Chapter 3

Solaris looked up from her overloaded desk as Fyn led in a servant carrying breakfast. "Herald Fyn, how may I help you?"

"I came only to visit, if you don't mind, Your Holiness." Fyn said with a smile as she went to the window.

Solaris hesitated before leaving the endless work to join Fyn the window. In the garden Roarke trotted in a circle around the fountain centerpiece as Nate struggled to remain in the saddle. It was painfully clear that Nate had never ridden astride before.

"Did you know she's never ridden above a trot?" Fyn said as she shook her head. "She has a good attitude though."

"How did the meeting go with the King?"

"As you would expect, he exercised his authority and said no. However, he will change his mind."

"Oh?"

"We are simply going to act like meddling Heralds." Fyn grinned. "Is there anything you want meddled with?"

Solaris smiled slowly. "I think I see your plan."

"I should hope so, it's not elaborate." Fyn turned her attention to the garden again.

"How scandalous are you willing to be?"

"Depends on how the scandal will reflect upon Heralds. I'd rather come across as a goodie two shoes than a holier than thou pain in the butt. However, I see nothing wrong with offering our services to you and Him while we are here in the spirit of kinship between our countries."

Solaris considered the options for a few minutes. "Shall we start small? There is a temple in Sunhame that I ordered repairs for. A week ago almost all the workmen fled the site because of what they called a demon. The priest in charge tells me it is a grotesque woman carved in stone. He refuses to touch it. It is one of the oldest temples in Sunhame so I don't want it destroyed."

"So you want a Herald to fight this stone demon?"

"No, I want you to look at it and see if it belongs to any religion in Valdemar and if it is, tell everyone about it and take it to a better home."

"We can do that."

"It is mild, but I will endeavour to think up something more for this afternoon." Solaris smiled at Fyn with more enthusiasm than she had felt in years.

Fyn returned her smile.

"Wait, you are a trained Bard, right?"

Fyn nodded.

"Would you be willing to favour us with a performance?" Solaris was grinning wickedly now.

"Dare I say yes? I don't want to incur the wrath of the priesthood by violating their unwritten rules."

"Traditionally, only priests have sung in the temple." Solaris admitted. "We have no Bards and I think having some trained as a Bard sing before Vkandis and the congregation will go a long way to increasing acceptance of Bards. I will invite you to sing tonight during services. It will cause a stir."

Fyn hesitated. "It will be my first true performance since I was fourteen. I am honoured to accept. Provided you consider maintaining Bardic Immunity."

"No promises." Solaris said uneasily.

"Not for me, for Bards. I'd hate to have a friend chased with a pitchfork for singing the wrong song." Fyn explained. "And I wasn't asking for a promise."

Solaris flushed slightly and looked away to hide her embarrassment. Fyn was right, she had only asked she consider extending bardic immunity into Karse. Something she would have to consider if Bards did finally accept invitations she and the court had extended. "Do you know any Karsite songs?"

"Several. Perhaps the Song of the Dawn would be best."

"That one is a favourite of mine, I have never heard a Bard sing it." Solaris nodded approvingly. She glanced at Fyn, trying to read her body language.

"I didn't take offence." Fyn flashed a grin. "I was asked by the Bardic Circle to mention it if the topic should ever arise between me and a priest. They feel that an informal request would be better received than a formal one that has to go through the Council."

Fyn winced as Nate lost the rhythm of the trot and started bouncing like a child's toy in the saddle and listed to the right.

:Fyn, I see your student is already dressed appropriately.: Hansa wandered into the room with his tail in the air. :I have word, your sister is not yet in labour. When the time comes, I will jump you home.:

Fyn was surprised at the offer. "Oh, thank you. I appreciate it."

:I am glad to be of help.: Hansa dipped his head towards her like a bow.

"Is there a small horse or pony of good temper in your stable that you would be willing to sell? Nate's son will accompany us and apparently has no horse of his own."

"You may have any of the unclaimed horses." Solaris assured her. She hesitated a second before deciding she would use the informal path of simply asking Fyn rather than waiting to speak to the Valdemaran Council. "Will he attend with your Blues?"

"Yes. Perhaps he will become an engineer, come back here, and set up proper sanitation." Fyn said with a hint of disapproval.

"Sanitation?" Solaris said in confusion.

"Your people dump their night waste in the streets. That breeds diseases like cholera. A few changes to the infrastructure and your outbreaks will drop off considerably. Why do you think Keli is so adamant you need a university? Valdemaran trained engineers are mistrusted in Karse. You need your own so that when they say 'we must lower the streets to stop cholera' the city fathers won't claim it's a Valdemaran conspiracy to increase broken ankles. We have less disease in Haven for a reason and it's not just our superbly trained healers."

"Perhaps I will have to consider it." Solaris conceded.

Fyn shook her head. "How can your royals not teach their children to ride? Look at her! She is abusing poor Roarke's back! What if there was an emergency and they had to escape?"

"This is not Valdemar." Solaris reminded her.

"I know, they have never ridden with the army, have they? At least not as a monarch. It has always been commanded by Sunmarshal who answers only to you. Oh, speaking of the Sunguard, is there any with an open mind I could approach to teach her the basics of sword play?"

"I doubt it. There are no women in the Sunguard." Solaris winced as Nate slid to the ground. "Shouldn't you be down there? She could be hurt."

"No, I am not a teacher for a reason." Fyn confessed with a wry smile. "But I am good at finding the people I need. The stable master at the palace is teaching her to care for Roarke. I can deal with history and such if we have to stay beyond a couple weeks. It's just weaponry I need to worry about."

"What about riding?"

"The Companions are excellent teachers. They can tell you when you make the slightest wrong shift. Tyree was very brutal when it came to teaching me. I kissed the dirt a dozen times. She has more experience than most of my human teachers; she still remembers the Tedrel Wars."

"She is that old?"

Fyn glanced at Solaris. "I know a few off their secrets. Ones I suspect you figured out some time ago. Anyways, Tyree is a very old soul."

"I wondered if any Heralds suspected they were guided by those who went before."

"Most don't." Fyn admitted. "Tyree is an odd one among the herd. She is far older than most."

"Can you tell me?"

Fyn leaned against the window frame. Tyree looked up at her from where she watched in a corner of the garden.

:Only a little. I think it would be an excellent show of trust.: Tyree informed her.

"As I told you, she searches for potential Chosen. She has been doing it since Valdemar was very young. She's been at it for over a thousand years now. She remembers Karse as it was before the wars. However, she and her Chosen have been killed repeatedly in those wars. Most recently, in the Tedrel Wars trying to save King Sendar."

"Tell her, I am sorry for the pain my country has caused her."

"It was not exactly one sided. We have caused a fair amount of pain to your country, too. The Battle of the White Demons for example."

:Oh, that is a good story. I liked Afiona. Tell her the truth about that one.: Tyree suggested.

"I read about it. I thought it must be exaggerated."

"More like it was misinterpreted." Fyn bit her lip to prevent a grin, she had literally written the book on that battle. "The culprit was a Healer that was Chosen. Her name was Afiona Mavelan, Chosen of Bardaric. She used projective empathy to cause a panic and because she was so strong she scarred the minds of the army. What disturbs me the most are the memories she used to cause that terror were from her childhood. She was tortured by her father."

"It would take a great deal to drive a Healer to that extreme."

"The Karsite army was about to burn her lifebonded."

Solaris allowed herself to relax enough to lean against the window as well. Fyn's body language told her that Fyn was not on her guard which was novelty for Solaris. Solaris first heard about Fyn a decade earlier from Karal. He had told her that Fyn was running wild with the prince and princess along with Queen's Own Talia's son. He met her at one of her music recitals when she was enrolled in Bardic. Later Solaris heard she was Chosen and she and the other three were still tightly knit. For the last five years Fyn had been mentioned in every report that spoke of the prince or princess.

Solaris wondered, and not for the first time, if anyone at the Valdemaran court had any notion how close she was to the heart of power. She knew that the Rethwellan and Hardorn kings knew that she would be a powerful Herald one day and treated her with the utmost courtesy. Now it appeared that the crown was well aware of how close she was and was using her as an informal ambassador.

"Thank you for telling me."

Silence reigned for several minutes.

"I think I understand why the Prince and Princess cherish your friendship. It is freeing to not be Son of the Sun for a moment." Solaris glanced at Hansa. "With you I don't feel I must wear the role. Are you using your Gift?"

Fyn smiled at her confession. "No. I am very careful not to use it. I will admit that I could, if I choose, influence you to be more comfortable. However, I only do so under specific circumstances."

"Like when?"

"Like when the stress of the moment is blocking someone's ability to deal with a situation. I suspect I might need to do that for Tris when Keli delivers."

"That would be very handy. Do other Bards do this?"

"Most cannot use their gift unless they are focused on their music. Because I have training in other Gifts I learned how to work without music, at least not audible music, but my range is considerably shorter and not as strong when I do it silently. Bardic gift does not always mean someone is a Bard and there are others who can use it with just speech. I caught a conman who had the gift, he used it to make people trust him when he spoke."

"What happened to him?"

"His Gift was blocked and he is now working on a labour farm near Forest of Sorrows. He has to work there until he repays his victims the money he swindled. He will be at it for at least a dozen years. Speaking of con men, I heard you are having difficulties establishing a national policing force."

"I imagine you have heard far more than that." Solaris said with a grin.

"Yes."

"What suggestions and speculations have you heard that you can share?"

"Oh, nicely worded. There are no suggestions I heard that would be useful. Heralds have always been part of Valdemar so we have never considered how to establish a group like us. However, the whisper on our side of the border is that some of the guard would be willing to run a training camp for some of your Sunguard on the niceties of law enforcement."

Solaris looked surprised. "Really? You are a handy person to have by for a visit. I take it you were told it was alright to tell me that tidbit informally."

"Of course. Kris suggested it as I rode out."

"You should probably save your new trainee before she falls out of the saddle again."

"I could." Fyn admitted.

"But are you?"

"Tyree says I should wait. She is finally starting to relax in the saddle without an audience." Fyn straightened away from the window. "But I should leave you to your breakfast."

"Did you already eat?"

"A couple marks ago. I was up early." Fyn headed to the door. "Enjoy your meal. I will see you at your services. Oh, may Tyree join us at services?"

"Of course, I would be honoured if both she and Roarke joined you." Solaris assured her.

Fyn made her farewells and left Solaris in peace.

Solaris took a seat at the inlaid table and uncovered the dishes. One she set in front of another chair for Hansa. "It's a pity she's a Herald."

:She's a good friend to have. It gives you a secure, informal channel to the Valdemaran Queen.: Hansa hopped onto the chair and licked his lips as he admired the fresh fish waiting for him. :Perhaps you should ask if she is willing to be a priest, like Talia is.:

Solaris shook her head. "I would like to have a second Herald as a priest, one who could travel between our nations. But I doubt Fyn is a good choice. I would prefer someone who would have a genuine calling to become a priest. Someone who is truly one of the faithful. But who would be a good choice?"

:Not Alberich, he is mostly retired but he is no priest. Ask Fyn, perhaps she will know a good person to approach.: