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The Promise

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THE PROMISE
By Senashenta

-
If you wait for me
Then I'll come for you
Although I've traveled far
I always hold a place for you in my heart
-

Rhys had never been a morning person, particularly. Oh, he got up at the crack of dawn—but not because he wanted to. He got out of bed then because he was part of a farm family and if he wasn't up in time to help with the early-morning chores, he was given evening fireplace-cleaning duty instead—and he hated cleaning the hearth even more than he hated rising with the sun.

His first chore was always to collect eggs and feed the chickens, followed by taking care of the goats and the Samuel family's two milking cows. His elder brothers were in charge of the fields and crops and any carpentry that needed done around the property, along with their father.

This morning was like every other. The eggs were waiting for him—nearly twenty of them, today—and the animals were hungry, insistent for their breakfast. The cows, Bala and Daisy, were also looking forward to being milked, as always. It was uncomfortable for them to haul around full udders—or so they told him.

Rhys had always been fond of the cows, and they were fond of him. Unlike the chickens, who were nervous and antsy around people, and the goats, who had the opinion that they were better than "their" humans, Bala and Daisy were friendly and suitably grateful for their food, shelter and care.

Hello Rhys-boy.

It was the traditional greeting from Daisy and one he heard almost every morning. Rhys couldn't remember when he had learned to speak to the animals this way—with his mind—because he had been doing it forever, as far as he knew.

Normally, Bala would add her own hello as well, but this morning she seemed distracted, large brown eyes staring off into the distance beyond the doors to the barn. Rhys found his curious, contemplating it for a moment as he filled the food trough—then set the bag of feed down and moved over to peer outside.

Across the yard and halfway down the road leading to their property was a horse. It was pure, almost shining white, moving with a surreal grace as it picked its' way down the dirt path, head up and eyes alert, surveying and searching.

Rhys knew what it was. Knew what she was—and, instinctively, knew that she was coming for him.

Her name was Dellia and she was his destiny.

-
If you think of me
If you miss me once in awhile
Then I'll return to you
I'll return to that space in your heart
-

:Heyla, Chosen, up and at 'em!:

:Mmmghnnn… Dells, it's not even sunrise yet… lemme 'lone…:

:I know, lovey, but you've got kitchen duty this morning, remember? And I'd really, really love an apple or two before you get started for the day.:

:I knew you had motives.:

:You know me too well, darling.: Dellia's Mindvoice was amused, warm; :now come on and get up. You've got to get moving.:

:Yeah, yeah. I'm up, I'm up.:

Four years into his training as a Herald and Rhys was still anything but happy to get up in the morning. He doubted that would ever change, particularly on the days when he had kitchen chores. He had to rise before the sun and head down to help the cooks with breakfast preparations and cleaning dishes, then wolf his own meal down before running off to his morning classes.

Plus, Dellia had a habit of getting him up extra early. For apples, of all things.

:I happen to like apples.:

:Well, obviously.: And then a pause, followed by a conceding, :I'll be out in a minute, Dells.:

The mare's pleased murmur of a response faded into the back of his mind as Rhys heaved himself out of bed and pulled his Greys on, then toed his feet into his uniform boots, straightened his bedding out, and moved into the corridor outside his room.

The hallway was predictably empty, as everyone who was within their right mind was still blissfully asleep, so his walk down to the kitchens was made in silence. Even Dellia was quiet now, doing who-knew-what as she waited for her own personal apple delivery.

Down in the kitchens, Rhys gave slightly sleepy greetings to the staff and students who were already there even as he was digging in the bin of apples for the kind that Dellia really liked—speckled red and yellow and a little overripe. She loved those, saying that they were extra sweet and crisp, though if he was honest, Rhys couldn't tell the difference even if he tried. (He preferred his apples in pie form, anyway.)

A quick wave to the head cook and her nod in response was his permission to leave long enough to make his traditional visit to Companion's Field. They all knew about Dellia's habit of filching extra apples when Rhys had kitchen duties—it was common knowledge, and really, she wasn't the only Companion to take advantage of their Chosen's minor misfortune in having such early-morning chores.

Outside was the kind of chilly-warm that came with early spring pre-dawn weather. It was nice, actually—much better than the winter's biting cold or the summer's sweltering heat. Rhys had always liked the springtime—or autumn. He liked autumn, too, for the same reason as spring.

With three apples tucked into one arm, he headed out across the courtyards toward the Field—and, at the first corner, ran head-first into someone coming the other way.

"Ah!"

"Ouch!"

"Sorry!"

"Are you okay?"

"I didn't mean—"

Rhys helped the other person—a girl, maybe a little younger than him, but close to his age, at least—up, apples scattered on the ground and forgotten for the moment. Once they were both on their feet again, he brushed at his tunic absently before looking at the girl, and—

There was something he couldn't put his finger on.

Something that made him think of Dellia, but not quite the same.

The girl stared back for a moment before shaking her head, muttering another quick apology, and hurrying past him toward the nearest Collegium doors. Rhys looked after her, frowning a little, until Dellia's voice broke into his thoughts once again.

:Chosen…?:

"Right, right. Apples."

He frowned a bit more, then sighed and leaned to gather up the fruit again.

:Be right there, Dells.:

And he took off toward Companion's Field again.

-
Remembering
Your touch
Your kiss
Your warm embrace
I'll find my way back to you
If you'll be waiting
-

It took some asking around, but he eventually managed to find out her name—Muse Whitefield—and quickly thereafter learned that she was a Blue, attending school at the Collegia, not because she was Chosen or necessarily Gifted, but because her parents were wealthy and paid for her attendance there.

But why did it even matter, anyway?

Rhys wasn't sure, really, only knew that she was intriguing and he couldn't get her out of his thoughts.

She was petite and thin, with long red-brown hair and deep brown eyes, and a smattering of freckles across her nose. He had only seen her for a short time—the span of a few seconds—but he knew that much, could remember that much—obsessed over that much.

Dellia had, at first, been concerned for him. He was distracted, daydreamed, lost himself in thought about the girl that he had barely even met—and soon became irritable, the more he contemplated her. But soon, Dellia's worry seemed to vanish, giving way to a vague kind of amusement that annoyed Rhys to no end once he recognized it for what it was.

:I don't see why you think it's so funny!:

:Not funny, love, just… amusing.:

:Or amusing!: Rhys huffed, falling down onto his back on his bed, then grabbed his pillow and flung it up over his face, muffling a frustrated noise into the fabric.

He honestly didn't understand why this girl was bothering him so much. He couldn't concentrate, could barely eat, and woke up every morning thinking about her—and they hadn't even been properly introduced! The only reason he knew her name was because he had stubbornly asked around the Collegia grounds. Like a stalker. He was a stalker!

:Oh, for crying out loud.: Dellia finally heaved a mental sigh, and he could practically feel her rolling her eyes in the back recesses of his mind. :It's a lifebond, Rhys! It's no wonder you're beside yourself!:

Silence.

Rhys didn't move for a long moment.

:…Rhys? Lovey? Chosen?:

:A lifebond? A lifebond?!: Shock resonated between them—and then Rhys shot up in bed, sitting up so fast he tumbled off and landed on the ground with an indignant yelp. "A lifebond!" Now he was talking to himself. Out loud. "That makes perfect sense!"

:Uh,: came Dellia's somewhat blank reply; :It does?:

-
If you dream of me
Like I dream of you
In a place that's warm and dark
In a place where I can feel the beating of your heart
-

Being lifebonded to someone was a totally surreal experience. Especially when, even after figuring out that he was lifebonded, it took Rhys a further six weeks to manage to approach her again and actually introduce himself.

Dellia wavered between chortling amusement and frustrated impatience the entire time. At times she clearly seemed to be contemplating ways to expedite the entire relationship process—mostly because she was forced to listen to him pine away for that entire long month and a half.

Finally the mare decided to take things into her own proverbial hands.

:Chosen?:

"Mm…?"

Rhys was lounging around in Companion's Field after classes. It was late spring now, bordering on full-out summer, and the weather was almost too warm, at least in Rhys' opinion. It was getting muggy, and that was most of what he hated about the summer.

Still, it was nice to spend time in the Field with Dellia. Normally most of their time together had to do with horsemanship classes, learning to ride while doing any number of useful (and sometimes odd) things while sitting in the saddle. And while any time with Dellia was lovely, sometimes Rhys liked to just… sit around with her.

Now they were under a tree by the edge of the Field, Dellia laying on her side and Rhys leaning back against her stomach, surprisingly comfortable. But the Companion was starting to shift restlessly, which Rhys knew meant his time using her as a giant pillow was becoming short.

:I'm thirsty. Let's go to the river.:

"Yeah. Okay."

Dellia barely gave him the time to sit up before heaving herself to her feet again. Rhys stood more slowly, stretching his arms above his head until his back popped and he made a soft, pleased noise.

The Terilee was the longest river in Valdemar, running diagonally through the entire country. At it's heart it wound its' way through the middle of Companion's Field, beautiful, clean and fresh water. Sometimes Rhys wondered if the Companions kept it pristine by some mysterious and magical means.

"Let's go."

The stroll to the river was suspiciously silent.

Rhys learned why when they reached their destination and his eyes lit on an eerily familiar figure, seated on the river bank and staring off into the babbling water—and at that particular sight, he dug in his heels and refused to take another step.

"Dellia!" The name was hissed, and he glared sideways at Dellia, who was giving him an innocent look. "That's her!"

:Oh?: Dellia asked, batting her eyes, :is it?:

And then she reached, grabbed Rhys by the back of his shirt with her teeth, and, jerking her head, lifted him bodily off his feet and flung him in Muse's general direction.

Rhys collided with the girl's back (completely against his own willpower), and the two of them tumbled into the river.

But, most importantly, they tumbled into the river together.

-
Remembering
Your touch
Your kiss
Your warm embrace
I'll find my way back to you
If you'll be waiting
-

"I am so going to get her back for that some day."

"I think you should leave her alone."

"Oh, come on. You were there. She flung us both in the river."

"Mmhm, and if she hadn't you would never have gotten around to talking to me."

Rhys had to give Muse that one. He chuckled, shifting a little and adjusting his arms around the girl that was leaning against him, then nosing down into the crook of her neck with a sigh.

"I guess. So long as I don't have to thank her."

:Ungrateful whelp.:

:Shush, horse.:

:Hmph. See if I ever help with your love life again.:

All teasing, of course. Rhys was happy. Life was perfect now that he had Dellia and Muse. The only downside was that he had graduated into his Whites two months ago, and was leaving on his first Circuit with his mentor, Herald Selkie, in a short six days.

The ride to Waymeet and back would be long and, as it was happening in midwinter, harsh. Though Rhys would have Dellia with him the entire time, but of course Muse wouldn't be there. He would miss her more than he had ever missed anyone before, he was certain. Dellia agreed that it was likely—but she had also offered to help with that.

Muse, though not a Heraldic Trainee, was Gifted with medium-strength Mindspeech. It wasn't strong enough to reach the far distances that Rhys would be away, but if they used Dellia as a relay they could Speak to each other even at the far reaches of Valdemar's borders.

As long as he could reach Muse, Feel her with him, he thought the journey would be tolerable.

"I'm going to miss you."

"I know. I'll miss you, too, Rhys."

"…love you, Muse. Always."

"Love you, too, you dummy."

-
I've longed for you
And I have desired
To see your face, your smile
To be with you wherever you are
-

The North Trade Road ran close to Haven but was relatively dangerous, as the roads of Valdemar went. With the high volume of traders and merchants that traversed it came the danger of an equally high volume of bandits and robbers.

Still, Rhys hadn't exactly expected to be blindsided the way they had been.

One second he and Herald Selkie had been chatting amiably about menial things—his classes, the woes of having talking ponies sharing their thoughts, their favorite foods, and of course his love life because nothing was as interesting as him bumbling around with Muse and romance—and the next they rounded a corner into an ambush.

There were only four of them—Dellia and Kalkin included—and there were many, many more bandits than that. What the men were thinking, attacking Heralds without provocation, he didn't know—all he did know was that within a short moment he had been wrestled, kicking, cursing and flailing the entire time, from Dellia's back.

To their left, Selkie was bodily dragged to the ground as well, despite her struggles and the way Kalkin kicked and thrashed, screaming shrilly after his Chosen.

Then a rope flew through the air, followed by another one—and another. The first one landed around Dellia's neck, jerking tight before the mare could even attempt to free herself. The second and third wound around two of her legs—then yanked, tumbling her to the dirt with enough force to break bones.

Rhys felt more than heard when her ribs cracked under the impact.

"Dellia—!"

Dellia shrieked in agony and Rhys did too, echoing her pain as it lanced down the bond between them. For a moment he was paralyzed, his breath catching, but then he forced the pain down and kicked out hard. His knee caught the gut of the man holding onto his right arm and Rhys wrenched himself free when the man doubled over, the air knocked out of him.

Somehow he made his way over to Dellia, and fell down beside her, throwing himself across her form protectively—but what could he really do, if they decided they wanted to get to her? He was just one person. A Herald, yes, but still only human. If they wanted to get to her, they would be able to—especially given that Selkie and Kalkin were in roughly the same predicament that Rhys and Dellia were… and they were two days ride away from Haven, nearly an entire day's travel from the nearest town at all. No help was coming. They were on their own.

:Get up, Dells, get up, get up!:

:I—I can't, Rhys—I'm tied and—my ribs—:

:I know, but—!:

Their short interplay was cut off when the men descended on them again. Hands clamped onto his arms and he was pried away from Dellia once more, leaving her to scream and thrash helplessly while Rhys did much the same, struggling and fighting with all he was worth.

And in the midst of the chaos, his mind was working overtime. Why was this happening? What had they done to deserve it? Was there reasoning behind it at all, or were these men just out to get at any Heralds they could? Why? Why?Why why why wh—

His frantic thoughts were cut short when something hard and cold abruptly slammed into his side.

:Rhys— RHYS! :

What was that…? A knife…?

A knife, yes.

Time started moving again, and now Rhys could feel the metal scraping between his ribs, digging harsh grooves into the bone. It was yanked out, then plunged in again, and when he looked down a stain of red was growing hugely against the stark white of his Heraldic uniform.

Dellia was screaming, out loud and in his head.

Somehow, Rhys knew—just as he had known before, when Dellia had appeared on his family's land, when she had strode down the lane, graceful and beautiful and perfect. He had known she was there to change his life, then. Now, the same way that he had known that, he knew again:

This was the end.

-
Remembering
Your touch
Your kiss
Your warm embrace
I'll find my way back to you
Please say you'll be waiting
-

The pain hadn't lasted long, after that. Warmth and numbness had spread quickly, followed by weakness, drowsiness—and then, finally, welcoming darkness.

Now he stood beyond the Veil.

"What are you thinking about?" Dellia asked him.

She had followed him there, of course, arriving shortly after he did. Thankfully, Selkie and Kalkin hadn't done the same. He and Dellia had watched the goings-on from Beyond, worried and bordering on frantic, but their elders had managed to do what they couldn't—they had escaped.

"I'm watching her."

"Again?"

"Always."

He had left her behind—and Muse was lost without him.

"I promised I would love her forever."

"And you will."

"But how can I be happy with that, when she's suffering?"

Muse had left the Collegium shortly after his death. She had stopped studying, stopped eating, stopped caring entirely, and finally her parents had brought her home to be with them—so she wouldn't be alone. Now she spent her days in her bedroom, sleeping or sitting and staring out the window, eyes toward Companion's Field. Her parents kept her company as much as they could—her mother brushed her hair and made sure that she ate, but there wasn't much else they could seem to do.

Rhys couldn't stand to see her like that.

"I've made my decision, Dells."

"I know you have."

He smiled toward her, and turned, reaching one hand out toward her. When Dellia reached toward him as well, he closed his eyes. "I'll miss you."

He couldn't see when Dellia shook her head. "No." She told him softly, fondly; "no, you won't."

And he was gone.

-
Together again
It would feel so good
In your arms
Where all my journeys end
If you can make a promise
If it's one that you can keep
-

Muse Whitefield cast a wistful glance out the window, eyes skimming down the road absently. It was a habit, after so many years, looking off toward the Collegium. Something that she couldn't seem to let go of, despite all the time that had passed.

How long, now?

Eight years, her mind supplied instantly.

Eight years since she had met Rhys and her life had finally begun, and eight years since it had ended so very abruptly. Both within the span of six months. How was that just? How was that fair?

Somehow, despite being broken inside, she had healed. Over time the raw pain had faded into a tolerable ache. And that ache still remained, throbbing in her chest, behind her ribs, inside her heart. She still missed Rhys. She always would. She had known as soon as she had set eyes on him for the first time that he would forever be a part of her.

Muse sighed softly, gaze drifting back down to the counter in front of her.

She was still living with her parents, even at twenty-five years of age. She knew she shouldn't be—but she had no one else. A few friends, maybe, but none that she was very close to… and certainly no husband or suitor. She could never be with anyone buy Rhys, even though he was gone. She was old enough to be living on her own, though.

Picking at the carrots she was supposed to be chopping, she plucked a tiny piece up and tossed it toward the already-boiling pot of soup. It landed in the roiling liquid with a wet thunk.

Where would she go, if she moved out?

Maybe I'll travel.

She had been thinking about that a lot lately—about the idea of leaving Haven. It had stopped feeling comfortable, like home, since she was barely seventeen years old.

And yet somehow the idea of actually leaving made her nervous, made her stomach twist up into knots. Must didn't know why. Her parents lived there, but there was nothing else to keep her there, and she was plenty old enough to go on her own way.

So why did the thought of leaving Haven make her gut churn the way it did?

:Because there is something to keep you here.:

Muse huffed a little, frustrated at her own thoughts—then paused, frowning when she realized that the previous thought hadn't been hers.

What—

:Over here.:

Brown eyes instinctively lifted to the window again.

Beyond the pane of glass, in the side-yard, stood a horse. But Muse had gone to the Collegia. She had been a Blue. She knew just as well as anyone else that the creature out there wasn't even close to as simple as a palfrey. The hand around the chopping knife tightened reflexively—then she sighed, pushing away from the counter and heading over to pull the side-door open.

"Hey. You." One finger tapped on the doorframe lightly. "There are no kids here."

:I know, Muse.:

And for a moment she was frozen, because it's—his—eyes were deep and blue and familiar, like something she had seen somewhere before, like something that she knew, deep down inside herself.

"You…"

:I'm sorry I took so long.: He—Rinto—offered softly, and she wondered why he was apologizing, but somehow knew deep inside herself that there was a reason for it. :But I'm here now. I Choose you, Muse. I Choose you, and I'll be with you always. I promise.:

She had been promised that once before, and had thought she would never believe it if she heard it again.

This time, though, she did.

-
I vow to come for you
If you wait for me
And say you'll hold
A place for me
In your heart
-