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 5

Felice broke off her explanation at the sound of footsteps.

"Felice," the low voice rasped. "Where have you been, I've searched the Holding several times?"

"I've been with Dyan, Joram, that should be obvious."

"Well, we couldn't find them either. Staunton is worried. Come and I'll escort you to her."

"I'll escort the Lady..." Tristian waited.

"Sorry, Joram Lionae. It's too much trouble for you, young heir, and I'm sure your lady awaits you."

"I promised to see the Lady home, Joram, I keep my promises." Tristian growled.

"Ahhh, of course. Well, I'll tell Staunton."

"No need, it's on the way and we'll stop and tell her the Lady Adair is well." Tristian nodded at him in dismissal, "Thank you, Joram."


Tristian left him stuttering and turned them to reach Staunton's home.

"You know that was a lie?"

"Of course. Staunton of all people would have known where we were. She's been there with us before." Tristian chuckled, "Though I must admit, you had a much better time."

Felice smiled, "I can imagine. Staunton does try so hard to be more accepting. She just,"

"Tries to hard," Tristian finished wryly. "Here we are." She raised her hand and knocked firmly on the brass knocker.

"So why are we waking her?"

"I think Staunton should be aware of the fact that she's being used as a scapegoat."

"Ahhh. I didn't think of that."

Tristian shrugged, "Habit."

A servant escorted them inside and a rumpled Staunton rushed out. "Tristian, what is it?"

"Why, Joram Lionae told us you were worried about the Lady Adair's whereabouts. Seems they've searched the Holding and neither she nor the party from Dyan could be found. I thought it best to rush over here and soothe your concerns."

Staunton sat heavily and smiled wanly, "You really need to lose the sarcasm, Tristian, when you're trying to suck up. It tends to lose the effectiveness of the attempt."

Tristian laughed and snorted in amusement. "Emma has decided that it's genetics. I'm about as good at it as my Sire."

"Well, I'm glad to see that the Lady is well and in good hands, Consort. I trust you're escorting her home?"


Staunton smirked, "Then I'll sleep easier knowing she's safe."

"Talk about sarcasm," Tristian muttered as they made their way out amidst Felice's laughter.

They walked on and Tristian's hackles rose. "Hush, Felice. No noise."

She stopped them and extended her senses. This time she sensed the darts and a mage shield of pure heat swallowed them whole. Tristian's fist raised and the ground shook while a flash lit the sky. Thunder screamed and the block illuminated while the assassins stumbled over the moving ground.

Sidell appeared in a flash of blue and shattered the air with a stunning bolt that dropped everyone in their tracks. A murmured spell had them gather in a pile and Sidell's eyes sparkled in rage as the bewildered gaze of Joram Lionae met hers. "You dare? My mate, my love. You dare?"

" harm was meant. We merely wished to speak to the Lady Adair."

"A dart was needed for this, Joram?" Tristian rumbled as Staunton fell out her front door and Aurora and Emma approached angrily.

"You wouldn't release her to me and the dart was only meant to put you to sleep. The Lady's presence is requested. I had no choice," the man wailed.

"The last time a dart in this holding put me to sleep I almost died. You don't really think I believe this time was meant to be different?"


"Enough," Sidell snapped. "We return to Dyan.."

"Sidell," Tristian murmured.

Sidell's eyes snapped up to meet her lover's. A battle of wills ensued with neither giving ground. Sidell sighed and bowed her head. "Alright, love. Get your fool self killed and I'll never speak to you again."

"Shhh," Tristian crooned, gathering her close. "It's alright."

"Felice? You'll be safe in your home?"

"Yes. I will." They reached her door and she smiled, "come inside, all of you and you'll see why they needed to take me on the street."

Tristian entered first, her senses fully extended and she grinned. "You warded the entire house?"

"Aye. I needed to. It's part of what I want to talk to all of you about." She smiled at Emma, "If you shut the door, no one will hear our conversation."

"And your servants?"

Ceil stepped forward and Tristian smiled. "I see. The Guardians have decided to take a stand?"

"Those of us that we trust. We keep the lady safe allowing her to find the problems in the Holding."

"The Guardians secure the inside of the house. No magic can be performed here from outside and physically, none will challenge those here."

Emma sat in a lounge chair. "What makes you suspect magic? Mhyr has not been known for that."

"I grew up in Dram. I'm afraid I only returned here because I'm the next in line after Miriam. Actually, if I don't mate and bear a child, the Adair line ends with me. As you know, neither marriage nor wealth bequeaths nobility." Felice grinned and settled herself in a chaise. "I became very close to Aretha and I enjoyed helping her. We use to spend hours researching our history. I suspected magic because the Adair line has had mages before. I don't know what happened but when I returned I started getting weird dreams. Dreams of power, of conquest. Visions of ruling Riger and I admit, after several days of this the idea became very attractive. Luckily, Aretha returned to Dram and asked me to come for a visit and go through the piles of notes she'd gotten from Dyan. Once outside of Mhyr, the dreams stopped and my own self emerged. Frankly, conquering anything has never been high on my list of things to accomplish."

The women chuckled and Ceil emerged with several drinks.

"I spoke to Aretha about them and she helped me research dreams. We came up with the idea to try the wards simply because we didn't know what else to do. Dyan had already had trouble with my House and I couldn't see you rushing to embrace me in welcome. We found an old woman in Dram that knew about warding and she helped. Once they were in place, she activated them. I've not had a dream since but...Joram Lionae has become insistent on my attending some inner council that he conducts. I refused and we've been at a standstill since. I rarely go out and only went tonight because I needed to meet you. I need Dyan's help."

Tristian spoke softly, "Felice has asked me to shift through her memories. She wants us to know she's being honest and then let us decide on whether we can help her or not."

"It's your call, Tristian," Emma spoke honestly.

"Aye, Leader. I see no need for it but I also suggest we help."

Felice sat up in surprise, "Without knowing the truth?"

Tristian smiled, "I'm not in the habit of reading the minds of everyone I come in contact with, Felice. Normally I trust my own judgment. I'm willing to help with out reading your mind."

Emma nodded, "So be it."

"That's it?"

Sidell chuckled, "That's it. You were lucky enough to end up talking to the one person that could approve or deny your request."

Felice and Ceil looked confused, "But...alright, I admit it. I don't get it. Emma is the Leader, Sidell is the Heir, and Tristian her Consort. Why would Tristian make this decision?"

"Because Mhyr is not a colony of Dyan," Tristian answered. "Emma and Sidell are responsible for Dyan. They can, and they have, accepted the responsibility for Riger but it is always on a larger scale. For now, the problem is in Mhyr. I approve this assistance because I command the Warriors. The help you will receive will come from the Scouts, a smaller contingent off of the Warriors of Dyan."

"Geez, Thomas," Ceil murmured, "Did ya have to just take over everything?"

"Hey, I'm willing to share," Tristian argued. "Alright, at this moment, I've a squad already in Mhyr. Once I relieve them, I can assign them to you. This particular crew has a mage; a very talented one and that will come in handy. If I'm needed, Brianna can call for me immediately."

"How do you plan to handle it?"

"Honestly, I think," Tristian answered. "We saw what just happened. It would not be out of place for Felice to ask for help. We'll grant it and the Scouts will be placed as such. Scouts of Dyan with Dyan's full backing to act."

"Good. I'd rather them safe than skulking about with no authority."

"Not here, Leader. Without proof of their identity they'd be considered indigents and put to work as slave labor." Tristian turned to Ceil, "Can you cover her for a few more days? We're headed out to where my Scouts are tomorrow and I can have them in place shortly after that."

"Aye. We're set to go. It's just been worse and the Lady can barely leave the house."

"That should improve with Brianna. Sire, see if you've another candidate available, I think two mages on site will work better."

"I do, Megan is working out well. You just need to get her away from Maria."

"No problem, I'll have Sidell do it,"

"Chicken," her lover teased her.

"Shall we adjourn?" Tristian asked. "We've that silly meeting and Ceil and I will be headed out at mid-day."

"Is that your way of warning us that you won't play anymore?" Sidell smiled gently.

"Aye, my heart. I've too much to do to waste time patting fools on the butts."

The lover's stood and the rest of the room rose with them as they made their goodbyes.

Ceil sat in wonder on her mount, staring at the homestead in front of her. Tristian grinned, "Coming?"

"Aye. What the hell happened? One minute we're in the barn, the next we're here?"

"It's a mage trick. Makes traveling much easier."

"I guess," Ceil muttered. Then dismounted quickly as the homestead erupted in excited voices pouring out.

After the greetings Tristian settled with the Elders and her people. "Tinder?"

"Aye, Commander. We've not had anymore trouble although a loud group of...Guardians is what we were told, came through and thought to help themselves to some of the supplies."

"They were dissuaded, I trust?"

"Aye. They cussed us up one side and back but they left. I had the youngest backtrack them. I'm a suspicious sort. They stopped off at a produce farm a ways out. They weren't so lucky. Deena and Armis put a wagon together for them and loaded it with stuff they could afford and we took it over there."

"Good," She turned to Erin, "Replace the supplies,"

"Already done, Tristian."

Tristian grinned at Adeena's sputter of outrage. "Good."

"Alright, anything else?"

"Aye," Brianna spoke up. "This land is funny, Consort."


"Aye, it's got a sickly feel. You know? Like it's being drained or something."

"Any sense of where from?"

"No. Not here that's all I can tell."

Tristian nodded. "I need you to stay a few more days, Ceil and I will be riding the circuit and I want to check out the land and your observations, Bri. I'm hoping I can come up with some kind of temporary respite until we find the real problem."

"Want a couple of us along, Commander?" Tinder asked gently.

"No. I want these folks safe. Ceil's guarded my back more times than I can count, Tinder. I'm sure she'll manage again."

Tinder eyed Ceil kindly, "And we'll thank you for it Guardian. You bring her back in one piece, Riger may not survive if we lose her now."

Ceil laughed softly, "I'll bring her back...she's offering me a job. I need her in one piece to get it."

"Aye, and we'll welcome you then too."

They rode out. Tristian was node hunting. She'd already found and sealed all the nodes in Dyan to her and they responded to no one else. She'd not planned on doing the same to the rest of the land but with Maria's findings on the fringe borders and the troubles in Mhyr she didn't think she had a choice. She aimed them back in the direction of Dyan following a faint glimmer of power. She only hoped the node was close enough to one in Dyan so she could bond them together. That would continue her control on them and hopefully stop the major incidents in Dyan. She'd have to look for the smaller ones later.

"What happened at the meeting?" Ceil asked during their ride. "What did they say about that child you found?"

"What we expected. Half of them think the world is ending, the other half thinks it's a plot for Dyan to take control."

"Uhmmm, not to put a fine point on it but...what would stop Dyan from taking control?"

Tristian laughed, "Beats me. It wasn't my idea?"

"Ahhh, typical stupid Nobles."


She stopped and smiled. Looking out to the west, Tristian called her bondmate and felt the Mother's power answer. Dyan could feel her and she was welcomed. "Alright, mage stuff. You'll be bored and I'm sorry but I hope it won't take long."

"No problem," Ceil shrugged, "it's what we do, you know that."

Tristian nodded and felt for the node, she dove and saw the sickly red glow. Pulling on her bond she fed the lone node with the cleansing power of the Mother, filling it, healing it until it glowed a burnished silver hue, then she sealed it in her bond and set it free allowing the node to feed its new strength back into the land. Sealed as such, anything trying to manipulate it would catch Tristian's attention and she could then check on it. She held still for an eternity letting the power wash through her, reveling in the sheer energy of being the Mother's own.

Ceil watched in awe as Tristian took on a shimmering glow, shining bright enough to rival the sun. She gasped as the withering brush spruced up, the trees seemed to straighten and the grass took on the color of the spring green.

Tristian waited for her guide and was not disappointed.

"Very good, BondedOne. Well done. You know which way to go next?"


"Then return, this land will heal in time, enough for now."

Ceil jumped as Tristian happy laughter floated on the wind and she looked up at the smiling woman.

"Come on, lazy, we've miles to go and no time to spare."

Ceil chuckled and mounted. Tristian continued her path following the call of the nodes.

It took them three days but she'd found the major nodes that surrounded the northern quarter of Mhyr. With her bond in place, the land would heal and the game would return. There was still the occasional changed beast that would find its way in but that was better than having them grown in your front yard. Adeena had a three day buffer in either direction and it was the best Tristian could do for now. She returned as tired as she'd ever been.

Joram Lionae quaked in his boots. His master was furious and Joram didn't know why. He assumed it was because he'd failed at getting Felice Adair and now...with those bitches from Dyan in place, he doubted he'd ever get her. He did notice that his master seemed less solid in form. He just didn't know what that meant.

"Hey you," Sidell murmured as her lover trudge into the bedroom. She got up and reached for the woman sitting her down. Kneeling she pulled off boots, socks, and after shifting Tristian a bit, trousers. The jerkin was next and she just shook her head and tumbled her lover into the bed. "Sleep love, we'll settle this later." Sidell was beginning to worry; Tristian was pushing herself a little too hard. Since their return from Mhyr, Tristian had left to ride the land often returning weeks later, exhausted. Enough was enough and Sidell had had enough.

Tristian woke fuzzily, her eyes blurry and her mind confused. A gentle touch soothed her and she smiled. "Hey you."

"Hey yourself. How are you feeling?"

"Okay, a little tired but okay. Why?"

"Sweetheart, you haven't left this bed in three days. I couldn't even wake you."

"Ahh," Tristian murmured, "Sorry, love. I know you were worried."

"Yes, and angry. But, we need to get you well before I'll indulge in my whim to yell at you."

Tristian groaned in a sickly manner.

"Can it, warrior. I already know you feel better."

That brought a smile to her lover's face and Tristian eyes finally blinked clear. "I'm alright, love. Better yet, I'm done for now."

"Thank, Alwyn, I wasn't looking forward to tying you to the bed,"

Tristian's brow rose in interest. "Ohhh?"

"Bah," Sidell chuckled and sat beside her. Ruffling her lover's hair she leaned forward and kissed her gently.

Tristian had more than gently on her mind and Sidell found herself pinned to the bed and covered with an ardent warrior.

"You need to rest,"

"I need you," Tristian growled.

Joram Lionae was running scared. He couldn't please his master and now, his master had ordered him to leave those bitches from Dyan alone. That couldn't be right. They had to pay. That commoner had dared to lay a hand on him. On him! No...he would have his revenge. The Master would just have to understand.

Ceil grinned as Tinder entered the room. "I hear you had some excitement?"

"Aye. I don't know about these nobles of yours Ceil. They seem to think they can just demand and their requests will be answered."

"Because normally, it's true." Ceil chided. "They've been catered to since they were born. Being told no is a unique experience."

"Well, he'll have to get over it. I wasn't about to let him just carry the Lady Adair off without doing something."

"Decking him was probably not the best way," Ceil laughed, "But Goddess I wish I'd seen it."

Tinder rose smoothly, "Well, I'm for dinner and the crew's in the Blade if you plan on joining us later."

"Aye. I should be there shortly. Once I'm sure the Lady is staying in and the rest of us are in place I'll head on over."

Tristian lay comfortably pampered on a chaise, sipping a light ale. Sidell lay nestled against her and had drifted off into a light doze. Tristian loved these moments in her life. When it was just the two of them, no troubles, no worries, no interruptions. She set her glass down and snuggled closer to her lover letting the peace of the moment fill her soul.

Both were rudely awakened by a frantic call from Megan.

A murmured word saw them dressed, a clenched fist had them in Mhyr.

"Consort, Tinder is missing. We think...we think it's Lionae."

"Damn that house," Tristian growled. "I should do us a favor and remove them all."

"Consort, we can't find her."

"Alright," Tristian replied moving outside.

"What now, love?"

"There is a node here, it's tainted and I'd hoped to wait until I was stronger before tackling it. It's a powerful node, probably equal to that in Southlock. You know I've been wandering the land bonding the nodes to me." Sidell nodded. "Well, the only opening between the nodes is due east. I think we've essence driving all of this and I think this node is its base."

"That means you'll have to fight it and seal the node."

"Aye. It's why I wanted to wait but I won't sacrifice Tinder."

"Sweetheart," Sidell began and turned to drown in eyes lit from an internal fire. She shuddered knowing she would do the same thing. How could she ask Tristian not to make the attempt? "I'm here. I'm not letting go. You need help, I'm right here."

Tristian stopped them in the center of the colony and wrapped Sidell in her arms. "Hold tight, love."

Tristian called. The nodes surrounding the colony answered their bondmate. In turn they called their brethren. From Mhyr to Dyan the nodes answered, feeding their bondmate, responding to the call of the Mother's Own. But Tristian didn't stop and the call continued until the master node in Southlock answered. Tristian burned incandescently as her bond strengthened and she was no longer aware of her surroundings, her entire being focused on the bond of the Mother. At Southlock's response she dove, into the Mother's bosom, trusting in her lover to anchor her, to hold her, to bring her back when it was over.

He felt her...NOOO...felt the power, the power that should have been his. She comes...WHY...why now? He wasn't ready. He raised a shield and she laughed, him. NOOO...another and again she smashed it, getting closer. To his prize, his possession, to the power that he gave his soul for. It should have been his. And now he felt the drain...she dared to drain his power. NOOOO, he struck and felt the drain ease. He struck again but she was ready for him this time and a mage clasp held him. The drain increased. NOOOO...he struggled and struck another blow loosening the clasp, slipping free but she responded and his world turned upside down. And still, still, the drain. He righted himself and now fighting was no longer on his mind. Must hide, must rest, must get away. She would pay but he had to survive first. Another blast tossed him and his essence shivered...NOOOO. Wait, opening. A trap? Another blast, no choice. Go, hide, and go to the dark, yes, to the open, to heal, to rest.

Tristian felt the final release of the tainted node and now she fed it. With the will of the Mother's bond, the call summoning the power, she filled the node until it shone the burnished blue silver of her touch. A final seal and it was hers. And now, the node reached out, and touched its bondmate. Setting off a chain reaction of pure energy that flowed directly into its mate in Southlock. Tristian was no longer conscious of her Self. She was the Mother's Own; this was her land, her power, and her right. Nothing would take this away from her.

And then...a soft touch, a gentle warmth, a breath of spring, a piercing cry and her heart tore as Sidell's cry pierced her soul. Home, and the beat of a heart, bound to hers tighter than the Mother's bond called her home.

"Sidell," was all she managed as she collapsed in her lover's arms. "The stable, Tinder..tell…"

"Shhh, they've gone now, my heart, my love. You came back. I...I felt you leave."


Sidell cradled her gently letting the paralyzing fear of losing her lover fade. A storm raged above her and she didn't notice. The storm loosed by the tremendous energy expelled at the joining of the two master nodes that now pulsed in tangent. One in Mhyr, the other in Southlock and the Mother sighed in pleasure.

Sidell felt her mother's hands brush through her hair. "Let's go home, dear heart."

Sidell looked up to see Ceil.

"We'll care for Tinder. She's been abused but they haven't had her long and...for the most part, it's minor." Ceil nodded towards Brianna who stared at Sidell and Tristian in awe. "If Tinder needs more help, we'll wake Bri up and send them off to Dyan."

Sidell nodded and Emma gathered the two of them and ported them home.

Tristian smiled as her lover joined her and lay back against her chest. "Comfortable?"

Adeena snorted, "I'd say yes to that, Consort."

They were in Mhyr enjoying the day with their friends. Jastyn dropped down beside them and offered a piece of the cake she'd brought with her. "Here, best have some before Erin eats the whole thing."

Sidell chuckled, "Figured she'd out grow that sweet tooth by now."

"Hummph, I think it's growing." Jas looked out at her lover. The work with the scouts had Erin a tanned bronze. She stood tall and proud, her features planed down to the firm lines of maturity having finally outgrown the baby fat. She was sleek and strong and Jastyn loved her dearly.

"She looks good," Sidell commented seeing where Jastyn's attention was held.

"That she does" the woman agreed.

"So do you," Sidell smiled at her.

Jas blushed and stammered a thank you. She jumped up and with a wink ran over to jump on her mate's back bringing Erin down to the applause of the youngsters.

Tristian chuckled, "I'm very glad for the change in Jas."

Adeena smiled at her, "As am I. And Kayla? Can you believe that was our little hellion?"

Tristian laughed outright. Kayla was spending half the year with Erin and Jas and she was turning into a proper lady. She had a mischievous streak a mile wide and could still tussle with the boys but in Dyan, she was a little sweetheart and the colony loved her.

Erin came over to join them.

"How's the outriding?" Tristian asked.

"Quiet. The last two weeks we were out we ran into a few thieves and such but, for the most part, things are quiet. The land seems to be back to normal and we've not had any sightings of monsters lately."

It had been two months since the battle in Mhyr and since Mhyr would not support their outlands adequately, Tristian had the scouts riding the width of the land. Mhyr was left to patrol their Holding proper but the outskirts were now handled by Dyan. The nobles argued but Tristian ignored them and Mhyr's outlying farms were beginning to do well. Tristian had established a trade agreement relieving the burden of Dyan's farms. She kept the supply and demand even and had even open trade to Dram, Widden and Darena. Dyan provided the transport and the trade seemed to be bringing prosperity to the families that had always suffered the most. Off course, Mhyr was now forced to purchase supplies at competitive prices and the majority of the nobles were suffering. Tristian refused to interfere in their Holding and left it for their leader. The scouts roaming the land ensured that the outlying farms were not being threatened.

As she envisioned, mage enrollment had increased as well as enrollment in the scouts and the warriors. The scouts now rode out with twelve women of which two were always mages.

The Lady Adair had finally tested her ability to sleep without the wards. As suspected the node and the entity abusing it was the cause. She was now actively pursuing a seat on the council, hell bent on bringing her people up to the level of the rest of Riger. Joram Lionae had been removed from the council although he was allowed to remain in Mhyr. Apparently, nothing a noble did would have them banished. There wasn't enough of them Tristian guessed. She was fully rested and preparing to seal the remaining nodes in the land. She also knew that entity was still out there but...for now...there was nothing to do about that. Tristian had also found that the larger nodes could be used to find the lesser nodes and she'd successfully sealed all of Dyan and most of Mhyr to her bond.

The scouts had been finding little villages cropping up across the land. The villages vowed themselves to Dyan and Emma was shocked when she received the annual taxes. The villages had found out from Aretha Dubear Dyan's tax base and incorporated it into their tax structure. They figured it would help keep the scouts out in the land. Tristian had merely grinned and told Emma to use it for the Scouts since the warriors were still based only in Dyan. Being the foresighted Leader that she was, she did just that and the Scout forces continued to grow. The villagers then worked with the scouts to set up overnight lodging so that any squad nearby could stop in and be comfortable. When Tristian heard that she dropped their taxes by the difference it would cost to maintain the lodging. A happy balance was met and the scouts rode the land in near luxury. Trade roads started appearing and Tristian was waiting to see what Dyan would do when someone built a village complete with trade roads on their borders. Sidell merely laughed and told her it would be her problem anyway. She was roused from her somnolent repose by the call of supper.

Sidell bounced into her lover's office giggling.

Tristian eyed her warily. "What?"

"Guess who's on our border?"

"I give up."

"Now, now. You have to guess."


Sidell scowled.

"Babe, there are a lot of people in Riger."

Sidell sighed, "Alright. Ceil."

"Is she coming in or is she just gonna hang out on the border?"

"Apparently, love, Ceil has decided that she wants to run a tavern. The majority of her guardians also had plans of their own."

Tristian chuckled, "I get it. We're gonna have a village on our border."

"Aye. But the best news is that Ceil entered Dyan and found the outlying farms and asked their permission to establish a village. She's worked out some kind of trade with them and in turn they'll have a closer place to go for a night out."

"So...not only is she on the border but the people nearest to her are happy to see her?"


Tristian grinned, "Awesome. Come on, let's take a ride."

"I knew you'd say that. We're all saddled, packed and just waiting on you my heart."

They spent three leisurely days riding out and Sidell realized the news she'd received was a bit old. Seems the village had been there for at least a month and traders were already pulling in. "Some scouts we've got," she chided. "They missed a village on our own borders."

Tristian chuckled, "I'll have to update the routes. They never come out here; there was never anything out here to check on. Maybe they'd swing by every three months or so."

"A likely story," she teased.

"Hey you two," Ceil greeted them happily.

"How are you running a tavern out here?" Tristian asked as Ceil strolled down the street towards them.

"What? Me? Oh no, not me?" Ceil denied. She grinned and turned them to the tavern. "Hungry?"


They stepped in and Tristian laughed, "Lucan, what in the hell?"

"Thomas, damn you look better every time I see you." She pointed around her and indicated the people filling her tavern, "Not too shabby eh?"

"Hell, if I'd known you were here I'd have been here sooner."

"Why do you think we didn't tell you," a droll voice asked as Maria Delgado entered. "You're supposed to be resting not riding around the damn land."

Sidell snickered and Tristian just shook her head following Lucan to a table. "Now, you all sit and we'll have the food out in no time."

"What brings you way out here?" Tristian asked digging in to her meal with relish.

Ceil quirked a brow at Maria.

Maria shrugged, "It's all in my reports, they're just on the bottom of the pile and she hasn't gotten to them yet."


"Remember the villages?"


"Well, they pretty much make a straight road to here."

Tristian choked on her stew. "Shit, you're kidding me."

"Nope. From east to west we've got a trade road that pretty much lines up and leads right to our borders."

"Okay, so maybe way out here is not what I meant. What brings you out here at all?"

"Ahh, now that's a different story," Ceil chuckled in reply. "Seems since the living in the country was safer than living in the colony, the people of Mhyr have been ... relocating. Granted we've got families from all the Holdings but most of Mhyr occupies the villages and Dyan protects them. We're all pretty happy."

Tristian shook her head and grinned. "Damn, I never really wondered where the people were coming from."

"Right, so, since the Guardians were pretty much just harassing those left I decided I'd had enough and had planned to come out and take you up on that job. Lucan had other ideas. Since we all just gossip in the Blade, she pretty much knew what we all wanted to do and one night when just the right people were present, she made her offer, We'd pool our resources and build our own village." Ceil grinned, "Now that idea caught on quick and a few of us took off to find a viable setting. I found this one and fell in love with it."

Tristian admitted in was a beautiful area; the woods were thick and full of game. A large river ran nearby to provide water for the village and apparently they'd found a well to be used for the village.

"Well, you're right. It is. In fact, if you head up that range for about a half a day, you'll find the best hot springs in the area."

"Ohhhh," Sidell murmured. "You never took me there."

"Sweetheart, it's a three almost four day ride for us and we have a hot tub."

Sidell grimaced but agreed it was a bit out of the way.

Ceil laughed and made a note to check it out. "Anyway, I crossed your borders and spoke to your outlying farmers. Apparently, Hilltop?" She looked around and Maria nodded. "Hilltop is almost a two day ride south for them. They'd gotten used to not bothering. We, on the other hand, are within a days ride. They liked it and we arranged trade for meat, produce and fruit. Goddess you people have some incredible fruit. We've got some farmers coming in but I don't know about herdfarming. I'd hate to ruin the land like that. Anyway we talked and we're limiting the farming to produce. We can hunt for supper and Lucan trades with Dyan for her stuff."

Sidell laughed at Ceil's excitement.

"So, we've been here for about a month and we passed word back that Lucan was moving here and," Ceil looked around in contentment, "we've been a hit ever since."

"So, let me guess," Tristian sighed and leaned back in pleasure, "You would be the town magistrate."

"Got it. I keep the peace in the village, the scouts take care of the outskirts, we pay our taxes and life has been good."

"Well, it's been a long trip and I'm sleepy," Tristian complained.

Lucan came with a room for them and refused to take any more money. "Na ah, you still have a tab."

Sidell laughed, "Lucan, you've just built a new tavern, don't turn down money."

"No. A deal's a deal and you still have credit. Off with you both."

The sound of hoof beats pounding in the dirt drew their attention. From the direction, these were coming from Dyan. Tristian looked to Maria who shrugged.

They moved out into the fading light and watched as a squad of warriors barreled into the village. "Maria," Tristian muttered softly, "tell me you know who's in the lead?"

"I do. Puck's been having trouble with her but unless Puck moved to Hilltop, it was difficult to keep and eye on her."

Tristian watched Ceil move to the street. "What seems to be the problem, Warrior?"

"We don't want you here, is the problem."

"We're not on your land, Warrior, this is free land."

"This is our border and you are not welcomed here." The woman glared around. "I suggest you people leave or I'll bring my garrison here and burn it down."

"Now wait a minute," Ceil replied heatedly.

"Shut up. You've heard my ultimatum. You have three days."

"On whose orders?" Tristian asked from the shadows.

"I don't need to answer to you, whoever you are but the Leader of Dyan wants you gone."

"Funny," Sidell murmured stepping into the light. "I don't recall hearing that. In fact," she continued, "Mother thought it was pretty funny. Perhaps I misunderstood, Commander Weiss?"

"Lady du Aulstet," the woman murmured. "It's possible that you misunderstood. Our Leader may not have wanted to upset you by showing you the side of her that needs to be strong for our benefit."

"Funny," Tristian drawled, stepping out beside her lover, "I don't recall it either. Nor do I recall the Leader commanding the Warriors. What part don't I understand?"

"Who are you?" Commander Weiss growled.

The woman behind her dismounted smartly and saluted. "Commander Mardred."

Tristian grinned, "What brings you here, Kel?"

"Puck needed proof and our orders were to allow Commander Weiss enough rope to hang herself provided she harmed no one."

"Very good. I'll commend Puck myself. Now, arrest this idiot and remove her from my sight." Tristian paused, "Kelsey?"

"Aye, Consort?"

"Do we need to worry about the rest of this crowd?"

"Nay, Consort. Half are with me and the rest are merely following orders."

"Need I worry about the Garrison?"

"Not once Puck is done with them and I'll send my report this eve, Consort."

"Well done. Carry on." She halted again, "Wait." She turned to Ceil, "Magistrate, my apologies, this is your territory, would you like her?"

"Yeah, I would but I've nothing on her. Smarting off to the magistrate is not a hanging offense. Maybe I'll change the rules." Ceil snickered, "Nay, Commander, I'll trust that you'll take care of this and my people are satisfied that Dyan has no trouble with us being here."

"So be it." She turned to Kelsey, "You'll be acting until Puck settles this. I will be in Hilltop in four days, and I would be pleased to see the final results."

"Aye, Consort."

"Wait...Sidell," Commander Weiss pleaded. "I...only want what's best for Dyan."

"As do we all Weiss but Mother makes that call and you had no authority to terrorize these people. Can you defend or do you believe you know more than our Leader."

"I..only want what's best."

Sidell turned away and Tristian glared at them until they were back on their way.

"Seems I've been a bit too involved in outland business," Tristian muttered.

Sidell soothed her, "There is only one of you, sweetheart, and you've done an incredible job for just single you. We'll handle Dyan now, you've not fully recovered and I don't want to be that frightened ever again."

They rode into Hilltop. Kelsey saw them but Tristian nodded her off. She wanted to see what happened to visitors. They were greeted politely and found a decent Inn with a Tavern.

"Honey?" Sidell murmured softly, "Can we port home?"

Tristian chuckled. We'll we can but I'd hoped to make my way south and stop off at the rest of the colonies before we reached Freelock again."

"Goddess bless," Sidell grumbled. "I do love a warrior."

Tristian squeezed her hand gently, "That you do, my heart."

The innkeeper strolled up. "Ten drachs for a room and supper."

Tristian reached for her pouch but Sidell jumped up in surprise. "Are you out of you mind? Ten drachs for that? Keep your room, and your food."

The woman sighed, "Lady, you'll not find a better price. The council has set the rates and we all have to charge what they say or they close us down."

"What? What council? The council of Hilltop?" Sidell asked in disbelief.

"Aye, the Elders Council."

"Where might one find this council at this time of day?"

"Ahhh, Lady, you don't wanna do that. They get nasty."


The woman fretted but muttered, "Try the Council Tap. It's the large Tavern on the end but I doubt they'll let you in."

"Why is that?"

"It's private, has a membership and everything."

"Thank you. Here," Sidell handed the woman the price she asked for, "keep our room and our meals warm, we'll be back."

"Most likely be in jail," the woman muttered as they left the building. "I tried."

Tristian tried to keep a straight face but Sidell was just too cute when she was angry.

"No smirking," Sidell growled

Tristian chuckled and bit her lip to keep from smirking. They approached the doorway and a large woman moved to block it.


Sidell grinned and turned to her lover, "Passes, sweetheart?"

"Of course, my heart."

The woman never saw the left that laid her out cold. Tristian propped her up and opened the door for her partner.

They looked around the smoke filled room and Tristian winced as her eyes watered. "Damn, somebody should open a window."

Sidell complied raising the first chair she came to and throwing it through the nearest window. "How's that?" she smirked.

"Ahh, much better," Tristian muttered. "Maybe a cross breeze would help." She picked up the woman obviously sent to remove them and threw her through the opposite side window. The smoked cleared sluggishly. "We'll it's working, slowly."

Another woman attacked from the rear and Tristian buried her elbow into her gut. Having run out of windows, Tristian threw her through the door. The smoke moved briskly. "Ahh, that was it."

"You're so talented," Sidell praised her.

The patrons were getting the hint and had started to squeeze out the broken door further clearing the air.

"What do you want?" the quaking bartender asked.

"Oh. The Elders Council, might they be here?"

"Aye," he pointed to the hallway. "Left, last door."

"Thank you," Sidell replied politely. She turned and straightened her lover's jerkin and hair.

Tristian grinned, "You're enjoying this aren't you?"

"It's not often I have the greatest warrior at my side in a fight."

"You aren't supposed to be in a fight," Tristian argued.

"See? My point exactly."

Admitting defeat Tristian led them forward. Looking both ways the only visible guards were to the left. "Must be it."

"That's my scout," Sidell teased, patting her back.

Tristian shook her head and padded down the hall.

"Passes?" The bored woman on Tristian's left asked. Tristian took out the one on the right with a front kick that broke her jaw and the one on the left with an elbow. "These aren't guards," she complained.

"No whining, warrior. It's so unbecoming."

They opened the door to another smoke filled room. A slender woman glided up to them. "Yes? May I help you?"

Sidell spotted her quarry and shook her head. "No thanks, I see them."

The woman snapped her fingers impatiently and a large man moved up and grabbed Sidell's arm. Tristian broke his arm in three places before she released him. "Never touch. Lay there and be a good boy before I turn you into a girl."

"Just a minute," the woman sputtered seeing her outer guards indisposed.

Sidell smiled, "Really, we're fine."

The five members of the council sat in shock as the Heir to Dyan approached the table. "Council, how wonderful to see you."

"Sidell? What..brings you here?"

"Here as in Hilltop or here as in this disgusting place?" Sidell asked amiably.

Tristian put her back against the wall as the Warriors burst into the hall.

"It's about damn time," the woman snapped. "Arrest these women."

Puck entered the room and nodded. "You heard her, arrest them."

The warriors picked up the fallen guards and dragged them out the hall. "Oh, and take this...male, also."

"What are you doing?" the woman hissed. "Your Commander and I have an agreement now I don't know who you are but,"

"I'm the Commander, madam. Commander Weiss is no longer with us."

A large bang at the end of the hall showed Kelsey breaking open a closed door. Her curses carried clearly back to them. The warriors opened all the doors and low male cursing could be heard along with quiet sobbing.

Puck's face froze into a mask of rage and she grabbed the woman securing her arms. "I think you need to come along also."

"Puck, hold."

Tristian pushed off the wall and made her way up the hall. She peered in and saw her worst fears confirmed. Children were being used for sexual pleasures. Tristian's gaze raked the offenders and she barked, "Take them into the back room. Kelsey, I want this place searched from top to bottom and it better be clean."

"Aye, Consort."

The men and women that had paid for the pleasures of defiling the children were thrown into a huddled mass in the room. "Put her with them, Puck."


"And shut her up."

As Sidell listened to the council's babbling the warriors searched. Tristian extended her senses and found a cellar room. Ordering it clear they found twelve beaten and starved children. Tristian had them carried out as the council watched. When she was sure all was clear she pointed to the council. "Join your friends,"


Tristian had no more patience and a simple wave had them huddled on the floor. "Clear this room."

Sidell eased herself against her lover and leaned back against her. Tristian's hand glowed and she pointed igniting the huddled mass of people now screaming on the floor. Sidell closed her eyes and turned her face into Tristian's chest. Tristian remained until the final screams and a brilliant flare scattered ashes as she ported them out igniting the rest of the building. She stood outside monitoring the blaze, ensuring it didn't get out of hand. Sidell curled tightly against her.


Sidell looked up slowly and smiled weakly, "I'm here, love. I'm here."

"I want to go to the jail."

"Alright, let's go."

Tristian found Commander Weiss and the unknown male. The guards she merely told Puck to handle. She glared at the Commander and the male. "You two will hang in the morning."

Weiss' jaw dropped, " can't I...but."

Tristian turned and left her babbling. "Puck, arrange the gallows."

Puck looked at Weiss coldly, "You know. There is some humor to this."

"What, I'm gonna die?"

"Well, besides that. I find that pretty humorous also. But, this all happened because you had a wild hair and tried to run off that new village. They really weren't slated to come this way yet." Puck grinned mirthlessly, "So thank you, Weiss. Saved me the trouble of having to make this call myself."

Tristian took Sidell to their private place between worlds. They talked, loved and moved on, they needed to return quickly but the private time allowed Sidell the time to reacquaint herself with her lover and forget the raging warrior that appeared when there was a need.

They returned to find Emma staring at the charred remains of the Council Tap. "Stay with Emma, my heart. This won't take long."

Sidell nodded and Emma's arm circled her gently.

Tristian entered the compound and nodded for Puck to begin. The two prisoners raged and pleaded but the sight of the children had driven all mercy from Tristian. She nodded again and the two dropped quickly their necks snapping audibly.

Tristian turned and rejoined her mate.

A shaken Aurora joined them in the tavern. "Dear Goddess how long has that been going on?"

"We don't know." Tristian answered. "Puck is rounding up the information and we're trying to trace the children's family's."

"They remind you of Jas," Aurora guessed accurately.

Tristian nodded slowly, "Aye. I found her. This...brought it all back."

"Oh Alwyn," Sidell breathed, "not Jastyn."

"She's not to know that you know, my heart. She's doing well and the last thing she needs is to be reminded by pity."

"Call a colony meeting," Emma murmured. "Let's get them all together and see what happens."

Tristian nodded. "I'd still like Puck to continue, some won't talk in public."

Emma agreed and they moved off to their tasks. The innkeeper approached the table where Sidell had remained.

Sidell smiled gently, "Join me."

"I...overheard. I...we all knew."

"Why?" Sidell cried softly, "How?"

"Scared." The innkeeper replied in disgust. "Frightened like children. We let them walk all over us as they kept piling laws upon laws upon laws. The warriors were helping and we didn't have the guts to go to the Leader." She broke into tears, "We had no excuse, m'lady. None and Alwyn help me those children are ours."

"Nooo," Sidell breathed, "Dear Alwyn no."

"Yes. My sister is one of them. I...let them take her rather than give up my inn. I can still see her eyes, her loving, trusting eyes, begging me to help."

Sidell didn't know what to feel, her insides were crawling and the horror ate away at her. She felt shame, pain, anger and rage. "Nooooo, please..."

Emma saw Tristian tearing across the street. "What now?"

Tristian tore the door off the hinge in her rush and almost flew across the room landing on Sidell and pulling her to the floor. ""

"NOOOOOOO," Sidell screamed in anguish.

Tristian raised a shield around them as she laid on her back cradling her lover on her. "I've got you, let go, my heart, let go."

And Sidell did, letting her rage free and trusting in her lover to protect them. She railed in anger and screamed her outrage. Tristian held her gently, letting her ease the horror in her soul, murmuring softly, "I'm here, right here and I love you. Let go, my heart. I'm here."

Aurora approached the innkeeper and touched her gently. "What did you tell her?"

"The truth, Mage Mardred. I told her the truth. May Alwyn damn my soul."

Sidell was calming and Tristian rolled up into a sitting position then rose fluidly, her mate in her arms. Sidell whispered, "Tristian, the children are theirs. The colony's."

Tristian's eyes closed as they stood there trying to gain strength from the love between them. She turned and strode out the door.

Tristian took them to the colony hall and found a quiet corner in the back. She sat and placed Sidell on her lap. Snuggling, they awaited the colony meeting.

Emma called the session in order. "We've...found that a ring of ...dear Alwyn I can't even say it." She took a breath. "Child molestation has been operating in this colony. The obvious culprit's are no longer with us. What I want to know is how was it allowed to operate...and where did the children come from?" Emma sat and looked out sadly, "Come forward, ladies, the children depend on you."

A small woman stood, crying she gasped, " of them is...mmmy, daughter."

Slowly the women stood and claimed the horrors that would live with them forever.

Emma arranged for Jax and a full complement of healers to station in the colony. She didn't want a rash of suicides on her hands and the children still needed help.

She found Tristian and Sidell in the Elder's office. "Tristian, please forgive me for saying this but I have to say something. Why didn't you destroy this colony?" Emma broke and Sidell moved to comfort her mother. Tristian squeezed her shoulder and let herself out.

"Puck, I want riders out. Include the scouts; find me families to take these children. I want strong, loving families Puck and I'll be checking on them monthly."

Puck saluted and left to carry out her orders. Tristian ported to Southlock. Ariel found her curled up over the master node.

"Bonded, what hurts you so?"

Tristian met this woman's gaze and felt the warmth of the mother. She told her.

"Oh Mother. Bring them here, Bonded. Let the Mother heal them."

"Ariel, there are twenty-five children."

"It doesn't matter, we will heal them, raise them, love them." She watched Tristian closely, "You know you're always welcomed. You can check them as often as you wish. With the node here, we couldn't hide anything from you, Bonded. That's why we trust you so much. This node bonds us all."

Tristian sat for a bit, "Leave me. Let me walk Her winds, Ariel. I will answer on my return."

Tristian felt gentle fingers brush through her hair and she dove, releasing her anger, her rage, her shame of womankind, and the Mother embraced her, loving her, healing her.

Hours later Tristian walked into Southlock. Ariel smiled and Tristian returned to Hilltop.

"Puck, recall the riders. I'm taking them to Southlock."

"Aye, Consort."

Tristian went to find Emma and Sidell. "Hey you."

Sidell smiled weakly and Tristian gathered her close. Sidell could feel the healing touch of the Mother on her lover's aura and she allowed it to soothe her soul. "You're taking them to Southlock." Not a question.


"Good," was all Sidell said as the warmth of the Mother's love filled her.

Emma nodded in agreement. "I'll put this colony back together. This is something I should have caught,"

Her rantings were cut off as Tristian squeezed her hand, "Don't. As my lady reminded me, there is only one of each of us. We've done the best we can."

Emma's grasp tightened and she bowed her head in acceptance of her own limitations. "Where...where are you two off to next?"

"The next colony," Sidell responded. "Westlock."

They ported the children and their mounts to Southlock staying long enough to assist in building a common shelter for the children. Four adults would always be present. They watched as Ariel braided the Mother's power and laid it gently across the children. They watched the huddled postures ease.

Part 6

The next morning saw them riding across the land for Westlock.


"Hey Tinder, how are you?"

"All better. It wasn't bad," Tinder grinned. "How is the Lady?"

"Fine last I heard. Still fighting for Mhyr but at the rate they're going, Mhyr won't be there much longer."

Tinder chuckled. "Would you two join us? We've just made camp."

Sidell grinned, "If you cook. I'm tired of mine and afraid of Tristian's."

"Find anything?" Tristian asked as the sat around the small camp.

"Nah. It's been quiet," Tinder responded. "We're heading for the eastern border and then north and home."

"Ahh. Stop by the new village on the border," Sidell suggested.

"Yeah?" another scout queried. "A new village, cool."

"Aye, you'll see some old friends."

Tinder laughed, "You're a tease, Sidell."

"True, but think of the excitement I've given you. Something to look forward to for the boring ride."

A week later they found Westlock.

They entered the colony and were greeted courteously by the guards. The sound of laughing children brought a happy sigh to Sidell's lips. Tristian smiled and helped her dismount. Sidell entered the large Inn and Tristian put up the mounts.

Sidell looked up as a shadow fell over her.

"Evening," the woman greeted her and sat down. "You're new here."

"I'm also tired, let's not play games tonight, alright?"

The woman chuckled. "No games, I'm the garrison Commander and I always greet our visitors. Makes for less confusion down the road."

"Ahh, my apologies," Sidell offered.

"Nay, Lady, none is need. I admit I tend to come across like that but," she shrugged and indicated her large frame, "there's not much I can do about this."

Sidell grinned, "No I guess not." She watched Tristian sit at the bar and casually turn to watch them.

"Can I ask if you're just visiting or passing through?" the Commander queried.

"Both actually. I'm visiting for a few days and then heading on northward."

"You're not selling anything, my guards didn't report a wagon, you can ask your tall friend to join us, save me having to corner her also."

Sidell chuckled and beckoned Tristian over, "The garrison Commander."

"Ahhh, Commander Leach."

"Aye," the woman agreed. She eyed them carefully but hesitated to ask. "Not much to the rules here, ladies. Don't do nothing to someone that you wouldn't want done to you. We've got some fair shopping and the merchants will haggle until your leg falls off but it's normally in fun. If you have trouble with a merchant come to the warriors first, I'd prefer our visitors not slash their way through our citizens." She grinned at Tristian with that and Tristian nodded in return. "Else ladies, enjoy your visit. Alwyn knows the innkeeper will be happy. Oh...the careful if'n you're gonna swim. Some times the current is a might rough especially if you're not use to it. I tell you this honestly cause sure as I'm Leach you're gonna see our youngsters out there having a grand time and you're gonna think it's a snap. Tisn't and our younguns were raised here. I'd hate to have to pull either of you out of the sea."

"Have a pleasant evening, ladies," the woman concluded standing.

"Thank you, Commander, we appreciate the greeting."

Leach shrugged, "Makes my job easier."

"What do you think?" Sidell asked.

Tristian yawned, "I think I'm gonna enjoy my vacation unless or until something goes wrong."

"Tch, look at you, lazy."

"Told you, I love being on the trail. Puts me in a great mood and with the colonies being so small I don't feel so overwhelmed when I enter them."

They had a large room with an indoor tub. Tristian grinned at the water heating for them and hurriedly filled the tub. Sidell found the large window looked out over the sea and she pushed the panels open. A gentle breeze fluttered through the room. Sighing softly she joined her mate.

Tristian woke at dawn and snuggled into her lover for a bit. She kissed her blonde head and dressed for her morning run.

She'd just left the colony perimeter when she realized she had a shadow. Grinning wildly she picked up her pace, dashing over the packed sand easily. She'd been running in Freelock for over a year and the sand there was softer. This was nothing. She chuckled halfway through her run as her shadow fell off. Tristian circled the colony taking the time to confirm that the nodes knew her. The gentle sharing with her bondmate only increased her energy and she ran faster not slowing until she approached the colony gates. The guards grinned widely at her and greeted her enthusiastically, "Morning, great day for a run, eh?"

"Aye," Tristian responded in amusement. "The scenery's not bad either. This is some beautiful country."

"Aye, that it is." The woman stuck out a hand, "Freeda, this here's Jillan."

"Tristian, nice to meet you."

"You too. Mayhap, if you're in the tavern this eve, we can down a mug or two."

"Sounds good to me. Any tavern in particular?"

"Nah, the one you're in is the best and we're normally always in there." She smiled, "Actually, was surprised you didn't stay in the Dove, they're a bit more uppity."

Tristian snorted, "Don't do uppity. Liable to get in trouble with your Commander happen I go in there."

Freeda chuckled, "Aye, that's why we don't. Ol Leach has got a nasty right cross. Doesn't pay to get on her bad side."

Tristian smiled, "I've no intentions of finding out but I'll mind the warning if'n I have to."

The women shared a laugh and Tristian moseyed back to the inn. She found Sidell sitting with a woman that appeared to be soaked in sweat and catching her breath.

"Morning, love," Sidell greeted her.

Tristian grinned and kissed her softly, "Morning. Let me go wipe off the sweat."

"I'll have your breakfast ready." Sidell promised.

"She could pretend she was tired," Tristian heard the other woman growl and she chuckled softly.

She returned quickly and dove into the large platter in front of her. Sidell fussed with her hair and Tristian smiled softly at her allowing her to straighten a stubborn lock. "Better?"

"Aye, love. This is Shauna. Apparently, she was trying to follow you."

"What for?"

Shauna shrugged. "Seemed odd that someone on vacation would go for a run." She lifted a hand, "Hey, they pay me to be suspicious, shoot Puck if you want someone to holler at." Shauna had apparently caught her breath and was sucking on her juice.

Sidell chuckled, "Anyway, she wants to know what I feed you."

Tristian's brow quirked and Sidell laughed, "Aye, I told her same as everyone else but she didn't believe me so I invited her to join us."

"Ahhh," Tristian murmured, polishing off her meal. "Good, Anya would be jealous."

"That she would," Sidell agreed. "What are you up to today?"

"I'm gonna have Shadow and Summer's shoes replaced if I can find a good smithy. Also need my sword banged out."

"From what?"

"Beats me, I just want the nicks taken out, the blade's a might ragged."

"Hmmm," Sidell teased, "to much fun for me, love."

"You're going shopping and don't try to fool me. You always go shopping. What on Riger could you possibly need?"

"It's the thrill of the hunt, the haggle, the successful bargain."

Tristian smirked and kissed her softly. "Don't run them out of merchandise."

"Look you, be nice or I'm gonna hurt you."

"I'm worried," Tristian smarted off leaving Shauna breathless again from laughing.

"Brat," Sidell muttered.

Tristian was chatting happily with the blacksmith as they reshod the horses when they heard the calls for help. The woman looked up and barked, "The beach."

Tristian didn't wait for anymore and she tore out towards the voices. A woman stood in the water pointing out at a struggling body. Tristian headed out the natural jetty pouring on the speed trying to beat the hapless swimmer.

"Shit," Leach muttered. "That's an undertow. I hope the hell the tall one can swim."

Leach hurried down to the beach as Tristian dove off the jetty.

A minute later Leach felt the hum of power and stopped in shock as Tristian appeared on the beach, the child cradled carefully in her arms.

"C'mon youngster," Tristian coaxed turning the child face down and pressing her back gently. "C'mon,"

The young girl coughed and water spewed out. "Good girl," Tristian praised her, "good girl. Can you breath alright?"

The girl shuddered and coughed again taking huge gulps of air. Tristian smiled and lifted her upright. "There ya go, where's your mum, huh?"

"Here, thank you. I don't know how to thank you."

Tristian shrugged, "Glad I was here, Lady, her breathing's thanks enough." She left mother and child sobbing happily as they turned up the beach.

Turning she found Sidell with a linen. "Come here you, I swear I can't leave you for a minute."

"Wasn't my fault," Tristian protested.

"Yeah, that's what you always say." Sidell stopped and caressed her face gently, "She's alright?"

"Aye, love, a bit of a scare and a sore throat. Healer can fix that and she'll be fine."

Sidell smiled and looked at her soaking wet lover, "Come on, let's get you changed before you get a cold. You're a lousy patient."

Tristian grinned and hugged her tight soaking her tunic.

"Ahhh, Tristian, I swear I'm gonna hurt you."

"Gotta catch me first," Tristian taunted heading up the beach with Sidell hot on her trail. Neither noticed Leach's musing look.

They came down the stairs laughing happily and settled for lunch. An overdressed pinch faced woman joined them. "May I?"

Tristian shrugged and kept eating.

"Please," Sidell offered. "How may we help you?" She saw Leach walk in and was surprised when the woman stopped with a scowl and moved to the bar.

"I believe I can help you. I've taken the liberty of telling the innkeeper to move your belongings to the Floating Dove."

"You what?" Tristian thundered stopping all noise in the Inn.

"I've taken," the woman began.

"I heard you dammit, I want to know why and who the hell do you think you are?"

Tristian saw a young girl descending with their bags and snapped out. "Return those youngster."

"But..." the young girl began.

"It's alright, sweetheart," Sidell assured her rising. "Come on, I'll give you a hand."

The innkeeper looked up guiltily as the woman glared at her. She cleared her throat. "Lady..."

Sidell stopped and looked at her, "Trust me, innkeeper, if you plan on telling me you've rented the room out from under us, don't. Believe me, you don't want to go there."

"Aye, Lady," the innkeeper responded faintly.

Tristian rose and picked the woman up throwing her out the door. "Best find your manners happen you plan on speaking to us again." She returned to her seat and shook herself vigorously, "Ahhh, better."

Leach joined her and she grinned, "Hey, I didn't slash anybody."

Leach laughed, "Uhmmm no you didn't sure did irritate the mages."

Tristian shrugged, "They'll get over it.." she paused, "or not."

"So, Commander," Sidell began as she reclaimed her seat. "What was that?"

"Well, Lady, at least one of you is a mage."

Sidell giggled, "No..."

Leach scowled. "You don't hum."

Tristian looked at her. "What?"

"Well, you did on the beach but you don't any other time so I didn't know you were a mage."

"What difference does it make?"

Leach shrugged, "I'm not sure but they like to be separated from us. They don't cause us trouble so we leave them alone. I think this is the first time they didn't know a mage entered the colony. Normally, they'd have met you at the gate and shuttled you off to the Dove."

"Freeda says the Dove is uppity." Tristian put in.

"Who is Freeda?" Sidell asked curiously.

"The guard at the gate. We were talking this morning. They apparently found it funny that Shauna came back tired."

"You brat," Sidell smacked her, "you knew she was there."

"Course I did but she didn't want to be sociable and I didn't want a shadow. I'd have run with her if she'd have just come out." Tristian frowned at her, "Where was I?"

"Freeda, Dove, uppity," Sidell supplied.

"Oh, yeah. Anyway, that's what she said and I don't do uppity." She grinned at Leach, "So we can't stay there. You won't let me slash your citizens and Freeda says you've got a mean right hook. I'm scared of you so we're staying here."

Leach looked to Sidell plaintively, "She always like this?"

Sidell laughed and brushed Tristian's hair off her ear, "Yah, she's a brat."

"I can't help it, it's genetic," Tristian supplied innocently.

"Ohhh, I'm gonna remember that one,"

They chuckled and Tristian sighed as a woman entered with ferret face, as Tristian had dubbed her. The woman's power crackled and there was a noticeable hum in the air.

"May we? I'm Teela Doane and this is Ferra Yemin."

"Fix your shield first," Tristian directed.


"Your shield, fix it. I know first year students that can control their power better. You'll give me a headache and I don't like headaches so either fix your shield or leave."

"Do you know who I am?" the woman replied in annoyance.

Tristian scratched her ear, "Let me guess, you're Teela Doane."

Sidell gurgled in mirth as Teela rose to her full height.

"I don't know who you are but I'd watched my step if I were you."

"I would too, if I were you. With all that energy crackling I'm surprised you can see in front of you."

"Goddess you need a lesson," Teela muttered in anger.

"Oh no," Sidell moaned. "Tell me she's not that stupid?" She looked pleadingly at Leach who had backed off the table. Leach shrugged.

Tristian continued eating, "So, what's it gonna be?"

"I...I.." Teela was now so angry she could barely think straight. She turned to Ferra and Tristian felt the power build. Sidell shook her head, "She is. I don't believe this."

Together the woman struck intending to show this upstart her place. Tristian continued eating and the room turned around furtively. The humming could no longer be felt and Teela was looking at her hands in shock. Ferra was also upset and the two women stared at Tristian.

"You know," Tristian spoke evenly. "I don't like you two. I don't like bullies and I don't like people that think they're better than others. But mostly, I don't like people that insist on interrupting my meal, so run along ladies before you get yourselves into even more trouble."

"But...our powers?"

Tristian shrugged, "Hey, you couldn't control them anyway. You can't possibly miss them." She pointed meaningfully at the door and the two stumbled out in horror.

"You are so bad," Sidell murmured softly, kissing her cheek.

"I thought I was being nice. Besides, Leach would have decked me if I'd slashed them."

Sidell chuckled, "Well I suppose you now want to talk to Leach?"

"Aye, love."

"Then I'm going back to my shopping."

Tristian grinned and stood helping her lady up. She turned to Leach, "Come on, Commander, I'll introduce myself in the compound."

As they entered the compound they passed a squad of scouts. The leader came to attention and saluted, "Consort, welcome to Westlock."

"Thanks, Trey," Tristian responded, "How's it looking?"

"Good. The land's settled again and we're not finding clawed bunnies or some such."

Tristian grinned, "You just coming in?"


"Got a minute?"

"For you? The day if you wish."

"An hour, no more, I promise. Come on, bring the Commander, she seems to be glued to the ground."

Trey chuckled, "You really need to start introducing yourself, Tristian."

"Then I wouldn't find out half the stuff I've been finding."

Trey sighed, "The mages?"

"Aye, come on."

"So, why wasn't the status of the mages reported to Emma?" Tristian asked when they managed to bring Leach around.

Leach groaned, "They really don't normally cause problems and we like having them. They help us out,"

Trey snorted, "For a fee, Gilly. That's not right. We've argued this before."

"I know but the council likes having them and I'm bound to what they want as long as the mages do no harm."

"You know," Tristian mused aloud, "I'm about sick of councils."

Trey looked at her warily.

"Long story. Commander, call a council session, the Heir will be attending."

Trey grinned, "Sidell's here then?"

"Aye, shopping."

"Cool," Trey bounced in her chair.

Tristian laughed, "Go on and find her, tell her I've called a council session in and hour and I want her present."

"Aye, Consort," Trey jumped up, "Best get to it, Gilly, Tristian hates to be kept waiting."

Leached looked at Tristian plaintively, "It's not fair, you two can't just go popping in looking like common travelers."

"Why not?"

"I don't know," Leach admitted. "It just doesn't seem right. There should be guards, whistles, horns, you know, pomp and ceremony?"

Tristian rolled her eyes and Leach chuckled, shaking her head she headed out to round up the council.

They entered the council room to find both Teela and Ferra on the council. Tristian snorted and Sidell hushed her.

"Lady du Aulstet, Mage Mardred, welcome to Westlock."

Sidell smiled gently, "Hello, Elder Reed, how have you been?"

"I can't complain, things could be worse."

"Please, Elder, sit. I've questions regarding the mages."

"Of course, Lady. What can we help you with?"

"It's been brought to our attention that the mages have separated themselves from the populace and are charging fees for extending their help. Why?" Sidell laid the question out bluntly and watched Elder Reed wince.

"You never were one to pull your punches."

Sidell grinned. "I don't like this. Now, why?"

"Well," another began.

"Your name, Elder?"

"Sorry, Lady, I'm Elder Wiggins this is Elder Prog, Elder Doane and Elder Yemin."

"We've met," Tristian supplied wryly.

"Ahh, well then. Elder Doane approached us several years back with a proposition. Since the mages natural energies were too much for our populace, and it really was bothering a lot of people, they would retire to a more secluded facility and keep themselves occupied. We were asked to fund the facility and from then on pay an annual fee for their assistance."

"And you've called on them how often?" Sidell continued her questioning.

"Well, twice this year. When the land started acting strange we asked for assistance."

"And they did what?"

"Well, they looked at it and after several studies explained that it wasn't magic and that the land was merely going through a growth period."

"I see. But you've been paying them faithfully?"

"Oh, aye, Lady," Elder Reed responded earnestly, "a deal's a deal and they were available at any time."

"How many mages are housed in the facility, excluding these two?"

"Only four more, Lady. We've had some come through looking to settle but they moved on."

"So...let me sum up." Sidell turned to Doane, "The mages segregated themselves because they were too incompetent to control their power or...they allowed the power to leak knowing it would make the populace uncomfortable."

"Nay, Lady," Elder Wiggins protested. "They explained it all, mages cannot help themselves when they are so powerful."

"Elder, you are sitting at a table with two of the most powerful mages in Dyan, point them out?"

"I...I don't feel anything," the Elder peered curiously at Doane and Yemin. "And nothing from you two."

"Tristian, if you would?"

Tristian lowered her shields until the air fairly reeked of power and then reshielded.

"Dear Alwyn," Elder Reed breathed. "That's what happens when you drop your shields, Consort."

"Nay. I never drop my shields, I could level this colony if I'm not careful."

She nodded to Sidell.

Sidell did the same demonstration and the Elders were shocked.

"So...the question remains. Incompetence or fraud, which is it, Doane?"

"I don't..." she found herself surrounded in a blue haze, the truth spell.

"Again," Sidell barked.

"I shielded the way I was taught. The best that I knew how."

"Yemin?" Again the truth spell and again the same answer.

"Incredible, who was your trainer?"

"Mage Prader,"

Sidell shook her head and Elder Reed smiled, "Before your time, young Heir."

"Let me guess, all of the mages here were trained in the same manner?"

"We were all in the same class," Elder Doane responded in a huff.

Tristian sighed. "I'll call Aurora and see what she says. If she thinks they can learn I'll restore their powers but they'll have to wait a month to allow their systems to settle. Any sooner and they'll be harmed."

"If Aurora says no?" Sidell asked.

"She would only say no if they absolutely could not learn, my heart. In that case, this holding would be better off with them powerless."

"But, Consort, they did help."

"No, they didn't. The problems were caused by magic, Emma sent a missive out explaining that and asking the colonies to report any problems. The scouts were sent out to keep the worst of the problems away from the colonies until I had a chance to repair the problem. As mages, they should have contacted Emma and reported it. By not doing so, it was only the diligence of the scouts that kept this colony safe."

"We've gotten pretty comfortable having a mage or two, Consort. Couldn't we..."

"The scouts are now running two mages per squad," Tristian inserted wryly.

"What? But..." the Elder turned to them, "why didn't you know?"

"Same reason they didn't know about us, Elder," Sidell explained. "They only identified us as mages when Tristian was forced to use her power to save a young girl. If not for that, we'd have come and gone and they would have been content in their belief that no mages had entered their colony."

Sidell's gaze settled on Elder Reed, "Now, Emma du Aulstet is the Leader of this Holding. She doesn't expect her council's to run to her with every little problem but she does expect a certain degree of competence. Problems will be reported, Elder. The people are at risk when you insist on working in the dark. What happens across Dyan is sent in the missives and concerns that you're unsure of should be brought up in the monthly telecom sessions. I trust this won't happen again?"

"Nay, young Heir. I think we've been taken for fools long enough." Elder Wiggins responded sadly.

"Don't feel too bad, Elder. You at least had the safety of the colony as your goal. Just remember, Dyan is a Holding of seven colonies. None of us has to stand alone."

The three non-mages nodded and Sidell dismissed the council. Elder Doane and Elder Yemin remained. "You can't leave us like this. I need my powers."

"A month, Elders. That was not a joke and it is important. I'll return in a month if Aurora agrees and we'll have you reinstated. For the time being, I suggest you learn to integrate with the people because the payments will stop and that facility will be opened to the public. I don't like segregating the populace, it leads to all kinds of problems and I will not tolerate it," Tristian replied heatedly.

"I'll call the Leader on this," Doane threatened.

Sidell smirked, "Good, at least I'll know that you do know how to reach her."

Emma and Aurora arrived the next day and were immediately pounced on by the mages.

Tristian lounged comfortably on the beach letting the waves wash over her body, enjoying the cool breeze. "Sire," she greeted Aurora absently.

"I never knew Prader," Aurora mused. "Good thing, I'd have killed her."

"Tch, and Sidell says I'm bloodthirsty."

"Ahhh, Tristian, their training is so screwed up I'm just happy they're mediocre mages. Someone would have gotten hurt a long time ago it they weren't."

"Hmmm," Tristian murmured encouragingly.

"I'm not sure what to do. I need to re-teach them the basics but they refuse to believe they're doing anything wrong."


"Aye, I spelled them out of sheer frustration."

"Well then, use the truth."

"And that is?"

"Either they learn it your way, or they won't have any powers left to worry about."

Aurora laughed for the first time in that frustrating day. Amazingly enough, the lessons progressed at a faster pace.

They topped the slopping hillside at noon and stared down into the crescent shaped colony that nestled snuggly up against the sea. Helene looked like a typical colony, the sound of merchants hawking their wares, children playing in the distance, and multitude of colors dancing in the sunlight as the women went about their business, their garments lending a gay aura to the serene backdrop of the colony structures.

"Pretty," Tristian commented as they watched the bustling activity.

"Helene is primarily a fishing colony. They supply the seafood to most of the Holding. The mages here do get a percentage for transporting the goods but then they are part of the industry and they work just like the rest of them. If assistance is needed of any other kind, the offer is freely given."

Tristian noticed the faint outline of a large ship on the horizon.

Sidell shrugged after having it pointed out, "Probably returning to port after a couple of days haul."

They watched as two columns of women made their way cautiously through the heart of the colony, mounting up once in the open. After several verbal exchanges, the group split up and started an easy canter across the ground headed for the distant horizons.

Sidell grinned as she watched her lover's eyes spark in interest. "You're not thinking of following them are you?" Knowing the women were the Scouts detailed to the colony.

"Maybe," Tristian teased. "See what they're up to, get a reading on the colony." She laughed and smiled sheepishly, "You mind?"

"No, love. I'm just giving you a hard time. I'll go on in and wander around. I'm not sure I've personally met anyone from here. We speak often with the Council but there's never been a need for me to come here in person. Mother does that usually. It could be fun, I'll just be a traveling nobody."

Tristian kissed her softly, "Just keep your traveling self out of trouble. I should be in on the morrow. I'll trail them for a bit and see if they're any good. Probably camp the night with which ever group I catch up to and start back in the morning."

"All right. You keep yourself out of trouble, warrior. You're still suppose to be taking it easy."

Tristian laughed, "I'm trailing scouts, how hard can that be?"

"Ohhh, you wait till I tell Maria."

Sidell waited until her lover disappeared into the forest. Shaking her head at the woman's ability to blend in with her surrounding, Sidell pointed Summer towards the colony. "Come on, girl. Let's find you a treat. Maybe some sweet oats?"

Summer whickered agreeably and they ambled down the gentle slope.

They passed through the colony entrance garnering interested stares but no one moved to stop them. Sidell dismounted as she reached the congested heart of the colony and soothed Summer leading her carefully to the common stables. She was just finishing Summer's brushing when a smooth voice interrupted her musings.

"She's beautiful, Lady. Well trained from the looks of her, too. Was that your doing?"

Sidell laughed gently, turning to face the woman speaking to her. She saw a tall, wiry woman with short bristled hair dressed in leather trousers and a soft jerkin. The woman gave the impression of whipcord strength. "Nay, Lady. I do well to ride her, luckily she takes good care of me and we manage well together."

"Veril, Lady. I did not mean to intrude but I noticed your entrance and the mare caught my eye. She is a beauty. May I?"

"Sidell then," she responded politely. "And I wouldn't recommend approaching her, Veril. She's not very sociable and I'd just as soon not see you harmed."

Veril of course immediately stepped forward to stroke Summer's broad forehead.

Summer snorted and tossed her head in warning.

"Now, now," Veril crooned, "I'm not gonna hurt you." She continued moving forward and Summer's ears flattened as she stomped and snorted. Her eyes rolled and Sidell moved forward.

Veril ignored Sidell's warning and stepped into Summer's stall.

The mare reared. Holding her upright position she hopped forward, striking out with her front hooves.

Veril dove to the side and hastily backed out of the stall.

Summer dropped and eyed her suspiciously.

Sidell frowned at the woman on the ground and shook her head. She set the saddle on the stall beams and the spare pack in the stall itself. Summer nuzzled her and Sidell soothed her for a bit. Finally, she closed the stall gate and turned looking at Veril. "Did you think I was lying?"

"Ah, well, not lying. Perhaps I doubted you. I normally have a way with horses, Sidell, and I'm surprised she attacked. Are you sure she's safe to house here?"

"Don't even go there, Veril. Summer is perfectly fine so long as no one enters her stall. That shouldn't be a problem since no one should be in there anyway."

Veril shrugged doubtfully, "As you say, Lady." She smiled at Sidell, "Since it's obvious that you're a visitor, mayhap I could show you around?"

"I'd like that," Sidell agreed. "Let me get a room arranged and then I'd be pleased if you could point out a tavern. I'm a bit hungry."

"Aye," Veril replied, "I can do that. Allow me," she offered, neatly lifting Sidell's bag and hefting it over her shoulders. "This way, m'lady. The Flying Fin would probably suit you for both the tavern and the inn."

"Perfect," Sidell agreed following the woman as Veril headed outside. Sidell was a bit concerned about Veril's stubborn display with Summer but soon shook it off in the sheer pleasure of enjoying the colony.

Tristian rode quietly through the woods keeping to a winding path that paralleled the squad of scouts she was trailing. So far she was pleased with her scouts. They kept a cautious eye about them, didn't indulge in horseplay and appeared to work well together. She also realized that one of their mages seemed to be sensing her presence since the woman kept darting glances her way. Tristian felt the subtle mage probe pass over her and she smiled in approval. Very good, she thought, the mage had a light touch and anyone else trailing them would have had to have been aware of subtle shifts in energy to have known they were being probed. Tristian's own shields were a carefully woven combination of her own mage gift and the powers blessed to her as the Mother's Own. A mage probe would pass over her identifying her as a natural part of the energies of the land. The mage, however, was not convinced. Very good, Tristian approved.

"What's up, Jen? You keep glaring at the woods,"

Jenel sighed and turned to her trail partner. "I'm not sure Addy. My mage senses are screaming but I can't for the life of me find anything to worry about."

Adain's eyes flicked to the woods and she turned back to the frustrated mage. "I've not the gift but I assume you probed?"

"Aye, and probed again. I don't want to tell the Captain in case I'm wrong but I can't shake the feeling that we're being followed."

Adain nodded and spoke softly. "Tell, the Captain, lass. Let her make the call. You've been through all the schooling anyone can give you...tis time you trusted your instincts."

Jenel hesitated but then slowly made her way forward. Keeping a steady but slow pace she tried to reach the Captain without alerting the possibly watching forms she felt shadowing them. "Captain?"

"Aye, Jen?"

"Pardon, Captain, but I've a feeling we're being trailed?"


"Couldn't say. Just started picking up warning signs about an hour back but now, my mage senses are really screaming."

"Couldn't find anything for sure?"

"Nay, Captain. I could be wrong but I wanted to tell you just in case."

"Good job, Jen. What we'll do is keep on for a bit and I'll start splitting the squad out in pairs. It will look as if they're headed out to scout ahead and I'll have them double back."

Tristian smiled gently as the young mage moved up the column and she knew the game was up. It was not her intent to have the scouts haring off all over the land searching for her even though she was fairly sure she could give them the slip. As the two women in front began to speak, she moved Shadow up through the deep woods heading for an opening in the tree line that would bring her out in the open a short distance in front of the patrol.

"Captain," another scout interrupted the ongoing planning.

"What?" Captain Beyden snorted.

"Rider ahead. Just come out of the woods there."

The women looked ahead at the rider now sitting her mount in the middle of the trail they were on, obviously waiting on them.

"Tis the watcher, Captain," Jenel murmured. "Even here, where I can see her, my mage sense cannot find her and all I get is a gentle touch of a somewhat foreign energy."

Beyden considered that quietly and made a mental note to speak to Aurora about that. Perhaps the honored mage could explain it.

They halted and fanned out in a semi-circle around the mounted stranger.

Tristian's eyes gleamed in amusement and fastened on the youngster. "Well done, young mage. I see that I need to compliment my Sire on her training abilities or should I compliment you on your skills?"

Jenel flushed in pleasure and smiled shyly, "Nay, young heir, tis your Sire's training that stood me in good stead. Seems she might have suspected her offspring to pull such stunts."

"Spoilsport, just wait till I get home," Tristian muttered in mock annoyance. "What did she say?" Tristian asked then turned to Beyden, "Captain, with your permission I'd like to travel with you for a bit?"

"Of course, Commander," Beyden replied in surprise, "we'd be honored."

Tristian fell in beside Jenel and looked to her in inquiry.

"Ahhh, Mage Mardred was trying to teach us to not only read the obvious signs our mage sense provided but also the subtle clues that are difficult to unravel and yet there to see." Jenel grimace realizing that explanation had been just about as clear as mud. "For example, you, Consort, read the same as the natural energies on the land...mostly. Besides that reading, there is a constantly running current that seems to ebb and flow about you. It's subtle and for the first hour or so after I felt it, I really thought I was imagining it."

"What made you sure?"

"Once I'd sifted through my senses and managed to lock onto this subtle current, I realized that it, whatever it was, was keeping a parallel course with us. Didn't matter which direction we were traveling in, the feeling never faltered, never deviated, never left. Now the one thing Aurora drummed into us was that anything out of the ordinary, no matter how big or how small, was always worth monitoring simply because it was out of the ordinary. You, Commander, or rather, the aura you project to my mage sight, qualifies as out of the ordinary. I admit though, if not for Aurora's teachings, your sign is so minimal I would have brushed it off as a mere current in the land's energies and put it from my mind. Had I done that, I suspect I would have never found you again."

Tristian grinned in delight, "Well, I'm impressed and you do yourself a disservice. True, my Sire's training showed you what to look for but you, young one, trusted yourself and your gift enough to follow your instincts. That is always the hardest lesson, so, compliments to you also, young mage."

"Jenel, Consort. I am Jenel Riser, our Captain is Lea Beyden and we're based out of Helene."

"Aye, Jenel, I know. I followed you from there." Tristian remarked impishly.

Lea Beyden sighed in mock annoyance, "Scouts," she snorted eyeing the group around her in disgust, "the best in the land, feh, we've been trailed since we left home and nary a peep from my diligent trackers."

The women looked around sheepishly but they patted Jenel in pride as they fell back into position. Tristian laughed in delight and Jenel beamed.

Tristian clasped her shoulder companionably and turned to join the Captain. "Nice day," she remarked drolly, her humor high and her spirits soaring at the beauty around her.

"That it is, Commander. Can I ask what brings you out?"

"Here, with you? Nothing really. Sidell and I were just approaching Helene when the two squads pulled out. I felt the need to..." she smiled gently and looked around her, "enjoy the day and decided to follow one of the squads. Yours just happened to have turned in the direction I was closest to."

"Ahhh," Lea murmured in complete understanding. There really was nothing to compare the feeling of being out on the land with. It was just something you had to have inside of you to understand. "I know that feeling, Consort. Not much compares to being surrounded by the beauty of the Mother."

Tristian grinned and the two shared a moment of silence at their surroundings. "Now, as to what brings us about in general. Long story. Seems our colonies have begun to take advantage of our Leader's busy schedule. We've found a few problems in both Hilltop and Westlock. One truly horrific, the other," she shrugged, "not that bad but the potential was there for great harm. I thought it time to visit the rest and Helene just happened to be the colony closest to Westlock."

Beyden considered that for a moment and commented, "Perhaps you'll figure out what it is that sends us out of the colony on several false leads. Especially since it happens regularly."


"Aye. Every three moons or close enough to it. The Warrior's Commander gets some kind of plea for help out in the back of beyond. We can't just ignore it so we end up trekking out for two or three weeks only to find that no one there knows what we're talking about. Gets old but we all enjoy being out and about so it's no fuss really. The colony itself doesn't appear changed's hard to decide if I'm just a suspicious old goat or if something's really up."

"Might this be one of those times?"

"Aye. We're headed out for what will take approximately three weeks. Dillon's squad will be gone a little over a month."

Tristian sighed, "I should have known. Trust Sidell to find trouble without having to look for it."

Lea laughed, "I could be mistaken," she offered.

"Aye. I'll mind that but...I doubt it." She shook it off, "Never the less, she doesn't expect me until the morrow and she's perfectly capable of keeping herself in one piece until I get there. Let's enjoy the ride, Captain and you can brief me on whether we've had anymore trouble with the land going awry or the beasts changing into strange creatures."

Sidell casually wandered through the colony enjoying the brisk no-nonsense manner of the merchants. She stopped at several shops and haggled for a full candle mark over the price of a scarf. The final offer and acceptance caused the two women to burst into laughter an instigated a round of applause from the gathered spectators.

"Ah, Sidell," the merchant chuckled, "Tis a good thing for me you're just passing through. I'd lose my shirt to you in the bargaining."

"Really, Estelle," Sidell protested with a grin, "I'm not that bad. I'd leave you your shirt...maybe."

The merchant's smile lit her soft honey brown eyes, "Tell you what. I'll forgive you for skimming me profits if you buy supper."

"Done," Sidell laughingly agreed. "Name the tavern and don't suggest the Flying Fin."

Estelle snorted in disgust, "As if. I likes me meals hot and hearty. Nay, my friend, we'll meet at the Crow's Nest. My eldest will be here in about two hours and I'll start thataway." She pointed out the distant building.

Sidell agreed and they parted amiably with Sidell turning to amble curiously along the docks.

She found a warm sun baked bench and sat enjoying the stiffening breeze of the on coming eve. The water lapped gently against the pier and she squinted to watch the ship they'd seen that morn settle into the docks.

The raucous bark of orders saw women scurrying around the ship and piling down the ramps looking like a busy ant hive. Sidell chuckled softly at the ensuing chaos and she leaned back comfortably as the ship was slowly unloaded. Her interest sparked suddenly when two rows of shackled women were herded to the pier. Sidell watched astounded, as the populace didn't appear to notice. It wasn't that the people ignored them; it was more as if the people didn't see them. Curious, Sidell went in search of her merchant friend. "Estelle, tell me what you see over there," she asked casually pointing at the group shuffling past.

"What?" Estelle peeked over, "Them? That be the crew from the Lady Luck."

"Crew?" Sidell nibbled her lip in thought. "What, exactly, are they wearing?"

"Tunics and trousers," Estelle answered gruffly, "What does it look like to you?"

"I..." Sidell hesitated and then grinned sheepishly. Wiping her eyes she muttered, "Maybe I just had too much sun?"

Estelle patted her arm chuckling. "Well we'd best get you inside. Me girl's here now so how bout that supper?"

"Aye," Sidell agreed absently as she watched the shackled women in filthy shifts struggle up the path. "They've a place set aside for them then?"

Estelle turned back to what she saw as a well-dressed and decently behaved crew. "Aye," she answered. Elder Vars owns the Lady and she's set up housing for the crew. Barracks type, like the warriors and scouts use, ya know? It's up the path there behind her property."

"Ah," Sidell mused quietly, "She owns the large building at the top then?"

"Aye," Estelle nodded, "and she claims the plateau it sits on."

"Hmmm," Sidell responded softly as the entered the tavern. Her stomach growled anxiously at the tantalizing aromas filling the air.

The morning sun found Sidell strolling along the top of the plateau. She eyed the home warily but continued to walk boldly as if she had every right to be there. She didn't appear to have attracted any attention and she found an open pasture further back full of prancing horses. Grinning, she moved closer and caught sight of one of the prisoners repairing the fence. The woman was now clean and so was the dark brown shift she wore.

The woman looked up eyeing her suspiciously but Sidell ignored the look and moved up to stand beside her leaning casually on the upper rail. "So, what exactly did you do to rate this special treatment?"

She heard a surprised gasp.

"You see me?" an incredulous voice asked.

"I'm not talking to the pole," Sidell replied wryly.

"No," the woman growled in agitation, "I mean me, the real me. Do you see me?"

Sidell turned to her slightly, "Let's see, dark hair shoulder length, dark shift, definitely not tailored, strong build, possibly several years older that I. Oh and wearing an interesting set of bracelets."

"Alwyn bless," the woman breathed, "you do see me."

"Aye," Sidell agreed complacently, "so what did you do?"

"Made the mistake of bringing a string of mounts here to sell."

Sidell merely raised a brow in query.

"I'm a horse trainer, Lady. A damn good one but I'm alone so I run a small operation. I needed cash and I had six of me own ladies trained up good. That cleaned out my stable but I'd worked a deal with a mate of mine. We'd go halves and start a real farm and training place." The woman scowled. "I came here first and got some good bids at the fair. Was feeling pretty happy with life in general when this tall lean horse idjit showed up wanting to prove she had a way with horses. She started to crowd my lasses and they don't like that much. They got a bit rambunctious. Upshot was, the Elder here declared them dangerous and offered me twenty drachs a piece for them."

"See, Lady, me lasses start the low bid at 100 drachs. Was an insult and I told her no thanks. Before I could finish packing and leave to try elsewhere I found myself in a mocked up trial accused and convicted of maiming that fool woman what crowded my lassies. They said she'd been hurt bad when the girls started to fuss. I say bull, the woman walked away easily. They made up some penalty, shipped me out to this place and I've been providing free labor ever since." She paused for a bit and muttered, "It got real strange after a bit. When we went into the colony, it's like the people didn't see the real us. They'd wave all friendly like as if we'd known each other for years."

Sidell murmured, "They see the crew of the ship. Dressed properly in tunics and trousers. There's no reason for them not to be friendly."



"Doesn't seem to affect you?" She stammered, "Ah, pardon, that was none of my business. I'm Ches Annon, lady, and I'm just glad to talk to someone that can see me."

"No offense taken Ches," She eyed the woman curiously. "You wouldn't happen to know a Ceil Annon, would you?"

"Aye," Ches smiled sadly, "me younger sib. I've not seen her in years now, Lady. Do you know her? Is she well? Is she here?"

Sidell laughed gently at the barrage of questions. "Let's see. Yes, yes, not quite."

Ches scowled and Sidell chuckled softly.

"Sorry, Ches, I couldn't resist. I'll tell you all about her when we get out of here. The rest of the prisoners? Are any of them dangerous?"

"Nay, lady. From what we've all traded talk on, same story for them just different merchandise. Seems this colony keeps whatever catches its eye. With or without the owner's blessing."

"Not the colony. The Elders." Sidell frowned, "I'm getting sick of the Elder council." She grinned wickedly as her eye caught three warriors storming their way. "Oh goody, I'm about to be caught."

"Lady, take off. I can distract them. Go for help instead, Lady. Please?"

"Not to worry, Ches. We'll have more help than we'll need and the council more trouble than they've ever dreamed of. You protect yourself, Ches. Blame everything on me, it's okay, I can manage well enough."

The warriors didn't appear to be concerned about their prisoner. The apparent leader of the group stared intimidatingly, "You," she barked out at Sidell, "what's your name?"

"Sidell," she answered with a gentle smile.

"You came here on that honey coated mare?"

"I did."

"Well she's injured a citizen. You're under arrest."

"Let me get this straight," Sidell replied with a frown. "My mare, the one locked in her stall, opened the gate, walked into the street and injured one citizen?" Her voice raised an octave, her tone clearly incredulous.

The leader's face darkened in anger, "Don't smart mouth me. You'll only make this worse. Come along quietly, the Elders have convened a trial and we're to escort you there. We've been searching for you all morning."

Sidell's head cocked in gentle amusement, "The warriors of Dyan answer to a simple Elder of Helene?"

The woman cursed but Sidell's attention had turned from her and she watched Summer being led into the pasture. Two ropes secured around her to make her behave. They led her inside the fence and released her. Summer snorted and charged the fence.

Sidell released two sharp whistles calming her angry mount. She didn't want Summer harmed. She'd grown to love the mare and she was certain Tristian would turn the plateau into a smoking hole in the ground.

Two warriors grabbed her roughly and shackled her wrists together.

"Now," the leader snarled, "If ye don't shut up, I'll gag ye."

Sidell's eyes glinted in amused anger and she watched the leader's posturing turn wary. The woman stepped back and motioned her accomplices forward. "Bring her."

They escorted her back down to the colony where the hastily convened trial was being held. They entered the colony common hall and her escorts placed her in the center of the half-moon shaped floor space obviously used as a placed to be judged or tested. Sidell eased herself back on the hard, high back chair, crossed her ankles and stared firmly at the Elder in the foremost seat.

Continued in Part 5.

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