Anur bit his tongue to keep from screaming as the red-robes tied him to the pyre, a six-year-old boy bound next to him. The child had detected him as a holder of witchpowers somehow, Anur would guess Farsight or Mindspeech of some sort, and been condemned for his honesty because he couldn't explain how he "just knew". Those bastards.
He'd broken after the second day, revealing he was a Herald which really didn't help matters, it just made it harder for Aelius to get anywhere near the town without being detected. He had begged Aelius to get himself out, the Companion agreeing he would, if he at least tried to contact Sunpriest Dinesh by Fetching a letter to him. Anur had agreed, Fetching the very barely coded letter to him that first night imprisoned and sending it to "the nearest mail carrier to Sunpriest Kir Dinesh".
The letter had actually gone somewhere, to his surprise, but he didn't hold out much hope. Blind Fetching was more of a miraculous series of coincidences than anything, and he was in the wrong country for miracles.
Then it turned out Aelius had no intention of actually leaving, not until he was dead and there was no hope left. Gods please let Aelius get out, getting this child killed along with him was bad enough.
He ignored the priest denouncing him and the corrupted innocent, apparently witch-powers were infectious now, and shored up as many mental blocks between himself and Aelius as he could. He didn't want his Companion to feel this alongside him.
Torches were lowered by the acolytes, one actually from the village and looking pale, the others traveling with the red-robe and looking blank. They were barely adults themselves, gods what was wrong with this country?
He couldn't restrain his sharp inhale when the tarred wood caught light, child next to him whimpering, only to blink in surprise when the flames roared up in a perfect ring around the edge of the pyre – hot, but not actually burning them. "What the - ?" he murmured, staring incredulously at the flames and hearing startled shouts and screams from outside.
:CHOSEN!: a triumphant scream pounded through his mind, flames parting and his Companion, mounted by a white-clad and masked figure, plunged through the gap. A lash of flame snaked out and destroyed the ropes tying him and, blood pumping, Anur didn't even feel his injuries as he reached up to pull himself behind the other rider. With a smooth swoop, the rider scooped the child up in front of him and Aelius whirled, launching out of the flaming ring unerringly, gap appearing before them only to close behind.
The rider pointed at the Sunpriests, and roared, "FOR VALDEMAR!" as they charged off, flames leaping in the direction of his gesture and the red-robes shouting as they struggled to shed their heavy and now flaming robes. That should at least delay pursuit.
And Anur recognized that voice. "Sunpriest?" he gasped incredulously, Aelius plunging into the scrub, clearly having a destination in mind.
"Herald," Kir Dinesh replied.
One Day Ago…
Kir found a long-unused chapel a few leagues north of Brook. It was within a day's ride of the Hardornen border, so it had probably been abandoned soon after the raids began with regularity. Official war or no, border people were not stupid. He had taken a circuitous route, and made sure to remove Riva's tracks as he went in to inspect the town on foot. It had been three days since his departure from the unit, red-robes abandoned for simple homespun he had always kept a set of. Firestarters were expected to go to any lengths for their calling, so undercover clothes were not unusual, except for the fact that few Firestarters would deign to take even a temporary drop in status.
He had been eyeing the town from a perch in trees around the fields, noting with some trepidation that a large pyre was being built at the steps of the cathedral. On the one hand, the Herald was probably still here. On the other, he had really hoped to avoid this decision.
He sighed heavily. As soon as he had resolved to come and check on the situation, the outcome was inevitable.
A whicker startled him from his thoughts on just how he would manage this, and he looked down into dull blue eyes. Flinching away, he looked at the village, then back down at the dirty white horse-shaped being below him. "Witch-horse?" he whispered, the beast nodding.
His shoulders slumped. It had been a very, very slim hope.
Climbing down easily, tail-hair Sun-in-Glory hanging heavily around his neck, he stared at the decidedly not awe-inspiring horse. It looked exhausted and desperate, giving him a look he had last seen on an animal gored by bandits.
"Is the Herald still alive?" he asked, beast nodding again. "To burn when? Tonight?"
A no, tomorrow then, at high noon.
A nod. Fantastic. The blasted beast was reading his mind. Scowling at it, he pointed at it accusingly and said, "I ask yes or no questions, you at least grant me the illusion of privacy. Yes?"
A nod. He frowned at the saddle-less creature, an idea slowly starting to gestate in his mind. It would get the Herald out, and keep suspicion from falling on him.
"Have you packs?" he asked, trying not to think too hard on his idea unless it flutter away – it was so tenuous.
The beast nodded slowly and Kir almost smiled. This just might work. "Take me to them," he ordered sternly and the beast nodded, turning to stand beside him in a clear invitation to mount.
Kir felt his heart start to race, fists clenched as he looked over at the creature's neck, "It is far?"
A nod. Fantastic. He stared at the broad white back and sighed, muttering, "I suppose I'm condemned either way. What's one more heresy?"
Hopping on easily, he twisted his fingers in the animal's mane and when he was just settled the beast launched into a lope, the smoothest he'd ever sat. Hmph. Too smooth. If all the creature's gaits were like this, it was no wonder Heralds were so hard to unseat.
The next morning found him lurking in the trees again, Witch-horse saddled and him wearing one of the spare uniforms he had hoped to find in the pack, a scarf wrapped around his face and hair, leaving only his eyes showing. With many yes or no questions and a few scraped words in dirt, they had assembled a rough plan of action. Apparently the Herald was not speaking to the Witch-horse, in an attempt to keep it from feeling his pain.
Kir ground his teeth, shifting in the saddle uncomfortably. Sunhame priests, damn them all. You burned witches, you did not torture them first!
He saw the Herald dragged out, tied to the pyre and snarled when he saw the tiny figure dragged up to be tied next to him. A child! They were burning a child! May they freeze eternally, the Sunlord turn his face from them and grant them no mercy, a child!
He barely even noticed that the Witch-horse had begun his charge, people screaming and dodging as he wrenched control of the fire from the poor excuse of a Firestarter and forced the blaze to attack those who had started it, parting before him as they plunged onto the pyre. One lash cut the bonds and the Herald pulled himself up behind him with little aid, Witch-horse pivoting to flee the moment he pulled the child up in front of him and launching through parted flames again.
Unable to curse as he wished, he settled for shouting, "FOR VALDEMAR!" when he set the flames on them, unable to suppress a smile at the Herald's incredulous, "Sunpriest?"