velvetfiction: (chocolate&magic)
[personal profile] velvetfiction
Since the 2009 [ profile] yuletide author reveals are now up, I can post this:

Title: Surprise and Negotiation
Fandom: Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar universe
Author: [personal profile] velvetmouse
Gift for: [ profile] inlovewithnight
Rating: G
Word Count: 3360
Characters: Kerowyn, Tarma, Warrl
Summary: Kerowyn enters another phase of her training with Tarma. But, as always, things don't quite go as planned...
A/N: Many many thanks to my betas, Mari and Maat, who patiently beat me over the head until I followed their suggestions, thus making this story a hundred times better than it was originally.


The spring sun was warm on Kerowyn's face, and she blinked in surprise when she awoke. It had been a long time since she had slept past sunrise. The wood of the floor in her tower room was pleasantly warm, making the cold tile of the bathing chamber that much more of a shock. She yipped slightly and cursed herself for forgetting her slippers.

"Everything alright in there?" a voice drifted down the hallway.

"It's all fine, but I would suggest that you put your slippers on before heading out. The floor is cold in here!" Kero shouted back.

By the time she headed back out into the hallway, she nearly ran headlong into Daren, who was waiting his turn in the bathing chamber. Wordlessly, he pointed to his feet, which Kero saw were encased in sheepskin slippers.

"Good move," she said with a grin. Daren was much easier to live with now that they weren't butting heads over everything. They still argued, but at least now their arguments had substance behind them and were borne out of real differences in opinion.

"Sleep late, too?" she asked him as they headed down to breakfast together.

He nodded. "Can't remember the last time we both slept through sunrise."

Kero stopped so suddenly on the stairs that Daren nearly bowled her over.

"You don't think...?" she said, turning around to face him.

"That the tower caused us to sleep late? I don't know. It did send those weird warning dreams before, so I bet making us sleep late wouldn't be too hard. But why?"

"Because things are about to change, and you two have been working hard," a new voice said from the bottom of the stairs. "So apparently the tower decided that we all were going to have a lie-in this morning."

They turned to find their teacher, Tarma shena Tale'sedrin, standing at the bottom of the stairs, her blue eyes sparkling with amusement.

"I need to make a trip back to the Clan - I didn't go last year because I was busy with the two of you," the warrior explained as they all helped themselves to breakfast. "But Keth got a message from her son Jadrek - he's the shaman - threatening me with all sorts of unpleasant things if I didn't make it out this year. And as I am a dutiful daughter of the Plains, I shall go."

"Not to mention that Jad could probably turn you into an octopus or some other horridly tentacled thing if he felt like it," said a new voice. "And I won't be there to change you back."

Kero turned to see her grandmother, the sorceress Kethry, making her slow but stately way to the table. Kero couldn't quite hide a smile as Daren immediately jumped up to pull out a chair for the woman. Although he had been raised from birth with the manners of the court, it wasn't until he had arrived at the tower that those manners had become second nature to him. Kero thought that between the three of them, she, Tarma and her grandmother were turning Daren into a rather respectable young man.

"You've got that right, she'enedra," Tarma agreed. "So I'm leaving tomorrow and you," she pointed to Kero with the tip of her knife, "are coming with me."

Kero dropped her bread in surprised. "I am?"

"You are," Kethry confirmed. "Didn't I tell you that you would have a chance to meet your aunts and uncles and cousins?"

:You are Clan, child,: Warrl, the lupine kyree who sat at Tarma's feet, added softly in her mind. :And all Clan have the right and privilege to know their extended family.:

Family, Kero thought, and to her dismay she felt her throat closing up and tears beginning to form in her eyes. For so long "family" had meant her mother, father and brother. Then her mother had died, her brother grew up and her father became more distant, and suddenly "family" had become an obligation rather than a comfort. That had changed somewhat when she had joined her grandmother and Tarma in the tower, but the idea of a whole Clan of aunts and uncles and cousins, who were far more likely to accept her as she was than her own immediate family had, was somewhat overwhelming. She tried to hide her reaction by fishing her bread out of her porridge until she had regained control of her voice.

"I'd like that a lot," she said shyly.

"What am I going to do?" Daren asked a little petulantly, and Kero resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Despite her best efforts, Daren still slipped back into "youngest spoiled prince" mode at the strangest times.

"You, young man, will continue to train," Tarma replied with a disgusted look that Kero was glad was not directed at her for once. "Someone - or several someones, probably - will be here to spar with you a few times a week. You will give them the same respect and effort that you give me, understood?"

Daren nodded so hard that Kero was afraid his head was going to fall off.

"And when you are not working out," Kethry continued smoothly, "you will be studying with me: history, law, politics and magic."

"M-magic?" Daren asked. "But-but I don't have any tal-"

"Any talent," Kethry interrupted his stuttering. "I know. But if you are to be Lord Martial some day, you will have mages in your employ. And as Tarma will tell you, a good commander knows the capabilities of all his troops, even the magical ones. Not to mention you will need to have an idea of what any enemy mages might be capable of."

"But that is all for tomorrow," Tarma pointed today. "Today we'll have a mild little workout in the morning and perhaps some tracking after lunch, hmm?"

Kethry's laugh at the pained expressions on Kero's and Daren's faces nearly drowned out the simultaneous groans. Nearly.


When Kero finally dragged herself out of the bathing chamber that evening, she almost missed the two packs sitting outside of the door to her room. Stifling an exhausted whimper, she summoned up the energy to grab the packs and drop them on the bed. Eventually curiosity won out over exhaustion, and she began to look through them.

One pack contained several sets of traveling clothes, and other small essentials that Kero knew would make the trip south easier. The other contained brightly colored fabrics in soft materials. Puzzled, she pulled one garment out, which turned out to be a loose vest-type garment. Shin'a'in clothing, Kero realized with a start.

Mentally, she called up the map of the region. We're practically on the boarder with Jkatha here, so we'll probably take the trade roads south to Kata'shin'a'in. No reason to go anywhere near the capital, she reasoned. It shouldn't take us more than a few weeks, a moon at most, with just the two of us. Well, three, she amended. I can't imagine Warrl would be left behind, although he'll probably ride pillion behind Tarma most of the time.

:I'm glad you remember to include me in there somewhere,: Warrl's dry voice said in her head. :But your reasoning is sound, youngling. It generally takes us no more than a moon to get from here to wherever the Clan is.:

"Were you snooping in my head again?" Kero asked aloud, glaring at the kyree.

:I can't help it if you're still projecting when you're tired,: Warrl replied with dignity, as he lept up onto the bed in one great bound. :Do some of those meditation exercises that Tarma taught you and reinforce your shields. Ground and center, girl. You can't build shields on a wobbly foundation.:

Kero continued to glare for a moment but then subsided and sent herself into a light trance to work on her mental shields. As uncomfortable as she was with her ability, she knew that she needed to have unshakable control before she went out on her own. Warrl had made it abundantly clear just how much danger an untrained - or worse, half-trained - mind-speaker could be, both to herself and those around her.

By the time she roused herself from the trance, Warrl had left, leaving only a warm place on the foot of her bed.


The next morning, Kero awoke at her customary time, as false-dawn was lightening the sky. She completed her morning routine (thankfully remembering her slippers) and returned to her room, searching around for anything else she might need to take with her.

Hearing a faint whisper of sound, Kero turned to find Tarma standing in her doorway.

"Ready to go, little hawk?"

"I - think so. I don't think there is anything else here that I need to take."

"I can see one thing," Tarma replied, looking pointedly at Need, which was hanging on the wall.

Kero blinked in surprise. "You want me to take Need? But I only just started practicing with her! What if -"

"Did you really think I was going to let you out of the tower with a practice blade? You're a trained swordswoman now, Kerowyn. Need won't help you in that respect ever again. As for her other tendencies - well, I've been living with them for over twice as long as you've been alive, child. Besides, the way between here and the Plains is hardly a magnet for trouble."

"If you're sure," Kero said doubtfully, and pulled the blade down from the wall. As she did every time she picked up her sword, she thought she heard a sleepy murmur in the back of her mind. When she had first begun using Need again, she had fought a series of mental battles with the blade, struggling to retain control of her body and mind, and not submit to the sword's formidable will. Kero thought she had emerged victorious in those battles, but was always wary of Need trying again the moment she let her guard down. This would be the first time she had gone any distance from the tower's lands and it would be a perfect time for Need to try again to persuade her to go haring off towards women in trouble.

Shoving those thoughts away, she belted her sword with a shrug and followed Tarma down to the stables. There, she received another surprise. Both battlemares stood, waiting patiently to be saddled. Kero's own saddle-mare, Verenna, was nowhere in sight.

:You should see your face, child,: Warrl's amused mind-voice came from his position between the two mares. :You look like you've been struck from behind with a log.: His long tongue lolled out in a kyree grin.

"Well, it's not like I got to discuss it with her, Furball." Tarma's own amusement matched her mind-mate's. "So I think she can be forgiven this once." She turned to a still-stunned Kero. "It's time we started training you on Hellsbane. You're an excellent rider, but having a battlemare is an experience unlike any other. In time, she could become close to a partner to you. You'll need to pick up some more Shin'a'in for this, so I'll be drilling you in that as we go, as well. Now look here, this is the command to tell 'bane to accept someone as a rider. She'll only accept this command from someone she has previously worked with. . ."


Days flew by quickly as Kero and Tarma made their way south towards the open expanse of the Dhorisha Plains. By the afternoon of the second day, Tarma had resorted to speaking exclusively in Shin'a'in.

:It means 'tent pole',: Warrl had chimed in helpfully, one morning not long after they had set out. Kero was rapidly picking up Shin'a'in, but occasionally she was stumped.

What is he doing? she had sworn to herself, trying to continue striking camp as though she hadn't heard. I told him that I didn't want Tarma to know about any of this.

Warrl's had ears flattened a little. :Don't shout.: he had growled, sounding both pained and exasperated. :I told you I would protect your secret, did I not? It has long been established that I can mind-speak with whomever I choose, whenever I choose. Neither your teacher nor your grandmother have a trace of the ability and I have been holding conversations with them for nearly forty years. Tarma need not suspect a thing.:

Warrl's reassurance had done much to assuage Kero's concerns, and between language lessons, training on Hellsbane and swordwork each evening after they set up camp, she found herself with little time and no energy to spare on worrying.

It was not long after they set out one morning, nearly three weeks into their trip, that an incessant tugging began to pull at Kero's mind. It was so subtle that she did not notice it until she began to unconsciously give Hellsbane contradictory signals. The mare whickered and tossed her head in distress, drawing the attention of Tarma and Warrl.

"Kero - child - what's wr-" Tarma started to ask, but Need choose that moment to strike Kero with her full force of will.

Taken by surprise, Kero found herself spurring her mare off the road and across the open field. Desperately, she threw up the strongest mental shields that she could muster.

"Oh hellfire," she faintly heard Tarma mutter, and then she heard three sharp commands in Shin'a'in, which caused Hellsbane to skid to a stop, and Kero to go tumbling over the horse's shoulder. Fortunately, she - or perhaps the sword - controlled the fall so that she landed in a crouch, shaken but unharmed.

Helplessly, Kero felt herself draw the sword and start running across the field on foot. But before she could get more than a few steps, she felt something knock into her from behind. In the shock of the unexpected attack, Kero regained enough control of her body to go limp on the ground, and she felt a great weight settle on her back, preventing her from moving.

Taking great, sobbing breaths of grass and dirt, Kero felt her mental shields taking a beating like she had never experienced before, and to her confusion, she could still feel the blade's pull.

Then Kero felt another set of shields snap up around her mind, somehow between her own shields and the pull of the blade, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she continued fighting to regain control of her body.

:Reach your left hand behind you,: Warrl's familiar voice said in her mind, :and place it on my paw. Physical connection will strengthen the shield.:

Kero nearly yelped when she felt something cold and wet nudge the back of her neck, but she did as the kyree had asked. It felt like trying to move through a tub of cold honey, but she eventually was able to reach her hand back and make contact with Warrl's paw, realizing that he was the weight on her back. His fur was coarse under her hand, but to Kero it was the most comforting thing in the world. As soon as she made contact with him, the pulling sensation stopped and she found she once again had full control of her body.

Warrl seemed to pause a moment and then Kero heard his 'voice' again, but this time it was oddly distant. :No, keep holding her arm. Even if the sword takes over again, it won't allow the girl to attack you.:

He's talking to Tarma, Kero realized with surprised. She shifted her head slightly and saw that Tarma was pinning her sword-arm to the ground and had carefully nudged Need out of her grasp.

She chuckled weakly. "I can only imagine the picture we make," she muttered into the ground. She was answered by a short bark of laughter from Tarma.

:Why can I still feel Need's pull?: Kero asked Warrl, carefully framing her thoughts as he had taught her. :My shields were always strong enough to keep her out before.:

:I believe Need had already insinuated herself somewhat into your mind before she tried to exert her full control,: the kyree replied, and shifted so that Kero could scratch his ears. :So when you put up your shields with your customary diligence, you cut off the brunt of Need's attack, but not all of it. Effectively, you split her, trapping a little on the inside of your shields, and the bulk on the out. I interposed my own shields between you and the part of Need that was trapped within your shields.:

"How long can you keep these shields up, Warrl?" Kero asked aloud.

:Not very long, I'm afraid. The only reason it is working now is because we are in direct contact.:

"Then we need to deal with this now," Kero said firmly. "Warrl, would you let me sit up? I'm in control now, I think."

Carefully, Warrl stood but made sure that Kero's hand remained in contact with him at all times. Slowly, Kero used him and Tarma for support as she sat up, exhaling deeply now that the weight was lifted from her.

"Tarma, could you get me a cloth?" Kero asked. "I think I need to talk to Need directly, and I don't dare touch her with my bare hand right now."

"Good thinking," Tarma replied and pulled off her own hair-scarf.

Kero wrapped it around Need's hilt and, careful not to lose contact with Warrl, drew the blade across her lap.

"Alright, listen well, you dilapidated hunk of tin," she said to the sword. "You. Will. Not. Control. Me." She punctuated each word tap on the blade. "You did that once when I had to rescue Dierna, and that was more than enough. Look," Kero continued, in what she hoped was a more reasonable tone, "if there's a woman in that much trouble, this close to the Plains, I'm sure Tarma and I would have no issue in seeing what the problem was. But if we're going to do that, you and I are going to be partners, do you hear? You can guide me to the problem, but then we're going to solve it my way. Or Tarma's way. But I will remain in full control of my body at all times."

Kero got the faint impression of someone muttering, and she exchanged a glance with Warrl. The kyree cocked his head slightly and then nodded once, indicating that he had heard it too. Cautiously, Kero removed her hand from Warrl, ready to grab onto him again, should the sword prove more stubborn than usual.

But the sword remained quiet. She felt Warrl withdraw from her mind and breathed a sigh of relief. No matter how much she trusted him - and she did, as much as Tarma or her grandmother - it always felt wrong to have mind-to-mind contact. The tug from Need was still there, but now that she was aware of it, it was more like an internal compass, pointing her in the right direction. Slowly, Kero lowered her shields back down to their normal levels, but nothing drastic happened.

With a shuddering sigh, Kero slumped forward slightly, feeling like she had just had a four candlemark workout. When she opened her eyes again she found Tarma looking at her with a mixture of resignation and amusement.

"Well, jel'enedra, what now?"

"I think I won that round," Kero replied slowly, "but the pull is still there." She made a face. "Tarma, I'm sorry, but - "

Tarma barked her harsh laugh again. "Well, little hawk, let's see what trouble that damned blade finds for us this time, shall we? I know better than to argue with that hunk of tin. Nothing like a little trial by fire to test your skills, eh?"

Kero groaned but stood and followed Tarma back to the horses. She mounted, turned Hellsbane in the direction of Need's pull and the two fighters set off in search of the damsel in distress.

Whether or not they found her is a story for another time.


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