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 7

The Elder rose and spoke in a clear dulcet voice, "I am Elder Vars of the Elder's Council of Helene. You are here on charges of maiming a citizen of Helene by bringing in a rogue mare. Citizen Veril warned you of the danger. She felt the need to see to the safety of our people since you refused to do so. In trying to minimize the damage she was injured. How plead you?"

"How did she get injured?" Sidell asked curiously.

"The mare struck her with her hooves." The Elder replied.

"Was this after the mare let herself out of the stall?"

"What do you mean?" the woman asked unwillingly.

"Summer, the mare in question here, was locked in her stall. The stable keep had been instructed to allow no one in there with her. Since no one entered the stall, how did Summer get out?"

"Lady," a stout woman rose to the consternation of the Elder. She remained standing until the council recognized her.

"Speak then, Taks," Elder Var bit out sharply.

Taks grinned wickedly, "T'was Veril again, just like the last time with the horse trader, Lady," Taks explained to Sidell. "Veril insists on claiming some kind of charm over horses. I told her time and again to stay away from the lass. I returned to my chores and next thing I know Veril's opened the gate and had the mare backed up against the wall. I could see the lassie was upset as all get out and rushed over to pull Veril out of there when the lassie reared. She tossed Veril into the wall of her stall. She stomped and snorted a bit, Lady, but I swear she didn't lay a hoof on the woman. I eased in talking the mare down and she settled nicely seeing as how I wasn't after her. I pulled the idjit out and shut the gate. Veril woke and stomped off. I guess she complained cause a couple of them bully warriors came in with ropes and took your lassie off. T'was glad I was she knew what a rope meant and she went off with them, unwilling but not fighting the rope."

Sidell smiled her thanks and turned to see what the Elder had to say. She didn't have to wait long and heard the expected reaction.

"It matters not," Elder Vars growled. "Tis obvious to me your mare is a danger to the people. What if it had been someone else?"

"No one else is that stupid," Taks spat in anger.

"Be seated, you've had your say but Veril's story proves you lie. She says she never entered the stall and I truth spelled her. It's obvious that you, stable keep, are lying to me."

"Spell me, Elder. And redo the spell on Veril in front of witnesses."

"Sit down, woman, or I'll have you removed." She turned back to Sidell. "As for you, I'll pay you twenty drachs as fair payment for your loss and allow you to leave our colony. Refuse me and you'll work in the penal squad until you've made full restitution for our citizen's injuries."

Gee, Sidell chuckled silently. This sounds so familiar. She cleared her throat and responded in a voice that carried gently throughout the room, "I request a higher review of the trial. It's my right as a citizen of Dyan, Elder, will you send the request?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Elder Var sputtered, "our Leader has more important things to tend to than to be summoned to review a case that has been proven to the Council's satisfaction."

"That is not your call to make, Vars," Estelle spoke up. The people murmured in agreement. "You've not the right to deny the lass her request. Once made, only the Leader can deny it."

Vars stared out at the crowd angrily. "So be it, I'll mindspeak our Leader and return with her answer."

"That makes me feel so much better, Elder." Sidell drawled lazily.

"Be still woman, it will only take a minute."

While the Elder went off into a trance, Sidell had never seen that much effort put into a mindcall before, she herself summoned her mother. She also took the time to check on her lover who happened to be riding into the colony.

Tristian had left the Scouts before daybreak having decided that she'd best be prepared for the trouble Sidell was bound to find.

Returning her attention to Elder Vars, she smiled as she felt her mother port in at the rear of the hall and her lover approach the hall entering silently. Elder Vars was apparently having a difficult time of it, her face squished in anguish, her eyes squeezed shut, sweat beaded on her forehead. All in all, Sidell admitted it was a remarkable performance. The woman sagged suddenly and the four other members of the council rushed to support her.

"Forgive me," Elder Vars stated weakly, "The mindlink is taxing." She took a sip of water and gazed at Sidell steadily. "It is as I suspected. I spoke with the Leader and she is too busy. I've been instructed to carry on as I see fit. Now, you've heard my terms, your answer?"

"Why don't we hear what Mother really has to say," Sidell asked impishly.

"Your mother?" Vars asked in minor confusion, "What does your mother have to do with anything?"

"Well, Elder, you claim to have spoken to our Leader. Since our Leader is my mother, I thought I'd ask her what was keeping her so busy."

Emma had strolled up the walkway as Sidell spoke and the council looked at her in some discomfort.

"So, Vars. Still pulling the 'I've spoke with the Leader' bit are you? I thought we'd cleared that several years ago?"

"Emma," Vars stuttered. "It's...I...didn't see a need to bother you. It appeared to be a clear cut case."

"Hah," the people shouted in laughter. "Clear as mud to us, Vars." Estelle chortled.

Emma turned to her daughter, "Is there some reason you're still wearing those things," she asked looking pointedly at the shackles.

"Well, taking them off would have given the game away, Mother." Sidell grinned warmly as the shackles dropped to the tabletop. "Before we go further, there is some kind of spell working that I cannot place. The Elder here has about a dozen unpaid laborers at her residence." Sidell paused as the crowd murmured in shock.

"That can't be, Sidell," Estelle stammered. "All the prisoners were released after making full restitution. We saw them leave. One by one over time but they all left. We'd have never allowed that to happen."

"Aye, Estelle. I figured that. It's probably why the spell was set." She turned to Estelle, "You know the crew I asked you about?"

Estelle nodded in confusion.

"I didn't see the same thing you did, Estelle. I saw twelve tired and filthy women in shifts. You saw a well dressed crew."

Emma's brow rose and she turned to Vars. "Leader...I don't know what she means. I've no idea..."

"Vars," Sidell muttered impatiently, "be realistic for a moment. We're headed up to your place after we're done here. Mother will see them. Your trick doesn't fool mages, Vars. That's why I saw them as they truly were. Mother will see them also. Just tell us what the spell is and what in all of Riger do you need all of those horses for?"

"It's not her, my heart," a warm mocking voice wafted across the room. "Oh, I've no doubt she instigated the whole thing but she truly does not understand the spell. Seems we've got a bit of an earth mage here and she's been tinkering with a small node."

"Can you find her?"

"Tch, what kind of question is that?" Tristian asked reasonably moving forward to join her mate. She winked and extended her hand to the floor in front of them. A hum of power filled the air and a thoroughly shocked Veril stood there, her eyes darting wildly. "Ah, ah," Tristian chided holding the woman motionless with a gentle murmur. "Behave, my lady has questions."

Sidell shook her head and grinned at her lover, "Show off."

Tristian bowed gallantly, "For you, my heart."

"Will a truth spell work on her?"

"Aye, there's not much difference in her magic. She can just coax the node to support her; I'll check it and reseal the node. It's possible she's got it shielded and since I called the smaller nodes remotely, I didn't realize I'd missed one. I'll take care of it now."

"Okay, mother and I can handle this. Why don't you go on up to the plateau and release those women. You also need to settle the Warriors since they've been answering to Vars. I've yet to find their garrison Commander." Sidell turned to Estelle.

"The Commander spends most of her time at Vars' place, Lady du Aulstet. The Consort will most likely find her there."

"Thank you, Estelle, and please, the name is Sidell." She shooed Tristian off, "Hey, you probably know one of the women there." She grinned mischievously and shooed her curious lover out of the hall.

Ches saw the approach of the tall dark warrior on the dark horse as she topped the plateau rim. Curious, Ches cautiously made her way across the pasture to see who'd come now. Six of the largest and meanest warriors strode out and surrounded the woman obviously trying to intimidate her. She saw one of them drop bonelessly to the ground never seeing the mounted woman's foot strike her. Then the warrior was on the ground and the sound of muffled blows and the distinct crack of bones filled the air. By the time Ches reached the side of the pasture closest to the action the dark warrior stood alone and looked her way.

Tristian stared at the woman curiously; she looked slightly familiar but the shift and the hair made her unsure. She turned and approached the woman slowly, hoping she wouldn't try to run with the leg irons on. When she could finally get a good look she broke into a wide grin and ran forward quickly. "Ches? Goddess bless it is you?" Tristian hugged the older woman carefully and dropped her back to the ground. "Here, let's get rid of these things." She breathed a command and the shackles broke open. "There now, give a hug."

Ches gripped her hard, "Thomas? Thomas what's going on? What are you doing here and how did you just set me free?"

Tristian laughed, "Ahhh, questions as usual, eh Ches." She looked around as three women stepped out. "What do we have here?"

"The Commander and her two cronies," Ches muttered. "Watch em, they're damn nasty. Made some of our guardians look like angels."

"That bad?"

"Aye. Watched em strip the skin off one of the youngsters for sport."

Tristian's anger rose darkly, "Stay here."

The Commander glared at her, "Abetting a prisoner is an offense punishable with incarceration."

"Abusing a prisoner is punishable by the same punishment administered, Commander. However, you're lucky. Abusing the trust of the citizens and myself is punishable by death." Tristian growled and drew her blade.

The three women armed themselves quickly but the fight itself was obviously nothing but a lark for Tristian. In less time than it took Ches to worry, two were down and the Commander was trying to hold her innards inside.

Eyes filled with shock looked up at her, "Who..." she whispered.

"I am Commander Mardred." Tristian told her quietly. It was the last thing she heard and Tristian didn't even know her name.

Ches froze as cold violet eyes turned to her but she relaxed as the gaze warmed and Tristian's head cock impishly. "Love the duds, Ches. It's soooo you. Wait till I tell Ceil."

Ches looked down in disgust, "Well it's all I've got. They worked me till my clothes fell off and threw this at me. It's all they let us wear."

"Well, in an effort to keep your dignity in tack, allow me." Tristian gestured and Ches found herself clothed in comfortable trousers and the soft jerkin she preferred to wear. "Thomas, you've got a lot of explaining to do."

"Aye, my friend, and I will. But let's clean this place up and release the rest of your mates. Then we'll head down to the colony and see what's going on."

"If you say so. I'd just as soon collect my lassies and head on out." Ches laughed softly, "But I'll stay, I'm too nosey and as I recall you always could find the damnedest trouble to get into."

"Me?" Tristian protested, "Wait till you meet Sidell. Then you'll see trouble." She laughed harder as Summer galloped up and bumped her imperiously. The mare had jumped the fence having spotted her mother and her favorite human. "Hey, girl. Sidell got you in trouble too?"

Summer pushed against her chest and Tristian scratched her lovingly.

"She's beautiful. Well trained from what I've seen."

"Aye. I've had them since both were colts. This one," She patted Shadows proud neck," is her momma. This is Shadow and Summer."

They rounded up the rest of the women and ensured the house was empty of further occupants. "Do you know what the scam was?" she asked Ches curiously.

"Aye. Seems they've found another land cross the sea. Took us over when ever they went over to trade. This land's called Baylon and they needed horse flesh. They'd trade those pleasure drugs and silver. There's probably quite a stash down in the cellars."

"Not for long," Tristian crooned heading down the stairwell. Tristian destroyed the drugs and ported the roomful of silver down to the colony square. She chuckled imagining the scene below. She located and sealed the node then did a final check around the area. The horses were allocated to the women in compensation and each received a hefty sack of silver as thanks and apologies from Dyan. Tristian waited for Ches to say her goodbyes. None of the others cared to see Helene again and they were going to see if they could salvage anything left in their lives. Tristian advised them to contact her if they needed anything in the future. Then she clapped her friend companionably, collected their mounts and rode back to the colony.

Tristian grinned as Sidell stood in the center of the square, hands on her hips, glaring at her lover.

"What?" Tristian asked innocently.

"What? There appears to be silver appearing in thin air. Vars is apoplectic, the women are abasing themselves and thanking Alwyn loud enough that even Mhyr should be able to hear them, the colony's in uproar and the warriors are trying to find their Commander. Don't sit there and ask me...'what'!"

Emma walked out of the Hall, "Consort," she greeted Tristian with a chuckle as Ches' eyes widened even further. "It would appear that you've a tale to tell."

"Nay, Leader. My friend here knows it best. Can we do this over lunch? I missed breakfast seeing as how I needed to get back earlier than I'd planned." She dismounted and hugged her lover gently smiling softly as Sidell relaxed in her arms. "Hello, my heart."

Sidell kissed her gently. "So, I was right? You do know Ches?"

"Aye. But when did you meet her?"

"She's the one I was talking to when they took me prisoner. Although, I don't think I introduced myself properly."

"Let's take care of that over something cool and filling. She looked around at the women and scowled. A clenched fist and thunder shattered the air, causing silence around them to descend. "That's better. Listen up, just divide this up evenly between all of you and clear the square. And somebody find me a tavernkeep, dammit, I'm hungry."

A round friendly face approached, "Alright, Consort. I'm coming; I'll have a meal ready for you shortly. Let me get my girls and ask Estelle if she'll take care of grabbing my share."

"No need," Tristian offered, "I'll handle that seeing as how you're feeding me."

The woman smiled her thanks, grabbed her three helpers and they bustled off.

"Uhmmm, Consort, not to be a pain but..." Estelle pointed to the silver and the colony folks. Tristian frowned and turned to Sidell who sighed. "Oh sure, it's your idea and I'm suppose to divide the loot?"

Tristian pouted, Ches burst into laughter.

"Alright," Sidell closed her eyes and scoured the colony with her magesight. Counting the citizens, she neatly stacked the coins into appropriate shares. The odd leftovers went to Dyan's common fund. She turned to Estelle, "Can you take it from there?"

"Aye, young heir." Estelle turned shouting orders and a ragged line formed. She handed Tristian the shares for the women at the tavern and turned to passing out the rest.

They exchanged stories over lunch and turned to settling the colony.

"I'll take care of the Council, their replacements, and that mage," Emma muttered.

"Alright," Tristian spied a warrior and ordered an immediate gathering in the common hall. "I'll settle the Warriors but Puck owes me big time. I'm doing all her work."

Emma snorted in amusement and Tristian eyed Ches. "I don't suppose you'd like a job?"

"Nope. I was gonna start a farm when I got held up here. Now," she hefted her share of the silver, "I don't need a partner and I'm gonna do it anyway. I just need to find a good spot."

Sidell smiled, "Why don't you ride out east to the border? Three maybe four days out of Hilltop you'll find a village just outside our borderline. See the magistrate there. You could set your training farm on either side of the line. I think you'll be pleased."

"I could do that, Sidell. Take me about two weeks to cross the colony."

"If Tristian were polite she'd take you there."

Tristian grinned. "Sure, I'd love to but you'll have to wait until I get the Warriors settled."

Ches shrugged, "I'm full, free, and I've money to spend. I can wait."

They left at dusk and Tristian returned to Sidell's side after watching the tearful reunion of siblings long separated.

The last two colonies were closer to Freelock. They were well run and quite happy. Tristian had Puck check on Helene and Emma made plans to visit the land called Baylon in the near future but had forbidden trade with the land until that time. Veril was given a reprimand to stop her tricks or risk losing all of her powers and the Elder Council was replaced with women more interested in the welfare of the Colony. Estelle and Taks were two prominent members. Vars was sent to Freelock and would provide public service for her abuse of her position and the prisoners.

It was a beautiful day in Freelock and Tristian increased her speed as she took the final turn that would return her to the colony. The run had been especially pleasant this morning since the breeze was crisp and the scent of autumn filled the air. She planned to finish sealing the land and would leave in a week. Sidell would remain and assist Puck in settling the warriors. The scouts had blossomed into a force large enough to equal the Warriors and Tristian was faced with splitting them completely or joining them as a single unit. She hadn't decided and both Puck and Maria had arguments both pro and con. Tristian decided it would hold until her return.

She slowed as she entered the colony proper and smiled in greeting to the women already awake and bustling about their business. She loved this colony. Loved the Holding. She'd never been so happy and sometimes she just knew she'd burst a vessel with the excitement and joy that would overtake her. To make everything even better, Sidell was pregnant. Five months and Tristian was as anxious as any parent could be. Alternating between cosseting her lover to brooding that she wouldn't make a good parent. Thankfully, Sidell had more than enough patience for the two of them. She'd tolerate Tristian's solicitous attitude for a small period before gently diverting her lover's attentions elsewhere and coax her out of her dark moods with loving touches and tender passion.

Tristian entered the Baker's Brew having washed and changed to join her lover for breakfast. She was surprised to find Staunton and Felice Adair seated at their table.

"Don't frown, my heart. Come over here and join us," Sidell teased her with a grin. "Staunton has managed to keep from scowling or fainting amongst all this common stock.

Tristian chuckled and kissed her lightly, "You are so bad."

"I hear congratulations are in order, Consort." Felice Adair offered with a gentle smile. She truly liked the two women and was glad to see they were doing so well. She'd never known Tristian as a youngster but was well aware of the hatred she'd grown up in. Felice was pleased the tall woman managed to put it behind her and embrace the life she lived.

Once she was settled and eating happily Emma picked up the discussion. "Tristian, Mhyr is having serious trouble with the Guardians. Seems they've taken to abusing all of the citizens of Mhyr rather than just the commoners. Staunton has been sent to ask us for assistance and has a signed petition from the nobles to support us in any manner we wish if we would tender assistance. I've considered it but I'm still of the opinion that since Mhyr is a Holding in its own right, it is not a matter that I want the du Aulstet's involved in. I did say I'd ask if you'd consider helping.

Tristian considered the information she had on Riger. With Mhyr's people leaving the Holding, the land between Dyan and Darena, the next Holding after Mhyr, was populated with villages ranging from small homesteads like Adeena's to villages resembling the colonies in Dyan. The village of Wet Springs, the one located on Dyan's border was the largest and many of Dyan's women had moved their farms closer to the border. Ches' business venture had bloomed with Ceil there to assist her and the traveling merchants frequented her stables for mounts. Women from as far away as Dram came to her for mounts. All in all, the land was pretty much under Dyan's control. While the Warriors did not interfere with Holding affairs, any lawbreakers caught in the free lands were treated to justice administered by Dyan. Would be rapists were given swift notice of the change of the guard when a pack of them were caught in the act after having stopped and killed a small family. The three women were horribly abused. Maria herself castrated the five men responsible and watched them bleed to death. She left their naked bodies staked upright as a warning to all. Non-consensual sex was not permitted and the penalty obvious to any who dared to look. With the people prospering across the land, it was time to settle Mhyr but... "They'd support us in any manner, Leader?" Tristian finally gave voice to her thoughts.

Emma shrugged.

"Yes, Tristian," Staunton assured her.

"I want the Caste System revoked."

Staunton choked but Felice merely smiled in acknowledgement.

"You can't be serious?"

Tristian shrugged.

"Who would take care managing the Holding?"

"Who's doing it now?" Tristian asked reasonably.

"Why, the nobles of course."

"And a fine job they're doing, Staunton. That being the case, I see no need for Dyan to interfere."

"But..." Staunton stuttered incredulously as Tristian rose.

"I've things to do, Staunton, and no time for political nonsense." She kissed her lady, winked at Emma and made her way to the door.

"Well," Sidell said with a grin, "that answers that."

"Emma, please?"

"Staunton, what exactly, do you want us to do? Remove the Guardians from the Holding?"

"Yes, no, I...We need a Commander and perhaps some reinforcements until things can get straightened out."

"We don't have a noble to give you, Staunton. How will you resolve that problem?"

"The nobles have agreed to put a commoner in place unless Tristian is willing to take the position."

Sidell glared at her, "I live in Dyan, Staunton. Why on Riger would my mate move to Mhyr?"

"You could come with her. It would be perfect."

Emma chortled in glee. "Ahhh, I see it now. Mhyr wishes to move the Royal House to Mhyr thus extending Dyan's control there. A fine plan, Staunton, to bad no one here wants to play."

Emma rose, "I've council matters to attend to and Sidell needs to meet the Warrior's Commander, excuse us. We've much to do."

"Emma," Felice rose also. "May I accompany you?"

"Not if it's your intent to badger me." Emma replied easily.

"It's not. Staunton and I disagree but I'm a minority in the vote. I merely came because I wished to see Dyan."

Emma smiled and offered her arm, "Then it is my pleasure although, council meetings are notoriously boring."

"Not half as boring as ours I'd gather," Felice laughed gently as the two left the tavern.

Sidell eyed Staunton still unsure on how she managed to get stuck with the woman. "Well, I suppose you could come and listen to our common Commander, Staunton. Knowing my lover, she'll be hiding from you for the rest of the day. Else you could watch Aurora's training class."

"I'd prefer to accompany you. Mages I know nothing about but seeing how the Warriors are managed may be helpful to me."

"So be it," Sidell rose stepping out ahead of Staunton.

"Puck," Sidell smiled easily.

"Sidell," Puck returned in greeting looking casually at her companion. "This is Staunton Grier from Mhyr. You remember her I trust?"

"I do." Puck responded making no further effort to extend a welcome to the stuffy woman that preferred to ignore her.

"Be nice," Sidell warned. "Staunton is curious on how it is that the Warriors are so professional compared to the Guardians."

Puck snorted, "From what the Scouts tell me, the Guardians are merely following the examples set forth in the Holding. Take care of yourselves first and it matters not who suffers."

"That is not true," Staunton growled.

"Isn't it, Leader?" Puck challenged, "Tell me then, how does forcing the populace to live in near poverty conditions, limit the say that they have on the daily control of their lives, and allow the so call protectors of the Holding to abuse them with no recourse on their part, viewed as having a care for what is best for the people."

"It is not like that. We have full say in our daily affairs. We can change anything we want, whenever we want. I don't know where you people are getting your ideas from but they are wrong."

"So, you say that the women that keep the lanterns lit in the Holding may decide that they'd rather be merchants. That they could, in fact, begin making jewelry and set up a cart to sell them?"

"Of course not," Staunton stuttered.

"You just said you have full say in your daily affairs."

"We do, but they...they're commoners."

"I see, so when you say 'We' you mean the nobles."

"Yes," Staunton seethed.

"And what of the rest of the people? There are not that many nobles in Mhyr, Staunton. The majority of the population is commoners or merchants. What of them?"

"What of them?" Staunton shouted, "We know what's best for them. They need to be kept in their place else they start putting on airs and who knows what will happen?"

Puck shook her head. "Right, I'm sure that Mhyr is a wonderful place to live, Staunton. No doubt that's why all of those villages have appeared through out the land."

"It's a phase," Staunton replied, evenly, drawing an amused snort from Puck and sheer astonishment from Sidell.

"A phase?" Sidell squeaked.

"Of course. They're commoners, the villages will fail shortly because they can't possibly manage the affairs of something so complex."

"Staunton, define shortly. Several of those villages are almost a year old and all of them are growing."

"We expect them back any time now, ready to return to their places and allow those that know best to take care of the major decisions."

"Goddess bless," Sidell fumed, "I have never in my life meet such blind, pigheaded, stubbornly ignorant people." Fully exasperated she turned her attention to Puck and ignored the irritated Leader of Mhyr.

"So, what's up?"

"Maria and I have been talking," Puck returned as they entered the compound and moved over to watch the training sessions. "I'm going to recommend combining the forces. With the small compounds we've established throughout the land we could actually garrison smaller companies about the land." She grinned as Maria joined them still sweaty from her last match.

"Aye, Sidell. We figure a force of twenty-five women at each compound. There are 12 of them in existence now and we could handle that. We may have to recruit again."

"I've a better idea," Sidell murmured, eyeing the two carefully. "Open the warriors to the populace in general."

They looked at her guiltily and shuffled their feet.

"It's been suggested," Sidell asked in amusement.

"Aye, we thought it was the silliest thing we'd ever heard."

"And now?"

"We still think it's pretty silly but...with you and Tristian proposing's possible our own bigotry is causing us to ignore the potential such a union would bring."

Sidell was proud of them. It took a lot to acknowledge that. "What you could do is ask for volunteers from Dyan to see what the interest is in entering a world with men. Once you know that, I'd take a ride and talk to Ceil. If Wet Springs agrees, I will fund the building of a full training center outside of our borders."

"Aye," Maria nodded, "that would solve the training problems since I'd rather not have men running around rampant in Dyan."

Sidell nodded and she'd no intention of changing the rule. "Right. We can move our trainers out there to initially train trainers." She smirked, "boy did that sound weird."

The two laughed gently. "Yea," Puck agreed, "Ceil may even assist since it's not as if she needs to be sitting on the walk all day long. And with the troops there, her need will actually diminish."

"Then extend the offer, if they are willing and ask if she'd like to take on as a permanent trainer for the warriors."

"Shall we change the name of the troops?"

"No. They will answer to Dyan therefore, they will represent Dyan."

Staunton couldn't hold her questions back any longer, "I don't understand. You are the Heir, why are these women questioning your decision."

"Cause she's never led a military effort, Staunton." Maria snapped. "Sidell has never even held a blade, devised a strategy, or assembled troop movements. She can't possibly know what she's asking and is willing to allow those of us trained to do things like that the right to tell her she's daft or she's got a good plan and we need to look it over more. That's why. It's the reason we are so organized. Our Commander's are qualified and no one, can tell us to do anything that would be detrimental for the Holding. Unlike others I'm aware of."

Sidell grinned, "She's right. It's your biggest problem in Mhyr. You insist that your nobles know better. How can they, Staunton? They've never been in the position to learn what it takes to do any kind of work. How can they know better?"

"Because they are nobles." Staunton argued stubbornly.

"Must be osmosis," Maria smirked. "They absorb it from thin air."

"That's about how effective it is too." Sidell agreed.

"Alright," Puck agreed. "Let us go over what we've got, take the time to talk to Ceil, get a feel for how many of our people want to be out there. I'll suggest it to Tristian at our briefing this afternoon and we'll see how it plays out."

"Good," Sidell smiled. "And don't forget it's just a phase. The villages will probably all be empty by the time we're ready having moved back to Mhyr because the nobles know best."

Puck chuckled and Maria snorted in amused disgust.

Sidell merely smiled, "I think it's time we brought Riger together."

"Ignoring Mhyr, will not accomplish that," Staunton pounced.

"Mhyr cannot integrate with the Caste System. No one else in the land subscribes to it and the only place it means anything is in Mhyr. What would you have me do? Any outsider allowed into your Holding will ignore the system, get themselves thrown in your jails and be subjected to slave labor. I will not allow that and the people all know this. They stay away from Mhyr unless they wish to bow to the will of the nobles."

Emma smiled as her daughter entered the office. "Should I apologize?"

"Yes," Sidell exclaimed in mock annoyance. "I don't know how you stuck me with her."

"Did you stick her in a ditch?"

"No," she huffed and smiled at Felice. "She went off to hold a telecom with Mhyr. Alwyn only knows what they'll come up with next."

"I see, and your mate is...hiding?"

"Of course. She's locked herself up with her Sire. They've modified the mage training course and Tristian is providing more extensive training. The same as she's doing with the fighters. Once they reach the highest levels our trainers can provide, she takes over." Sidell grinned, "She was pretty excited though, seems Erin is in this class."

Emma smiled, "Now there was an outcome I was happy to see. I was truly afraid we'd lost those youngsters."

Sidell grinned, "Maybe we could keep Mhyr as a training ground. It worked."

"I don't understand," Felice asked curiously.

Sidell explained the five youngsters Tristian had sent to Mhyr to live as commoners for a year.

"And it worked?"

"Aye, they all came back with an understanding of how it felt to be held down merely because of who your parents were and all of them have joined the scouts. But Erin, she really matured. She found her own heartmate, they've established a booming business, and she participates in the scouting of the land to keep the people safe. Jastyn, that's her mate, still sends half her earnings home to help the family but I think her mother has started putting it aside as savings. They're doing very well and the money is no longer necessary but it makes Jas feel better and Erin loves her too much to deny her anything. Erin and Tristian have become very good friends. I think a lot of that has to do with the family Erin joined into are like a second family to Tristian herself so she makes an extra effort with Erin. But Erin adores her so I'm glad that all worked out so well."

"So, what next?" Emma asked casually.

"I am going to take a nap," Sidell answered and yawned. "I'm a bit sleepy."

Emma kissed her forehead. "You do that, take care of yourself. I can't wait to bounce my grandbaby."

Sidell woke in the early evening surprised to find herself surrounded in the soft warmth of her lover. "Hey," she murmured softly waiting for those glorious eyes to open. "You okay?"

"Uhmmm." Tristian murmured. "I guess I fell asleep." She grinned, "You looked so adorable I had to snuggle after my bath...I guess," she shrugged sheepishly.

"S'okay, I don't mind waking in your arms."

Tristian held her tenderly and they lay there soaking in the warmth of their bond. "Puck tells me you've convinced them and they've recommended we open the warriors to outsiders."

Sidell smiled softly, "No. They just decided to review their decision after we both made the same recommendation."

Tristian chuckled, "I didn't want to push the issue. I'm much more comfortable with the male gender so it's not a big deal to me. But I wouldn't have forced it...too many chances for accidents and misunderstandings if this merging is not accepted openly."

"I figured. Knew it had to be something like that. It was a very good idea and I was surprised you hadn't just initiated it. Then I thought about it some more and came up with that conclusion."

"Hmmm, Maria is taking her squad out tomorrow and headed to Wet Springs." Tristian paused, "You know, Maria has been spending an awful lot of time in Wet Springs."

Sidell chuckled, "Imagine that. It wouldn't have something to do with a certain tall, dark, ex-guardian would it?"

"I don't know. Lot's of people there now but...maybe." Tristian fell silent and then, "If we put this together, I'm gonna wanna train the first couple of squads. I want to be sure they can interact with each other as equals, set the tone for the rest of the program and show that the House of du Aulstet supports the inclusion of those normally considered to be outsiders."

"I figured. No big deal. Wet Springs has grown so much it's almost like being home. Perhaps you should look at building us a residence there. We can let Puck or Maria use it when they're in town and we aren't."

"Hmmm, I like that. There is a particularly nice spot just on this side of the border. I'll check into it."

"Good. Now, we need to get up. Mother is calling another damn meeting involving Mhyr."

"I know, Jardin was sent out there again. I wonder who she brought back with her."

"Don't know, my heart, but I'm sure well find out soon enough. They're waiting at Mother's, we'll talk over supper."

"Good, I'm hungry."

"You two are just in time. Anya had dinner sent and they're preparing to serve."

"Perfect, Tristian is hungry. I don't suppose she brought some sweets."

"For you?" The woman in question boomed, "Of course I did. Your favorite."

"Hey, what are you doing here?"

"I wanted to be sure everything was right. Tis a new recipe I'm trying and..."

"You're nervous," Tristian supplied.

"A bit," Anya agreed happily. "But, here we go."

Tristian sniffed the air suspiciously and she turned to Anya watching the woman's large smile. Tristian grinned, "You've been trading with Lucan."

A full-throated laughed echoed. "Of course. I've been hearing for months now how wonderful, how talented, how excellent the woman's food was. You didn't think I could let that go unchallenged did you?"

"So what's the surprise?" Sidell asked curiously. The aromas were mouth watering but she couldn't place them.

"Lucan makes an absolutely incredible seafood dish. It's got a bit of everything in it, a thick broth and it's..." Tristian groaned, "exquisite. It wasn't often we'd get it because Mhyr is so far from the sea but occasionally she'd arrange to have Dram fly in some of their catch. With transportation being so easy here I'm assuming she sent word through the scouts to work a trade arrangement with Helene if she's parting with her secret recipes."

"Aye, Consort. That she did and business for her is booming. However the trade came about because she wanted one of Inna's specialties and that was the cost of the trade."

"Then it was an even trade. You and Inna are the closest competition she'll ever have."

Anya returned to the kitchen and Emma urged them into the formal dining room. "Come on, we've got more company and I'm not sure yet why I haven't thrown them out."

"Because it is within you to attempt to help," Tristian answered wryly. "Don't doubt me saying this, it is a commendable trait for a Leader to have. Mayhap we can find some agreement to assist."

Emma just chuckled and opened the door. "Joram Lionae, Charlen Vost and Richert Merdan. Apparently the three leading Houses in Mhyr."

The two men and single woman carefully eyed the Heir and Consort as they entered. Tristian refrained from scowling, barely, but she did. Sidell smiled softly in welcome. "Welcome to Dyan, I trust your trip was pleasant?"

"It might have been if refreshments or small snacks had been provided."

"It's a transport," Emma snapped, "not a luxury craft. We could have let you come on foot, Merdan."

"Forgive me, Leader. I'm's been stressful. I'm not used to having to do so much and my servants were not allowed to attend me."

"Well I hope you can eat by yourself cause nobody here is gonna feed you," Aurora snorted in disgust.

Sidell's eyes rolled, it was going to be a long night.

Felice snickered and turned to Sidell, "What's in the kitchen? My mouth has been watering since I stepped through the doors."

"A new recipe," Sidell explained. "Tristian's the only one that's ever had it before and she's about ready to storm in there and just commandeer a pot."

Tristian grinned sheepishly but Anya's people bustled in and began serving.

Tristian dug in eagerly and her eyes closed in blissful delight, "Anya, you do her justice you do. I'll have to tell her so when I'm there next."

Anya beamed. "Tis good then, not to much with the spices?"

"It's perfect," the happy Consort affirmed.

"I'll be on my way then, Emma. Everything's set and the girls know what to do. I just wanted to be sure this was right and now that I've got Tristian's blessings I'm satisfied."

Emma waved her out, her mouth full with the delicious treat. She noticed the nobles had no trouble digesting common food. She laughed internally, smacking herself for such uncharitable thoughts.

Conversations had begun as Tristian polished off her third helping. Sidell merely smiled at her indulgently. Two women brought out two trays and Sidell hummed in approval as the trays were set on the table and lit with a flame for several seconds. The nobles stared in amazement. With the flames doused they began serving and Sidell groaned in anticipation as her mouth watered.

"Sidell," Felice laughed gently, "I still want to know where you put your food."

"Oh no, I fell for that last time," Sidell answered between bites and gently slapped her chuckling mate. "Hush, you."

The table was cleared quickly, the desert plates collected and everything cleared and cleaned up. Emma thanked the women graciously and they left to head back and report a successful evening to Anya.

"I'm surprised," Richert spoke gruffly. "The common fare was almost equal to our noble establishments."

Felice chortled in amusement. "Don't be an ass. The noble establishments have yet to figure out what to cook let alone how to cook. It's just that their clientele have such low standards they assume they are proficient. If they were here, they'd be out of business within a week."

"Really, Felice," Joram chided, "that's not quite true."

"Alright," Felice agreed, "make that a day." She laughed loudly at the scowling nobles. "Let's be realistic, Sidell would not step foot in one since she found it disgusting. How do you think others here would feel?"

They ignored her and turned to Emma, "Leader, Staunton has told us that there is a problem with Dyan answering our request. May I ask what it is?"

Emma quirked her lips, "Didn't she tell you that also?"

"Well, it's best to hear it from the source, sometimes, the translation leaves a lot to be desired."

"Right," she answered sarcastically. "Alright, Mhyr is a Holding of its own. A fully separate entity from Dyan and I have no true jurisdiction in it. Also, having Dyan step in to oversee another Holding sends a message across the land that I am not prepared to send. While I will and do take responsibility for Riger as a whole, I will not arbitrarily dictate laws in another's Holding." She smiled, "Was that clear enough?"

"I see," he murmured. "Staunton has also stated that perhaps an arrangement could be made that would make use of your Warriors rather than having your House become actively involved. Is there a problem with that?"

"Tristian will have to answer that question, Richert. My answer may not be accurate in the translation."

"Yes. Staunton did mention something like that but, I don't understand, you are the Leader. A simple command would suffice."

Emma grinned, "No, it wouldn't. The Warriors do not answer to me, Merdan. I could not order them to do anything and they would ignore any order I give."

" do you control them?"

"I don't. That should be obvious. I never have, the Warriors are an entity to Dyan and they have never answered to a Leader in their entire existence."

"That's unreasonable," Charlen exclaimed.

"No. It ensures that the Leading House does not exploit the power that commanding the Warriors can bring. The Commander doesn't answer to me and ensures that I don't take advantage of them. At the same time, I provide a counterpoint to the Commander and if abuse is taking place I may act with the unanimous agreement of the full council." Emma smiled, "Keeps any one person from having too much power."

"I see," Reichert said softly. "So, young Mardred, your reason for not assisting us?"

"I offered, with one condition. My condition was not met and I will not put my people in a situation that is fraught with danger knowing the Noble Houses will only attempt to take advantage of them. No. I will not."

"Surely we can compromise."

Tristian scowled but Emma reminded her gently, "You agreed to try, Consort. Perhaps we can."

"What is your fear, love?"

"The Commander I put in place would be bound to answer to any silly ass complaint these idiots could dream up. Rather than keeping the populace safe, which is my concern, she will find herself enmeshed in trying to make the life of the Nobles easier. Up to and including providing escort services to and from their dwellings whether the distance is across the street or across the Holding."

"What's wrong with that?" Joram demanded. "It's our right to be able to feel safe in our own Holding."

"It's the right of the populace. My concern is that none of you give a damn about the populace and the only reason you're now asking for assistance is because they've started to harass the Nobles. Why didn't you ask when they were harming the rest of the people?"

"You can't speak to us like that," Charlen whined.

"On the contrary," Aurora Mardred inserted, "by your own standards, daring to argue with Tristian is a punishable offence. She is my Heir, people, let us not forget that."

Silence fell as the three squirmed under Aurora's cool gaze.

"A compromise," Sidell spoke softly, her hand resting casually on her lover's taut arm. "We send help but...the Commander and the warriors accompanying her answer only to Dyan. They will ignore any order given to them by any person in Mhyr. They will conduct themselves as they would here and the good of the populace comes first in Dyan."

"That's ridiculous," Merdan slammed his hand on the table. "She could not possibly know what is an important matter and what is frivolous."

"Then counter the offer," Sidell challenged gently.

"She answers to Staunton."

"No," Tristian replied icily. "Staunton is a well trained lap dog and well used to carrying out the bidding of the Nobles while hiding the truth behind the guise of doing what's best for the Holding. I will not agree to that."

Staunton considered being offended but finally just shut up. She was out of her league and the supposed commoner was more than a match for the Nobles of Mhyr.

"You're being unreasonable."

"I don't see it," Emma put in. "You've come to us asking for help for your people. But the suggestion that would best protect your people you deny. Who, exactly are you trying to protect and what, exactly do you want?"

"We want Mhyr back the way it use to be," Joram replied in exasperation.

Sidell smiled gently, "Have any of you stopped to consider exactly when it was that things began falling apart?"

They looked at her in confusion.

"I'd lay odds it was shortly after Flain Martin was killed and Tristian removed from the Guardians. It got worse when Tristian left Mhyr. The only thing I see in common is that your Nobles are now running the Guardians." She smiled softly, "Merely an observation."

"That's not true. Althea kept them in control."

"No...she kept them from bothering the nobles. Tristian kept them from bothering the populace. With both of them gone, you've still got a noble in command. What's the problem?"

"I...we don't know. The Commander cannot control the Guardians and we aren't sure why."

Felice clucked, "Tch. She can't control them because she can't figure out which way she's suppose to hold that sword. They laugh at her when she tries to reprimand them. The fact remains that we have incompetent people in charge. Nothing will change until that is fixed."

"We're trying, dammit," Reichert growled.

"No. You're trying to fix the Guardians but..."Felice smiled wickedly, "the Guardians aren't in charge."

"You go to far, Adair," Charlen warned.

"And you're going to do what? Whine?"

"This is getting us nowhere," Reichert barked.

"I'm still waiting for an acceptable counter," Sidell reminded them.

"Commander Mardred could take control of the Guardians." Reichert threw out.

Tristian laughed, "Oh yes, I'm just dying to rush back to Mhyr. My lady is here, my life is here, and neither my mate nor our child will live in a Holding that practices bigotry and hatred. That's damn funny, Merdan, damn funny."

"You would be treated to the finest Mhyr has to offer? You would be honored as the royal couple, why not?" Reichert entreated.

Sidell shook her head, "We have that. And more. Here we have friends, loved ones, family. What can you offer to compare to that? Prestige means nothing to us. Having people fawning over us is embarrassing not to mention irritating. Sorry, as I told Staunton, I will not move to Mhyr. Why should my lover choose to move there?"

Reichert growled in frustration, "So, our options so far. Revoke the Caste System or have a Commander that answers to no one in the Holding."

"That about sums it up," Tristian answered, moving to the bar.

"We've got that new batch of wine in from Southlock, Ariel said you'd probably love it." Emma offered.

"Did she? Well then, I'll have to try it." She looked up at her lover, "My heart."

"A small glass, please." Sidell answered rising to join her. "Anyone else?"

"Don't you have servants?"

Aurora sighed and rose to collect her own drink motioning the two of them to reseat themselves.

Tristian swirled the wine gently inhaling the fragrant bouquet. She sipped and swirled it about her mouth letting the fruity taste burst over her tongue. Smiling she nodded to Emma, "She was correct as usual. She should sell this batch, it's a good press."

Felice finally rose and served the three nobles since no one in Dyan planned to help them. She sat shaking her head in disgust.

"This is excellent," Charlen murmured. "Perhaps we could trade for some of it?"

"We have no trade agreement with Mhyr. We would have to consider it." Emma replied cautiously."

"You have trade agreements with others?" Reichert asked suspiciously.

"As a matter of fact, we do. The other three holdings and several of the larger villages."

"But it did not occur to you to establish one with us?"

"Be careful, Reichert. There is much that I will accept, being reprimanded in my own Holding is not one of them."


"As for why none was established, you have nothing to offer us." Emma spoke bluntly now having run out of patience.

"That may be true but we could use some help in getting enough food. A trade agreement would assist that."

"Reichert, if that's your need, you are supposed to initiate the offer. Not hope we come to you begging you to buy things from us," Emma snorted in amusement. "What kind of idiot are you?"

"We do not normally ask for things, Leader. Surely you can see our position. The other Holdings come to us and offer."

"Well, sit on your ass long enough and anything might happen." Aurora muttered her attention turning to Sidell and Tristian who were murmuring softly. "Everything alright?"

Tristian looked up. "Aye, she's tired though and I'm gonna take her home."

"You'll be back?"

Tristian's brow rose in amusement.

"Silly question," Aurora admitted. "Must be the environment."

"But..."Joram sputtered, "we haven't reached an agreement."

Tristian shrugged, "There's always tomorrow. Perhaps you can come up with another offer. So far, I will only agree to the one I made or the one Sidell made." She grinned nodding at Felice and turned, "Emma, Sire, good eve to you both."

"Get some rest you two. I'll see you at breakfast."

Sidell smiled at them and they returned to their home in relief.

Part 8

Sidell smiled in welcome as her lover entered the tavern to join them for breakfast. "There appears to have been a concession made over night."

"Was there?" Tristian asked in surprise. "And that is?"

"They agree that the Commander, and the warriors, answer only to Dyan."

"But," Tristian replied sensing the hesitation.

"They want Puck."


Reichert sputtered his punch over his tunic. "NO! We are attempting to come to an agreement and you're being stubborn."

Tristian smiled as Anya delivered her meal. "I'm not being stubborn, Merdan, but I have other obligations besides a Holding that cannot control their own Guardian force." She grinned at Emma, "We're opening a training center over the border in Wet Springs."

"We are?" Emma responded in surprise.

"Aye. We're gonna combine the warriors and scouts and then, open enlistment outside of the Holding."

"Damn..." Emma murmured in surprise. "I don't believe it. Really?"

"Aye. Dyan will remain a Holding of women but I'm accepting applications for postings throughout the land. I plan to garrison a small group of no more than twenty-five warriors at the compounds the villages have built. There are twelve of them so...we need to recruit. Maria's gone to ask Wet Springs if they mind having the training center as part of their village but I don't foresee any concerns."

Emma sat silently, slightly stunned. "Let me see. We...Dyan...will be posting warriors across the land? Outside of our borders?"

"Aye," Tristian answered with a glint of amusement.

"I'll be damned. And we're accepting men?"

"Aye, but they won't be posted in Dyan." Tristian grinned, "Since this is a major step, as you can tell by the shock on our Leader's face, I cannot release Puck or Maria until this initiative is fully off the ground. I expect that to take a year or more."

Aurora entered with Selene and the three nobles stiffened as Aurora pulled a chair out for her.

"Be careful, Noble," Tristian purred dangerously, "slight my mother and I will rip your throat out."

"Tristian behave yourself," Selene scolded. "No throat ripping at breakfast."

Tristian relaxed slowly and chuckled softly. "Forgive me. I'll try to remember that from now on."

Aurora merely snorted, "As if."

"Hey," Tristian objected. "I said I'd try." She turned back to Selene, "You enjoyed your visit to Dram?"

"Aye. Della sends her regards and wants to know how come you can wave your hand and make things appear and disappear but you can't find Dram."

Tristian chuckled. "I deserve that, I suppose. I'll see if I can't stop off there after I leave Mhyr."

"You're going back to Mhyr? What for?" Selene asked in surprise.

Tristian could just see the sarcastic comment hovering on Joram's lips and she waited patiently for him to make a fool of himself. Unfortunately, Reichert also saw it and he silenced the man with a glare. "Apparently they need some assistance. I've agreed and will be placing a small force there for a small period."

"How small?" Sidell asked curiously.

"What, the force or the period."

"Yes," she agreed with a giggle.

Tristian chuckled, "I figure twenty-four women, it's easy enough done, I'm gonna pull two scout squads. That way I don't have to move the entire holding around to keep the warriors force balanced."

"Ahhh," Sidell beamed at her proudly, "I had wondered how you planned to do that."

Tristian nodded at the compliment. "I'm also pulling Das as their Commander. I'll be going with them for a week or so to make sure their role is completely understood and to help them settle the worst of the offenders. After that, Das will handle things easily. I will be removing them in three months so I'd suggest Nobles that you come up with another plan. Once the worst offenders have been removed and the rest of the Guardians take notice that the rules have changed it would be a simple matter to put in a competent Commander and have the same effect. I'd offer to train one but Das will be considered a commoner and none of your nobles would benefit from her training so...I leave that in your hands. Keep in mind I do mean three months from the day we arrive."

"Can we meet this woman?"

Tristian turned to a rowdy table in the back, "Das? C'mere."

"Aye, Consort," Das replied standing at Tristian's elbow.

"Say hello," she performed the introductions and Das nodded in acknowledgement. "I'll tell you why you met them at the morning brief."

"Aye, Consort." she answered returning to her tablemates.

"She seems...young," Reichert offered.

"The position is non-negotiable. Only whether or not we would help was an option." Tristian answered firmly. She kissed Sidell and bid them all a good morning.

Sidell turned to Emma, "I'm off to Southlock. I want to check on the children and I've offered to assist Ariel in some of the Holding policies that she's a bit confused on."

Emma laughed, "Why? They've never abided by them before."

Sidell shrugged, "She wants to teach them to the youngsters. She feels, since the integration, that having the next generation fully conversant of our policies will be beneficial to all."

Emma grinned and warned her to not overstrain herself.

The Warriors arrived in Mhyr on a sunny morning. After a briefing given by Staunton, the Guardian's Commander was relieved of her position and Das put in her place. She called a full briefing ordering every Guardian present to attend.

Das snickered as she entered the compound and noticed that although most were present, it was obvious that many had chosen to ignore the command. She sat and waited knowing her people were out in the colony and the rest of them would be rounded up and present shortly.

She pulled a chair onto the podium and sat quietly studying the group in front of her.

"Are we waiting for something in particular, Commander?"

"Aye, the rest of the crew."

"Begging the Commander's pardon but...most of them are nobles and it's doubtful they'll come."

"Oh, they'll come. It remains to be seen if they stay." Das replied honestly. "But, we could chat, if you like. What kind of Guardians do we have here?"

"I'd say fairly honest, very over worked, extremely frustrated, and pretty much fed up," a woman answered wryly.

"And you are?"

"Sergeant Beale Sleit, Commander."

"Alright, I'm Das and it's my preference to be called as such. How are all of you with weapons?"

"Lieutenant Mikal Vost, Commander," an older man spoke softly. "Most of us are pretty good, we can hold up our end of a fight. We've some new ones amongst us just getting the hang of it..."

The door opening interrupted him and a large group of women entered, belligerent, loud, and pushing others out of the way.

"Brianna," Das called out, "settle these idiots."

Bri smiled and threw the group of them up against a wall holding them there with no effort at all.

Das smiled in approval and noticed Tristian easing in to sit in the back of the room. The rest of the Guardians entered quietly and seated themselves with a minimum of fuss.

"," a loud voice rasped out. "You can't do this to us."

"Don't be silly, I already am." Das replied humorously. "Choice, settle down and work or get out. Leave my meeting and you'll be stripped of your rank and position. Those are your choices for the time being. Later, if you stay, you'll have more."

She waited for comments but the women merely glared at her. She nodded to Bri who let them down. Half of them bolted out the door laughing.

"You marked them, Bri?"


"Take five of the warriors, find their quarters and throw everything out into the streets." She turned to the room, "As of now, they are no longer part of the Guardians. Anyone allowing them onto the compound or into the barracks will join them." She paused, "Questions?"

"Their folks won't like it."

Das shrugged, "Tough." She continued when no further replies were offered, "Alright, I want the current schedules and postings, I'll be reviewing them and changing them as necessary. All of you out to the training yard, let's see what we've got to work with."

The Guardians filed out and Das sent the warriors into the colony to keep the peace. Tristian had already disappeared and Das knew the departing group would soon have more trouble than they'd know what to do with.

Das had the women square off against each other, she monitored them and soon had them separated in groups that were equal in abilities.

"Alright," she turned to a younger private, "name?"

"Private Meryl Leita,"

"Step up here." She turned to the group, "Alright, Meryl here will be training you. I expect each of you on this field daily and practicing what she's gonna teach you." She turned to the surprised youngster, "What?"

"Uhmm, nothing, Commander. I mean Das. You really want me to train them?"

Das scowled, "Of course I do, did you think I was speaking for my health?"

"I guess not."

"Alright, you've got the basic moves down and that's what they need to learn. Start at the beginning exercises and work them up until they're proficient. You will train with the next group." Das did the same thing with the next group introducing them to their trainer. The final group she called together, "The rest of you will train with either myself or one of my people." She started them all and worked them for the better part of the morning breaking for the noon meal. "Come back here in an hour and we'll get to work."

"Geez," a woman muttered. "I thought we were working."

Another snickered, "If'n you haven't noticed, our new Commander ain't broke a sweat yet."

Tristian meanwhile had found the worst offenders pushing rudely through the merchant's square.

"Damn common bitches," Rafe Lionae snarled, "who do they think they are. Get the hell out of my way, old woman." He pushed her over and had time to recognize a fist aiming for his favorite nose. Two more came to his rescue with no more success and they lay groaning on the ground. Tristian eyed the other six and grinned, "Next?"

"Oh no, Thomas. Not me. What do you want?"

"This shit stopped. Leave the people alone."

They muttered sullenly but pulled their friends up and moved off quietly.

"That won't last," Tinder muttered from her side.

"No, it won't but they're afraid of me. You guys will have to settle them yourselves but the notice has been given so, have at it."

Tinder smiled, "With pleasure, Consort."

The same routine continued for the first three days with Rafe flying into a rage when he found out no one could reinstate him to the guardians. Tinder broke three of his ribs before he stayed down. But the difference in the Holding was beginning to show and the people began smiling and greeting their protectors.

"Excuse me?"

Trey looked up to the speaker on the top of the stairs," Lady?"

"Could you escort me to the market?"

Trey turned to look at the market a half a street away. "It's right there, Lady, have at it."

"I want an escort," the woman demanded.

"Sorry, Lady. I've my rounds to make. You'll need to attend the market yourself or find a friend to accompany you, I've not the time." An ex-guardian pocketing a bauble from a merchant caught Trey's attention. A well-placed sword hilt saw the man on the ground and the bauble back in the merchant's possession. "Shera, take this imbecile to lock-up."

The warrior grinned and dragged the imbecile away.

"See," The woman on the stairs wailed. "See? That's exactly why I need an escort."

"It's exactly why I can't escort you," Trey replied in exasperation. "I need to be free to keep the scum from harming everyone and the market is as safe as it's ever been."

"Escort me now, or I'll report you to the Leader."

Trey shook her head and wished her well continuing on with her rounds.

After day three, Das posted the new schedule posting several guardians with a warrior. This took the strain off of the warriors and gave the guardians some idea of how things were being handled under the new regime.

"You want me to what?" Meryl whispered anxiously.

Tinder scowled, "I want you to go up there and bop that idjit harassing the poor woman."

"But he's a noble."

"He's an idjit," Tinder replied heatedly before accomplishing the task herself.

Meryl stared at her in stunned silence as Tinder dragged the unconscious woman to lockup.

Tristian grinned at the cell full of disgruntled citizens. Staunton, Reichert, Joram and Charlen stood beside her. "So, Staunton. What do you think I should do with these nobles?"


"Well, I know what I'd like to do with them but I'm giving you four the first option."

"Perhaps you should let them go," Charlen said in exasperation.

"And what shall I do if they end up back here again?"

"They won't, they're nobles. Our nobles are never in trouble."

"Wrong answer. Second offense will require them to assist in repairing the barracks and the compound."

"What!" Joram screeched. "That's unacceptable."

"Look. These people are the ones that have been stealing from the merchants, beating up the citizens, yes including the nobles and ripping off homes. That's what you wanted stopped, isn't it?"

Reichert snorted, "I don't believe it. They've obviously been set up."

Tristian shrugged, "Then we'll leave them here and see if it happens again."

"You're joking?"

"No. I'm not. I'm also not going to waste my people's time or effort. If you refuse to face reality than feel free to live in your fantasy and I'll take my people home."

"Perhaps we should call a council and see if there has been that much of a change," Staunton suggested.

"Good idea." Merdan agreed haughtily, "I'm sure we'll hear that nothing has changed since it's obvious to me the culprits aren't here."

The merchants, however, were effusive in their praise, even those that worked in the Noble Square. The Nobles complained that the warriors were rude, insolent, and bad mannered but all agreed that the worst of the thefts and beatings had dropped markedly. Staunton looked extremely upset and the other three disgruntled.

They still demanded the nobles be released but agreed to Tristian's demand that they assist in repairing the barracks on a second offense.

Within two days most were back and disgusted to find themselves working like common laborers. Within three weeks Tristian was comfortable enough to leave. The guardians were fully assisting the warriors now. The nobles had come to understand that all prisoners, regardless of their station, were treated the same way. The barracks shone and the compound had been restored to pristine condition. Current prisoners were starting on the stables.

Tinder and Trey grinned at her. "What should we do with them next?"

"Start on the square. A lot of the merchants could use a hand in fixing their stalls, then houses and so forth. Don't forget, there is always ditches, sewage holes and trenches to dig."

They both smiled in delight as the Consort ported out.

"When's Tristian coming home?" Emma asked over breakfast.

"She's gone out to finish sealing the nodes," Sidell mumbled. "I'm gonna meet up with her in Dram."

"You are," Emma looked up anxiously. "Will that be safe?"

Sidell hesitated, "I don't know and she doesn't know I'm coming but...I need to be there." They still hadn't fully explained the happenings in Mhyr when Tristian sealed the two master nodes. Tristian never bothered because no one else could understand. Sidell knew she had to try. Her mother was gonna have a cow but at least she'd know why her daughter was placing herself at risk. "In Mhyr, with the assassins and everything..." she turned to Aurora and Emma. They nodded and she continued. "Tristian also found a large node and some...entity controlling it. She had to fight it to clean the node and this entity escaped to the part of the land she's clearing now. I expect she'll find a third node and the final battle between them will take place there."

"All the more reason for you to stay home, Sidell." Emma added reasonably.

Sidell nibbled her lip and spoke gently, "I almost lost her the first time. When the two master nodes bonded...the power was incredible and Tristian...lost her sense of Self. She didn't remember being anything but the Mother's Own and would have remained in her embrace if I hadn't been there to remind her." She paused and looked evenly into her mother's concerned eyes. "I won't lose her, mother. Not for anything in this world. I need to be there and I will be there. If it takes everything I have to bring her back to me...then so be it."

Tristian sat Shadow quietly as she gazed out over the barren field. She could feel the raging anger emanating from the final node, the sickly taint to the mother's womb. She burned to repair the damage but wanted to consider the options. She'd drained the node last time but between fighting the entity, clearing the taint and feeding the node, she'd almost lost her own sense of Self. She couldn't do that again. Her senses prickled and swamped with the warmth of her lover's presence and she sighed, having known Sidell would come and dreading having her here.

"Live with it, warrior." Sidell murmured gently, laying a hand on Tristian's tensed thigh.

Tristian smiled and dismounted. "Seems I've little choice."

"You've got that right," Sidell agreed settling herself comfortably against her lover's tall frame.

Tristian was unsurprised to see Aurora and Emma bracketing them protectively.

"So, what's the plan," Sidell asked quietly.

"That's what I was working on," her lover retorted. "Unlike others I could name, I try to have one."

"Hah," Sidell giggled.

Tristian sobered, "I think I'm gonna try this differently. I tried the normal, drain and replenish but...I don't think I need to do that and it's more taxing. I'm gonna feed it."

"Is that dangerous?"

"I don't think so. For a brief period, whatever that thing will have a lot of power but it won't be familiar enough with it to launch a full attack. My plan should completely obliterate its consciousness and return it to the mother's embrace."

"And yourself?" Sidell asked in concern.

"It's why you're here, my heart. And I do thank you for that though I'd prefer you were somewhere safe."

Sidell pulled Tristian's arms tighter around her gently swollen abdomen. "There is no where outside of these arms that I can be safe, my love. Remember that and come back to me."

Tristian hugged her tight and kissed her softly, "I will, my heart."

Setting herself she sent the call for her bondmate back across the nodes that were now sealed to her. She felt the power grow, felt the air crackle but she held steady with Sidell secure in her embrace. Shadow danced off to find some shelter, Aurora and Emma soon followed, unable to withstand the pulsing energies swirling around the two women.

The node in Mhyr answered its bondmate and the Consort took on a burnished sheen of silver, the aura around her expanding rapidly, the air fairly oozed power and the taut heightened sense of waiting vanished in an explosion of gold cascading across the field, followed by a shattering clap of thunder, Dyan had answered its bondmate's call.

Tristian felt the wild call of her bond and set the power free, free to feed the node beneath her feet.

The entity screeched in rage, and then...excitement as pure power pored into its very essence. "YES, feed me, give me what's mine...yes."

Still the power grew and it knew it needed to find a way to release some of it but...the power was too wild, too raw and wouldn't bend to its will. And still the power grew. Concern touched its thoughts...but soon vanished as it gloated in the energies filling it. The node weakly pulsed a sickly red but the burnished silver sheen gilded the edges of the stone and little veins of silver-blue began appearing.

"ENOUGH," it cried, feeling itself overwhelmed by the power feed. "ENOUGH, I say...I COMMAND you to stop," it screeched in agony now.

The node glowed brighter and as the last pulsing red streaks vanished, a wail of anger could be heard that was suddenly silenced as the node responded to the power of the Mother's Own.

Feeling the node respond to the bond, Tristian called and it rose in answer. The entity screamed its last conscious thought as its essence was torn apart and absorbed in the warmth of the mother's womb, returned to its rightful place, it finally found peace.

The final node in the triad answered the call of the Mother's Own completing the union of the land called Riger to its bondmate. Tristian stood fully encased in a shimmering wall of silver-blue, her eyes closed, her being at one with the Mother but...her heart was held safely in her lover's hand.

As the light display flickered the sky cleared and the horizon sparkled in a final flash of gold. Sidell turned to face her lover and gently coaxed, "Come home, my heart. Come home to us."

Sidell's head sagged against her lover's chest as Tristian's arms moved to gather her gently and soft lips kissed her head. "Thank you...dear Alwyn thank you."

Tristian smiled, holding the woman that meant more to her than all the power in the world. The Mother sighed in pleasure as the triad of nodes pulsed in synchrony and Riger settled.

Emma and Aurora approached carefully once the silver hue dissipated. Tristian's tall frame trembled with exhaustion and Sidell was fairly holding her lover upright.

Sidell turned to her mother. "Take us home, please. I think we're done."

A month later Emma again called a meeting to discuss issues with Mhyr. The leading families were again in Dyan and Staunton Grier was also present. Sidell sat awkwardly, uncomfortable in her seventh month and Tristian entered looking frazzled and irritated. "What now," she barked without preamble moving quickly to Sidell's side and lifting her lover into a more cradled embrace that was infinitely more comfortable for Sidell.

Emma's lips twitched in amusement as the Nobles looked to her in question for allowing such a rude display. "Well," she drawled lazily, "you heard the Consort."

Reichert Merdan sniffed in disapproval but he spoke in a low even tone. "We have some concerns."

Tristian merely glared at him to hurry along.

"Our commoners have begun to trade with the surrounding villagers. This is unacceptable to us but your Commander will not prohibit these actions."

"What is so unacceptable about it," Emma asked reasonably. "Your commoners are trading with other commoners and none are harassing or forcing themselves upon the nobles."

"This makes it difficult for out merchants to purchase things that they need to provide us with our comforts."

Emma's brow furrowed in confusion. She didn't get it. Trade was brisk and since the warriors were in place the prosperity of the Holding had actually risen a high degree.

Tristian snorted. "Emma, the merchants that normally service the nobles would often force the common market to sell at a loss, a very large loss. With trade open to others, the common market no longer needs to accept whatever bauble is given to them. I'd say the merchants in question are griping because they are getting nothing for the price of nothing. This in turn raises their cost to the nobles who are now bitching because they are being forced to purchase goods at a cost equal to fair market value."

Emma looked at her oddly and murmured, "You're joking."

"No, I'm not. You underestimate the scope of the caste system, Leader. The sole purpose of Mhyr is to provide for the nobles. Anything else is unimportant and ignored."

"That's slavery," Emma muttered.

"Not according to Mhyr, it's their right."

Emma rose and paced to the windows staring out at her colony. The warm hues of color soothing her, the shouted laughter and high spirits of the people wafting up on the breeze. Merchant's bartered loudly and the women argued heatedly over prices but it was all in fun and often ended with smiles and chuckles when the victor emerged. "Come here," she commanded the nobles never turning from her view. She felt the four of them sidle up beside her and she nodded out the open window. "What do you four see?"

"Commoners," Joram spat. "Arguing and fighting as usual. It's no wonder they are, there is no real management in this Holding."

"I see women happy, proud in their heritage, strong in their convictions, unafraid to stand up for their rights. I see children laughing because they can be sure that tomorrow will be just as wonderful as today. Why can't you see that?" Emma asked earnestly. "Why can't you see what's plain as day in front of you?"

"You call this happy?" Richert asked in amazement.

"They're laughing, smiling, joking with each other. What do you call it?"

"Chaos." Charlen murmured. "Utter chaos, how can anyone be expected to shop and just change the prices when ever they feel like it."

"You expect yours to sell to you for almost nothing."

"It's all that the products are worth," Richert sniffed in disdain. "How could they possibly know different? They're commoners."

Emma sighed in defeat. "You'll never understand. Never know the thrill it is to truly live and for that...I pity you." She turned to her heirs, "Tristian, send word out through the warriors that we will be leaving Mhyr in a week. Have word passed that any and all who wishes to leave with us will be sponsored by Dyan until they are settled. The people may go where they wish and we'll make it happen."

"Wait a minute," Richert blustered. "You can't do that, you're interfering."

"Yes," Emma nodded. "I am. I'd hoped you would be able to interface with Riger but I can see I was wrong. My duty now is to the people of Riger and that I duty I accept willingly."

Tristian stood casually, Sidell beside her looking at Emma with compassion.

"Make it so, Consort. Have it done within the shortest timeframe you can manage."

"So be it, Leader," Tristian acknowledged.

"Wait," Charlen gasped. "Please, wait. What will we do?"

"I no longer care," Emma answered honestly. "You claim it is your role to be guardians for the people but that stewardship extends to prostituting them for the prestige of your Houses. For the whims of the so-called Nobles. Live as you wish, I will neither interfere again nor assist again. This will be the last meeting held here at your request. Remove yourselves from my Holding, I'm tired of your petty wants, your selfish concerns and your complete disregard for the welfare of those in your care." She turned to Tristian but was halted again.

"No," Joram managed, "we'll die without our servants, without the people to serve us."

"So be it," Emma murmured. "Tristian,"

Tristian nodded and the four nobles found themselves back in their Holding.

"NOOOOOOOOO," Charlen screamed in anguish.

"Consort," Das greeted her with a wide smile. "Tis a good day for relocating."

Tristian grinned and looked up at the overcast sky, "Aye, Das. A good day."

Men and women called to her in amiable greetings as the two garrisons Tristian brought with her fell into helping them pack and load wagons. Tristian and Das wandered through the colony with Das explaining. "Many of them like the structure of living in a holding and the villages scare them. Dram, Widden and Darena have already sent word that they would be accepted as equal citizens. It helped that Dyan is sponsoring the move. None of the Holdings would have been able to integrate such a large group of what would have been indigent people."

Tristian nodded, "That was Emma's concern thus the sponsorship. It will also help the villages because we'll defray the taxes of those that help these people relocate successfully."

"Many of the families of women are headed for Wet Springs," Das continued. "Some are considering crossing Dyan's borders to establish settlements on our side as sister colonies. I've warned Puck and she's moved the warriors there to assist them in building and setting up a working colony. Someone will be on hand to explain the laws of Dyan."

"Good, we've a lot of open land and they'll be welcomed." Tristian concurred.


She halted and turned to find a bubbling Lady Adair dressed in scruffy trousers and a worn shift, "Aye, Lady?"

"How are you? And Sidell?" Felice chattered happily.

"Well, it's almost time and I'm as tense as a boar's back."

"I imagine you are, young Mardred," another voice responded in amusement.

"Aretha? Hey, what brings you here?"

"We," Aretha pointed to Felice, herself and a young woman coming out of the home buried in a stack of boxes. A warrior rushed to assist her and they laughed as they uncovered the overburden woman.


Aretha grinned. "Aye, the three of us decided it was too good a chance to pass up and we're moving to Dyan."

"Oh Goddess, the Lorekeepers in Dyan. Emma will have a field day. Where are your things?"

Aretha smiled. "I've already made arrangements, Tristian. I did not need the same assistance these poor folk did so my stuff is already on its way. Seth and I stopped to pick up Felice. She also is sponsoring her own move but it's nice to have company."

"That it is. Sidell wants a residence out near the area you all will be settling. Mayhap I'll place it in the new colony."

"Really," Felice asked curiously, "why?"

"The new training center. I've been spending a lot of time there because I want the program started off right. So, she wants to be nearby."

"Cool," Seth proclaimed causing the older women to laugh.

Tristian and Das continued their rounds and the briefing Das was giving. "The guardians wish to come with us, Consort. I will personally vouch for their competence and their loyalty."

Tristian smiled, "I'd hoped it would be so, Das. Most of them were doing the best they could but without guidance and backing they had no real chance."

"That is how I found it to be. Once we rid ourselves of the nobles, the guardians fell right into place and working with them has been no different for me than working with the warriors." She paused and grinned, "Well some of them are a bit more hairy." She turned to the taller woman. "I've asked them to gather in the compound's hall. "Would you speak to them?"

"Of course. When?"

"Now, would be good. Once the warriors arrived, I released them to tend to their own arrangements and they should be forming up as we speak."

They found the hall full of anxious men and women. All hoping they would be acceptable to Dyan. Das could not really give them an answer and she told them that so everyone waited with bated breath to here the outcome.

"I am Tristian Mardred, Commander of the Warriors of Dyan." Tristian spoke in a low-moderated voice designed to carry across fields of battle. "It's been brought to my attention that you all wish to join with the Warriors in light of the events set in motion by our Leader. If there is a nay to this motion please stand to the side."

Not a soul moved. Tristian smiled gently. "Normally we accept applications and conduct interviews to determine an applicant's suitability. In this case, all of you have been vouched for by your acting Commander."

The hall gasped in surprise and eyes swiveled to Das standing quietly to the side of the podium.

"She seems to have been impressed with your performance and will answer for any problems you may cause. I personally wouldn't feel too pleased with that since eventually, she'd come after the guilty party herself."

Soft chuckles sounded. Many here had already felt the wrath of their acting Commander. Das was fair to all but Alwyn help you if you cross her or show a high degree of incompetence.

Tristian waited for the hall to quiet. "This being the case, allow me to welcome you to the ranks of the warriors. All ranks will remain in place and promotions will be handled in the same manner as our warriors are done now."

Tristian gazed out at the stunned crowd. The people were so shocked at the ease in which it had happened that they were silenced by the loud thumping of their hearts.

"Say thank you, you damn fools," Das growled. "I swear I can't take any of you anywhere."

The crowd roared their thanks and the sounds of ripping cloth filled the air as the guardian insignias were torn off and fluttered to the ground.

"Let's move out," Das barked. "People need help, I've set your squads and you know what to do. Tristian wants this done quickly and sitting around with our jaws on the ground ain't getting a damn thing accomplished."

They filed out in an orderly manner quickly forming up into their own squads and heading out across the colony to the areas they'd been assigned to help. The warriors greeted them eagerly and the populace was soon beginning to trickle out of the holding gates.

Guardians and warriors had been assigned escort duties with the ex-guardians being sent with those relocating to places that needed assistance. They were given a letter of introduction from Tristian and told to report to the on-site Commander for further orders. All would be required to cycle through the training center just so that Tristian was sure they were aware of their responsibilities and fully trained.

It took three weeks to fully move the populace. Tristian and Das circled the now almost abandoned Holding. Approximately three hundred nobles and their supporters remained, a far cry from the fifteen hundred that had originally populated the Holding. They were waiting for the two women in the center of what was once the merchant's square.

"What are we suppose to do now, Mardred," Richert spat in anger.

"Pissing me off is not something I'd recommend," Tristian replied evenly. "You're the nobles, you know what's best, make a decision and get on with it. What you do now is no concern of mine save this. Make a move to harm the populace and I will destroy you." Her aura glittered in anger cowering the blustering nobles into silence. "You will never believe this but the truth is, you brought this upon yourselves. If any of you had bothered to read the Lore of Xandor, you'd have known that the final outcome in Xandor was the populace leaving the nobles to their own machinations. History repeats itself, ladies and gentlemen. Mayhap you'll learn something from this but...I have my doubts." She paused before leaving. "I've been asked to leave a message with you."

They looked at her warily.

"Sidell has stated that if and when you're willing to discuss things in a manner acceptable to the current clime of Riger, call for her. She will hear your pleas."

"Not the Leader?" another noble asked fearfully.

"Emma has washed her hands of you. Between the three Houses sent to represent you, I can't blame her."

Eyes turned angrily to the three pointed out and glared at them. "What have you imbeciles done?"

"Enough," Tristian barked. "This is no longer my affair, fare thee well, nobles."

Continued in Part 6.

Back To Main Page