The Return

by Tas

Disclaimers: I honestly made these people up long before I heard of XWP or fanfiction. However, fanfiction is what gave me the courage (whimper) to post and its influence may well show up in my characters.

Love/Sex: Umm, yes. Between women, yes. However, sex is not the focus of the story.

Violence: Yes but I don't get too graphic.

Language: No worse than shown on primetime TV.

Many thanks to the talented bards of the Xenaverse for sharing their talents and proving that it's okay to dream.

Cie created a cover which can be found at


Part 1

The dark shadows lightened slowly as the first brush of the coming dawn painted the landscape. Pale violet eyes stoically watched as the artistry of the Mother's hand dappled the land in soft colors of pastel. Those same eyes waited patiently for the light of the day to greet and illuminate the surrounding woodlands. Birdsong flittered through the air in a welcoming chorus of the start of a new day. The watcher rose in a fluid motion of muted strength and inherent grace. A startled rabbit darted off as Tristian Thomas uncoiled her powerful frame and stretched to her full six-foot length. A soft snort of amusement escaped her as she eyed the startled animal's departure and she ambled down to the gurgling stream to wash. Clear cold water woke her quickly, eyes the color of the Mother's dawn surveyed her surroundings as well honed instincts took comfort in the natural sounds of the woodlands telling her that all was clear.

A gentle whicker greeted her return to the camp and she smiled at the muted gray form of her mare. "Morning Shadow. Last day out, my friend." Tristian let that thought weigh heavily on her mind. She wasn't looking forward to returning to the populated areas of Mhyr. Too many people...too much noise. She hated the feeling of being caged and the constant need to deal with the barrage of emotions most of the nobles projected. It taxed her and usually left her feeling tired and irritable. Shadow snorted and shook her dark head as if in agreement.

She packed up her minimal belongings, put out the fire and saddled Shadow quickly. The two were well on their way by the time the sun finally crested the horizon. She kept to the woods, only Shadow's soft gait breaking their silence. Theirs was a partnership of years and both were as one with the wild land they rode as the forests own denizens. Tristian paid scant heed to their direction trusting her mount to make her own way and lead them safely to Mhyr. She studied the land instead, her eyes constantly roaming their path, ears twitching at the slightest noise, her whole being in tune with the land around her as instincts proven over the years categorized, marked, and dismissed the rustlings of the woods as harmless. This ability was so much a part of her that Tristian no longer recognized she was doing it. While a part of her kept watch for danger, her conscious thoughts were centered on the problems being experienced in the Holding of Mhyr.

Mhyr was a Holding in the land called Riger. The second largest Holding in the land and they'd been having trouble with bands of roving brigands. Mhyr's outlying herd and produce farms were systematically being ravaged. Animals and people suddenly disappeared, produce farms were burned to ashes and no trace of the culprits had yet been found. Tristian's journey had taken her out to the last herdfarm. As had been the case, all tracks led to a solid wall. In this case, literally. The bandit's trail had been hard enough to follow, they'd used every trick in the book to cover their tracks. They had not, however, counted on Tristian being sent out after them. Only the fact that no clue had been found after six months allowed Tristian to convince their Leader that she be allowed to leave the city and survey the site in person. Staunton Grier, Leader of Mhyr, did not care to have her outside the Holding during these times.

Tristian sighed remembering the argument.

"You cannot go," Staunton pleaded. "What if it's a trick to get you out of the Holding so the raiders can come here?"

"Staunton," Tristian growled softly, "You're surrounded by the entire Guardian force, what raider in their right mind would enter the Holding proper?"

"I don't like it," Staunton replied, huffily. "I don't like you not being here. Let the others search, you're needed here to protect the Holding."

"You won't have a damn Holding to protect, Staunton, if this keeps up. The outlying farms are already beginning to have thoughts of relocating. If we lose them, how do you plan on feeding this Holding. I must go. Maybe I won't find anything, but...maybe I will."

Tristian's lips pursed in annoyance. She'd found something, all right. After three weeks of losing the trail, finding it again, riding through mud, rain and snow, she'd finally found the raiders true point of departure. A granite wall set into the High Reaches Mountain. She could find no trip device that may have hid an entrance. No hidden trail, no carefully disguised path. Nothing. Just the face of the mountain itself, mocking her attempts. She felt Shadow stop, her nostrils testing the wind, and Tristian's thoughts returned to the present. "Home, eh? That's right. I smell it too." She patted the mare's neck fondly and allowed the smells of the city to lead them forward.

The sounds of the city were overwhelming to these two daughters of the wild. Shadow snorted and shied as they entered and encountered the ebb and flow of the babbling populace. Tristian sighed and dismounted. Taking hold of the unhappy mare's halter, she spoke gently soothing her upset mount. A firm hand held the halter and Tristian led them further into the maelstrom of merchants hawking their goods. She kept them to the wide path used for passage through the city and absently responded to greetings being sent her way. She fully expected to be met knowing that Staunton would have received word by now that she'd returned. Tristian made her way to the Guardian's compound. Shadow calmed at the sight and nickered softly knowing that soon she'd be brushed, fed, warm, and settled into a quiet stall.

"Thomas," an arrogant voice barked across the stable. "The Leader wishes to see you at once. Come with me."

Tristian sighed in disgust. "Staunton knows that I'll be there as soon as Shadow's been cared for, Lionae."

Althea Lionae, Commander of the Guardian forces of Mhyr, stalked forward in anger. "I didn't ask for your opinion," she spat. "I gave you an order. At once."

Violet eyes turned icy cold as they surveyed the fuming Commander. "You forget yourself, Commander. I'm not a member of your military and I answer only to Staunton. I'll be there when Shadow has been cared for, Lionae, don't fuss me none, it's been a long trip."

Commander Lionae bit her tongue to keep from losing it. Tristian's temper was legendary. Although rarely seen, rousing the slumbering beast was not something one did lightly. Althea took in the tense form of the woman before her and recognized the beginning signs of warning. A faint essence of anger emanated from the taller woman and good sense prevailed. Still, appearances needed to be maintained, "One day, Thomas, you'll go to far," she muttered heatedly.

Tristian gave her a lazy smirk, "And you'll do what? Pout?" Turning back to Shadow, knowing the horse would warn her if Lionae decided to be stupid, Tristian addressed the fuming Commander. "Leave us, Staunton will expect me when I arrive."


Staunton Grier turned at the knock to her door, "Come."

A tow headed youngster peeked in, "Leader, Dyan is here."

"Thank you, Kata, seat them in the conference room and have refreshments and snacks served. I'm on my way." The youngster nodded in acknowledgement and pelted out slamming the door hurriedly. Staunton's gaze dropped to the desk. Dyan had come, as she'd asked. The largest Holding in Riger, home of the Warriors of Dyan, led by the House of du Aulstet. Dyan, the home of the mages. She shuddered as a sliver of fear sliced down her back. Dyan had always been feared. After generations of rumors, Staunton was now the first outsider to ever invoke the promise kept in the old scrolls. The promise that Dyan would come, would help, anywhere, anytime, if the need was there. Still, what does one do with a mage? She inhaled deeply, searching for calm and straightened her back. Time to meet the House of du Aulstet.

Staunton entered the room and halted abruptly. Her gaze drawn immediately to a tall woman lounging negligently against the conference table, slate gray eyes filled with warmth and humor eyed her in askance and she found herself at a complete loss for words.

"Leader?" A soothing voice washed through her and she managed to find a smile somewhere.

"Yes, please, forgive me. I...I don't know what's wrong with me."

"Nothing that I can see," the woman teased gently. A warm smile was offered, "Will you join us?"

Now Staunton realized she was still standing in the doorway. She tried to will away the crimson blush she could feel rising as she stepped fully into the room and accepted the woman's extended hand. "Welcome to Mhyr. I am Staunton Grier, Leader of this Holding."

"I am Emma, it's my pleasure to meet you." Emma du Aulstet smiled gently as she guided the woman to her chair. Turning she indicated the third occupant in the room. "My daughter, Sidell."

Staunton decided she'd gone blind and stupid at that moment. The woman seated at the table was a golden beauty. Hair the color of sun-bleached wheat framed a honey gold face that showed strength of character and green eyes filled with a wisdom far surpassing her youth. Those green eyes twinkled with warmth as a sweet voice penetrated her stunned senses. "Leader, it is a pleasure to be here. Both Mother and I hope this meeting will lead to a more active interaction between our Holdings."

"But," Staunton stammered, "Dyan...prefers their..."

"Isolation," Emma finished for her. "Perhaps those before us, Staunton. Sidell and I feel the time for such segregation has long since past. It is time for Riger to unite as one and put aside our tendencies to seek refuge in what has become the status quo." A quirk of her lips invited Staunton in on the joke and Staunton couldn't have stopped the smile that came to her lips if she tried. Riger was home for five Holdings. Four of those interacted daily with each other. Only Dyan held themselves apart. Emma was poking fun at her own Holding and Staunton couldn't help the amazement she was experiencing. Dyan was planning to end their isolation, by the Mother's hand, what next?

"Don't look so stunned, Leader," Sidell chided her in amusement. "Not all of our ancestors were foolish. We," she indicated her mother and herself, "like to think we come from the side of the family."

Emma's shouted laughter startled her but also gave her the indication that these two had discussed this possibility before. It seemed to be an old subject between them and both mother and daughter gazed at each other with open affection. This was not quite the reaction she'd expected from these two who were considered to be the most powerful mages in all the land. No, Staunton had expected, she snorted silently in amusement, stuffy haughtiness. Instead she'd found an offer of friendship. They chatted amiably as the refreshments were served, the two women from Dyan apparently happy to let Staunton take the lead in this meeting she'd requested.

Emma studied the Leader of Mhyr unobtrusively. She noticed the concern the woman showed while talking about her holding, the excitement in her voice while discussing their plans to expand, and the sadness she heard in that same voice as the conversation turned to the reason Staunton had called them.

"We have been hard hit by raiders in the past six months," Staunton began. Her face turning grim as she recalled the reports she received from the Guardians. She brought them up to date and looked to see if the two had any questions.

Emma turned to Sidell but her daughter shook her head allowing Emma to lead the questioning. "Staunton, what have the Guardians found?"

Staunton bit her lip. She'd not wanted to have this conversation but acknowledged it would be silly to hide this and still expect Dyan to help. What was she hoping for? A wave of their hand and all would be well? She grimaced in self-disgust and turned to Emma. "We've been having trouble with the Guardians, Leader. A year ago, Flain Martin, the Commander at the time, was killed in a particularly nasty raid. His second in command managed to hold back the brigands and bring home as many of our Guardians as possible but the need to replace Flain was now necessary."

Emma frowned in confusion, "Wouldn't you just promote his Second?"

"Normally," Staunton sighed in regret. "Mhyr is still bound to the Caste system, Leader. My father before me tried to fight it and I continue. Unfortunately, my Sire was respected more than I and I'm afraid some ground has been lost."

Sidell's furrowed brow showed her confusion and Staunton smiled wanly. "Bear with me, Sidell. It will all make sense soon." She cleared her throat, "The hierarchy of the Caste system is Noble, Merchant, Commoner. After generations we managed to remove the other numerous roles and have settled on these three. The Guardians," here, sarcasm could be heard dripping from Staunton's tone, "should not be lead by other than those of the Noble houses. Only the Nobles understand the importance of a strong protective force and an important matter such as that cannot be left to the lower classes."

"I take it you disagree?" Emma remarked wryly.

Staunton hesitated. She had no way of knowing if her comments would be considered an insult to Dyan. "Occasionally, there are times when the Nobles would do best to stay out of certain situations." She watched as Emma's brow quirked but could read nothing else on the woman's calm face. She continued her tale, "My father had, through sheer magnetism, received approval to put a commoner in charge of the Guardians. That was Flain and this move was never regretted. His second could have taken his place but...after I took over, the Nobles had begun making noises about giving up some of their privileges. I was caught between starting a war that was bound to hurt the commoners more than anyone else, or, giving in to the Nobles at strategic times. Unfortunately, one of the most important things they wanted restored under their control was the Guardians. The Commander now is a fool and I don't have enough support to have her replaced."

"What happened to Flain's Second," Emma asked quietly.

"Tristian quit the Guardians. She really had no choice; Althea Lionae hates her and would have made her life miserable. I asked Tristian to stay on as my advisor. That leaves her free to do what she needs to do and she answers to no one but me. It also keeps her here, which has helped greatly. The Guardians come to her for guidance and those that Lionae put in to the ranks know better than to try Tristian's patience. However, since she's not included in the daily tasking, things have become lax. The brigands couldn't have picked a better time to strike, I doubt Lionae could find her head without help, let alone some clever brigands."

"And what do you need from us, Staunton?" This was Sidell. She was curious as to just what the Leader expected them to do.

"I need help with the brigands, Sidell. I'd not expect you to fix the problems in Mhyr but the outlying farms are being ravaged. We've already lost a half years crops and livestock. If this keeps up, Mhyr will be unable to feed itself through the rest of this year."

Emma gazed thoughtfully at the floor; Sidell studied her mother for a minute before returning her attention to Staunton. "Where might I find someone that has more information on the brigand activity, Staunton?"

Staunton was once again reminded of the younger woman's outer beauty and the inherent inner strength she could feel emanating off of her. "Tristian should be here shortly. She finally argued me into allowing her the freedom to track the activities herself. I received word that she was back in the city and I expect she's caring for her mount."

A sharp rap on the door announced the entrance of a brunette of medium height and average looks. She could have been pretty if not for the cruel sneer that seemed to be stamped onto her features. She strode arrogantly into the room, her crafty brown eyes boldly assessing Sidell. "I am a Althea Lionae," she announced grandly and was somewhat taken back when the two women continued to sit quietly and eye her in amusement. "Of the House of Lionae," she inserted pointedly, "a name honored back to the time of our founding."

Staunton shook her head and responded before her visitors could comment. "What brings you here, Althea? I did not summon you."

Althea looked at her reproachfully, "No, Leader, you did not. I caution you again on taking such risks with your welfare. I must be informed by my officers that a transport ship of unknown origin has entered our Holding and that two strangers are guesting with the Leader of our Holding." She eyed Staunton in a manner reminiscent of one eyeing a recalcitrant child, "Staunton, you know better. As Commander of the Guardians, it is my duty to be here for your protection." With that she turned to the quietly watching women obviously expecting an introduction.

Staunton sighed. She would have preferred to have no one else present but Althea's family was very powerful in Mhyr and Staunton needed to watch her step if she didn't want to see a Lionae leading the Holding. That thought brought a shudder of disgust to her body and she shook herself turning to her guests. "Althea, may I present Emma du Aulstet, Leader of Dyan and her daughter and Heir, Sidell du Aulstet."

A calculated glint of satisfaction flickered across Althea's face to be quickly replaced with a facade of imminent pleasure. "Ladies, I am honored to be in such company. This is indeed a surprise. I'm sure our noble families will be delighted to guest the two most revered women in Riger." She moved forward boldly and claimed the chair to the right of Sidell. "Lady du Aulstet, it is indeed a pleasure for me," she drawled lazily.

A golden eyebrow quirked in amusement and Sidell responded wryly, "I'm glad to hear that." She ignored her mother's muffled chuckle and returned her attention to Staunton. "You were saying we should be receiving a briefing soon?"

"Yes, Sidell. I expect Tristian shortly."

"You give that commoner to much leeway," Althea muttered. "She is caring for her mount and refused to present herself to you in a timely manner. I don't know what you were thinking, Staunton. It's not a good idea to give commoners the impression that they are our equals." She turned a winning smile to Sidell and explained in a martyred manner. "Staunton has learned some...bad habits from her adored father. Unfortunately it's given some of our commoners a misplaced sense of importance. I'm sure it's something I will be required to attend to shortly." She reached casually over and patted Sidell's hand. "I'm sure Dyan does not have these tedious problems. No doubt your commoners are firmly reminded of their position in life."

"No doubt," Sidell agreed, her lips pursed tightly in annoyance. "Seeing as how Dyan does not subscribe to such a policy, our so-called commoners are well aware that their place in life is whatever they're willing to work for."

Both Staunton and Althea stared at her in shock. Althea's eyes turned to Emma, "Surely, Leader, she jests?"

"No," Emma drawled. "Not at all."

"But," Althea's gaze returned to Sidell and noticed that she had lost the attention of her audience. "Sidell?" she murmured hesitantly. Sidell's gaze was held firmly to the doorway and Althea turned to see what might be happening there. Her jaw clenched in irritation. "Wait outside, Thomas. This is a meeting of the Noble houses and your presence is unacceptable."

Tristian's impassive face never faltered and she nodded then turned to leave.

"Wait." A gentle voice called and halted her in her tracks. "Please, join us."

"She's a commoner," Althea sputtered in outrage. "She should not be in this room while we are discussing important matters. They have no sense of the needs of the Holding. Sidell, I must protest."

Sidell rose gracefully, her gaze never leaving the icy violet regard of the newcomer. "Then allow me to join you. May I assume you are Tristian Thomas?"

The dark head nodded once in agreement and Sidell stepped around the table ignoring Althea's admonishments. "May I call you Tristian?" Sidell asked gently, approaching the formidable figure framed in the doorway. "I am Sidell," she offered.

"Tristian is fine, m'lady. Perhaps our Commander is correct. If you require assistance, I'm sure she'll be happy to provide it."

Sidell smiled gently, "And I am sure she'll be happy to try. It's her ability to succeed that I doubt." She laced her hand around Tristian's arm, "May I join you, Tristian?" She asked hesitantly.

"I...of course, m'lady. Would you care for some refreshments?"

"I would," Sidell agreed and turned to Emma, "I'll meet up with you later. If I can convince Tristian to take me with her, I'd like to ride out tomorrow and see what she has found regarding these raiders."

Emma smiled indulgently and in mock ferocity sternly warned her companion, "Be careful with my heir, young warrior. She can be a handful but I trust you're up to the challenge."

Tristian blinked as warm gray eyes belied the tone behind the words and the smile following them invited her in on the joke. Tristian's lips twitched and she nodded, "I'll do my best, m'lady."

"This is unacceptable," Althea shouted standing in rigid anger. "Sidell I..."

Sidell raised a hand and gave a gentle wave; Althea's voice disappeared although her mouth continued to move. The Commander faltered when no further sound was forth coming. Coolly, Sidell addressed her, "You seem to be very conscious of my position, Althea. Allow me to remind you of not only WHO I am by WHAT I am. Try not to further irritate me, I'm not a very patient person."

Sidell turned to her taller companion and admitted sheepishly, "I don't usually resort to such measures." She sighed and shrugged, "I just couldn't seem to help myself, and she's been annoying me since her entrance."

Tristian face remained a stoic mask of indifference and she merely nodded at Sidell's gentle admission. "She has that ability, m'lady. I'm sure no irreparable harm has been done."

"None," Sidell assured her. "The spell will wear off when we leave." She looked up again at the woman beside her and felt a tug on her senses at the close proximity of her companion. "I believe you offered refreshments?"

Tristian nodded and led them out. She stopped outside of an overly ornate tavern and Sidell felt her hesitate. "Something wrong?" she asked gently.

Tristian paused. "I'm not sure they'll let me in."

"Then why are we here?"

"It is an establishment more suitable for a lady such as yourself," Tristian answered honestly as she gathered her wits and entered the doorway, Sidell keeping pace at her side.

A sour looking man eyed them, "What do you want, Thomas? You know better than to enter my establishment."

Before Tristian could mutter an explanation Sidell stepped forward. "I am Sidell du Aulstet. My mother and I are here to visit your Holding on a request from your leader."

The tavernkeeper almost swallowed his tongue in shock, patrons of the establishment murmured in excitement and a rather large, rather greasy individual rose and approached them. "Lady du Aulstet, it is the pleasure of Mhyr to host the Heir of Dyan. Please, join me and my House." He extended his arm and turned to Tristian. "You are dismissed, Thomas. I will escort the Lady and counsel Staunton on the sheer effrontery of her actions that allowed you to escort the Heir."

Tristian nodded having expected no less but Sidell wouldn't release her arm. Nor did she move to accept the arm of Vernid Lionae. Sidell's gaze sharpened and cooled as she eyed the speaker. She swept her eyes across the room, judging and dismissing the occupants as if nothing more that insects. She performed a thorough inspection of the man before her, noting the dried food stains on his clothes, the unkempt aura of sloth, and the excess weight on his small frame. She sniffed delicately and wrinkled her nose at the distinct odor of the unwashed. She looked up to her companion. "I will not stay here, Tristian. Let us leave, please."

"But..." Tristian stammered, beginning to lose her composure as Sidell literally dragged her out of the establishment. "M'lady...forgive me, perhaps another, tavern? I'm not familiar with the Noble's choices of establishments."

Sidell stopped and turned to face her. Tristian expected icy disdain and was at a lost to understand the humor on the woman's face. Sidell rested both hands flat against Tristian's chest. "Listen to me, okay? Just listen." She waited for Tristian's agreement before speaking. "I am from Dyan. I am the Heir to the Holding of Dyan."

"I know that..." Tristian began in exasperation. She stopped at the glare she received an inhaled audibly as she clamped down on her words.

"Now, Dyan has no commoners, nobles, or whatever other..." she searched for the word and Tristian helpfully supplied it, "castes, M'lady?"

"Whatever," Sidell snarled. "We don't have them, we don't believe in them, and from what I've seen so far, we never will in my lifetime." She waited for Tristian to digest the news. "So, somewhere in this Holding is probably a tavern that you visit. You probably enjoy going there and I'd wager the food and drink is quite good."

At Tristian's hesitant nod, she continued. "Good, then please take us there. No more peeking into the so called 'proper' establishments." She looked up shyly, "Okay?"

Tristian bowed her head and shuffled her feet in an endearingly adolescent manner. "Okay," she agreed softly.

Sidell smiled and took her arm as Tristian led them off. She could feel the tension in the tall frame of her companion and she gently squeezed the firm arm she was holding. She began a rambling description of Freelock, the colony she preferred to live in and was glad to notice her companion beginning to relax. They approached another Tavern, not quite so ornate but sturdily built and clean on the inside. The enticing smells of cooking caused Sidell's stomach to loudly protest its empty state. She ignored the raised brow of her tall shadow and smiled winningly at the tavernkeep.

The lady tavernkeep eyed the two of them in pleasure and smiled broadly at Tristian. "Thomas, you're back I see. Safe and sound?"

"Aye, Lucan, not to mention hungry."

"Then set you and your lady down and I'll have platters sent out immediately. We'd not want you starving."

Tristian's face was a study in contradictions. She couldn't help but be pleased her friend thought of them as a couple and yet realized the insult to Sidell such an assumption could be. She opened her mouth to introduce the young heir only to find herself outmaneuvered.

"Thank you tavernkeep," Sidell exclaimed with a smile. "I am Sidell and I'm looking forward to the meal. Tristian holds this establishment in high regard."

Lucan chuckled, "I humbly admit that we've got the best meals in the Holding. Come in and sit down. Any friend of Tristian's is always welcomed. I trust you're visiting from another Holding. How are things going at home?"

"Very well," Sidell answered easily, managing to avoid having to name the Holding she was from. "With spring on its way we're preparing the crops, the herdstock is excited to be out roaming again and everyone is glad to see the last lingering bits of winter pass."

Lucan nodded sagely and the two women were off on a discussion ranging from crops to weaving. Tristian sat in silence watching Sidell interact so easily with a commoner and she tentatively began to believe that the golden woman truly did not believe in caste differences.

Tristian absently returned the greetings she received and tried to ignore the blatant nods of appreciation she was getting for her companion. She sighed softly, her mind wondering at the freedom of living in a Holding such as Dyan. Where her birth did not automatically make her incompetent. She was brought out of her revere by a gentle hand on her thigh and she turned to meet green eyes softened in gentle concern.

"Something wrong, Tristian? You seem...sad?"

"No, m'lady. It is nothing."

"You're sure? Am I making you uncomfortable?"

"No," Tristian rushed to assure her. "Really, you are not. Perhaps I'm just.." she hesitated, "it's been a long three weeks."

Sidell nodded and turned as their food arrived. She inhaled deeply in appreciation of the pleasing aromas and Lucan chuckled. "Don't just smell it, girl, eat it for Alwyn's sake."

Tristian tensed at the overly familiar tone the tavernkeeper was using but the hand on her thigh kept her silent with a gentle squeeze. Sidell winked a Lucan, "I intend to, Lucan. But good food, like many other things, deserves to be savored for a bit before being consumed and relegated to a mere memory."

Lucan laughed heartily, enjoying the young woman's openly honest warmth. She sent out a tray of sweets that she made for her special customers and smiled as Sidell hastily nibbled a sweet roll and groaned in delight. "Oooh, can I take you home with me?" Sidell teased wickedly.

Lucan returned to her kitchen, a wide smile on her face. She clasped an affectionate hand on Tristian's shoulder before disappearing. Tristian grinned as Sidell efficiently dove into the platters of meat, cheese and fruits set out for them. They spoke of little inconsequential things, the smaller woman keeping up an almost constant chatter as she tried the various offerings and presented her favorites to Tristian for tasting waiting for the dark woman to murmur in agreement.

They were halfway through when the tavern fell silent. Sidell looked up to see Staunton Grier hovering in the door and Emma striding smartly towards them. Emma pulled up a chair and sat down poking at the various meats and gingerly taking a piece to taste. She moaned in appreciation and Sidell chuckled beckoning the now concerned tavernkeeper over. "Lucan, if you please, another platter? My mother appears to be starving."

"Of course, young one," Lucan answered with a grin, relaxing again at Sidell's easy presence. "More sweets also?"

"Aye, especially the rolls. Tristian ate them all." Sidell pronounced this declaration in all seriousness knowing full well that the tavernkeep was aware of who really ate the rolls. Tristian rolled her eyes at the blatant falsehood.

Playing along, Lucan glared at Tristian; "I've told you before, share. I'll get more Sidell, you slap her hand if she steals anymore." She winked at the grinning blonde and shouted her orders for more food. She turned then eyeing Staunton's form warily. Staunton was still in the doorway.

Emma snorted and snapped out, "Staunton, either get in or get out. You're blocking the damn door."

Staunton continued to hover and Emma turned an irritated glare at her. She shuffled into the room and sat hesitantly. She looked for all the world as if she would either faint or flee any minute now. Emma sighed, "Remove yourself, if you cannot relax. I'd prefer you not ruin my meal with your presence. I'll meet with you in the council chambers after my morning meal." Emma inhaled the delicious aroma of the platter in front of her and munched in appreciation. She smiled at the hovering Lucan, "Excellent, tavernkeep. You'd do well to commend your cook."

Lucan smiled shyly, not sure who the woman was but aware that she was someone of import. Staunton had made a visible effort to relax so Lucan nodded differentially, "Thank you, Lady. I'm glad you enjoy the meal."

Sidell coughed almost inhaling a piece of cheese. Tristian turned to her in concern and she waved her off. "Okay, it's okay." She chuckled, "I think hearing my mother being called Lady was more than I could handle this morning.

Emma flashed her an annoyed grimace and then laughed along with her daughter. Turning to the tavernkeep she smiled, "Emma, Lucan. Please, call me Emma."

Lucan smiled shyly and left the four women to their meal.

Sidell continued her lighthearted chatter with Emma now joining in on some of the tales being told. She added a mother's perspective to the adventures her offspring related. Tristian laughed gently, the two women's warm presence overpowering Staunton's unease. Sidell continued to ply Tristian with little morsels until the dark warrior was forced to lean back and plead for mercy. "No more, m'lady. I'm about to burst as it stands now."

Sidell patted Tristian's belly comfortably and grinned, "Yup, all full up."

Emma laughed at their antics and finished her meal in relish. "Tristian, thank you for bringing her here. I dread to think what would have happened if she'd eaten in one of those places Staunton insisted we eat in."

Sidell grinned, "Tristian tried to get me in one. I didn't care for the smells coming from the kitchen nor the presence of the imbecile who offered to escort me. I'm afraid I begged her to take me someplace with real food."

Emma waved her fork in dismissal, "Whatever the reason, I'm pleased with the result. I was hungry."

Sidell snorted, "That will teach you to bundle us up in such a hurry that we missed breakfast."

"I thought we'd eat here," Emma defended herself. "You know, have a relaxing meal and discuss the problems."

"Ahhh," Sidell pronounced in satisfaction. "That was incredible."

Emma chuckled, "Well we," she indicated Staunton and herself, "are headed back to the council room. Apparently, we now have to meet every noble idiot in the Holding."

Sidell's brow lifted in amusement, "I trust you don't expect me present."

"As if," Emma agreed easily, "No, I know better. Don't forget, Tristian has been on the trail for the past three weeks and she could probably use some rest. Try not to wear her out."

Sidell grinned. "No, if she's tired she's free to take herself off for a nap. I plan to wander the Holding and talk to the citizens." She turned to ensure Tristian knew she was serious. Sidell wanted her to rest before she did anything else.

"Good," Emma agreed and stood. "Let me get Staunton out of here before she passes out from having to breath all this common air," Emma muttered in biting sarcasm. Staunton winced but rose also. "Meet up with me later and if you two decide to leave the Holding, let me know first."

Sidell nodded and her mother almost shoved Staunton out the door. She turned a warm smile on Lucan as the woman approached their table. "Lucan, that was incredible. Thank you so much."

"My pleasure, cooking is something I enjoy doing and I'm good at it."

Sidell nodded in agreement and extracted a gold piece from her pack. She laid it gently in Lucan's hand, "For a most excellent meal, Lucan."

Lucan stared at the piece, "Sidell...I...this..." she stammered knowing she couldn't give the young woman adequate change without leaving herself short the coins she'd need for the day."

Sidell closed Lucan's fist around the coin. "Decide how many meals it's good for. If I leave before I've used them all, feed Tristian for me."

Lucan smiled and agreed. "I will, young one. Don't you fret, I won't short you none."

"The thought never crossed my mind, Lucan." Sidell assured her.

The two women were gone before Lucan noticed the engraved stamp of Dyan on the coin. She almost fainted in awe. She hastily stashed the coin for safety vowing that she'd never spend it on anything.

Sidell walked quietly beside her companion deep in thought. She liked the woman. She chuckled at the thought, okay; she more than liked the woman. Tristian's brooding manner seemed to gentle whenever Tristian spoke to her. She felt a curious connection to her silent shadow and admitted to being well on the way to instant infatuation. She smiled, one step at a time, Sidell, she admonished herself. This one would not be easy to catch...but Sidell couldn't help but feel as if this one was more than worth the effort it would take not only to catch, but also to keep. She looked up as the noise level increased and she eyed the market. "Oooh, shopping," she declared in delight hiding the grin she felt at Tristian's pained expression. "Tristian, you're probably tired, why don't you go and get some rest?" Sidell smiled gently, "I'll be fine. I doubt anyone here could hurt me if they tried."

Tristian smiled at that. "No, I doubt the same. I am not really tired, m'lady. Sleeping on the trail is something I enjoy doing. Being on the trail is something I enjoy doing. Unless you wish to be alone, I...don't mind accompanying you."

Her soft words were rewarded with a dazzling smile. "I enjoy your company," Sidell assured her. "If you're sure...and if you think you can take this babble."

Tristian chuckled, "Therein lies the problem. But, I think I'll be alright for one day."

"Good, shall we?"

"Uhmmm, I have to tell you." Tristian started hesitantly, "We...have a market square for the commoners and another for the Nobles."

Sidell rolled her eyes. "The difference?"

"I'm not really sure. I can't shop in the Noble's square."

"Can you enter?"

Tristian smiled wryly, "Aye. I think they allow it so we'll know what we're missing."

Sidell squeezed her arm in sympathy. "Let's wander here, I assume it's the common square?"

At Tristian's nod she continued, "And then we'll go to the Noble Square to see exactly what the differences are."

"As you wish," Tristian agreed turning them to brave the crowds. Tristian's large frame easily towered over the majority of the people in the square and they made room for her to maneuver having been treated to her irritation at being constantly poked and stepped on. Sidell found herself moving along easily and she hid a grin thinking it sure is handy to have your own warrior escort. She bit her lip to keep the smile from turning to laughter and set her sights on enjoying the day.

Tristian watched in continued fascination as Sidell moved through the crowds at the tables effortlessly. She talked with everyone and bartered fairly with the merchants often winning concessions just because of her charm. The people in the square were quite taken with the golden beauty in their midst and engaged her in active discussions ranging from fashions to food. Sidell also visited all of the tables that sold little snacks and practically ate her way through the square. Tristian snorted in amusement as the woman's face creased into a warm grin at a particularly flavorful morsel. She was unsurprised to find a piece being held up for her consumption and admitted that the sweet-coated nuts were very tasty. After a few hours in the square Tristian realized Sidell had garnered more information during her chats than the Guardians did during an interrogation. A truly gifted woman, Tristian acknowledged, listening to the latest discussion.

"I'm telling you Sidell, there was a mage with them." The woman was a herdfarmer and neighbor to one of the raided farms. "I know what I saw but these people," she hesitated and placed a hand on Tristian's arm, "not you Thomas, you know that."

Tristian smiled and the woman continued. "These people think I'm just a scatterbrained commoner."

"What did you see, Lesta?"

"After the raiders left, me and mine followed them. Hoping we could figure out where they were headed. Sidell..." she shook her head. "They took full herds, carts, wagons, you get the picture?"

"Should have made a clear trail." Sidell responded encouragingly.

"Aye," Lesta nodded vehemently. "Anyways, this older woman walked behind them. I thought she was a bit soft in the head," she snickered and looped her finger in the air, "she was talking to herself. Muttering as she followed the herd, Sidell...wherever she walked, the trail disappeared. No indentations in the ground, no marks to follow. It has to be a mage."

Sidell turned to Tristian who nodded slowly. "That would explain what I found. The trail I followed was primarily broken branches, a chip off a tree bark, and marks of something scraping on the stones. There really wasn't a path. I found it unusual but I didn't dwell on it.

Lesta smiled up at Tristian fondly, "So you found them then? I knew you could do it."

"I found their entry point. I'm not sure that's going to help us much." Tristian admitted.

Lesta shrugged in easy acceptance, "It's more than we had yesterday, Thomas." She moved off as some little trinket caught her eye.

"Shall we see what we're missing in the Noble Square?" Sidell asked dryly.

"Of course, m'lady." Tristian replied and made a clear path through the crowd. Sidell vowed that her next major task was to hear her name from those lips. She smiled and deemed that a worthy goal.

"Do you think they'll let me shop in the Noble Square?" Sidell asked in mild amusement.

Tristian grinned, "I imagine that the nobles have been fully briefed on the presence of Dyan. I'd be surprised if you were not known by now."

Sidell grimaced, "Then do you think we'll find anything to buy?"

Tristian only shrugged and smiled gently at her.

"Lady du Aulstet," a smooth voice echoed across the square and the merchants all turned to see who was being addressed. Althea Lionae approached and offered an arm. "Lady, it would be my pleasure to escort you."

"I'm sure it would be," Sidell commented mildly, not releasing her clasp on Tristian's arm. "However, as you can see, I have an escort. I'm sure you're extremely busy, Althea and I'd hate to be responsible for the Guardian's Commander to be remiss in her duties."

"Lady, there are others to care for the colony. I am allowed some time off on occasion." She held Sidell's gaze in steely determination, her arm extended for Sidell to accept.

"Well, Commander. I do thank you for the offer but as I've said, I have an escort. Please, enjoy your time off."

Sidell pulled Tristian along effectively dismissing the now irritated Commander. The merchants fell over themselves to help the young heir but Sidell noticed the marked difference between the two merchant squares. Here the prices were extravagant and the quality abysmal. She found a bit of jewelry she thought she could stomach and engaged the merchant in a round of haggling. Sidell was very disappointed to learn that one does not haggle in Noble Square. It was beneath the dignity of a Noble. She snorted in disgust and left the merchant holding the bauble still touting its fine qualities. "I will not shop where I cannot haggle. That takes out half the fun of shopping."

She and her shadow made their way through and Sidell found the food lacking and conversation stilted to polite nonsense. They walked through once and she decided she'd had enough. "Tristian, let's head back. I need to find an Inn, I guess we're staying the night."

Tristian turned to a large building occupying the back corner and nodded towards it.

Sidell groaned, "Let me guess, Nobles reside there?"

Tristian shrugged but led them towards the establishment. Sidell peeked in, now thoroughly afraid of what she'd find. So far she'd found the nobles to be rude, lazy, dirty, and their services left much to be desired. The scent of musty carpet and burning food had Sidell backing up quickly her head shaking emphatically from side to side. "No way, not now, not ever." She looked up at her companion, "Weren't those rooms above Lucan's place?"

Tristian winced, "Aye, m'lady."

"They're not good?" Sidell asked misunderstanding Tristian's wince.

"No. They're fine, equal to the quality of her food."

"Then what's with the wince?"

Tristian sighed, "Let's just say that you've managed to offend just about every noble in Mhyr and perhaps you'd like to reconsider?"

"Just about?" Sidell asked mischievously.

Tristian groaned softly but nodded in agreement.

"Oh goody. Let's get them all." She hooked her hand on Tristian's arm and pulled her back to what Sidell had decided was the 'real' side of Mhyr.

Emma du Aulstet stood in the foyer of the Inn her daughter had refused to step into looking around in disdain. She listened in impatience as Staunton explained the history of the establishment.

"This Inn was built back in my grandfather's time for the purpose of guesting visiting nobles. The architecture is exquisite and no expense has be taken to ensure that the furnishings are the best in the land," Staunton continued trying desperately to get the woman to agree to at least stay in an acceptable Inn.

"Staunton, perhaps it would be better if they spared no expense in keeping the place clean." The overpowering scent of mildew was driving her nuts and she already knew Sidell would never stay here. Sidell wouldn't be able to breathe after being in this place for a quarter hour. She noticed the dust and the dirt? Yep dirt tracked across the carpet and floors and didn't want to begin wondering how old the dirt was. The burnt smell of the kitchen had dissipated but what was now wafting out of there turned her stomach. She sighed and mindtouched her daughter asking if Sidell had arranged accommodations. The answer she received put the first smile on her face since she'd left her offspring that morning.

Staunton was hopeful as the smile crossed Emma's face. This was a short lived feeling when Emma muttered, "Come on, I've got a room already and stalked out of the Inn." She stopped short as Vernid Lionae intercepted her on the steps. Since Emma had never met him she merely nodded and moved to go around him. He stepped in front of her and she looked up angrily. "Something I can do for you?"

"Leader, I am Vernid Lionae, Scion of the House. I'm sorry I was unable to meet with you and hoped to see you at the banquet this eve."

Emma remained silent waiting for the point.

"Uhmmm," Vernid murmured, not comfortable with the woman's silence. Women weren't silent they talked constantly. She should at least have responded. "I...uhm, can I be of assistance? I see you've already gotten yourself settled in our Inn." He smiled pleasantly.

Emma frowned. "No, I need no assistance and no I'm not staying in that pig sty. Excuse me; if you really want to chat I'll see you at the banquet. At the moment I'm in need of some food and some peace and quiet." Not to mention some intelligent company Emma added silently. She pushed past Vernid and made her way to Lucan's place not caring if Staunton was with her or not.

Emma peeked in the connecting door to Sidell's room and found her daughter staring idly up at the ceiling. "Hey you. I know your day was tons better than mine."

Sidell grinned impishly and agreed, "I'm sure it was."

"Well, I have bad new for you. I need you to attend a formal banquet with me this evening. I'm also bringing Aurora here to attend."

Sidell chuckled, "Aurora and I at a formal affair? Mother is it your intent to remove Mhyr from the face of Riger?"

Emma laughed, "Aurora has promised to behave. I want the same from you."

Sidell laid back and considered her mentor. Aurora Mardred was Dyan's mage instructor. Sidell had known her forever and though the woman's patience was incredible when it came to teaching...she had no tolerance for political posturing. This could be a challenge. Which one of them would cave in first and pop someone. "Deal," she replied with a smirk.

Emma eyed her warily but didn't press the issue. "Good, would you wake me? I really need a nap. These people can give a rock a headache."

After leaving Sidell in Lucan's capable hands, Tristian felt the need to escape. She decided to take Shadow's daughter out for a ride. Summer, the golden mare that was her mother's complete opposite, stretched out eagerly on the open pasture, the long strides powering them quickly across the ground. Tristian felt most at home when not in the colony and she gave Summer her head not really concerned on when she got back.

Sidell and Aurora were exchanging glances of amused frustration across the room. The conversations of the nobles appeared to be limited to where they stood in the hierarchy of the caste. From there it led to the so-called feats their ancestors had accomplished. Sidell found it quite amusing that not one of them could claim to have done anything of import in their own lifetime. Except for Althea who commanded the Guardians. Althea conveniently forgot that her father had forced Staunton into placing his daughter in that position. Sidell smirked; I suppose it's all in one's perspective. The evening had been long and boring and it didn't appear that Emma would allow them to leave soon. She hated these things but Emma only asked it of her on rare occasions so she gave in and was as polite as she could manage. A loud commotion came from the kitchen and she watched several of the Guardians rush to the site.

"My guardians will handle that, Sidell. No need for concern, you are as safe here as you would be at home.

Sidell notice Aurora moving to rescue her from Althea's presence when a ringing scream full of terror pierced the air.


Aurora spun in surprise. Sidell joined her and they made their way to the commotion literally pushing people out of the way. "Hold," Aurora commanded. "Hold damn you or I'll hold you myself."

The guardians quit struggling with someone. Althea pushed her way in front of Aurora, "Please Mage Mardred, allow us to handle this."

Aurora shoved her aside and finally looked down at the individual that lay sobbing on the floor. "Selene? Goddess bless. Unhand her you dolts," Aurora barked watching the Guardians scamper out of her way. "Selene?" she murmured gently gathering the woman to her and helping her up. "Selene what's wrong. What's got you so upset?" Aurora was trying desperately to ignore the other questions clamoring in her head and concentrate on the present. "Shhh, easy now, easy. You'll make yourself sick."

Sidell handed her a glass of juice and Aurora thanked her absently. Holding Selene in her powerful embrace she helped the still shuddering woman to sip. "Now, easy and tell me what's happened."

"Tristian," Selene gasped, feeling the body holding her jerk in rigid attention. Sidell's head snapped up to listen and Emma moved closer. "Tristian...Aurie please, they're hurting her?"

"Who? Where?" Aurora questioned forcefully.

"I...Aurie I don't know..." She pointed to her head, "Here...I see it here."

Aurora held her tighter and spoke soothingly. "Okay, you know what I need to do?" Selene nodded and pleaded silently with her to hurry. Aurora's hand pressed gently to the side of Selene's head and she forced a mindlink. She felt Sidell join the link and they watched the scene playing out in the distraught woman's mind.

They saw her tied to the rafters and five women in Guardian uniforms pummeled her in gleeful enjoyment. One snarled that Lionae would be pleased with their work and Sidell snapped. Her eyes scanned the crowd and found Althea at her side watching in amused concern. Sidell grabbed her and muttered a quick spell.

Althea found herself enveloped in a blue cloud, as Sidell demanded Tristian's location. Try as she might she couldn't lie. She couldn't keep silent. She found herself babbling the information Sidell requested and was immediately engulfed in darkness as she lost consciousness.

Sidell didn't know Mhyr well enough to port and she had to run, she could hear Aurora and Selene following her and knew that Emma would remain to settle things down. She entered the stables and moved to the back corner. Desperately brushing the straw aside she found the trap door. Pulling it open she jumped down into the black hole counting on her powers to see her safely. She landed softly and rushed to the sounds of someone being beaten.

Turning a corner she saw in reality the scene that Selene had running through her mind. Sidell didn't stop to think. She raised a hand and power rose. The two inflicting damage on the bound woman were ripped to pieces without a chance to scream. Blood splattered everywhere. The last three women huddled in cowering mind numbing fear and Sidell felt no mercy as she looked at the wreck hanging limply from the ropes attached to the overhead beams. She never turned to them as she left them screaming in a ball of flame. Gently she used her gift to support the unconscious woman, her eyes filled with tears at Tristian's tortured body. Cradling her in a soft hold of power she explained to Aurora and Emma that she was taking Tristian to Dyan. They could come at their convenience. Sidell ported the two of them directly into the Healer's Hall and barked an order to have Jax, their senior healer summoned at once. Laying Tristian down on a soft pallet she sat on a stool and held Tristian's hands softly speaking to her. "Stay, please. I need you to stay. I've just found you. You can't leave me. Tristian, if you can hear me, stay. Please." She continued her gentle pleadings and murmured soft words of comfort and encouragement as Jax came in and began to work on the injured warrior.

Tristian woke to a world full of hazy pain. Dizzy and slightly nauseated she tried to roll and laid back gasping for air and fighting the need to throw up. She felt a soothing hand on her forehead and the soft tingling of gentle warmth flowed through her. Her discomfort eased and she slipped back into the darkness.

She woke again, still hurting but not the mindfilling pain of her first waking. She tried to blink to clear her vision but the images remained fuzzy and her eyes wouldn't open wider.

"Shhhh," a gentle voice she barely recognized crooned and she quit trying to move her head. "Easy, that's right, easy," the soft voice coaxed and she relaxed enough to recognize Sidell. She felt a cool touch and turned to accept the drink. Feeling her parched throat she mumbled a complaint when the water was withdrawn.

"No," Sidell murmured, "not too much. You'll be sick and you don't want to go there."

Tristian quieted and waited a bit until she was offered more. She sipped and was rewarded by receiving more. This continued for a long agonizing time until Tristian's throat felt better but her body hurt from the effort.

"Hey, do you need something for the pain?"

Tristian tried to shake her head no but stopped at the instant pounding.

"Sorry," Sidell soothed her. "Listen, squeeze my hand once for no, twice for yes." Sidell waited and felt a single barely perceptible squeeze. "Okay. Think you can eat something?"

Another single squeeze.

"More water?" She got a yes for that and helped Tristian sip. The door opened behind her and Tristian turned to the sound. A low groan escaping her and Sidell supported her chin turning her head back to the forward position. "Quit moving around, silly. You're gonna hurt yourself more."

Tristian felt a familiar touch on her head and she smiled weakly. "Mom," she whispered.

"I'm here sweetheart. You're safe now, just rest." Selene could barely keep the tears from falling as she looked at the broken body of her daughter. "Just rest." She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the still warm forehead. "Sleep, I'll be back later, you're safe here." Tristian felt the darkness claim her as she drifted on her mother's voice.

Sidell turned feeling the gaze resting on her. She stood quickly and moved closer to the pallet. "Hey you. Welcome back."

Tristian managed a grin. She shifted her eyes to the water jug and sipped slowly when she was offered the cup. She didn't hurt quite so much and felt clearer headed. "Where?" she asked hearing the cracking in her voice.

"Dyan. We brought you here rather than chance your care to those fools," Sidell responded heatedly.

Tristian's brow rose in question and Sidell just shook her head. "Later, you get well first. That's what's important."

"How long?"

"Two weeks." Sidell answered seeing the surprise in the violet gaze. "Yeah and I'm glad you're awake. Trying to get soup down your throat while you're unconscious is not something I'm looking forward to trying again."

Tristian smiled. "Hate soup."

"So your mother said. But, we couldn't just shove food down your throat and the soup managed to keep your strength up." Sidell grinned saucily, "Now that you're up you can have your soup while your conscious."

"Hate soup," Tristian repeated stubbornly.

"You haven't tried our soup. Be good and taste it." Sidell turned to a tray resting on the low table. She tested the temperature and smiled, it was perfect. She grinned at Tristian's wary look and offered a spoonful. "Be good," she reminded her patient and watched as Tristian accepted the spoonful. It was a thick almost chowder like soup seasoned lightly to be easy on her stomach and flavored with the golden maize Dyan loved to grow. Tristian's brow rose at the light pleasing taste and eagerly accepted the next offering. "See," Sidell teased, happily watching her patient eat a full meal for the first time in weeks.

"Good," Tristian praised finishing the bowl and sipping the lukewarm tea Sidell offered. She laid back in a pleasant daze her body sated, warm, and almost pain free.


"She's probably resting. She's been here most of the time and she needed to sleep. Aurora took her home. We'll see her soon I'm sure." Sidell looked at her, measuring her energy level and asked gently, "Do you remember what happened?"

"Some," Tristian murmured closing her eyes and letting her senses relax. "Took Summer for a ride. Came back and was finishing her brushing. Heard others come in but it is the common stable so I didn't think twice about it." Tristian breathed deeply, the talking tiring her quickly. She sipped more tea and finished with, "I felt a sting, on my neck and..." she trailed off remembering the aching pain that greeted her when she woke. Remembered the crunch as bones shattered from the beating.

Sidell rose and sat gently on the bed resting a hand on Tristian's forehead easing her into a soft slumber, easing the memories back for a bit to allow the healing peace of sleep.

Tristian woke again to find Selene sitting in the chair next to her. "Mom," she whispered causing Selene's head to jerk towards her.

"Hi, sweetheart. Feeling better?"

Tristian made a so-so hand gesture. Selene nodded as she again fought the tears in her eyes.

"Hey...I'm gonna be fine, what's the tears for."

"I was so scared. Oh, baby, so scared. I could see them, I could feel your pain."

Tristian murmured soothingly, trying to calm her mother but Selene moved away not wanting to aggravate Tristian's injuries. Her stubborn daughter moved to go after her as the door swung open. "Freeze you stubborn warrior." Sidell's normally gentle voice echoed the room in clear command.

Selene realizing what almost happened rushed back to Tristian's side. "Stop that, silly. What did you think you were doing?"

"You ran away...I needed to..." Tristian muttered weakly as her body's pain center flooded with the messages from her injuries.

"Damn it," Sidell muttered again reaching out a hand to Tristian's forehead and easing her back to sleep. She bit her lip to keep from jumping down Selene's throat and merely murmured that Tristian didn't appear to have re-injured anything. Sidell was at the end of her patience with Selene and Aurora as they refused to discuss an obviously important subject. Selene preferred to hide and Aurora's anger was quickly escalating to rage. Sidell really didn't blame Aurora. It seemed that Selene had somehow convinced her that Tristian had died in an accident in the lake. Her body thought to be lost to the swift currents of the season. Aurora had been devastated and then totally heart broken when her mate chose to leave her claiming she couldn't remain knowing she was responsible for her daughter's death. Aurora had pleaded, begged, but Selene was intent on leaving. They'd formally parted and the record of their joining amended to show the parting. To find out thirty years later that her daughter had been alive and well was almost more than Aurora could handle and Selene refused to give her a reason. Insisting that they would be leaving once Tristian was healed and there was no reason to bring up that old pain. Sidell figured if it had been her she'd have slapped the woman by now. They sat in silence as they watched over the sleeping woman. Sidell was content with the silence. She didn't trust herself to speak without demanding an answer.

Selene finally broke the silence. "You think I'm being cruel," she state softly.

Sidell raised her head and watched the woman carefully then nodded. "Yes, I do. You're being unfair to both of them. Your reasons I can't comprehend but I know how I'd feel if I found out thirty years later that my mate had purposely lied, convinced me that my daughter was dead and then left me to raise her." Sidell let her words fall in the empty silence and held Selene's gaze evenly. The woman started crying and Sidell shook her head in disgust.

She turned at the intense feeling of being watched and found herself pinned by a remarkably clear pair of violet eyes.

"Come here," Tristian motioned her over.

Selene started at her daughter's voice and she hoped Tristian had just woken and missed the conversation. Her hopes were dashed at Tristian's next words.

"Explain that conversation to me," she growled never releasing Sidell's gaze.

Sidell looked at her unhappily, "It's not my tale to tell and I'm sorry you heard it like that."

Tristian gripped Sidell's hand and squeezed softly then turned to her mother. "Your turn?"

"I..." Selene faltered, "it's nothing. Nothing to do with you, we were discussing another matter."

"Mother, I've been injured, I'm not dead nor stupid. Tell me."

Selene wrung her hands and, flustered, stood and rapidly walked to the door, chattering about things she needed to see to before taking Tristian home.

Angry Tristian tried to rise but Sidell held her down and she was not yet strong enough to fight her. Tristian's piercing gaze bore into her soul and she considered running herself. She got the stubborn woman settled and mindtouched Aurora asking her to come to the hall.

"Sidell," Tristian rumbled and halted when the woman gave her a dazzling smile.

"I'd made a vow to hear my name on your lips if it was the last thing I did. Getting you angry was not quite what I had in mind." Sidell disclosed in a whisper.

Tristian was momentarily off-balance but she smiled gently and spoke again, "Tell me, Sidell."

"Not me," Sidell responded but soothed the agitated warrior. "Someone, just not me. Be patient, she comes."

Aurora entered quietly, her tall powerful frame outlined by the sun at her back. Tristian studied the stranger with interest. The woman was tall, as tall as she. She was also in good shape and the body facing her had been kept in good condition. She was broad shouldered and moved gracefully with an economy of motion. Tristian looked up to her face as Aurora approached the bed and was shocked to see her own eyes staring back at her.

Aurora's face masked the ache she felt at seeing her daughter after so many years spent in the heartbreak of missing her, of dreaming of her, of wishing things had been different. Blaming herself for allowing Selene to go alone. All of it for nothing, Tristian was here, alive, hers, and no one could deny that. She reached out slowly and touched the arm of the woman gazing at her in shock. "I am Aurora Mardred, Tristian. Welcome home."

Continued in Part 2.

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