09.09.28. Edit; fixed punctuation that wasn't showing up, though I can only hope the temperamental creature FFN is decides to show the changes I've made...
A series of disturbing dreams sends Stefen looking for the one person he believes can explain them: Moondance k'Treva. A different take on the Stef/'Lendel situation… I hope you'll find this story entertaining, and humorous for the most part, and I hope it's not too confusing- it's in first person, so everything is filtered through Stef's perception.
I own Valdemar! Yes. I do. They're declaring me queen next week. You are invited to the ceremony. Amnet is my Companion. She's feisty, but I love her.
"Death cannot stop true love! All it can do is delay it for awhile." - The Princess Bride
"Evil returns as evil, but souls mate eternal." - X-Files
"Referring to Yourself in the Third Person"
I'm not sure what I was thinking, or more likely I wasn't thinking, but when I started out I had no idea how hard it would be to find one man, even in all the wilds of the world. But I had to find him, and it had to be him, if only to prove to myself that I wasn't crazy, much less prove it to anyone else.
When the first dream woke me sweating and screaming in the middle of the night, all I could do was laugh myself silly with relief that a dream was all it was. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that dreams could be indications of other things. And when the dreams kept coming back, and when I found myself completely unable to get though a single night with any more than four hours of real rest, I wasn't the only one who figured I needed help. The problem was, I couldn't think of anyone who could help me. The few people I talked to all thought I was crazy; not that they said anything, but the too polite smile-and-nod routine they gave me said more than any overt words. Medren didn't think I was crazy, but he wasn't much of a help as a confidant considering he was stationed in one of the places that currently I wouldn't go to if my life depended on it, much less my sanity. And even though he tried, he didn't really understand what I was trying to tell him. Of course, I didn't really understand it so I don't know why I thought I could explain it to anyone else, but the fact that I had no real way to explain what I thought was happening without sounding crazy to people who already thought I was two steps from the edge did not help my situation at all. Everyone had been watching me since… well, since Van died, and it only got worse after I got back from Sorrows. Apparently the fact that I hadn't committed suicide made me crazier than if I had actually gone through with it, and it was only a very long time after that that people started trusting me again. Of course, that was about when the dreams started, and then all bets regarding my sanity were suddenly off.
So with all of Haven, hells all of Valdemar, convinced I was a breakdown just waiting to happen, it didn't look like I was going to be able to have a serious discussion about my real problem any time soon. And if I didn't talk to someone I really was going to go mad. That was when I first thought of the Hawkbrothers, though the dream I'd had the night before probably had a lot to do with my brain coming up with that useful idea. I was looking for someone who wasn't a part of the Valdemarian gossip circuit, and therefore wasn't harboring any preconceived notions concerning my sanity, and someone who had some experience with… strange things. Why I had remembered them I wasn't sure, but once I did I couldn't seem to forget, and the wink and smile that had been my introduction to Moondance k'Treva kept playing over and over again in my mind.
Just one problem. How by all that was holy was I supposed to find him? The same qualities that made him the ideal person to talk to also meant that I had a better chance of becoming king of the combined countries of Valdemar and Karse and finishing the job Van left me within the next five years than I did of ever seeing Moondance again. The only people I could think of who acknowledged the existence of the fabled Tayledras, much less knew where to find them, were dead. I could go back to Sorrows… But I wasn't sure how that would work- if Van could answer my questions, or if he even would. And at the moment he was not at the top of my list of people I wanted to go traipsing halfway around the world to see, actual existence in the living world not being a factor.
Call it fate or what you will, but one day I was wrestling with my problem and attempting to walk and think at the same time, not something I was always particularly successful at, when my meandering feet led me to the middle of nowhere, and as I looked up it suddenly occurred to me that the person I was looking for didn't necessarily have to be a "person."
I stood there, in the middle of the Field, with the Companions giving me looks that seemed to say that privately they rather agreed with their human cohorts as to my mental state, and I realized belatedly that I must look very stupid. But now that the thought I was thinking was indeed in my brain, I had to get it out before my common sense caught up with me and I lost my nerve and just went quietly insane. I cleared my throat.
"I was wondering," I looked up at the circle of blue eyes that had gathered and whose stares were rather unnerving. "My lords and ladies," I started again, "I was wondering if you… could tell me how to find k'Treva Vale. I know Kellen had been there"- great Stef, I smacked myself mentally, bringing up Savil's murdered Companion may not have been the wisest approach, but I plowed on- "and… and 'Fandes too. And I thought that they might have talked about it with one of you. And if you could just point me in the right direction…" I ran my hands through my hair and then hid my face in them. I sounded like an idiot. Now that I thought about it, the idea hadn't been a very good one and the chance of finding Moondance had always been a long shot. I would never find him; I should just go back to my room and go mad in peace.
:Hold on there,: said a voice inside my head. :No despair yet! Not with such a long journey ahead.:
If I hadn't already had this experience with Yfandes, I would have thought that the breakdown everyone thought was coming had arrived, and I would have gladly signed myself into the madhouse right then. That voice, cheerfully damning, in the back of my mind sounded too much like how I imagined the patron Saint of the Lost and Condemned sounding for my comfort. "Ah…" I responded intelligently.
A white form separated from the circle around me and came forward. The laughter in those eyes matched the voice I had heard. :It's alright Stefen.: Her voice was light and playful and sounded with echoes like bells. :You can call me Amnet. We've discussed it and decided,: she indicated the other Companions in a tone that implied that with her around there was not much that needed discussing, :that I'll be the one to help you out. I can take you to the Tayledras. You haven't had very good directions up to this point, but from now on I'll explain things better. Promise.:
"My thanks Lady," I replied almost automatically, Bard instinct kicking in. But as I went over what she had said in my mind, I realized something. "Oh, you don't have to come with me! If you could just tell me where to go…" I trailed off; I hadn't really thought this far ahead. It made better sense that she come with me, but a thousand images flashed through my head: having to deal with her Herald and his thoughts concerning my sanity, or lack thereof, or if she didn't have a Herald being accused of stealing the apparently valuable "horse," or dear gods what if she'd actually Chosen me?
She laughed softly, the not unkind sound tinkling like bells in the back of my mind. :I do not have a Herald, for I am too young to Choose. Have no fear Bard. And I really had better go with you. Were you planning on going alone?:
I really and truly had not thought that far ahead. It was almost more than I could comprehend that I had gotten this far, that the end of my quest was almost able to be glimpsed in the distance. She sensed this, or read it in my mind, and continued. :I think you will need someone to watch your back. Also, I have some small mage-gifting,: she said with false modesty, :which I think you will find useful, even if you don't know it now. And… I have to go with you. It is something I must do. Please.: Her tone turned almost pleading. She seemed intent on inviting herself along on my hopeless little jaunt but reluctant to do so without my approval.
Being a Bard, and a previously rather successful one at that, I always had the right words for any occasion. "Right… um, I mean, of course! You can come." It was really more of a question than a statement, and I still didn't know where we were going exactly, but the inept yet honest bumbling, driven by an almost insane hunger, which had marked the entirety of my searching thus far seemed to strike a chord in her, and she whickered softly and shoved her nose gently against my chest.
:Oh Stef,: she murmured, and I could have sworn that voice was so familiar. :It's been tough I know. They just dumped the whole mess on you, without any "by your leave," and when none of it's your fault. But it'll be alright now, you'll see.: It might have been crazy, but I believed her and a peace I couldn't remember having for a long while settled over me. Amnet's presence, and support of my wild plan, served to soothe my mind like nothing else had. I figured that if a Companion had decided my trip was worth her attention, then it must not be the slim chance of a fool's hope I had thought it was.
Our departure from Haven was easier than I had thought it would be. In my mind, I'd imagined it to be the most difficult part of the journey, actually finding Moondance being something that still wasn't quite on the list of "possible." But waltzing out the front gate of the palace and down the main road to the city gate with a Companion that wasn't mine proved ridiculously simple. :Relax: Amnet teased, prancing a little. Old thought patterns died hard, and I was absolutely terrified of being caught and branded a horse thief; in that small, frightened corner of my mind, the bright scarlet robes I wore didn't offer any protection, instead they made me a more conspicuous target. And no one rode Companions other than Heralds, so why was no one trying to stop us? The relief of finding someone who could help me seemed to have had a negative effect on my reasoning capabilities.
:They cannot see us.: It took me a minute to recognize Amnet, her voice soothing against the fear and excitement that were tearing through my mind. :I told you I had some mage-gifting. And the others are shielding us as well. No one will know we have gone until we are halfway to our destination. Now please, calm down! And when you have started to think coherently again, consider what it is you are really afraid of. It is not being caught; you know better.:
That stopped the sarcastic reply I was forming pretty quick. She was right. I rode in silence for awhile as she carefully picked her way through the crowded street toward the northern gate. What was I scared of? It wasn't that hard to figure out, once I actually thought about it. I was scared that we weren't going to be able to find Moondance; but, worse, I was scared that we would find him. What if when I found him, he ended up telling me I was crazy just like everyone thought I was? But I think I knew that he wouldn't, and that was what really scared me- that I was going to find the answers I was looking for. And I wasn't sure I could handle what that meant.
:Why not?: came Amnet's practical voice, all traces of jesting gone from it.
"Because," I whispered, barely noticing that we were well out of the city by now and there was no one to see me talking to myself. "Because that means the dream is right, and everything I ever thought or felt is a lie."
I received the sensation of someone shuffling her feet. :Not all dreams are true. And they don't always mean exactly what you think.:
I looked sharply at the back of her head. "What exactly do you know about it?" And several things she had said earlier that I hadn't paid attention to jumped out in my mind.
:Enough,: she replied mildly. :But you should not doubt what you feel. A lifebond is not something to take lightly, nor is it something that can be faked.:
My mind was whirling in turmoil, and I wasn't sure I could handle the direction this conversation was taking. I was silent for the rest of the day, attempting to organize the chaos in my head as Amnet trod steadily onward pulling me toward a future I was not entirely sure I was ready for.
We had taken the Exile's Road out of Haven, and were now on the road north which would lead us past Forst Reach and through most of the country of Qorthes; when we reached the end of that road, the rest of the way led through wilderness. There was an alternative, however; at Forst Reach there was an old Gate to k'Treva Vale. Amnet had not been boasting idly when she suggested her mage power would help me in my journey- she couldn't build a Gate by herself, but she could use an existing framework, and using this one would cut our trip by two thirds of the time it would have taken. Amnet and I had just finished yet another "discussion" as to whether we should stop there or not. Personally I would rather have traveled the additional months than stop in that place. I had lost the argument, however; Amnet had the advantage of being the one who was in charge of the actual traveling, so her vote carried slightly more weight. I was grumbling to myself, not really caring if she could hear me, and tuning my gittern when Amnet's head came up suddenly. :Well, well. Maybe not even such a journey after all. That preening snow-bird actually listened for once.: Looking up I saw a camp at the edge of the road just ahead. The sun was not yet setting, but a small fire already smoldered in the center of the campsite. A man was sitting next to the fire, his long white hair standing out brightly against the dark background of the shadowed trees behind him. A braid at each temple kept the hair out of his face, but most of it fell freely down his back. He was dressed simply, or at least I knew he would consider it simple though he put most of Haven's court to shame just as he was. His eyes were bent on what was lying in his lap, and he was singing something softly; I recognized the song my fingers had been picking over just a few moments ago. He stopped singing suddenly, and I finished the phrase reflexively. He looked up at me and smiled, and I slid down from Amnet's back. The object lying across his lap turned out to be another man, a few years younger than myself if I judged correctly. He rose and came toward me, and his silver eyes froze my blood.
"Welcome," he said, and his voice was low and smooth and not at all familiar.
"Thank you, Brightstar." He smiled; amused, it seemed, that I knew him though we had not ever met formally.
He bowed slightly to Amnet. "If you will follow me lady, I will see to whatever you need." His eyes met mine. "I'm sure you have much to discuss with my father."
I nodded and my eyes drifted back to Moondance as Brightstar led Amnet away. He didn't look at me but watched the fire instead, and that gave me the last bit of courage I needed to manage to drag myself over to the fire and collapse next to it.
Neither of us spoke for awhile. He seemed to be waiting for me to speak first, and I had no idea what I wanted to say. Finally I formed my first, most pressing, thought into words and spoke it. "What are you doing here?" Oh that was really good Stef; I was smacking myself mentally again. But he only smiled and proceeded to answer the question that I had intended to ask.
"Five days ago we gated into Forst Reach," he replied easily; his voice was strong, knowledgeable. "After a short rest, we decided to come meet you."
"But how…" I began, but was anticipated.
"Three days previous to that I… received a… communication to the effect that you were looking for me, and that when you found me I was to tell you everything you wanted to know." His smile was sardonic, and I got the impression he was laughing at himself. "So I figured there was no longer any sense in avoiding you."
Another voice chuckled softly from the growing shadows under the trees. "Poor ashke. You never wanted to tell him." Like a ghost, a figure draped in white emerged from the trees. I blinked. No, not a ghost; just a man with long white hair, a white bird on each shoulder, and the largest owl I had ever seen held on his arm in front of him. "Where is Brightstar, so I can be rid of this monstrosity?" he pretended to toss the owl away playfully, but the great bird hooted derisively and, throwing Starwind a withering look, took to its wings to look for its bondmate.
"Brightstar took the lady," Moondance began, then glanced at me.
"Amnet," I supplied.
"Took Lady Amnet," he found something about that humorous, "that way," and he gestured the owl in the right direction. On soundless wings, it departed. One of the two smaller raptors leapt from Starwind's shoulder and glided the short distance to Moondance's upheld arm, where it settled, chirruping softly at the mage. He smiled at the bird; they seemed to have a short conversation then it flew up to perch in the branches of a tree overhead.
Starwind glanced at both of us, his eyes meeting mine. "You have much to discuss," he said, echoing Brightstar. "I will be nearby if you have need of me, to make clearer anything this cryptic says." Moondance shot him an annoyed glance, but Starwind only smiled and slipped back into the trees.
"Now that we're free of any more interruptions," Moondance drew my attention back to himself and the small circle of light and warmth that was the fire. "Start at the beginning and tell me everything you know. Then we'll see what to make of that, and after that I will tell you everything that I know." I shivered at the implications of that statement. "And then we will see what to make out of all of that."
Obediently, hopefully, I opened my mouth and started at the beginning.