Disclaimer: I own neither the Valdemar series nor the Highlander series.
A/N: This was written as part of a reversebang challenge by Pentapus, who made the awesome illustration (that's available at AO3 and on her livejournal) and then provided excellent beta-reading suggestions and corrections.
Summary: Methos does not ride white horses anymore but a Companion can be, if not patient, at least highly determined.
Seventh Time's the Charm
"What the hell, Silver?" Methos had finally been kicked out of the tavern. It was late at night, cold and rainy, but Samad was still blocking the street and feeling remarkably smug about it.
:You've been hiding in there all evening, but don't worry, I arranged rooms for you.:
"Did you, now." Methos did not sound reassured.
:Yes, I did. At the Collegium. Where Heralds can always stay between circuits.:
"Where Heralds can stay. I don't recall being a Herald."
:And that is easily fixed. Come on, Methos, it's been seven years! We work well together. The Collegium can care for Dancer and her foal for you when we go on circuit. And,: he added rather pointedly, :you won't have to try to find a place to stay on a night like this.:
Methos glared back. "I wouldn't have had problems finding a room if you hadn't cornered me tonight, and I'd still have a regular riding horse if you hadn't arranged for her to be mounted."
:But by an Ashkevron warhorse. Just think of the foal you'll have in the spring,: Samad spoke brightly. Methos continued to glare. Samad gave up looking innocent and cheerful and glared right back. :Seven years, Methos. Seven years! Don't you think it's time?:
** 1 **
The first year, Samad was barely a weanling, but he managed to escape from Companion's Field and make his way across Haven to the inn where Methos was staying. He was still quite small, and his mind speech ability was rudimentary at best, but he had thought he'd communicated his intent to Choose Methos quite well.
Methos had proceeded to pick him up and carried him back to the palace grounds. He gave a blistering lecture to both the guards (who tried to protest that they were supposed to keep others out, not the Companions in) and the Companions themselves (who had been called over by the guards after Methos had lectured them into submission.)
The lectures had not stopped even when Methos had left. The Companions had all turned on Samad to tell him off for his youthful enthusiasm (or idiocy, depending on the Companion giving the lecture) and none of them believed that Methos really was his Chosen.
The Queen's Own had actually gone down to thank Methos in person for returning the young Companion and not trying to take advantage of the situation.
Methos was long gone on his regular trade circuit by the time Samad had had any hope of escaping from the close supervision he had been placed under. It would be another year before Methos returned to Haven with a new selection of goods to trade and stories to tell.
** 2 **
The second year, Samad was a yearling and insisted it wasn't an escape. Methos was back in Haven, and Samad had very properly gone to one of the stable hands and had a saddle and reins put on him before leaving to pick up his Chosen. Methos had dragged him back by the reins and proceeded to lecture the stable hands about when it was appropriate and—more to the point—inappropriate, to place tack on a horse. A yearling was not old enough, Methos had pointed out, to carry a grown man, and the stable hand should be ashamed of himself for contributing to the potential injury of a young Companion. The stable master had been drawn into the dressing down too. (The stable master was less than happy with getting such a well-deserved dressing down and would make his displeasure known for the following month and in the future when giving basic orientations to all stable hands.)
Samad was not pleased with the outcome, but it had not been a complete failure. He had at least developed his mind speech enough that he now knew that the Merchant called Baki was secretly named Methos. Samad kept the secret close, but he always thought the secret name in his own mind.
The Queen's Own went to visit Methos again, this time accompanied with the weapon's master, to extend another apology/thanks but also to ask questions regarding whether maybe Samad was right and that Methos really was supposed to be Samad's Chosen. They came back uncertain, although the weapon's master had made an appointment to spar with Methos when the man was back in the city the following year.
** 3 **
The third year, Samad went to Methos with ribbons in his main and tail but no tack, and found him sparring with the weapon's master. The other Heralds were all observing and looking impressed by the fight. Samad preened at the thought that this was his Chosen and tried to ignore the comments regarding Samad's stalking tendencies. When the bout was over, Methos stayed to talk with the weapon's master for an inordinately long time, but Samad continued to loiter and finally managed to approach Methos when he went to collect his horse.
:Hello again, Methos!:
"Listen, Silver, I'm sorry, but I don't ride white horses."
:My name is Samad,: Samad tried to correct his Chosen. :And I'm a Companion, not a horse. And I have blue ribbons!:
"Given my history with white horses, the blue accents actually make the situation worse. You need to go find yourself a nice young kid to work with. I have a perfectly decent roan to ride."
:I'm better than any horse you could possibly have.: Samad had glared.
"No, Silver, you really aren't."
And then Methos had demonstrated the truth of the statement by riding his roan horse away and managing to make it through the crowded streets of Haven quicker and easier than Samad could. It was an insult.
:And my name is Samad, not Silver!: Samad had shouted after Methos.
** 4 **
The fourth year, Samad was ready. He had trained on the obstacle course all year, pushing himself in competing against the other Companions, and he would not be defeated by some horse. Just in case, he was also ambushing Methos on the open road where there was no way a mere horse could compete against a Companion's endurance.
He'd also dyed his hide a rather mottled brown by immersing himself in the river downstream of the local dye houses. It would wear off in a few days, but for the time being he was a molted brown color as he waited outside the city gates for Methos' caravan to come along. Then he moseyed over, as if he were a regular horse.
Methos had snorted. "I am not an idiot, Silver. I can recognize a Companion when I see one. Now get yourself back to the Palace where you belong."
:My name is Samad. And you're my Chosen,: Samad had insisted stubbornly.
"If I take you with, I'll sell you to the highest bidder at auction in Karse," Methos threatened.
Samad had refused to turn back, but he knew better than to get within arm's reach of Methos before the man had allowed himself to be Chosen. He didn't think that Methos would actually sell him in auction, but he also didn't want to wind up tied to a tree and waiting for rescue from some other Companion and Herald. Samad trailed along next to the caravan for the next couple of weeks.
By the time they reached the Karsite border, the dye had long since worn off and he was shining white again. From the stories told in the palace stables, Samad knew he couldn't follow Methos over the border into Karse without starting a major conflict. When the caravan crossed the Karsite border, he had to watch Methos go on without him. But he refused to return to Haven, as Methos clearly expected him to.
Instead, he spent most of the year near the border, volunteering as a plow horse on some of the poorer farms, and helping out in the war ravaged areas, slowly making his way to where he knew Methos' caravan would return on its yearly circuit.
It was an eye-opening year.
He spoke to people who weren't other Companions or even Heralds, and he worked with the people of the border rather than mingling with the people of the capital.
The very first time he had spoken to a stranger was when he had found a young hunter, trying not to cry where he laid in the woods with a broken leg.
:Hi,: Samad had asked in a diffident whisper. He kept a careful wall up in his own mind, sending the word out past it. This young man wasn't even a Herald, much less Samad's own Chosen. Samad didn't want to go into his mind or have him come into Samad's. But he was a young man trying to put food on his family's table, he was injured and Samad was the only person around. :Do you need help getting to a healer?:
Larin had been open-mouthed with surprise, but together they had gotten him upright. With Larin leaning against Samad's side with a firm grasp on Samad's mane, they had slowly walked to the local healer.
Samad had galloped away as soon as the healer had Larin, uncertain of how to face his own actions.
It was taboo for a Companion to speak to a human person not his own Chosen. There were no rules against it because it just wasn't done. Speech was part of the bonding process, part of Choosing. But Samad had spoken to Larin and while he had felt no desire to Choose the young man—Methos was his Chosen and always would be—it had not felt wrong. He could keep walls up in his own mind and still speak; he could speak with people without bonding with them.
The next time, when he found a blacksmith trying to move supplies too heavy for his single horse, it was easier to offer his assistance.
The time after that, with a farmer plowing his fields, it was easier still.
The Companions back at Haven would be horrified, the palace stable workers appalled. He wondered if he was shaming the crown of Valdemar by performing the duties of a horse rather than those of a Companion. The thought made him avoid other Companions whenever they were in the area, but it didn't stop him from helping with the harvest and the trek to market or even from giving the younglings horseback rides at the fair.
He introduced himself to the people at the border as "Silver."
** 5 **
The fifth year, he met Methos at the border after the local harvest was done and in time for the caravan to make a few small sales at some of the smaller market fairs.
"Silver, what are you doing here?" Methos had sounded exasperated when he saw Samad. Samad hadn't quite known how to answer, and the opportunity was lost when the farmer he had been with came up.
"Silver! I wanted to thank you again for helping me get everything to market. We got enough to buy a second horse for the farm. I was wondering, before you move on, could you help me pick one?"
Samad snuck a glance at Methos. He looked startled but not horrified at a farmer directly addressing a Companion. In fact, he was smiling.
:It would be my pleasure, Jeran. Do you want me to look over everything available or do you have some possibilities?:
"I have some possibilities, but you're a better judge of horseflesh than I am." Jeran laughed at his own joke.
Samad would have whickered a laugh, too, since it had been only a few weeks since Samad had had to convince Jeran that Samad himself was not a horse, but he was too nervous of leaving his recently rediscovered Chosen, in case the man snuck off. He shifted his weight a bit, wanting to help Jeran but not quite willing to actually walk away from Methos even for a short time.
To his surprise, Methos said, "I will stay here until you return, Samad." It was the first time that Methos had ever called him by his name.
Samad vaguely noticed Jaren giving them odd looks. Samad had introduced himself as Silver, after all, but Samad couldn't be bothered to respond to those looks. Methos had called him by his name!
Samad wanted to dance and throw Methos up on his back and stare deep into his eyes all at once. He wanted to finally Choose Methos.
Instead, he calmed himself down and reminded himself that it was just one step forward. There was more to go. It felt like plowing fields again. One long furrow was not a whole field and one field was not a whole farm.
:Thank you. I'll be back by sunset.:
When Samad returned, a little before sunset, Methos was still there, having packed up his goods for the night, waiting for Samad. Something in Samad's heart unclenched a bit at that. Methos had kept his word; he had waited for Samad.
"It sounds like you have had a full year, Samad. Would you like to tell me about it?"
And Samad had spent the evening telling Methos all about the people he had met; the farmers and the blacksmiths and the healers and only one bard but the bard had had many songs.
In the morning, Samad joined Methos' caravan on its trek back to Haven.
While Methos still rode his horse, Dancer, he personally groomed Samad each evening and checked his hooves. Samad joined the evening storytelling sessions around the fire in the evening, too.
Samad returned to the palace stables for the few weeks in Haven, but Methos' attempt to sneak off for the start of the next circuit without Samad knowing was half-hearted at best. Samad had the royal grooms prepare his own pack of goods for the trip. Methos wasn't particularly surprised when Samad showed up and made no attempt to prevent him from coming with.
** 6 **
That sixth year, he made the whole circuit with Methos. On the circuit, Methos was Baki and Samad was Silver. While he went to the horse market with the rest of the horse train and was occasionally bid on, he was never sold, and the bargaining generally brought up interesting pieces of information. He also won some awards in local horse races. It felt a bit like cheating given that he was competing against horses rather than other Companions but the memory of being defeated by Methos' highly-trained roan Dancer still stung. At least his winnings were paying for his feed.
Since Methos was clearly not disturbed by his cheating by competing in horse races, he also felt fully allowed to cheat in other matters. He had no compunction at helping out with a little matchmaking between the very high quality stud among the Ashkevron and Methos' Dancer without bothering to ask for permission from the owners of either horse.
Once they were back in Haven, Samad didn't try very hard to hide his delight that Dancer was pregnant and would not be suitable to make the circuit the following year. Samad ever so kindly offered to be Methos' riding horse.
Methos did not take the suggestion kindly at all, instead stomping off to have a beer at a tavern that had clearly not been constructed with Companions in mind. It was tiny and up a stone stairwell, and Samad had no intention of embarrassing himself by attempting to force his way in.
It was a small enough place that it probably didn't have a back entrance. He would simply loiter around the front entrance and just be glad that he had powerful enough mind speech to arrange matters up at the palace without leaving his spot.
This would be his seventh attempt at Choosing Methos.
** 7 **
In the seventh year, he confronted Methos late at night when Methos was tired and probably at least mildly drunk.
Samad was seven years old at that final confrontation; a powerfully grown Companion, wily and wise and more physically capable than any Companion in his year class. It was raining, and Samad was perfectly willing to force the issue in the cold and wet. The tavern was closed for the evening, and Methos was not going to pass without finally allowing Samad to Choose him.
:Seven years, Methos. I am your Companion and you are my Chosen. Accept it already. I'm not going anywhere and neither are you until you accept it already.:
Methos sat down on the stone steps and glared at Samad. He was under cover, but the rain was coming at an angle, so he would soon be just as soaked as Samad was.
:Just accept it, and we can go to the palace and get warm and dry.: Methos hated being wet and cold.
Methos looked grumpy, but Samad had experience with that. .He'd waited all evening and he could continue to wait all night. He was not going to give up this time or be scared off.
"Oh very well, I accept," Methos said.
:Really?: Samad blurted out before he could stop himself. Then he winced. He didn't want to give Methos the chance to back out. But, really? Methos was accepting? Finally?
"Really, Samad." And Methos voice was gentle with only a hint of amusement. "Really." And the barrier in Methos' mind softened and faded away. And then his mind was laid bare.
Samad slowly lowered his own barriers, giving Methos just those few more seconds to think through what he was offering and to snap any barriers back into place. But Methos didn't, and Samad stared into Methos' eyes, his own wide with wonder.
Here was the mind that Samad had known all his life would be his match, and it was laid out for him, in all of it's depth and complexity, all of his sharpness and shadows. He was finally allowed in to see the history and the pain, the love of life and the perseverance that defined him.
Here was a man who did not offer his heart lightly because once offered, he would stop at nothing to support those to whom he was loyal, no matter who they were or what they wanted. Here was a man who had been entranced by Samad as a weanling, delighted by him as a yearling, and loved him for years, but refused to bond to him until they could meet eyes as equals.
Sammad had known this was his Chosen for seven years, and yet he hadn't realized until now how much further he could fall in love with Methos.
He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Methos'.
They were bonded as tightly as any Herald and Companion; they were partners and companions and would be for the rest of their shared lives. The break in eye contact was almost a relief from the intensity; it was now possible to think of the cold and wet again.
:You are mine, now. Right?:
"Yes, I am yours, and you are mine." Methos sounded almost as dazed as Samad felt, but he shook it off soon enough. "Come now, it's cold and wet. Let us go up to the palace and warm up." Methos clambered rather awkwardly onto Samad's bare back in the cold rain but once he settled it was like he was physically part of Samad. It felt like being whole for the first time. The feel of Methos' legs and knees and weight showed his thoughts as clear, direct, and intimate as mind speech.
"Take us home, Samad, wherever our new home is."
Samad took a moment to prance with glee, Methos easy and relaxed on his back, before heading up towards the palace with an smooth, easy canter.