Head! Right!" Eldren watched as Alys fumbled a bit, but somehow managed to continue to parry her partner. Eldren smiled at the sight of the two-Alys, who could just as well use a sword as summon Astera herself, was somehow managing to look half competent as the masterful Elyssa Hasenhower maneuvered her into the right positions. Despite her exertions, Alys's mop of light brown curls never seemed to lose their bounce under a head of sweat. Elyssa, of course, was hardly exerting herself at all, her black hair flowing gracefully from her ponytail. Hannan's obsession with Alys despite Elyssa's presence confused Eldren, but to each his own. It only meant that if Eldren ever decided to pursue a relationship, the coast would be clear-

:You lecherous whelp, you,: mocked his Companion. :Thinking about those kinds of things while you're still in the middle of Weapons class!:

:Don't worry, dear 'Trel, you're always my number one,: Eldren replied, taking advantage of Hannan's distraction to tap him again.

:Pfft!: Rantrel snorted. :Even if I were human shaped and shaych, I wouldn't bed you.:

:That's cold, 'Trel. Why, even in your horse shape, I still can't help but imagine-:

:Oh Lady Bright, stop it! You, my Chosen, are crazy.: Rantrel sent his amusement down the bond, which Eldren graciously accepted, only to be hit not so graciously by the Weapons Second.

"Weaponsmaster, pay attention says," the man said coolly, a hint sardonically. Eldren only agreed, scoring a quick hit on the still dazed Hannan. The Weapons Second's blow was going to hurt, but he deserved it anyway. Soon enough, Dethor called for a change of partners. Eldren quickly picked the closest acceptable partner before Dethor could assign him another cottonhead like Hannan. Elyssa was, unfortunately, too far away for him to choose, so he settled for-

:I thought you weren't going to start pursuing yet?: interrupted Rantrel dryly. Eldren sent him the knowing rebuke of teacher to inexperienced disciple.

:Dear 'Trel, here's a piece of advice-if you're considering doing something-or someone-, you should set yourself up into a good position first.:

:You incurable lecher,: Rantrel sighed, sounding every bit the near celibate stallion that he was. :Well, Elyssa's not going to look twice at you with her baby girl to look after.: Eldren conceded that-despite her occasional professionalism, Elyssa turned into a fretful mother whenever Alys so much as tripped. He could only imagine how she was going to handle Alys going on circuit, but luckily that day didn't seem very close at hand. Eldren focused on his current partner, another Trainee, exchanging a heady number of blows until a commotion broke out behind him.

"Why you scumbag-take that back!" Surprised, Eldren whirled around to see none other than Alys in the middle of a scuffle. He looked to her partner and knew why-somehow, she had been partnered with Jedeth, a highnosed, arrogant Blue that was inordinately proud of his own weaponswork. Eldren once had the misfortune of being paired with him, and the first thing Jedeth did was try to find a way of taunting him for his less than blue lineage. Of course, Jedeth shut up pretty quickly when Eldren told stories of his sister that even her dear brother wasn't privy to-

:Might I remind you that was a terrible thing to do?: Rantrel scolded, as though he hadn't gotten a giggle out of the incident too. :He could have bullied his sister for that-you don't know how strict their family is.:

:Nah, he's not the physical type. Besides, I'd like to see him try anything on Jenelli-that lovely damsel would bend him into a pastry twist and leave him like that.: Yes, Jen was quite strong-and quite flexible herself-

"Stop that!" Dethor's powerful bellow jolted Eldren from his pleasant reminiscence. Remembering Jen would have to wait. Who knows what Alys had gotten herself into? Though he could already spot the Weapons Second handling the situation, Eldren pushed his way through the crowd anyway out of curiosity. Hannan, as expected, was watching Alys with a fretful look on his face. Elyssa, as expected, was in the middle of the scene, eyes glaring at Jedeth but mouth in a polite smile. Jedeth was being escorted away by the Second, his straight blond hair not quite as perfect as it had been at the start of class. And Alys-

"I can't believe a Trainee would act so immature," Dethor spat, adding in her punishment (extra laps around the salle) between insults. Little did he know, his words were falling onto deaf ears. Alys's face was lit up, her eyes starry, gazing intently on the back of the retreating Weapons Second. Eldren knew that look.

And knew it meant nothing good.