~ The Return ~
by Tas

Top 25: Apr. 21, 2003
Top 25: Apr. 14, 2003

Disclaimers: I honestly made these people up long before I heard of XWP or fanfiction. However, fanfiction is what gave me the courage (whimper) to post and its influence may well show up in my characters.

Love/Sex: Umm, yes. Between women, yes. However, sex is not the focus of the story.

Violence: Yes but I don't get too graphic.

Language: No worse than shown on primetime TV.

Many thanks to the talented bards of the Xenaverse for sharing their talents and proving that it's okay to dream.

Feedback is welcomed: blitteer@comcast.net

The Return


Part 1

The dark shadows lightened slowly as the first brush of the coming dawn painted the landscape. Pale violet eyes stoically watched as the artistry of the Mother's hand dappled the land in soft colors of pastel. Those same eyes waited patiently for the light of the day to greet and illuminate the surrounding woodlands. Birdsong flittered through the air in a welcoming chorus of the start of a new day. The watcher rose in a fluid motion of muted strength and inherent grace. A startled rabbit darted off as Tristian Thomas uncoiled her powerful frame and stretched to her full six-foot length. A soft snort of amusement escaped her as she eyed the startled animal's departure and she ambled down to the gurgling stream to wash. Clear cold water woke her quickly, eyes the color of the Mother's dawn surveyed her surroundings as well honed instincts took comfort in the natural sounds of the woodlands telling her that all was clear.

A gentle whicker greeted her return to the camp and she smiled at the muted gray form of her mare. "Morning Shadow. Last day out, my friend." Tristian let that thought weigh heavily on her mind. She wasn't looking forward to returning to the populated areas of Mhyr. Too many people...too much noise. She hated the feeling of being caged and the constant need to deal with the barrage of emotions most of the nobles projected. It taxed her and usually left her feeling tired and irritable. Shadow snorted and shook her dark head as if in agreement.

She packed up her minimal belongings, put out the fire and saddled Shadow quickly. The two were well on their way by the time the sun finally crested the horizon. She kept to the woods, only Shadow's soft gait breaking their silence. Theirs was a partnership of years and both were as one with the wild land they rode as the forests own denizens. Tristian paid scant heed to their direction trusting her mount to make her own way and lead them safely to Mhyr. She studied the land instead, her eyes constantly roaming their path, ears twitching at the slightest noise, her whole being in tune with the land around her as instincts proven over the years categorized, marked, and dismissed the rustlings of the woods as harmless. This ability was so much a part of her that Tristian no longer recognized she was doing it. While a part of her kept watch for danger, her conscious thoughts were centered on the problems being experienced in the Holding of Mhyr.

Mhyr was a Holding in the land called Riger. The second largest Holding in the land and they'd been having trouble with bands of roving brigands. Mhyr's outlying herd and produce farms were systematically being ravaged. Animals and people suddenly disappeared, produce farms were burned to ashes and no trace of the culprits had yet been found. Tristian's journey had taken her out to the last herdfarm. As had been the case, all tracks led to a solid wall. In this case, literally. The bandit's trail had been hard enough to follow, they'd used every trick in the book to cover their tracks. They had not, however, counted on Tristian being sent out after them. Only the fact that no clue had been found after six months allowed Tristian to convince their Leader that she be allowed to leave the city and survey the site in person. Staunton Grier, Leader of Mhyr, did not care to have her outside the Holding during these times.

Tristian sighed remembering the argument.

       "You cannot go," Staunton pleaded. "What if it's a trick to get you out of the Holding so the raiders can come here?"

"Staunton," Tristian growled softly, "You're surrounded by the entire Guardian force, what raider in their right mind would enter the Holding proper?"

"I don't like it," Staunton replied, huffily. "I don't like you not being here. Let the others search, you're needed here to protect the Holding."

"You won't have a damn Holding to protect, Staunton, if this keeps up. The outlying farms are already beginning to have thoughts of relocating. If we lose them, how do you plan on feeding this Holding. I must go. Maybe I won't find anything, but...maybe I will."

Tristian's lips pursed in annoyance. She'd found something, all right. After three weeks of losing the trail, finding it again, riding through mud, rain and snow, she'd finally found the raiders true point of departure. A granite wall set into the High Reaches Mountain. She could find no trip device that may have hid an entrance. No hidden trail, no carefully disguised path. Nothing. Just the face of the mountain itself, mocking her attempts. She felt Shadow stop, her nostrils testing the wind, and Tristian's thoughts returned to the present. "Home, eh? That's right. I smell it too." She patted the mare's neck fondly and allowed the smells of the city to lead them forward.

The sounds of the city were overwhelming to these two daughters of the wild. Shadow snorted and shied as they entered and encountered the ebb and flow of the babbling populace. Tristian sighed and dismounted. Taking hold of the unhappy mare's halter, she spoke gently soothing her upset mount. A firm hand held the halter and Tristian led them further into the maelstrom of merchants hawking their goods. She kept them to the wide path used for passage through the city and absently responded to greetings being sent her way. She fully expected to be met knowing that Staunton would have received word by now that she'd returned. Tristian made her way to the Guardian's compound. Shadow calmed at the sight and nickered softly knowing that soon she'd be brushed, fed, warm, and settled into a quiet stall.

"Thomas," an arrogant voice barked across the stable. "The Leader wishes to see you at once. Come with me."

Tristian sighed in disgust. "Staunton knows that I'll be there as soon as Shadow's been cared for, Lionae."

Althea Lionae, Commander of the Guardian forces of Mhyr, stalked forward in anger. "I didn't ask for your opinion," she spat. "I gave you an order. At once."

Violet eyes turned icy cold as they surveyed the fuming Commander. "You forget yourself, Commander. I'm not a member of your military and I answer only to Staunton. I'll be there when Shadow has been cared for, Lionae, don't fuss me none, it's been a long trip."

Commander Lionae bit her tongue to keep from losing it. Tristian's temper was legendary. Although rarely seen, rousing the slumbering beast was not something one did lightly. Althea took in the tense form of the woman before her and recognized the beginning signs of warning. A faint essence of anger emanated from the taller woman and good sense prevailed. Still, appearances needed to be maintained, "One day, Thomas, you'll go to far," she muttered heatedly.

Tristian gave her a lazy smirk, "And you'll do what? Pout?" Turning back to Shadow, knowing the horse would warn her if Lionae decided to be stupid, Tristian addressed the fuming Commander. "Leave us, Staunton will expect me when I arrive."


Staunton Grier turned at the knock to her door, "Come."

A tow headed youngster peeked in, "Leader, Dyan is here."

"Thank you, Kata, seat them in the conference room and have refreshments and snacks served. I'm on my way." The youngster nodded in acknowledgement and pelted out slamming the door hurriedly. Staunton's gaze dropped to the desk. Dyan had come, as she'd asked. The largest Holding in Riger, home of the Warriors of Dyan, led by the House of du Aulstet. Dyan, the home of the mages. She shuddered as a sliver of fear sliced down her back. Dyan had always been feared. After generations of rumors, Staunton was now the first outsider to ever invoke the promise kept in the old scrolls. The promise that Dyan would come, would help, anywhere, anytime, if the need was there. Still, what does one do with a mage? She inhaled deeply, searching for calm and straightened her back. Time to meet the House of du Aulstet.

Staunton entered the room and halted abruptly. Her gaze drawn immediately to a tall woman lounging negligently against the conference table, slate gray eyes filled with warmth and humor eyed her in askance and she found herself at a complete loss for words.

"Leader?" A soothing voice washed through her and she managed to find a smile somewhere.

"Yes, please, forgive me. I...I don't know what's wrong with me."

"Nothing that I can see," the woman teased gently. A warm smile was offered, "Will you join us?"

Now Staunton realized she was still standing in the doorway. She tried to will away the crimson blush she could feel rising as she stepped fully into the room and accepted the woman's extended hand. "Welcome to Mhyr. I am Staunton Grier, Leader of this Holding."

"I am Emma, it's my pleasure to meet you." Emma du Aulstet smiled gently as she guided the woman to her chair. Turning she indicated the third occupant in the room. "My daughter, Sidell."

Staunton decided she'd gone blind and stupid at that moment. The woman seated at the table was a golden beauty. Hair the color of sun-bleached wheat framed a honey gold face that showed strength of character and green eyes filled with a wisdom far surpassing her youth. Those green eyes twinkled with warmth as a sweet voice penetrated her stunned senses. "Leader, it is a pleasure to be here. Both Mother and I hope this meeting will lead to a more active interaction between our Holdings."

"But," Staunton stammered, "Dyan...prefers their..."

"Isolation," Emma finished for her. "Perhaps those before us, Staunton. Sidell and I feel the time for such segregation has long since past. It is time for Riger to unite as one and put aside our tendencies to seek refuge in what has become the status quo." A quirk of her lips invited Staunton in on the joke and Staunton couldn't have stopped the smile that came to her lips if she tried. Riger was home for five Holdings. Four of those interacted daily with each other. Only Dyan held themselves apart. Emma was poking fun at her own Holding and Staunton couldn't help the amazement she was experiencing. Dyan was planning to end their isolation, by the Mother's hand, what next?

"Don't look so stunned, Leader," Sidell chided her in amusement. "Not all of our ancestors were foolish. We," she indicated her mother and herself, "like to think we come from the more...progressive side of the family."

Emma's shouted laughter startled her but also gave her the indication that these two had discussed this possibility before. It seemed to be an old subject between them and both mother and daughter gazed at each other with open affection. This was not quite the reaction she'd expected from these two who were considered to be the most powerful mages in all the land. No, Staunton had expected, she snorted silently in amusement, stuffy haughtiness. Instead she'd found an offer of friendship. They chatted amiably as the refreshments were served, the two women from Dyan apparently happy to let Staunton take the lead in this meeting she'd requested.

Emma studied the Leader of Mhyr unobtrusively. She noticed the concern the woman showed while talking about her holding, the excitement in her voice while discussing their plans to expand, and the sadness she heard in that same voice as the conversation turned to the reason Staunton had called them.

"We have been hard hit by raiders in the past six months," Staunton began. Her face turning grim as she recalled the reports she received from the Guardians. She brought them up to date and looked to see if the two had any questions.

Emma turned to Sidell but her daughter shook her head allowing Emma to lead the questioning. "Staunton, what have the Guardians found?"

Staunton bit her lip. She'd not wanted to have this conversation but acknowledged it would be silly to hide this and still expect Dyan to help. What was she hoping for? A wave of their hand and all would be well? She grimaced in self-disgust and turned to Emma. "We've been having trouble with the Guardians, Leader. A year ago, Flain Martin, the Commander at the time, was killed in a particularly nasty raid. His second in command managed to hold back the brigands and bring home as many of our Guardians as possible but the need to replace Flain was now necessary."

Emma frowned in confusion, "Wouldn't you just promote his Second?"

"Normally," Staunton sighed in regret. "Mhyr is still bound to the Caste system, Leader. My father before me tried to fight it and I continue. Unfortunately, my Sire was respected more than I and I'm afraid some ground has been lost."

Sidell's furrowed brow showed her confusion and Staunton smiled wanly. "Bear with me, Sidell. It will all make sense soon." She cleared her throat, "The hierarchy of the Caste system is Noble, Merchant, Commoner. After generations we managed to remove the other numerous roles and have settled on these three. The Guardians," here, sarcasm could be heard dripping from Staunton's tone, "should not be lead by other than those of the Noble houses. Only the Nobles understand the importance of a strong protective force and an important matter such as that cannot be left to the lower classes."

"I take it you disagree?" Emma remarked wryly.

Staunton hesitated. She had no way of knowing if her comments would be considered an insult to Dyan. "Occasionally, there are times when the Nobles would do best to stay out of certain situations." She watched as Emma's brow quirked but could read nothing else on the woman's calm face. She continued her tale, "My father had, through sheer magnetism, received approval to put a commoner in charge of the Guardians. That was Flain and this move was never regretted. His second could have taken his place but...after I took over, the Nobles had begun making noises about giving up some of their privileges. I was caught between starting a war that was bound to hurt the commoners more than anyone else, or, giving in to the Nobles at strategic times. Unfortunately, one of the most important things they wanted restored under their control was the Guardians. The Commander now is a fool and I don't have enough support to have her replaced."

"What happened to Flain's Second," Emma asked quietly.

"Tristian quit the Guardians. She really had no choice; Althea Lionae hates her and would have made her life miserable. I asked Tristian to stay on as my advisor. That leaves her free to do what she needs to do and she answers to no one but me. It also keeps her here, which has helped greatly. The Guardians come to her for guidance and those that Lionae put in to the ranks know better than to try Tristian's patience. However, since she's not included in the daily tasking, things have become lax. The brigands couldn't have picked a better time to strike, I doubt Lionae could find her head without help, let alone some clever brigands."

"And what do you need from us, Staunton?" This was Sidell. She was curious as to just what the Leader expected them to do.

"I need help with the brigands, Sidell. I'd not expect you to fix the problems in Mhyr but the outlying farms are being ravaged. We've already lost a half years crops and livestock. If this keeps up, Mhyr will be unable to feed itself through the rest of this year."

Emma gazed thoughtfully at the floor; Sidell studied her mother for a minute before returning her attention to Staunton. "Where might I find someone that has more information on the brigand activity, Staunton?"

Staunton was once again reminded of the younger woman's outer beauty and the inherent inner strength she could feel emanating off of her. "Tristian should be here shortly. She finally argued me into allowing her the freedom to track the activities herself. I received word that she was back in the city and I expect she's caring for her mount."

A sharp rap on the door announced the entrance of a brunette of medium height and average looks. She could have been pretty if not for the cruel sneer that seemed to be stamped onto her features. She strode arrogantly into the room, her crafty brown eyes boldly assessing Sidell. "I am a Althea Lionae," she announced grandly and was somewhat taken back when the two women continued to sit quietly and eye her in amusement. "Of the House of Lionae," she inserted pointedly, "a name honored back to the time of our founding."

Staunton shook her head and responded before her visitors could comment. "What brings you here, Althea? I did not summon you."

Althea looked at her reproachfully, "No, Leader, you did not. I caution you again on taking such risks with your welfare. I must be informed by my officers that a transport ship of unknown origin has entered our Holding and that two strangers are guesting with the Leader of our Holding." She eyed Staunton in a manner reminiscent of one eyeing a recalcitrant child, "Staunton, you know better. As Commander of the Guardians, it is my duty to be here for your protection." With that she turned to the quietly watching women obviously expecting an introduction.

Staunton sighed. She would have preferred to have no one else present but Althea's family was very powerful in Mhyr and Staunton needed to watch her step if she didn't want to see a Lionae leading the Holding. That thought brought a shudder of disgust to her body and she shook herself turning to her guests. "Althea, may I present Emma du Aulstet, Leader of Dyan and her daughter and Heir, Sidell du Aulstet."

A calculated glint of satisfaction flickered across Althea's face to be quickly replaced with a facade of imminent pleasure. "Ladies, I am honored to be in such company. This is indeed a surprise. I'm sure our noble families will be delighted to guest the two most revered women in Riger." She moved forward boldly and claimed the chair to the right of Sidell. "Lady du Aulstet, it is indeed a pleasure for me," she drawled lazily.

A golden eyebrow quirked in amusement and Sidell responded wryly, "I'm glad to hear that." She ignored her mother's muffled chuckle and returned her attention to Staunton. "You were saying we should be receiving a briefing soon?"

"Yes, Sidell. I expect Tristian shortly."

"You give that commoner to much leeway," Althea muttered. "She is caring for her mount and refused to present herself to you in a timely manner. I don't know what you were thinking, Staunton. It's not a good idea to give commoners the impression that they are our equals." She turned a winning smile to Sidell and explained in a martyred manner. "Staunton has learned some...bad habits from her adored father. Unfortunately it's given some of our commoners a misplaced sense of importance. I'm sure it's something I will be required to attend to shortly." She reached casually over and patted Sidell's hand. "I'm sure Dyan does not have these tedious problems. No doubt your commoners are firmly reminded of their position in life."

"No doubt," Sidell agreed, her lips pursed tightly in annoyance. "Seeing as how Dyan does not subscribe to such a policy, our so-called commoners are well aware that their place in life is whatever they're willing to work for."

Both Staunton and Althea stared at her in shock. Althea's eyes turned to Emma, "Surely, Leader, she jests?"

"No," Emma drawled. "Not at all."

"But," Althea's gaze returned to Sidell and noticed that she had lost the attention of her audience. "Sidell?" she murmured hesitantly. Sidell's gaze was held firmly to the doorway and Althea turned to see what might be happening there. Her jaw clenched in irritation. "Wait outside, Thomas. This is a meeting of the Noble houses and your presence is unacceptable."

Tristian's impassive face never faltered and she nodded then turned to leave.

"Wait." A gentle voice called and halted her in her tracks. "Please, join us."

"She's a commoner," Althea sputtered in outrage. "She should not be in this room while we are discussing important matters. They have no sense of the needs of the Holding. Sidell, I must protest."

Sidell rose gracefully, her gaze never leaving the icy violet regard of the newcomer. "Then allow me to join you. May I assume you are Tristian Thomas?"

The dark head nodded once in agreement and Sidell stepped around the table ignoring Althea's admonishments. "May I call you Tristian?" Sidell asked gently, approaching the formidable figure framed in the doorway. "I am Sidell," she offered.

"Tristian is fine, m'lady. Perhaps our Commander is correct. If you require assistance, I'm sure she'll be happy to provide it."

Sidell smiled gently, "And I am sure she'll be happy to try. It's her ability to succeed that I doubt." She laced her hand around Tristian's arm, "May I join you, Tristian?" She asked hesitantly.

"I...of course, m'lady. Would you care for some refreshments?"

"I would," Sidell agreed and turned to Emma, "I'll meet up with you later. If I can convince Tristian to take me with her, I'd like to ride out tomorrow and see what she has found regarding these raiders."

Emma smiled indulgently and in mock ferocity sternly warned her companion, "Be careful with my heir, young warrior. She can be a handful but I trust you're up to the challenge."

Tristian blinked as warm gray eyes belied the tone behind the words and the smile following them invited her in on the joke. Tristian's lips twitched and she nodded, "I'll do my best, m'lady."

"This is unacceptable," Althea shouted standing in rigid anger. "Sidell I..."

Sidell raised a hand and gave a gentle wave; Althea's voice disappeared although her mouth continued to move. The Commander faltered when no further sound was forth coming. Coolly, Sidell addressed her, "You seem to be very conscious of my position, Althea. Allow me to remind you of not only WHO I am by WHAT I am. Try not to further irritate me, I'm not a very patient person."

Sidell turned to her taller companion and admitted sheepishly, "I don't usually resort to such measures." She sighed and shrugged, "I just couldn't seem to help myself, and she's been annoying me since her entrance."

Tristian face remained a stoic mask of indifference and she merely nodded at Sidell's gentle admission. "She has that ability, m'lady. I'm sure no irreparable harm has been done."

"None," Sidell assured her. "The spell will wear off when we leave." She looked up again at the woman beside her and felt a tug on her senses at the close proximity of her companion. "I believe you offered refreshments?"

Tristian nodded and led them out. She stopped outside of an overly ornate tavern and Sidell felt her hesitate. "Something wrong?" she asked gently.

Tristian paused. "I'm not sure they'll let me in."

"Then why are we here?"

"It is an establishment more suitable for a lady such as yourself," Tristian answered honestly as she gathered her wits and entered the doorway, Sidell keeping pace at her side.

A sour looking man eyed them, "What do you want, Thomas? You know better than to enter my establishment."

Before Tristian could mutter an explanation Sidell stepped forward. "I am Sidell du Aulstet. My mother and I are here to visit your Holding on a request from your leader."

The tavernkeeper almost swallowed his tongue in shock, patrons of the establishment murmured in excitement and a rather large, rather greasy individual rose and approached them. "Lady du Aulstet, it is the pleasure of Mhyr to host the Heir of Dyan. Please, join me and my House." He extended his arm and turned to Tristian. "You are dismissed, Thomas. I will escort the Lady and counsel Staunton on the sheer effrontery of her actions that allowed you to escort the Heir."

Tristian nodded having expected no less but Sidell wouldn't release her arm. Nor did she move to accept the arm of Vernid Lionae. Sidell's gaze sharpened and cooled as she eyed the speaker. She swept her eyes across the room, judging and dismissing the occupants as if nothing more that insects. She performed a thorough inspection of the man before her, noting the dried food stains on his clothes, the unkempt aura of sloth, and the excess weight on his small frame. She sniffed delicately and wrinkled her nose at the distinct odor of the unwashed. She looked up to her companion. "I will not stay here, Tristian. Let us leave, please."

"But..." Tristian stammered, beginning to lose her composure as Sidell literally dragged her out of the establishment. "M'lady...forgive me, perhaps another, tavern? I'm not familiar with the Noble's choices of establishments."

Sidell stopped and turned to face her. Tristian expected icy disdain and was at a lost to understand the humor on the woman's face. Sidell rested both hands flat against Tristian's chest. "Listen to me, okay? Just listen." She waited for Tristian's agreement before speaking. "I am from Dyan. I am the Heir to the Holding of Dyan."

"I know that..." Tristian began in exasperation. She stopped at the glare she received an inhaled audibly as she clamped down on her words.

"Now, Dyan has no commoners, nobles, or whatever other..." she searched for the word and Tristian helpfully supplied it, "castes, M'lady?"

"Whatever," Sidell snarled. "We don't have them, we don't believe in them, and from what I've seen so far, we never will in my lifetime." She waited for Tristian to digest the news. "So, somewhere in this Holding is probably a tavern that you visit. You probably enjoy going there and I'd wager the food and drink is quite good."

At Tristian's hesitant nod, she continued. "Good, then please take us there. No more peeking into the so called 'proper' establishments." She looked up shyly, "Okay?"

Tristian bowed her head and shuffled her feet in an endearingly adolescent manner. "Okay," she agreed softly.

Sidell smiled and took her arm as Tristian led them off. She could feel the tension in the tall frame of her companion and she gently squeezed the firm arm she was holding. She began a rambling description of Freelock, the colony she preferred to live in and was glad to notice her companion beginning to relax. They approached another Tavern, not quite so ornate but sturdily built and clean on the inside. The enticing smells of cooking caused Sidell's stomach to loudly protest its empty state. She ignored the raised brow of her tall shadow and smiled winningly at the tavernkeep.

The lady tavernkeep eyed the two of them in pleasure and smiled broadly at Tristian. "Thomas, you're back I see. Safe and sound?"

"Aye, Lucan, not to mention hungry."

"Then set you and your lady down and I'll have platters sent out immediately. We'd not want you starving."

Tristian's face was a study in contradictions. She couldn't help but be pleased her friend thought of them as a couple and yet realized the insult to Sidell such an assumption could be. She opened her mouth to introduce the young heir only to find herself outmaneuvered.

"Thank you tavernkeep," Sidell exclaimed with a smile. "I am Sidell and I'm looking forward to the meal. Tristian holds this establishment in high regard."

Lucan chuckled, "I humbly admit that we've got the best meals in the Holding. Come in and sit down. Any friend of Tristian's is always welcomed. I trust you're visiting from another Holding. How are things going at home?"

"Very well," Sidell answered easily, managing to avoid having to name the Holding she was from. "With spring on its way we're preparing the crops, the herdstock is excited to be out roaming again and everyone is glad to see the last lingering bits of winter pass."

Lucan nodded sagely and the two women were off on a discussion ranging from crops to weaving. Tristian sat in silence watching Sidell interact so easily with a commoner and she tentatively began to believe that the golden woman truly did not believe in caste differences.

Tristian absently returned the greetings she received and tried to ignore the blatant nods of appreciation she was getting for her companion. She sighed softly, her mind wondering at the freedom of living in a Holding such as Dyan. Where her birth did not automatically make her incompetent. She was brought out of her revere by a gentle hand on her thigh and she turned to meet green eyes softened in gentle concern.

"Something wrong, Tristian? You seem...sad?"

"No, m'lady. It is nothing."

"You're sure? Am I making you uncomfortable?"

"No," Tristian rushed to assure her. "Really, you are not. Perhaps I'm just.." she hesitated, "it's been a long three weeks."

Sidell nodded and turned as their food arrived. She inhaled deeply in appreciation of the pleasing aromas and Lucan chuckled. "Don't just smell it, girl, eat it for Alwyn's sake."

Tristian tensed at the overly familiar tone the tavernkeeper was using but the hand on her thigh kept her silent with a gentle squeeze. Sidell winked a Lucan, "I intend to, Lucan. But good food, like many other things, deserves to be savored for a bit before being consumed and relegated to a mere memory."

Lucan laughed heartily, enjoying the young woman's openly honest warmth. She sent out a tray of sweets that she made for her special customers and smiled as Sidell hastily nibbled a sweet roll and groaned in delight. "Oooh, can I take you home with me?" Sidell teased wickedly.

Lucan returned to her kitchen, a wide smile on her face. She clasped an affectionate hand on Tristian's shoulder before disappearing. Tristian grinned as Sidell efficiently dove into the platters of meat, cheese and fruits set out for them. They spoke of little inconsequential things, the smaller woman keeping up an almost constant chatter as she tried the various offerings and presented her favorites to Tristian for tasting waiting for the dark woman to murmur in agreement.

They were halfway through when the tavern fell silent. Sidell looked up to see Staunton Grier hovering in the door and Emma striding smartly towards them. Emma pulled up a chair and sat down poking at the various meats and gingerly taking a piece to taste. She moaned in appreciation and Sidell chuckled beckoning the now concerned tavernkeeper over. "Lucan, if you please, another platter? My mother appears to be starving."

"Of course, young one," Lucan answered with a grin, relaxing again at Sidell's easy presence. "More sweets also?"

"Aye, especially the rolls. Tristian ate them all." Sidell pronounced this declaration in all seriousness knowing full well that the tavernkeep was aware of who really ate the rolls. Tristian rolled her eyes at the blatant falsehood.

Playing along, Lucan glared at Tristian; "I've told you before, share. I'll get more Sidell, you slap her hand if she steals anymore." She winked at the grinning blonde and shouted her orders for more food. She turned then eyeing Staunton's form warily. Staunton was still in the doorway.

Emma snorted and snapped out, "Staunton, either get in or get out. You're blocking the damn door."

Staunton continued to hover and Emma turned an irritated glare at her. She shuffled into the room and sat hesitantly. She looked for all the world as if she would either faint or flee any minute now. Emma sighed, "Remove yourself, if you cannot relax. I'd prefer you not ruin my meal with your presence. I'll meet with you in the council chambers after my morning meal." Emma inhaled the delicious aroma of the platter in front of her and munched in appreciation. She smiled at the hovering Lucan, "Excellent, tavernkeep. You'd do well to commend your cook."

Lucan smiled shyly, not sure who the woman was but aware that she was someone of import. Staunton had made a visible effort to relax so Lucan nodded differentially, "Thank you, Lady. I'm glad you enjoy the meal."

Sidell coughed almost inhaling a piece of cheese. Tristian turned to her in concern and she waved her off. "Okay, it's okay." She chuckled, "I think hearing my mother being called Lady was more than I could handle this morning.

Emma flashed her an annoyed grimace and then laughed along with her daughter. Turning to the tavernkeep she smiled, "Emma, Lucan. Please, call me Emma."

Lucan smiled shyly and left the four women to their meal.

Sidell continued her lighthearted chatter with Emma now joining in on some of the tales being told. She added a mother's perspective to the adventures her offspring related. Tristian laughed gently, the two women's warm presence overpowering Staunton's unease. Sidell continued to ply Tristian with little morsels until the dark warrior was forced to lean back and plead for mercy. "No more, m'lady. I'm about to burst as it stands now."

Sidell patted Tristian's belly comfortably and grinned, "Yup, all full up."

Emma laughed at their antics and finished her meal in relish. "Tristian, thank you for bringing her here. I dread to think what would have happened if she'd eaten in one of those places Staunton insisted we eat in."

Sidell grinned, "Tristian tried to get me in one. I didn't care for the smells coming from the kitchen nor the presence of the imbecile who offered to escort me. I'm afraid I begged her to take me someplace with real food."

Emma waved her fork in dismissal, "Whatever the reason, I'm pleased with the result. I was hungry."

Sidell snorted, "That will teach you to bundle us up in such a hurry that we missed breakfast."

"I thought we'd eat here," Emma defended herself. "You know, have a relaxing meal and discuss the problems."

"Ahhh," Sidell pronounced in satisfaction. "That was incredible."

Emma chuckled, "Well we," she indicated Staunton and herself, "are headed back to the council room. Apparently, we now have to meet every noble idiot in the Holding."

Sidell's brow lifted in amusement, "I trust you don't expect me present."

"As if," Emma agreed easily, "No, I know better. Don't forget, Tristian has been on the trail for the past three weeks and she could probably use some rest. Try not to wear her out."

Sidell grinned. "No, if she's tired she's free to take herself off for a nap. I plan to wander the Holding and talk to the citizens." She turned to ensure Tristian knew she was serious. Sidell wanted her to rest before she did anything else.

"Good," Emma agreed and stood. "Let me get Staunton out of here before she passes out from having to breath all this common air," Emma muttered in biting sarcasm. Staunton winced but rose also. "Meet up with me later and if you two decide to leave the Holding, let me know first."

Sidell nodded and her mother almost shoved Staunton out the door. She turned a warm smile on Lucan as the woman approached their table. "Lucan, that was incredible. Thank you so much."

"My pleasure, cooking is something I enjoy doing and I'm good at it."

Sidell nodded in agreement and extracted a gold piece from her pack. She laid it gently in Lucan's hand, "For a most excellent meal, Lucan."

Lucan stared at the piece, "Sidell...I...this..." she stammered knowing she couldn't give the young woman adequate change without leaving herself short the coins she'd need for the day."

Sidell closed Lucan's fist around the coin. "Decide how many meals it's good for. If I leave before I've used them all, feed Tristian for me."

Lucan smiled and agreed. "I will, young one. Don't you fret, I won't short you none."

"The thought never crossed my mind, Lucan." Sidell assured her.

The two women were gone before Lucan noticed the engraved stamp of Dyan on the coin. She almost fainted in awe. She hastily stashed the coin for safety vowing that she'd never spend it on anything.

Sidell walked quietly beside her companion deep in thought. She liked the woman. She chuckled at the thought, okay; she more than liked the woman. Tristian's brooding manner seemed to gentle whenever Tristian spoke to her. She felt a curious connection to her silent shadow and admitted to being well on the way to instant infatuation. She smiled, one step at a time, Sidell, she admonished herself. This one would not be easy to catch...but Sidell couldn't help but feel as if this one was more than worth the effort it would take not only to catch, but also to keep. She looked up as the noise level increased and she eyed the market. "Oooh, shopping," she declared in delight hiding the grin she felt at Tristian's pained expression. "Tristian, you're probably tired, why don't you go and get some rest?" Sidell smiled gently, "I'll be fine. I doubt anyone here could hurt me if they tried."

Tristian smiled at that. "No, I doubt the same. I am not really tired, m'lady. Sleeping on the trail is something I enjoy doing. Being on the trail is something I enjoy doing. Unless you wish to be alone, I...don't mind accompanying you."

Her soft words were rewarded with a dazzling smile. "I enjoy your company," Sidell assured her. "If you're sure...and if you think you can take this babble."

Tristian chuckled, "Therein lies the problem. But, I think I'll be alright for one day."

"Good, shall we?"

"Uhmmm, I have to tell you." Tristian started hesitantly, "We...have a market square for the commoners and another for the Nobles."

Sidell rolled her eyes. "The difference?"

"I'm not really sure. I can't shop in the Noble's square."

"Can you enter?"

Tristian smiled wryly, "Aye. I think they allow it so we'll know what we're missing."

Sidell squeezed her arm in sympathy. "Let's wander here, I assume it's the common square?"

At Tristian's nod she continued, "And then we'll go to the Noble Square to see exactly what the differences are."

"As you wish," Tristian agreed turning them to brave the crowds. Tristian's large frame easily towered over the majority of the people in the square and they made room for her to maneuver having been treated to her irritation at being constantly poked and stepped on. Sidell found herself moving along easily and she hid a grin thinking it sure is handy to have your own warrior escort. She bit her lip to keep the smile from turning to laughter and set her sights on enjoying the day.

Tristian watched in continued fascination as Sidell moved through the crowds at the tables effortlessly. She talked with everyone and bartered fairly with the merchants often winning concessions just because of her charm. The people in the square were quite taken with the golden beauty in their midst and engaged her in active discussions ranging from fashions to food. Sidell also visited all of the tables that sold little snacks and practically ate her way through the square. Tristian snorted in amusement as the woman's face creased into a warm grin at a particularly flavorful morsel. She was unsurprised to find a piece being held up for her consumption and admitted that the sweet-coated nuts were very tasty. After a few hours in the square Tristian realized Sidell had garnered more information during her chats than the Guardians did during an interrogation. A truly gifted woman, Tristian acknowledged, listening to the latest discussion.

"I'm telling you Sidell, there was a mage with them." The woman was a herdfarmer and neighbor to one of the raided farms. "I know what I saw but these people," she hesitated and placed a hand on Tristian's arm, "not you Thomas, you know that."

Tristian smiled and the woman continued. "These people think I'm just a scatterbrained commoner."

"What did you see, Lesta?"

"After the raiders left, me and mine followed them. Hoping we could figure out where they were headed. Sidell..." she shook her head. "They took full herds, carts, wagons, you get the picture?"

"Should have made a clear trail." Sidell responded encouragingly.

"Aye," Lesta nodded vehemently. "Anyways, this older woman walked behind them. I thought she was a bit soft in the head," she snickered and looped her finger in the air, "she was talking to herself. Muttering as she followed the herd, Sidell...wherever she walked, the trail disappeared. No indentations in the ground, no marks to follow. It has to be a mage."

Sidell turned to Tristian who nodded slowly. "That would explain what I found. The trail I followed was primarily broken branches, a chip off a tree bark, and marks of something scraping on the stones. There really wasn't a path. I found it unusual but I didn't dwell on it.

Lesta smiled up at Tristian fondly, "So you found them then? I knew you could do it."

"I found their entry point. I'm not sure that's going to help us much." Tristian admitted.

Lesta shrugged in easy acceptance, "It's more than we had yesterday, Thomas." She moved off as some little trinket caught her eye.

"Shall we see what we're missing in the Noble Square?" Sidell asked dryly.

"Of course, m'lady." Tristian replied and made a clear path through the crowd. Sidell vowed that her next major task was to hear her name from those lips. She smiled and deemed that a worthy goal.

"Do you think they'll let me shop in the Noble Square?" Sidell asked in mild amusement.

Tristian grinned, "I imagine that the nobles have been fully briefed on the presence of Dyan. I'd be surprised if you were not known by now."

Sidell grimaced, "Then do you think we'll find anything to buy?"

Tristian only shrugged and smiled gently at her.

"Lady du Aulstet," a smooth voice echoed across the square and the merchants all turned to see who was being addressed. Althea Lionae approached and offered an arm. "Lady, it would be my pleasure to escort you."

"I'm sure it would be," Sidell commented mildly, not releasing her clasp on Tristian's arm. "However, as you can see, I have an escort. I'm sure you're extremely busy, Althea and I'd hate to be responsible for the Guardian's Commander to be remiss in her duties."

"Lady, there are others to care for the colony. I am allowed some time off on occasion." She held Sidell's gaze in steely determination, her arm extended for Sidell to accept.

"Well, Commander. I do thank you for the offer but as I've said, I have an escort. Please, enjoy your time off."

Sidell pulled Tristian along effectively dismissing the now irritated Commander. The merchants fell over themselves to help the young heir but Sidell noticed the marked difference between the two merchant squares. Here the prices were extravagant and the quality abysmal. She found a bit of jewelry she thought she could stomach and engaged the merchant in a round of haggling. Sidell was very disappointed to learn that one does not haggle in Noble Square. It was beneath the dignity of a Noble. She snorted in disgust and left the merchant holding the bauble still touting its fine qualities. "I will not shop where I cannot haggle. That takes out half the fun of shopping."

She and her shadow made their way through and Sidell found the food lacking and conversation stilted to polite nonsense. They walked through once and she decided she'd had enough. "Tristian, let's head back. I need to find an Inn, I guess we're staying the night."

Tristian turned to a large building occupying the back corner and nodded towards it.

Sidell groaned, "Let me guess, Nobles reside there?"

Tristian shrugged but led them towards the establishment. Sidell peeked in, now thoroughly afraid of what she'd find. So far she'd found the nobles to be rude, lazy, dirty, and their services left much to be desired. The scent of musty carpet and burning food had Sidell backing up quickly her head shaking emphatically from side to side. "No way, not now, not ever." She looked up at her companion, "Weren't those rooms above Lucan's place?"

Tristian winced, "Aye, m'lady."

"They're not good?" Sidell asked misunderstanding Tristian's wince.

"No. They're fine, equal to the quality of her food."

"Then what's with the wince?"

Tristian sighed, "Let's just say that you've managed to offend just about every noble in Mhyr and perhaps you'd like to reconsider?"

"Just about?" Sidell asked mischievously.

Tristian groaned softly but nodded in agreement.

"Oh goody. Let's get them all." She hooked her hand on Tristian's arm and pulled her back to what Sidell had decided was the 'real' side of Mhyr.


Emma du Aulstet stood in the foyer of the Inn her daughter had refused to step into looking around in disdain. She listened in impatience as Staunton explained the history of the establishment.

"This Inn was built back in my grandfather's time for the purpose of guesting visiting nobles. The architecture is exquisite and no expense has be taken to ensure that the furnishings are the best in the land," Staunton continued trying desperately to get the woman to agree to at least stay in an acceptable Inn.

"Staunton, perhaps it would be better if they spared no expense in keeping the place clean." The overpowering scent of mildew was driving her nuts and she already knew Sidell would never stay here. Sidell wouldn't be able to breathe after being in this place for a quarter hour. She noticed the dust and the dirt? Yep dirt tracked across the carpet and floors and didn't want to begin wondering how old the dirt was. The burnt smell of the kitchen had dissipated but what was now wafting out of there turned her stomach. She sighed and mindtouched her daughter asking if Sidell had arranged accommodations. The answer she received put the first smile on her face since she'd left her offspring that morning.

Staunton was hopeful as the smile crossed Emma's face. This was a short lived feeling when Emma muttered, "Come on, I've got a room already and stalked out of the Inn." She stopped short as Vernid Lionae intercepted her on the steps. Since Emma had never met him she merely nodded and moved to go around him. He stepped in front of her and she looked up angrily. "Something I can do for you?"

"Leader, I am Vernid Lionae, Scion of the House. I'm sorry I was unable to meet with you and hoped to see you at the banquet this eve."

Emma remained silent waiting for the point.

"Uhmmm," Vernid murmured, not comfortable with the woman's silence. Women weren't silent they talked constantly. She should at least have responded. "I...uhm, can I be of assistance? I see you've already gotten yourself settled in our Inn." He smiled pleasantly.

Emma frowned. "No, I need no assistance and no I'm not staying in that pig sty. Excuse me; if you really want to chat I'll see you at the banquet. At the moment I'm in need of some food and some peace and quiet." Not to mention some intelligent company Emma added silently. She pushed past Vernid and made her way to Lucan's place not caring if Staunton was with her or not.


Emma peeked in the connecting door to Sidell's room and found her daughter staring idly up at the ceiling. "Hey you. I know your day was tons better than mine."

Sidell grinned impishly and agreed, "I'm sure it was."

"Well, I have bad new for you. I need you to attend a formal banquet with me this evening. I'm also bringing Aurora here to attend."

Sidell chuckled, "Aurora and I at a formal affair? Mother is it your intent to remove Mhyr from the face of Riger?"

Emma laughed, "Aurora has promised to behave. I want the same from you."

Sidell laid back and considered her mentor. Aurora Mardred was Dyan's mage instructor. Sidell had known her forever and though the woman's patience was incredible when it came to teaching...she had no tolerance for political posturing. This could be a challenge. Which one of them would cave in first and pop someone. "Deal," she replied with a smirk.

Emma eyed her warily but didn't press the issue. "Good, would you wake me? I really need a nap. These people can give a rock a headache."


After leaving Sidell in Lucan's capable hands, Tristian felt the need to escape. She decided to take Shadow's daughter out for a ride. Summer, the golden mare that was her mother's complete opposite, stretched out eagerly on the open pasture, the long strides powering them quickly across the ground. Tristian felt most at home when not in the colony and she gave Summer her head not really concerned on when she got back.


Sidell and Aurora were exchanging glances of amused frustration across the room. The conversations of the nobles appeared to be limited to where they stood in the hierarchy of the caste. From there it led to the so-called feats their ancestors had accomplished. Sidell found it quite amusing that not one of them could claim to have done anything of import in their own lifetime. Except for Althea who commanded the Guardians. Althea conveniently forgot that her father had forced Staunton into placing his daughter in that position. Sidell smirked; I suppose it's all in one's perspective. The evening had been long and boring and it didn't appear that Emma would allow them to leave soon. She hated these things but Emma only asked it of her on rare occasions so she gave in and was as polite as she could manage. A loud commotion came from the kitchen and she watched several of the Guardians rush to the site.

"My guardians will handle that, Sidell. No need for concern, you are as safe here as you would be at home.

Sidell notice Aurora moving to rescue her from Althea's presence when a ringing scream full of terror pierced the air.


Aurora spun in surprise. Sidell joined her and they made their way to the commotion literally pushing people out of the way. "Hold," Aurora commanded. "Hold damn you or I'll hold you myself."

The guardians quit struggling with someone. Althea pushed her way in front of Aurora, "Please Mage Mardred, allow us to handle this."

Aurora shoved her aside and finally looked down at the individual that lay sobbing on the floor. "Selene? Goddess bless. Unhand her you dolts," Aurora barked watching the Guardians scamper out of her way. "Selene?" she murmured gently gathering the woman to her and helping her up. "Selene what's wrong. What's got you so upset?" Aurora was trying desperately to ignore the other questions clamoring in her head and concentrate on the present. "Shhh, easy now, easy. You'll make yourself sick."

Sidell handed her a glass of juice and Aurora thanked her absently. Holding Selene in her powerful embrace she helped the still shuddering woman to sip. "Now, easy and tell me what's happened."

"Tristian," Selene gasped, feeling the body holding her jerk in rigid attention. Sidell's head snapped up to listen and Emma moved closer. "Tristian...Aurie please, they're hurting her?"

"Who? Where?" Aurora questioned forcefully.

"I...Aurie I don't know..." She pointed to her head, "Here...I see it here."

Aurora held her tighter and spoke soothingly. "Okay, you know what I need to do?" Selene nodded and pleaded silently with her to hurry. Aurora's hand pressed gently to the side of Selene's head and she forced a mindlink. She felt Sidell join the link and they watched the scene playing out in the distraught woman's mind.

They saw her tied to the rafters and five women in Guardian uniforms pummeled her in gleeful enjoyment. One snarled that Lionae would be pleased with their work and Sidell snapped. Her eyes scanned the crowd and found Althea at her side watching in amused concern. Sidell grabbed her and muttered a quick spell.

Althea found herself enveloped in a blue cloud, as Sidell demanded Tristian's location. Try as she might she couldn't lie. She couldn't keep silent. She found herself babbling the information Sidell requested and was immediately engulfed in darkness as she lost consciousness.

Sidell didn't know Mhyr well enough to port and she had to run, she could hear Aurora and Selene following her and knew that Emma would remain to settle things down. She entered the stables and moved to the back corner. Desperately brushing the straw aside she found the trap door. Pulling it open she jumped down into the black hole counting on her powers to see her safely. She landed softly and rushed to the sounds of someone being beaten.

Turning a corner she saw in reality the scene that Selene had running through her mind. Sidell didn't stop to think. She raised a hand and power rose. The two inflicting damage on the bound woman were ripped to pieces without a chance to scream. Blood splattered everywhere. The last three women huddled in cowering mind numbing fear and Sidell felt no mercy as she looked at the wreck hanging limply from the ropes attached to the overhead beams. She never turned to them as she left them screaming in a ball of flame. Gently she used her gift to support the unconscious woman, her eyes filled with tears at Tristian's tortured body. Cradling her in a soft hold of power she explained to Aurora and Emma that she was taking Tristian to Dyan. They could come at their convenience. Sidell ported the two of them directly into the Healer's Hall and barked an order to have Jax, their senior healer summoned at once. Laying Tristian down on a soft pallet she sat on a stool and held Tristian's hands softly speaking to her. "Stay, please. I need you to stay. I've just found you. You can't leave me. Tristian, if you can hear me, stay. Please." She continued her gentle pleadings and murmured soft words of comfort and encouragement as Jax came in and began to work on the injured warrior.


Tristian woke to a world full of hazy pain. Dizzy and slightly nauseated she tried to roll and laid back gasping for air and fighting the need to throw up. She felt a soothing hand on her forehead and the soft tingling of gentle warmth flowed through her. Her discomfort eased and she slipped back into the darkness.

She woke again, still hurting but not the mindfilling pain of her first waking. She tried to blink to clear her vision but the images remained fuzzy and her eyes wouldn't open wider.

"Shhhh," a gentle voice she barely recognized crooned and she quit trying to move her head. "Easy, that's right, easy," the soft voice coaxed and she relaxed enough to recognize Sidell. She felt a cool touch and turned to accept the drink. Feeling her parched throat she mumbled a complaint when the water was withdrawn.

"No," Sidell murmured, "not too much. You'll be sick and you don't want to go there."

Tristian quieted and waited a bit until she was offered more. She sipped and was rewarded by receiving more. This continued for a long agonizing time until Tristian's throat felt better but her body hurt from the effort.

"Hey, do you need something for the pain?"

Tristian tried to shake her head no but stopped at the instant pounding.

"Sorry," Sidell soothed her. "Listen, squeeze my hand once for no, twice for yes." Sidell waited and felt a single barely perceptible squeeze. "Okay. Think you can eat something?"

Another single squeeze.

"More water?" She got a yes for that and helped Tristian sip. The door opened behind her and Tristian turned to the sound. A low groan escaping her and Sidell supported her chin turning her head back to the forward position. "Quit moving around, silly. You're gonna hurt yourself more."

Tristian felt a familiar touch on her head and she smiled weakly. "Mom," she whispered.

"I'm here sweetheart. You're safe now, just rest." Selene could barely keep the tears from falling as she looked at the broken body of her daughter. "Just rest." She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the still warm forehead. "Sleep, I'll be back later, you're safe here." Tristian felt the darkness claim her as she drifted on her mother's voice.

Sidell turned feeling the gaze resting on her. She stood quickly and moved closer to the pallet. "Hey you. Welcome back."

Tristian managed a grin. She shifted her eyes to the water jug and sipped slowly when she was offered the cup. She didn't hurt quite so much and felt clearer headed. "Where?" she asked hearing the cracking in her voice.

"Dyan. We brought you here rather than chance your care to those fools," Sidell responded heatedly.

Tristian's brow rose in question and Sidell just shook her head. "Later, you get well first. That's what's important."

"How long?"

"Two weeks." Sidell answered seeing the surprise in the violet gaze. "Yeah and I'm glad you're awake. Trying to get soup down your throat while you're unconscious is not something I'm looking forward to trying again."

Tristian smiled. "Hate soup."

"So your mother said. But, we couldn't just shove food down your throat and the soup managed to keep your strength up." Sidell grinned saucily, "Now that you're up you can have your soup while your conscious."

"Hate soup," Tristian repeated stubbornly.

"You haven't tried our soup. Be good and taste it." Sidell turned to a tray resting on the low table. She tested the temperature and smiled, it was perfect. She grinned at Tristian's wary look and offered a spoonful. "Be good," she reminded her patient and watched as Tristian accepted the spoonful. It was a thick almost chowder like soup seasoned lightly to be easy on her stomach and flavored with the golden maize Dyan loved to grow. Tristian's brow rose at the light pleasing taste and eagerly accepted the next offering. "See," Sidell teased, happily watching her patient eat a full meal for the first time in weeks.

"Good," Tristian praised finishing the bowl and sipping the lukewarm tea Sidell offered. She laid back in a pleasant daze her body sated, warm, and almost pain free.


"She's probably resting. She's been here most of the time and she needed to sleep. Aurora took her home. We'll see her soon I'm sure." Sidell looked at her, measuring her energy level and asked gently, "Do you remember what happened?"

"Some," Tristian murmured closing her eyes and letting her senses relax. "Took Summer for a ride. Came back and was finishing her brushing. Heard others come in but it is the common stable so I didn't think twice about it." Tristian breathed deeply, the talking tiring her quickly. She sipped more tea and finished with, "I felt a sting, on my neck and..." she trailed off remembering the aching pain that greeted her when she woke. Remembered the crunch as bones shattered from the beating.

Sidell rose and sat gently on the bed resting a hand on Tristian's forehead easing her into a soft slumber, easing the memories back for a bit to allow the healing peace of sleep.

Tristian woke again to find Selene sitting in the chair next to her. "Mom," she whispered causing Selene's head to jerk towards her.

"Hi, sweetheart. Feeling better?"

Tristian made a so-so hand gesture. Selene nodded as she again fought the tears in her eyes.

"Hey...I'm gonna be fine, what's the tears for."

"I was so scared. Oh, baby, so scared. I could see them, I could feel your pain."

Tristian murmured soothingly, trying to calm her mother but Selene moved away not wanting to aggravate Tristian's injuries. Her stubborn daughter moved to go after her as the door swung open. "Freeze you stubborn warrior." Sidell's normally gentle voice echoed the room in clear command.

Selene realizing what almost happened rushed back to Tristian's side. "Stop that, silly. What did you think you were doing?"

"You ran away...I needed to..." Tristian muttered weakly as her body's pain center flooded with the messages from her injuries.

"Damn it," Sidell muttered again reaching out a hand to Tristian's forehead and easing her back to sleep. She bit her lip to keep from jumping down Selene's throat and merely murmured that Tristian didn't appear to have re-injured anything. Sidell was at the end of her patience with Selene and Aurora as they refused to discuss an obviously important subject. Selene preferred to hide and Aurora's anger was quickly escalating to rage. Sidell really didn't blame Aurora. It seemed that Selene had somehow convinced her that Tristian had died in an accident in the lake. Her body thought to be lost to the swift currents of the season. Aurora had been devastated and then totally heart broken when her mate chose to leave her claiming she couldn't remain knowing she was responsible for her daughter's death. Aurora had pleaded, begged, but Selene was intent on leaving. They'd formally parted and the record of their joining amended to show the parting. To find out thirty years later that her daughter had been alive and well was almost more than Aurora could handle and Selene refused to give her a reason. Insisting that they would be leaving once Tristian was healed and there was no reason to bring up that old pain. Sidell figured if it had been her she'd have slapped the woman by now. They sat in silence as they watched over the sleeping woman. Sidell was content with the silence. She didn't trust herself to speak without demanding an answer.

Selene finally broke the silence. "You think I'm being cruel," she state softly.

Sidell raised her head and watched the woman carefully then nodded. "Yes, I do. You're being unfair to both of them. Your reasons I can't comprehend but I know how I'd feel if I found out thirty years later that my mate had purposely lied, convinced me that my daughter was dead and then left me to raise her." Sidell let her words fall in the empty silence and held Selene's gaze evenly. The woman started crying and Sidell shook her head in disgust.

She turned at the intense feeling of being watched and found herself pinned by a remarkably clear pair of violet eyes.

"Come here," Tristian motioned her over.

Selene started at her daughter's voice and she hoped Tristian had just woken and missed the conversation. Her hopes were dashed at Tristian's next words.

"Explain that conversation to me," she growled never releasing Sidell's gaze.

Sidell looked at her unhappily, "It's not my tale to tell and I'm sorry you heard it like that."

Tristian gripped Sidell's hand and squeezed softly then turned to her mother. "Your turn?"

"I..." Selene faltered, "it's nothing. Nothing to do with you, we were discussing another matter."

"Mother, I've been injured, I'm not dead nor stupid. Tell me."

Selene wrung her hands and, flustered, stood and rapidly walked to the door, chattering about things she needed to see to before taking Tristian home.

Angry Tristian tried to rise but Sidell held her down and she was not yet strong enough to fight her. Tristian's piercing gaze bore into her soul and she considered running herself. She got the stubborn woman settled and mindtouched Aurora asking her to come to the hall.

"Sidell," Tristian rumbled and halted when the woman gave her a dazzling smile.

"I'd made a vow to hear my name on your lips if it was the last thing I did. Getting you angry was not quite what I had in mind." Sidell disclosed in a whisper.

Tristian was momentarily off-balance but she smiled gently and spoke again, "Tell me, Sidell."

"Not me," Sidell responded but soothed the agitated warrior. "Someone, just not me. Be patient, she comes."

Aurora entered quietly, her tall powerful frame outlined by the sun at her back. Tristian studied the stranger with interest. The woman was tall, as tall as she. She was also in good shape and the body facing her had been kept in good condition. She was broad shouldered and moved gracefully with an economy of motion. Tristian looked up to her face as Aurora approached the bed and was shocked to see her own eyes staring back at her.

Aurora's face masked the ache she felt at seeing her daughter after so many years spent in the heartbreak of missing her, of dreaming of her, of wishing things had been different. Blaming herself for allowing Selene to go alone. All of it for nothing, Tristian was here, alive, hers, and no one could deny that. She reached out slowly and touched the arm of the woman gazing at her in shock. "I am Aurora Mardred, Tristian. Welcome home."

Part 2

Sidell sat quietly holding the trembling hand still in her grasp and squeezing it gently to bring Tristian back to the present. She wanted to be sure Tristian could handle the shock and was loathed to leave her. Aurora eased into the chair and brushed an errant lock back. A gesture of nervousness not missed by her daughter who had the same tendency. Tristian grinned weakly and rasped, "I take it this is a surprise to both of us?"

Aurora nodded, clamping down on the sigh of relief. Her biggest fear was that Tristian would think she'd abandoned her. She had no idea as to what Selene had told the girl and wasn't sure how to proceed. The two women were alike in so many ways and neither of them entered a conversation willingly.

After an eternity of silence Sidell sighed. Two pairs of violet eyes swiveled to her and she shook her head laughing softly. "Alright, let's see. Aurora, why don't you tell Tristian about the last time you saw her?"

Aurora began softly, "You...were two. A bundle of energy and curious as anything, I had to attend a council function and Selene didn't feel like accompanying me. I agreed to attend alone and she planned to take you out for a picnic at the lake. It was a pretty day, the winter had just past and the gentle touch of spring was in the air. I agreed, this is Dyan and there was no reason to assume something would happen to her. She was well known and everyone knew we'd been partnered for several years."

"Were you joined?" Tristian asked curiously.

"Yes. Before your conception before you ask. You are my daughter, Tristian, never doubt that. You are also my only heir." Aurora took a shaky breath and continued her tale. "I went to the meeting. A few hours later Selene came running in hysterical. She..." Aurora's voice broke and she closed her eyes taking a deep breath. Sidell poured her a cup of tea and offered some to Tristian. While the women sipped their drinks Aurora gathered her thoughts.

"She claimed that the two of you were playing in the water. You had struggled in her grasp and she lost her hold. The current ripped you away from her. She searched for hours before she came to get me and by then," Aurora raised her hands in despair, "The current at that time of year is swift. By the time she came, it was possible your body had been swept out to sea. I drained the lake and the river bed but..." she smiled weakly, "well obviously, I didn't find a body."

Bleakly Aurora finished, "That's the last time I've seen you until two weeks ago when Selene again came to me in hysterics."

Sidell murmured in sympathy suddenly realizing the shock Aurora must have felt. As if reliving a nightmare she'd never gotten rid of.

Aurora glanced at her and nodded. "Yes, that was...let's just say it brought back some memories."

Hesitantly she looked at her daughter, "Did she ever mention...me?"

"No, Aurora, I'm sorry. She merely told me that my Sire had died when I was two and she'd struggled on her own for a while until she met the man I grew up calling father. I knew she wasn't originally from Mhyr but she led me to believe she'd come from Darena. In fact, everyone thought that. It's a bit of a surprise to find things so different from what I've always believed."

Aurora sighed, "It's okay. My biggest fear when I realized you where alive was that she may have told you I was...beating the two of you or something like that. I think I prefer her saying nothing than letting you believe I could be that kind of monster."

"Do...you know why?" Tristian asked, almost timidly.

Aurora shook her head. "No. She refuses to discuss it. Says it's unnecessary since the two of you will be returning to Mhyr as soon as you're well enough. She'd rather leave things as it was. I'm surprised she told you."

"She didn't," Tristian answered wryly. "I'm a very light sleeper when someone isn't drugging me or using magic to put me to sleep." She gave a soft smile to a blushing Sidell, "Mother asked Sidell a question and the answer she received is what gave the story away."

Sidell shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry, I promised I wouldn't go off on her but she asked me a stupid question and I couldn't help myself. I don't think I was too rude." She looked to Tristian hopefully and was rewarded with a squeeze.

"You were honest. She asked, you answered."


Selene refused to discuss the incident at all. She chattered away happily about the plans she had once Tristian was mobile. She thought they should go to Darena for a rest, and she made plans to talk to Staunton about Tristian retaining her position. For her part, Tristian maintained her silence on the matter but spent hours in Aurora's company, the two women quickly forming a bond that Tristian realized she'd missed without ever knowing. Her mother was a...flake...to be honest and Tristian had always bowed to her wishes since it was so easy to make Selene happy. She thought long and hard on the reasons why she should return to Mhyr and wondered if she could possibly remain in Dyan. She finally got the nerve to ask Sidell. "Sidell, how much trouble would it be for me to ask to relocate here?"

Sidell smiled and clasped Tristian's hand gently, "None," she replied watching the fear leave the other woman's eyes and hearing Tristian release the breath she'd been holding. "The records have been fixed. Aurora took care of that the day we arrived. You are listed as her daughter and her heir. This is your home. All you need to do is claim it."

Sidell grinned, "Actually, Freelock, that's the colony we're in now, is awaiting permission to visit. I've been holding them off. The family can be a bit much to take and they're so excited they'll wear you out in minutes. But just so you know, you've got cousins galore, and more aunts than you'll ever know what to do with."

She laughed gently as Tristian winced. She liked people as much as her Sire and Sidell imagined the two of them would leave the next planned gathering as soon as possible. She reached up and brushed Tristian's hair out her eyes. "You need a haircut, I think."

"I do. It's driving me nuts."

"Well, you'll be happy to know we can let you up tomorrow. Since we use magic to speed the healing, Jax is pleased with the way your bones have knitted and she figures with the exercises we've been doing you shouldn't have much trouble with mobility. You'll still need to take it easy, you've been in that bed for nearly a month so...no running in the halls."

Tristian smirked. She was very pleased with the lightweight wraps Jax used in the final stages of her healing. She could move around but Jax wouldn't let her walk until the bones in her legs were stronger. Now that the time was here, she was antsy with anticipation.

"Quit squiggling," Sidell admonished her, chuckling affectionately. "Anyway. I've a surprise for you tomorrow. I think you've had about enough of this food?"


"I'll port us into my favorite tavern for lunch. It's already arranged and Anya plans to dazzle you with her cooking. I told her about Lucan and she's taken it as a personal challenge."

Tristian laughed in delight. A gentle sound that soothed Sidell's heart and brought a silly grin to her face. "Like that do you?"

"Anything. Just get me out of these four walls." She cocked her head, "Did you invite Aurora?"

"I left the guest list up to you. Think about it and I'll make sure everyone is notified."

"Just Aurora."

"What about your mother?"

"Mother doesn't care to be out in public and she's happier in the home. She hates eating out."

"Alright, I'll ask Aurora. Would you mind if I asked Selene just so she doesn't feel left out?"

"No," Tristian agreed.


Tristian inhaled deeply, the teasing scent of the sea on the air. They were seated on the back patio seat of the Baker's Brew. The back of the building was snuggled up to the woods and Tristian could feel the energy of the land soothing her aching heart. She breathed deep, her ears twitching to catch the little sounds of the woods, her mind easily categorizing the noises. She felt filled with energy and it was all she could do to remember not to bounce around in happy glee. She loved the colony. It was small and nestled into the land as if a part of it rather than destroying the land to claim a part of it. "There are seven of these colonies in Dyan?" she asked curiously.

Sidell nodded, sipping the juice Anya provided. "Six are integrated to the whole. The seventh, well they prefer their independence and since they've caused no trouble, mother has left them be. She visits once a year or so just to be sure they're still there I guess."

"This is neat," Tristian rambled on happily. It's not like Mhyr. Everyone living on top of everyone else."

Sidell smiled, "No, we're all pretty independent people. Having so many of us in a small space could result in a massive accident caused by irritation. We have our problems and our people have their own little prejudices. I guess, since our colonies are smaller, it's not quite as obvious as the separation I saw in Mhyr."

"Even if we were all together, we would not have that problem," Aurora offered, settling herself in an open chair. She grinned at her daughter, "You look happier."

"I am. I'm finally out of that room, close enough to the wilds to feel the energy in the air and surrounded with beautiful women. Why shouldn't I be happy, sire?"

Sidell blushed and Aurora burst into laughter. "Oh Goddess, we'd best warn our people that she's loose. They'll need to round up their daughters."

Tristian winked rakishly and Sidell felt a minor twinge of annoyance. She set it aside, there was time enough for everything else, but today was to be enjoyed. She leaned back and relaxed as Tristian and Aurora began another long debate regarding strategy and weaponry. She smiled inwardly at the rapport the two had developed over the past month.

Sidell had also invited someone she thought Tristian should meet since Selene had declined to join them. She listened to the ongoing conversation and watched curiously as Tristian pulled a dagger from her boot. Nonchalantly, Tristian flipped it once and threw it without warning burying it in the trunk of a tree. Sidell raised a brow but the soft shuffle of leaves showed a woman emerging into the sunlight, Tristian's knife in her hand. She returned it to its owner, "My apologies, young Mardred. It is a habit; I normally scout the surroundings before emerging. I did not mean to startle you and I did not expect to be noticed.

Sidell hid a grin and touched Tristian's hand lightly. "This is Maria Delgado, Tristian. Commander of our scouts. I told you I'd invited her. I forgot to tell her not to lurk."

Tristian sheathed her dagger and relaxed her stance welcoming Maria with a grin. "You're very good. I almost missed you."

Curiously Sidell asked. "So where did the knife land?"

"In my heart if I'd been in front of the tree. I figured it was a warning."

Sidell shook her head and grinned at Aurora's proud smirk. "I asked Maria to stop by since you've been thinking of staying."

Aurora looked up in hesitant pleasure, "You are? Does Selene know?"

"I am and no she doesn't. Until she settles down and talks to me, she won't."

"Ahhhh," Aurora responded in understanding.

"Anyway," Sidell continued, "I thought you'd be interested in the make up of our protective forces and I can tolerate Maria a lot better than I can tolerate Dalton."

Maria chuckled, "Sidell, if that was supposed to make me feel better, it didn't."

Sidell laughed ruefully admitting it wasn't a flattering thing to say. "You know what I meant. Anyway, this here," she pointed at the grinning Maria, "is a scout."

"In Dyan," Maria began while fixing herself a platter. "We have the Scouts and the Warriors. The Warriors handle colony defense. They have a stationed garrison at each colony save one."

"I explained that to her," Sidell inserted.

Maria nodded and continued. "They handle anything that goes wrong inside the colony. The scouts range throughout the Holding, our herdfarms, cropfarms and the occasional family that prefers to be in the wilds, fall to us to protect. We also take care of the animal population, rabid animals and bands of raiders that miss our border postings and try to ply their trade in Dyan." She fell silent letting Tristian absorb the information and ask any questions she might have.

"That's nice," Tristian finally responded. "You don't have to rearrange schedules and pull the warriors out of the colonies when there are external problems."

Maria nodded and grinned.

"Where do the Scouts base out of?"

"Again, each of the colonies. We share barracks space with the warriors. For the most part we work together and get along fairly well."

"For the most part?"

Maria turned to Sidell who indicated she could continue.

"The Warriors lost their Commander to a challenge not long ago. Maybe six months or so, the current Commander wishes to combine the forces under her."

"There is nothing wrong with that," Tristian put in. "It ensures that someone at the top is aware of all activities in the Holding."

"Aye, and we would have probably been all for it except that Dalton, has bigger plans." Maria grinned slightly, "I became the Commander of the Scouts at that time. Before, we really didn't have one and we just worked with the Warriors or our Captains would work out the taskings. Sidell didn't want Dalton rushing in and taking over the Scouts. My position makes us peers and she can't use the Scouts without my approval." Maria shrugged, "It's not the best solution but it works until we can figure out what Dalton is after."

"What is she doing that's so suspicious?"

Maria grimaced. "I'd hoped you wouldn't ask that. See, the truth is nothing. She's done nothing to generate this kind of suspicion but...she makes my hackles rise. She's up to no good but I can't prove it. You've got to meet her to know what I mean."

Surprisingly, Tristian accepted that. Maria smiled in pleasure not realizing that Tristian had staked her life on just those kind of instincts and she was willing to trust Maria's until she could see for herself."

"As you see," Sidell stated dryly, "Not so different from Mhyr. Same games, different names."

"Well, not quite," Tristian said quietly, "the playing field's a bit more level here. There is no one higher up pulling strings and making the rest of us jump through stupid hoops."

Sidell smiled softly in agreement. "We should get back. This is your first day out and Jax will have my hide if I let you over do it."

Tristian chuckled. "I suppose. Can I get a hair cut first?" Her friends laughed at her blowing her hair out of her eyes.

Sidell relented, "Alright but then, straight back. We can venture out more tomorrow if you aren't to tired."

Tristian smiled in pleasure. "Can we walk? I haven't walked much yet. If I get tired then you can do your magic trick."

Sidell wrestled a look of outrage on her face, "I am a mage of incredible talent. I'll have you know I don't do tricks."

"Yeah, yeah," Tristian teased as she rose gracefully. "C'mon, lets go wonder wizard."

She left Maria and Aurora laughing themselves silly at the stunned look on Sidell's face.

Tristian paused at the door and looked back at Sidell, quirking a brow in question.

Sidell threw her hands up in defeat, "I'm coming already." She joined her laughing softly. The change in Tristian was incredible from the so reserved woman she'd met in Mhyr.

Sidell gripped her arm gently providing minimal support as they strolled slowly down the path. Women stared in appreciation at her taller companion and Sidell reviewed her decision on their having enough time to work everything out. They stopped at some of the displays in the street but made good time to the dwelling of the woman that provided the service to the colony. Within the hour Tristian was back in bed sleeping peacefully. Sidell sat quietly, watching her sleep and musing over her feelings for the dark warrior.

It was two weeks of short walks, long lunches, dinners and friends before Jax declared Tristian strong enough to move out of the Healer's Hall. Aurora had already opened her house to her daughter and Tristian had stopped in to see the home. It was large enough to provide her with her own suite, private entrance and all the privacy she'd need. She had made her decision to remain and could choose between learning her place in Dyan or joining the Scouts or Warriors. She'd also found herself fully enchanted with the Heir of the Holding and was courting Sidell with the single minded focus she used while going after anything else she'd ever wanted. Although, she admitted with a grin, Sidell was more than willing to be courted or to court her if necessary. Life was looking up and Tristian faced her hardest task now. She was looking for her mother.

"Tristian," Selene smiled in pleasure as her daughter entered the tavern. Selene was sitting with several women she'd made friends with and Tristian joined them. "You ready to go home?" Selene asked looking at her daughter with a maternal eye; happy that the injuries she'd suffered appeared to be giving her no trouble. Selene did admit that, if not for Dyan, Tristian would have died or been crippled for life.

"I've been wanting to talk to you about that," Tristian answered calmly.

"Good. I've got everything set up, we can take the next available transport and have it drop us off in Darena."

Tristian buttered one of the soft rolls on the table and bit it in pleasure. She turned to settle her gaze squarely on her mother. "You know I'm not going. Talk to me."

Selene flushed and continued talking. "Della is looking forward to our visit, I'll go and call her and tell her we'll be arriving tomorrow. I know you've been missing her daughter and they'll be thrilled that we'll stay awhile. Selene rose and Tristian rose with her capturing her hands and placing them against her chest holding her mother tight. She stood quietly as Selene chattered and tried to free herself. Finally she wound down and looked up into eyes that had haunted her for thirty years. "Don't, please. Come with me?"

"Talk to me. I won't promise to leave but you need to talk to me. We can't let this go on and I need to understand." Tristian spoke gently, her voice calm and soft as she continued to hold her mother.

"I..." she looked around frightened and Tristian tightened her grip.

"No more running, talk to me."

Selene's body trembled and Tristian gathered her closer and escorted her out. She led them to the lake that had played such a significant affair in the events that had ripped her out of her home; her life and she wanted to know now.

Selene flinched looking over the calm body of water. Tristian kept her arms around her mother and remained quiet allowing Selene time to gather her thoughts.

"You know I have...visions?" Selene asked softly, expecting the nod she received. "When you were a baby, I had a vision. It showed you being swallowed up by the land, being dragged into it as you struggled to break free. All of my crying and calling for help couldn't save you. I saw you fully merge with the land and I couldn't bear the thought of losing you. I thought...I thought that if I could get you away from here I could change that destiny."

"Are you sure it happened here?"

"In Dyan, yes, I'm sure. I recognized the land. I can't leave you, Tristian, don't you see. I can't lose you."

"Mother, you took me to Mhyr and I almost died there."

"No, I would have seen that vision. I...Tristian, I'm so sorry, so very sorry. Aurora loved you so, she worshipped the ground you crawled on and she was so proud of you. I knew she'd let you face your destiny. She'd raise you the best she could, teach you everything she could and allow you the chance to face your destiny and I could not, dear Goddess." She was sobbing uncontrollably now, "I could not."

"Did you love her?"

"Completely but you...you were a part of me. How could I sacrifice you for our happiness? I couldn't."

Tristian soothed her gently and let her regain her breath. "How did you do it?"

"Della," Selene whispered. "I wrote to Della. She promised to come for you and we planned it for a day I knew Aurora would be busy. Della took you home with her and I covered the tracks of the wagon. Then I made sure the search would stay near the lake and the river itself. I had planned to let Della raise you and remain with Aurora but..." Selene broke down and Tristian waited patiently. "But I couldn't bear to look at her and see her pain. She blamed herself. For taking care of business first and I lived with the guilt of knowing my lie was killing her. I did what I've always done when things got to hard. I ran."

Selene sobbed softly but continued, "the rest you know. I've tried to never lie to you since then. But you see now why you must come?"

"Because it would make everything you've done meaningless. All the hurt, the lies, the pain." Tristian's brutal answer was given gently as if it would help soften the blow she knew she was delivering.

Selene collapsed with a wail and Tristian sat heavily cradling her mother in her arms. She wasn't startled by the footsteps behind her.

Aurora moved in front of her daughter and reached out her arms. "Give her to me, I think it's my turn now."

Tristian nodded and released her precious burden. She turned and buried herself in Sidell's waiting embrace.

They walked the lake as Tristian regained her composure. Stopping Sidell she folded her into a strong full body hug. Tristian's dark head bent and she tasted the soft lips of the golden woman that held her heart. She felt Sidell's breath quicken and she deepened the kiss, demanding entrance and receiving it. A low growl escaped her as she reveled in the silky depths of her lover's mouth. She lowered her lover to the ground and smiled when she felt the blanket Sidell conjured. "Nice to have such talent."

"Uhmmm," Sidell hummed reclaiming the intoxicating lips. She felt the cool breeze and the warmth of the sun on her bared skin. She gasped in pleasure when Tristian claimed her aching breast and pulled her dark lover tighter. She released her and tugged at Tristian's jerkin. Tristian stood and undressed, never letting her gaze leave Sidell's flushed body. "You are exquisite," Tristian murmured, returning to her lover's side. Sidell felt Tristian's hands and lips claiming every inch of her and she signaled her approval by reciprocating the tender touches. The orgasm surprised her in its quickness and intensity. Panting harshly she lay sated and open under her dark lover's body. Her own body accepting the weight of her lover with ease as if it was built just to hold Tristian like this.

Tristian groaned and shifted to the side laying her length against her lover and kissing her roughly. Sidell felt her desire rise and she moaned softly. Tristian kissed her way down the golden skin to the apex of her lover's center. Gently, she dipped her tongue for a taste drawing a moan from both women. Draping her lover's legs over her broad shoulders, she feasted on the subtle flavor and scent of her lover's arousal driving Sidell higher with the slow delicious torture until she came hard calling out her lover's name in a joyful shout.

The two women played in the lake and made love throughout the afternoon finally returning to the colony when hunger could no longer be ignored.


Emma sat listening in distaste to a sordid tale that Dalton Weir; Commander of the Warriors was spewing at a nearby table. She smiled when silence descended having already noticed what apparently every one was now looking at. Tristian and Sidell made their way down the main thoroughfare, Sidell tucked securely against Tristian's side. Sidell was obviously relating a tale and Tristian's dark head bent to her attentively.

"Who the hell is that?" Dalton snarled from her table. Her tablemates, all having been out to another colony with her for the past month indicated their ignorance. Everyone else ignored her and she rose in anger banging the table for attention. "I asked a question or don't you people care that your Heir is consorting with someone none of us know?

Anya strolled up and snickered, "Sit down you blithering idiot before I throw you out. That there is young Mardred and most of us know her. We just saw no reason to bother answering you since it's none of your business."

Dalton looked at her in shock, "Mardred? Which Mardred. I've never seen her before in my life."

"Well," Emma responded laconically, "I suppose you could call Tristian a liar. Or," she grinned evilly, "Aurora, since she is Aurora's daughter."

The two women entered the tavern and Sidell smiled brightly at her mother.

Emma grinned, "Well, you two look like you've had fun today."

Sidell blushed and Tristian ran a hand tenderly along her arm squeezing gently. "It's been...an enlightening day, Leader," Tristian offered. They joined her and greeted Anya placing their orders quickly.

"Enlightening? How so?"

"Tristian got Selene to tell her what happened."

Emma's brow rose in surprise. "I see. Well hopefully I'll hear it but," she looked around the silent room and snorted, "not here."

They dug into their meals chatting companionably until a shadow loomed over Tristian. She looked up curiously and Emma drawled lazily. "This is Dalton Weir, Tristian. Commander of the Warriors."

Tristian's nape hairs were standing straight up and she understood Maria's suspicions. She gave a lazy smirk and nodded, "Dalton."

Dalton spoke coolly, "I understand you're just returning home, Mardred?"

Tristian nodded in answer.

"And how do you like our Holding?"

"Just fine," Tristian answered hugging Sidell and watching Dalton's face tighten in anger.

"So I see," she replied in a clipped tone. "Sidell, welcome home to you also. I hear you've been to Mhyr?"

"You've heard correctly, Dalton."

"It would be best, Sidell, if you informed me of your movements. It's difficult to protect you when I don't know where you are."

"My Scouts travel with me when necessary. You know that Dalton. I'd not take the Warriors out of the colony. No need to concern yourself."


"Dalton," Sidell's voice had dropped as an icy tone emerged. "Is there some reason we are still having this conversation? You have my answer, beating a dead horse will not make it any deader."

Dalton recoiled as if slapped, "Very well." She took a breath and managed to speak in a reasonable tone, "I am hoping you'll join me for supper tomorrow. It's been quite a month and we've got a lot to catch up with?"

Sidell's raised brow questioned her statement and she stuttered. "I thought you'd be interested in the findings of the Holding."

"Of course I am. It's the reason we have those silly morning briefings, Dalton. I'll get your full report then. What need is there to discuss it further at supper?"

"Well, I also thought, perhaps a relaxing evening could be had by the two of us."

"I'll be supping with Tristian, Dalton. Don't let me keep you from relaxing."

Dalton's face was a study in rage and Tristian's instincts were screaming for her to destroy the threat. She clamped down on the urge to rise and sat still feeling her muscles quivering with the need for release. "Very well, perhaps another time. Good eve to you all."

"Hey," Sidell gently rubbed Tristian's back. "You okay?"

"I'm gonna kill her," Tristian muttered softly.

"Uhmmm, any reason in particular?" Sidell asked, a bit shocked.

"She makes my hair stand on end." Tristian replied in a growl. "But, I'm gonna challenge her so I can kill her without putting you in an awkward position."

"Ahhh, well..." Sidell's voice trailed off, not sure what to make of this declaration. "Uhmmm, not to cast any doubt on your skills but, she's very, very good. It's how she got the position in the first place."

Tristian shrugged, "We'll see, Sidell, but I'm challenging her tomorrow. Let's hope I'm as good as I think I am."


Tristian returned from her morning run to find Aurora and Selene in the common room of the house preparing to eat breakfast.

Selene turned and eyed her daughter's sweat covered form. "I'd invite you to breakfast but you need to wash first."

Tristian grinned at her and swiped a roll on her way by earning her a smack on the rear. Aurora snorted in amusement.

She washed quickly and checked her weapons before attaching the scabbard to the clips on the back of her jerkin. She settled it comfortably and joined her parents in the common room. That thought brought a silly grin to her face that she couldn't quite wipe off and ended up just going with it.

Selene watched the change in her daughter's normally impassive face to the smiling young woman that fairly bounced into the room. Slowly the clutching fear she held began to ease. Maybe Aurora was right. Tristian had a right to live her life and Selene was only cheating her by trying to protect her.

"So what's got you all excited?" Aurora drawled eyeing her daughter's barely contained exuberance.

Tristian shrugged. "It's a pretty day, I've had a good run, and breakfast is waiting for me. What else can I ask for, sire?" she inquired innocently.

"Uh huh," Selene murmured. "And the reason you're armed is?"

"Mother, I'm a warrior, I'm supposed to be armed."

Selene sniffed delicately, "Something smells, Aurie." She eyed her daughter, "Are you sure you washed?"

Tristian coughed in surprise and shook her head. Grabbing another roll she rose gracefully. "As much as I enjoy being picked on, you two will have to excuse me."

She wandered the colony enjoying the cool breeze blowing off the water. She finally found a reason to get into trouble. Two warriors were fighting with a merchant.

"I'm telling ye idjits, I didn't pocket me own merchandise. I saw you, Talla, saw you lift that little bracelet and I want it back or I'll take this straight to Emma."

Dalton's voice barked sharply, "Take her to lockup until we sort this out."

Tristian's low voice broke in. "I've a better idea, let's search Talla."

Dalton growled, "Stay out of this, Mardred. It's none of your business."

"I beg to differ. This is my Holding and a sister claims that the so-called protectors of the colony are stealing from the colony. That charge needs to be settled before the citizens start to believe it. What do you say, Talla?"

"I say mind your own business. This is the concern of the Warriors and you are not one of us."

Tristian smiled, perfect. "You know. I've been meaning to do something about that."

Talla sneered, "Put in you application so I can deny it, Mardred."

"Oh no, Talla. I hate bureaucracy." She turned to Dalton and pinned her with a cold stare. "I'm planning on taking them over, not serving in them."

Dalton's jaw dropped. "You, do you think your sire will save you? You dare to challenge me and hope she steps in."

"Nah." Tristian smiled, "I dare to challenge you...and win."

"Bitch," Dalton snarled stepping back a pace to draw her blade. "To bad your return was so short, Mardred. May your sire remember you fondly."

Tristian grinned resting her blade on her shoulder and bouncing on the balls of her feet. She could feel the dark energy pulse, her heart pumping loudly as the blood rushed through her system.

Maria saw the challenge and motioned her scouts to surround the women preventing any of Dalton's cronies from interfering if this went as Maria expected.

Tristian laughed at the first clash of steel. She backed off and let Dalton come at her meeting her stroke and powering through it forcing the Commander backwards. Dalton settled on her feet, revising her opinion of her opponent. Obviously she had some skill in the use of a blade. Dalton shook off her doubts. She was the best swordswoman ever trained in Dyan. This upstart would pay.

Tristian met her stroke for stroke, studying Dalton's moves, feinting and testing her opponent. Dalton was very good, no doubt about that but Tristian was better. She closed in having determined the holes in Dalton's defense. The Commander was sweating hard now as Tristian's blows fell with inhuman strength, driving her back, driving her sword into awkward blocks. Tristian kept pushing and Dalton finally realized that not only was she outclassed, she wasn't even in the same training center. Tristian saw the fear, felt the terror, smelled the victory and she pressed her advantage, her blade singing in the wind carving dark designs of death and destruction. Tristian's low laughter caused Dalton to shiver in her boots and she cracked screaming for the warriors to help.

Talla rushed the line but Maria stood in her way and Talla found herself facing a woman that hated her guts. She turned and grabbed a spectator throwing the woman between herself and Maria. Clearing a break in the Scouts, she rushed through intent on running her sword through Tristian's back.

Tristian's blade ripped through Dalton's middle almost severing her in half, her senses warned her of the oncoming attack. Reversing her blade she drove in back through Talla's rushing form and blocked the woman's downward swing with a bracer. She pulled her blade letting Talla's body fall limply to the ground.

Pale glitters of violet survey the surrounding spectators. She caught the gaze of the warriors, "Anyone else? I've no intentions of doing this again so let's get it over with now." The women shuffled their feet until one of them spoke bravely, "Apparently, Commander, you have our full attention."

Tristian caught Maria cuffing the grinning woman and made her decision. "You the speaker for the day?"

The woman shrugged and looked around. "Looks like it."

"Alright, gather them up and have them in the compound ready for practice in an hour. I want to see full drills, and we'll have a full inspection. Anyone not prepared can start looking for another position. Once you have that settled, I'll put you to work."

The woman looked slightly startled and Tristian smirked at her. "Well?"

"Aye, Commander."

Tristian turned and headed for the tavern glad that none of it interfered with her breakfast plans. She entered the Baker's Brew and found Sidell's golden form chatting with Emma. She made her way across the room aware of the green eyes now fastened on her and she smiled softly.

Sidell eyed her lover's sleek form and noticed the hilt of a sword over her shoulder. "Believe in being prepared, do we?"

Tristian smiled, "I told you, I had things to do."

"Tristian, let's consider this. You're still recovering from your injuries. Maybe you should wait a bit."

"Too late," Anya boomed, setting a plate in front of the hungry woman. "Morning Commander, I hope you're hungry."

"Starving, Anya, thanks,"

Maria entered and joined them.

"Why don't you meet with me this afternoon and let's see how we can best utilize our resources," Tristian suggested as she sat.

Maria grinned and stole a roll, "I've a better idea. Why don't I step down and you can control all the resources."

Sidell looked lost for a bit and finally turned to her lover in consternation. "For Alwyn's sake, Tristian, you challenged her already? It's not even quite past breakfast time."

"She was asking for it," Tristian defended herself. "I couldn't pass up such a perfect opportunity."

Sidell slumped in her seat. "Well," she muttered softly, "at least I don't have to spend the day worrying."

Tristian winked at her and returned to her conversation with Maria. "I don't have a problem with that but you'll still command them."

Maria nodded happily, "Done. If Sidell will send out the notice when we announce your position it will work perfectly."

"Alright, I can live with that. Who is the speaker of the day?"

"Puck. She's a good warrior and has had a lot a trouble because she refused to blindly follow where Dalton dared to lead."

"Good, I need a garrison Commander. Since I don't know anyone here, I suppose she'll do."

Sidell sputtered her drink across the table as Maria and Emma burst into laughter.

"Goddess bless, Tristian," Sidell pleaded, "Can I be there when you tell her, please?"

Tristian eyed her warily, "Is this not a good idea?"

"Oh it's a great idea. It will be even better if you get her to do it. Puck doesn't believe in being in charge and she's pulled some incredible stunts to get out of it."

"All the time?"

"Nah," Maria inserted. "Started when Dalton took over. Mostly because Dalton expected her officers to follow her unconditionally and Puck just couldn't pretend she was that stupid. It's a great choice Tristian and you won't regret it."

Nodding Tristian turned to Emma. "What do you want to do about Mhyr?"

Emma sighed, "About Mhyr in particular I'd prefer to do as little as possible. We do need to take care of that raider problem and Aurora is still hell bent on having Althea brought up on charges of attempted murder."

"Ahhh, there is that. I need to return and get my horses. Depending on what mother is going to do will determine if I need to get anything else. I suppose we could return to the wall I found on my last scouting trip and take it from there."

Emma agreed. "Alright but I'm coming with you and I believe Aurora intends to be with you whenever you're in Mhyr. That being said, when can we go?"

"Tomorrow at the earliest. I need to settle the Warriors and work something out with Puck and Maria."

Sidell nodded. "Alright, I'll send out the telecom announcing you're taking over the Warriors and the Scouts. Maria will return to her status as Captain and be in charge of this squad posted here."

They finalized their plans and separated to conclude their business.

Tristian wandered onto the Warrior's compound, her eyes flicking over the area noticing the lack of maintenance in the buildings and the grounds themselves. She entered the main building and meandered through in silence. Apparently, Puck had taken her at her word and everyone was either out back in the practice fields or gone. She opened the door to what would become her office and sniffed in disdain at the cluttered mess. Hearing the clash of steel, she ambled out to see what kind of mess she'd gotten herself into this time.

She found a comfortable tree to lean against and watched the controlled chaos-taking place in the field. Puck had the women separated into groups that ranged from clueless to fairly competent. Puck and three women moved throughout the garrison, offering advice and teaching proper stance and grip. A youngster that appeared to have a permanent smile on her face approached the women standing in a circle looking forlornly at their swords. Tristian couldn't help but grin at the youngster's enthusiasm and moved closer to listen.

"Alright, ladies. According to Puck, our new Commander expects proficiency. Question is, do you want to learn or was this merely a lark to get in on Dalton's good side?"

Tristian grinned as a few of the women backed out and were excused. She moved on to check on the trainers.

"It's a sword, you bloody imbecile. If you insist on poking at me with it I'll give ya a damn spear." An aggrieved voice cut across the field.

"Damn it, Riel, I know how to use a sword." the offended woman countered and continued with thrusting at her opponent.

The trainer, Tristian assumed her name to be Riel, sighed in disgust and waited for a lunge. She powered a stroke through the lunge flinging the woman's sword into the air. "Sure you do," Riel snickered, "and if I was willing to stand here and let you poke me with the damn thing you'd be awesome." She shook her head, "Pick it up and go over to Das, maybe she can talk some sense into you...or beat some into you."

Tristian continued through and came upon a group of about fifteen women engaged in a complicated practice pattern. They were very good and she couldn't help the surge of competitive fire that lit within her. Moving up quietly, she waited until they came to a break in the pattern. Puck turned to her and saluted, "Commander."

Tristian nodded and moved into the middle of the group, "Prepare," she barked out.

The women hesitated. In a flickering blur, Tristian pulled her blade and landed a firm swat on Puck's backside, "Now."

Puck scowled but nodded to her team. They formed up around Tristian. Moving in well-practiced pairs, they engaged their Commander in a semi-mock battle. Semi only in the sense that they had no intentions of killing her but their pride had been pricked and they were going to show her that not all Warriors were sloppy fighters.

Tristian felt the fire light in her veins and she moved smoothly into the intricate dance. Her blade so much a part of her that she didn't need to direct it, she merely needed to sense the threat to have the blade move to block. A roundhouse kick threw a particularly ardent attacker into another woman tangling them both and taking down a few more. Tristian moved into the opening, powering back another strike and countering with a solid left. A well-placed elbow cleared her more space and she kept moving. She could feel the wild laughter bubbling up in her and gave vent to her joy as her opponents fell in stunned awe. The hilt of her sword took out one of the last two and she found herself facing Puck. She pushed the woman to achieve a competence that Puck had never thought herself capable of until a solid stroke flung the sword from her hands. Puck stood panting, her eyes wide in shock as she looked around at her group. Bruised, a bit bloody, a few groans but other than that, they were alive and staring at their Commander with the same look of awe in Puck's eyes.

Tristian grinned, sheathed her blade and gave Puck a slight nod of her head. "Very good, Commander. Very good." She looked around at the grinning women, "I take it these are the best here?"

"They are," Puck answered, wondering how good they really were. A lone woman that had only recently, if stories could be believed, recovered from a severe beating that had broken all four limbs, various ribs and other numerous internal and external injuries had just beaten them. She looked around her again and vowed to corner Maria and get the whole story. "At least, they were." Puck shook her head, "Dalton was the best ever trained in Dyan. Even Dalton could not have taken us all on and won."

Tristian shrugged deprecatingly, "Still, you are all very talented and work well in pairs. I will be training you further," she smiled gently, "you will not thank me for the training, however, you will thank me for your lives." She turned to Puck, "Call in your three trainers, let's see what they've got."

Tristian worked with the trainers learning that they were Das Little, Riel Gessen, and Kelsey Gourd. She also learned that Puck was really Aloyise Willis. She moved through the trainers and then worked with the rest of the small group in sets of threes. She showed them the moves she wanted them to practice and the situations in which they'd be best suited for use. After a few hours on the field she called a halt to their training. "Walk with me, Puck. The rest of you, clean yourselves up. Tomorrow's another day and there is much around here that needs to be cared for."

"As I said," Tristian indicated the women they'd be working with, "I'll be training that group but you'll be in charge of their practice sessions. Let the trainers continue with the rest of this crew, they're to raw to learn what I want to teach and I'm afraid I have no patience for training beginners." She looked up at the first group she witnessed. "What was the purpose of those women?"

Puck sighed, "They wanted adventure." She grinned, "Well, they did but I don't think they wanted this type of adventure. Being a Warrior is a sign of prestige amongst our people..." she hesitated and Tristian chuckled.

"You mean the women tend to flock to the warrior types."

Puck grinned, "Aye. Anyway, that's what they were after. From what I can figure out, Dalton and her cronies would," she snorted, "test out the merchandise and if they were pleased, the women are given minimal duties and provided with uniforms."

Tristian winced. "I have no wish to...test out merchandise and I will not allow anyone under me to do so either."

Now Puck smiled. A full smile that reached her eyes, "Perfect. I wondered what in the world I was suppose to do with them but I didn't want to release them until..." she broke off.

Tristian laughed and clapped her solidly on the shoulder, "Until you were sure of me, eh Puck."

"Aye, Commander," Puck agreed amiably.

"Tristian...call me Tristian. You'll be called Commander and I'd prefer to keep the confusion to a minimum."

"Me?" Puck squeaked.

"Aye, you. I need a garrison Commander. I know no one in the Holding and you've come highly recommended so....you're it."

"But...but..." Puck stammered.

"Yesssss," Tristian teased. "You'd rather be an underling so you can harass the Commander?"

"Well," Puck scowled. Just because that's what she preferred didn't mean she liked it said aloud.

"Ah. You'd rather be an underling so you'd have someone else to blame if things went tits up?"

"No, it's..."

"I'm waiting?" Tristian rumbled, leaving Puck in no doubt that unless the world ended she just didn't have a good enough excuse. She also had a sneaking suspicion that Tristian would throw her out of the Warriors for not accepting the responsibility Tristian deemed her capable of handling. She sighed in defeat, "I'd be honored, Tristian."

Tristian laughed causing several heads to turn their way. "I knew you'd see things my way, Commander. Now, this compound needs to be straightened up. The building is falling apart and my office is a mess. I'd hate to see the rest of the place. You go and ask those women," she indicated the clueless group they'd been discussing earlier, "if they wish to take on that responsibility. If yes, then we'll keep them on for a while. We'll also need people that are competent in taking notes, missives, filing, supplies," she grinned, "you know, those things that you and I both hate doing."

Puck smiled in agreement.

"So, we need to be sure they can be trusted because some of the correspondence we'll be handling will include things that I'd just as soon have kept to ourselves. Your job? Weed them out. Put em to work and work them hard, find the ones that want to stay and are willing to earn their keep. Warriors need not be swordswomen but they must be willing to work for the good of the Holding."

Puck nodded and began planning her strategy.

"Good," Tristian continued. "You're also familiar with the warriors in the other colonies?"


"Then you'll need to compile a list of potential officers. I want Dalton's avid supporters rousted out. If they followed her because she was the Commander and they've done no harm to their colonies, they can stay and we'll monitor them. Otherwise, they can find another occupation."

"You don't want to just bust them back in rank?"


"We'll need to start a recruitment program."

"See to it. The scouts will also be working with us and they've fallen under my command. I'll leave it to you and Maria to come up with a working partnership. I also want them present for practice when they're in the colony. I'll tell Maria but pass it on if you see her."

Puck nodded and Tristian turned to leave but halted as a woman slinked her way over. Puck smirked at the pained expression on her Commander's face.

"Commander Mardred," the woman crooned. "I am Elyse. I'd hoped to speak with you for a moment."

"About?" Tristian inquired.

"This training you're requiring, some of us.." she smiled gently, "well, Commander, I'd prefer to explain it to you in a more private setting?"

"Explain it to Puck," Tristian replied evenly. "She is the garrison Commander and will be in charge of the Warriors on a day-to-day basis."

"But...I mean," Elyse sidled up to her, "Some things, Commander, are best decided by those truly in charge."

"I have made my decision, Elyse. I've decided that Puck is truly in charge. Explain it to her." Tristian stepped away from the woman and turned to Puck, "You've your orders, Commander. I'll be leaving for Mhyr on the morrow and I don't expect to return for two weeks. See that our preparations are completed."

Puck saluted smartly, "As you command, Tristian."


Sidell watched as Tristian and Aurora approached the transport, their relationship never more obvious than when they stood side by side. The slight gray of her hair and the mature planes of her face the only real difference between mother and daughter. They were the same height, had the same incredible bodies and the same incredible eyes. She smiled at the two women and kissed her lover softly as they boarded and prepared for the flight out to Mhyr. Mhyr had been given no news of Tristian's condition or her current status. Sidell smiled inwardly as she tucked herself against her lover's tall frame and settled into the flight.

Staunton Greir and Vernid Lionae stood at the bottom of the transport ramp waiting to greet the visitors from Dyan. Althea Lionae stood with her guardians ringing the landing pad. Staunton smiled as Emma and Sidell stepped out and moved to join them. Her jaw dropped, as Tristian and Aurora appeared next. "Alwyn bless, they could pass for twins."

Emma eyed her coldly, "Considering Aurora is her Sire it's not surprising, Staunton. I'd suggest you close you mouth and keep your comments to yourself. Aurora is still quite upset that her daughter was almost killed here and she will not be pleased to see Althea."

As she spoke, Aurora's gaze pinned the suddenly terrified Commander. Althea eased away from the landing pad upon seeing Aurora's return and the obvious affection the two women held for each other. She cursed her dead officers, Tristian was supposed to be killed or crippled for life. Instead, she looked none the worse for wear.

"Let's see about your horses," Aurora suggested as the two of them moved down the ramp. "We'll let Emma and Sidell worry about pandering to these fools."

"Aye, Sire. I also need to stop by the house and pick up some of my gear. Until Mother's made a decision, we'll leave everything the way it is." Tristian agreed and turned to Sidell for confirmation.

Sidell grinned gently, "Sounds good to me but don't send the horses off, Aurora. I want to take a look at the wall Tristian found. We can ride out once you two are done."

Emma turned cold gray eyes to Staunton and Vernid. "We'll continue our efforts to contain the raiders, Leader. Once Tristian is done here, she and Sidell will be riding out to take a look at whatever Tristian found. We'll not be back again unless Selene decides to join us and Aurora will probably help her pack and move. I'd suggest, Vernid, you keep your cowardly offspring far away from Aurora and her heir. We of Dyan do not take kindly to attempted murder." She looked around for Althea and snorted, "Although, Mhyr apparently thinks there is nothing wrong with it."

"Emma," Staunton stammered, "We...had no proof. Sidell used magic to force the confession...we have no way of knowing if it was true or not."

Emma halted her daughter's retort and glared at Staunton. "Never call Sidell a liar, Staunton, not if you wish to see the morrow. For now, I've briefed you and I've nothing else to say to you. We'll meet with Tristian and Aurora and be gone before long." Emma stalked away leaving Sidell eyeing Staunton and Vernid as if they were herdbeast droppings. She snorted in disgust and moved to meet up with her lover.

"Wait," Vernid called timidly. "Tristian is the Heir to the House of Mardred? Truly?"

Sidell smiled evilly, "You wish to call Aurora a liar now? Shall I pass that on to her?"

"No," Vernid paled, "It's just...we need to hold a trial."


"The attempt on her life," Vernid murmured.

"Why? Because she is a Mardred?"

"Of course. That can't be allowed."

"And if she wasn't would you have bothered?"

"We'd...have looked into it," Vernid muttered.

"Right," Sidell snickered. "Hold whatever trial you wish. We will be gone and we don't really care what happens to Althea or your nobles."

Tristian returned the greetings she received amiably, but couldn't deny the tense tightening of her gut as she walked briskly through the crowded colony. She'd always felt like that and really never knew she could be more relaxed until the time she spent in Dyan. Now she knew...the twisting knot in her gut was her reaction to the crowded Holding and the waves of intolerance, fear, and anger that emanated off the people. "I'll be happy to get home," she murmured softly.

Aurora smiled, catching her daughter's soft words. Home. Yes, she couldn't wait to get Tristian home either. She should have never been in this bigoted colony. Never had to tolerate the hatred and prejudices practiced here. Her anger at Selene flared again and Aurora tamped it down. Spilled milk. Giving vent to her anger would not change anything. She wrapped an arm across her daughter's broad back and grounded herself in the reality of her living, breathing offspring.

Tristian grinned shyly at her and led them into the tiny cottage she and Selene shared.

"Were you happy here, Tristian?" Aurora asked gently. She watched Tristian move through the little cottage, gathering her clothes and weapons.

Tristian paused in her packing and looked out the window. "I...was not unhappy, Sire. At least, I didn't realize I was as a youngster." She smiled wistfully, "Here, as a commoner, not much was expected of us and we were free to wander and play at our leisure. I helped my dad with his craft and mom insisted on my being educated. I think, that is the primary source of the problems I experienced here. Most of the commoners are," she hesitated, "Not stupid but...not book smart." She looked up at her Sire, "Does that make sense? They learn everything they need to know to work in whatever field was chosen for them but...no more." She chuckled softly, "I, on the other hand, was tutored far in excess of what the nobles are taught and that caused me all kinds of trouble as I got older." She grinned, "But in answer to your question...I suppose I was."

"You say, 'as a youngster'," Aurora pressed further.

Tristian nodded, "As I got older, there was so much more that I wanted to do. So much that I thought could be changed to help the people here live better lives. Knowing that I had no chance to even try and make a difference...that was hard on me. I...was considering leaving when this raider trouble came up."


"Yeah. Thought I'd try Darena or something. The problem was that I like what I do. I like being a warrior and Darena...even Dram and Widden, don't really have a large force of warriors. They've got local authorities but from what I've seen, you pretty much had to be part of the family to get in." Tristian chuckled, "Actually, I was thinking of looking for Dyan. I didn't figure I had much to lose and it would have been an adventure to remember."

Aurora chuckled, "You would have been welcomed."

Tristian looked at her in surprise.

"You would have. Even if no one knew you are my heir, you are a woman, strong, sound and impressive. Where ever you had crossed, they'd have snatched you up and welcomed you with open arms."

Tristian laughed, "I never considered that. I figured they'd haul me before some kind of council and I'd have to plead my case. Being a commoner, I wasn't sure I could find a better place but...by then, anything was better than being here."


A knocking on the door interrupted Aurora's statement. Twin expressions of raised brows caused the two women to laugh at themselves and Tristian sealed the final box. "Let me get that, I'm done if you want to send these off."

Tristian opened the door to Staunton Grier and Vernid Lionae. Her implacable mask fell into place and she met their inquiring gazes with a cool look of utter boredom.

"Yes..." Lionae purred, "Tristian...uhm...we'd like a word with your sire...and yourself of course."

Aurora heard the grating voice and she turned to the door. She found Tristian looking at her in question. "Tristian, how do you feel about talking to them?"

Tristian considered the question and shrugged, "Given my druthers, Sire, I 'druther not."

Aurora grinned, "Good, then tell them so and send them away. We're due at the stables shortly, Sidell and Emma are probably waiting for us."

Tristian turned to her visitors, "Apologies to both of you but we're in a rush and have no time to chat."

"It's important," Lionae insisted.

"That can't be," Aurora inserted smoothly. She knew that Tristian would need more time to absorb the fact that she was no longer bound to these fools and...if looked at from Mhyr's point of view, Tristian actually out ranked both of them. She was willing to give Tristian all the time she'd need. "That can't be," she repeated. "See, Tristian does not have anything important to say to either of you and neither do I. Since we are the only two people of importance present, your comment is a blatant falsehood."

Tristian bit her lip to keep from snickering and felt Aurora's hand on her back propelling her forward. They exited and Aurora secured the house with a mage shield as Staunton stood quietly while Lionae sputtered.

They took their leave and Tristian snorted in amusement.

Aurora grinned, "Never forget, Tristian. You answer to no one but yourself now. I know it will take awhile, but I want to impress that fact on you."


They made good time and Tristian brought them to a grassy knoll that ended in a clear stream filled pool. The two women worked well together and Tristian was pleased to find that Sidell was not quite the hopeless noble she expected to be escorting. Of course, she suspected that already but it was nice to have her suspicions confirmed. As Sidell built up the fire Tristian returned with a plump rabbit for dinner. With the meal simmering, the women took the time to play in the cool water.

"Yah," Sidell screeched as a wave of water swamped her. Green eyes glinted in competitive fire and she launched herself at her chuckling companion.

Tristian caught her easily without losing her footing and simply wrapped long arms around the smaller woman.

"S'not fair," Sidell complained. "You're bigger than I am."

"And who started the water fight, little imp?"

"Well, I didn't think you could move the whole pond."

Tristian laughed at this massive exaggeration and long fingers tickled the soft skin pressed against her. Sidell squirmed and glared up at her tormentor.

Green eyes swallowed her whole and Tristian forgot about tickling her companion as her head lowered to taste the honey soft lips.

Sidell hummed her approval of the change in activity.

"You are beautiful, m'lady," Tristian murmured, her companion backlit in the fading sunlight was surrounded by a golden glow. Tristian couldn't look away and found herself drawn forward again.

"And you," Sidell murmured, "Are a vision in my shadowed dreams, a taunting flicker of dark fire and danger, a shade that calls to my heart, the other half of my soul. Love me, Tristian. Make love to me, now. "


They were cutting across the land on a direct path to the mountain when Tristian pulled up shortly. They'd been out three days and Sidell couldn't have said when she'd had a better time. Their days were spent in getting to know each other. How they worked together and in Sidell marveling at the ease Tristian fit into the wild. Their nights were spent in passion and a more passionate lover she'd never had. Tristian could be gentle one minute and rough and demanding the next. But never did Sidell feel afraid and she was never harmed. Well, she might have been tender in some places but that was enjoyable for both of them.

Now she watched the feral glare in her lover's eyes as Tristian's nostrils flared to taste the scent on the wind. Her ears pricked forward, reminding Sidell of the wolf she closely associated her lover with, and she stood as still as a tree while her body absorbed the signals of the forest.

"Smoke," Tristian muttered, "I'd say they struck again. Off to the north but I'm not sure how far"

Sidell nodded in easy acceptance of her lover's news. She didn't doubt Tristian but realized they may not be in time to help. "Let's head for the mountain. Maybe we can intercept them."

They rode in silence now. Tristian's every sense focused on identifying possible danger. They had agreed that Sidell would not use her gift until they knew what was happening. No sense in alerting a mage if one was about. Sidell felt as if she was riding blind and she didn't care for it. Her gift was as natural as sight to her and having to contain it left her feeling particularly vulnerable. Only her trust in her lover kept her from unleashing her gift. Tristian pulled up on the low side of a rising ridge. "They should be on the other side," she whispered helping Sidell down. The two women belly crawled to the top and looked down at the trail below them.

A line of straggling mounted and armed soldiers were strung out along the trail. Cages of people rolled by and the herdstock brought up the rear of the entourage.

They waited until the final soldier passed and Sidell put her hand out to halt Tristian's retreat down the hill. "Wait, watch."

And older woman shuffled along the path, muttering in a singsong voice that was almost but not quite a chant. As the woman moved the telltale signs of passage faded from the ground.

Now the two women moved quickly. Tristian took them farther away from the trail but kept an almost direct path to the mountains they were all headed for. "I think we can beat them. We must hurry but their pace will take them at least the better part of today."

Sidell nodded and exerted her energy in maintaining the pace her lover had set.

They arrived at the entrance and Tristian scouted quickly to ensure no one was there to surprise them. They set the horses back away from the site and found a hidden alcove in the craggy mountainside to hole up in. The first people they saw were two young women. The set of their faces belied the innocence of their youth. One of them moved up to the large rock face and she began a singsong chant.

"Damn," Sidell muttered. "We need to move. Need to get behind them, Tristian. I've got to see what she's doing."

Tristian was not pleased. There weren't many places to hide on the open ground and moving now could be foolhardy. The set look in the green eyes gazing at her made the point moot and she eased down, crawling carefully. Keeping to the hollows in the ground and the small boulders lying about on the ground. She trusted in Sidell to follow and keep her head down. They moved slowly but steadily and the two women appeared to be in some kind of trance.

Sidell had been listening to the chant so that she could repeat enough of it to help her research it on her return to Dyan. She set herself to allow her to watch the rock face. She switched to her mage sight hoping it was passive enough to not cause a stir in the swirling eddies of energy.

Her magesight saw a construct of thinly linked energy lines forming an arch. In the center of the arch was a five-starred emblem. The chant caused the different points of the emblem to flare in pulsing power. Sidell now new she needed to get the chant right since it appeared to be the key to the gate they were looking at. She concentrated and allowed the chant to flow through her absorbing it as she had so many mage lessons before it was almost instinctive. Her conscious mind would never remember but her gift would and she could coax it out at a later date. She felt Tristian tense but not a sound came from her as the rock face disappeared and the women looked onto a verdant green plateau. Tristian eased away from Sidell as hoof beats came down the trail. She set herself in a position to defend her lover should it become necessary.

Sidell rose swiftly and moved to confront the two mages, leaving Tristian shaking her head in sad acceptance. "Damn."

A shout from the trail brought Tristian out of hiding and she met the riders head on leaving Sidell to face the mages. A shattering clap of thunder sounded and Tristian found herself surrounded by armed women.

She turned to find Maria at her side.

Maria winked at her, "Pretty neat trick, eh?"

Tristian grinned and turned to the leader thundering down the path. She ran forward and met the leader in a flying leap that took them both over his horse. She landed upright and buried her knee in the back of his neck as they hit hearing the satisfying snap of his neck.

"Yes," Maria cheered her on before turning to find her own opponent.

Tristian couldn't help the grin that came to her face at the looks of admirable approval she received from the scouts. She shook her head and entered the fray.

The soldiers pulled back to regroup after the furious initial clash. Over half of them lay injured or dead. Tristian found a youngster grinning up at her panting softly. "Commander, permission to release the captives?"

Bemused she could only nod. "Take five more with you and what is your name?"

"Werinth, Commander. It shall be done."

The party disappeared into the woods and Maria came up beside her. "I think we can handle this Tristian, you'd best see if you can help Sidell. It would appear she's bit off a bit more than she could chew." Maria grinned, "Again."

Tristian cursed and turned to find the eldest of the women had now joined the first two. The three formed a triangle around Sidell and the energy of the battle was clearly taking its toll.

She looked at Maria briefly and grabbed her bow. "Give me that."

"Aye, Commander," Maria grinned, handing over bow and quiver.

Staying out of direct sight, Tristian notched an arrow. She had no idea if this would work but she hoped the mages were too busy to guard against a physical attack. Sighting quickly, two more arrows at the ready, she aimed and released in three even pulls. Two dropped screaming but the third turned to her in anger. A ball of flame shot from the mage's hand heading at her. Before she could leap clear, a rush of energy surrounded her and the flames burst harmlessly around her. The mage screamed as she was lifted bodily and smashed down across a nearby boulder. Tristian didn't need to hear the snap to know her back was broken. Another burst of energy came from one of the mages hit by an arrow, it was countered and thrown back, the woman shrieked in agony as the flames engulfed her. Sidell looked tired but okay and she waved Tristian on to the fight behind her while she finished up.

Tristian turned but Maria had everything in hand so she ran down to check on the captives.

"Thomas," an elderly woman cried as she came into sight.

"Adeena," Tristian hurried forward to hug the woman an offer comfort. "Adeena, I'm sorry."

"No...we're fine. You were on time, Thomas. Thank the Mother they let you back out in the field."

"What happened?"

"They came screaming out with the dawn. Had us rounded up and in the cages before we could think to fight back. My husband got his head cracked but other than that we're fine. They burnt everything, Thomas. Everything."

"You live, Adeena. That's what's important."

The woman sniffed in contemplation and sighed. "Aye. At least we can start again." Sons and daughters gathered around ensuring they were all right. Grandkids were hugged and reassured and Tristian set Adeena down on the cart bed.

"Did they say anything?"

"Didn't understand them, Thomas. They talked a lot but I don't know what they were saying. They ended up just poking at us to get us to move."


Tristian turned to find Maria looking at her expectantly. "Secure the prisoners, Maria. I want to transport them back to Dyan. See to the injured and set a few of your people to take the bars off these carts. Maria, where is Sidell?"

"Coming. She wanted to secure that last mage to send to Aurora."

Tristian nodded. "Send her here when she's done, Maria."

"I'm done, Tristian," Sidell answered softly moving to stand in her lover's embrace.

Tristian hugged her tight. "I should spank you, dammit. What the hell kind of plan was that?"

Maria snorted in amusement and moved off to attend to her orders.

"Plan?" Sidell asked mischievously. "You mean I gotta have a plan?"

Tristian sighed and just buried her face in Sidell's hair, happy enough that her lover was safe. "Come on, you. Let's help these people home. Did you take care of those mages?"

"Yes. Sent them to Dyan. Aurora will deal with the two still living."

"Alright," Tristian walked up the woman she spoke with earlier. "Adeena, this is Sidell. You can thank her for your freedom."

"I'll thank you both. If you're ever in the area stop by. Whatever we have is yours as you need it."

Sidell smiled and took the woman's hand, "Just be safe, Adeena. You and yours, be safe and happy."

"Commander, the carts are ready."

"Adeena can you get yourselves home?"

Adeena seemed to find this amusing and chuckled. "We can find our way home and with those scum handled, we'll be fine." She moved off to get her family and livestock rounded up. They'd make camp soon but she wanted away from this strange place.

Tristian turned to look at the now solid rock face and back to Sidell.

"Later," her lover promised. "I'll explain it when we get this settled." She looked at the women milling around. "I thought I'd send them and their prisoners back while we continue on through the gate." She eyed her taller companion.

"Send half of them back. Keep Maria and another five of her choice. Since you don't care to plan in advance, I'd rather have them with us when you decide to jump head first into trouble."

Sidell pouted prettily while Maria chortled.

They formed a semi-circle around Sidell as she opened the gate. Again they looked out at a green plateau. Maria moved around and looked into the gate, shifting the angle of her view. "You know...if I'm not mistaken, we're looking at the southern tip of Dyan." She turned back to Sidell who shrugged.

"Well," Tristian sighed, "how about we enter before something comes out to meet us?"

Maria led off, the scouts forming a protective ring around their Heir and Commander. Tristian growled a low command, backing them off of her and leaving her room to move. Sidell smirked at her.

They stepped onto the plateau and found it empty. A worn path led into a thick copse of trees and beyond they could see a plain full of grass. Sidell turned to check her lover. Tristian stood quietly, but every muscle in her body was tense. Her head was cocked at an angle and she appeared to be listening intently. Sidell moved closer, carefully, and rested a hand on her lover's arm. She could feel the pulsing tension flowing through her lover's powerful frame. "Tristian?"

Before Sidell could decide on further action a shield of unknown power surrounded her lover and threw Sidell back. Maria turned to the path as the sounds of a wagon rushing down towards them drifted towards her on the wind.

Tristian felt the rush of energy and she halted, her head cocked trying to identify the source, she paused her senses fully engaged when suddenly her world exploded. Colors, vivid, unimaginable colors swirled around her, a bountiful feast of beauty that threatened to overload the senses. She couldn't move, couldn't speak, the world spun and pulled her in, she fought and set herself and she felt her aura beginning to scatter. Willpower alone held her being together and she felt the overwhelming pull ease, the spinning stop. She noticed a flickering light darting amongst the colors, coming closer, nearer; she waited patiently and was unsurprised when it stopped at eye level. "Welcome home, BondedOne. Welcome home."

Continued in Part 3

The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive