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 11

Derren Chiles watched the entrance of the tall dark haired warrior and she was a warrior. Of that he had no doubt. The way she moved, the way she held herself, the total control of every aspect of her being told him this was a woman that needed to fight beside him. He sent out a mage probe but received no hint back that the woman before him was a mage. Raole couldn't be that stupid, could he? Raole was positive that this one was the true instigator and possibly the more powerful but Derren could prove nothing. He had no way of knowing if this woman was the reason the nodes no longer answered to him. He'd have to research that when he got home.

"Tristian," Roland began, "Allow me to introduce you to Derren Chiles. He comes from the land known as Altair. Normally, the shipmaster would conduct our business but since you insisted on knowing what the horses would be used for, Derren came himself. I'm not sure what his rank would be." Roland's voice faltered.

"No matter," Tristian answered easily, "no doubt he doesn't understand our rank either." Tristian grinned as Gisele came in, "Greetings kinsman," Tristian offered with a grin.

"And to you, Consort, how fares your lady, and Taledyn?"

"Well, Gisele, they send their regards."

"Roland," Raole snapped, "really, is this necessary. The women can..." he shrieked and fainted as Tristian's blade carved the table he sat at in half.

"Apologies, Roland. Sometimes my temper gets away from me."

"Well," Roland replied pragmatically, "at least you didn't kill him."

"Pity," Derren replied blandly.

Tristian snorted and resumed her seat.

Medellan entered and winked at Tristian then picked up the unconscious Raole and left telling his people to clear the damage.

Derren turned to study Tristian and he asked, "Roland tells me you wish to know what we use the horses for?"

"I do."

"If my answer is not satisfactory shall I assume you won't sell?" he asked this with mild sarcasm never expecting the answer he received.

"You may."

He waited for her to continue but she merely sat silently returning his regard and conducting her own inspection.

"Well, that is different. What would you consider to be acceptable use?"

She raised a brow and smirked.

He laughed shakily. He had never envisioned one such as she and she made him nervous. "Silly question, I know but, you can't blame me for trying?"

Tristian shrugged as if it made no difference to her.

"My at war. We need mounts to wage a successful defense and hopefully position ourselves for a surprise offense. Does that offend you, warrior?"

"What will these mounts do in this war?"

He blinked in surprise. "I'm trying to mount horse archers, quick strike artists that will sting the enemy but not engage."

"Your riders are trained?"

Her eyes held his compellingly and he found himself answering honestly. "Not many, we've some and they're training the rest but...we lose more than we keep...and their mounts."

Tristian drummed her fingers atop the table grinning wickedly as Raole staggered back in. "Keep your mouth shut, little man, I'm out of patience and my lady is not here to stay my hand."

"Could she?" Roland found himself needing to ask.

"Oh, aye. She could. Not physically, mind you but...if it was her wish, I would stop."

She returned her attention to Derren dismissing Raole. "Where were we? Ah, yes. The mounts I had planned to send out to you will not do."

"But," Derren argued.

"Hold, hear me out. The mounts I had in mind were designed to carry people to and from places on a casual journey. I will not allow them to go to war, they are not trained for it and I might as well just kill them at home. I do have some that have been trained for specifically that purpose."

Derren sat back in shock, "Battle trained horses?"

"Aye. For light armor and artillery. They're light on their feet, quick on the turn, and smart as a dog. But, with out the riders, the horses alone cannot win your war. So give me a plan, Derren Chiles, convince me that my bondsibs should support your effort."

"I...two years ago an army came to Altair. They...raided the cities bringing destruction on the march north. They conscripted the survivors and use mages to force them to serve. The largest part of their army is well trained and has managed to control the entire southern hemisphere. "We in the north, banded together to try and hold them off. Luckily, the center of our land narrows to a strip of passable land only one hundred horses wide."

Tristian nodded in approval, "You held them there?"

"Aye. But we're in a stale mate and soon, winter comes again. Our lands have been stripped of all able-bodied fighters and the fields left fallow. If we do not end this soon, we will die. And I believe this army will continue to march. The stories we hear talk of world domination. I don't think it's just us they're after."

"What brought you here?"

"I sent ships out, searching for allies. They found Baylon and the shipmaster arrived with the first shipment of mounts. He made the arrangements," Derren hesitated but...but if the woman would help his people might survive.


"Including agreeing to my setting a coercion spell on the land."

"Ahh, that's why I didn't feel it," Tristian murmured. "Who requested it?"

"Raole," Derren replied, "As if you didn't know."

"You bastard," Raole lunged. The two warriors moved and he fumbled to the floor.

"I was desperate," Derren offered, "not a truly worthy answer but I was. He offered to give me the horses if I could do this. Apparently my shipmaster is a bit of a gossip and let on that I was a mage. What he wanted was a spell that would force, subtly, people to listen to his suggestions."

"That's how he controlled the men." Tristian mused, "I did wonder."

"Aye. He hates women and wouldn't interact with them so, he drugged them and the spell worked on the men."

Roland looked to her curiously. "But, the last time you were here he gave several pointed suggestions and we ignored him."

Tristian chuckled, "Ah this is too rich." She turned to Derren, "You powered the spell with the nodes?"


"I sealed the nodes my first morning here. The spell was no longer valid the minute I returned from my run." Tristian shook her head, amazing how things worked out like that.

"Well," Derren chuckled softly, "that would explain the other note I got. Besides the one you sent Roland. Raole sent one, demanding I re-do the spell, accusing me of backing out of a deal and threatening to turn me in to the King. Now, I've no idea what he planned to tell you Roland but...I'll own up to my mistake. I've no defense save I thought it was best for my people. I did not consider the well being of your people."

He looked to her in despair, "I've no plan, Lady. Just train them, keep training them, and hope for the best."

"What did you hope to accomplish with the light cavalry?"

"Break the hold on the narrows. Push them back a little to give us some breathing room. Right now, unless we are constantly on watch, they sneak over and take out our border troops."

Tristian sat casually looking out the window. This was not Dyan's problem but...they were warned that a great danger comes. She'd spent the last two years securing Dyan. Now, by luck or the design of the Goddess, Baylon was sealed to Dyan. If she went, considering how close they estimated the travel, she'd still be able to reach her bondmate through Baylon and seal the power in Altair. That would take the greater magics out of the battle and even the field. Also, defeat of Altair would put this army on the shores of Dyan and she would not see her soil stained with blood. "Stay the night, Derren. I'll return in the morning. There is much I must discuss with the Leader."


"Just wait a day. Allow me to see what I can do."

The discussion with the Leader was easy, convincing the Elders just a tad bit harder, identifying and arranging the movement of troops, took the rest of the day. Parting with Sidell almost broke her heart.

"I know...I do, love," Sidell whispered. "I've always known I love a warrior and you are that. I know you see the true risk and I support you, but my heart hurts because I miss you and I'm so afraid."

Tristian had no way to ease her fear and could only hold her lover, love her, and promise to return.


"Commander?" Have them gathered in two weeks, the mounts are already paid for and the volunteers are evenly matched to their specialties.

"We'll be there Tristian, you keep your ass in one piece until then."

"Aye." She turned to Puck, "Forgive me my friend but I need you here. Maria I must have to command the light artillery since that is the scouts forte."

"I know. I don't like it, but I do know. We'll keep Dyan safe for your return. Alwyn help you if you get your fool self killed because Sidell will come after you."

Tristian nodded. She'd said her farewells to her family and would leave from the garrison.

"Tristian," Sidell voiced sliced through the air.

She turned and Sidell threw herself into her arms kissing her deeply, sealing their bond, reminding her that she had a reason to live, to come home.

They separated, slowly and Sidell's finger rested softly on Tristian's lips. Sidell's eyes were dry though the hint of tears was there she kept them in determined to put on a brave front. "I love you, warrior. Come home to me."

"I will, my heart. Always to you."

A tender kiss and Sidell released her. Tristian returned to Baylon and strode up to the castle. She was late but it couldn't be helped.

"Roland," She greeted the monarch.

"Thank Alwyn, Derren was beginning to pace. Have you decided?"

"I have."

They entered the room and Derren stood anxiously, "Your answer?"

"Let's go see Altair, Derren. That's if, you don't mind the company?"

A knock sounded and Roland called for them to enter. Medellan strode in. "Permission to attend the Consort, my liege."

Tristian's jaw dropped, "What?"

Roland ignored her. "Alone?"

"Nay, there's six of us, a small guard but we're damn good. I think we can watch her back better than most."

"Permission granted," Roland allowed with a humble bow. "And it is my pleasure to allow it, Medellan."

"Goddess bless, nursemaids," Tristian muttered.

Derren smiled for what seemed to be the first time in years.

Tristian spent the two weeks on board ship determined to have her guards trained or begging to return. She laughed as Medellan easily parried her blows and returned the same in kind. The fought to a draw and she grinned. "You said you'd give your life to have me train you, Medellan, I didn't think you meant it literally."

"I'll try to keep a hold of my life for a bit longer if is okay with you."

"Aye, let's grab a drink and let the rest of them practice more. They need it."

Derren could barely contain his excitement and regaled them of tales of his home, of the laughter they'd shared before the war. He described his home with an aching longing that could only be felt by those that have seen their homes destroyed, slowly, unstoppably. The three were good friends by the time the ship docked. "Come on," he shouted in excitement, "The council would have gathered by now once we were spotted on the horizon." He fairly bounced down the gangplank.

"A might excitable he is," Medellan muttered under his breath.

"Left to me, he'll have many more excitable years."

"Aye, Consort. That he will."

Derren barreled into the council room where the gloom in the air could be seen. "Derren, tell us you've some good news," An elder smiled wanly.

"I do, I found help."

Tristian and Medellan entered and the council looked at each other in confusion. "Well, every body counts and two more will help. Anything else?"

Tristian snorted. "How far is this narrows you're after Derren?"

"Two days ride."

"I need an open field, a large one. And I need your people to stay out of it."

"Done," Derren responded and rushed back out the door.

Medellan snickered as Tristian elbowed him to be quiet.

"Excuse me? Can I ask what is going on?"

"Well, I thought I'd talk with you all but the defeat in the air is thick enough to cut with a knife," Tristian remarked wryly. "Decided I'd raise your spirits some before we started making plans." She headed out after Derren and found the closest node. Finding it clear and unowned, Tristian called, and Riger answered, all three master nodes. The air crackled with power. She turned to the field Derren was now pointing at. The power centered, focused and reached, fetching seven hundred mounted warriors and another hundred spare mounts. She sealed the node and sent it searching for its brethren as Altair rose to the call of the Mother's Own.

"Consort," Ceil saluted smartly. "As you commanded."

"Well done. Have them set up camp, ask the man over there with his jaw on the ground where the best place would be. Send out hunters to get some food. If we don't find any game, have the mages fetch some from the wilds of Riger. Send the Squad leaders to me and have you and Maria present."

"Aye, Consort."

Tristian turned to face a council full of desperate hope and hesitant dreams. "I am Tristian Mardred, Commander of the Warriors of Dyan. We've come to help."

"Dyan?" an elder whispered, "Dyan comes?"

"But, Derren went to Baylon."

Tristian nodded, "To explain what he needed horses for,"

"Aye," the elder agreed.

"He needed to explain me."

"Dyan was in Baylon? How did that happen? Dyan is known to be a closed Holding and outsiders are not welcomed."

Maria stepped up and laid a hand on Tristian's arm, "Allow me, frying the allies is not a good step in forming lasting relations."

Tristian chuckled and relaxed slowly, "Aye, Maria. If you would, I want to check on the troops? You brought Shadow?"

"And Summer."


"Sidell insisted. You need two mounts and she wanted them the be the two you trained."

"Ah, well, I won't argue."

"Good. Now let me settle the questions and you handle the troops."

Tristian nodded and set off calling her guards to introduce them. She didn't want them killed by accident.

Maria explained that although Dyan was still a closed Holding, the warriors had branched out and were now posted across the land. Their ranks had swelled although this effort left them severely understaffed but the people swore to help and they'd left it at that, hoping for the best. They could always rebuild. Better than having an army swarming up their backside.

Maps occupied every flat space in the hall the warriors, fully cognizant of Tristian's expectations, sorted through the various maps arriving at several logical plans for defense. They moved on to the southern maps to plan the offensive maneuvers. They stayed with it until Tristian was satisfied with the strategy. She sent them to bed warning on an early morning movement. "I want to make as much time as we can on the morrow. Then we'll break and move closer the following night. I prefer to keep our numbers a secret and I want the vanguards replaced under cover of dark. Maria, you'll handle that. I want fresh troops and I want them pulled back to look as if we're retreating or we're not paying attention."

"You want the enemy to rush the narrows?"

"Aye, let them in. Ceil, I want full a mounted force here," she pointed to the mouth of the narrows, a patch of land that widened and allowed entrance to the open plains. "Two garrisons staggered. Allow no one through, set the mages to block the entrance and hold them. Maria, once they are halfway through, block the narrows and set the rest of the troops loose on those on our side of the border."

She looked around and met each of her leader's gazes. "Questions people, now's the time?"

When none came, Tristian concluded the strategy session. "Then see to your people and I'll see you at dawn."

They filed out and Tristian reached over and chucked Medellan's jaw shut. "Catching flies, Captain?"

"Goddess bless, who are you?"

She shook her head in amusement, "Get some rest, Medellan. You've gone addle brained on me."

She stopped and turned to Derren, "We'll need some one to vouch for us on the frontlines."

"I know, I plan to go with you." He expected her to argue. The elders always did.

She eyed him critically, nodded, and turned to find her tent.

They made good time and Tristian placed them a half-day's ride from their destination. She'd sealed the nodes as she passed but was curious that only Riger had those called the master nodes. The ones that accepted and passed the bond from the mother to the mother's own. "Cold camp, no fires, leaders to me. Maria, send your best scouts out I want these maps confirmed and if they're caught I'll kill them myself.

Maria chuckled and went to find Tinder. She passed on Tristian's message and Tinder snorted, "Someday, we're gonna have to explain the concept of incentives to her."

"I don't know," Brianna commented, "that one works for me."

The rest grinned in amusement as Tinder scratched her head. "I guess, it just don't sound right," she complained as they moved out.

"How come you're checking the maps, Consort?" Derren had taken to calling her that since the entire warrior force did.

Tristian looked up in surprise and fell silent for a minute. "C'mere, see these?"


"They show rivers, dry gulches and the like."


"They're wrong. The land changes and with the war it's changed faster than your mapmakers can keep up. Now on a day march, that don't matter much but, at night, when I'm counting on a dry gulch to save my life, I expect it to be there."

He soaked it all in. Everything she was willing to explain, he listened to avidly. Learning every trick he could and committing it to memory.

The scouts returned at mid-night, Tristian took their reports and sent them to bed. They would not move out until the following night.

"We found the main force, it's tied up tight at the entrance to the pass. I tell you Consort, it's a damn good think these people ain't fighting you. We'd have been back at their headquarters celebrating while they watched the damn pass."

Tristian snorted having expected nothing less. "You blocked the other trails?"

"As best we could without waking the dead. Once we make our presence known be best to take Bri or Megan back and have it sealed better."

"See to it," Tristian agreed. It was late afternoon and she was finishing up her brief. "Alright. Maria, you know what I want. Ceil, take them down to the main force, and keep the dust down if at all possible. The angle of the sun will help and I don't want these many people stumbling around in the dark."

Ceil saluted and moved out.

"Maria, sucker them in and leave them room to enter quickly. I'll be with Ceil in the first mounted garrison, tell your mage if she needs me."

"I will."

"Maria, bring yourselves back."

"You don't want us to cross?"

"Not tonight. I want to go over in the morning so decide on the scouts to support me. I need a valid count to accurately plan and offense."

"Aye, see you down the trail."

"Alright Derren, get up there with Ceil before your forces try to put arrow holes in mine."

"Aye, Consort," he replied with a salute.

Medellan chuckled as her guards cleared the last site and followed their Commander.

"So, you six plan to be in the front line garrison?" Tristian asked casually.

"Happen that's where some pig-headed Commander I know plans to be I guess the answer is yes," Medellan retorted.

Tristian laughed, "So be it."

"Derren? What's all this," Commander Conner asked, in shock.

"Friends, Conner, they've come to help." Derren peered back at Ceil who held the line. "Can they come in, Tristian doesn't want them sticking out like sore thumbs?"

"Aye, sorry, aye." He turned, "Evan, waved them in, quietly lad, no noise, don't want to give the game away to soon."

It was just dark and the riders were mere shadows as they eased into the camp.

"Ceil Annon, Commander, where would you like us?"

"Ah...settle in the west ridge, Commander Annon."

"Ceil will do, Commander. I plan to move two garrisons tonight so you might want to let your people know. We're headed up the mouth of the narrows, gonna let some of them's against us bubble across and ease the crunch. Hope to get enough over to give us room to scout the far side in the morn."

Conner stared at her as if she were speaking a foreign language. "Commander? Your people?"

"Aye, Ceil. I'll let them know," he answered faintly.

Conner watched as the last of the riders approached his tent. Six rode point and flank while the center rider sat a mount lazily, as if asleep.

"Consort," Derren popped up as Tristian dismounted. "This is Johan Conner, Commander of our main force. Conner, this is Tristian Mardred, Commander of the Warriors of Dyan."

"Dear Alwyn," Conner breathed. "Commander bless you, bless you all."

"There was need, Conner." Tristian exclaimed honestly, "You've been briefed on my plan?"


"My scouts are out and should be reliving your front lines about now. They should be returning unless they wish to help."

" one has passed us. And, they may end up fighting with our troops."

"Nay, there are many ways pass this entrance, they're just not suitable for large maneuvers. And, I'll lay odds, no one sees my scouts until they're being relieved."

A commotion started at the entrance. "Looks like we're beginning," Tristian hazarded a guess, "Let's go get them settled and I want to move my people in place."

They found tired groups of men and women staggering back towards them.

"What happened?" those closest asked. "Why are you back? Is something wrong?"

"Nay, we were relieved." A tired woman mumbled. "Some ghost put a council sealed missive in my hand. It said return so here we are."

They looked around in concern and saw Conner.


"It's alright lass, we've got a bit of help and we're gonna have some excitement. Open a path here and let these folks through."

Fifty warriors sat mounted and they eased through the standing crowd moving to the entrance. "Jenna," Ceil called. "You and Hetene seal this pass, let nothing through once they come."

"Aye, Ceil."

Tristian smirked looking at Medellan, "Come on, boys, it's show time."

"I don't suppose you'll stay to the side?" Medellan asked plaintively

"Looks like they're coming for a look," Maria smiled in the dark. "Thank Alwyn for nosey people."

"Aye. Shall I check with Tristian?"

"Tell her they're sniffing around and we'll let them know when the charge comes."

"Aye," Brianna responded passing the news to Tristian. "Check with Megan, they're going to seal the retreat and we need to seal the narrows."

"With no magic?"

"Well, no obvious magic," Maria hedged.

"Ah," Brianna smiled, "That's more like it."

They sat quietly, the scouts well trained, and waited patiently as the opposing forces searched the area."

"Must have hit them harder than we thought," a rough voice growled, "I knew we'd hurt them. They've probably been gone for hours while we've been hiding like rabbits."

"I love ego's," Brianna whispered.

"Give the signal, we'll break this standoff tonight," the same voice commanded.

Torches flared to life and the sound of hooves could be heard pounding up the path.

"Steady, people," Maria breathed. "Easy now, just hold steady."

The first wave reached them. "Bri, send word."

Medellan looked around the empty path. "How come they get to hide and we're standing out here with targets painted on us?"

Tristian chuckled, "Don't want to scare the poor folks. Keeps them arrogant and surprise is the best weapon against overwhelming odds."

"I feel so much better."

Tristian could feel the ground shake now and she grinned, "Here we go, boys, no shirking."

The riders turned a final bend and saw a mad woman rushing them, yelling at the top of her lungs as six others paced her. "Kill the fools," A deep voice bellowed and then there were only the sounds of fighting. Tristian cleared three horses with her first strike having met them in the center of the open entrance. She was deadly grace in motion as Shadow showed her true training, kicking and biting at everything within reach.

The front line broke and tried to turn back but their own people were on them now, the sounds of the clash making their blood soar and they answered that dark mistress. The opposing force stalled by the demon in the front lines and as they milled around in confusion, Ceil charged. "Now, to the Consort."

Medellan could barely believe his eyes as blood painted the field in excess. Tristian was merely a blur in motion and her horse, as his mind wandered Shadow kicked one of his attackers over and he settled his mind back on the fight.

Tristian knew she had to get through before they turned and overran her scouts at the rear. She pushed forward feeling the warriors clearing the edges, knowing her people were still with her. Here was the reason she worked them so hard, they wanted to fight beside her, this was her place, in the lead and they had to be good enough. Her blood pumped as the crush grew tighter and she quit Shadow's back, allowing the mare to clear the area while she took down anything near her.

"By the Goddess," a guardsman breathed. Medellan blocked a blow aimed for the stunned guard. "Mind your back or we'll all be dead and she'll be standing cussing us for fools."

It was slow, tiring, Tristian's arms were now acting on their own as her mind watched angles, deflected strikes, dodged horses.

Shadow screamed and stomped, the signal to mount and Tristian was on her in a minute pushing them forward now that the block was clear and then, the scouts.

"Eh lah," she shouted in encouragement to hear it echoed back. Limbs responded as adrenalin kicked in and the final rush saw the path cleared of enemies. The warriors chanted, "Consort, Consort, Consort,"

Tristian grinned and settled them down. "Bri"

"Done, you coming?"

"Aye, on my way."

"Ceil, clear this path and make sure they're dead. Then take them back and get some rest. I'm going ahead, you know my plan for the morning?"

"Aye, Commander. I'll bring another garrison up after breakfast, you should have something by then."

"Aye, see you down trail."

She turned to her guards glad to see they'd made it, "Any of you need a healer?"

They shook their heads amazed but proud of themselves.

"Alright, let's move up, the scouts will have something for these cuts."

Tristian sat shirtless as Megan sewed her up. The scouts didn't notice but her guards weren't as blasé as that and they took some ribbing before they got their eyes settled.

"Didn't anybody teach you to duck," Megan scolded her.

She snorted and accepted the mug of ale from Medellan. He sat beside her having already been poked and prodded. "I'd have ducked if I could have found some place to duck to," Tristian mumbled. "How'd you guys turn them back?"

Megan grinned, "Funny how the smell of a Cat will send a horse into panic. Especially one packed in tight on a trail."

Medellan choked on his drink but Tristian chuckled, "Well done, young mage. Subtle is best."

"Aye. Now, give me that and lay down."

Tristian grinned but leaned back allowing Megan to cover her. I'll wake you before sunrise."

"Aye," Tristian muttered and was asleep before Megan could stand.

"She alright?" Maria asked.

"Aye. Bruised a few deep gashes but I cleaned and stitched them. From the stories I'm hearing she damn near took all of 'em on."

Medellan joined the softly talking women, "I was there lass and I wouldn't deny it. She was...Goddess bless!" He moved off still shaking his head to his bead roll.

Maria rolled her eyes, "Boys and their idols."

"Medellan you're staying here."


"No buts. I don't know if you're any good on a trail and I don't care to find out now. I'll come back and we'll make further plans."

He knew she was right...but damn it.

"I'm right, and you know it. Keep the boys with you, this is important. Brianna will kill anything that threatens us, even stubborn do-gooders."

He nodded and went to break the news to the men and Tristian moved off with Maria and the best scouts she had.

Ceil was having a time trying to calm the forces of Altair. "But Commander, we saw. You could help us take back the Southern hemisphere. Lead us, Ceil. Please."

"Conner," Ceil bellowed.

"Aye lass."

"I'm taking one hundred of my people across, we're going to meet up with Tristian who by now will have scouted the area and will be working on plans to press our advantage. Keep your folks here, Conner. We've not enough breathing space yet for stupidity."

"I'll try," he promised.

"Not good enough. You'll succeed or we'll kill the first people across."

"What?" rose up in outrage.

"You heard me. You risk the lives of my sisters and my friends. I will not allow it. That is my command, Conner. Let the results rest on you head."

Medellan stared morosely into his cup. The sun was high and the warriors milled around aimlessly. Ceil and Brianna were talking and he was waiting for some sign. A large hand swiped his cup and he rose with a sputter to find himself looking into pale violet eyes.

"Well, you weren't drinking it," Tristian defended amiably.

He looked around to see the party had returned and looked to his men to ask if they knew how. They also looked confused so he poured him another cup and followed his Commander.

"Alright, we got massive confusion at the base of this trail. They aren't sure what's going on. We've scouted the area and if we can clear the base we'll be clear to the mountain pass. We can move the troops and reoccupy the land there. We'll need more people."

"Altair wants to play. They're about ready to revolt."

Tristian snorted. "Alright bring up two of their and one more of our garrisons. We move in two hours, I want to hit them at dusk. If we leave it for the morning I'm afraid they'll have regrouped."

Ceil saluted and Tristian turned to Medellan. "Ready?"

"Shall I assume we're in front again?"

"Of course."

"Then I'm ready."

Tristian took a nap. Medellan looked down at her and grinned in amusement returning to his men to wait for further orders.

Maria eased up next to him.

"She always sleeps like that?"

"In this kind of campaign, there's no telling when you'll sleep next. Best get it done while there's time."

She moved off to catch a few winks of her own.

Brianna rose to the raucous calls coming from the path. Angrily she moved the lookout and found the Altair forces laughing and joking. A mind voice rang clear stunning all of them. "This is an army. No wonder you people were losing, why not send a damn invitation telling them we're here. SHUT THE HELL UP. One more word and I'll leave all of you mutes."

Ceil just shook her head. She'd told them. She only brought them cause she knew it wouldn't carry and one of the mages would handle it. She found an amused Consort checking the trail.

Tristian raked the offending newcomers with a deadly glare and they cringed in embarrassment.

"Take them across, there's a plateau large enough to stage but they've got to be quiet."

"Hey, I tried. You go tell them."

"I will." She pointed to the path, "five abreast, Bri and Megan will support the trail. It's subtle and shouldn't be noticed. Slow canter no dust and no racket."

Ceil nodded and set the first garrison across. Tristian approached the Altair forces. "Commander's step forward."

Two rosy cheek youngsters stepped up. "See what they're doing?"

"Yes ma'am!" they chorused.

"Can you fools speak in a tone softer than a shout?" She growled.

They wilted.

"Now, can you do that as quietly as it's being done?" Tristian tried again.

"We can try."

"Not good enough, soldier. Trying gets my people killed. Either you can or you can't."

Two older gents stepped forward. "We'll get it done, Commander. If'n we have to gag and tie the younguns' so be it."

"Then prepare I hear one more argument or joke from this company and I'll throw you off the side of the cliff myself. Clear?"

Nods around. "Good, you learn quick. You may live through this yet."

"Medellan with me, two of you will have to come across with another group."

Medellan pointed and the two men stepped back and moved to Ceil's side for instructions. "Go with the next group."

They nodded and lined up.

"Listen up lads," Aaron murmured to the chastised youths. "What do ye hear?"

They listened and shrugged, "Nothing."

"Aye, we're moving almost four hundred people with no noise."

He waited until that impressive effort got through. "Now ye see what she meant. Never forget."

They nodded and prepared themselves.

Tristian rode through the ranks maintaining quiet. The mages also move through them quietly as they set the plateau waiting for the setting sun. Tinder returned and paced to Tristian's side. "No change, still confusion. Arguments. They haven't figured out who's in charge yet."

She looked up to the mountain ridge that surrounded the valley. Two quick flashes and she nodded. Low murmurs began behind her but Brianna was there first. "This better be good, one of you, tell it."

"Lights, on the mountain," the woman whispered.

"Ours, pass it back but no murmuring."

Quickly the news passed but not a sound was heard. Tristian nodded in approval. She moved to the front, Ceil took the center and pointed out the order of descent, Dyan, Altair, Dyan, Altair,

The riders tensed and Tristian's cry of Dyan shattered the air as the first garrison descended like demons from hell. "Line em up," Ceil bellowed. "Move your ass people you want gods be damned invitations? Go, go," she urged the second garrison on and prayed they wouldn't fall of their horses. Dyan stood next ready for the command, "Now," and the garrison surged forward.

"Move people," Ceil shouted at the last garrison, "now you can't move fast enough? Get your asses up here." She paced the descending garrison. "Go, go,"

Running to her mounts she followed them down. Passing them in the final stretch, "Follow me, you damn jackasses, follow me."

The garrison straightened up and Ceil lead them to the opening turning them back around and facing the retreating forms. "No one leaves, charge."

Tristian's first charge split the forces straight up the middle. The following garrisons flanked left and right. With Ceil covering the retreat the surprise was complete and the warriors owned the valley before the sun fully set.

"Maria, send word. Have your last squads up on the ridges and the mages seal the entrances. Bring the rest to the entrance and hold till morning. We'll bring them across then," Tristian commanded.

With the bodies moved to the gorge, Tristian ordered camp made. The enemy expected a camp here so a camp there would be. "Ceil, set a watch,"

Tristian checked on the forces from Altair and was happy that her mages all had healer training. Many of them were injured. Some were merely sick from the killing. But their spirits were high and Tristian need to keep them subdued. "You've done well, I'm impressed. But we can't relax and this isn't even the beginning. Keep a lid on the noise and no drinking. Any questions?" None were forthcoming. "Then rest, we'll repair the gear tomorrow and move the rest of the forces down with us. Ceil is setting the guards if you're chosen stay awake. We check and I'd have to slit your throat for falling asleep on duty."

"You think she's joking?" a youngster asked softly.

The older man looked him dead in the eye, "I think she'll do it and not even feel bad."

"How? How can she do that?"

"Because this is more important than one life. It's not about bragging rights, not about keeping score. This is life or death and if killing one person means she brings the rest of us home, she'll do it and be thankful the cost was so low. Think on that, Kenit, think on the responsibility of that decision and think again on how great it would be to be a warrior."

Tristian lay in her bedroll feeling the bond of the land. The nodes were sealing to her just by the first push and the master nodes in Riger controlling them. She wouldn't have to worry about them unless she found one already claimed. She fell asleep dreaming she held Sidell in her arms.

A step brought her awake. Ceil didn't even bother checking, she knew Tristian would be up with someone that close to her. "Riders, about fifty. Might be the command authority to take over this camp."

"Pull a garrison, set them in the shadows. Leave the rest asleep. Brianna, hold them I don't want them rushing for weapons."

They left to see to their chores.

"Hold, state your business." The guard at the entrance challenged the approaching party.

"It's me ye fool, I've brung the Commander."

"Bout time," the warrior muttered and pulled back into the shadows.

They rode in to a well-kept camp. Around a small fire sat several figures watching them curiously. "I didn't realize your command was so well trained. This should be a snap to take the far ridge."

"Aye. We'd have done it a long time ago but that last fool we had…" Truth to tell, the old man was worried. He knew his command and something was wrong. He pulled to the rear cussing at his horse. "I'll catch up, looks like she threw a shoe."

"Who's in charge here?"

Tristian rose silently and waited.

"Well done. I'll be taking command and we're taking that ridge on the morrow. I want you out by morning and find us a way in."

Tristian remained silent and the Commander hesitated.

"Well, are you deaf?"

"No, Commander, I'm not. But I've no intentions of giving up my command."

"Ah...someone with ambition. Commendable but our master says this is my command so stand down or I'll kill you myself."

"You can try."

"Stubborn fool. Kill her,"

The ground erupted and the Commander found himself looking into the palest eyes he'd ever seen, then darkness claimed him."

The attack was complete; the guard stopped the scout that had dropped back. Again the gorge claimed the bodies and Tristian left the camp, a bound Commander over her shoulder.

Ceil took control and brought all of the forces across the narrows. Maria's scouts secured the trails and they waited for Tristian's return. It was near dusk and she was covered in blood and exhausted. Brianna merely led her to her tent, stripped her, checked her for injuries, washed her and left her to sleep.

"Consort," Maria greeted her.

"Morning. We've got about a five-day ride before we hit the next group. A town called Lyheer. Is Derren still with us?"


"Good, bring him here and pull the maps. We'll need the scouts out wide, I don't want to give them too much warning."

"What about the villages in between?"

"Beaten and cowed, they'll probably think we're just part of the same group."

"Gee, that makes me feel so much better."

Tristian smiled softly but her mind was far away. She'd tortured that man. Unwilling to use her magic she'd carved him slowly until he finally blurted out everything she needed. It had to be done, but it didn't make her feel any better knowing that. Maria clasped her shoulder in support knowing how she would have had to get the information.

"Consort," Derren collapsed beside her, "this is wonderful, we've never gotten this far, ever." He was excited but was keeping to a whisper and Tristian realized he'd obviously been brief. Best to leave it. Once they learned, they'd never forget.

"Show me Lyheer, Derren. What's the best way there and what's the hardest way there?"

Her Commanders gathered around collecting those from Altair. Altair listened intently, learning what they could as the warriors came up with a viable plan."

"How many."

"At least a thousand"

"Shit," a youngster from Altair muttered.

"Best bet?"


Ceil considered and then snorted, "Aye most will be out and about, scouts in the land and their raiders out raiding. Good plan."

Tristian smirked. "Thanks."

"Smart ass."

"I'll send Scouts out?" Maria inquired.

"Aye, three squads. Two wide, circle the town get me current information. One up that wash, I want to know if it enters the town or damn near it. How deep is it, how safe is it, and how many people can I get in there safely. I also want a fourth. Out pass the town, the map shows a change in altitude, I want to know how drastic and where can we descend. What's at the bottom and where do we need to go next."

Maria nodded and moved off.

"Can I..." A youngster from Altair began.

"No. The scouts cannot afford a handicap and none of you are trained enough to follow them."

"Not gonna learn sitting on my ass," he persisted and squawked as Tristian had him by his throat dangling in the air. "Little boy, do you want to know what's done to spies? That's what the scouts will be considered if caught."

She dragged him off.

"Oh Goddess," Maria sighed. "I hope he doesn't throw up on her."

They returned an hour later, the young man pale and crying as he dropped into a ball. "Jenna, take him home."

"Aye, Consort."

"No. No, I can do this, I didn't understand but it's my land too, dammit. I'll follow your orders and keep my mouth shut but I won't go home."

Tristian hit him. He bounced up and spit at her, "Bitch," she hit him again. He threw a punch blocked easily and she hit him again. He lay crying and sat up. Taking a breath he made his plea, "Commander, I'm sorry. This is my land and I wish to fight but if you feel I'm a danger to others and insist on my return, then so be it. You have my word." He met her gaze, a young man no more, stripped of his pride, his dignity and his limited view of honor. All he had left was the love of his home.

"Good," was all she said but Jenna unpacked and no one looked set to move him. Maria brought him supper and sat. "You know what you did wrong?"

"Aye, took the third hit to get through my stubborn brain but...aye."

"What was it?" another asked.

"She's the Commander, what I want, what I think, what I plan to do, none of it matters. Not now, not here. Her word is law and like it or not it's the best for all of us." He smiled shakily, "So, I'm a knob head and I've passed on some bit of wisdom. Don't bother learning this lesson again; just take my word for it. Do it her way and skip the lesson, it hurts."

Maria chuckled and moved on.

They were mounted, 1200 strong and she had no idea if they'd be enough. She rode over and looked at the young man that mouthed off to her. "Name boy?"

"Axom, Commander."

"Come with me."

He pushed his mount forward and rode quietly at her side as his people watched in worry and concern.

"Medellan, this is Axom. He'll be riding with us."

"Aye, Consort.

"Move 'em out,"

Her Commanders gave orders and the group slowly entered the southern hemisphere.

On the second day they found bodies on the side, signs of a fight obvious. Tristian walked the site and grinned wickedly. "Axom, come here."

"See this? It's a scout mark. These were people out working for the other side. They ran into Maria's team and she left them here as a warning."

"To whom?"

"To them. Let's them know someone's entered their game."

Axom studied the signs and followed as she returned. She turned and gestured, the troop split in two they moved around the site, not converging for several miles.

"Can I ask a question?" Axom murmured.

"S'long as we're not fighting," Tristian responded.

"How can the scouts let us know there's a problem?"


"Duh," He kidded himself. "Sorry, I'll think more before I ask."

"S'alright, only stupid question is the one not asked. Thing you need to lean in when to ask."

He fell silent thinking about that.

Four days later Maria wandered into camp and the maps were brought out again.

"Okay, the wash looks good, we can get a few hundred in. The rest is bad. Flat land for miles, no way we can hide this many people."

"Didn't plan on hiding them," Tristian muttered. Can you take two hundred to the wash? Lead them through tonight?"


"I need them in place by mid-day."

She nodded.

Tristian turned to her Commanders, "Four groups, split yourselves evenly. I want to surround the town and ride in openly. They'll either panic and attack or they'll shut themselves in."

"That's where we come in?" Maria guessed.

"Yep." They barricade I want in down, even if it's only one side. I'll come in on the wash so if anything get me in and we'll go from there."

"Done, we need to head out."

"Go to it."

She turned to Altair. "This town will have innocents, no rampaging through the streets, no fires, kill anything coming at you but don't be chasing anyone down. We'll head out at mid-night. That should give us enough time to get there. I want a mage with the Altair groups; keep in contact with each other. Nobody gets there ahead of anybody else. Split up people then get some rest."

The town of Lyheer scrambled as the pounding hooves approached.

"Get that barricade up, move damn it." The garrison Commander shouted hopelessly. His best troops were out in the land. He had over a thousand people here but more than half were farmers. "Not like that, damn you heathens," he barked rushing to help raise the spiked wall. He failed to notice the staggered presence of outsiders as they scrambled to assist the villagers. Well-placed nicks on the tie ropes ensured the walls would come down when necessary. "Put the people in the square, hurry up."

Again a group of strangers rushed forward to obey, hustling the villagers in the hut in the square, located in the back of the colony, near the wash.

"Shh, come...hurry." They passed the villagers through the hole in the wall. "Come on, stay down and just keep moving." A line of warriors kept the people calm as the helpful strangers gathered up the villagers and ushered them out of the way. Maria's practiced eye estimated no more than four hundred trained troops occupied the village but many of the men on the walls were farmers forced to fight for their families. She sighed and on hearing Tristian cry for Dyan, threw her dagger cutting the remaining rope that held the back barricade.

Shadow screamed and kicked in the flimsy outer wall then carried her rider in. Tristian met the first charge allowing the rest of the warriors to open the other four barricades. Horses thundered through but they ignored the cowering men.

As Tristian slashed her way through she saw the Commander fighting with a mount and smiled grimly. He mounted and turned his horse around dashing for an opening. A piercing whistle split the air and Summer stopped on the hoof. The Commander continued onward and the warriors quickly had him secured. Tristian saw Axom, wild from the battle cornering a terrified farmer and she left Shadow's seat tackling the boy and knocking him out. She pushed the farmer behind her and faced the charging horde headed her way. Shadow charged, hooves and teeth flashing as her master carved her own way through the pack. Maria joined her as the fighting ground to a halt and slowly the overwhelmed victors found themselves prisoners.

"Secure them," Tristian commanded, "and fix the outer wall I want this place looking pretty by sun down."

"Wait..." a shaky voice called. "Who?"

"Dyan," Tristian murmured leaving the man stunned. Axom groaned, Tristian grinned pulling him up. "What happened, this farmer kick your ass?"

He snorted. "I think a cart fell out of the sky. Thank you, I...I couldn't stop."

She squeezed his shoulder, "It doesn't get easier, boy. Remember that." she nodded to the work crews, "Go help raise the walls and walk this man over to his family. Don't hit him no more, he might kick your ass again."

They had the village settled well enough to convince anyone not expecting trouble. Only three squads returned and Megan confirmed the other three had run into the scouts. They would not be returning.

Tristian scowled at the prisoners before her. The Commander had proven very helpful once she'd explained his options. "Now, what the hell am I suppose to do with you?"

"We're paid mercs lady. Take us back and they'll kill us for being incompetent."

"So," Tristian grinned, "You saying I should kill you for being incompetent and save myself the ride?"

"No," he blustered. "I'm saying we're mercs. We fight for money. Hire us."

"You're incompetent. What the hell do I want to hire incompetent mercs for?"

Maria snickered, "She does have a point."

The garrison Commander scowled at her. "Well what the hell do you want to do with us, obviously you don't want to just kill us, or we'd be dead? So, what now?"

"If I knew that, I sure wouldn't be standing here asking you." Tristian growled.

Maria giggled. "Let's lock them for the night and take a break. Maybe they'll have a better idea in the morning."

"Fine," Tristian muttered as the warriors moved them to an open room building and shut them in.

"Be good, guys, Tristian's grumpy. No telling what she'll do when she's grumpy."

Tristian sat comfortably at a table. The tavernkeep insisted on feeding them so she sent the scouts out again for some game. The stew smelled wonderful and the women dug in although most had to eat outside. Still the cook had an outside fire going and had whipped together a meal for a thousand or so hungry warriors.

"Uhmmm," Maria groaned in pleasure. "Real food. I think it's the one reason that I could hate being on trail."

"You and me both," Ceil agreed heartily. "Goddess tavernkeep this is wonderful."

Tristian looked up and grinned, "Trey, where've you been."

"Working too hard from the looks of things. Got any more of that?" She smiled as the woman put a plate down for her and her team moved in for theirs.

"Okay, we've got a gradual decline off the base of this here mountain. Problem is, the ground's cracked and dangerous, the paths are shale and the only true path leads down into another well-guarded village. We went further south though since we over heard several conversations discussing their command camp being a few days away. It's four days actually but...we have to get down the damn hill first."

"What's the command site look like?"

"Like mages," Trey answered wryly. "Kind of nasty, the people all look like they're on drugs and just stumble about. I'm surprised it's not like that throughout the land."

"The nodes aren't bound and they can't use them like that. So they have to sit on one and control the people off the power of the node."

"Can you fix that?"

"Aye, but I want to be closer cause once that happens whoever's left is gonna come haring out over the land and I sure don't wanna do this again."

"Aye," the table agreed whole-heartedly.


"Aye," Tristian greeted him. He was the man Axom tried to skewer. "I be Jerald ladies and I be hearing your trouble. Ladies, there be a path, through the mountains. Bring you out a days ride west of the village ye be talking bout. We didn't tell them, as that would have let them run back and forth over us. This way, tis a chore to get to and from, ye see?"

"Aye. And you're telling us why?"

"Ye be Dyan. Tis enough for us." His head bobbed around the tavern where the citizens nodded in agreement."


Derren ran over with the map for the area. "Okay, Jerald, where?"

"Maria, head out in the morning. Trey stick around, your people need a break, good work."

Trey nodded and wandered off to find somewhere to sleep.

"Ceil, settle them down we're staying for a couple of days. Use the barracks and set the guards." Tristian continued, "I want to head out and check out the trail down to the village in the morning, keep them settled."

Everyone nodded and the tavernkeep approached, "I've a room for ye, Commander. Got a bath waiting, come with me."

Part 12

Tristian woke before daybreak and saddled Summer. "Medellan, stay here. Help the villagers since we're waiting for word from Maria. Couple days at best."

He nodded and watched her ride out the sun not even up yet.

Tristian found the village and climbed the hill above it smiling at the loose rocks on the top. She descended carefully and checked the shale-covered trails. Satisfied that the path was truly shale and not just some laid over the top, she sank into the tall grass and crawled her way down to the rear of the village. She made a small entrance and eased her tall frame in, keeping to the shadows she eased around to the commander's quarters knowing she needed to hurry before the sun cleared the ridge and left her without hiding places.

"I'm telling you he's losing it. Now he wants us to take the damn civilians to him tomorrow. What are we suppose to do with all this land if we're killing off all the people?"

"Don't know, Bella, and I'm sure as hell not gonna ask. Did you see what he did to that last batch we took him?"

"I did. I think we bit the big one on this, Adele. Wish we'd have just run."

"There was no place left to run, you know that. He owns Vostle. Now he's after Altair. What's next?"

"Riger, wherever that is."

"Adele, I can't keep doing this, I can't."

"We here in this crummy village are the only ones left of our entire tribe, Bella. If we fight him, we're gone, no more chances."

"If we don't what do we offer our children?"

"I know," Adel sighed in frustration. "I know but I'm so scared I'm gonna lose you. At least he doesn't care. Where else can we go and love like we do without being ridiculed?"

"That's damn selfish, Adele. I can't believe that came out of your mouth. People are dying and you're worried someone's talking nasty about us?"

"Oh Goddess, Bella, I hurt. I'm tired of hurting. Please make it go away."

"We need to fight him, we need to. I can't turn these people over to him, for Alwyn's sake they think we're their guardians. Please, Adle, please. If we die, we go together."

A small sigh, "You're right, Bella, I don't wanna hurt them anymore. Don't wanna hurt nobody any more.

"Perhaps I can help?" Tristian spoke gently from the shadows. Two swords were pulled and she moved into the light, with her hands extended away from her body, empty. "I can help. You just need to hear me."

"Who the hell are you?"

"I am Tristian Mardred."

"That tells me a lot,"

"Hey," she joked, "you asked." hooking her foot through a chair she pulled one to her and sat comfortably. "I'm from Riger. Altair, asked for help in defeating an army that had invaded their land. We came. We've cleared the land from the north harbor to the village above us, Trestle I believe. This one's next and I'm glad I stopped by first."

"You say you plan to take this village. In case you haven't noticed it's difficult to get here."

"Aye, through the normal paths. But, we've been told of another and we're looking into it. My scouts will have a report on the morrow and we'll move shortly after. The path supposedly comes out a days ride west of here. So let me tell you my plan. There are loose rocks above and a careful slide would cause panic but not much damage. A garrison would descend the path to get everybody's attention but by then, the rest of my people will have this village surrounded."

"If this is true, why tell us?"

"Because you want out. I'm willing to help. I also know a place where you can go and have your love recognized, or celebrated."

"You must think we're daft."

"I wouldn't have stopped if I thought that. Think for a minute. I've been here long enough to hear most of your conversation. There's been no alarm raised, no suspicions; no one knows I'm here. Why would I stop?"

"You could be a spy."

"I'd have turned you in and probably got a reward for it," Tristian smirked cockily.

"You must be daft. We've got the swords and you're laughing at us?"

"No, just your idea. Choose ladies or tell me what would it take to convince you."

"Show us?"

"Show you what?"

"Trestle?" The woman looked at each other and nodded, "show us Trestle."

"Can you leave here without causing an alarm?"

"We're headed out to scout but the people here are ours. All of them. We'll be safe, from them."

"You'll be safe from me. Bring horses and meet me at the top of the ridge just behind the large boulder that blocks the upper path."

"Nice day for a ride," Tristian spoke casually causing the women to jump.

"Alwyn bless, I'm gonna kill you."

"Gotta find me first. Ready?"


Tristian rode straight out not bothering to hide and they reached Trestle within an hour.

Trey met her at the gate eyeing the women appreciatively, "For me? Consort, you shouldn't have."

Tristian grinned, "They're just visiting, see to the mounts?"

"Aye, but if Summer bites me you owe me a keg of summer wine."

"For a bite? Geez, Trey, I didn't know you were that delicate."

Tristian led them to the tavern and bowed them in. Maria sat at her table eyeing the women critically then she sighed. "Let me guess. I rode all night to find this blasted path, checked to see it was clear, left it secured so we could sneak on down and take the village below the hill and you...waltzed in and...what, said pretty please?"

Tristian laughed softly, "You're grumpy, go get some rest but you're almost right. I still want to use the path. A lot of the folks from Altair couldn't sit a horse if we tied them on it."

Maria chuckled tiredly, "Alright but I'm taking your bed. I'm not trying to sleep with those idiots reliving great battles of the day."

"Aye, fine, help yourself. There's a bath if you're interested. Have the Keep heat you some water."

Maria chuckled and kissed her cheek, "You can be sweet at times."

"Hey, watch the rep," Tristian admonished with a smirk.

"Ah..sorry, must be tired." She smiled at the two women, "Night ladies, enjoy your visit."

"Consort," Ceil entered her brow rising in surprise, "something I should know?"

Tristian sighed, "Bella and Adele from the village we're gonna take over tomorrow."

"And you got"

"I was lucky?"

"Some how, Tristian, I doubt Sidell will agree."

"Very funny. Sit."

Ceil joined them and Tristian gave her the short version of the morning. "Ah, and your plan now is to..."

"I'm gonna pretend we're villagers and enter the command site."

"What?" Bella and Adele chorused.

"Over my dead body," Ceil growled.

"It's a great plan," Tristian sighed.

"It sucks," Ceil muttered.

"How many people were you suppose to send over?"

"About a hundred and thirty." Bella answered


"It is not perfect."

"Enough," Tristian roared. "Choose one hundred and twenty-four warriors to enter with me. Find out the mix we need from Bella and don't forget the six guards going with me. Have this done and neither you nor Maria will be included in the count.

Ceil bristled and the women glared at each other. Finally Ceil backed off, "Aye, Commander." She rose and turned back, "Get your fool self killed and I'll help Sidell find you just to kill you again."

Tristian grinned and nodded.

"Consort, what are we going to do with the prisoners?"

"Oh hell, I don't know Trey I was hoping they'd escaped by now."

Trey hid a grin at the expressions on Bella and Adele's faces. "Well, we did decide they're incompetent."

"Think you can scare them enough to be good? We know they can't go back but I don't want them harming the free towns."

Trey considered, "Let me talk to Megan. She's a sneak, maybe she can come up with a plan."

"Great, and have them gone by mid-day. We've a lot to plan for."

"You weren't joking?" Bella blurted.

"About which?"

"About all of it? About fighting for these people, about, helping, any of it, all of it."

"Uhmmm, okay, no. I wasn't joking."


"Because they are Dyan," the tavernkeep replied emphatically placing Tristian's plate down. "Now eat, keep your strength up." She eyed the other two, "I'll have yours out in a bit."

"Dyan," Adele muttered, "that rings a bell."

"Old girl friend?" Tristian teased.

Adele scowled, "Funny girl."

Tristian felt a muted flare of power, quickly dampened and she waited, head cocked testing the air. She relaxed suddenly and sighed, "Damn. I may kill them for this."

"My love,"

"My heart," Tristian murmured rising gracefully and welcoming her lover with a kiss. "Need I ask?"

"Of course not?"

"This is dangerous,"

"I'm aware of that."

"We could be killed,"

"Uh huh,"

"Emma will never forgive us."

"She'll be busy chasing Taledyn."

"I can't dissuade you?"

"Of course you can, change your plan." Sidell smiled at the two gaping women and turned to her lover, "They're staring."

"Let em get their own lover," Tristian murmured kissing her again.

The tavernkeep stepped up and dropped another room key into Tristian's hand. Lifting her lover she nodded to Bella, "Tell Ceil when you're ready to leave if I'm not out by then. She'll see you safe and we'll be by sometime before mid-day."

Ceil, Maria, Bella, Adele and Trey were seated around the table when a flash of silver arced and the women dove to the floor as the table cleaved in two. Tristian stood grinning at them, Sidell tucked against her laughing gently.

Maria sighed, "I was sleeping, if you remember."

"Consorting with the enemy, I'm sure it's a crime somewhere."

Maria smirked, "Ceil is not your enemy and was only looking out for...our, hear that? OUR best interest which was to bring you home in one piece vice many."

"A likely story," Tristian snorted.

Bella and Adele looked concerned as the friends moved tables. The warriors ambled in and picked up the pieces promising the tavernkeep to repair it.

"Alright, let's hear it."

"I've selected one-hundred and twenty-three people with the approximate mix of the village. Bella is fairly sure no one will notice. You've got four mages going in with you."

Tristian shook her head. "With Sidell here that's unnecessary and they'd do you more good than us. Once I find the node Sidell will shield, no one can break the bonded shield so we'll be fine.

"Except that you have the equivalent to the power of the sun roaring through you and I need to hope I can remind you to come back."

"You'll manage," Tristian replied easily. "No the biggest trick will be getting in and breaking the shields already up but that's mage work. I need the warriors keeping the mage or mages too busy to focus on us. Hit them with mage energy and physical attacks to keep them confused. The rest of them will be busy fighting off the forces there and they will have to fight the farmers and such until I can break the hold on the node. I don't expect him to have a hold on our people since he'd have to bond them to himself and that will take more time than he'll have. What I need is all of you in place before we get there cause once I'm in all hell will break loose."

"That's why you're taking your guards?"

"Aye, until the shield is set and the Mother answers we are relatively unprotected. But after that, we'll be all right.

"Okay," Maria began, "this is what we've got."

They went over it three times and Tristian finally agreed. Head out, you'll be moving more and I need most of you rested. Ceil, take Axom with you. Leave the volunteers and we'll head out in the morning to meet Bella. I'll wait above the ridge for a signal that all is clear before we come in. I don't get the signal, we come in force and assume something happened during the night."

Tristian turned to Bella, "How many of your people are suppose to escort them?"

"Normally twelve."

"Then leave me a squad of Scouts and they'll be our escorts."

"We want to go."

"It will be dangerous and I can't promise you'll be safe."

Bella scowled, "We want to go, we're suppose to be the escorts and can hopefully help protect you two until things get hoping. Then we'll find a large group of warriors and hide."

"Fine," Tristian gave in.

The friends rose. With clasps all around they parted and headed out to finish the trek.

"Bella, you two ready to head back?"

"Actually," Adele began, "We'd rather hear about Dyan and you two."

Tristian sighed and allowed Sidell to tell the tale.

They sat above the village watching the two women make their way back. They were greeted eagerly and the women appeared to be in high spirits. Tristian pulled Sidell onto her saddle and the lovers returned in quiet contemplation and gentle touches filled with love.

"I'm glad you're here," Tristian admitted.

"I know. I also know why you didn't call and I love you anyway."

Tristian grinned and they turned in to prepare for the coming dawn.

The trip to the village was uneventful but they were surprised by the warm welcome they received. "Damn," Trey muttered. "I don't get greeted that well in Dyan."

"Perhaps you're doing something wrong?" Sidell asked sweetly.

Bella chuckled. "You folks need to change, our peasants never looked so good."

Tristian and Sidell eyed each other in amusement. "Somehow, my love," Sidell murmured at the homespun trousers and long tunic tightened with a belt, "that doesn't do you justice."

"It's not suppose to," Bella chuckled wryly, "our peasants are also not so well...proportioned."

"Ahhh. Well, that outfit does hide everything."

Tristian rolled her eyes. They headed out on horseback until a day's ride of the city. Then they donned the shackles and started the last day's march across the plains. At daybreak a tired party stumbled into the city.

Tristian could feel the node pulsing with angry energy. She felt the web of surrounding nodes waiting for the final bond. Shuffling forward she called, feeling Sidell move up against her. They were herded towards the rear of the compound but before they got halfway there Riger answered its bondmate's call. Tristian dropped to her knees and Sidell released the shackles and sent out the mind call to begin the attack. Mage flares blasted through the walls and soldiers rushed them. Her people flew to defend and Tristian's guards covered their back. Sidell tracked the power in her mate and fed the shield around them being sure to not tax her mate.

She staggered under multiple mage hits and felt her own mages, battling those in the village as the warriors breached the walls and added physical attacks. Maria pulled her bow and continued firing at the mages forcing them to divide their attentions between the mages and the physical attacks.

Tristian felt the hate of the node, the pulsing fury of mindless anger and she reached for her bond. The air shimmered and burnished silver rose around the lovers. Tristian opened herself to the master nodes and fed the stone in Altair, filling it with the gift of the Mother's Own. The stone pulsed between red and silver-blue. Still she fed the node and slowly the silver-blue hue began to seep into the buried crevasses of the node. Now she called the Bond of Altair and they responded rushing to meet their bondmate. The final joining seared the air in flames and the mages screamed as their power waned. The farmers dropped their weapons in horror or turned on their enemies pummeling them with cudgels and hands. A solid tower of gold surrounded the Consort and the Heir, as the air grew heated. The smell of burnt hair rose and Ceil bellowed to evacuate the village. "Now, move now."

The warriors hurried the confused populace to the surrounding woods. Bella called for her people to help and get out of the village. "Medellan," Ceil screamed. "Leave them,"

The guards were still surrounding the tower and Ceil ran back in as Maria approached for the other side, they slapped the stunned men and pushed them out the gate. "Run damn your ass, run."

The air crackled and huts burst into flames the mages seemed to explode as the heat boiled their bodies. All around them, blood splattered the body not meant to take such temperatures. The entire village erupted into a fireball spiting flames straight up into the air so high the north ridge saw the flickering flames. A blanket of silver raced across the land converging on the village and a final implosion sucked the air out in a vacuum. The shield vanished.

"Let's go" Ceil commanded, desperately grabbing mounts, hoping against hope that their friends had survived.

Ceil almost fainted as she rounded the corner to find Sidell sitting up cradling Tristian tenderly. Ceil knelt and saw Tristian breathing easily and she placed a hand on Sidell's shoulder in greeting."

"Put out these fires," Maria barked, "You people need damn instructions suddenly. Move your assess." She found Brianna, "Set up camp, probably in the woods. I want a full tent for them."

Brianna nodded and staggered off with Megan beside her the two mages trying to hold each other up. They smiled when Bella and Adele slipped under them. "Thanks,"

"Anytime." the women replied.

As the fires were doused the warriors staggered to the campsite, several of them carrying the overtaxed mages. "Medellan, you still walking straight?"

"Aye," he answered for himself and his men.

"Make a litter, carry Tristian to camp. Don't separate her from Sidell."

"Aye," they replied. Putting a litter together they found it easier to load both women on the litter. Struggling slightly they brought their precious burdens to camp.

"Here," Maria stepped out letting them lay the women on the palette Jenna had managed before passing out. Maria pulled her dagger and cut through both sets of clothes so she could check them both. Finally, finding no physical damage she washed them and covered them letting them heal together.

"Hey, look who's back," Ceil grinned weakly. "Had us worried."

Tristian's mouth was dry and she licked her lips.

"Here," Ceil offered a flask and helped her sip.

"How long?" Tristian croaked.

"Three days but don't worry about it, none of the mages are in any kind of shape to travel."

"We're clear?"

"Aye, that last fire flash took out the town and I didn't have time to pull their army out so...they're gone."

"Mages too?"

"Yeah, once your magic trick kicked in they didn't really have a lot of power and after that we took them easy."

"Before that?"

"Ahh, we lost quite a few. Half a garrison from us, a bit more from Altair."


"Could have been worse, Tristian. We could have lost all of Altair and fought this battle on our home turf."

"Aye," she murmured drifting off again.

Sidell woke to gentle kisses and she smiled stretching from being in one position too long. "Oooh, that's stiff," she muttered smacking her dry lips."

"Turn over a bit, love, and Maria can help you with the water."

"What fell on me," Sidell managed after wetting her mouth.

"Beats me but I think it got us both."

Sidell groaned as she curled into the seated position. "Ahh, that is not better."

Maria chuckled, "Here, try this."

A bitter powder and water, Sidell stuck her tongue out, Tristian snorted, "I'll take the headache."

"Stick your tongue in silly and drink more water," Maria chuckled.

"Yeah, just wait until you sit up, warrior, I think the biggest part of the cart fell on you."

Tristian closed her eyes trying to ignore the pounding in her head.

"Here, stubborn. This will only taste bad for a little while,"

Tristian gave up and took the powder feeling the throbbing ease almost instantly. "Thank Alwyn," she murmured watching her lover stagger to her feet.

"Where you headed?"

"The this case, a bush."

"Ah, wait for me."

"Sweetheart, peeing in tangent."

"Don't make me laugh," she grumbled finally making her feet.

Tristian sat comfortably propped against a log, Sidell resting against her. Tristian could feel the clear energies flowing through the land and the pulse of her bondmate, no longer angry. She felt at peace and she gently rubbed Sidell's arm.


"Ready to go home?"


Tristian chuckled, "No? How come?"

"I'll have to be sociable and I'm not up to that yet."

"Ahh," She looked around and realized that the mages hadn't fully recovered either so she leaned back and let herself drift off to sleep. Altair had returned home and she was happy with that, she was tired of being in charge and she was more than ready to have someone else take the helm for a while. Lucky for her, Ceil and Maria were familiar with her and knew that in this state, making a decision was painful.

"Think they'll be okay," Bella asked hesitantly standing at Maria's side.

"Aye, they'll be fine."

"She wouldn't have made it alone would she?"

"It was doubtful, Bella. Very doubtful."

"Why didn't she ask for help? Her lover would have never said no, even I can see that and I barely know them."

"Why?" Maria smiled, "Taledyn, their daughter."

"Oh Goddess. I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"Of course you didn't. Don't worry about it. I hear you're all coming back with us?"

"If we can. It would be nice to be able to live our lives, free and comfortable."

"I don't see a problem, we'll have to do the intro, teach you our laws and make sure you're sure you want to join us. Once that's done it's pretty easy." Maria chuckled, "Did anybody bother to tell you that Dyan is a women only colony?"

Bella's eyes glowed, "Really," she hesitated, "does that mean it's small?"

"No, it's about as big as Altair and our women are scattered across the Holding."

A week after the battle they were ready. Tristian was sending them home and she and Sidell were headed to Altair to make sure everything was being put back together.

"Consort," Derren hollered as they appeared in the courtyard. "I'm glad to see you."

"Derren, have you met Sidell?"

"No, I saw her but we didn't talk or anything. Hello."

"Hello, Derren."

"We came to see that things were well and the mercs didn't get a wild hair."

"No, they took the first ship out and went back to Vostle."

"Good. We're not staying long, Derren, we're still a bit tired."

"Gosh, that was incredible. I thought for sure you were both gone."

"Derren," a voice called to them, "Bring your guests in."

"They aren't staying."

"What?" the elder asked in surprise. "But, we've yet to thank you properly."

Tristian shook her head, "It's been a long trek, Elder. We're both tired and it's time to go home. Mayhap we'll return but for now, I've a need to see my family. We just wanted to be sure you weren't having problems with us marching south."

"Nay, lass. All is well and we've Dyan to thank for that."

"Then thank Sidell. She is the Heir to Dyan."

"Lady," the elder bowed.

"Sidell. Please. It's been a pleasure but it's time to leave, be well Elder, Derren. I hope to see you again."

"Aye, Lady."

"Did Medellan make it home yet?" Tristian asked curiously.

"Nay, the next ship doesn't leave for another five days."

Run and ask them if they want to leave. If yes, have them fall out now."


Tristian wasn't surprised to see them tearing out of the barracks. "I think we're not the only ones wishing to go home."

"Consort, you are well?" Medellan greeted her with respect.

"I am and ready to leave. We're dropping you off and heading out."

He smiled sheepishly. 'I know the feeling. I too am ready to leave."

"So be it."

They entered Emma's house, surprised to find Bella and Adele talking with her.

"They are telling me about Vostle." she stated standing to hug them both. "Thank Alwyn you're safe. Now, your daughter's more than ready to see you but I know the two of you need some privacy."

"No. Tal is welcomed but we do need to get away from everyone for a day or two. We'll take her with us."

"If you're sure?"

"We are."

"Tian, Tian home. Momma, Tian, " Their daughter crowed as she barreled down the hall. Bella bit her lip as the three of them met in a crushing hug. Tristian ported them straight out.

Sidell smiled at the squeal of happy laughter and she rolled over to gaze at her lover and child splashing in the hot springs. They'd been secluded here for three days, spending time together in laughter and love. She stretched and muffled a groan at the protest from her muscle's extended use. But her body warmed at the thoughts of remembered passion. She slipped out of the bedroll and padded naked down to where her family was frolicking.

"Momma," Tal called. "Momma, Tian splash, wet. Momma."

Sidell chuckled, at nearly two, Tal's vocabulary was impressive but she could never remember the little things, like verbs, pronouns, adjectives, and trying to figure out what she was trying to tell you could give you a headache.

"Tristian splashed you?" Sidell smiled, "Like this?" she giggled as she gently splashed her daughter.

"Ahhhh," Tal shouted erupting into a wild frenzy scattering water everywhere.

Tristian fell back laughing as Tal managed to dunk herself and came up sputtering.

"Bad, mamma," she scolded.

"Oh no, I didn't dunk you. You did that."

Tal grinned her sire's quirky grin. "Wuv momma," she muttered leaping into Sidell's arms.

"Love you to, sweetheart." She cuddled her daughter a moment knowing Tal would start wiggling soon. She released her, making sure her daughter's feet reached the shallow part of the pool. "Done playing?"

"Tal do trick, momma watch, kay?"

Sidell's brow rose, "Okay, lets see."

"Careful now," Tristian warned gently.

"Tian careful, me, kay," she blurted happily and lifted a finger pointing skyward. She closed her eyes in a scrunch and a gentle blue flame ignited, dancing merrily on her fingertip.

"Momma, see, momma, pretty?"

"Yes," Sidell murmured weakly, eyeing her mate for a moment. "Very pretty. Is it hot?"

Tal cocked her head and passed her free hand above the flame. "Aye, hot."

"It's very good, you're not gonna burn anything are you?"

"No...Tian says bad, Tal good, not burn, kay?"

"Okay. Can you put it out?"

"Aye," she replied with a smile and blinked. The flame flickered out.

"Good girl, that was very good." She sat on a submerged rock and gathered Tal to her. "Tian taught you?"

"No...Tal played...made whooosh." She scowled, "Bad...Tian found and put out. Then we played. Tal good now, kay, momma?"

"Of course it's okay. You be careful and it's fine."

Tristian held them both and spoke gently. "I asked Tal if she'd like to spend time with G'ma Rie. G'ma Rie knows lot's of tricks and she could teach her some. She likes that idea."

"Hmmm, so do I," Sidell murmured in clear exasperation.

"Momma, mad?" Tal asked anxiously.

"No, baby, I'm not mad. Surprised but not mad. G'ma Rie and you will have fun."

"Kay...we go now? Play with G'ma Rie? Please?"

"After breakfast, little one. I'm hungry."

Tal laid a hand on her mother's belly and smiled, "Momma baby, yes? Momma baby for Tal?"

Sidell chuckled ruefully, "No surprises in this household," she murmured feeling Tristian's arms tighten around her in a loving squeeze. "Yes, we're having another baby and you can play with her too."

"Tian, baby, play too?"

"Aye, young heir, we'll both play with her. Now, we're going for breakfast." Tristian rumbled gently.

"Yaaaaa," Tal cheered scrambling out of the pool and over to the packs.

"Really?" Tristian asked hesitantly. "Are you...okay with this?"

"Surprised, love, but okay. Two surprises in one day I should be use to this."


"Well, as you know, Tal's mage gift should not have shown itself until she was eight." Sidell smiled sweetly, "And the du Aulstets are notorious for having a single offspring. Mother may faint."

Tristian's hands gently caressed her still toned abdomen and she snuggled into her lover's neck. "I love you, my heart."

"And I you, my love."

"Tian, momma, eat, please?"

The adults rose laughing and prepared to face the world once more.

"You're joking?" Aurora stared at her daughter in surprise.

"No. I'm not. If I hadn't been paying attention, she'd have burned the forest down."

"What happened?"

"As near as I can tell, and it's hard cause she's not talking in full sentences yet but...she was watching the sunlight as it shone through the leaves. She reached up to touch and ... I'm lost here; I guess she thought it was so pretty and her gift responded. It lit a flame off the tip of her finger. Not knowing what else to do, she tried to wipe it off."

"Goddess bless."

"Aye, anyway I found her cussing at her finger and little fires were flickering around her. I put them out and then walked her through shutting her gift down. We spent the morning practicing lighting it and putting it out, so she wouldn't be frightened. Can you teach her?"

"Of course I can but...she may be most comfortable with you. She's so young...and she's bonded closer to you that anyone else. I'll tell you what. I'll train her in the basics but you need to make the time to practice with her. I think that would work best."

"I'll do it," Tristian stated firmly. "That's not a problem but I don't know how to explain the gift and I'm glad you're doing it."

"She's my grand daughter, of course I'll do it. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, she is your daughter."

Tristian grinned and laughed. "Aye, now we just need to break the news to Emma that number two is on the way."

"Oh Alwyn, she'll have a heart attack."

"That's what Sidell is afraid of."

Aurora smiled at her daughter and then turned sober, "You remember Adele?"

"Aye, she's will Bella, from Altair."

"Not quite with Bella. Seems she's taken to our colony quite a bit and enjoys the variety offered."

"Oh damn."

"Also seems she's quite an infatuation with a certain Consort."

"Double damn."

"Just a word of caution. She's a bit...obsessive and she's been telling everyone about how brave you were, how selfless, how…

"Sire, please. Enough."

"Sorry," Aurora smirked not looking sorry enough. "Anyway, that's the deal with her. Bring Tal by this afternoon. Sooner started the less frightened she'll be."

"Aye. Thank you,"

"Bah, off with you oh wondrous one."


"Mom, you shopping?"

Selene smiled, "I want to make dinner tonight for Aurora and I. We've been back together for six months and I wanted to celebrate it somehow."

Tristian grinned circling an arm around her mother's waist. "Have I told you how happy I am? And how happy I am for you?"

"You didn't have to," Selene answered softly kissing her cheek. "It shows, everyday it shows. Some times I just want to kick myself for being so stupid."

"Enough," Tristian growled, squeezing her gently, "More than enough."

"Alright. You sound so much like your Sire."

"Hey, get your own woman," Aurora laughingly complained finding them in the middle of the square.

Tristian laughed and hugged them both. "Was telling mom I'm happy for you both."

"Ahhh, funny that, I'm happy for you also."

Tristian shook her head, "Alright, I'm off and you two can finish your shopping. Want me to bring Tal to the center?"

"Please, that way, we won't need to worry if something gets out of hand."

"Right. See you then."

"Hey, you're a pretty girl, huh?" Adele cooed as Tal played quietly in the front of the house. "Look what I've got. Want to share a fruit bar with me?"

Tal shook her head and sat down.

"Come on, it's a nice juicy bar?"

The front door opened and Adele looked up with a smile, "Hello again."


"Yes, it's me."

"Hi, how have you been?"

"Good, this place is neat and the people have been happy. I saw your little one and couldn't help but stop to chat with her. She's very shy."

"Yes she is, until she knows you."

"I was trying to share my treat with her."

Sidell looked down at the uncommonly quiet Taledyn, "You want some, honey?"

Tal shook her head.

"You okay?"

Tal nibbled her fist and then broke out into a dazzling grin and took off running. "Tian...Tian ...bad lady, Tian...bad."

"Whoa, little one, what's wrong?"

"Bad...lady all black, icky, Tian, scares Tal," her daughter whispered into her chest.

Tristian strode up to her lover and nodded at Adele, "Nice to see you."

"I didn't mean to scare her. I didn't think I would."

"Sometimes Tal sees more than she understands, she'll be alright but you seem to frighten her. Might I ask that you not approach her alone again? I'd rather she not be so frightened in her own home."

"No. I can understand that, I'm very sorry."

"It's alright," Sidell soothed, "she's young and still unsure about much," she finished as Tristian took their daughter in to the house.

"Perhaps after I get to know her better she'll be fine?" Adele asked hopefully.

"Perhaps. You'll excuse me?" Sidell entered to find her daughter securely attached to her sire's neck. "Hey big girl, what happened?"

"Lady dark, funny, scary."

Sidell looked up at her lover's darkened visage, "Honey?"

"It's her aura, there's no light, no colors, just a dark cloud and Tal can't read her. It frightens her."

"Is that normal? I don't see things the way you two do."

"Aye, it's the mother's gift and no, it's not normal. Normal would be colors more vibrant than the eye can see, colors that warm your heart. It's the reason Tal is so in love with the women of Southlock. She can see them, their bond with the mother and she trusts them instinctively. Adele she does not trust and neither do I."

"What do you want to do?"

"For the time being, let's not leave Tal out alone too much. I know she's suppose to be safe here but for the time being."

"Okay, what then?"

"I'm gonna talk to Jax. Ask her to call all the women in from Altair and have them go through a psychological exam. Base it on the terrors they've seen over the past years and use it as an excuse to take a closer look at Adele. It will also do them good. I know several of them still have nightmares."

Tal calmed down and requested to be put down. Tristian released her, "Aurora will begin her training this afternoon but you and I will have to practice with her. She's not as close to anyone else and she's so young Aurora doesn't want to push her."

"Sounds find but you'll be the best candidate. I'll pick up the slack but it's you she'll turn to."

"Aye, Aurora mentioned something like that but I'd like you to work with her also so you can understand her gift as well. If I'm out in the land and something happens she needs to have someone here to turn to."

"I know and I will."

"Tian? Tal go play?"

"Yeah, I'll walk you there, okay?"

"Kay, Tal can go alone."

"Ahh, so you can. Alright, go on with you."

Sidell's brow rose but Tristian shrugged, "I don't want her frightened in her own colony. I'll follow along and pass the word through the warriors. She'll be fine."

Tal skipped happily to the park where the children gathered darting among the vendors and patrons as they laughingly grabbed for her.


"Aye, Metre?"

"Here ya go lass," The burly merchant handed her a treat.

"Tank you," she chortled happily gnawing on the fruit bar.

"Hey there." Tal stopped and darted under the cart wrapping her arms around Mestre's leg.

"Eh? What're you doing?"

"I...just wanted to say hi," Adele stammered innocently.

"Well ye scared he bejebers out of her. Off with you, sneaking up on the young ones like that. Go on," Mestre looked around, "Yo, Puck, c'mere. Take this lass off, she's got Tal so shook up the lass won't let me leg go."

"Does she," Puck growled. "Let's take a walk, Adele, Bella would like to talk to you. Tristian will also have a lot to say to you."

"I was just saying hi, "Adele snarled defiantly.

"Yes, you were. Funny, I swore we just had this discussion." Tristian's low voice burred in her ear and she shivered in fear and desire. "Leave my daughter alone."


"No buts, no excuses, no more chances. Scare her again and I'll have you in Vostle so fast your head will spin."


"Come on, idiot," Puck grabbed her arm dragging her away.

"Easy, love, I've got you."

"Bad...lady, Tian, bad."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"What are you doing?" Bella cried out in despair. "Why are you doing this? This place is wonderful, they're good people why do you want to mess that up?"

"I don't," Adele argued. "I love it here, I don't want to leave."

"Then what's the problem?"

"I want her. I've told you that, she's everything I've ever wanted and I've got to have her."

"She doesn't want you."

"She will. I just need to make friends with Taledyn. Her sire will come around then. I could make her happy, Bella. I know I could."

"She is happy."

"Not happy enough. Only I can give her that."

Bella hung her head as Adele walked out and she turned to the other women.

Farsi stood, "Bella, we are family. Loyalty is everything. We swore allegiance to this land. We cannot let this go on."

"I can't turn her in, what does that say about my loyalty to my family?"

"I'd say Adele is being disloyal. She's placed us at risk for her own delusions. And trust me, it is a delusion. If you won't...I will."

"She's right," another spoke up. And another. Finally Bella agreed and went to search for Jax.

Adele approached the playground after ensuring Tristian had gone to the compound. She had a large apple and she smiled happily knowing this was her destiny.

"Hold," a cold voice stopped her. "You've business here?"

"It's a playground, Kelsey, nobody has business here."

"It's a playground for children. What brings you here, Adele."

"Oh, I've brought Tal a treat. Do you think she'll like it?"

"No. And I can't let you pass."

"What, I'm her friend for Alwyn's sake. Just ask her."

"Leave, Adele. Now or I'll remove you."

Tal's clear laughter rang out in the air and Adele shoved Kelsey out of the way. The youngster bounded up tackling the woman. Struggling, Adele pulled a wicked dagger and plunged it deep into Kelsey's stomach as a trio of roving warriors rushed to the scene. Puck ran up cursing. "Clear this area, I don't want the children to see this. Take her to lockup and Kel to Jax."

Brown eyes filled with tears looked at her gently. "No need, Commander. It's too late."

Puck's eyes closed, "Take her anyway. Move people, we're beginning to cause a scene."

"Dear Goddess, what will we do now?" Bella crumpled into a chair.

"I...didn't think she was that far gone, Bel," Farsi murmured. "Didn't think she'd attack someone over this."

Emma entered the holding cell and sat heavily on the bench. "I'm satisfied that none of you were involved. I thank you for bringing it to the attention of my healers."

"Leader, we are so sorry," Bella offered. Refusing to plead for a chance to stay.

"I know, Goddess I do know. None of us are futureseers and...I'm not sure this could have been stopped. Tristian found out about it today and she'd also gone to talk to Jax. She'd put the warriors on alert which is how Kelsey got involved. I guess...Alwyn bless it could have been Tal."

"What now?"

"I'm having you moved. I'm sorry but things are too hot in Freelock and I won't have anyone else hurt because of anger. Out to our eastern border is a Holding of women that are sort of like you. Refugees. They've built a beautiful colony and I thought you'd do well there. The people will accept you and none will know about this incident. I can't stop the rumors in the warriors but they are professionals and people die in the line of duty. Puck will see to them. Is this alright with you?"

"More than we could have hoped for, Leader. Much, much more."

"Good. The transport is ready and I'm having you escorted to gather your things and flying you out." Emma rose, "Puck."

Puck entered and spoke gently, "Know that we hold none of you responsible but today, it's hard and we've lost a sister. Please, come with us and cause no trouble."

The move and flight was accomplished in complete silence. They landed in Haven surprised to find Tristian with the welcoming committee. "Elders, allow me to introduce you to the women that assisted us to overthrow the enemy in Altair. They too have been displaced from their homes by things they had no control over. Welcome them, as sisters and as friends."

The cheering took them by surprise and the Elders stepped forward to greet them warmly. "Welcome, you must all be exhausted and probably shaken up. Come on, let's get you lot settled."

Tristian stopped Bella, "She chose her path, Bella, let it go."

"She's not coming is she?"

"No. For the death of my warrior, she will pay with her life."

Bella nodded. "Thank you, for this, and for the truth."

Tristian nodded, power hummed, and the Consort disappeared.

Tristian refused to see Adele even on her last request. She had Puck handle the arrangements and the hanging was scheduled for dawn.

Tristian was not present and Adele hung with a small group of warriors as witness. She never had a chance to proclaim her love; no one wanted to give the woman a stage so no one attended. The pyre was lit immediately after and the ashes scattered faster than the memories would.

The only good thing that happened was the children had not seen anything and were still happily playing when Tristian broke free and gathered Tal for her first lesson.


"Yes, G'ma?"

Aurora switched to mind speech, "Can you hear me?"

Tal cocked her head and poked a finger in her ear. "Here," she explained pointing at her head.

"Good, think here."


"Don't talk, think. Say Momma in your head."

"Don't talk? Head only? Kay."


Aurora winced. "Not so loud, again."


Aurora smiled and verbalized, "Very good."

Aurora had decided to just show her since the explanations wouldn't do either of them any good. They used picture cards. Aurora sent pictures and Tal pulled the card. Then they changed places."

She showed Tal how to ask permission to mindspeak and they practice that.

"Enough. You practice with your mum or your Sire. Tal, remember, not everyone can do this so...when you ask permission, if they don't answer you, don't do it. Kay?"

"No is no and no answer is no. Kay."

"Good girl, tomorrow we'll play more."

"Yeaaaaa," Tal cheered and kissed her grandmother before skipping out the door.

Tal found her sire first and asked to mindspeak, Tristian smiled.

"This your new trick?" She Sent and Tal wiggled with excitement.


"Whoa," Tristian exclaimed aloud. "Softly, love. No need to shout in mindspeech."

"Sorry, Tian," Tal Sent.

"Very good," Tristian replied as they both moved back to the mindspeech arena.

Keeping with the internal powers, Aurora taught her to Fetch. This drove her parents nuts as things kept disappearing. Tristian explained that it wasn't nice to take things that didn't belong to you and Tal would be punished if that happened again.

Finally Aurora was happy with how much they could communicate. "Okay, make a fire."

Tal held her finger up and did so as Aurora monitored.

"Good, see this?" She showed her using mindspeech.

Tal nodded.

"That's how you made the fire." Aurora pointed to the fireplace. "Look there, make a fire."

Tal set the rug on fire. Aurora sat calmly and merely said, "Oooops. Best put it out."

Tal did and smiled proudly.

"Good, try again."

She lit the mantle on fire.

Aurora smiled patiently and waited for her to put it out. She finally got the hang of it and they practiced lighting the fireplace, candles, lanterns, until Tal could put the blaze in a drach.

Then she was sent home to practice.

"You know, I may murder your Sire," Sidell grumbled in irritation. Tal sat penitent waiting for her mother's punishment. "Taledyn, I realize you want to help, sweetheart but there is a time and place for everything. Lighting all the candles in the house in the middle of the day is not necessary and letting them burn down is a waste. Explain yourself."

Tal's bottom lip quivered, "Sorry. Tal just wanted to play."

"I, not Tal, I"

"I just wanted to play. Sorry."

Sidell sighed. "I know, but don't burn everything down in the house, sweetheart. I'll let you light the fires at night. That can be your chore. No more daytime fires. Okay?"

"Kay. Sorry."

"I know, love," Sidell replied kissing her forehead. "Deal? Nighttime? And only those we need, not every one in the house."

"Deal, momma."

"Go and wash your face and you can come shopping with me."


Tal went in search of her sire once her mother released her. "Tian?"

Tristian looked up at the sad face of her daughter. "Hey, come here. It can't be that bad, sweetheart. What's wrong?"

"Momma mad."

"What for?"

"Tal...I lit the candles."

Tristian winced. "All of them?"

Tal nodded.


Tal nodded again.

"You apologized?"

"Yes, and I took her shopping."

"Okay, we'll stop and get a present on the way home."

"Kay. Can I stay with you?"

"If you don't start fires."

"I be good."

"Alright. Here's your new book."

Sidell looked up as the door opened and Tal walked in quietly, hands behind her back. Tal presented her with a dozen roses. "Momma, I sorry. I won't do again."

"Honey," she smiled and gathered her daughter, "I forgave you. But thank you."

Tal snuggled happily as Tristian entered with another dozen.

Kissing her mate she asked shyly, "You ever gonna forgive me?"

"I don't know warrior. Maybe when she's eighteen."

Continued in Part 8.

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