*A/N – As always, most everything is Misty Lackey's. I only own the characters that I've created. I bow before her excellence. J

Herald Danira

I. Misfortune Brings Choosing

It was a chilly but not extremely cold day in early spring. Twelve-year-old Danira and her five-year-old brother, Drake, were out gathering flowers for the dinner table. She was daydreaming. As usual. Danira lived a life of dreams created from the Heraldic adventure stories she loved so much. Today she was imagining herself agreeing to go on a secret mission to save the country.

"Oh, Selenay, my most beloved liege." She thought to herself, "I shall defend thy beloved Valdemar from the evil mage lord." She grinned as she imagined the wind on her face as she and her Companion departed the city. Arrows of justice for the queen. She came back to the real world slowly after winning her pretend mage duel. Of course, she always came out the victor in her made-up scenarios. She was still caught slightly in her realm of fancy imagining the accolades of her Queen.

Her mother and father had ridden out to the field to check on the horses. Rumors had been coming from the south of vicious horse thieves. The family tried to keep close tabs on their stock of horses, but it was getting harder as the mares roamed as soon as foaling season arrived. And Danira's family's holdings were far enough away from the Border that defense was not foremost in their daily operations.

The sudden sound of a woman's screaming snapped Danira from her reverie. She heard her mother scream, "NO!" It was followed by the pounding of horse's hooves and her father's agitated shouting. For a moment, Danira was overwhelmed with a feeling of fear and then the sight of bandits dragging her mother and father from the saddle. Abruptly she came back to herself, and then the screaming stopped, leaving an eerie silence. Although dazed, it only took a moment for Danira to react. She grabbed her brother's hand and ran for the village. As they pounded along the road, she could hear a weird chiming noise on the road behind them. The noise seemed to get closer and closer with each second. With a few seconds, a large white mare had come to a sudden stop in front of the children. Danira skidded to a stop pulling Drake behind her. "What do you want of us?" she demanded. And then looked surprised as she realized the horse had no rider. Thoughts danced in her brain dazedly.

A large white horse. No rider. Valdemar. Heralds…Mother and Father. We're alone. There's no one to care for us anymore.

As the last thought crossed her mind, a small sob escaped her lips. Then she looked at Drake who was young and frightened and knew she had to be strong. She glanced confused at the mare's face. And the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen caught her. She Felt a sense of overwhelming rightness. This is where she should be.

:That's right Danira. You will not be alone ever. I, Kristinal, Choose you. You are my Chosen. I will never leave you. :

Danira gasped. In all her dreams of being Chosen. She had never imagined the feeling of absolute completeness that accompanied it. She could bask in this warmth of love and acceptance forever. Suddenly, she came back to herself. "What of my brother, Drake?" she asked Kristinal. "I cannot leave him to go to Haven. He would have no one to care for him." She glared defiantly back at the Companion.

:Chosen, all will right itself in time. Kristinal Sent. I would never ask you to abandon your brother at this time. You will have time to grieve and all will be arranged. For now, you and your brother must mount so we can notify the village of the raid that just occurred. :

With this, Kristinal knelt down so that Danira could put Drake on Kristinal's back and mount. Danira instantly knew her destination. She was heading for the old priest who had been tutoring Danira and Drake, as well as teaching them other lessons besides reading and writing. She patted Drake's back as they rode and whispered in his ear, "It will be all right Drake I will take care of you. I promise."

She hugged her brother so tightly he gave a whimper of protest and she eased her hold on him. She then Felt Kristinal's Sending of Love over the bond that was already between them.

In what seemed like an instant, Kristinal had pounded to a stop in front of Father Alec's door. Danira ran to the front door and knocked loudly saying, "Father!" He came to the door blinking owlishly in the sunlight.

"Who's there?" he asked and then looked down. "Ah Danira and Drake, what brings you to my doorstep? We have no lessons today."

Danira looked at her frightened brother and then said, "Please Father. I must speak with you." He finally noticed her pale face, and then the pale horse standing quietly behind her. He stepped outside, and he bent down to hug the children to him.

Picking Drake up, he asked Danira, "What has happened my young pupil?"

Danira took a deep breath, "Master, I believe my parents were just murdered by the horse thieves on the south hill. As soon as I heard my mother's scream I was overwhelmed with feelings of fear. Then I saw pictures in my mind of a raid and my parents being dragged down. I knew they were killed. It seemed as if I was standing near them! I didn't know what else to do, so I grabbed Drake and started for town." She then related the tale of how Kristinal had accosted them on the road and brought them to his door.

The master looked at his pupil sadly. He knew what she spoke to be truth. It saddened him because both she and her brother had shown an amazing aptitude for learning, and he knew they would be going away. The children were blessed with great imaginations and intuitiveness. Unfortunately, he was too old to consider the task of raising two children and traveling to Haven however talented they might be. All these thoughts flashed through his head in an instant.

"Youngling. You have been Chosen! I am so happy for you! I am sure Kristinal will not mind if you and your brother come inside to rest while I notify the Village Guard and we take an investigation party to the site." He brushed her red hair out of her face gently. "Ah youngling, I am afraid it will not be easy for you. May the goddess bless your parents on their journey to the Havens. You can be assured they will keep watch from there."

II. Journey to Haven

Danira slowly opened eyes that were crusty with dried tears. She struggled to remember where she was and why she and her brother were sharing a strange bed. Then it all came back in a rush.

Her and Drake picking wildflowers. Dreams of Companions and daring missions. Her mother's screams. Her sudden flash of emotion and Sight. Fleeing for the village. A white horse. Deep Blue Eyes. Kristinal. Father Alec. Crying herself to sleep silently.

She groaned and sat up slowly. And then glanced over at her still sleeping brother. He looked so peaceful. "If only it had all been a dream," she thought absently.

:All, Chosen?: Kristinal asked and then Sent a comforting thought to Danira.

"Maybe not everything," Danira mumbled aloud sadly and ruefully.

Suddenly, there was a rap on the door and Father Alec's kind voice filtered through. "Danira, Drake, are you awake younglings?"

"Yes Father," Danira answered him. "I'm awake. I'll wake up Drake and we'll be out shortly." She pulled her tunic over her undershirt, and then shook her brother's shoulder gently. "Drake, it's time to get up."

He opened his eyes and looked at her. "Dani, what are we gonna do?" She could hear the fear in his voice.

She hugged him. "Drake, everything will be ok. I'm going to take care of you. We're going to go on an adventure."

His eyes brightened at this prospect, and he said, "I get to come, too?"

She smiled at him, "Of course!" She helped him get his tunic and boots on and then grabbed his hand. They tumbled out the door together to find Father Alec sitting at a table laden with food. They both scrambled to the table and sat down. Danira discovered she was hungrier than expected and bolted down her food. As soon as she was finished Kristinal spoke to her.

:Dani, we have a long journey ahead. We will need to start for Haven this afternoon. It's a three day journey. I'm sure Father Alec will help you get what you need for travel. For the rest, there are inns along the way.:

Danira felt a moment of worry for Drake as she wondered what would become of him in Haven. Then Kristinal allayed her fears.

:You do not have to concern yourself with Drake's welfare. There are many children in the collegium who are not Chosen or not Chosen yet. There is a place for him:

There was a vague assurance in Kristinal's voice that Danira did not catch. An omen of what was to come. Dani felt confidence and reassurance flood into her with the Companion's words.

Father Alec smiled to himself as he watched the children eat hungrily in spite of their fear and grief. They were so resilient. He would miss the younglings terribly. Danira finished and he saw the faraway look in her eyes that he already associated with her mindspeaking her Companion. When she returned to herself, she outlined what Kristinal had told her. The threesome spent the rest of the day packing saddlebags of clothing and personal belongings for the children. A candlemark after high noon all was in ready for the journey. Dani and Drake stood by the Companion with Father Alec and a few of the villagers. She tearfully hugged Father Alec, and then he gently prodded her towards Kristinal.

"All birds must leave the nest youngling," he said gently. "You are ready and will make us all very proud. Take care of Drake and yourself."

With that Kristinal knelt, they mounted and were off. Flying down the road toward Haven and new beginnings, Danira couldn't help a slight shiver of excitement. Along the way, Danira alternately played with Drake to keep him occupied and had conversations with Kristinal. Whenever they passed people working in the fields, they would smile and wave at the children. Some noticed the extra child and registered shock, but most saw just the normal Choosing journey. Kris began to outline what would happen upon their arrival at Haven.

:When we get there, you will be registered. You will be assigned a mentor by Dean Teren and receive your trainee Grays, your class schedule, and a schedule of daily chores. All of the trainees do the work for the Collegium, so there are no servants. The only people who are not Heralds or Trainees that help to run the Collegium are the Cook and Housekeeper. Drake will be given a set of blue uniforms. Students that are not Bardic, Healer, or Heraldic students are known as the unaffliates or "blues." They take classes along side other students. I know that if his learning has been as extensive as yours with Father Alec that he will fit right in. Because of his age, he will also spend time in the nursery/play area with students too young to take a full course load.:

Danira sat with eyes shining. It all sounded so wonderful. :I cannot wait to get to Haven!: She Sent impatiently.

Kristinal merely sent her a mind chuckle and fell silent. By sunset, they had reached the first inn. Danira did not realize she could be so tired. After all she had been riding since she was younger than Drake. She watched as they led Kristinal to the stables and sent a questioning mindcall. Kristinal assured her that the inn's stablehands could take care of her and Danira stumbled across the threshold. She and Drake, who was also half asleep, were gently pushed into chairs with hot food set before them. Danira took three bites and was sound asleep. She woke up the next morning in a room with two beds. Drake was in the one next to her still sleeping soundly and there were hot trays on the table in the corner. She got herself cleaned up and dressed. Then did the same for Drake.

They ate a quick breakfast and then went outside. The trio was quickly on the road. After two more days of the same, Kristinal called to her dozing Chosen around midday.

:Danira! Look up and you will see Haven!:

Danira raised her head, and gasped. Haven was huge! She wondered what adventures could await her and Drake at the Palace.

III. Haven

The trio entered the city gates, and Danira was overwhelmed with sights and sounds. She and Drake looked around eagerly at the shops and people. :Kristinal, it's amazing!: She Sent.

The Companion merely mind-chuckled at the breathless excitement of her Chosen. :Wait until you see the palace/collegium complex, love.:

Danira watched the buildings flow past as the shops turned into inns and the inns gave way to the great mansions of the nobility. As they passed the inns, and the smell of food hit the children both of their stomachs rumbled. She thought to herself, I hope there is food at the palace.

She started when Kristinal replied, :There's always food in the kitchen, Chosen. Mero, the cook, is aware of the needs of growing tummies.:

Danira sent wordless thanks to her Companion. It had only been a few short days since her Choosing and already she was thankful for the constant companionship of Kristinal. She could feel their bond at all times.

Within minutes of their entry to the city, they reached the palace gates. Both children sat in awe of the palace. It was everything Danira had ever imagined it to be. The gate guard laughed at their awestruck expressions, and stopped to check the glyph on the saddle. "Kristinal!" he exclaimed, "You've finally Chosen!" At that moment, the guard paused as he noticed the younger child Danira had clasped in front of her. He quickly schooled his expression against the surprise. "And you've brought us an extra I see. Well younglings you'll have a busy day ahead of you. Don't worry Kristinal knows where to go. Good luck to you."

He gave them a salute and Kristinal headed for the stable. When they reached the stable, a stable hand helped Danira and Drake dismount. Then he started to remove Kristinal's tack. Danira noticed a Herald standing to the side waiting for them. She went to Kristinal and gave her a caress. Kristinal told her, :It's time to go, love. I will be near and you can speak to me anytime. Go to Herald Dirk he will get you started. I've notified them of your brother there's no need to worry.:

Danira smiled in assent and grabbed Drake's hand leading him over to the Herald. She was struck by his homliness, but then noticed that his eyes were the clear sapphire blue of a Companion's. Even so, he was obviously a senior Herald and she addressed him formally, "Good Afternoon, sir."

Dirk just smiled down at her warmly. "There's no need for all that formality," he said. "You can just call me Dirk. I will be your Orientation instructor." He crouched down to eye level with Drake. "And you must be Drake! I'm Dirk. If you need anything, just let me know." When Danira looked shocked that he had known her brother's name without introduction, he explained simply, "The Companions. Your Kristinal informed my Ahrohdie of your arrival so I could meet you." His eyes sparkled merrily, "Now, how would you two like some lunch!" He laughed as both children nodded eagerly. "I though you would. Let's go see what we can find in the kitchen. It's only a candlemark past lunch."

Conversation flowed easily during lunch. Herald Dirk was as easy to talk to as Mother, Father, and Father Alec. He asked them both questions about their education and home sector. Then he told them about his child and his wife, Queen's Own Herald Talia. After all three had filled their bellies from the Trainee snack pantry, and made their acquaintances with Mero. Dirk spoke up, "Ok. Bellies full. Now Drake, how would you like to meet mine and Talia's little terror? He's about your age and always ready for new playmates." He watched while the boy considered the offer and then nodded. "Good. Then first we'll head to the nursery to drop you off, and then on to get Danira outfitted as a trainee."

As they walked along the corridor, Dirk explained where they were and little bits about the history of the palace. Danira walked beside him and thought to Kristinal, :I will never, ever be able to find my way around this place.:

Kristinal's mindvoice was colored with laughter as she answered, :You'd be surprised how quickly you will become acquainted with it Chosen. In a few years, you will be able to make it anywhere in the palace complex blindfolded and at a dead run.:

Danira answered doubtfully, "If you say so." Then realized she was speaking aloud and clapped her hand over her mouth and flushed.

Dirk laughed gently, "Don't worry youngling everyone around here is used to mutterings and nonsense."

She smiled up at him with relief. After a few minutes of the circuitous route, they came to a door. The gold plated sign read, Housekeeper Gaytha. "This is where we will outfit you with your uniforms and chore schedule," Dirk said as he rapped twice on the door and opened it. "Gaytha, we have another new trainee! This is Danira."

Danira stood tall as Gaytha looked her over. She had a feeling the woman would stand for no nonsense. The housekeeper nodded to herself satisfied and scribbled down some measurements. "Just measurements for your Grays, youngling. I'm not going to bite you. Now let's see you look like a hard worker what kind of chores do you handle well?"

Danira replied, "I am very used to tending horses with Father. I also helped Mother with the cooking and sewing." Danira had to fight down sorrow at the thought of her parents and was choked up. As Dirk squeezed her hand in comfort, Kristinal sent a wave of love and support down their link. Danira grabbed hold of the comfort and managed a smile at the housekeeper. Gaytha smiled back in sympathy and continued on.

"Well, let's see now," Gaytha mused, "I think we'll start you with kitchen and sewing duty as those are the hardest to fill. All Heraldic Trainees take turns with the Companions in foal and I bet you'll be a favorite. As to your uniforms here they are. And your boots will be ready in about a week."

Dirk looked down at her and smiled, "Now if you're ready we'll go and find you a room and then head to Dean Teren's office for your schedule. After that, it's dinner." Within a candlemark, Danira had all her uniforms put away and the fresh bedclothes on the bed. She also noticed her packs had already been brought to her room. She asked Dirk, "Where will Drake be staying?"

Dirk smiled, "I think Drake will be staying in the nursery. He's too young for the pages dorm. Those boys are all between seven and thirteen. How does that sound?" Danira looked extremely relieved, "That sounds wonderful! Thank you, si..Dirk." She smiled.

"Now," he said, "Are you ready to meet the Dean?"

In a few minutes, Danira found herself sitting in Dean Teren's office. The dean reminded Danira of a nice friendly dog. She found herself answering his questions easily. Some of them were about her home and how her journey was, but a majority seemed to focus on her learning skills. Teren was amazed at the depth of the child's learning. :I will have to send a commendation to her village priest. Her knowledge and skill level is astounding.: He Sent to his Companion.

His Companion mind sent a laughing reply, :Yes, Chosen. You may have competition for your job in a few years.:

With the examination complete, he spoke aloud to Danira. "Here is your schedule youngling. Your first class will be tomorrow morning with Herald Dirk. Then you will have Religions in the Bardic Collegium with Bard Gerard and then lunch bell. After lunch, you will have arms training with Herald-Captain Kerowyn and then equestrian lessons with Herald Keren. You will also be assigned a mentor. This is one of the older trainees who will be available to answer any questions for you and will show you around to your classes. Herald Dirk was your guide today so he could help get your brother situated also. How does that sound Danira?"

Danira's head was spinning at the thought of the busy day ahead of her tomorrow. :Worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes, Chosen. You will adjust to the schedule quicker than you believe.: Kristinal sent her a mind caress.

Danira then found the courage to answer the dean, "That sounds fine, sir." He nodded sympathetically. Then he went to the door and called, "Reva!" A lithe, blond girl poked her head in the doorway, "Yes Dean?"

"Your charge is ready for you! If I know Dirk and hectic first days, she would probably like a walk out to Companion's Field to visit Kristinal," said Teren. Before he had finished speaking Danira's eyes were shining and she was nodding slightly. "I thought so," he said and Dean Teren smiled at the two girls as Reva grabbed Danira's hand and rushed her out the door.