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



Tristian smiled at the scent on the air. She moved cautiously through the brush following the tantalizing scent. Her ears quirked and she carefully moved aside the brush. She grinned at the huge foraging buck. Tristian notched her bow and pulled back, aiming carefully, she released in silence. A fountain of blood exploded when the arrow pierced the jugular. Tristian moved forward. Dressing the kill she strapped her bow on the carcass and settled herself to lift it over her shoulders. "Damn," she muttered, "next time remind me to get a rabbit."

Settling her burden she set off across the land aiming for the large rambling home in the distance.

Erin Dresden sat with her favorite youngster, a little girl about seven that adored her. They were playing Kayla's favorite game, go hunt, and Kayla giggled in glee every time Erin tried to guess what type of animal Kayla had written on her little paper.

"Are you sure?" Erin demanded in mock ferocity.

Kayla laughed, "I don't have a monkey on my paper silly. I don't even know what a monkey is."

Adeena looked out the window at the two and smiled gently. She'd been concerned when Tristian asked for her help but Erin had fit right in, after she'd quit pouting. Now, Adeena couldn't remember a time when the happy youngster wasn't with them. Erin would be in her late teen years and the children adored her. She had the ability to play with all of them, no matter their ages.

"Erin?" Jastyn called out. "Erin, come look."

Erin grinned and lifted Kayla up, "Okay, I give up. What's on your paper?"

"A deer, silly," Kayla smiled and snuggled closer.

"A deer, huh." Erin smiled gently at the dark head resting comfortably against her shoulder. "Well, little deer, let's go see what Jastyn's come up with."

"Okay," Kayla agreed amiably.

Erin was incredibly surprised by Jastyn's ability to create jewelry. The girl was older than Erin but extremely shy and it took Erin forever to get Jastyn to show her the finished pieces. Erin had asked her to set out her pieces as if she was a merchant and Jastyn was calling her in to see the results. Erin stared in wonder, "Deena, Deena look."

"No," Jastyn murmured, "Erin please?"

"It's okay, Jas. I promise, it's okay. These are beautiful and no one's gonna make fun of you."

Jastyn moved to her side and hid behind her as their mother entered.

"Dear Alwyn," Adeena murmured on seeing the display. "Da...Da, come here."

", what's wrong...dear Goddess," the man murmured. "Who did that?"

"Jastyn," Erin exclaimed proudly. "Aren't they beautiful?"

"Jas? These are yours?"

Jastyn nodded shyly.

"They're beautiful, baby. Better than the stuff in the square," her father swore.

Jastyn eased out from behind Erin. "Really? Honest?"

Adeena hugged her, "Lovey, they are. Why did you hide these?"

"I thought...kid stuff," Jastyn muttered.

Erin circled her shoulders with a strong arm. The year here of hard work, good food, and sibling wrestling matches had put muscles on her once slender frame. She'd grown taller and stood proudly. Erin had lost her childish tendencies, the hard work left no time for prancing and preening but the family always had time to sit and talk, to tell stories, to play games and to just laugh at the world. She didn't remember being happier and she loved them all. "Da, maybe you could get a merchant to sell these for a commission."

He looked at her curiously, "They're good, no doubt could I trust a merchant? Maybe I could sell them myself?"

"No," Adeena said, gently. "You know what will happen, they'll accuse you of stealing it and throw you in jail. Erin's way is best. Even if they only give us a little bit, it's more than we have now."

Once again Erin felt a wave of anger at the limitations put on these people. She hated the fact that they couldn't just run out and sell it or find and honest merchant that would help them. A year here had shown her the impossibility of that and she knew Da was right. They'd never get a fair price.

"But anything's better than nothing," Kayla said seriously. "Right, mum?"

"Aye, little one. And this will help through the winter. Game's getting harder to find and we'll need to restock our larder."

Again Erin tried to offer to pay for her boarding but Adeena wouldn't hear of it. "No. You've worked our fields, herded our beasties, and dug our trenches. You've more than earned you keep young Erin and I don't want to hear another word about it."

"That's right, youngster." Da smiled, "Erin, you're like our own, you owe us nothing."

Erin blushed and was thankful for Kayla. "Deer, Erin, deer."

"I know...your paper said deer," Erin grinned hugging the girl.

"NO, there." Kayla pointed out the window.

"Thomas!" Adeena gasped.

"With supper," Da laughed running outside. "Daven, get my knives, fire up the spit. We're having a feast tonight."

Tristian had never been so happy to reach a destination in her life. She bit her lip to keep from groaning as she swung her burden onto the table. Adeena laughed in delight, "Thomas, you don't have to bring your own meal with you. We can manage to feed a guest."

Tristian chuckled, "Now, Adeena. You know I always come with an offering." She winced rolling her shoulders to ease the ache, "though, next time, I'll get a bunch of rabbits."

Da chuckled at her and shooed them off. "Go on with you, gossip or something and let me get supper ready. After walking this beastie home, Thomas, you're probably starving."

"Darn near," Tristian agreed moving off with Adeena.

She laughed as the youngsters poured out and attacked her. They ended up in a pile on the ground, a tickle fight in progress.

"Uncle, uncle," Tristian declared.

Kayla jumped up and raised her hands in victory. Tristian rose and made her greetings with the rest of the clan finally finding Erin staring at her oddly from the door. Adeena noticed and motioned Tristian forward.

"Erin," Tristian greeted the youngster casually.

"Consort," Erin replied.

Tristian smiled gently, "It's only been six months since I was last here, youngster. Have I changed that much?"

Erin looked down and blushed, "No, Consort. I...I think I have, though." She bit her lip, "Do we have to go now?"

"Well, I had hoped to get a piece of that deer I hauled halfway across Mhyr but if you're in a rush, you can go."

"I can?"

"The year's over, Erin. I'm here to return your powers. After that, you're free to go."

Erin stood silently, shuffling her feet.

Tristian could hear the gears spinning.

Erin turned slightly, looking back into the house and then out to the family. "Da, Da..." she hollered and scampered down the stairs past the startled Consort.

Tristian snorted in amusement.

"What's wrong, Erin? What happened?"

Adeena had rushed over to see and Erin's grin could have wrapped around her face.

"We can sell Jastyn's stuff in Dyan. I could sell it, or my family. You won't get ripped off, Da. Deena, see? It's perfect."

"" Adeena asked.

Erin smiled, "You know it's time for me to return? I want you both to know I really don't want to."

Adeena hugged her but Erin was too excited. "Wait. Listen. Since I can port back and forth, I could take the stuff to Dyan and arrange for the sales. I can also spend time here to work with Jas or play with Kayla or help in the fields." She paused, shyly, "That's if you'd let me?"

"Honey you'll always be welcomed here but...Erin, what about your folks. I know they've missed you."

"I know..and I'll spend time with them, but...I love it here." She paused, "Well, not necessarily Mhyr, but.." she looked around and extended her arms to the open land around them, "here."

"And we could go to Dyan to shop, well three of us."

Da laughed, "Aye, I know the ways of it and I've no problems with it, Erin child. Maybe give the girls more options than just being brood mares eh? Alwyn knows Deena and I aren't getting younger and the brothers will care for them's nice to have options?"

Adeena stared at him in shock.

"What?" he asked in outrage. "Woman you must know I'm not one of those bigoted, women have there place in the world, type of men. You've beaten that out of me good."

Adeena laughed. "Aye that I have. If you've no trouble with it, neither do I. We'll have to save so the girls can get a room when they visit but...if Erin says the goods will sell well, I'm willing to believe her."

"Trust me, Deena, I come from a long line of jewelers. These are good. But, I hope the girls and you will stay with us when you're visiting."

"And subject your mothers to my brood? Oh no, youngster. We'll stay in an Inn." Adeena hesitated, "Erin, do you think you can do this? Really? I don't want to get the girls excited for naught."

"I'm gonna pop on home, now. I'll be right back, I promise. I may have company but Tristian brought enough to feed the Holding so it'll be alright."

"Erin," Adeena hissed, "this place isn't fit for your mothers."

"I love this place, Deena. They love me, it'll be alright."

Erin turned and faced a crying Kayla, "Hey...what's all this. I turn my back and someone's hurt you?"

"You're leaving?"

"Well, yeah but I'm coming right back."

"For good?"

"Ah..." Erin murmured.

Adeena stepped up, "Let me have her, child, I'll explain as best she can understand and you'll be back to catch the tears."

"Erin," Kayla sobbed.

"Right, back, little deer. I promise." Erin turned and darted up the stairs past the now thoroughly amused Consort. "Jas, Jas?"

"Hey," Jastyn murmured softly.

Erin hugged her, "Don't cry, Jas, please? I'm gonna pop home and I'll be right back. Promise not to put these up?"


"No buts...promise? I've got a plan but I gotta check first. I don't wanna say anything till I'm sure so you gotta promise. Please?"

"Okay," Jas whispered, biting her lip to keep her tears inside. Erin hugged her fiercely. "Right back, I promise."


Erin finally returned to Tristian side. "When you're ready, Consort."

"Of course, young Dresden." Tristian bowed gently.

Erin felt a rush of power and reeled under it, "Whoa," Tristian held her steady until the power stabilized and checked her over.

"Okay, your mothers haven't changed anything. I'm suppose to tell you that. Now visualize and let me check you. I don't want you popping into a wall."

Erin fairly bounced with excitement and she realized none of it had anything to do with regaining her powers.

"Alright, youngster, off with you."

Tristian grinned as Erin disappeared. She ambled over to the elders and sat to talk a bit.

"Mum? Mum?" Erin hollered, careening down the stairwell. She'd ported to her bedroom being intimately familiar with it. "Mum, where are ye?"

Talia's brow rose as she looked at her mate, "Ye?"

Andra returned the look, "Mum?"

They chuckled and rose to find their excited youngster. "Whoa," Andra woofed as she received a chest full of teenage enthusiasm. "Goddess, look at you. You've grown."

"Aye, listen," Erin continued on chatting kissing her mothers' cheeks. "Listen, I've found an incredible jewel smith. You gotta come see, mums, please, you gotta."

Talia burst into laughter. Her daughter was always excitable but the barely restrained glee in her voice was hard to ignore. "Alright, we gotta go. Does this mean you don't want your dinner?"

"Nah, Da's firing up the spit and the Consort's brought a beastie for sup. We'll dine like queens, this day."

The two women exchanged amused looks indicating they had no idea as to what their oh so proper noble daughter just said. "Alright, Erin. Where are we going?"

"Mhyr," Erin answered with a grin. "Gripping her mothers' hands she ported them back to the farm."

"Erin," Kayla squealed and trounced her. "You're back." She kissed both cheeks enthusiastically.

"I said so, didn't I?"

"Aye, ye promised."

"Aye, and here I be, just like I promised."

Kayla snuggled close and Erin saw Jas peeking out the window. "C'mere, Jas. Don't be afraid, they'll not be harming ye."

"Promise," Jastyn mouthed quietly.

"Aye, my word, Jas."

Jastyn eased down the stairs and tucked herself against Erin's solid warmth. Erin's arm wrapped around her and she turned them as she spoke quietly to Jas. She missed the raised brows on her parent's faces. "Jastyn, Kayla, these are me mum's Talia and Andra."

Jastyn curtsey, "Pleased to meet you, ladies."

Kayla stared at them soberly and then grinned and hid her face in Erin's shoulder.

"She's a bit shy but she'll be better, later." Hearing footsteps Erin turned to smile at the elders that had kept her so well the past year. "Da, Deena, me mums."

Adeena smiled the same shy smile that Kayla had, "Ladies, be welcomed."

"Aye, Ladies," Da repeated, "to our home and our hearth, be welcomed."

"Thank you, both of you."

Adeena laughed gently, "I am Adeena and this is Armis."

The women laughed with her thankful they had names to use.

"Can I show them, Deena? Can I?"

"Mayhap they'd like to rest a bit, sprite? Something to drink?"

"Oh," Erin stammered, "Aye, I'll get it. Sorry, mum."

Talia chuckled, "It's alright, Erin. Why don't you get us something wet and let's see what's got you in such a dither?"

"Aye. Right back, then." But Erin was stuck with her two charges. Adeena clucked, "Here, give me this one," Kayla went to her grudgingly. "That one, you'll have to take back inside or you'll never peel her off."

"S'alright, the juice is inside, unless you'd like some ale?"

Andra grinned, "Actually, I would. Ale would hit the spot right about now."

Talia agreed.

"Right, I'll be back, come on Jas, let's get you settled. You kept your promise, eh?"

They lost the rest of the conversation as the women entered the home.

"If'n you ladies don't mind, ye can follow me and I'll get ye both settled with two mugs." Armis offered, leaving Adeena free to settle Kayla.

"Thank you, sir, that sounds wonderful. I thought Tristian was here?"

"Aye, she is. She's out with the lads playing some new fangled game they made up." Armis looked up and pointed in time to watch a horde of youngsters pile onto Tristian.

Andra couldn't control herself and she gave up. She burst into laughter and fell over onto the bench. "Oh Goddess bless, I've imagined this day so many times and it didn't even come close to reality."

Talia joined her mate chuckling, "Aye, my heart. I'd had visions of having to put up with her temper as she stormed around the house getting even with us for leaving her without her powers for a year."

"Well, mums," Erin said softly, "the old Erin probably would well as other numerous nasty stunts."

Talia looked up at her daughter. Erin had her arms resting comfortably crossed atop Adeena's shoulders and she nuzzled Kayla's hair.

"Lucky for all of us, that brat grew up some." Erin finished gently.

"Aye, daughter," Talia agreed soberly, "that she has."

But the somber moment couldn't hold Erin's excitement at bay and she grinned, "Now, Deena? Please?"

Adeena laughed, "Aye, lovey, now is fine. Be sure you bring them back for supper."

"I will. Want me to put Kayla down?"

"Nah. I needs to wake her to sup or she'll be bothering us come midnight, hungry."

"Aye, her stomach's like to wake a sleeping bear."

Erin had taken the time to set the display to make the most of the fading light. She almost dragged her mothers behind her as she strolled up the covered table.

"Dear Goddess, Erin, these are wonderful," Talia breathed reverently.

Andra merely knelt and lifted a small broach moving to the window to better study the designs etched onto it. "Tal, look at the detail. These must have taken months to make. Erin, who? And do they want to sell?"

"Aye, they do," Erin answered softly. Until then, she hadn't realized how nervous she really was. She opened her eyes to see Jastyn peeking at her and she smiled lifting an arm in welcome. Jas eased against her. "See? I told you they were good, me mums think so too." Erin could feel the tension running through the small frame in her arms. "Jastyn? What is it?" She got no answer and gently cupped Jastyn's chin lifting her face. "Jas, you don't have to sell if you don't want to. That was our deal remember? I promised."

"Yes, but we need to sell. The larder's empty and this lets me help. I can't do the outside work. I keep the house but I don't feel like that's enough. You cleared a field all by yourself."

Erin chuckled, "Aye, and did I ever learn a lesson. Pride means nothing when pain is involved."

Jastyn smiled gently, "You were trying to prove something then?"

"Aye. That I had even less sense than I thought." She smiled and tucked Jastyn's head beneath her chin. "Tell you what, we'll take an estimate and sell only what we need to stock the larder and get some dried beef. I'll buy it in Dyan the prices are better. That will leave you some of the pieces so you won't be lonely while you work on others. Eh, now? How's that sound?"

"If we only sell some, can we stock the larder?"

"Yes," Talia answered firmly. She'd already chosen the pieces she wanted to try to sell and had a rough estimate of the prices she'd get. She pointed to five pieces, "I can give you one hundred drachs for these five pieces."

"Dear Alwyn," Adeena breathed from the door. "Jas...that would stock the larder get us dried beef and fix the barn for the beasties."

"Aye," Erin agreed. "We'll get the supplies from Dyan and raise the barn ourselves. Maybe even have enough left for some cream, eh?"

"Ach," Jastyn laughed, "You and your sweet tooth. You'll have none if you're not careful."

"Sweets or teeth?" Erin teased.

"Both," Jastyn murmured.

"Ladies," Adeena murmured. "Are ye sure? I mean, it's a nice thing..."

Andra laughed, "Talia doesn't do nice when it comes to business, Adeena. If anything, she's offering you the low bid and if she sells if for a higher price you'll get the difference. Our commission is always the same no matter the price. The higher it sells, the more we all get."

"She's right, Adeena. It's the low bid because this is the first time on the market. If I'm wrong I can afford the loss but..." she grinned proudly, "I'm rarely wrong and my girl has my eye for jewelry. Take the money, Lady, chances are good, you'll have more than enough for cream and fruit."

Erin's mouth watered. "Oooh, you had to mention fruit."

They agreed on the price and shook on it. Andra ported back to Dyan to drop off the merchandise and retrieve the drachs.

"Jas, come an eat with us. I'll bet ye haven't greeted Thomas, yet."

Jastyn blushed and Erin chuckled. "Come on then, it'll be alright and I won't let you go."

"Alright, I'll eat, greet Thomas and you'll bring me back?"

"I promise."


Adeena hefted the sack and turned to Erin, "Here, sprite. Ye'll be doing the shopping, ye might as well hold the bag." She eyed the youngster and grinned, "Mind ye, I can count. Don't be coming back here telling me all that stuff d'nae cost more than half, I'll tan your hide for lying."

Jastyn laughed as Erin coughed in surprise. "Okay, Deena, I'll use the money. Here, let me put it in me bag before I forget it and you tan me hide anyways."

Talia almost swallowed her tongue trying to keep from laughing.

"I...ah...need a drink," Andra sputtered as she barreled out the door, her clear laughter ringing in the air.

"Seems awful strange to me that me mums find it funny that me hide's been threatened," Erin growled in mock anger.

Talia lost it; shaking her head she laughed her way out.

Adeena smiled, "They be nice ladies, lass."

"Aye, Deena. I'm sorry I didn't realize it sooner."

"Ye do now...make the most of it."

Erin stood on the balcony of her parents' home gazing out at the stars. Her mind lost in the memories of her leave taking, the laughter of the dinner, Jastyn's quiet tears. Erin took a deep breath and blinked rapidly clearing her eyes. "Damn," she muttered softly. "Damn, damn, damn."

"Was it something I did?" Talia asked in gentle query.

Erin whirled in surprise, ", I'm sorry, I d'nae hear ye."

"What's wrong, Erin? I thought you'd be happy this day."

Erin looked at her mother, surprised to find herself taller than Talia. She bit her lip and reached out hugging her gently. "I miss them. I miss Kayla. I miss Jas," she whispered.

Talia held her only daughter, surprised at the contact since Erin had gone through that period of no physical contact with her parents at a very young age. This was the first time Erin had reached out for her mother and Talia held her tight. "You love her?"

Erin pulled back and looked at her queerly, "Well, yeah. I love them all?"

"No, sweetheart, you love Jas. Yes, you love all of them but you really, really, love Jastyn. It shows, Erin. In every move you make with her and she returns it. That's what's making this harder. Yes, you'd have been sad missing the rest of them but you're headed back there tomorrow. No, my sweet, I think you've grown more than even you have realized. I think that heart in there," Talia poked her daughter's chest playfully, "has grown large enough now to love."

Erin looked shocked so Talia quit speaking and just held her gently.

"Is this a private party or can any mum join in," Andra's voice floated out to them.

Erin grinned weakly, still stunned and extended her arm. She couldn't help it; the only thing she could see was Jastyn, walking towards her. "Yes," she whispered as her mothers' arms closed around her. "Yes, I do."

Part 4

Erin couldn't wait, it was barely dawn and she needed to be with Jas. She left a note in the kitchen, smirking as she realized she'd never ever told her parents where she was going and ported out.

"Ye came," Adeena cried. "Thank Alwyn, ye came."

"What is it? It's Jas isn't it?"

"Aye. She's just lying there crooning. We can't reach her, lass, please, you try. Take her with you, Erin. If you wake her, take her with you, keep the money, we'll get along fine but she...needs you."

"And I her, Deena. Let me pass."

Erin could see that Jas was close to being catatonic and she didn't waste any time. "Deena, I need to take her to a healer. I'm going to Dyan. If you and Kyla want to come, please prepare quickly."

They heard a low voice murmuring and Da entered with Kayla dressed and a small bag. "Deena, get dressed. I've packed a bag for you two when I heard Erin enter. Go with her and take care of Jas." He looked at Erin after Deena and Kayla had left. "Talk to Thomas, Erin. Promise me, once she's settled with a healer, talk to Thomas. Tell her I said, it's time."

Erin nodded absently but Da held her still. "Erin, tis important. Promise me."

Erin met his gaze and read the urgency. She gathered Jas in her arms and nodded, "As soon as she's settled, Da. I swear."

"Don't tell Deena."

She nodded and he ambled out after kissing Jas gently.

Erin ported them directly into the Healer's Hall.

"Erin," Jax boomed. "What the hell? Is this a prank?" Her voice gentled at the look of anguish in Erin's eyes. "No, I can see that it isn't. Bring her and tell me what you know."

"She...was really, really sad, last night, Jax. Maybe...around midnight she fell asleep and I didn't see her again until this morning, she was like this. I don't believe anything happened in between those times." She looked at Adeena and the woman nodded in agreement. "Ah, Deena, this is Jax, our senior healer."

"Okay, let me examine her. I don't want to put her on any medicines until I know what's going on. You three wait outside, please."

"Jax...I need to find Tristian. It's important."

"Try the barracks. If she's not there, Puck will know where she is."

Erin settled Deena and Kayla and told them she had to find Tristian and she'd be right back. She left them looking frightened and sad. Running down the street she stopped suddenly and darted into the Baker's Brew. She almost fainted in relief. "Tristian."

"Erin?" Tristian rose quickly, "What's wrong?"

"I don't know. It's Jas; I brought her to the healers but Da...Da made me promise to see you. To tell you he said it's time. Tristian, what's he talking about?"

"Damn. Come on, I need to stop Jax from giving her anything. I'll tell you, Erin, I swear it but getting there now is more important." Tristian grabbed Erin's arm, a clenched fist saw them in the Healer's hall. She saw Adeena and pushed Erin to her, "stay with them for a minute."

Tristian barged into the room and Jax almost snapped her head off until she saw her. "I should of known you'd be here."

"Have you given her anything?"

"No, I don't know what's wrong and I hate to just drug my patients."

Tristian grinned, "That may just save her life. Go on, leave us and send Erin to me. This is nothing for you to heal, Jax."


"Mum? What?"

"The Brew's in an uproar, Erin. What happened?"

"I don't know yet. Jas is in there, she's almost catatonic but I don't know anything else."

"Why'd you go for Tristian?"

"Da...Da made me promise. Said I had to do it as soon as Jas was settled."

"Erin?" Jax spoke softly as she entered. She saw the faces fall and she rushed forward, "No...shh, there's been no change but she's still with us. Don't give up hope. Tristian knows what's wrong but she needs Erin to help her. That's all, I'm sorry."

"Geez, Jax, "Talia muttered, "fix that damn beside manner."

"I don't have any to fix." Jax griped.

Erin rose and hugged Adeena and Kayla. "I'll let you know something as soon as I can, okay?"

Adeena nodded, "Go...she needs you."

Erin entered to find Tristian sitting on a stool next to the bed waiting for her. "Come in and close the door." Tristian motioned her over and held out a hand. Erin gripped it and felt a gentle tingle run up her arm, she kept from jumping but Tristian's grip was firm enough to have kept her in place anyway. The feeling stopped and Tristian sighed. "I'd have prefer you to have a bit more experience in mage casting, Erin, but...we've really got no choice here."

"Consort, what is going on?"

"We need to go in after her. Problem is, she'll fight and she won't recognize me as a friend."

"But...she likes you."

"I know, but she can't feel me. She doesn't recognize me instinctively and I could be just a figment of her imagination." Tristian eyed her critically, "You, have a place in her heart and we can only hope that she'll feel you when we find her. What we'll do is go in together. This means you need to trust me completely because I can't fight you and concentrate on not hurting her." Tristian paused, "See why I'd prefer you had more experience?"

Erin did. She'd first thought Tristian was just treating her as a child but...what they were going to up full control to another mage was terrifying and Erin wasn't sure she could control herself. "I don't know, Consort. Can we strip my powers again?"

Tristian looked at her in surprise. "You'd do that? Again?"

"I'd do anything for her. Also, if you can, it might work in our favor. Jas really never knew me as a mage. In her mind, my powers may just prove I'm an imposter."

Tristian nodded slowly, "I can, but I can't return them for at least a month, Erin. The shock would be too much for your system and I won't lose you just to save Jas. Not like that."

"It doesn't matter, Tristian. A month, a year, a lifetime, none of it matters if I lose Jas."

"Ahhh," Tristian murmured. "Alright. You're old enough to make this decision. Do you want to talk it over with your mothers?"

"No. It's mine to make and mine to live with. I've made my choice."

Tristian nodded but Erin hesitated, "What happened to her?"

"She was abused, Erin. As a child, men used her continuously. Pigs more like it but men never the less. Jas taught herself to hide deep inside of her mind so they couldn't hurt her anymore. I found her on one of my circuits in Mhyr. I killed every one of them. Hunted them like dogs and killed them." Tristian's voice was low and feral, she forgot she was talking to a young woman and she explained it bluntly. "What ever happened has hurt her again and she's hidden. Armis knows, I had to tell him so he could keep the boys and himself away long enough to let her heal. Adeena was never told but I wouldn't be surprised if she knew."

Erin wiped the tears from her face and nodded. "Da told me not to tell her. I won't, it's Jastyn's tale to tell."

Tristian grunted in acknowledgement. "Ready?"


Erin didn't even marvel at the ease with which Tristian could strip her powers. Her only thoughts were on Jastyn.

"Alright," Tristian had her lying behind Jas holding her gently. Tristian would link to them both through Erin. "Ready? This is gonna feel weird."

"That's okay, at least I can't fight back."

"Okay, try to relax anyway or we'll both have nasty headaches," Tristian smirked, "although yours will be worse than mine."

"Great," Erin muttered and concentrated on relaxing.

She felt the power build, slowly, but the flow was continuous and she soon felt as if she was a dam about to burst. Just as she was ready to scream she felt the power flow through her and heard Tristian's voice whisper softly, "We're in, go...find her, I'll anchor you."

Erin felt like she was swimming against the current of a raging river. She kept pushing onward, calling softly for Jastyn, trying to project her love. Hulking brutes suddenly surrounded her, calling out to her, grabbing at her and she panicked, kicking out...

"'s okay, it's Jastyn's memories, they can't hurt you,"

Tristian. Erin felt the gentle flow of the Consort, and warmth like the touch of a lover.

"That's right,, find Jastyn."

Erin shuddered and moved onward, past visions of rape, horrific visions of rape, men and objects on a slender child that just lay there. A bruised, battered, broken child with dead eyes. Erin could feel the tears falling as she moved through Jastyn's memories, calling out gently, coaxing, loving.

"Erin?" a soft timid voice whispered

"I'm here...I promise." Erin swore, heading towards the voice. "Jas, I'm here."


"Tristian...Tristian came to help. Come with me Jas."

Erin had reached a dark abyss that she couldn't breach so she held herself still. She extended her arm in welcome. "Come home, Jas, please, come home with me."

And Erin felt a rushing warmth headed for her, she held steady and braced herself as Jastyn threw herself in Erin's arms. Tristian had to move fast to keep the two of them from tumbling off the bed since once Jastyn answered and came forward, they were immediately returned to the corporeal world.

Erin's arms squeezed her tight. "I'm here, Jas. Right here."

"Don't leave me."

"Never. Never again, I promise."

Tristian left them with instructions to rest. She'd return later but both of them needed to sleep.

Tristian walked into the waiting area and right into Sidell's arms. "She's fine, Adeena. She'll be fine but she needs to rest." Tristian's arms held Sidell tightly, grounding herself in her lover's presence to banish the horror of Jastyn's memories. "Why don't we put you and Kayla up until they wake?"

"No, Consort." Talia rose gracefully. "Since we're to be in-laws, Adeena, please, allow me to offer my home to the two of you."

"But...lady, it's not..."

Talia grinned, "I refuse to listen to any nonsense regarding caste systems. It gives me a headache and Erin's liable to have an out right temper tantrum."

"It's alright," Tristian muttered, "she's powerless again so she won't hurt much."

"Again?" Talia asked incredulous.

"Aye. She thought it best for what we needed to do and I agreed. She didn't think she needed to discuss it with you."

Talia colored, "No," she muttered. "She doesn't, really."

Sidell touched her arm, "I think, if the circumstances had not been so dire, she would have. She's changed much, Tal, give yourselves time to get reacquainted."

Tal smiled gently, "Actually, she hasn't changed much at all. She's just come home to whom she was. Somewhere in her early teens, I lost her. Now...this is the Erin I remember."

"She's a beautiful woman, Talia," Adeena offered shyly. "You've every right to be proud."

"I had lots of help, including you." Talia grinned mischievously, laughing at Adeena's blush. "Come on, let's go home and fix up the place so your stay here will be comfortable. I'll just put the two of them in Erin's suite. I can put you two in the connecting suite if you like. That will give you a common seating area to meet and play games or stuff in."

"Good," Adeena nodded, "they spend a lot of time together, just talking or laughing or playing. It's good for them. We can stay for a bit, the boys will be fine with Armis and he's the one that sent us."

"Good, I'll even take you shopping since Erin won't be able to pop in and out for a bit."

Adeena smiled at her and they all left the hall in much higher spirits.

Sidell looked up at her mate, "And your plans?"

"I'm gonna go tell Armis that things are looking pretty good. Then, I'm gonna take a nap."

Sidell's brow arched, "A nap? My warrior, napping?"

"Aye, care to join me?"

Sidell grinned, "You're on. I'll meet you there."

Erin smiled gently as Jastyn's laughter gurgled across the sitting room. She and Andra were sharing tales about Erin and Andra had just told a very embarrassing story involving, water, mud, and an irate pig. Jastyn's gentle brown eyes sparkled in mirth as they smiled at her. "You were a terror."

"Were?" Talia chuckled entering with a tray laden with drinks and snacks. "How about is, young Jastyn? Erin can get into more trouble than anyone else we know."

Erin was willing to be called a murdering harlot from the outlands if it would make Jastyn happy. The young woman was so relaxed Erin almost didn't recognize her. It was two weeks since Erin's mad dash to the Healer's Hall and Jastyn was doing fine. Talia and Andra had accepted her completely as the mate to their daughter's heart and all three women loved her although, Erin held her heart. Talia also helped Adeena with the shopping and transporting everything to Mhyr. Erin offered to go and help but Adeena laughed, "Lovey, we've sixteen strapping lads running around the homestead. If'n they can't repair the barn we'll move the beasties into the houses and put the men in the barn."

Jastyn had found that so amusing she had tears flowing as she laughed in glee.

Erin had also noticed that Jastyn was not so hesitant about being in public here. Knowing her history, Erin knew it was due to the fact that Dyan had no all. Jastyn need never be afraid of meeting a male anywhere in Dyan. Adeena had been so pleased when the young woman asked to accompany them to breakfast she'd hugged everyone she could get her hands on. Jastyn still remained as close to Erin as she could but she no longer needed to be fully wrapped in Erin's arms when they were in public. She was slowly inching out of her shell. The only other person Jastyn was just as comfortable with was Tristian. It wasn't unusual to see her sidle up to either of them if she was being overwhelmed. Now Adeena and Kayla were gone. They'd left three days ago and Erin worried that Jastyn would revert to her shy cringing self but she hadn't. They both missed them and Tristian offered to port them there if they wanted until Erin could do it herself. But they appeared to be handling the separation and the bond between the two women continued to deepen as they spent more and more time in each other's company. A pleasant month of laughter, tears, and friendship had put a glow on Jastyn's face that Erin wouldn't trade for all the drachs in Dyan.

Erin had also come to an amazing conclusion about herself and was unsurprised to find herself standing in front of the mage center a day after Tristian had returned her power to her. She entered shyly and made her way back to the Master Instructor's office.

"Aurora?" Erin called out as she tapped on the open door.

Aurora looked up in surprise. "Young Dresden? How may I help you?"

"I needed to apologize, Aurora. Not because anyone told me I had to, but because...I felt I had to. I'm very sorry, Aurora, I was a fool taken in by stories for a fool."

Aurora eyed the youngster critically. She'd seen Erin roaming the Holding with her young companion and had noticed the changes in the young woman. She'd noticed the more mature Erin, and the mischievous imp Erin, but the haughty, I'm better than all of you Erin, was no longer there. She smiled gently, "I forgive you, Erin. The young are entitled to err. It is most promising when they acknowledge that they have and admit they were wrong. There are no hard feelings between us, young mage. I'm glad this worked out so well."

Erin nodded and shuffled her feet awkwardly.

"Something else?"

"Aye. I know that you have begun mage training for those of us that wish to work with the Warriors and Scouts. I'd...I'd like to know more about that, Aurora. I...I need to help. What they're doing in Mhyr is wrong. Deena and Da are wonderful people and they shouldn't be stepped on because of their birth. I...I love working the smithy and helping Jas with her designs and selling the merchandise's not fulfilling?" she mouthed the word cautiously as if tasting its essence. She smiled and looked up at Aurora fully, "Fulfilling. I'm not accomplishing anything that will matter and I...feel the need to do so, Aurora. Would you tell me?"

"Of course I will. Come inside and have a seat." Aurora waited for Erin to get comfortable. "As you know, mages are now being offered a chance to work with the warriors or scouts. Tristian has commanded this; she wishes to give our mages the chance that you yourself are looking for. The difference is, the mages are not required to station with a garrison. They come here and work with me to get the basics. They then train with the scouts. This teaches them the problems with being on a trail. As you know, we can port anywhere we've been. The scouts go everywhere and often, there is not a mage that can port them to the areas they travel. So, the scouts will teach the mage how to travel. Your year mate, Farshe Balora, came in a month ago with the same request." Aurora paused for a moment. "Now that I think about it, all of the youngsters that Tristian punished have come forward. Knowing you'd given up your powers to help Jastyn I didn't expect you but I'm glad you're here."

"Is it dangerous?"

"It may be. You're out in the wilds with no one but yourselves to rely on. The scouts go out in groups of tens and you'd be one of the ten. They work together so that they learn each other's strengths and weaknesses. That lets them work as a team. It's not something mages are used to. We mages tend to be individualistic and we don't care to rely on others."

Erin snorted in acknowledgement of that statement.

"Actually, it's the reason your attack on me failed."

Erin winced and Aurora smiled. "We need to discuss it. Consider it a lesson in a series of many and try not to take it personally. I've not been harmed and it's a good example because you'll be able to understand what I'm explaining rather than having it a theoretical discussion."

Erin nodded slowly and Aurora continued. "The scouts will teach you to work as a team. When the five of you tried a group attack, there was no plan, just brute strength. I was able to adjust my shields to the maximum power level and wait you out. Now, had it been a scout plan, you would have adjusted your levels to keep me guessing, never exposing your full potential until the proper moment. You'd have also included physical attacks because it's difficult to adjust for both at the same time. You could have taken me youngster, you just didn't have the knowledge."

Erin scowled, "Now I feel like I'm gonna learn how to overcome ye..."

Aurora laughed, "Well, you will but not necessarily me. Any mage. There will be those that you can't take down but you can hopefully cause enough of a disturbance to allow help to reach you or allow your team to get away safely. That's another thing you'll learn. Discretion is the better part of valor and retreat is often a better plan than a frontal suicide assault. But still, our world is dangerous and it may harm you. But we'll do our best to make that a small probability." Aurora paused and let Erin think about it. "I've got a small group ready to start in a week or so. I do mean small, we've not got a lot of volunteers yet but Tristian is content to wait. She feels it will do well and word merely needs to spread. If you join us, there will be three of you and you'll all be strangers because the other two are from other colonies. If you're interested, start with them and you'll get a better idea of what I'm teaching them."

"What are you teaching? I thought we'd gone through our instructions."

"General instructions, yes. But, how many of our mages need more. What I'll teach here is the fine control that will make full use of your gift. You will find that power is not often the answer and limited power gets you more than you'd believe possible. You will learn to focus and block out everything else to accomplish your goal. Mostly, you will learn to trust, in yourself, in your powers and in your partners."

Erin rose and smiled shyly, "I'll be here, Mage Mardred."

"Good. I'll see you then. How is young Jastyn?"

"Well. I'm gonna see if me mums need me and if not, I'll take Jas home for a few days and see the folks." Erin confided excitedly.

"I'm sure she'll enjoy that. Adeena and Kayla certainly will."

"Aye. Deena asked if we'd take Kayla on a rotation basis. I...I wanna have me own place before that and...ask Jas to join with me."

"Oh ho, so, my offspring was correct in that." Aurora rose and clasped Erin's hands gently. "Congratulations, young Dresden, you've come a long way."

"Aye. Tristian said I might have something to thank her for after our year of being powerless. I thought she was being facetious." Erin grimaced, "I'm gonna have to thank her soon, and apologize to Selene as well, honored Mage." Erin stepped back and bowed cheekily, "With your permission?"

Aurora chuckled, "Aye, off with you. Do what you must but don't be late for my classes."

"What the hell is that?" Tristian growled. She was staring at what appeared to have been a rabbit. It's eyes were blood red, razor sharp teeth gnawed at the bars of its cage. Claws like talons extended off of its feet. It was as large as a small dog and it growled, flinging itself at the bars.

"If I knew that, Consort. I'd not have ridden back with the damn thing trying to eat my horse every time I turned around." Maria answered tiredly. "It's getting worse and I don't know what's going on. I've even gone to Southern...excuse me, Southlock, to inquire since they tend to the land and all they can do is murmur that the time is nearing."

Tristian sighed, "I know. I can feel the changes in the land but I can't pinpoint a problem except that it's originating from the east."


"Who knows? I wouldn't doubt it." Tristian reached a hand out to the cage and put the poor tortured animal to rest. "At least it will have peace now. What else have you found?"

"" Maria grimaced, "I don't know. We have palm trees, for crying out loud. We're in the far north and we have palm trees. Frozen palm trees, mind you."

Tristian just hung her head. "Alright. I've scoured every inch of this land and I can find no sign of trouble. I need to talk to Emma. Time to head to Mhyr and further east if necessary."

"You want company?"

"Not this time. A formal affair, I think. We'll leave the Scouts here and I'll Fetch you if it becomes necessary."

"You want what?" Sidell muttered in shock. "Honey, are you alright?" she asked gently moving closer to her mate and resting a hand on her strong jaw.

"Believe me, love, it's not a matter of wanting. I need to see the rest of the land. I can just port to Mhyr and ignore them but...this way would be best."

Emma sat leaning back in her chair, a small amused smile twitching on her lips. "Let me see if I have this straight. You want me to send a missive requesting permission for Dyan to visit Mhyr in regards to a possible threat to our land. The missive will state that the Leader, the Heir, the Consort, and the Scion of the House of Mardred will be present."

"Aye," Tristian muttered.

"And if they say no?"

"Then I go in with the scouts and the Noble Houses be damned."

", I could also state that this visit is requested in an effort to maintain relations with Mhyr but denial will not prevent Dyan from protecting Riger as is our role."

Tristian grinned, "Do they have a school? Sidell can do the same thing, be politely rude."

Emma chuckled, "No, I think it's genetics. Don't worry; Aurora couldn't be polite let alone politely rude. You just take after your Sire to much."

Erin was having an enjoyable lunch surrounded by the laughing voices of her adopted family. Jastyn was even sitting outside with them, chatting quietly with Kayla. Adeena couldn't stop beaming in happiness at the glow on the young girl's face.

"Honest, Da, I would nae lie to ye," Beldon swore fiercely. "Erin, tis the truth, I swear. T'was a tree squirrel but it had long teeth, huge claws and it attacked us. Kept after us even though we was hightailing home."

Erin studied him quietly. "I believe you, Bel. Have you seen anything else strange?"

"Aye, the plants be different..and sometimes, the trees, they not be right."

"Can you show me?"

"Aye, I can...Ye wanna go now?"

"Aye, while there's still light."

"Erin..." Jastyn spoke quietly. "No, I'm afraid."

"I can send you home, Jas. You'll be safe there."

"For you, Erin. I'm afraid for you."

Erin held her gently, "I'll be careful, I promise. If it gets too scary, I'll come right back and we'll go get the Consort." Erin smiled, "Is that alright for you? Tristian will come. You know she will. It doesn't matter that this is Mhyr, Tristian will always help."

"Aye," Jastyn answered softly, "She will. You promise me, Erin. The first sign and you bring yourselves back here at once. Tristian is trained for this and she'll bring her scouts. You...are not."

"Yet, Jas. I'm not trained yet. And I intend to be around a long time so don't you fret. Keep Deena and Kayla company and I'll be back before you can miss me."

"Not," Jastyn proclaimed stealing a shy kiss. "I already miss you."

"There, see, it's like I told ya."

Erin studied the massive oak knowing it was far from its natural habitat that happened to be Dyan. A full circle of them had been...transplanted, into a forest of pine. She'd already seen the strange brush that she couldn't identify. "How's the hunting?"

"Bad, Erin, t'aint hardly no game to be found. With these beastie things, it's no wonder." Beldon snorted in anger. "What's causing this, Erin? Only Dyan has mages, could it be them?"

"Beldon, you know better. Would Thomas do something like this to Mhyr?"

"Nae, but Thomas...I mean...what can she do?"

Erin grinned, "Thomas is third in the Line, Beldon." She chuckled at his wide-eyed surprise. "Aye, tis truth. Only the Leader and the Heir out rank her. Thomas would know if this was from Dyan, Beldon...and she would stop it."

"Third eh? But...she hunts and brings her kill to us. She plays with us. She's just like us, Erin. How can that be?"

"Because it is Dyan, Beldon. And Dyan allows their women to be whatever they want to be."

"To bad they don't take men."

"Aye," Erin agreed softly. "Enough, let's go back so Jas doesn't have a cow. I've seen enough to talk to Tristian and we'll see what she says."

The commotion coming from the homestead put Erin's heart in her throat and she urged her mount on. Realizing she'd never get there in time she ported both of them to the gate and left Beldon sitting in shock as she hurled herself forward. "Dear Goddess," she murmured looking around wildly and calming a bit when she saw Jas safe with Kayla in her arms. The men had surrounded what looked to have been a young boy. Now, he was filthy, naked, and covered in mottled fur. Two-inch long claws extended from his hands and he snarled in anger, charging the line of staves. Erin took a breath and gathered her magic, extending it out towards the...thing. Clasping it gently, she settled a sleep spell and gently urged it to relax. A few minutes later, the child was curled up in a ball fast asleep. Knowing she was out of her depth she did the next best thing. ::Aurora??::

::Erin?:: Aurora replied to her mindcall.

::Aye, I need your...experience. Can you come?::

::Can you fetch me? I've never been and Tristian is on her way to Mhyr::

::I can. I've done it before but you can monitor yes?::


Aurora stared down in horror, "Oh Goddess. It's worse than we thought."

"Ye knew?" Da thundered in outrage.

"We knew something was wrong. We've been getting transplants of trees, brush, and soil. Tristian has already searched Dyan but the cause is not there. She's on her way to Mhyr." Aurora snorted. "Unfortunately, they have to go through all the pomp and ceremony Mhyr expects and will probably not get around to discussing anything important until tomorrow...if then."

"They went through the proper channels?" Erin asked in surprise.

"Aye." Aurora chuckled, "I think Tristian hoped your Leader would deny the visit request. Then she would have come with her scouts and the Nobles be damned. Staunton obviously considered this and the request was accepted immediately. They should be landing within the hour."

"What should we do with...this?" Erin pointed at the child.

"I'm thinking. I'm supposed to attend this fiasco with Tristian but I hate to fly so I'll join them on their landing. I can port into the ship. What I'm trying to decide is whether to take him with me or send him to Jax."

"Our healer," Erin explained at the blank looks.

"Ahhh," the low murmur responded.

Aurora felt a gentle chill down her spine and she smiled. "Well, the point is now moot."

They turned as Tristian entered the yard in her full formal attire. The family fell to their knees.

"Don't," Tristian muttered. "Get up, it's only clothes, for Alwyn's sake. Armis, Deena, get up and get the rest of them up."

Erin moved quickly to settle the family and Tristian turned to Aurora, "Sire, Emma says she's not going to allow you to port to us anymore if you keep losing track of time."

"What? Did I?" Aurora laughed. "Damn, and I was so sure I had another hour."

"Well you don't and what the hell is that?"

"Looks like what happened to that rabbit," Aurora concluded. "I was trying to decide whether to send him to Jax or bring him with us."

"Let's bring him. Maybe we can get out of the pomp and ceremony and it will serve as the emergency Emma concocted to get us out of the formal greetings."

Tristian turned and gestured smiling as the squad of scouts appeared. "Tinder, I want a watch posted on this homestead. At least until I'm through the formal bullshit and then I'll return to see if I can do anything here."

"Aye, Commander. This is Brianna, our mage."

"We've met, come here, Bri."

"Consort?" Brianna greeted as she joined them and looked down at the child. "Oh, Mother, the poor boy."

"Aye. Probably some beasties like that rabbit Maria brought in. Keep an eye out but don't tucker yourself. If it gets too bad, call me and ceremony be damned I'll be here."

"I could help, Tristian," Erin murmured hesitantly. "I've not been trained but two pairs of eyes are better than one and I can spell Brianna until you return. I'd feel better staying here anyway."

"No heroics," Tristian growled. "Not one or I will tan your hide and you'll only wish Adeena was doing it."

"My word, Consort. I'll just use my mage sight and if I see anything I'll tell the scouts or Brianna."

"Done. I'll inform your parents." She turned to Brianna, "Check the buildings and once they're clear have Tinder post the watch. Armis, Deena, forgive me for being so overbearing but..."

"You're in a rush," Armis concluded. "No harm done, Thomas, and we're grateful for what you are doing. We'll care for them."

"I'll arrange for supplies to be sent. Erin, you can fetch those, I'll leave you as the contact point."

"No need," Adeena stammered.

"Nay, Adeena. They are mine to care for and I will, you've enough on your platter with out feeding half of Dyan. The supplies will be sent and should hold all of you while they are here. This is Tinder, their Squad Leader and Brianna their mage. The rest you'll meet as they wander around. If you see something, get one of them to help you."

Tristian returned to Aurora side to find her now also formally attired. "I take it we're ready?"

"Ready, aye. Willing? Eh.."

The family chuckled as the two women and one wild child disappeared.

Tristian took them to the ship and the secured the child with mage bindings. Sealing the ship the two women strolled through the heart of the colony. Tristian's shields were raised, she really didn't care to know what the people thought and her years in Mhyr were merely a blur compared to the joy she'd found in Dyan. She returned all greetings and stopped to chat with those that were actually friends of hers.

"Look at you, Alwyn, I'd have never believed it," Lucan exclaimed hugging her fiercely. "You were always a fine looking woman, Thomas, but in that outfit, geez..." Lucan's gaze flickered to Aurora and stared in astonishment then flickered back to Tristian in question.

"Mage Mardred, Lucan, my Sire,"

"Sire...I...Young Heir, forgive me," Lucan stammered as she began to kneel. Tristian latched onto her and hauled her back up. "Don't even think it, I don't care about these fools and no friend of mine will ever kneel before me." Tristian growled giving the woman a final hug. "Now, I've got to attend a silly ceremony where I'm sure I won't find anything worth eating. There will be four of us heading your way, probably starving, in a few hours, Lucan. I trust you haven't forgotten how to cook?"

"Nay, nay. I can cook. I'll be ready." She hesitated, "Are you sure?"

Aurora patted her back gently, "Don't even go there. We'll be back, and we'll be hungry."



"What is this?" Sidell asked curiously holding up a cracker covered with a brownish paste.

"Uhmmm, it's a plant root. It's boiled and pureed to make a paste. They," Tristian indicated the Nobles, "consider it a delicacy."

"I see," Sidell murmured as she discarded the cracker in a nearby tray. "I hope you have plans to feed me after this?"

Tristian grinned, "Lucan has been warned although...she may faint when she finally realizes who you and Emma are."

"As long as we get our food first," Sidell answered agreeably.

Tristian's laughter rang out across the hall and Aurora turned to eye her daughter. "She appears to be happy," Staunton murmured.

"Why shouldn't she be? Sidell adores her, the people love her and she can do whatever she wants in Dyan."

"I meant to ask...what does she do?"

"She commands the Warriors and the Scouts. Although, Tristian has more fun on the trail than she does behind the desk." Aurora shrugged, "It's her choice and as long as she's happy, I'm happy."

"It's have your Heir on the trail, Mardred."

"No shit, Staunton. What would you have me do, lock her in a cage?"

Staunton back off, "I...I don't understand. This is the way it's always been."

"No. Corinne and Kyla denied the Caste System, Staunton. How easy it is that you people forget that. They believed in the people as a whole and we believe the same. They threw out those that wished to impose their will on others just because of their birth. We will never agree, Staunton, you shouldn't bring the subject up."

"I...I don't understand. How do you keep everything running?"

"A lot better than you do here," Aurora replied wryly and excused herself before she knocked her out.

"Calm down, Sire," A gentle voice coaxed as Tristian offered her a glass of sweet ale. "Here, it's not bad. Ours is better but I thought it rude to fetch some."

Aurora snorted her first sip out her nose, "Dammit, stop that."

The gentle strains of a slow waltz filtered through and Tristian smiled, "Excuse me, Sire."

"Of course, try not to make the nobles blush, Tristian, it's much too hilarious."

"Aye," Tristian nodded and moved through the crowd to her lady's side.

"My heart," She murmured extending her hand in invitation.

"My love," Sidell answered accepting.

They glided across the floor as only true lovers can, fully in sync with the movement of their partner's body. A dance of simple pleasure, of gentle teasing, of love.

Aurora was unsurprised to find Emma at her side as they watched in parental pride while their children enchanted the room.

"They are truly a perfect couple," a soft voice murmured. "I am Lady Felice Adair, and I welcome you both to our Holding."

Emma nodded graciously and Aurora merely smiled.

"Thank you, Lady," Emma offered.

"I've been told there are problems with the land?"


"No one here, Leader. I' to be subjected to such atrocities."

"I see."

"I have others that keep an ear out for me. In Mhyr, it is best to be informed, so I'll know when the Guardian's are set to pound on my front door."

"They have reason?" Emma asked curiously.

"They believe they do. In our world, they are correct but...I must follow where my heart leads."

"Lady Adair," a rough voice rasped. "I've told you before, these affairs are too much for one such as you. And what brings Dyan here is certainly something no proper woman should be involved in." The man turned to introduce himself and Emma laughed, "Aurora, I do believe we've been insulted."

"Shhh," Aurora hushed her. "Not so loud or Tristian will have his head."

Felice Adair bit her lip to keep her smile hidden as the man at her side sputtered in horror.

"Nay, Leader, honored Mage. Please, tis my tongue that wags too foolishly. No insult was intended."

"You've been insulted, Sire?" A cold voice crackled and it was all Aurora could do not to guffaw at the man's horrified face.

"No, youngster. Merely a jest, in poor taste, but a jest."

Tristian and Sidell approached and the man hastily made his exit.

"Gee, I didn't even get his name."

"You wanted it," Sidell asked sarcastically.

"Of course. How else will I know whom to avoid?"

"Ahhh," Sidell murmured as Tristian stared at the ceiling.

"Sire," she managed without breaking up, "since we've a least got an agreement for a morning meeting and there's really no one here we're sucking up to, can we leave?"

"Tch, this was your idea, young heir," Emma teased her. "If you want to leave, say so."

"I want to leave. I'm hungry."

"Me too," Sidell agreed.

Emma and Aurora concurred. Emma turned to Felice Adair who was watching them with gentle humor. "Care to join us? I warn you, we've no intentions of eating in a proper establishment."

Felice's brow rose. "Where did you plan to eat?"

"The Broken Blade," Tristian answered.

"Ah..." Felice smiled. "I've always wanted to eat there but...I can't just enter. Everyone else feels so...out of place and I make them uncomfortable." She grinned, "I would like to join you, if I may."

They entered and the room fell to silence. Lucan fluttered nervously about.

"Lucan," Tristian growled gently.

"Aye, Thomas...I mean."

"Lucan..." she repeated, "remember those glorious free for alls we use to have here?"

"Dear Goddess, you wouldn't?"

Tristian leaned over and grabbed the leg of a nearby table, "I seem to be a commoner at heart, Luc, and I would."

"Dammit," Lucan sputtered and slapped her arm, "knock it off or I'll tan your hide, you stubborn mule."

"Ahh," Tristian smiled as the room burst into laughter, "that's much better. Now, we're very hungry."

"Well," Lucan muttered, deciding Tristian was a bit to volatile to ignore and besides, she really liked her, "Your damn table's ready. It's not like I moved it."

She turned to the rest of them and just...went with it, "Come on, then. You're blocking the door and I've people to feed. Inside with the lot of you."

The Broken Blade had always been Tristian favorite tavern and she was well known there. Everyone greeted her, shyly but the talking increased and their party was mostly ignored. Tristian saw a good friend and walked over to greet her, "Ceil, how've you been?"

"Fair to middling, Thomas," Ceil replied evenly.

Tristian grinned at the cool reception. "That's it?" she asked, picking up the woman's mug and draining it. Ceil's hand clenched in outrage and Tristian could see the muscles jerk in response to wanting to slap her silly. "Ya know," she continued, scooping a large spoonful of the stew up, "you look a mite tense, Ceil," she ate the spoonful and hummed in appreciation. Reaching for Ceil's dessert the woman finally came off the bench, "You little shit, I'm gonna teach you to swipe me damn food,"

"Little," Tristian responded in outrage getting the best of the woman and pinning her on the floor. "Look who's calling whom..." she never finished as the flat of the broom landed on her backside.

"Shit," she muttered hurling herself under a nearby table while Ceil went the other way. Lucan screeched in outrage as she chased the two women across the Tavern. "Gods be damned heathens, this here's an eatery. She finally cornered the two culprits under the back table. "Behave yourselves or you'll leave here hungry."

"Aye, Luc. We promise," Ceil swore.

"Now git out from under there, knowing you two yer peeking under the lass' tunic."

"Am not," Tristian replied in outrage, standing to her full height. "T'aint no need for me to peek. That's Ceil's domain, she can't get any elseways."

"Hey," Ceil rose to argue and Lucan whacked them both. "Sit down ye damn mules."

The two grinned at each other. "Thomas, you damn fool, what the hell was that about?"

"Wanted you to come meet my friends."

"That's an invitation?"

"Hey," Tristian defended herself, "was the best I could do on short notice." She grabbed a chair on the way by, and motioned for Lucan to include Ceil in their party. "Come on, and be nice, they don't do stuffy well."

Ceil looked at her queerly.

Tristian shrugged, "What do I know? They don't."

They approached the table of laughing women. Aurora roared as she took another look at her daughter's rumpled jerkin, "Damn, you didn't tell me there'd be entertainment. I'm like to wet myself."

"Shh," Sidell giggled, "me too. Come on, I know where the damn pot's are. Hurry up,"

Tristian and Ceil sat and Lucan brought out two ales. "This is Emma and you already know the Lady Adair. Emma, this is Ceil. About the best Guardian they've got on the roster."

"And you're gonna leave her here?" Emma asked slyly.

Tristian grinned, "Well the thought had crossed my mind, Leader. We'll have to wrestle it out though and Lucan'll have my hide if I pull anything else tonight."

The noise level in the tavern had risen to normal after Tristian's impromptu wrestling match and the women ate heartily, Lady Adair apparently enjoying herself and having a pleasant time of it.

"Ohh, dear Alwyn," Felice murmured, "it's probably a good thing I can't come in here often. Sidell," She muttered in outrage, "where do you put all that food?"

"Hey, you try keeping up with my lover,"

Tristian and Ceil sputtered their drinks on the table, Sidell blushed and the rest of them howled in glee.

"I didn't mean it like that," Sidell muttered. "Damn gutter minded people I'm sitting with."

"Ah, love. I'm sorry, have to admit," Tristian chuckled as she gathered Sidell in her arms.

"I didn't come out right."

"But it was funny," Ceil offered.

"Oh sure," Sidell rolled her eyes, "Two of you to pick on me. When are you coming to Dyan?"

Ceil's jaw dropped and her eyes widened in shock.

Tristian laughed gently, "My heart, you really have to give a warning when you drop such loaded questions."

Sidell smiled serenely, "Yah, you have to admit, I got her back." She grinned at Ceil, "So? When are you?"

"Uhmm," Ceil murmured, still stunned. Sidell took pity on her and patted her hand gently. "Think about, I know Tristian would love to have you there but I don't know your situation here. But think about it."

"I will, Lady, I will," Ceil promised.

"More ale?" Lucan asked.

"Not for me," Emma answered and the table declined. "I don't suppose you've a few rooms for us?"

"Aye," Lucan shrugged, "I took the liberty of assuming?"

"Wonderful," Emma grinned broadly. She pulled two gold pieces and placed it in the tavernkeep's hand. "That should cover us but if you need more, go bug Tristian."

Tristian chuckled and stood. "I'll escort the Lady home, Emma. Sidell I'll meet you in our room?"

"You'd best. If I have to come find you in jail because you and Ceil started a riot, I'll let Lucan tan your hide."

"Hey," Tristian objected as she helped her mate up. "I'll be right back. I can talk to Ceil on the morrow." Kissing her lover gently Tristian released her and watched the party mount the stairs.

Smiling softly Tristian turned, "Lady?"

"Aye, Consort. I appreciate the offer."

"You didn't think we'd just leave you here?"

"No, that's not what I meant. Don't put noble words in my mouth, Tristian. The rest of the Holding does that just fine."

"Forgive me, Lady. I will try not to assume in the future. A moment please?" Felice nodded and Tristian turned to Ceil. "I'm headed out to Adeena's place after these silly meetings. If you're free I'd like your company."

"I'll be free," Ceil promised. "Meet you in the stables?"

"Aye, make it at the noon break. I'll get out of the afternoon affairs."

Ceil nodded, "We won't make her place in a day."

"Trust me, Ceil. We'll be there a few minutes after you meet me."

Ceil's brow rose but she nodded and excused herself, "Lady. Tomorrow, Thomas."


"Will you tell me what happened with Miriam?" Felice asked as they made their way back through the colony.

"What would you like to know?"

"Staunton says somehow your magic let them see into Miriam's thoughts. They saw everything she did and when it ended, she actually admitted it."

Tristian smiled, "So, what would you like to know?"

"Oh," Felice murmured realizing Tristian's point. "I want to know if you'd do the same to me?"

Tristian stopped. "Why?"

"Because I need your help. At least the help of Dyan and you've no reason to trust me. I figured if you could do that, and if you were sure I couldn't hide anything from you, I'd have your trust and maybe your help."

"To do what, exactly?"

"To remove the nobles hell bent on ruining this Holding," Felice replied with some heat.

Continued in Part 4.

Back To Main Page