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 2

Sidell sat quietly holding the trembling hand still in her grasp and squeezing it gently to bring Tristian back to the present. She wanted to be sure Tristian could handle the shock and was loathed to leave her. Aurora eased into the chair and brushed an errant lock back. A gesture of nervousness not missed by her daughter who had the same tendency. Tristian grinned weakly and rasped, "I take it this is a surprise to both of us?"

Aurora nodded, clamping down on the sigh of relief. Her biggest fear was that Tristian would think she'd abandoned her. She had no idea as to what Selene had told the girl and wasn't sure how to proceed. The two women were alike in so many ways and neither of them entered a conversation willingly.

After an eternity of silence Sidell sighed. Two pairs of violet eyes swiveled to her and she shook her head laughing softly. "Alright, let's see. Aurora, why don't you tell Tristian about the last time you saw her?"

Aurora began softly, "You...were two. A bundle of energy and curious as anything, I had to attend a council function and Selene didn't feel like accompanying me. I agreed to attend alone and she planned to take you out for a picnic at the lake. It was a pretty day, the winter had just past and the gentle touch of spring was in the air. I agreed, this is Dyan and there was no reason to assume something would happen to her. She was well known and everyone knew we'd been partnered for several years."

"Were you joined?" Tristian asked curiously.

"Yes. Before your conception before you ask. You are my daughter, Tristian, never doubt that. You are also my only heir." Aurora took a shaky breath and continued her tale. "I went to the meeting. A few hours later Selene came running in hysterical. She..." Aurora's voice broke and she closed her eyes taking a deep breath. Sidell poured her a cup of tea and offered some to Tristian. While the women sipped their drinks Aurora gathered her thoughts.

"She claimed that the two of you were playing in the water. You had struggled in her grasp and she lost her hold. The current ripped you away from her. She searched for hours before she came to get me and by then," Aurora raised her hands in despair, "The current at that time of year is swift. By the time she came, it was possible your body had been swept out to sea. I drained the lake and the river bed but..." she smiled weakly, "well obviously, I didn't find a body."

Bleakly Aurora finished, "That's the last time I've seen you until two weeks ago when Selene again came to me in hysterics."

Sidell murmured in sympathy suddenly realizing the shock Aurora must have felt. As if reliving a nightmare she'd never gotten rid of.

Aurora glanced at her and nodded. "Yes, that was...let's just say it brought back some memories."

Hesitantly she looked at her daughter, "Did she ever"

"No, Aurora, I'm sorry. She merely told me that my Sire had died when I was two and she'd struggled on her own for a while until she met the man I grew up calling father. I knew she wasn't originally from Mhyr but she led me to believe she'd come from Darena. In fact, everyone thought that. It's a bit of a surprise to find things so different from what I've always believed."

Aurora sighed, "It's okay. My biggest fear when I realized you where alive was that she may have told you I was...beating the two of you or something like that. I think I prefer her saying nothing than letting you believe I could be that kind of monster."

" know why?" Tristian asked, almost timidly.

Aurora shook her head. "No. She refuses to discuss it. Says it's unnecessary since the two of you will be returning to Mhyr as soon as you're well enough. She'd rather leave things as it was. I'm surprised she told you."

"She didn't," Tristian answered wryly. "I'm a very light sleeper when someone isn't drugging me or using magic to put me to sleep." She gave a soft smile to a blushing Sidell, "Mother asked Sidell a question and the answer she received is what gave the story away."

Sidell shrugged sheepishly. "Sorry, I promised I wouldn't go off on her but she asked me a stupid question and I couldn't help myself. I don't think I was too rude." She looked to Tristian hopefully and was rewarded with a squeeze.

"You were honest. She asked, you answered."

Selene refused to discuss the incident at all. She chattered away happily about the plans she had once Tristian was mobile. She thought they should go to Darena for a rest, and she made plans to talk to Staunton about Tristian retaining her position. For her part, Tristian maintained her silence on the matter but spent hours in Aurora's company, the two women quickly forming a bond that Tristian realized she'd missed without ever knowing. Her mother was be honest and Tristian had always bowed to her wishes since it was so easy to make Selene happy. She thought long and hard on the reasons why she should return to Mhyr and wondered if she could possibly remain in Dyan. She finally got the nerve to ask Sidell. "Sidell, how much trouble would it be for me to ask to relocate here?"

Sidell smiled and clasped Tristian's hand gently, "None," she replied watching the fear leave the other woman's eyes and hearing Tristian release the breath she'd been holding. "The records have been fixed. Aurora took care of that the day we arrived. You are listed as her daughter and her heir. This is your home. All you need to do is claim it."

Sidell grinned, "Actually, Freelock, that's the colony we're in now, is awaiting permission to visit. I've been holding them off. The family can be a bit much to take and they're so excited they'll wear you out in minutes. But just so you know, you've got cousins galore, and more aunts than you'll ever know what to do with."

She laughed gently as Tristian winced. She liked people as much as her Sire and Sidell imagined the two of them would leave the next planned gathering as soon as possible. She reached up and brushed Tristian's hair out her eyes. "You need a haircut, I think."

"I do. It's driving me nuts."

"Well, you'll be happy to know we can let you up tomorrow. Since we use magic to speed the healing, Jax is pleased with the way your bones have knitted and she figures with the exercises we've been doing you shouldn't have much trouble with mobility. You'll still need to take it easy, you've been in that bed for nearly a month running in the halls."

Tristian smirked. She was very pleased with the lightweight wraps Jax used in the final stages of her healing. She could move around but Jax wouldn't let her walk until the bones in her legs were stronger. Now that the time was here, she was antsy with anticipation.

"Quit squiggling," Sidell admonished her, chuckling affectionately. "Anyway. I've a surprise for you tomorrow. I think you've had about enough of this food?"


"I'll port us into my favorite tavern for lunch. It's already arranged and Anya plans to dazzle you with her cooking. I told her about Lucan and she's taken it as a personal challenge."

Tristian laughed in delight. A gentle sound that soothed Sidell's heart and brought a silly grin to her face. "Like that do you?"

"Anything. Just get me out of these four walls." She cocked her head, "Did you invite Aurora?"

"I left the guest list up to you. Think about it and I'll make sure everyone is notified."

"Just Aurora."

"What about your mother?"

"Mother doesn't care to be out in public and she's happier in the home. She hates eating out."

"Alright, I'll ask Aurora. Would you mind if I asked Selene just so she doesn't feel left out?"

"No," Tristian agreed.

Tristian inhaled deeply, the teasing scent of the sea on the air. They were seated on the back patio seat of the Baker's Brew. The back of the building was snuggled up to the woods and Tristian could feel the energy of the land soothing her aching heart. She breathed deep, her ears twitching to catch the little sounds of the woods, her mind easily categorizing the noises. She felt filled with energy and it was all she could do to remember not to bounce around in happy glee. She loved the colony. It was small and nestled into the land as if a part of it rather than destroying the land to claim a part of it. "There are seven of these colonies in Dyan?" she asked curiously.

Sidell nodded, sipping the juice Anya provided. "Six are integrated to the whole. The seventh, well they prefer their independence and since they've caused no trouble, mother has left them be. She visits once a year or so just to be sure they're still there I guess."

"This is neat," Tristian rambled on happily. It's not like Mhyr. Everyone living on top of everyone else."

Sidell smiled, "No, we're all pretty independent people. Having so many of us in a small space could result in a massive accident caused by irritation. We have our problems and our people have their own little prejudices. I guess, since our colonies are smaller, it's not quite as obvious as the separation I saw in Mhyr."

"Even if we were all together, we would not have that problem," Aurora offered, settling herself in an open chair. She grinned at her daughter, "You look happier."

"I am. I'm finally out of that room, close enough to the wilds to feel the energy in the air and surrounded with beautiful women. Why shouldn't I be happy, sire?"

Sidell blushed and Aurora burst into laughter. "Oh Goddess, we'd best warn our people that she's loose. They'll need to round up their daughters."

Tristian winked rakishly and Sidell felt a minor twinge of annoyance. She set it aside, there was time enough for everything else, but today was to be enjoyed. She leaned back and relaxed as Tristian and Aurora began another long debate regarding strategy and weaponry. She smiled inwardly at the rapport the two had developed over the past month.

Sidell had also invited someone she thought Tristian should meet since Selene had declined to join them. She listened to the ongoing conversation and watched curiously as Tristian pulled a dagger from her boot. Nonchalantly, Tristian flipped it once and threw it without warning burying it in the trunk of a tree. Sidell raised a brow but the soft shuffle of leaves showed a woman emerging into the sunlight, Tristian's knife in her hand. She returned it to its owner, "My apologies, young Mardred. It is a habit; I normally scout the surroundings before emerging. I did not mean to startle you and I did not expect to be noticed.

Sidell hid a grin and touched Tristian's hand lightly. "This is Maria Delgado, Tristian. Commander of our scouts. I told you I'd invited her. I forgot to tell her not to lurk."

Tristian sheathed her dagger and relaxed her stance welcoming Maria with a grin. "You're very good. I almost missed you."

Curiously Sidell asked. "So where did the knife land?"

"In my heart if I'd been in front of the tree. I figured it was a warning."

Sidell shook her head and grinned at Aurora's proud smirk. "I asked Maria to stop by since you've been thinking of staying."

Aurora looked up in hesitant pleasure, "You are? Does Selene know?"

"I am and no she doesn't. Until she settles down and talks to me, she won't."

"Ahhhh," Aurora responded in understanding.

"Anyway," Sidell continued, "I thought you'd be interested in the make up of our protective forces and I can tolerate Maria a lot better than I can tolerate Dalton."

Maria chuckled, "Sidell, if that was supposed to make me feel better, it didn't."

Sidell laughed ruefully admitting it wasn't a flattering thing to say. "You know what I meant. Anyway, this here," she pointed at the grinning Maria, "is a scout."

"In Dyan," Maria began while fixing herself a platter. "We have the Scouts and the Warriors. The Warriors handle colony defense. They have a stationed garrison at each colony save one."

"I explained that to her," Sidell inserted.

Maria nodded and continued. "They handle anything that goes wrong inside the colony. The scouts range throughout the Holding, our herdfarms, cropfarms and the occasional family that prefers to be in the wilds, fall to us to protect. We also take care of the animal population, rabid animals and bands of raiders that miss our border postings and try to ply their trade in Dyan." She fell silent letting Tristian absorb the information and ask any questions she might have.

"That's nice," Tristian finally responded. "You don't have to rearrange schedules and pull the warriors out of the colonies when there are external problems."

Maria nodded and grinned.

"Where do the Scouts base out of?"

"Again, each of the colonies. We share barracks space with the warriors. For the most part we work together and get along fairly well."

"For the most part?"

Maria turned to Sidell who indicated she could continue.

"The Warriors lost their Commander to a challenge not long ago. Maybe six months or so, the current Commander wishes to combine the forces under her."

"There is nothing wrong with that," Tristian put in. "It ensures that someone at the top is aware of all activities in the Holding."

"Aye, and we would have probably been all for it except that Dalton, has bigger plans." Maria grinned slightly, "I became the Commander of the Scouts at that time. Before, we really didn't have one and we just worked with the Warriors or our Captains would work out the taskings. Sidell didn't want Dalton rushing in and taking over the Scouts. My position makes us peers and she can't use the Scouts without my approval." Maria shrugged, "It's not the best solution but it works until we can figure out what Dalton is after."

"What is she doing that's so suspicious?"

Maria grimaced. "I'd hoped you wouldn't ask that. See, the truth is nothing. She's done nothing to generate this kind of suspicion but...she makes my hackles rise. She's up to no good but I can't prove it. You've got to meet her to know what I mean."

Surprisingly, Tristian accepted that. Maria smiled in pleasure not realizing that Tristian had staked her life on just those kind of instincts and she was willing to trust Maria's until she could see for herself."

"As you see," Sidell stated dryly, "Not so different from Mhyr. Same games, different names."

"Well, not quite," Tristian said quietly, "the playing field's a bit more level here. There is no one higher up pulling strings and making the rest of us jump through stupid hoops."

Sidell smiled softly in agreement. "We should get back. This is your first day out and Jax will have my hide if I let you over do it."

Tristian chuckled. "I suppose. Can I get a hair cut first?" Her friends laughed at her blowing her hair out of her eyes.

Sidell relented, "Alright but then, straight back. We can venture out more tomorrow if you aren't to tired."

Tristian smiled in pleasure. "Can we walk? I haven't walked much yet. If I get tired then you can do your magic trick."

Sidell wrestled a look of outrage on her face, "I am a mage of incredible talent. I'll have you know I don't do tricks."

"Yeah, yeah," Tristian teased as she rose gracefully. "C'mon, lets go wonder wizard."

She left Maria and Aurora laughing themselves silly at the stunned look on Sidell's face.

Tristian paused at the door and looked back at Sidell, quirking a brow in question.

Sidell threw her hands up in defeat, "I'm coming already." She joined her laughing softly. The change in Tristian was incredible from the so reserved woman she'd met in Mhyr.

Sidell gripped her arm gently providing minimal support as they strolled slowly down the path. Women stared in appreciation at her taller companion and Sidell reviewed her decision on their having enough time to work everything out. They stopped at some of the displays in the street but made good time to the dwelling of the woman that provided the service to the colony. Within the hour Tristian was back in bed sleeping peacefully. Sidell sat quietly, watching her sleep and musing over her feelings for the dark warrior.

It was two weeks of short walks, long lunches, dinners and friends before Jax declared Tristian strong enough to move out of the Healer's Hall. Aurora had already opened her house to her daughter and Tristian had stopped in to see the home. It was large enough to provide her with her own suite, private entrance and all the privacy she'd need. She had made her decision to remain and could choose between learning her place in Dyan or joining the Scouts or Warriors. She'd also found herself fully enchanted with the Heir of the Holding and was courting Sidell with the single minded focus she used while going after anything else she'd ever wanted. Although, she admitted with a grin, Sidell was more than willing to be courted or to court her if necessary. Life was looking up and Tristian faced her hardest task now. She was looking for her mother.

"Tristian," Selene smiled in pleasure as her daughter entered the tavern. Selene was sitting with several women she'd made friends with and Tristian joined them. "You ready to go home?" Selene asked looking at her daughter with a maternal eye; happy that the injuries she'd suffered appeared to be giving her no trouble. Selene did admit that, if not for Dyan, Tristian would have died or been crippled for life.

"I've been wanting to talk to you about that," Tristian answered calmly.

"Good. I've got everything set up, we can take the next available transport and have it drop us off in Darena."

Tristian buttered one of the soft rolls on the table and bit it in pleasure. She turned to settle her gaze squarely on her mother. "You know I'm not going. Talk to me."

Selene flushed and continued talking. "Della is looking forward to our visit, I'll go and call her and tell her we'll be arriving tomorrow. I know you've been missing her daughter and they'll be thrilled that we'll stay awhile. Selene rose and Tristian rose with her capturing her hands and placing them against her chest holding her mother tight. She stood quietly as Selene chattered and tried to free herself. Finally she wound down and looked up into eyes that had haunted her for thirty years. "Don't, please. Come with me?"

"Talk to me. I won't promise to leave but you need to talk to me. We can't let this go on and I need to understand." Tristian spoke gently, her voice calm and soft as she continued to hold her mother.

"I..." she looked around frightened and Tristian tightened her grip.

"No more running, talk to me."

Selene's body trembled and Tristian gathered her closer and escorted her out. She led them to the lake that had played such a significant affair in the events that had ripped her out of her home; her life and she wanted to know now.

Selene flinched looking over the calm body of water. Tristian kept her arms around her mother and remained quiet allowing Selene time to gather her thoughts.

"You know I have...visions?" Selene asked softly, expecting the nod she received. "When you were a baby, I had a vision. It showed you being swallowed up by the land, being dragged into it as you struggled to break free. All of my crying and calling for help couldn't save you. I saw you fully merge with the land and I couldn't bear the thought of losing you. I thought...I thought that if I could get you away from here I could change that destiny."

"Are you sure it happened here?"

"In Dyan, yes, I'm sure. I recognized the land. I can't leave you, Tristian, don't you see. I can't lose you."

"Mother, you took me to Mhyr and I almost died there."

"No, I would have seen that vision. I...Tristian, I'm so sorry, so very sorry. Aurora loved you so, she worshipped the ground you crawled on and she was so proud of you. I knew she'd let you face your destiny. She'd raise you the best she could, teach you everything she could and allow you the chance to face your destiny and I could not, dear Goddess." She was sobbing uncontrollably now, "I could not."

"Did you love her?"

"Completely but were a part of me. How could I sacrifice you for our happiness? I couldn't."

Tristian soothed her gently and let her regain her breath. "How did you do it?"

"Della," Selene whispered. "I wrote to Della. She promised to come for you and we planned it for a day I knew Aurora would be busy. Della took you home with her and I covered the tracks of the wagon. Then I made sure the search would stay near the lake and the river itself. I had planned to let Della raise you and remain with Aurora but..." Selene broke down and Tristian waited patiently. "But I couldn't bear to look at her and see her pain. She blamed herself. For taking care of business first and I lived with the guilt of knowing my lie was killing her. I did what I've always done when things got to hard. I ran."

Selene sobbed softly but continued, "the rest you know. I've tried to never lie to you since then. But you see now why you must come?"

"Because it would make everything you've done meaningless. All the hurt, the lies, the pain." Tristian's brutal answer was given gently as if it would help soften the blow she knew she was delivering.

Selene collapsed with a wail and Tristian sat heavily cradling her mother in her arms. She wasn't startled by the footsteps behind her.

Aurora moved in front of her daughter and reached out her arms. "Give her to me, I think it's my turn now."

Tristian nodded and released her precious burden. She turned and buried herself in Sidell's waiting embrace.

They walked the lake as Tristian regained her composure. Stopping Sidell she folded her into a strong full body hug. Tristian's dark head bent and she tasted the soft lips of the golden woman that held her heart. She felt Sidell's breath quicken and she deepened the kiss, demanding entrance and receiving it. A low growl escaped her as she reveled in the silky depths of her lover's mouth. She lowered her lover to the ground and smiled when she felt the blanket Sidell conjured. "Nice to have such talent."

"Uhmmm," Sidell hummed reclaiming the intoxicating lips. She felt the cool breeze and the warmth of the sun on her bared skin. She gasped in pleasure when Tristian claimed her aching breast and pulled her dark lover tighter. She released her and tugged at Tristian's jerkin. Tristian stood and undressed, never letting her gaze leave Sidell's flushed body. "You are exquisite," Tristian murmured, returning to her lover's side. Sidell felt Tristian's hands and lips claiming every inch of her and she signaled her approval by reciprocating the tender touches. The orgasm surprised her in its quickness and intensity. Panting harshly she lay sated and open under her dark lover's body. Her own body accepting the weight of her lover with ease as if it was built just to hold Tristian like this.

Tristian groaned and shifted to the side laying her length against her lover and kissing her roughly. Sidell felt her desire rise and she moaned softly. Tristian kissed her way down the golden skin to the apex of her lover's center. Gently, she dipped her tongue for a taste drawing a moan from both women. Draping her lover's legs over her broad shoulders, she feasted on the subtle flavor and scent of her lover's arousal driving Sidell higher with the slow delicious torture until she came hard calling out her lover's name in a joyful shout.

The two women played in the lake and made love throughout the afternoon finally returning to the colony when hunger could no longer be ignored.

Emma sat listening in distaste to a sordid tale that Dalton Weir; Commander of the Warriors was spewing at a nearby table. She smiled when silence descended having already noticed what apparently every one was now looking at. Tristian and Sidell made their way down the main thoroughfare, Sidell tucked securely against Tristian's side. Sidell was obviously relating a tale and Tristian's dark head bent to her attentively.

"Who the hell is that?" Dalton snarled from her table. Her tablemates, all having been out to another colony with her for the past month indicated their ignorance. Everyone else ignored her and she rose in anger banging the table for attention. "I asked a question or don't you people care that your Heir is consorting with someone none of us know?

Anya strolled up and snickered, "Sit down you blithering idiot before I throw you out. That there is young Mardred and most of us know her. We just saw no reason to bother answering you since it's none of your business."

Dalton looked at her in shock, "Mardred? Which Mardred. I've never seen her before in my life."

"Well," Emma responded laconically, "I suppose you could call Tristian a liar. Or," she grinned evilly, "Aurora, since she is Aurora's daughter."

The two women entered the tavern and Sidell smiled brightly at her mother.

Emma grinned, "Well, you two look like you've had fun today."

Sidell blushed and Tristian ran a hand tenderly along her arm squeezing gently. "It's enlightening day, Leader," Tristian offered. They joined her and greeted Anya placing their orders quickly.

"Enlightening? How so?"

"Tristian got Selene to tell her what happened."

Emma's brow rose in surprise. "I see. Well hopefully I'll hear it but," she looked around the silent room and snorted, "not here."

They dug into their meals chatting companionably until a shadow loomed over Tristian. She looked up curiously and Emma drawled lazily. "This is Dalton Weir, Tristian. Commander of the Warriors."

Tristian's nape hairs were standing straight up and she understood Maria's suspicions. She gave a lazy smirk and nodded, "Dalton."

Dalton spoke coolly, "I understand you're just returning home, Mardred?"

Tristian nodded in answer.

"And how do you like our Holding?"

"Just fine," Tristian answered hugging Sidell and watching Dalton's face tighten in anger.

"So I see," she replied in a clipped tone. "Sidell, welcome home to you also. I hear you've been to Mhyr?"

"You've heard correctly, Dalton."

"It would be best, Sidell, if you informed me of your movements. It's difficult to protect you when I don't know where you are."

"My Scouts travel with me when necessary. You know that Dalton. I'd not take the Warriors out of the colony. No need to concern yourself."


"Dalton," Sidell's voice had dropped as an icy tone emerged. "Is there some reason we are still having this conversation? You have my answer, beating a dead horse will not make it any deader."

Dalton recoiled as if slapped, "Very well." She took a breath and managed to speak in a reasonable tone, "I am hoping you'll join me for supper tomorrow. It's been quite a month and we've got a lot to catch up with?"

Sidell's raised brow questioned her statement and she stuttered. "I thought you'd be interested in the findings of the Holding."

"Of course I am. It's the reason we have those silly morning briefings, Dalton. I'll get your full report then. What need is there to discuss it further at supper?"

"Well, I also thought, perhaps a relaxing evening could be had by the two of us."

"I'll be supping with Tristian, Dalton. Don't let me keep you from relaxing."

Dalton's face was a study in rage and Tristian's instincts were screaming for her to destroy the threat. She clamped down on the urge to rise and sat still feeling her muscles quivering with the need for release. "Very well, perhaps another time. Good eve to you all."

"Hey," Sidell gently rubbed Tristian's back. "You okay?"

"I'm gonna kill her," Tristian muttered softly.

"Uhmmm, any reason in particular?" Sidell asked, a bit shocked.

"She makes my hair stand on end." Tristian replied in a growl. "But, I'm gonna challenge her so I can kill her without putting you in an awkward position."

"Ahhh, well..." Sidell's voice trailed off, not sure what to make of this declaration. "Uhmmm, not to cast any doubt on your skills but, she's very, very good. It's how she got the position in the first place."

Tristian shrugged, "We'll see, Sidell, but I'm challenging her tomorrow. Let's hope I'm as good as I think I am."

Tristian returned from her morning run to find Aurora and Selene in the common room of the house preparing to eat breakfast.

Selene turned and eyed her daughter's sweat covered form. "I'd invite you to breakfast but you need to wash first."

Tristian grinned at her and swiped a roll on her way by earning her a smack on the rear. Aurora snorted in amusement.

She washed quickly and checked her weapons before attaching the scabbard to the clips on the back of her jerkin. She settled it comfortably and joined her parents in the common room. That thought brought a silly grin to her face that she couldn't quite wipe off and ended up just going with it.

Selene watched the change in her daughter's normally impassive face to the smiling young woman that fairly bounced into the room. Slowly the clutching fear she held began to ease. Maybe Aurora was right. Tristian had a right to live her life and Selene was only cheating her by trying to protect her.

"So what's got you all excited?" Aurora drawled eyeing her daughter's barely contained exuberance.

Tristian shrugged. "It's a pretty day, I've had a good run, and breakfast is waiting for me. What else can I ask for, sire?" she inquired innocently.

"Uh huh," Selene murmured. "And the reason you're armed is?"

"Mother, I'm a warrior, I'm supposed to be armed."

Selene sniffed delicately, "Something smells, Aurie." She eyed her daughter, "Are you sure you washed?"

Tristian coughed in surprise and shook her head. Grabbing another roll she rose gracefully. "As much as I enjoy being picked on, you two will have to excuse me."

She wandered the colony enjoying the cool breeze blowing off the water. She finally found a reason to get into trouble. Two warriors were fighting with a merchant.

"I'm telling ye idjits, I didn't pocket me own merchandise. I saw you, Talla, saw you lift that little bracelet and I want it back or I'll take this straight to Emma."

Dalton's voice barked sharply, "Take her to lockup until we sort this out."

Tristian's low voice broke in. "I've a better idea, let's search Talla."

Dalton growled, "Stay out of this, Mardred. It's none of your business."

"I beg to differ. This is my Holding and a sister claims that the so-called protectors of the colony are stealing from the colony. That charge needs to be settled before the citizens start to believe it. What do you say, Talla?"

"I say mind your own business. This is the concern of the Warriors and you are not one of us."

Tristian smiled, perfect. "You know. I've been meaning to do something about that."

Talla sneered, "Put in you application so I can deny it, Mardred."

"Oh no, Talla. I hate bureaucracy." She turned to Dalton and pinned her with a cold stare. "I'm planning on taking them over, not serving in them."

Dalton's jaw dropped. "You, do you think your sire will save you? You dare to challenge me and hope she steps in."

"Nah." Tristian smiled, "I dare to challenge you...and win."

"Bitch," Dalton snarled stepping back a pace to draw her blade. "To bad your return was so short, Mardred. May your sire remember you fondly."

Tristian grinned resting her blade on her shoulder and bouncing on the balls of her feet. She could feel the dark energy pulse, her heart pumping loudly as the blood rushed through her system.

Maria saw the challenge and motioned her scouts to surround the women preventing any of Dalton's cronies from interfering if this went as Maria expected.

Tristian laughed at the first clash of steel. She backed off and let Dalton come at her meeting her stroke and powering through it forcing the Commander backwards. Dalton settled on her feet, revising her opinion of her opponent. Obviously she had some skill in the use of a blade. Dalton shook off her doubts. She was the best swordswoman ever trained in Dyan. This upstart would pay.

Tristian met her stroke for stroke, studying Dalton's moves, feinting and testing her opponent. Dalton was very good, no doubt about that but Tristian was better. She closed in having determined the holes in Dalton's defense. The Commander was sweating hard now as Tristian's blows fell with inhuman strength, driving her back, driving her sword into awkward blocks. Tristian kept pushing and Dalton finally realized that not only was she outclassed, she wasn't even in the same training center. Tristian saw the fear, felt the terror, smelled the victory and she pressed her advantage, her blade singing in the wind carving dark designs of death and destruction. Tristian's low laughter caused Dalton to shiver in her boots and she cracked screaming for the warriors to help.

Talla rushed the line but Maria stood in her way and Talla found herself facing a woman that hated her guts. She turned and grabbed a spectator throwing the woman between herself and Maria. Clearing a break in the Scouts, she rushed through intent on running her sword through Tristian's back.

Tristian's blade ripped through Dalton's middle almost severing her in half, her senses warned her of the oncoming attack. Reversing her blade she drove in back through Talla's rushing form and blocked the woman's downward swing with a bracer. She pulled her blade letting Talla's body fall limply to the ground.

Pale glitters of violet survey the surrounding spectators. She caught the gaze of the warriors, "Anyone else? I've no intentions of doing this again so let's get it over with now." The women shuffled their feet until one of them spoke bravely, "Apparently, Commander, you have our full attention."

Tristian caught Maria cuffing the grinning woman and made her decision. "You the speaker for the day?"

The woman shrugged and looked around. "Looks like it."

"Alright, gather them up and have them in the compound ready for practice in an hour. I want to see full drills, and we'll have a full inspection. Anyone not prepared can start looking for another position. Once you have that settled, I'll put you to work."

The woman looked slightly startled and Tristian smirked at her. "Well?"

"Aye, Commander."

Tristian turned and headed for the tavern glad that none of it interfered with her breakfast plans. She entered the Baker's Brew and found Sidell's golden form chatting with Emma. She made her way across the room aware of the green eyes now fastened on her and she smiled softly.

Sidell eyed her lover's sleek form and noticed the hilt of a sword over her shoulder. "Believe in being prepared, do we?"

Tristian smiled, "I told you, I had things to do."

"Tristian, let's consider this. You're still recovering from your injuries. Maybe you should wait a bit."

"Too late," Anya boomed, setting a plate in front of the hungry woman. "Morning Commander, I hope you're hungry."

"Starving, Anya, thanks,"

Maria entered and joined them.

"Why don't you meet with me this afternoon and let's see how we can best utilize our resources," Tristian suggested as she sat.

Maria grinned and stole a roll, "I've a better idea. Why don't I step down and you can control all the resources."

Sidell looked lost for a bit and finally turned to her lover in consternation. "For Alwyn's sake, Tristian, you challenged her already? It's not even quite past breakfast time."

"She was asking for it," Tristian defended herself. "I couldn't pass up such a perfect opportunity."

Sidell slumped in her seat. "Well," she muttered softly, "at least I don't have to spend the day worrying."

Tristian winked at her and returned to her conversation with Maria. "I don't have a problem with that but you'll still command them."

Maria nodded happily, "Done. If Sidell will send out the notice when we announce your position it will work perfectly."

"Alright, I can live with that. Who is the speaker of the day?"

"Puck. She's a good warrior and has had a lot a trouble because she refused to blindly follow where Dalton dared to lead."

"Good, I need a garrison Commander. Since I don't know anyone here, I suppose she'll do."

Sidell sputtered her drink across the table as Maria and Emma burst into laughter.

"Goddess bless, Tristian," Sidell pleaded, "Can I be there when you tell her, please?"

Tristian eyed her warily, "Is this not a good idea?"

"Oh it's a great idea. It will be even better if you get her to do it. Puck doesn't believe in being in charge and she's pulled some incredible stunts to get out of it."

"All the time?"

"Nah," Maria inserted. "Started when Dalton took over. Mostly because Dalton expected her officers to follow her unconditionally and Puck just couldn't pretend she was that stupid. It's a great choice Tristian and you won't regret it."

Nodding Tristian turned to Emma. "What do you want to do about Mhyr?"

Emma sighed, "About Mhyr in particular I'd prefer to do as little as possible. We do need to take care of that raider problem and Aurora is still hell bent on having Althea brought up on charges of attempted murder."

"Ahhh, there is that. I need to return and get my horses. Depending on what mother is going to do will determine if I need to get anything else. I suppose we could return to the wall I found on my last scouting trip and take it from there."

Emma agreed. "Alright but I'm coming with you and I believe Aurora intends to be with you whenever you're in Mhyr. That being said, when can we go?"

"Tomorrow at the earliest. I need to settle the Warriors and work something out with Puck and Maria."

Sidell nodded. "Alright, I'll send out the telecom announcing you're taking over the Warriors and the Scouts. Maria will return to her status as Captain and be in charge of this squad posted here."

They finalized their plans and separated to conclude their business.

Tristian wandered onto the Warrior's compound, her eyes flicking over the area noticing the lack of maintenance in the buildings and the grounds themselves. She entered the main building and meandered through in silence. Apparently, Puck had taken her at her word and everyone was either out back in the practice fields or gone. She opened the door to what would become her office and sniffed in disdain at the cluttered mess. Hearing the clash of steel, she ambled out to see what kind of mess she'd gotten herself into this time.

She found a comfortable tree to lean against and watched the controlled chaos-taking place in the field. Puck had the women separated into groups that ranged from clueless to fairly competent. Puck and three women moved throughout the garrison, offering advice and teaching proper stance and grip. A youngster that appeared to have a permanent smile on her face approached the women standing in a circle looking forlornly at their swords. Tristian couldn't help but grin at the youngster's enthusiasm and moved closer to listen.

"Alright, ladies. According to Puck, our new Commander expects proficiency. Question is, do you want to learn or was this merely a lark to get in on Dalton's good side?"

Tristian grinned as a few of the women backed out and were excused. She moved on to check on the trainers.

"It's a sword, you bloody imbecile. If you insist on poking at me with it I'll give ya a damn spear." An aggrieved voice cut across the field.

"Damn it, Riel, I know how to use a sword." the offended woman countered and continued with thrusting at her opponent.

The trainer, Tristian assumed her name to be Riel, sighed in disgust and waited for a lunge. She powered a stroke through the lunge flinging the woman's sword into the air. "Sure you do," Riel snickered, "and if I was willing to stand here and let you poke me with the damn thing you'd be awesome." She shook her head, "Pick it up and go over to Das, maybe she can talk some sense into you...or beat some into you."

Tristian continued through and came upon a group of about fifteen women engaged in a complicated practice pattern. They were very good and she couldn't help the surge of competitive fire that lit within her. Moving up quietly, she waited until they came to a break in the pattern. Puck turned to her and saluted, "Commander."

Tristian nodded and moved into the middle of the group, "Prepare," she barked out.

The women hesitated. In a flickering blur, Tristian pulled her blade and landed a firm swat on Puck's backside, "Now."

Puck scowled but nodded to her team. They formed up around Tristian. Moving in well-practiced pairs, they engaged their Commander in a semi-mock battle. Semi only in the sense that they had no intentions of killing her but their pride had been pricked and they were going to show her that not all Warriors were sloppy fighters.

Tristian felt the fire light in her veins and she moved smoothly into the intricate dance. Her blade so much a part of her that she didn't need to direct it, she merely needed to sense the threat to have the blade move to block. A roundhouse kick threw a particularly ardent attacker into another woman tangling them both and taking down a few more. Tristian moved into the opening, powering back another strike and countering with a solid left. A well-placed elbow cleared her more space and she kept moving. She could feel the wild laughter bubbling up in her and gave vent to her joy as her opponents fell in stunned awe. The hilt of her sword took out one of the last two and she found herself facing Puck. She pushed the woman to achieve a competence that Puck had never thought herself capable of until a solid stroke flung the sword from her hands. Puck stood panting, her eyes wide in shock as she looked around at her group. Bruised, a bit bloody, a few groans but other than that, they were alive and staring at their Commander with the same look of awe in Puck's eyes.

Tristian grinned, sheathed her blade and gave Puck a slight nod of her head. "Very good, Commander. Very good." She looked around at the grinning women, "I take it these are the best here?"

"They are," Puck answered, wondering how good they really were. A lone woman that had only recently, if stories could be believed, recovered from a severe beating that had broken all four limbs, various ribs and other numerous internal and external injuries had just beaten them. She looked around her again and vowed to corner Maria and get the whole story. "At least, they were." Puck shook her head, "Dalton was the best ever trained in Dyan. Even Dalton could not have taken us all on and won."

Tristian shrugged deprecatingly, "Still, you are all very talented and work well in pairs. I will be training you further," she smiled gently, "you will not thank me for the training, however, you will thank me for your lives." She turned to Puck, "Call in your three trainers, let's see what they've got."

Tristian worked with the trainers learning that they were Das Little, Riel Gessen, and Kelsey Gourd. She also learned that Puck was really Aloyise Willis. She moved through the trainers and then worked with the rest of the small group in sets of threes. She showed them the moves she wanted them to practice and the situations in which they'd be best suited for use. After a few hours on the field she called a halt to their training. "Walk with me, Puck. The rest of you, clean yourselves up. Tomorrow's another day and there is much around here that needs to be cared for."

"As I said," Tristian indicated the women they'd be working with, "I'll be training that group but you'll be in charge of their practice sessions. Let the trainers continue with the rest of this crew, they're to raw to learn what I want to teach and I'm afraid I have no patience for training beginners." She looked up at the first group she witnessed. "What was the purpose of those women?"

Puck sighed, "They wanted adventure." She grinned, "Well, they did but I don't think they wanted this type of adventure. Being a Warrior is a sign of prestige amongst our people..." she hesitated and Tristian chuckled.

"You mean the women tend to flock to the warrior types."

Puck grinned, "Aye. Anyway, that's what they were after. From what I can figure out, Dalton and her cronies would," she snorted, "test out the merchandise and if they were pleased, the women are given minimal duties and provided with uniforms."

Tristian winced. "I have no wish to...test out merchandise and I will not allow anyone under me to do so either."

Now Puck smiled. A full smile that reached her eyes, "Perfect. I wondered what in the world I was suppose to do with them but I didn't want to release them until..." she broke off.

Tristian laughed and clapped her solidly on the shoulder, "Until you were sure of me, eh Puck."

"Aye, Commander," Puck agreed amiably.

" me Tristian. You'll be called Commander and I'd prefer to keep the confusion to a minimum."

"Me?" Puck squeaked.

"Aye, you. I need a garrison Commander. I know no one in the Holding and you've come highly recommended're it."

"But...but..." Puck stammered.

"Yesssss," Tristian teased. "You'd rather be an underling so you can harass the Commander?"

"Well," Puck scowled. Just because that's what she preferred didn't mean she liked it said aloud.

"Ah. You'd rather be an underling so you'd have someone else to blame if things went tits up?"

"No, it's..."

"I'm waiting?" Tristian rumbled, leaving Puck in no doubt that unless the world ended she just didn't have a good enough excuse. She also had a sneaking suspicion that Tristian would throw her out of the Warriors for not accepting the responsibility Tristian deemed her capable of handling. She sighed in defeat, "I'd be honored, Tristian."

Tristian laughed causing several heads to turn their way. "I knew you'd see things my way, Commander. Now, this compound needs to be straightened up. The building is falling apart and my office is a mess. I'd hate to see the rest of the place. You go and ask those women," she indicated the clueless group they'd been discussing earlier, "if they wish to take on that responsibility. If yes, then we'll keep them on for a while. We'll also need people that are competent in taking notes, missives, filing, supplies," she grinned, "you know, those things that you and I both hate doing."

Puck smiled in agreement.

"So, we need to be sure they can be trusted because some of the correspondence we'll be handling will include things that I'd just as soon have kept to ourselves. Your job? Weed them out. Put em to work and work them hard, find the ones that want to stay and are willing to earn their keep. Warriors need not be swordswomen but they must be willing to work for the good of the Holding."

Puck nodded and began planning her strategy.

"Good," Tristian continued. "You're also familiar with the warriors in the other colonies?"


"Then you'll need to compile a list of potential officers. I want Dalton's avid supporters rousted out. If they followed her because she was the Commander and they've done no harm to their colonies, they can stay and we'll monitor them. Otherwise, they can find another occupation."

"You don't want to just bust them back in rank?"


"We'll need to start a recruitment program."

"See to it. The scouts will also be working with us and they've fallen under my command. I'll leave it to you and Maria to come up with a working partnership. I also want them present for practice when they're in the colony. I'll tell Maria but pass it on if you see her."

Puck nodded and Tristian turned to leave but halted as a woman slinked her way over. Puck smirked at the pained expression on her Commander's face.

"Commander Mardred," the woman crooned. "I am Elyse. I'd hoped to speak with you for a moment."

"About?" Tristian inquired.

"This training you're requiring, some of us.." she smiled gently, "well, Commander, I'd prefer to explain it to you in a more private setting?"

"Explain it to Puck," Tristian replied evenly. "She is the garrison Commander and will be in charge of the Warriors on a day-to-day basis."

"But...I mean," Elyse sidled up to her, "Some things, Commander, are best decided by those truly in charge."

"I have made my decision, Elyse. I've decided that Puck is truly in charge. Explain it to her." Tristian stepped away from the woman and turned to Puck, "You've your orders, Commander. I'll be leaving for Mhyr on the morrow and I don't expect to return for two weeks. See that our preparations are completed."

Puck saluted smartly, "As you command, Tristian."

Sidell watched as Tristian and Aurora approached the transport, their relationship never more obvious than when they stood side by side. The slight gray of her hair and the mature planes of her face the only real difference between mother and daughter. They were the same height, had the same incredible bodies and the same incredible eyes. She smiled at the two women and kissed her lover softly as they boarded and prepared for the flight out to Mhyr. Mhyr had been given no news of Tristian's condition or her current status. Sidell smiled inwardly as she tucked herself against her lover's tall frame and settled into the flight.

Staunton Greir and Vernid Lionae stood at the bottom of the transport ramp waiting to greet the visitors from Dyan. Althea Lionae stood with her guardians ringing the landing pad. Staunton smiled as Emma and Sidell stepped out and moved to join them. Her jaw dropped, as Tristian and Aurora appeared next. "Alwyn bless, they could pass for twins."

Emma eyed her coldly, "Considering Aurora is her Sire it's not surprising, Staunton. I'd suggest you close you mouth and keep your comments to yourself. Aurora is still quite upset that her daughter was almost killed here and she will not be pleased to see Althea."

As she spoke, Aurora's gaze pinned the suddenly terrified Commander. Althea eased away from the landing pad upon seeing Aurora's return and the obvious affection the two women held for each other. She cursed her dead officers, Tristian was supposed to be killed or crippled for life. Instead, she looked none the worse for wear.

"Let's see about your horses," Aurora suggested as the two of them moved down the ramp. "We'll let Emma and Sidell worry about pandering to these fools."

"Aye, Sire. I also need to stop by the house and pick up some of my gear. Until Mother's made a decision, we'll leave everything the way it is." Tristian agreed and turned to Sidell for confirmation.

Sidell grinned gently, "Sounds good to me but don't send the horses off, Aurora. I want to take a look at the wall Tristian found. We can ride out once you two are done."

Emma turned cold gray eyes to Staunton and Vernid. "We'll continue our efforts to contain the raiders, Leader. Once Tristian is done here, she and Sidell will be riding out to take a look at whatever Tristian found. We'll not be back again unless Selene decides to join us and Aurora will probably help her pack and move. I'd suggest, Vernid, you keep your cowardly offspring far away from Aurora and her heir. We of Dyan do not take kindly to attempted murder." She looked around for Althea and snorted, "Although, Mhyr apparently thinks there is nothing wrong with it."

"Emma," Staunton stammered, "We...had no proof. Sidell used magic to force the confession...we have no way of knowing if it was true or not."

Emma halted her daughter's retort and glared at Staunton. "Never call Sidell a liar, Staunton, not if you wish to see the morrow. For now, I've briefed you and I've nothing else to say to you. We'll meet with Tristian and Aurora and be gone before long." Emma stalked away leaving Sidell eyeing Staunton and Vernid as if they were herdbeast droppings. She snorted in disgust and moved to meet up with her lover.

"Wait," Vernid called timidly. "Tristian is the Heir to the House of Mardred? Truly?"

Sidell smiled evilly, "You wish to call Aurora a liar now? Shall I pass that on to her?"

"No," Vernid paled, "It's just...we need to hold a trial."


"The attempt on her life," Vernid murmured.

"Why? Because she is a Mardred?"

"Of course. That can't be allowed."

"And if she wasn't would you have bothered?"

"We'd...have looked into it," Vernid muttered.

"Right," Sidell snickered. "Hold whatever trial you wish. We will be gone and we don't really care what happens to Althea or your nobles."

Tristian returned the greetings she received amiably, but couldn't deny the tense tightening of her gut as she walked briskly through the crowded colony. She'd always felt like that and really never knew she could be more relaxed until the time she spent in Dyan. Now she knew...the twisting knot in her gut was her reaction to the crowded Holding and the waves of intolerance, fear, and anger that emanated off the people. "I'll be happy to get home," she murmured softly.

Aurora smiled, catching her daughter's soft words. Home. Yes, she couldn't wait to get Tristian home either. She should have never been in this bigoted colony. Never had to tolerate the hatred and prejudices practiced here. Her anger at Selene flared again and Aurora tamped it down. Spilled milk. Giving vent to her anger would not change anything. She wrapped an arm across her daughter's broad back and grounded herself in the reality of her living, breathing offspring.

Tristian grinned shyly at her and led them into the tiny cottage she and Selene shared.

"Were you happy here, Tristian?" Aurora asked gently. She watched Tristian move through the little cottage, gathering her clothes and weapons.

Tristian paused in her packing and looked out the window. "I...was not unhappy, Sire. At least, I didn't realize I was as a youngster." She smiled wistfully, "Here, as a commoner, not much was expected of us and we were free to wander and play at our leisure. I helped my dad with his craft and mom insisted on my being educated. I think, that is the primary source of the problems I experienced here. Most of the commoners are," she hesitated, "Not stupid but...not book smart." She looked up at her Sire, "Does that make sense? They learn everything they need to know to work in whatever field was chosen for them more." She chuckled softly, "I, on the other hand, was tutored far in excess of what the nobles are taught and that caused me all kinds of trouble as I got older." She grinned, "But in answer to your question...I suppose I was."

"You say, 'as a youngster'," Aurora pressed further.

Tristian nodded, "As I got older, there was so much more that I wanted to do. So much that I thought could be changed to help the people here live better lives. Knowing that I had no chance to even try and make a difference...that was hard on me. I...was considering leaving when this raider trouble came up."


"Yeah. Thought I'd try Darena or something. The problem was that I like what I do. I like being a warrior and Darena...even Dram and Widden, don't really have a large force of warriors. They've got local authorities but from what I've seen, you pretty much had to be part of the family to get in." Tristian chuckled, "Actually, I was thinking of looking for Dyan. I didn't figure I had much to lose and it would have been an adventure to remember."

Aurora chuckled, "You would have been welcomed."

Tristian looked at her in surprise.

"You would have. Even if no one knew you are my heir, you are a woman, strong, sound and impressive. Where ever you had crossed, they'd have snatched you up and welcomed you with open arms."

Tristian laughed, "I never considered that. I figured they'd haul me before some kind of council and I'd have to plead my case. Being a commoner, I wasn't sure I could find a better place then, anything was better than being here."


A knocking on the door interrupted Aurora's statement. Twin expressions of raised brows caused the two women to laugh at themselves and Tristian sealed the final box. "Let me get that, I'm done if you want to send these off."

Tristian opened the door to Staunton Grier and Vernid Lionae. Her implacable mask fell into place and she met their inquiring gazes with a cool look of utter boredom.

"Yes..." Lionae purred, "Tristian...uhm...we'd like a word with your sire...and yourself of course."

Aurora heard the grating voice and she turned to the door. She found Tristian looking at her in question. "Tristian, how do you feel about talking to them?"

Tristian considered the question and shrugged, "Given my druthers, Sire, I 'druther not."

Aurora grinned, "Good, then tell them so and send them away. We're due at the stables shortly, Sidell and Emma are probably waiting for us."

Tristian turned to her visitors, "Apologies to both of you but we're in a rush and have no time to chat."

"It's important," Lionae insisted.

"That can't be," Aurora inserted smoothly. She knew that Tristian would need more time to absorb the fact that she was no longer bound to these fools and...if looked at from Mhyr's point of view, Tristian actually out ranked both of them. She was willing to give Tristian all the time she'd need. "That can't be," she repeated. "See, Tristian does not have anything important to say to either of you and neither do I. Since we are the only two people of importance present, your comment is a blatant falsehood."

Tristian bit her lip to keep from snickering and felt Aurora's hand on her back propelling her forward. They exited and Aurora secured the house with a mage shield as Staunton stood quietly while Lionae sputtered.

They took their leave and Tristian snorted in amusement.

Aurora grinned, "Never forget, Tristian. You answer to no one but yourself now. I know it will take awhile, but I want to impress that fact on you."

They made good time and Tristian brought them to a grassy knoll that ended in a clear stream filled pool. The two women worked well together and Tristian was pleased to find that Sidell was not quite the hopeless noble she expected to be escorting. Of course, she suspected that already but it was nice to have her suspicions confirmed. As Sidell built up the fire Tristian returned with a plump rabbit for dinner. With the meal simmering, the women took the time to play in the cool water.

"Yah," Sidell screeched as a wave of water swamped her. Green eyes glinted in competitive fire and she launched herself at her chuckling companion.

Tristian caught her easily without losing her footing and simply wrapped long arms around the smaller woman.

"S'not fair," Sidell complained. "You're bigger than I am."

"And who started the water fight, little imp?"

"Well, I didn't think you could move the whole pond."

Tristian laughed at this massive exaggeration and long fingers tickled the soft skin pressed against her. Sidell squirmed and glared up at her tormentor.

Green eyes swallowed her whole and Tristian forgot about tickling her companion as her head lowered to taste the honey soft lips.

Sidell hummed her approval of the change in activity.

"You are beautiful, m'lady," Tristian murmured, her companion backlit in the fading sunlight was surrounded by a golden glow. Tristian couldn't look away and found herself drawn forward again.

"And you," Sidell murmured, "Are a vision in my shadowed dreams, a taunting flicker of dark fire and danger, a shade that calls to my heart, the other half of my soul. Love me, Tristian. Make love to me, now. "

They were cutting across the land on a direct path to the mountain when Tristian pulled up shortly. They'd been out three days and Sidell couldn't have said when she'd had a better time. Their days were spent in getting to know each other. How they worked together and in Sidell marveling at the ease Tristian fit into the wild. Their nights were spent in passion and a more passionate lover she'd never had. Tristian could be gentle one minute and rough and demanding the next. But never did Sidell feel afraid and she was never harmed. Well, she might have been tender in some places but that was enjoyable for both of them.

Now she watched the feral glare in her lover's eyes as Tristian's nostrils flared to taste the scent on the wind. Her ears pricked forward, reminding Sidell of the wolf she closely associated her lover with, and she stood as still as a tree while her body absorbed the signals of the forest.

"Smoke," Tristian muttered, "I'd say they struck again. Off to the north but I'm not sure how far"

Sidell nodded in easy acceptance of her lover's news. She didn't doubt Tristian but realized they may not be in time to help. "Let's head for the mountain. Maybe we can intercept them."

They rode in silence now. Tristian's every sense focused on identifying possible danger. They had agreed that Sidell would not use her gift until they knew what was happening. No sense in alerting a mage if one was about. Sidell felt as if she was riding blind and she didn't care for it. Her gift was as natural as sight to her and having to contain it left her feeling particularly vulnerable. Only her trust in her lover kept her from unleashing her gift. Tristian pulled up on the low side of a rising ridge. "They should be on the other side," she whispered helping Sidell down. The two women belly crawled to the top and looked down at the trail below them.

A line of straggling mounted and armed soldiers were strung out along the trail. Cages of people rolled by and the herdstock brought up the rear of the entourage.

They waited until the final soldier passed and Sidell put her hand out to halt Tristian's retreat down the hill. "Wait, watch."

And older woman shuffled along the path, muttering in a singsong voice that was almost but not quite a chant. As the woman moved the telltale signs of passage faded from the ground.

Now the two women moved quickly. Tristian took them farther away from the trail but kept an almost direct path to the mountains they were all headed for. "I think we can beat them. We must hurry but their pace will take them at least the better part of today."

Sidell nodded and exerted her energy in maintaining the pace her lover had set.

They arrived at the entrance and Tristian scouted quickly to ensure no one was there to surprise them. They set the horses back away from the site and found a hidden alcove in the craggy mountainside to hole up in. The first people they saw were two young women. The set of their faces belied the innocence of their youth. One of them moved up to the large rock face and she began a singsong chant.

"Damn," Sidell muttered. "We need to move. Need to get behind them, Tristian. I've got to see what she's doing."

Tristian was not pleased. There weren't many places to hide on the open ground and moving now could be foolhardy. The set look in the green eyes gazing at her made the point moot and she eased down, crawling carefully. Keeping to the hollows in the ground and the small boulders lying about on the ground. She trusted in Sidell to follow and keep her head down. They moved slowly but steadily and the two women appeared to be in some kind of trance.

Sidell had been listening to the chant so that she could repeat enough of it to help her research it on her return to Dyan. She set herself to allow her to watch the rock face. She switched to her mage sight hoping it was passive enough to not cause a stir in the swirling eddies of energy.

Her magesight saw a construct of thinly linked energy lines forming an arch. In the center of the arch was a five-starred emblem. The chant caused the different points of the emblem to flare in pulsing power. Sidell now new she needed to get the chant right since it appeared to be the key to the gate they were looking at. She concentrated and allowed the chant to flow through her absorbing it as she had so many mage lessons before it was almost instinctive. Her conscious mind would never remember but her gift would and she could coax it out at a later date. She felt Tristian tense but not a sound came from her as the rock face disappeared and the women looked onto a verdant green plateau. Tristian eased away from Sidell as hoof beats came down the trail. She set herself in a position to defend her lover should it become necessary.

Sidell rose swiftly and moved to confront the two mages, leaving Tristian shaking her head in sad acceptance. "Damn."

A shout from the trail brought Tristian out of hiding and she met the riders head on leaving Sidell to face the mages. A shattering clap of thunder sounded and Tristian found herself surrounded by armed women.

She turned to find Maria at her side.

Maria winked at her, "Pretty neat trick, eh?"

Tristian grinned and turned to the leader thundering down the path. She ran forward and met the leader in a flying leap that took them both over his horse. She landed upright and buried her knee in the back of his neck as they hit hearing the satisfying snap of his neck.

"Yes," Maria cheered her on before turning to find her own opponent.

Tristian couldn't help the grin that came to her face at the looks of admirable approval she received from the scouts. She shook her head and entered the fray.

The soldiers pulled back to regroup after the furious initial clash. Over half of them lay injured or dead. Tristian found a youngster grinning up at her panting softly. "Commander, permission to release the captives?"

Bemused she could only nod. "Take five more with you and what is your name?"

"Werinth, Commander. It shall be done."

The party disappeared into the woods and Maria came up beside her. "I think we can handle this Tristian, you'd best see if you can help Sidell. It would appear she's bit off a bit more than she could chew." Maria grinned, "Again."

Tristian cursed and turned to find the eldest of the women had now joined the first two. The three formed a triangle around Sidell and the energy of the battle was clearly taking its toll.

She looked at Maria briefly and grabbed her bow. "Give me that."

"Aye, Commander," Maria grinned, handing over bow and quiver.

Staying out of direct sight, Tristian notched an arrow. She had no idea if this would work but she hoped the mages were too busy to guard against a physical attack. Sighting quickly, two more arrows at the ready, she aimed and released in three even pulls. Two dropped screaming but the third turned to her in anger. A ball of flame shot from the mage's hand heading at her. Before she could leap clear, a rush of energy surrounded her and the flames burst harmlessly around her. The mage screamed as she was lifted bodily and smashed down across a nearby boulder. Tristian didn't need to hear the snap to know her back was broken. Another burst of energy came from one of the mages hit by an arrow, it was countered and thrown back, the woman shrieked in agony as the flames engulfed her. Sidell looked tired but okay and she waved Tristian on to the fight behind her while she finished up.

Tristian turned but Maria had everything in hand so she ran down to check on the captives.

"Thomas," an elderly woman cried as she came into sight.

"Adeena," Tristian hurried forward to hug the woman an offer comfort. "Adeena, I'm sorry."

"No...we're fine. You were on time, Thomas. Thank the Mother they let you back out in the field."

"What happened?"

"They came screaming out with the dawn. Had us rounded up and in the cages before we could think to fight back. My husband got his head cracked but other than that we're fine. They burnt everything, Thomas. Everything."

"You live, Adeena. That's what's important."

The woman sniffed in contemplation and sighed. "Aye. At least we can start again." Sons and daughters gathered around ensuring they were all right. Grandkids were hugged and reassured and Tristian set Adeena down on the cart bed.

"Did they say anything?"

"Didn't understand them, Thomas. They talked a lot but I don't know what they were saying. They ended up just poking at us to get us to move."


Tristian turned to find Maria looking at her expectantly. "Secure the prisoners, Maria. I want to transport them back to Dyan. See to the injured and set a few of your people to take the bars off these carts. Maria, where is Sidell?"

"Coming. She wanted to secure that last mage to send to Aurora."

Tristian nodded. "Send her here when she's done, Maria."

"I'm done, Tristian," Sidell answered softly moving to stand in her lover's embrace.

Tristian hugged her tight. "I should spank you, dammit. What the hell kind of plan was that?"

Maria snorted in amusement and moved off to attend to her orders.

"Plan?" Sidell asked mischievously. "You mean I gotta have a plan?"

Tristian sighed and just buried her face in Sidell's hair, happy enough that her lover was safe. "Come on, you. Let's help these people home. Did you take care of those mages?"

"Yes. Sent them to Dyan. Aurora will deal with the two still living."

"Alright," Tristian walked up the woman she spoke with earlier. "Adeena, this is Sidell. You can thank her for your freedom."

"I'll thank you both. If you're ever in the area stop by. Whatever we have is yours as you need it."

Sidell smiled and took the woman's hand, "Just be safe, Adeena. You and yours, be safe and happy."

"Commander, the carts are ready."

"Adeena can you get yourselves home?"

Adeena seemed to find this amusing and chuckled. "We can find our way home and with those scum handled, we'll be fine." She moved off to get her family and livestock rounded up. They'd make camp soon but she wanted away from this strange place.

Tristian turned to look at the now solid rock face and back to Sidell.

"Later," her lover promised. "I'll explain it when we get this settled." She looked at the women milling around. "I thought I'd send them and their prisoners back while we continue on through the gate." She eyed her taller companion.

"Send half of them back. Keep Maria and another five of her choice. Since you don't care to plan in advance, I'd rather have them with us when you decide to jump head first into trouble."

Sidell pouted prettily while Maria chortled.

They formed a semi-circle around Sidell as she opened the gate. Again they looked out at a green plateau. Maria moved around and looked into the gate, shifting the angle of her view. "You know...if I'm not mistaken, we're looking at the southern tip of Dyan." She turned back to Sidell who shrugged.

"Well," Tristian sighed, "how about we enter before something comes out to meet us?"

Maria led off, the scouts forming a protective ring around their Heir and Commander. Tristian growled a low command, backing them off of her and leaving her room to move. Sidell smirked at her.

They stepped onto the plateau and found it empty. A worn path led into a thick copse of trees and beyond they could see a plain full of grass. Sidell turned to check her lover. Tristian stood quietly, but every muscle in her body was tense. Her head was cocked at an angle and she appeared to be listening intently. Sidell moved closer, carefully, and rested a hand on her lover's arm. She could feel the pulsing tension flowing through her lover's powerful frame. "Tristian?"

Before Sidell could decide on further action a shield of unknown power surrounded her lover and threw Sidell back. Maria turned to the path as the sounds of a wagon rushing down towards them drifted towards her on the wind.

Tristian felt the rush of energy and she halted, her head cocked trying to identify the source, she paused her senses fully engaged when suddenly her world exploded. Colors, vivid, unimaginable colors swirled around her, a bountiful feast of beauty that threatened to overload the senses. She couldn't move, couldn't speak, the world spun and pulled her in, she fought and set herself and she felt her aura beginning to scatter. Willpower alone held her being together and she felt the overwhelming pull ease, the spinning stop. She noticed a flickering light darting amongst the colors, coming closer, nearer; she waited patiently and was unsurprised when it stopped at eye level. "Welcome home, BondedOne. Welcome home."

Part 3

Tristian stared in bemusement.

"No harm will come to you now," the light continued," you've passed the hardest test. You've kept your sense of self here in the mother's womb. It has always been your destiny to bond with the Mother, your role as a mage without peer. The magics of the self and the mother are at your beck and call. You are needed and the danger is great. We are pleased to see you now. Take your time here. Time differs here from normal time, ride the Mother's winds, learn the secrets of your powers, forge your bond."

The light flickered away and Tristian felt a silly grin cross her face at the beauty she saw. With a shout of glee she leapt effortlessly and felt the Mother's winds catch her, lift her, support her. Her being filled with light hearted laughter. She slipped out of the air current and dove into the color slicing cleanly into the deepest reaches of the Mother's womb. A timeless eternity later she floated peacefully, fully charged, completely aware of and in control of her gifts.

The light returned as expected and a soft voice could be heard. "Well done, follow me now and remember...this is how you return. Fare thee well, BondedOne. I will always be here, as your teacher and your guide. Come to me for answers and those that I know I will provide. Return now."

Tristian felt the coiled tension in her limbs and the pulsing energy of the shield around her. She looked around, unsurprised to see Aurora there and a host of others she didn't know. Her instinctive grasp of her powers as one with her now as the feel of her blade, casually, she dropped the shield and caught her lover as Sidell threw herself against her powerful frame.

"It's alright, Sidell. I'm alright." She murmured gently, calming her upset lover.

She held Sidell tight and relaxed slowly, sniffing the air, testing the area. The thrumming of energy had abated but she could now feel the connection with her bond and her lover. She closed her eyes and gathered her normal senses, then met the concerned gaze of her lady. She smiled softly and bent for a kiss. "I'm alright. I'll tell you later."

Sidell nodded, running her hand gently over her lover's strong jaw. She remembered the feeling of helplessness she felt when the shield rose and she couldn't break it. She heard Aurora's frantic mindcall and Fetched her for assistance. The two of them together couldn't make a dent in the shield surrounding Tristian. She'd been terrified but Tristian hadn't moved and didn't seem to be in distress. She merely looked intrigued. Sidell looked up at the women gathering around them as they careened to a halt but the women merely settled in quietly apparently waiting for the outcome.

Tristian squeezed her gently, bringing her back to the present and moved them forward. She smiled at her Sire meeting Aurora's piercing gaze, knowing Aurora could feel the changes.

"Later?" Aurora mindsent.

"Aye, Sire." Tristian returned in kind, not missing the flicker of pride that crossed Aurora's lips. "Best return and calm mother. I think we just encountered her vision."

Aurora nodded, "You did. She was frantic and I spelled her to keep her calm. I'll return and explain you're fine."

Tristian's gaze turned to the eyes of the colony leader as Aurora ported out. The woman studied her intently and then smiled softly. She moved forward and knelt, "Welcome home, BondedOne. We have waited long for your return."

Sidell looked up in confusion but Tristian smiled gently, "It's good to be home, Ariel. Rise now and stop that. We've much to discuss."

"We do, BondedOne. But...there is nothing to discuss regarding our merging with Dyan."

"Good. I'll leave it in your hands?"

"It will be done."

Tristian turned, "This is Maria Delgado, work with her to plan your integration. And Ariel...I want the people from Mhyr, and their property returned. Dyan will sponsor this colony until all is aright."

"As you command, BondedOne. You understand what happened?"

"I do. It has been shown to me. I do not agree but I will not pursue it. You, however, will make restitution to the families whose lives have been disrupted. You will also dismiss the soldiers and return them to where ever it was you found them and collect the two mages in Dyan. The third was killed. It could not be helped."

Ariel bowed in acknowledgement. "You will accompany us? We prepare a feast in your honor?"

"Allow me to provide the food and we'll be happy to."

Ariel smiled and agreed.

Sidell sat in stunned disbelief as her lover walked through a barrage of people exchanging greetings in both old Xandorian and new Xandorian. These women who had never laid eyes on Tristian before today were clearly ecstatic to have her here now. She looked over at Maria who appeared to be a clueless as she was. She started at a touch to her shoulder and nodded as Ariel sat.

"You are confused?"

"No shit," Sidell muttered.

Ariel smiled, "Forgive us, this is a joyous day for us and we're all...a bit overjoyed. I will try to clear things up and Tristian will explain the rest once you two are alone."

Sidell leaned forward waiting for her to begin, Maria moved closer intent on figuring out what exactly was going on."

"In the southern colony is the largest mage node in Riger."

Sidell looked suspicious. She felt nothing.

"The node can only be touched by the Mother's Own. It has been passed through our records that the Mother's Own will return to lead us into the new world. A danger of untold horror would threaten the land and the BondedOne would come to accept the Mother's Gift. All these years we've waited. Many have come but the node has never risen before...until today. The air fairly shimmered with power and reached out to greet Her bondmate. I have no way of knowing what happened after that but something has. The node has settled and Tristian is fairly bristling with the Mother's energy. We are the keepers of the Mother's winds. It is to us that protection of the lands fall, we nurture, repair and cleanse the land as needed. We would not give up this land because of the node. In the wrong hands, the mother's power can be subverted and cause untold damage in the fabric of life itself. So we waited...and now...she has come. I can only assume the bond has taken. She understands the old language and knows us as if we've been friends for decades. She has been accepted by the Mother and as such by us. We will do as she commands, young heir. No more shall our people be separated."

Tristian's hands fell on her shoulders and Sidell felt the rush of power and the jolt of desire. It almost overwhelmed her and she leaned weakly against her lover. "Ariel, you have everything in hand."

"Aye, BondedOne."

"I do not yet know the threat so for the time being, prepare your colony as previously discussed."

"As you say."

"Tomorrow, I will have Aretha Dubear brought here. She is the Lorekeeper. Open your scrolls to her and perhaps she can see what the danger may be. She will have many questions." Tristian warned.

Ariel laughed. "Of course she will, she's a Lorekeeper. We will make her welcome, BondedOne."

"The Leader may be with her."

"All will be well."

"Then I will take my leave, Ariel. There is much I must explain to my lady. I leave you in good hands."

"Aye. Maria has already proven to be of great help. We plan to return the people to Mhyr on the morrow." Ariel grinned, "At least, those that wish to return."

Tristian smiled and turned to Maria. "I will brief Puck and have a garrison pulled together to be stationed here. I want you on hand when they arrive. They need to blend in with this colony. Ariel, perhaps you have women here that wish to serve in our Warriors?"

Ariel nodded, "Aye, our young ones have been asking. I'd hoped to discuss it with Maria once we settled everything else."

"Discuss it soon. We're accepting new recruits and your people can be included from the beginning. They may have to leave the colony for training," Tristian warned.

"No fear now. With your bonding, the node is safe. We can integrate without much concern and those of us left will continue with our work as we always have. Besides, the Mother's calling is hard to resist. They will return, as will you."

Before Sidell could ask Tristian ported them to a place outside of time, to a place of peace and no confusing swirls of power or emotions. A place for just the two of them and Sidell felt a peace she'd never known. "It's beautiful, love. Where are we? Wait a minute how did we get here?"

Tristian smiled and surprised her by raising a shield around Sidell. Tristian stepped back and dropped all of her shields and Sidell stood in silent awe bathed in the power of the mage known as the Mother's Own, a mage the likes of which had never before been seen in Riger. "Goddess bless."

"Aye, my heart. And she has," the low mindlink caught her by surprise and Tristian's eyes gleamed in mischief. Raising her own shields that would protect Sidell she dropped the one around Sidell and gathered her lover. "It has been given to me that this has always been my destiny. Apparently, mother knew and it terrified her. She ran in a misguided attempt to save me."


"Because there are only two possible outcomes for the test. Either the bond takes or the body dies. She was afraid."

" mean to tell me, that stepping onto the plateau started a test?"


"And failure meant death."


"Goddess bless?" Sidell fumed.

Tristian chuckled and soothed her irritated lover. "Had I remained in Dyan as a child, Ariel would have been sent to me to provide training. With all that happened. Ariel didn't know who would be the Mother's Own. With my own mother's actions, the outcome became unstable. Only now, with my return, can the pattern be rewoven."

"Damn." Sidell looked around curiously, "So..we are here, why?"

Tristian smiled. "Because of my bond, I am a danger to you."

"Don't think..." Sidell began in anger and Tristian hushed her.

"No, I'm not leaving but we need to share my bond. I need to acclimate you."


"Well," Tristian's eyebrows waggled, "first we need to lower your mage gift, and then, I'll surround you with my own gift for short periods. The reason we are here is, once I break down your own gift, you'll be pretty helpless and I want you safe. No one but me can get here."

Sidell looked at her in confusion. "What happens after that?"

"After you've accepted the mage energies, I raise both gifts to your normal levels. You won't be able to do everything I can because you won't be bonded to the mother but our bond will give you quite a boost to your own gift." Tristian stepped closer, "I won't hurt you, Sidell."

Sidell shuddered. "I know, love. It's just a shock. I've been gifted all my life. It's a bit frightening to learn that my lover can strip my powers from me."

"Never strip. I can but I would never. I thought we'd do this in a manner that we'd both enjoy."

Sidell recognized the seductive lilt of Tristian's voice and she replied in kind, "Did you now?"

"Uhmmm," Tristian replied nibbling her neck.

"And how might that work?'

"Like this," Tristian replied capturing her lips fiercely.

Sidell felt her lover's power rise; felt the swirling eddies of energy so pure the air crackled with it. She felt her own gift rise to protect her, knowing she had no chance. Tristian held her tight as her fear rose and she struggled in mindless fear until she felt the gentle touch on her overtaxed shields and she bowed her head in submission as Tristian's gift soared around her, through her, dissolving her shields as if they never existed. For the first time in her life, Sidell felt completely open, vulnerable, frightened, and then she was surrounded in a warmth of heat and colors, a kaleidoscope of beauty and infused with a timeless sense of love, devotion, passion.

She moaned against her lover's lips and felt her senses soar on unseen winds, her mind shrieked in fear but her bond to her lover held her firm and she surrendered to the power of her mate.

Sidell woke to a soft touch and smiled sleepily.

"Drink, love," Tristian murmured and Sidell's eyes blinked open at the endearment from her lover. She sipped the cool drink and stretched to ease the tightness in her muscles.

Tristian began a slow massage to ease the aches.

Sidell gazed up into her lover's eyes and watched until they darkened with a primal need. She felt the energy rise in the air, felt her own senses respond in welcome and her body flushed and swelled, aching to feel her mate.

For three days they remained as Sidell became accustomed to the power her lover wielded. Until they could join without fear, without weakness but as partners, as equals. Tristian would always be able to do more with her gift but that was due to her bond. Without calling on the mother, the lover's were in truth, equal partners.

"Home, my heart?" Tristian asked softly as they relaxed in the heated pool."

"Do we have another choice?" Sidell asked impishly.

"Not really," Tristian agreed.

"Then take me home, my love. Take me home so I can plan our joining."

"Aye," Tristian agreed, bowing to the only woman who could now command her.

They arrived to a sight Sidell never thought she'd see. Several Mages of Dyan were pummeling Aurora Mardred with mage energy. Selene was held captive by Althea Lionae as a ring of Guardians surrounded the scene. Puck held her Warriors back in fear of harming Selene and her people could not hope to fight the mages.

"You did bring us to Freelock...didn't you?" Sidell asked in shock. She was further stunned when her lover's power surged in rage and several of Dyan's mages stared about them in confusion having found themselves suddenly powerless. Every Guardian found themselves incapable of moving and Staunton Grier looked up to see Tristian enter the ring of paralyzed Guardians. Sidell rushed to free Selene from Althea's limp hands and Tristian stopped to assist Aurora.

"What?" Aurora asked in a daze as she was pulled to her feet.

Tristian held her steady and turned to Puck. "Take them and secure them. Throw them in the cells and they'd best pray I don't decide to hang all of them. Have Riel bring these mages and Staunton's party to the common hall. Sidell, bring your mother home."

"Selene," Aurora murmured.

Tristian ensured her Sire was steady and moved to take her mother in her arms.

"She's alright," Sidell assured her. "Let's head to Mother's. I told her to meet us there."

"Aye, love. Help Aurora, I don't think she's quite as steady as she thinks she is."

"Tristian.." Staunton called out hesitantly.

Tristian never turned, "Puck, you don't want to explain why these people are still cluttering the road."

Puck shoved Staunton forward and her warriors literally pushed their charges towards the common hall. Tristian waited until they were inside and sealed the hall with a shield. She didn't want another mage helping them.

A laughing Emma du Aulstet ported into her den and sobered quickly. "What the hell? I haven't been gone that long." She took in Aurora's disheveled state, Selene's pale face, Sidell's confusion and the almost overwhelming rage emanating from Tristian. She raised her shields instinctively.

Sidell noticed and turned to her lover, "Sweetheart, fix your shields before you drive my mother and your Sire batty."

Tristian shook herself out of her anger and smiled sheepishly, "Sorry." She reinforced her shields and turned to Aurora. "What happened, Sire? Why is Mhyr here and why were those mages attacking you?"

"I don't have a clue," Aurora growled. "I didn't know Mhyr was here. I didn't know we were in danger until that...bitch grabbed Selene. I couldn't do much without risking Selene's life. Someone obviously told her that she had to be quick. The time it would have taken me to cast she could have slit Selene's throat." Aurora stood and paced angrily, "Once they were sure I wouldn't retaliate, the mages came out. I shielded and they were intent on proving they could handle me without having to threaten Selene. That's when you two showed up." She smiled weakly at her offspring. "Good timing."

Emma took the tale in, confusion evident on her face.

"Do we even know what they want?" Sidell asked gently. She'd moved to Tristian's side and was trying to calm her lover. Leveling Dyan was not an acceptable solution but Tristian was angry enough to do it. Or Mhyr.

Aurora shook her head no.

Sidell sighed and turned to Emma, "We've got the culprits locked up in the common hall, Mother. Why don't we wander over there and see what in the world happened since neither of us has been away longer than three days?"

They made their way to the Hall and the families of the five mages being held accosted Emma. "Emma, what's happened? What have they done?"

Emma looked around and sighed, "I don't want all of you present. Let's have the parents or guardians of each of the mages only."


Emma cut the speaker off. "No buts. I've been gone three days and I return to find out that our own people attacked Aurora Mardred. This meeting is limited to those I've identified. If you don't like it...move to another damn holding."

The group moved indoors, Tristian opened the shields enough for their entry, and Emma walked in to find a small group from Mhyr and five mages crying in their chairs. "What are they babbling about?" she asked her daughter.

Sidell indicated she should listen as Erin Dresden fell to her knees crying to her mother. "They...they stole my powers. Mama, they...they stole them."

Talia Dresden stared at her offspring and engaged her magesight, gasping in shock at the truth of the words. "Dear Goddess, how?"

"I...I don't know...mama help me...I don't wanna be like this."

Emma stared at Sidell in wide-eyed amazement but her daughter shook her head and motioned her to her place. Aurora, Selene, and Tristian sat on the council floor, while Sidell and Emma moved to the podium. The others sat in the spectator area, behind their offspring. The group from Mhyr was also on the council floor, separated from the mages.

"Alright," Emma began. "This council is in session. All witnesses will step forward."

Puck moved to the witness box and presented herself. "Two days ago, Leader, permission was granted by the House of Balora for the party from Mhyr to visit. Mhyr arrived with twelve guardians, all women, and their Commander. Their Leader, Staunton Grier, and four of their Noble Houses. The House of Lionae, their scion was given a temporary visitation pass again by the House of Balora, the House of Adair, the House of Fernelli, and the House of Geeves." Puck turned back to Emma, "They were processed through and briefed on our colony guidelines. The House of Balora came forward with the House of Dresden, the House of Pythora, and the House of Welma to vouch for them. The visitors were turned to over to them as is our custom."

"Purpose of the visit?" Emma inquired.

"To develop better working relations between the Holdings, Leader." Puck responded.

"So...what happened?"

"That I cannot say, Leader."

"Then continue with what you know, Commander."

"On this day, the party from Mhyr and their Guardian escorts were out and about apparently enjoying our colony. I paid no further attention until a warrior came to get me claiming that there was an emergency. I arrived at the scene to find Althea Lionae's knife firmly pressed against the throat of Selene Chambry. Aurora Mardred was being bombarded with what appeared to be mage strikes. A ring of guardians, yelling encouragement surrounded the scene. I held my warriors back. We could not have freed Selene quickly enough and nothing we did would have helped Mage Mardred. At that time..."Puck hesitated, "At that time I felt...a huge energy surge and then...everything went quiet. Almost immediately, the Heir and the Consort entered the ring and the Consort took command."

"Why didn't the Heir take command?" Vernid Lionae sputtered.

Emma glared at him. "You will have your turn. You can sit quietly or I will quiet you myself." She turned back to Puck.

"We took the guardians to the cells and brought these people here. We then waited for further orders."

Puck stepped out of the box to indicate she was through. Emma nodded, "Retrieve Commander Lionae and sit her with this group."

Emma turned to Aurora and Selene. Selene rose stiffly and reached for Tristian's hand. Tristian stood with her, escorting her to the witness box and stood behind her providing support.

"I...was shopping. Aurie and I planned to meet for lunch at the Baker's Brew. I'd finished up and dropped everything off at the house. As I stepped out of the doorway, I was grabbed and I could feel a knife, or something sharp, pressing against my throat." Selene's hand wandered to the spot on her throat and Tristian squeezed her shoulders in reassurance. They pushed me out to the road. I saw Aurie headed my way and she looked up and smiled. The knife must have glittered or something because she was suddenly angry. Before she could move closer, the woman jabbed the point into my skin harder and Aurie froze. She moved forward carefully asking what did they want. She was trying to reason with who ever held me but the woman never responded. Then...then, Aurie was being attacked." Selene's voice quivered in anger, "by mages," she spat. "Mages from Dyan." She glared at the offenders, "How could you? Aurora has never harmed any of you, how could you?"

Aurora's turn yielded the same results. She'd seen no more than Selene had stated.

Emma turned to the families. "Would the House of Balora come forward?"

A tall lanky woman moved forward and took her place. "I am, Myrrha Balora. We received a missive from the House of Adair. The missive mentioned that the Adairs were jewelsmiths and had heard that we were also. In the interest of furthering relations, they asked if they could visit our colony and we could exchange common smithing techniques. It was also suggested that a trade between our two colonies would be welcomed. I agreed. I received a second missive stating that three other families were interested in the same type of trade but in different fields. I inquired of the families that were best suited to speak with them and we all looked forward to the meeting. They indicated that the Leader would be attending and since they were bringing several of their wares, they would be happiest if we allowed a small contingent of guards." Myrrha looked up at Emma, "Leader, since it's common for me to have guards when I travel, I never thought twice about it. I agreed and the families here discussed the best ways to shelter our guests. I don't know what happened today. They wanted to walk around the colony and since our business was completed and they'd plan to leave on the morrow, we wished them a good time."

"Myrrha, how did your daughter get involved in attacking Aurora?"

"I don't know, Leader. But I will." She turned to Emma, "Their powers?"

"To be discussed later, Myrrha, it is a discussion for mages only."

Myrrha nodded and returned to her seat. The other families confirmed her tale, all being stumped on the activities of their offspring.

Emma watched as Althea Lionae smirked at the witnesses. Emma held her peace; Althea would quit smirking soon enough. "Erin Dresden, take the stand."

Erin looked to her mother but Talia merely motioned her forward. Erin stood and a blue haze enveloped her immediately. Emma grinned internally as Althea Lionae's jaw dropped. "For those of you from Mhyr, this haze represents the use of a truth spell. It is an acceptable questioning technique in Dyan and you," she paused, "are in Dyan."

Erin tried to struggle, knowing it was fruitless but she tried. They'd known the risk of getting caught and had hoped to have accomplished their task and be back in hiding before anyone could pinpoint them. Fools. "They came and the guardians were a lot of fun. We'd go out with them to the taverns and stuff. They started telling us about the Noble classes and the commoners. How it wasn't right for nobles like ourselves to be doing manual labor." Tears fell and she looked up at her mother, "It sounded so nice. Servants to fetch everything we wanted, no more working in that smithy, we could play and have fun all the time."

Emma waited for the girl to compose herself then prodded her gently. "So what happened?"

"Althea had an idea. She figured if we could get Aurora as a hostage, you would do what we wanted and instigate the Caste System here in Dyan. It sounded so easy. She said she'd get Selene and we all knew Aurora would do anything to protect Selene. We..." she looked at her cohorts, "we figured, with five of us, taking Aurora by surprise would be easy and we wouldn't have hurt her. We just needed one good blow to knock her out and Althea said she'd take care of the rest. If we were fast enough, no one would even know it was us." Erin started crying in earnest, "we couldn't. Even with all of us hitting her with everything we had, we couldn't break her shield. And powers are gone." She ended in a wail. Her cohorts supported her story and Emma turned to Althea Lionae. "Commander, take the stand."

"I am a noble of Mhyr." Althea said huffily. "I will not be subjected to your barbarian rules."

"And I..." Emma replied gleefully, "Am the rightful leader of Riger. Now take the stand or I'll just hang you without hearing your pathetic defense."

"You can't," Vernid Lionae shouted.

"Which one of you idiots are going to stop me?" Emma asked placidly.

Althea refused.

"Puck," Emma spoke sternly, "take her back to her cell, she can answer to Tristian."

Althea paled and tried to fight her guards. They merely knocked her out and carried her back to the cells.

Emma turned to the rest of the Nobles. "Next?" she smirked. "You already know the penalty for refusal."

"Wait," a woman exclaimed in fright. "We had nothing to do with this."

"Then take the stand and be cleared."

"Leader," the woman spoke softly, "I am Miriam Adair. Is this really necessary? Obviously I," she indicated herself, "Know nothing about this type of intrigue."

Emma sighed, "I am going to ask once more. If no one is on the stand when I'm done, all of you will be placed in a holding cell and I'll leave you to answer to the Warrior's Commander."

"Fine," Vernid snapped. "Mayhap she's got more sense than you do."

Emma merely grinned and nodded for Puck to remove them.

"You'll regret this, du Aulstet," Lionae shouted. "When I'm done, you'll wish you just killed me."

The room fell silent as they left and Emma indicated they should move to a conference room.

Once seated she called for refreshments and studied the five mages in front of her and then turned to Tristian asking, "I assume you're responsible for this?"

Tristian raised a brow. "Well, I'd say they're responsible for this, Leader. But if you mean the end result...yes, I am."

"How?" Talia exclaimed.

Tristian ignored her.

"Alright, is it reversible?"

Tristian scowled. "Perhaps."

"Tristian," Emma scolded. "It either is or it isn't."

"The possibility exists, Leader. The real question is, will I reverse it. The answer to that is...perhaps."

"Perhaps what, Consort?" Myrrha asked quietly.

"They believe the Caste system to be a marvelous ideal. I'll agree to reinstate their powers on one condition."

"That is?"

"They spend a year in commoners."

"But..." Erin looked bewildered. "But we should be nobles."

Tristian shrugged, "What you wished to instigate would have affected all of the classes, Erin. I want you to know how your decision would have affected those that have no other options. Live the life you'd merrily toss someone else into, Erin. Then come back and tell me how neat it sounded."

"I accept," Talia stated earnestly, shocking her daughter. "What you tried to do, Erin, is called Treason. It is punishable by death."

"No...we weren't...we didn't..." Erin looked stunned. So did her friends.

"You didn't really consider the outcome, did you?" Tristian asked gently. "By Mhyr's caste system, your family would only be in the merchant class."

"That's not what they said," Erin wailed.

"But I can prove what I've said, Erin. Mhyr's caste system dates back to the days of Corinne and Kyla. There were only fifteen original families to the du Aulstet Holding. Twelve of them moved to Mhyr when Corinne refused to instigate the caste system here. The du Aulstets, the Mardreds, and the Orphandes are the three that remained. Neither marriage nor wealth bequeaths nobility."


"Truth, Erin. Speak to the Lorekeeper. Seth is still here and she's been merrily digging through our records. See what she has to say but she'll confirm my tale. She's the one that explained it to me." She looked at them sadly, "Another thing you didn't consider. Althea tried to kill me. She would have killed Aurora and Selene. If that had happened, Erin, nothing in this world would have saved your life."

Silence descended while the five youngsters thought about that.

"Alright," Myrrha spoke again. "Do you know five families that will take them?"

"I believe so. I need to check, I don't want to put them in danger and I've no wish to place them where they'll be mistreated. Leave them free and I'll accept their word that they won't run. Give me a week to make arrangements. They'll be cared for, but they'll work hard. The commoner class leaves no time for mischief although, the love they share is often incredible to see."

Erin looked up tearfully, "You'll return our powers at the end of the year, Consort?"

"My word young Dresden. You may well thank me for this experience."

Erin looked doubtful but Tristian was fairly sure the youngsters would learn more than they thought they would.

The families left in silent contemplation. Emma turned to Tristian who raised a hand to hold her off. "Please, Leader. Let's discuss this civilly. Like over supper. My stomach is becoming much too intimate with my spine."

Emma snorted in amusement. "Alright, but let's eat at my place, I'll have Anya prepare and deliver supper."

Tristian nodded and turned to her parents, "You'll both join us?"

Aurora nodded and the five of them made their way back to Emma's home. They ran into Puck and dragged her along.

"What do you want me to do with the folks from Mhyr?" Puck asked curiously.

"Leave them stew till I've eaten." Tristian replied with a grin. "They'll get over it and I might even be in a better frame of mind, since my folks are fine and we've settled the mages." She thought for a moment and concluded, "And my belly will be full."

"That's important," Sidell snickered.

"Hush you."

Tristian explained the mother's bond and where they'd been for the past three days. She'd told Aurora they'd be out of touch but nothing else.

Emma looked up finishing her meal, "So...what are you going to do with those fools?"

"I'll probably hang the guardians. Including Althea. As for the rest, it depends on what they had planned."

"You'll get that information from them?"

Tristian nodded, "Aye. I can't let them go without knowing and I've no real basis for killing them, except that they made no move to stop the abduction." She shrugged, "I'm sure not gonna let them free without knowing their plans. As for the guardians, they aided and abetted. I also know they are among the worst of Althea's cronies so I've no doubt they were hip deep in her plans. Althea I can have hung just based on her attack on myself. This merely compounds the offense."

Emma sighed. "I'm not arguing with you, Tristian. It's just...not something I relish doing."

"I know. I'm sorry it came to this."

Aurora snorted. "They were fools and deserve it. I'll come with you. They wanted to hurt Selene and I want to know why."

Tristian left Sidell with Emma and Selene. "Puck, let's get the gallows set up. Six across, if it's possible, I want this done tonight."

Puck nodded and broke off leaving Tristian and Aurora to make their way to the holding pens.

"Thomas," a guardian spit. "Let us go, you common bitch. Once the Commander gets here, we'll be set free and I'm gonna gut you myself. I should have done it years ago."

Tristian smirked, "When I was a child, Petras. It's the only time you ever had a chance."

The woman snarled and rushed the bars. Tristian shook her head, "Don't be too excited to get out. Look out the back bars...we're preparing your farewell."

"Goddess bless," another woman uttered softly. "You can't be serious. We should be returned to Mhyr. This isn't right."

"What do you call right, Jeren? Coming to another Holding, inciting the children and attempting to kidnap my mother and Sire. You call that right?"

"But...this...we failed, for Alwyn's sake. You can't hang us for failing."

"I can't let you go to try again. How many times can I count on you failing?" Tristian shook her head, "No, Jeren. This is Dyan's answer for subversion, attempted kidnapping and assisting in attempted murder. Farewell, Jeren. May Alwyn have pity on you."

"Just a damn minute. We're to wait for the Commander's decision."

"Jeren," Tristian answered patiently, "I am the Commander."

They found Althea Lionae stark naked and Tristian's brow rose. She looked to Kelsey who shrugged. "She kept trying to kill herself and I got tired of it."

"Ahhh," Tristian murmured. "Open the cell."

Kelsey let her in. Althea snarled and tried to back away but Tristian was done playing. She held her in a mage grip and merely ripped the thoughts from her mind. She felt Aurora link to her and they stumbled through the Commander's hatred filled, bigoted, disgusting mind. Tristian closed her eyes and broke the link with a shudder. She turned to Aurora and shook her head, "Better I be a commoner than a noble like her."

Aurora agreed. They shut the door releasing the Commander to throw herself against the bars in anger. They crossed through the next door into the holding cells and Tristian looked in at the Nobles of Mhyr.

"Come to gloat, commoner?" Vernid Lionae spat. "Common bitch." He snarled in her face and she held him in a mage clasp, again ripping the thoughts from his head. "Kelsey," Tristian murmured, "Take him."

"Dear Alwyn," Aurora breathed, leaning heavily against the wall. "So much hate, so much anger. Why? They have everything?"

Tristian couldn't answer that. She'd never understood it herself. She returned her gaze to the cell. "Lionae has implicated the Lady Adair only. I will offer the rest of you a chance to stand for the truth spell once more."

"Wait," Miriam Adair squeaked. "I would stand for it. I didn't mean to make such a fuss, I'm just...Tristian you know me...I'm not use to being treated like this."

"You've been implicated, Lady, I will get my information but not with the truth spell. She ignored the lady's sputtering and the other four, including Staunton pushed up to the bars."

"Sire, if you would? I'll take care of the Lady."

Aurora nodded and Tristian let them into the corridor then entered the cell with Miriam Adair.

"What...what are you going to do to me."

"I'm going to enter your mind and sift through you memories." Tristian answered honestly.

"You...that'," Miriam sputtered praying for someone to save her.

"By magic, Lady. How else? You should have taken the truth spell, Miriam. It forces you to tell the truth about the event in question. This way, I'll know everything whether it's related to this day or not."

Tristian held her in a mage clasp and initiated the link, she felt Aurora join her and smiled when she realized Aurora had forced the other four into the link.

They relived the Lady's memories, her manipulations. They found answers to question Mhyr had never been able to answer. She'd been responsible for several deaths, ruined several merchants, ruined several marriages. She was the titular power behind the nobles but someone was giving her orders and Tristian could not figure out whom. Apparently, the Lady didn't know and she never cared to find out. Tristian ended the link and Miriam blinked owlishly. She saw the looks of horror on her friends' faces and she snorted in disgust. " you know. You know how easily you were led, how easy you are to fool, puppets all of you. But you don't know my master, and you won't until it's too late. He told me to kill you Thomas. He wanted you dead when you were a child. I ignored it as delusional prattling. I could not believe a commoner would be my downfall. How was I supposed to know you were the Heir to the House of Mardred?" She screwed her face up in anger, "He should have told me all of it. I would have killed you if I'd known."

Tristian left the Lady Adair with Kelsey. Puck was finishing with the Guardians and Althea, her father and the Lady Adair were next. "Do you four want to witness?" Tristian offered the women from Mhyr, solemnly.

Staunton nodded, "I should. Goddess knows I don't want to but I should. What did you get from Althea and Vernid?"

"Confirmation of the Lady's activities. The difference being, Althea and Vernid took a more active participation in the removal of certain persons. Vernid used his money to hire killers while Althea used the Guardians. The twelve here with her were her closest confidantes and they were often sent on such errands. Even when Flain was in command."

The other three begged off and Tristian had them returned to the Inn. She left orders for guards to be in place and they were warned that they'd be leaving Dyan on the morning transport. Further contact with Dyan was highly discouraged. Tristian and Staunton waited until the final pyres were put out and she walked her back to the Inn. "Fare thee well, Leader, I've hopes we'll not need to meet anytime soon." Tristian said tiredly. She'd had enough of Mhyr's stupidity and their close-minded bigotry.

"Mayhap we'll learn something from this, Tristian."

"Besides, don't piss off Dyan?"

"Mayhap," Staunton murmured. She turned back to watch the tall woman walk off, saddened that they would probably never see eye to eye on anything. She still believed in the caste system, they just had a few bad apples. Perhaps now, it would be better.

Continued in Part 3.

Back To Main Page