It was the first day of Autumn, and the day was clear and cool. Summer would hang on a little longer, but the harvest was on its way. The road was busy, and John kept a good hold on Fireball.
“Compass Rose, John!”
John nodded, falling in behind the wagon, making Fireball snort. He’d bounced back fast, and his neck was arched as he pranced. He was gorgeous, and he knew it. People pointed at him, and John knew he’d get several offers to purchase. Goddess help anyone who thought to steal him.
They’d be here long enough for John get his supplies for a new saddle, and maybe new reins. He was sure Harold would be busy, leaving John with plenty of time to shop.
Harold pulled Betsy to a stop outside the Compass Rose, and the stablemaster came jogging over.
“Hello, James! Room for my beauties?” Harold grinned.
“Of course!” James had his hands all over Betsy. “Never thought I’d see you without your mules!”
“You can thank my lifebonded for that.” Harold swung down, cane helping to steady him.
John slid off Fireball and planted himself at Harold’s shoulder.
“Shin’a’in,” James whispered, eyes wide. “Welcome to Valdemar, good sir!”
“Thank you,” John said, just managing not to grin. His life as King’s Own was far behind him, and he could scarcely believe that he was happy in his work.
Harold pulled John’s ear close. “Drive a hard bargain. He loves it.”
With a quick nod, John kissed him on the cheek. “Go inside and rest. I’ll be along.”
“Leave the sword in the wagon.” Harold tried to sound fierce.
“I’ll bring my bow then.” John smirked and swaggered to the stablemaster.
“Yes, this shirt is clean.” John tugged a rag from his belt and wiped the mares down, so they were flawless.
“I was going to ask if my blues looked satisfactory.” Harold was nervous, fidgeting. He’d even brushed Berren, who hadn’t appreciated it.
“You look great.” John didn’t glance at him. The guardsman they’d been waiting on, hurried to them and escorted them inside the palace. The mares’ hooves rang on the stone, and the looks they received made John have to hide a smile or two. Finally, they threw open the last double doors and introduced them.
“Uncle John!” Morgan yelped and bolted from the throne, but she was horse smart enough to slow down. “Horses in the throne room?”
“They’re a gift.” John pulled her into a rough hug, ignoring the tear in her eye. “This is my lifebonded, Master Harold Finch, and his bonded kyree, Berren.”
“Lovely to meet you.” Morgan was a perfect queen. “Horses? In my throne room?”
John smiled. “Shin’a’in riding horses. I’m presenting myself on behalf of the Star-Eyed One. I’m Her Envoy in Valdemar now.”
“Uncle John, I’ve been so afraid for you.”
“Master Harold kept me safe.” John escorted her back to her throne and then handed her the leads to the horses. He could feel Harold’s satisfaction through their bond. It made it easier to be here. “Good to see you, Shaw.”
“I thought you were dead,” Shaw said with a grin. “Rolan says hello.”
“My Goddess was upset with him, but it worked out for the best. Thank him for me.” John saw her confused look, but he wasn’t explaining about the healing. He hoped Rolan was doing right by her. “Master Harold and I can’t stay too long.”
“Where will you go? This is your home,” Morgan asked, concern all over her face.
John reached back and linked his hand with Harold’s, connecting their energies and making the lifebond sing. “We take our home with us. I’ll be around the kingdom, Queen Morgan. There are always people who need help.”
“You’ll stay for Court Dinner, of course, advise me on your travels.” Morgan smiled, and John saw Jesse again. He would be so proud of her, and John’s heart ached.
“Berren would be disappointed if we didn’t,” John said, managing a rough smile. “Now, I’ll take these beauties to your stable, and Master Harold wants to meet with several other masters. Thank you, my queen.”
“And thank you, Envoy, and Master Harold, Berren.” Morgan handed the leads back to him. “Shaw, if those horses have a problem, make sure someone cleans it up, and Uncle John, thank you. They’re lovely.”
John let Harold and Berren lead the way out of the throne room. The horses seemed very happy when they went through the last door to the outside. John gave them a pat and tossed the lead ropes over their necks. They’d follow him anywhere. He wasn’t worried.
“John?” Harold caught him by the arm. “Thank you.”
“I have no idea what for.” John stepped closer and dipped his head to speak softly. “Thank you. I couldn’t have made it without you.”
“You underestimate yourself.” Harold smiled. “I’ll be seeing the Headmaster. There’s a young lady with the unusual name of Root who has an invention I simply must see. I’ll come get you before dinner.”
“Please do.” Harold and Berren set off into the Collegium. John paraded his horses toward the stable, making sure to put on a show with them in the pasture, making them dance and weave around him. Trainees and Heralds began to gather, and he put his mares through their paces, showing off their skills.
“Herald John!” It was Captain Fusco, hurrying up to the fence. “Is one of them mine?” he shouted.
“Ask the Queen.” John made the mares line up and follow him to their new stalls. Stable boys pounced on them, treating them like queens, and John was sad to give them up. But they’d do well here, not just pushing a wagon all day!
Weaponmaster, Fusco, and a dozen other of his friends crowded around him, and he started giving out hugs and back thumps, mostly in apology for the way he’d left. “It’s just John, or Envoy, now. My Goddess has put me to work.”
“She recognizes talent,” Hersh said with a grin. “Did you see Shaw?”
“I did.” John looked out over Companion’s Field like he’d done so many times before, and as usual, there was no sign of Rolan. It should’ve hurt more, but John had moved on from that part of his life. What he did see was a small, white colt racing toward him, and he was sure his face broke from grinning. “Jayse!”
John left the foal his pride, but it was tempting to scoop him up and hug him. Instead, John knelt and folded him in close. Jayse pressed his forehead into John’s, and there was one pure moment where John felt the colt’s happiness.
“You drink plenty of milk?” John stroked his hands over him, and the colt was perfect, if still a bit small.
:Mama says I drink her dry!:
Laughing, John saw the shocked looks on the faces of his friends, especially Fusco. John tugged Jayse’s forelock straight and got to his feet. “I have to tell everyone the story of how you came into this world.”
Jayse nodded and pranced, going up on his hind legs before racing off to find his mother.
“He’s a little bugger,” Fusco said, but he was smiling. “Word is that bit of nothing pulls Rolan’s tail at least once a day!”
“Good.” And John let it all heal. The scab over that wound sloughed off, and he took a breath that came from his soul. The Goddess had blessed him, and he could do this, be in this place. Jesse would want that. “You should see the horse I managed to steal away from Lord Ashkevron.”
“Shin’a’in thief,” Fusco said, smirk on his face.
Everyone laughed, but only after John did. John felt his shoulders relax. This wasn’t home, not any longer, but these were his friends.
“Alright, let’s go find some ale, and I want all the gossip.” John let them bunch around him, and they all went towards the main dining hall. He didn’t look back again.