Dirk, Herald of Valdemar

Talia safely ensconced with the Queen and trying to work out the details of this thing with the newly chosen Prince of Rethwallen, check. Healers and assistants freshly rotated and stocked for another mark at least, check. Space set aside for the unwounded members of the Skybolts and Rethwallen army outside the walls, check. Food and other rations sent out to all parties, double check.

Dirk rested his hands on his hips and surveyed the guard post a hefty part of the army had descended upon. It was a little far from the actual conflict, the more seriously wounded taken to keeps and posts closer to the fight itself, but the men here were fresh and that was an important consideration with high ranking members of two nations' courts present.

They had also received some concerning reports regarding Griffon and he was an important enough part of their defenses against Ancar that more than just personal friends and Heralds were anxious to check on him. Fortunate in one aspect, unfortunate in that it meant personal friends with no official connection had a hard time getting access to him in the first moments of their arrival.

Hence, Dirk's checklist. He needed something to keep him busy and distract him from the wild rumors of firestorms and near suicide he'd been hearing, and while he knew Griffon was alive (and well, aside from a vicious headache still fading a couple of days after the incident itself) seeing a report get collected by the Queen was not the same as checking in on his student personally.

But it was well into the morning of their second day, surely Griffon would be available now!

:Ahrodie?: he asked, his Companion immediately understanding what he wanted (he'd only been whining about it for most of yesterday) and replying, :They're lurking in the training arena, the mucky one.:

:They?: Dirk mused, Ahrodie understanding he didn't want a reply, he'd rather see them for himself, and letting the rhetorical question go unanswered.

A spring in his step as he walked through the barracks, he returned nods and greetings but didn't pause in his walk towards the arena Ahrodie indicated. It had been a long time since he'd had time to talk with Griffon – the Herald had come to Haven this past Midwinter but had spent much of the time either lurking in the snow practicing or locked up in War Councils, so they'd barely had time to wave and exchange greetings.

And, he thought ruefully, it looked like not much changed when Griffon was down at the border, judging by that oddly shaped fire in front of the three men on the far side of the arena. He noted with approval that there were three buckets of water sitting nearby – good, Griffon practicing this winter had apparently ended in some… interesting damage. A pair of spotters and some water was a very good idea.

And speaking of the spotters, was that…? It was!

"Anur Bellamy!" Dirk called, grinning as he strode across the field and gladly shaking his old yearmate's hand, pulling him into a back-slapping hug, "It has been too long! The wedding, right? And then I think I barely spoke to you – good to see you again! And Griff! Practicing again, I see. It's good to see you again too, you look exhausted. And I'm afraid we've never been introduced. I'm Herald Dirk." He held out a hand to the stranger, who was eyeing him curiously and noticeably paused before returning the gesture and shaking his hand, saying, "Kir Dinesh, Firestarter."

Blinking for a moment, it took Dirk a bit to make the connection. "That's right!" he said, looking between an oddly stand-offish Anur – the Anur he remembered had made friends with anything that moved – and the understandably cautious priest. "You made friends with a Sunpriest Firestarter – exchanging tips with Griffon? I can't thank you enough, I was his instructor initially but I'll be the first to admit that my detailed knowledge of Firestarting couldn't fill a small pamphlet. Firestarters on Griff's scale are just too rare."

The priest replied with a wordless hum of acknowledgement, white sun motif glistening on his chest – it was a beautiful piece of work. Griffon at least seemed happy to see him, cheerfully teasing him about Talia while Dirk took a seat next to him, rolling his eyes all the while. His wife's yearmates and Skif had taken great pleasure in playing up the overprotective older brothers on him and kept it up on occasion.

"Now what's this I hear about a firestorm consuming half of Hardorn?" Dirk frowned at his student, worry surging at the slightly guilty look on Griffon's face. "Ahrodie says Harevis was in a panic, are you sure you're all right?"

"We're all fine," Griffon replied with a tight smile, shadows Dirk had ignored earlier darkening his gaze again and Dirk wanted to rail against something that Griffon had ever been pulled in to kill with his Gift. "Just – had a bit of a breakthrough, and it got a little out of control. Kir was with Anur when we sent out that distress call and they were able to get through and help."

Kir, Sunpriest of Karse

Kir had looked up from the fire he was manipulating with Griffon when Anur had tensed beside him, not surprised to see the cause was another Herald walking towards them. For an order professing to be brothers and sisters with one another, his shield-brother seemed to have quite a few problems with his witch-horse chosen family. Their first day had been spent with Griffon trying to drown himself in willowbark tea and Kir struggling to stay upright while Anur fended off frustrated demands for an explanation from a Herald Lenora.

It was unfortunate that Second Scout Sescha had been long gone by the time they returned, Kir could have used the distraction.

The second day had been tense – everyone packing up to head out for the fight near Iftel while he and Griffon both tried to drown themselves in willowbark and Anur ran interference – which had suddenly reversed when news of an unlikely victory arrived. Apparently the timely arrival of the Rethwallen army had been essential, so at least Kir's multi-day sprint and Fury slaughter had been worth the effort.

Two days after that, Kir at least had recovered enough that he could manipulate flames with no problems even if something on the scale of the firestorm would take a few more days to build up to and the higher ranks of uninjured arrived at camp to straighten out what would happen next. Griffon had been called into report, still wincing at loud noises and bright lights, while Kir and Anur had quite happily made themselves useful without drawing any attention.

Now Griffon had finally recovered enough to want to think about firestarting again and he had asked for some control exercises to continue the progress he'd made during the storm. They'd only just gotten everything ready and begun discussing exercises when the new Herald showed up and Anur completely froze.

"Is that was this is then?" the new Herald, Dirk (and that name was familiar, Kir noted sourly) asked, indicating the small fire in front of them, "Practice? Should you really be doing that so soon, you were still wincing yesterday."

"It's simply a theoretical discussion on his part," Kir inserted, "I am performing demonstrations and it is much easier to do when I am not generating the flames on my own."

"I'm just listening and remembering," Griffon agreed, shrugging as he continued, "My head's still aching, just not as bad. I won't be actually trying any of this for a few more days at least – weeks if I can manage it."

"So what sort of exercises are they?" Dirk asked curiously, leaning forward to look around Griffon, bracing himself on his knees. "When I was training Griffon we were mostly focused on lighting and putting out fires on various materials at different distances – were we missing something?"

"For purely practical uses? No," Kir replied dryly, "But for any sort of improvement of understanding? Yes. I take it you were not encouraged to – experiment."

"Not outside of class or without spotters or something," Griffon shrugged, continuing, "We also didn't really have much time for practicing – at least not for Firestarting, it was a little volatile to practice independently and making schedules match up was always a challenge."

As much as Heralds and Valdemar seemed to rely on their witch-powers, they really didn't put much effort into truly understanding them, Kir reflected, which was a shame. They were missing so very much of the background information and even the inclination to apply what they knew creatively – maybe there were exceptions, individuals who explored and worked at their powers, but that knowledge wasn't passed on in any organized fashion, witch-horse collective aside.

"What you are missing is control," Kir finally said, directing his statement to Griffon, "You have plenty of raw power – if anything, excessive raw power. But you are wasting it. When I mentioned my own techniques too you, I had not expected your first true use of it to be in the middle of a combat situation which I should have considered, so for that I apologize. What you need to do now is regain your control and improve it dramatically. On a large scale, you have it. Even medium scale, such as this," he indicated the flames in front of them.

"But small scale? Candles and such?" he shook his head, "You've lost it, if you ever had it. I feel certain you did when you started but as you built your power reserves you started losing your finer tuned capabilities – especially in a war like this where your massive destruction capabilities are more applicable."

"The best control exercises are flashy little pieces," Kir continued, smiling ruefully and twitching his fingers, strand of flame unwinding towards him and coiling through his fingers without burning him. He held the flame-wrapped hand out and watched in satisfaction as Griffon and Dirk's jaws dropped, Anur smiling beside him.

"Showmanship," he shrugged, flicking his fingers and sending the flames up, arching down into the main body of the fire after forming a bird, the flame construct flapping its wings a few times before merging into the fire again. Anur twitched his own fingers and a new log deposited itself in the flames.

"That was amazing," Griffon breathed, eyes filled with a longing Kir recognized. He had always found fire beautiful – its sounds, movements, colors – the sheer variety available to flames, it was amazing. But most of his fires' purposes were so ugly, especially after his ordaining, that it had taken conscious effort to not begin to hate his talent, to feel bitter about his ability for flames.

It had gotten easier, after saving Anur and Asher. He could only imagine how Griffon must feel: the Herald had never had a truly useless use for his talent, nothing frivolous his witch-power could be used for. Flames needed a purpose to be safe, and with the narrow focus he had been taught it would be difficult to realize that being beautiful was sometimes enough of a purpose on its own.

The fact that they were excellent control exercises was a happy side-effect in Kir's opinion. It just made it more likely that Griffon would actually practice at this, with something that solid, that desirable waiting for him at the end of the process.

"I wish I could practice now," Griffon said wistfully, looking at the flames, "But my headache is still there and it's just not worth the risk right now."

"Definitely not," Kir agreed. The headache had been brutal and Griffon's had been worse, with how it was lingering.

"That is truly impressive," the other Herald said, expression openly impressed, "I hadn't realized that was even possible with the firestarting Gift."

Kir only inclined his head, suppressing the desire to demand just how this man had taught Griffon. Certainly, he hadn't been afraid of him and that was important, Griffon wasn't truly afraid of his ability, not until he'd lost control of it, but had he no interest in asking why or how? What sort of records did these people have – Kir knew damn well there were Firestarters, powerful ones, in the Heraldic past. That one at Burning Pines was certainly impressive, surely his techniques had been recorded for posterity!

Given Griffon's apparent dislike for the history books, Kir would have to wait until he somehow got to Haven to look for the information himself.

Because that would be happening anytime soon.

Griffon and Dirk were soon absorbed in a conversation about how he might best practice these techniques and how they could record them for future firestarters. Kir left them to it and took the opportunity to turn to a strangely quiet Anur and ask lowly in Karsite, "Are you all right?"

Anur hesitated, before half-heartedly shrugging with a rueful smile on his face, replying in kind, "Just… uncomfortable. Lenora wasn't too happy with me, I sort of stormed out of here to go to you – we weren't doing anything, we were just sitting around waiting and there were plenty of people here to relay messages from the Queen and you needed my help but they were all saying I should just sit around and wait – I didn't agree. And he – well, you remember the story. Haven't really talked with him since, just – don't feel right, I guess."

"He doesn't appear to hold a grudge," Kir pointed out and Anur sighed. "Yeah, I know," he said, "He doesn't. Ahrodie was – well, she wasn't happy with me for a while. But… um… she's over it, I think. Doesn't give me dirty looks in the stables anyway. But I just – don't feel right."

"Well, you can always come to Karse," Kir offered, lips quirking into a smile, "At least then you know pretty much everyone is trying to kill you."

Anur huffed a laugh, saying wryly, "Honestly? If I had something other than Whites I'd go for it – I could definitely sell it as a short term espionage mission to determine the reason the mages couldn't get into Valdemar but could pass through Karse."

"...that's why they -? Never mind. You can explain that later, but first, are you serious? You'd actually – come to Karse? Just like that?"

"Well not for long, obviously, and I only have Whites and they're a little obvious so it's a moot point anyway," Anur shrugged, "No cover ready or anything, it'd never work."

Kir hesitated, shooting a quick glance to Griffon and Dirk who were now debating… scented wood types? Well, they were busy at least. Decided, he got to his feet and offered Anur a hand, saying, "Come on, I have something for you."

They both bid a brief farewell to the now distracted duo and Anur followed him all the way back to his own quarters, Kir sharing with him again. It was just easier for all concerned and more secure for his own peace of mind.

He pulled out his packs and Anur waited until the door had shut before fairly exploding in curiosity, hovering over his shoulder and near bouncing in place as he watched Kir pull things out of his bags. "Oh shove off," Kir chided, shoving him back slightly, "I can't think with you hovering like that."

"What is it – is that a Sunsguard uniform?" Anur asked, Kir shoving the bundle of clothes into his arms and herding him into the bathroom, Anur getting the point and reemerging in his new uniform.

"So why the uniform?" Anur asked, Kir pacing around him to check the fit. He had managed surprisingly well – the boots he had actually checked sizing on but the rest was all estimated.

"Oh, an idea I had after you snuck in last fall," Kir replied absently, straightening a few creases and folds before stepping back to survey his work, "Thought you could use an actual cover if you came and did that again. Took some time to arrange everything – papers to file, uniforms to acquire, hackamores to make – you can get a plain saddle for the witch-horse, can't you?"

"Easily enough," Anur nodded, tilting his head curiously as Kir pulled out a sash of red with gold embroidery along one end – it looked like a sun motif. "What's that for?"

Kir chuckled, tying it across his chest from left shoulder to right hip with a flat knot that left the embroidered end fluttering by his thigh. "That," Kir said, standing back with his hands on his hips to take in the full picture, "Is the final touch. It, along with those lieutenant ranking bars, marks you as an Enforcer."

"…I'm not familiar with that rank," Anur admitted.

Kir shrugged and dropped into the one chair, Anur settling on the bed across from him, fiddling with his new sash. "I'm not surprised," Kir replied, "It is a very rare designation. Only Firestarters can invest them, the First Order Firestarters can invest two, all others – there are three degrees – can only invest one a piece. Technically I can invest as many as I want, but the standard is two – that's the historical maximum."

"What are their duties? No offense but… the name and being chosen by Firestarters doesn't exactly inspire confidence."

"It shouldn't," Kir agreed, nodding, "Enforcers duties basically amount to ensuring Firestarters don't need to set everything on fire in the course of their own duties. Enforcement of will, essentially. You are considered a liaison of sorts, between myself and the Sunsguard, but I would assume Enforcers are even further outcast than Sunpriests."

"That would make more sense," Anur agreed, tugging at a sleeve thoughtfully, "But since I would be reporting directly to you, I would be under your protection, basically. Because who would accuse a Firestarter of choosing a Demon Rider as an Enforcer?"

Kir smirked, "Exactly."

"For short-term scenarios, it's perfect," Anur grinned, examining his new uniform cheerfully, "So, when do we leave?"

Greich, Sergeant of the Sunsguard

Given the fact they had just dodged opening a second front on a war they were already struggling with, Greich was feeling unusually tolerant for assorted mischief and misfortune.

Unfortunately, it always seemed the moment any tolerance was built up, the world conspired to blast through it at a far higher rate than normal. Dodge a war, great. Get stuck managing panicked temporary refugees fleeing the army and potential Furies, annoying, but acceptable.

Receive word that the situation is stable in the form of bandits attacking the plentiful targets under their strained protection? Irksome, more than, but understandable.

Have to restore order after a mass panic due to their Firestarter showing up unexpectedly and turning half the attacking force to ash in an instant, then deal with covering it up so rumors wouldn't paint their Firestarter as any more powerful than usual if other sunpriests came by to minister to the shepherds?

At that point, Greich realized he wouldn't mind being able to set a few things on fire himself. After all of that had been resolved (thank Vkandis they had two locals in their unit) he had returned to report to Captain Ulrich only to find an unconscious Sunpriest, a familiar face wearing the wrong uniform and a captain clearly ready to find a convenient target to slaughter.

He was in no way adequately compensated for this.

"Interrupting something?" he asked wearily, Captain Ulrich looking up with such relief on his face that Greich felt a brief pang of guilt that he'd considered ducking out the door and running before anyone noticed his arrival.

"Not at all, have a seat Sergeant," the captain said, waving him to a seat. "Sergeant Greich, Enforcer Anur Bellamy, appointed by Father Kir."

"Hmm. Horse still white?" he asked pointedly, pouring himself a cup of water.

The man nodded, a rueful expression on his face. "Indeed. Aelius is… well behaved, very intelligent."

Greich sighed heavily, eyeing the unconscious priest, slumped over in a chair, head resting on the Witch-Enforcer's shoulder. "Exactly what is wrong with Father Kir?" he asked.

Ulrich groaned and poured himself some prodka from a stash under his desk. Greich eyed the offered bottle before accepting a splash. Thus fortified, he returned his attention to the misplaced Herald and waited for the explanation.

"His ability with flames is not something entirely without cost," Bellamy said, half-shrugging but careful to not jar the passed out priest. "Between chasing the Rethwallen army and the subsequent Furies, he was already tired when I met with him at the Hardornen border. We received word that there was trouble further in – the, well, we have our own Firestarter of sorts, similar abilities to Kir but nowhere near the same duties. He is also rather – crude in his methods. Kir has offered some technical tips and tricks, but due to some misunderstandings, the results were rather explosive."

"Most of a mage corps was destroyed and a wide swath of Hardornen countryside was burnt to bare dirt, but Kir was able to help bring the firestorm back under control by starting his own," Bellamy grimaced and it was easy for Greich to see that he wasn't particularly pleased with that method – it had probably been pretty terrifying. "Both were hit with reaction headaches – but Kir wouldn't, or couldn't, display any sort of weakness in front of the northern cousins so he was dragging even after a few days even if the headache was gone. So riding hard to get here, we then hit this latest… incident, and he hit his absolute threshold when he got into this building. I carried him the rest of the way."

"Appearance of weakness, can't have that," Ulrich grumbled under his breath, "Not as if we all aren't exhausted we can make allowances but no! Priest has to be the strong unmoving one, no human weakness, of course not!"

Greich sighed, recognizing the point Ulrich was trying to make but knowing that it was a double standard because the Captain would do the same damn thing and at least he could trust that the Sunsguard protected their own. Priests had no such safety net, especially not a chaplain assigned here for political reasons and essentially left to die. They had only had one year of reasonably close cooperation between the priest and the unit – balance that against the eight or nine years he'd already served with them and it was amazing he'd even show this much trust.

Probably a good plan, considering how easily whatever trust they had built up with him could be forgotten in the face of his authority and relative power. Greich was fairly certain more than half of the men had simply forgotten what it meant for a Firestarter to be within their unit and what sort of powerhouse they were treating as a marginally more useful chaplain.

This would serve as a good wake-up call for all of them.

"Normally, I would say you should stay out of the way with the priest," Greich said, grumbling before he continued, "However, right now we need all the hands we can get dealing with clean-up and maintenance. So congratulations Lieutenant Enforcer, you're in the Sunsguard now."

"Not certain that is a good idea, Sergeant," Ulrich interrupted, "Uniform and rank aside, it's going to be rather obvious to the men that he is most certainly not chosen from the ranks of the Sunsguard, even outside the 62nd. We've managed to keep everything under wraps this long I don't want that wasted."

"And how much longer can we keep this arrangement going without them figuring something out?" Greich retorted, "It's been going on long enough that everyone has suspicions and I've heard the mutters – we need to seal them all by the same stamp of conspiracy and fast, before someone gets cold feet and reports this arrangement and we all get slaughtered."

"So long as they remain rumors there is no need to worry," Ulrich insisted.

"So long as they remain rumors the men will see no reason to avoid discussing them relatively openly," the makeshift Enforcer said coolly, arms crossing over his chest as he stared Ulrich down. "And if there are any newcomers who are not so… tolerantly inclined, they will report wrong thinking at the least, outright heresy and treason at the worst. If you are lucky, they will report to the Firestarter chaplain in the hopes he will cleanse his flock. At least then there is a chance to stop it before it goes further."

Greich nodded, continuing, "Reports were sent out from the 54th regarding the army, how else would Furies have started arriving in time to intercept? We're fortunate in the fact that the 62nd has always been something of a dumping ground and when we started this mess we had enough time to ease our roster into something resembling perfection for this purpose. The men know better than to discuss rumors outside of the unit, but within? If replacements are the problem? Then without a confirmed conspiracy to condemn them all equally, they will freely discuss it in the shadows and we'll be finished soon enough. It's a miracle that we haven't had more problems."

"…More problems?" Captain Ulrich asked lowly, Greich exchanging a look with the Herald and knowing by the grim expression on his face that the northerner knew damn well what Father Kir had been forced into doing to protect this scheme.

"Indeed," Bellamy replied, not saying another word and very clearly refusing to elaborate. Greich shrugged at Ulrich's wordless demand and sat back. Captain he may be, but the Firestarter had asked his silence and it was not a risk to the unit, so he would continue to follow that request.

Ulrich hissed out a breath between his teeth and sat back, folding his hands over his stomach, "Very well," he conceded, "We need to seal the conspiracy. I still hold that it is unnecessary, but I understand your arguments and right now, everyone here is a long-term member of the 62nd so we won't get a much better time. How are we going to work this?"

Greich let Bellamy make some suggestions, listening and making mental notes on the ones that would actually work. None of this would truly go into effect without the Sunpriest's knowledge, as it was truly his neck on the line in this enterprise, but they could at least have some of the better options lined up for him to examine without subjecting him to the entire conversation. He was clearly exhausted and there was no need to waste his time on stupid ideas.

Like that last one, was the Herald even trying at this point?

No, Greich concluded, noting the way the Herald's eyes cut over to examine Father Kir worriedly, he was stalling for time. He didn't want them to wake Father Kir until he'd had some more rest.

He could reassure him that they wouldn't make decisions without the priest and they certainly wouldn't wake him for no reason, but he doubted the Herald would listen. But just watching this told Greich enough – if they got this Herald to stick around, their Sunpriest would be taken care of by someone that he not only listened to, but actually trusted.

It would be interesting to see what their Sunpriest was like when there was someone in his corner.


A/N:

First off, sorry for making you wait so long. It was very difficult to get this intermediate step written out; there were at LEAST six versions, all of which were scrapped when I decided they were too heavy-handed so instead I started all over... well, anyway, it's here at last and I hope it's at least sort-of worth the wait.

Next up I plan to have a collection of one-shots and brief stories titled Son Rising, covering Solaris' rise to power and Kir&Anur's place within it. We'll see how that goes, but I have a summer job in an internet dead zone so no promises as to a timeline - I'm trying to get all my WIPs updated before I go off-grid and this counts as the update for this series on that chart.

As always, reviews, ideas and comments are welcomed and much appreciated! :)