Tears of the Phoenix

BY : themysticaldragon
Category: S through Z > Valdemar Series
Dragon prints: 404
Disclaimer: I do NOT own ANY of the rights to the Valdemar Series, those all belong to Mercedes Lackey, who has given me the inspiration. I make no profit from this or any writing.

* The Original Character, Luna is very loosely inspired by Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, this story is not labled as a cross-over due to the fact that this Luna is not a magic wielder in the sense she was in the HP series.  She is gifted more with Heraldic magics seen outside of Vanyel's time.

 

A small waif like girl drifted through the trees, her dreamy expression belied the terror she felt.  She was in the forest she’d been told most of her life was haunted.  She was a curious child by nature, and half believed the stories.  Most of the things she’d been told about the forest only happened to those who entered with malice in their souls.  She often hunted these woods for nuts, berries and mushrooms to add to her meager diet.   She often found sound and savory nuts, and berries.  As the eldest child, she often had to give up her meal for her younger brother, especially when there was very little to go around.

 

“Focus Luna, they can’t get you in here.” She whispered to herself.  “The spirit won’t harm me, it never has before.  More than likely it’s the one who’s made sure I had food.”

 

She’d found most times she could take nuts and berries out with her, depending on the season, but as her mother had more children and she’d had to forfeit her meals for the youngsters, she would eat her harvest as she found it.   She heard a branch snap behind her and she slipped behind a large tree.

 

Not too far away, men from the village searched for her.  They were looking for her because she’d been made the leader’s wife.  It didn’t matter that she was barely old enough to even show the earliest bloom of womanhood, a powerful man had taken over the village and had taken to wedding the young women to his men.  Her parents had not wanted her to be taken as a wife, but they were given a choice, give Luna over or die.  Unfortunately, when they found that Luna was still more child than woman, her whole family had been slaughtered.

 

“That little bitch should be around here somewhere, boss will make a little blushing bride of her yet.  Doesn’t matter she can’t…” What Luna couldn’t do would remain unvoiced as a branch sharply swung against the man’s skull with enough force to splatter it like a melon dropped on rocks.

 

Luna screamed and turned away as she lost control of her stomach.  There wasn’t much too loose, the dry heaves gripped her tightly as the smell of blood and gore filled her nose.  She sidestepped the small mess and ran deeper into the woods, away from men and their screams. 

 

She came to an abrupt halt when she bounced off someone.  She would have landed on her backside, had gentle arms not come to wrap around her.  She looked up, barely able to stifle a scream.  A man held her, though he was not much taller than she.  He wore brilliant scarlet clothing and had a smile that could have charmed even the crankiest of grannies to part with cookies.

 

Bard Stefen looked down at the child who’d blundered into him. She couldn’t have been much older than nine or ten, and her face was the picture of terror.   He’d tethered his horse and stepped from the trail to attend to needs of nature, but was glad he’d not yet attempted it. 

“Bright Havens, little one.  There are no demons on your tail, and if there are, they will soon come to harm.”  He allowed the girl to step back, and he kept his hand on her arm.  “If you are afraid, please, stay near me.  But first, I have a little matter I need to take care of.”

 

Luna’s eyes widened at the gentle voice.  Almost immediately, she trusted him, even though he was a stranger.  He led her to a rock and she sat.   She could hear the sounds of men crashing through the forest, and screams of pain and fear.   Something seemed to be attacking those tracking her, and she nearly launched herself at the young man again.  He looked over his shoulder, seeming to gage how far the sounds were, but it seemed something was driving them further away.    

Luna turned her attention back to the young man, noticing he was using his cloak to shield something he was doing, and she pointedly looked away.   It wasn’t long before complete silence fell upon the woods, and Luna heaved a sigh.

 

“Thank you,” Luna said into the quiet that had descended.  “I can’t expect you to help me further though.”

Stefen was still trying to convince himself he was safe enough to relieve himself, and that he wouldn’t have to jump and protect the child half exposed.  He flinched at her soft voice; the pain in it had him concerned.  Something told him she wasn’t speaking to him and he knew who she was addressing.  Then she spoke to him, nearly startling him out of his skin.

“Do you need me to move away?  I can if it’s a problem.”  She made to stand up and Stefen waved to her to sit down again.  “Are you sure?”

 

“Its fine, little one, it really is.  I’m more nervous I’ll have to protect you and having you in my line of sight will be best.  I think though, we’re safe enough now.”  Stefen gave the girl a wink and saw her blush as she turned her back to him, putting her hands over her ears.

Luna was no stranger in these woods, and she’d heard the stories about things that happened in them.  Part of her had sort of hoped that the supposed curse would carry her off and away from the abuse she suffered.   Her earliest memories had her roaming though them, and somehow finding enough food to keep her fed.  It was easier for her to turn to the woods when she felt too alone.  She had something that other people in her village did not have, and it seemed people feared her.  Many times, she came back into the village carrying fruit, berries, and nuts that she shared with other children.  She’d learned by the time she was three to not share things that were not in season. 

 

Vanyel watched as the last of the invaders twitched then finally died.    They were part of a band of bandits he’d been chasing for the past ten years.  They’d infiltrated a village, near the edge of the Wendwinter forest, one that had never been incorporated onto any map known to Valdemar, not while he was living.  He’d noticed the girl not too long after he began his silent vigil.  Then she’d just been a toddler, and she seemed to instinctively know what was safe to eat and what wasn’t.  Vanyel always made sure most of the toxic berries and mushrooms never appeared where she seemed to visit.  Somehow, the young thing was made of far sterner stuff than she looked.  In so many ways, she reminded him of his love, Stefen.  True she was more of a mystic than he was, and she seemed to have an affinity for nature that no one else in her village had.   He never bothered the village proper, however when the evil beings bestirred themselves to try to invade surrounding areas, then they came to grief.

 

To him, Luna was a fascinating child.  She had silvery blonde hair, eyes as blue as a Companion’s and nearly as gentle.  She was a slight child, her pale skin made her look like a living moonbeam.  Many times when she wandered the forest, she spoke to Vanyel as if he were a living being walking by her side.  She was indeed the only being in that village that never seemed to be afraid of the forest.    Right now, his attention was more focused on those who were milling outside the forest by the village; Luna was quite safe with Stefen. 

 

Luna focused her attention on a tiny bunny that had hopped over to her and sat by her foot.  She reached down and picked up the creature and cradled it gently before pulling a small bit of carrot from a pocket on her ragged dress.   Stefen heard her murmuring softly to it, and watched her feed it a small scrap of food she’d surely scavenged for her own meal.   Luna was so engrossed in the bunny; she didn’t notice Stefen was moving toward her until his hand lightly touched her shoulder.

“I will be making camp not too far from here; I think it would be best if you came with me.” Stefan smiled as she set the bunny down and looked up at him.  “I wouldn’t mind having someone to talk to. My name’s Stefen.”

“I’m Luna.  I love being in this old forest, and I think the spirits here like me.  I’ve roamed through it since I could walk, everyone told me to stay away.  They told me the spirits would hurt me, but the only ones who have ever been harmed are the ones who were quite bad.”  Luna smiled.  “Sometimes he’s lonely you know.  He’s hasn’t always been here.  I’m glad to meet you Stefen.”

 

Stefen hoisted Luna into the saddle of his horse, and then led them to the clearing he planned on camping at.  A Herald had told him about the way station and that they would allow him to use it as long as he promised to behave.  Stefen did not need to be reminded of his promise to Vanyel, and honestly he just wanted to have time to grieve.   He’d spent the last decade trying to boost the confidence in Heralds and bury the history of the Herald-Mages.   It hadn’t been easy, but King Treven had nearly ordered Stefen to take a break.   He found the station easily and went inside.  It had been readied a few days before, also on the King’s orders.

 

“Well, it looks like we have a safe place to stay.  King Treven seems to believe I needed time away, I think they’re all praying I don’t sneak off and try to do myself in again.”  Stefen laughed as he handed Luna out of the saddle.  “For now, you can be my princess.  My lady, those rags would never do, so let’s see if we can find you something just a bit warmer.”

 

Luna looked down at the ragged shift she wore.  It was indeed quite ragged, but it covered her for the most part.  Her creamy skin was caked with dirt and her silvery blonde hair was matted and tangled.  She shook her head, afraid that this man was going to do to her what others had threatened.  She backed up against the horse’s side.

 

“Luna, little one, I mean you no harm.  Little ones should be cherished and protected.  I am an envoy of the King, so while you are in my company, his generosity reaches to you as well.  Think of me as a big brother, or maybe a gentle uncle?  I can tell you a few stories about the spirits here, I knew them very well.”  Stefen held his hand to the girl and smiled when she took it.  “I think I have a good brush with me to help you get that hair untangled.”

 

“You mean you won’t make me be a wife?  That’s what I was running from.  I figured I would take a chance that the spirits would not harm me, until I could find away to flee.”  Luna’s hand trembled as tears filled her luminous blue eyes.  “They killed my family because they found out I’m not yet a woman.”

 

Stefen pulled Luna to him, hugging her tight.  This girl was one that he knew Vanyel would bend his abilities to the most to protect.  He had not told anyone about the dreams he’d been having, ones that left him haunted unable to sleep. 

“Oh Vanyel, I’m here.  I will protect her.”  He whispered.  “Jisa and Treven were right; you were sending me a message.  Why did everyone think I was coming to do myself in?”

 

A swirl of fallen leaves danced in a soft breeze, catching Luna’s attention.  She blinked as a soft light filled the clearing.  She could see the faint outline of a man, silver haired and silver eyed.  He reached for her and touched her cheek lightly.

“Spirit of the forest, gentle to the innocent, unforgiving to the evil, I owe you my life.  You’ve fed me and protected me.  They always told me you were mean and cruel, but they lied!  You were the one who stopped the dark wave.”  Luna’s eyes took in the sight, causing Stefen to turn in time to see his beloved Vanyel appear. 

 

“Yes, little moonlight. I have watched you for a long time now.  It seems you have a talent, one we can use down in Haven.”  He caught Stefen’s eye and smiled. “And yes, my beloved here knows me and my own Companion, Yfandis.”

 

Luna’s eyes closed and she took Stefen’s hand in hers, holding the other towards Vanyel’s spirit.  Stefen felt his hair stand up on his neck, her eyes opened and she smiled.

“Shay’a’chern and lifebonded, whole still, even though death has broken the physical bond, and a debt being repaid with whole heart and soul, Stefen,” Luna’s voice sounded far away, preoccupied as if her eyes were seeing something that was not there to see.  “You must still carry the work and your daughter in soul wishes for her father to know she is doing well and the little she bears will carry her uncle’s name.”

  Vanyel and Stefen both stared at the girl, and there was no doubt at all she would be soon receiving a moonlight visitor of her own.  She blinked as she cleared the vision from her mind.  She looked to Stefen and the spirit of Vanyel and saw the looks on their faces.

“You both look like someone hit you with a board.  I don’t think your daughter should name her child for you, not that I think that’s bad, but everyone may know your secret.  I think that’s not something you want history to know, not just yet.  There will come a time for those who need to know, but it’s not now.”

 

Vanyel recovered enough to stop gaping at the child.  She was barely eleven years old, and he’d battled everything to keep her living this long.  He knew the first time he saw the tiny toddler foraging for food she had some Strong Gifts.  Yfandis had noticed that they had only grown stronger as she aged, and they both sent dreams to Stefen and Jisa.   The dreams had Sefen coming to make a memorial trip, to remember their meeting and later bonding at the place Vanyel’s spirit could be felt strongest.

 

“Luna, how do you know this?  I don’t have any children, but the Queen Consort, I know a secret about her, and she and I are the only living people who know this.  How can you now that secret?” Stefen gasped out as soon as he could find his voice.  “That secret is so closely guarded that even death will not force it past my lips.”

 

“Stefen, she’s strongly gifted.  Very strongly with Foresight, Far sight, Empathy.  Those are the strongest that I’ve been able to sense.  She also has a unique gift that usually only manifests with the Tayledras, and that is an inherent ability to sense plants and know which ones are edible and what are toxic.  Yes, I kept toxic ones out of her reach, well I tried but she would always manage to find one or two that she avoided.  She knows these things because she Sees them.  She knows that you love Jisa, and have always treated her well, even before I told you.  You knew the truth before I told you.”  Vanyel faded out for several moments and only his voice could be heard.  “Protect her, Ashke.”

 

Stefen smiled to Luna and pulled her to him.  “Well let’s see about getting you cleaned up some and getting something better in you than those scraps.  Go ahead and throw what’s in your pockets out.  I have much better food for you.”

 

Stefen led Luna into the way station, and set about starting a fire. Outside, he tended to his horse and tethered her in the small stable area.  He filled the trough with water, testing it for temperature and gestured to Luna.   She seemed to understand what he wanted her to do.  She pulled the filthy shift off and splashed into the trough.  She pulled the shift in with her, rinsing it out in the water while Stefen busied himself getting some soap.  He handed her a rag and the soap, and watched her as she washed herself, then the shift.  He got a small bowl and began to wet her hair, scrubbing her hair and scalp gently.    He was careful not to get the soap in her eyes, and used the soap to try to untangle the worst of the knots.

 

“Thank you, Stefen. I want to ask a question as I am not certain I know the term.  What does Shay’a’chern mean?  I’ve never heard it, but when I saw the vision, I saw the spirit as he was alive, and connected to you.”  She closed her eyes as the gentle fingers seemed to root out every grain of dirt that had ever touched her and scrub them away.  “I hope I’m not making you mad by asking.”

 

“No, I’m not mad that you asked, you are only a child and you didn’t fully understand what you Saw.  It means that I don’t like girls, not the way most men do.”  Stefen explained simply.  “I am a Bard, and I met Vanyel during King Randale’s reign.  What many people didn’t know when we met, Randale was very ill and nothing seemed to help him.  Part of my Bardic Gift is being able to ease pain.  Vanyel’s nephew brought me to his attention and I got made Master Bard and was assigned to the King.  It made several people quite unhappy, but as a Journeyman I would have not had the access to the King’s court and quarters.”

“Did you both fall in love right away?”  Luna’s luminous blue eyes took on a glow only a child could manage. “Was it love at first sight, or oh I don’t know, did he court you?”

Stefen had to chuckle at her infectious smile.   He had managed to work most of the tangles out of her hair and rinsed it for her.  He looked down into the water and saw it was not at all clear any more.  He picked up a towel and helped her stand to get out.  Now that her skin was clean, he could appreciate that she was a pretty child, though he only allowed himself to look at her face.  He turned away as she wrapped the towel around herself.

 

“No, it was quite frustrating at first.  We became friends he did try to hold me at arm’s length.  There could have been rumors about us, but with the King being as ill as he was, most figured that because Vanyel’s rooms were closer and he was sort of my mentor, he allowed me to sleep there when I was too tired.   If they thought otherwise, I never paid any attention to that.”  He walked over to a pack and pulled out a tunic and handed it to her. “This will more than likely be a bit big on you, but it’s better than nothing.”

 

Luna pulled on the clothing, sighing at how soft the material was.  It was softer than anything she’d ever worn in her life, and almost as soft as a kitten’s fur.  She giggled when Stefen pulled a pair of breeches, and handed them to her.

“Sorry I forgot that Jisa packed this bag, with some of her cast off clothing from when she was younger.  I think she held on to the clothes as a way to remember her father.  It was a little joke between them; she had plain clothes, even though she wasn’t in the line, she could have had anything she wanted, but didn’t want people to think she took after her ‘uncle’.”

 

“I guess I am grateful to you both.”  Luna shocked Stefen by hanging her now clean shift on the fence, then dumping the trough. “I’ll run you a bath.  I’m sure you don’t want to relax with all the dust of the road on you.”

 

Luna busied herself rinsing out the trough then refilling it.  She brought Stefen the pack he’d gotten the tunic he lent her from.    She went to go back inside the station, more to give Stefen some privacy than any need to be indoors.  She heard the man clear his throat in the doorway and she turned back to him.

“I don’t mind if you are outside with me.   I’m not afraid of anything, but I like talking to you.  For one so young, you are very wise.”  Stefen smiled a soft blush on his cheeks.  Luna guessed that he didn’t mind she was a girl, it was she was living. “No, little one I do not fear Vanyel, he’d never harm me.  You just remind me of myself when I was little.  We both seem to have had to fend for ourselves from a young age.”

 

Luna nodded and went back outside and climbed up on the fence by the trough.  She looked around the clearing around the station and sighed.  “I don’t think my parents really cared about me after my brothers were born.  I was just in the way.  There was never much food to go around, and well, I often went without so the boys could eat.  I think I was about two when the eldest of them was born.  I remember barely being able to walk, but I would find my way into these woods, and even with snow on the ground I would find fruits and nuts.  I remember feeling like someone was watching me that they felt bad that I had to find my own food, even that young.”

 

Stefen undressed and got into the slightly chilly water, not caring how cold it was, as long as he could get clean.  He listened to Luna as she spoke, and he realized that though she looked very young, something about her was wise beyond her years.  She appeared to be a fragile waif, much like he did so many years ago, but they both managed to survive. 

 

“I had my own guardian angel swoop me up when I was about ten.   I was being cared for by a cranky old woman who made money off my talents, she spent most of the money on drugs and drink, but once in a while she bought me food.  I began to sneak a few coppers away when she was distracted and one night I snuck out to go find some food.  This woman dressed in red scooped me up off the streets and told me I serve Valdemar.  I honestly thought at first I had been sold, and that Valdemar was someone I was going to have to,” Stefen sighed.  He wasn’t sure if the child was old enough to understand.  “Well it didn’t matter what I thought I was soon enrolled in the Bardic Collegium and was given a roommate named Medren who filled me in on what was happening.”

 

“You thought you’d been sold to be a pleasure slave?”  Luna stated softly. “You couldn’t fathom why some stranger would spirit you away otherwise.  I’m the last virgin girl left in our village, well the only one over the age of ten.  Most of the other girls bloomed early, but I guess what little food I get has been a blessing in that respect.”

 

“That’s exactly what I thought.   I learned otherwise, but I had a safe warm place to sleep, food, and was getting lessons.  I didn’t have to sleep in the streets any more or go hungry.”  Stefen ducked his head under the water and surfaced again, scrubbing his own hair as carefully as he had Luna’s.  “I’ll be taking you back with me; I know why I was drawn here now.  Yes, I did come to pay tribute to my beloved Vanyel, but I know he lead me here to be what Lynnell was to me.  Though, if I’m not mistaken, you’ll have your own mount when we start back.”

 

Luna started to ask what Stefen meant by Lynnell, when the man ducked himself again, to rinse his hair.   She hopped off the fence and went to pick up a towel from his packs.  She brought it over to him and he thanked her and got out.

“I’ll rinse that out and refill it for your friend.  She’s a beautiful horse; I’ve never seen anything as graceful or gentle as her.”  Luna worked as she talked; keeping her back to Stefen so he could dress without feeling gawked at.

 

“She is the daughter of my late Melody.  My Melody was a gift from Vanyel, the very first horse I learned to ride on.  Vanyel made sure the lines he bred and raised were gentle.  It was amazing; he kept his hand in with his horses and was one of the busiest Heralds in or out of Haven.  He went through a few years where I’m sure he ate and slept only when someone forced him to sit still long enough.  He just didn’t have the choice.  I’m sure if he could have found another way, he’d still be with me today, but he had to give his life to save us all.”  Stefen’s voice trailed off into a soft sob.  Luna turned to catch him as he sank to his knees. 

“Do not be ashamed of your tears, I’m sure he knows how much you miss him.”  Though Luna was small, her embrace was warm and sure.  “Don’t ever feel like you shouldn’t cry.  He’s still very much a part of you.”

 

A soft breeze stirred in the clearing and a swirl of leaves brushed against them.  Luna felt the presence come back, and she continued to hold Stefen as he wept.  She had never really known love in her short life, well save for the feeling she had when she was in the forest.  She loved the animals that came to her, but she knew that this man’s love was different.  She Saw the powerful bond between him and the spirit watching over them. 



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