/ Language: English / Genre:sf_fantasy, / Series: Valdemar (11)

Blue Heart

Mercedes Lackey

Blue Heart

by Philip M. Austin and Mercedes Lackey

Philip M. Austin is currently an inmate at Soledad prison in California. About this story, he writes, "Misty Lackey is the one who made this story come alive. She deserves the majority of the credit and all of my thanks, [She] has been a good friend and mentor. She's been non-judgmental and helpful in so many ways. Through her good offers I've been able to dream of a future. A creative future without walls and bars. That dream is worth more than any monetary reward."

"There's a Herald to see you, Your Majesty," the page called quietly from the doorway of the Queen's private suite.

Selenay sighed and put down the silver pencil she had been using to scribe a design for an illuminated initial. "Can it wait until tomorrow?" she asked without hope. She was technically supposed to be asleep, not getting her fingers paint- and ink-stained, copying one of Daren's favorite poems. She cherished her time alone; all too rare and much needed. She understood why Elspeth needed that shed out in the back gardens, and the feeling of clay under her fingers. Her own hobby of calligraphy and illumination was very similar, intensely physical and requiring complete concentration, and gave her brief respites when she could forget the responsibilities of crown and country.

"He says to say that it's your shadow, Majesty," the page replied, clearly baffled by the enigmatic message.

But if the page was baffled, Selenay was not. She sat

up quickly and put away her implements. "Tell him to come in, and see that we're not disturbed."

"Her shadow" was an enigma; a Herald who never, if he could help it, appeared as himself. Very few people — Kerowyn, Alberich, her own husband Daren — even knew he existed, much less what he really looked like. This was a necessary precaution for his special and demanding duties. He, like Skif, was a spy and an assassin ... her own special tool to use as needed, and always with reluctance.

When she did not need him, he sometimes requested leave — a day, a week, a month. She never asked him why. Usually it was innocuous, and he returned with tales of his Companion's doings — for it was often his Companion who wanted the leave, and not him. Sometimes, though, it was not; and when he reported for duty, his eyes told her she did not want to know what he had been doing, despite the fact that she must hear it. Whatever he did, he did it because she needed it done, whether or not she knew it. Never had she found a reason to even rebuke him for his private missions, and she knew that agonizing over whether to tell her before or after the fact must often cause him sleepless nights. He had requested leave some few weeks ago, and she searched his expression for some clue as to his mood.

But this time, he came as himself, an ordinary man with a pleasant face, unmarked and unremarkable, except for his haunted eyes. She relaxed as she read relaxation in his posture. So; it had been a true holiday, then, and not some secret mission of his own.

"Come in, sit down," she invited, brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes, and forced down the shiver that always came when he looked at her. She did not know his history; she did not know if anyone knew it. But whatever his past had been, it had left dreadful scars on his soul. "I hope you enjoyed your Midwinter holiday."

"Pilane appreciated it as much as I, if not more," he said with a smile, as he gracefully lowered himself into the chair. "He indulged himself in his passion almost as much as he wanted to!"

Selenay laughed. "Sometimes I think he Chose you because you are the only Herald in Valdemar willing to sit and turn pages for him — and to take dictation from him and be his hands! But he is a most remarkable writer. I have copies of all of his books in my personal library, in fact." She relaxed a little more, sitting back hi her chair. "I fear, though, I pay far more attention to the drawings and illustrations than I do to his scientific discourse."

"I won't tell him, Your Majesty," the young man laughed. "He does take his hobby quite seriously."

Selenay chuckled. "I'm sure he, does. But what brings you here? Especially so late at night? You could — should! — have given yourself an evening of rest before reporting to me."

"I have a story to tell you, Your Majesty."

Selenay stiffened, folding her hands in her lap to hide their sudden trembling. She'd half expected to hear those words.

Too often, the story he had to tell was the dark and deadly result of what he was. For some reason, he preferred to give his reports as "stories." It was as if he tried to maintain some kind of fiction that she was innocent of his actions. She was not, and could never be. She gave him orders and the freedom to act; she was as culpable as the archer who looses an arrow. That she did not always know where it would land made her more responsible, not less.

"I thought — on a night like this one, in the deeps of winter — you would enjoy this," he continued, and smiled. "It is the story of the Blue Heart, Your Majesty; a regional legend of the mountains near White Foal Pass."

Selenay sighed, and relaxed again. Just a story, after all____

And oddly enough, she was suddenly in a mood to hear a story.

"In those mountains," the Herald continued, "there is a small and isolated village. Its population is less than two hundred, and most of them make their living from the fine wool of the long-haired goats they raise."

"I know that wool!" the Queen said in surprise. "Very soft and fine, and very expensive."

The Herald nodded. "It is indeed. And it is with that wool that the story begins...."

The trader examined the sample of wool cloth with pleasure and delight. It was soft as a puff of down, warm and light as a purring kitten, and a lovely shade of blue-gray. He'd never seen such cloth, nor anything of so fine a weave. Plush was the word he'd put to it, and he was already calculating his profits. He already had a customer in mind, a man of wealth and power in military and secular service of Sunlord Vkandis. Baron Munn — who had led his own private, household troops against the Unbelievers, and as a consequence was high in the favor of the Son of the Sun. The Baron made no attempt to conceal his fondness for luxuries, and he was a good, if choosy, customer.

"It will be hard to find customers for so unusual a weave, but I can take all you have at ten coppers the bolt," he said, expansively, with a condescending smile as if he were doing the rustics a favor.

But the village headman only shook his head sorrowfully. "Oh, Trader Gencan, that giving a mood we're not in," he said, just as condescendingly, and sighed. "It's a been a hard year, that it has. We need so many things, so many things, or there'll be no wool for next year, for we'll have had to eat our goats to stay alive." His voice hardened as he bent to the bargaining. "Thirty coppers it'll have to be, or nothing at all."

"What?" Gencan yelped, taken by surprise. Why — that was exactly what he'd expected to sell the stuff for! These mudfoots weren't nearly so green as they looked!

And neither was his former competitor, from whom he'd stolen — ah — acquired this trade route. Perhaps this was why he had not fought to retain it. There was nothing worse than a tradesman who knew the value of his goods!

He bent to the bargaining with a will, and sweated until he'd brought them down to something reasonable.

Something a man could make a decent profit on. Sixteen coppers a bolt was one copper more than he'd wanted to pay, but at least it allowed him a profit margin....

They had just settled on that price, when he happened to look out the window and froze in surprise at what he saw wandering by.

"Who is that?" he gasped, wondering if he had somehow stumbled on a creature like one of the fabled Hawkbrothers. The headman followed his gaze and smiled.

"Our lovely butterfly," he said, with a smile of pure pleasure. "That's our butterfly."

"She's your daughter, then?" the trader replied, unable to take his eyes from the girl.

But the headman laughed. "No. Oh, no, Trader. In a way, she belongs to the whole village."

Now Gencan spared him a sharp glance. "The village? What's that supposed to mean?"

But now the headman frowned, just a little. The girl drifted out of sight, and Gencan was able to gather his scattered wits about him again. "It's a strange story, Trader," the headman said at last. "And not altogether a happy one."

Gencan pursed his lips and nodded sagely. "Well, then," he replied. "What say we drink to our bargain and you can tell me her story." He signaled to his servant to bring in the wine. "Nothing makes a bitter story more palatable than a good wine!"

He poured the headman a cup of the strong, smooth wine, then settled in to listen with as good a will as he'd bargained.

Leaving his caravan in the charge of his most trusted assistant, he rode out that very night, pushing hard for Karse. Eight days later he was kneeling, forehead to the floor, before Baron Munn. The cost of a private audience had been steep, but the results of this audience could make him wealthy beyond the income brought by any trade route. He would be able to retire and hire others to lead his caravans, while he directed them like a great lord with his retainers.

Baron Munn sucked at a plum pit, and looked down at him out of one half-lidded eye. The Baron was a massive, bulky man, but his face and limbs showed only the barest hint of the fat of soft living. He had been called "The Bull of the Sun," and he looked like his namesake in every way, down to the expression in his face. "Rise," he said at last, waving a hand languidly. "State your business."

Gencan only removed his forehead from the floor so that he could watch the Baron's expression. "I thank the great and wise Baron Munn for granting me an audience," he said, with every token of humility. "I am not even worthy to scrape the bottoms of the great one's — " "Fine, fine," the Baron interrupted. "Get on with it." He selected another fruit and bit into it, licking the juice from his fingers.

"I have come to tell you of a young woman, Great Lord," Gencan said, quickly.

Baron Munn looked up from his half-eaten peach, pale eyes bright with interest.

"She is barely fourteen summers old," Gencan continued, "And just coming into the full bloom of womanhood. Her hair is the white of snow, of clearest ice, a waterfall of molten silver. Her eyes are the blue of a clear sky, of the finest sapphire. Her skin is as flawless as cream from the cattle of the Temple. Her face and her form are as perfect as that of a young goddess."

The Baron was truly interested now; he licked his lips and set his fruit aside. Oh, he was feigning indifference, but Gencan had not been a trader all his life without learning how to read people. He played his winning card. "Such a lovely creature could only have been created by the Sunlord himself," Gencan continued piously. "And in the wisdom of the Sunlord, he has balanced all her virtues, by a single defect. He has given her the mind and heart of a child of no more than eight years. So she is now, and so shall she remain all of her life. Innocent, simple, trusting, and loving! She cannot know a lie, cannot tell one. She cannot understand any but the simplest of commands, or do more than care for herself as a child would. Her needs are those of a child, her joys and fears those of a child, and she will do anything she is told to do by an adult."

Baron Munn straightened in his thronelike chair. Gen-can watched as the light of interest and curiosity in his eyes turned to the flames of desire, a desire that turned his strong face into a caricature of himself. Now he looked even more like a bull — a bull scenting a heifer. And Gencan knew that the whispered rumors he had heard about the Baron were true.

Baron Munn composed himself after a moment, pulling a mask of indifference over his features. He stared at Gencan as if he were deciding on what he meant to order for dinner. But his ragged breathing gave him away.

"Tell me where this girl is, Trader," the Baron said harshly. "I will send my people to see if all you have told me is the truth." His hand, the strong hand that had swung an ax it took two ordinary men to wield, clenched on the arm of his chair. That ax itself hung behind his chair in a jeweled sheath, lest anyone forget what it was that had brought the Baron to power. "If it is true, and I may have her, you will be rewarded."

His hand clenched again, and Gencan blanched, remembering how many heads the Baron had removed with that ax, to the greater glory of the Sunlord. "If you lie," he continued, "I will make you my slave. My emasculated, deaf, and dumb slave."

Gencan's mouth was suddenly very dry. "It is all true, Great Lord, I swear it!" He ran his tongue over his lips, and tried to keep from trembling with fear as he was led away to wait.

In twenty days, the spies returned. Their reports of the girl were even more enthusiastic than the trader's. Baron Munn, in a fit of joy and generosity, rewarded the trader with gold, gems, and spices from the South.

Spices so rare that Gencan had never tasted them, and could not resist trying them in his own celebratory feast.

Gencan died that night, a rich and happy man, never knowing that he had been poisoned by those spices from the South at the Baron's orders. There were other rich, powerful men who had the same appetites that the Baron had. The Baron did not intend Gencan to increase his profits by selling his knowledge to them as well. Gencan's own people, and all the Baron's spies but one, followed the trader into the arms of Vkandis.

Guided by his spy, the Baron led a handpicked company of men out of Karse and into the mountain lands disputed by his land and the land of Valdemar. Baron Munn did not trust any man to steal this girl for him. There was too much chance that she could be sold to another, taken away, or tampered with.

The late fall wind had a bite to it, here in the mountains. It whipped up the canyons and fled crying over the village with a hundred mournful voices, circling around the goat pens until the goats added then- own plaintive bleats to the wind's cries.

And yet, compared to the mountains above, the village itself was relatively calm, protected by the mountains themselves and the trees that had been planted to shelter it from biting winds. The villagers were used to the winds, used to the deceptive cries. There was no reason to stop work from being done, not even a reason for children to stop their games. People simply wrapped themselves and then" children a little tighter in their coats and narrowed their eyes against the blast. It was not even a reason to keep Mikhal from taking the older children up onto the slopes for their daily lessons in herbcraft and woodscraft.

But all work stopped when young Deke, the Watch-Boy, came pounding up the dirt street, arms and legs flailing, yelling that soldiers were coming —

 — fast, on horseback —

 — and lots of them.

The headman listened to Deke's breathless gasps of warning, his mind rolled with shock and confusion. Soldiers? he thought desperately. Why? Who would be sending soldiers? There's no reason for soldiers to come here!

"They — they — they're coming from Karse!" Deke gasped around his panting.

And that was not good news. Soldiers from Karse were often no better than bandits. As the leader of the village, his was the decision; he had to do something, and quickly.

It was too late to get the people out of the village. He'd protect what he could.

"Run as fast as you can, Deke, up where the wild apples grow," he said. "Tell Mikhal to hide the children, and you stay with 'em. Don't you come back. You tell him not to bring the younglings back till he thinks it's safe and the soldiers are long gone. You tell him to hide good, you understand? Like the time we was looking for him, and he didn't want to be found. You tell him — tell him — we don't want to know where they are." He grabbed the boy's shoulders, and shook him once, and Deke's eyes got even bigger.

"You understand?" he said fiercely. "You understand?"

The boy's chin quivered, his eyes so big they filled his face. He nodded, bobbing his head on his thin little neck.

"Good!" the headman let him go. "Now go! Run!"

Deke was off, pelting away as fast as he could go, fear adding to his speed. As he vanished, the headman heard the pounding of hooves, and turned to see the first of the soldiers riding into the village. He stepped out to meet them.

Mikhal was the oldest man in the village; no one knew exactly how old he was, and he didn't even know himself. He was the village teacher and had been for more than forty years. Not the kind of teacher the priests were, in the ways of books and classrooms, but in the things a youngling in a mountain village needed, the ways of the mountains, the wild things, and the goats. Today, he'd brought the children up here to pick the last of the wild apples, making a game of it, but making sure they learned as well, and not just the acts, but the reasons behind them. Seeing that they took only half the apples on the trees, and none at all from the ground telling them how the wild things, the ones that stayed awake for the winter, would need what they left.

But that lesson was shattered when Deke came pelting up the mountain path.

Mikhal listened carefully to Deke and saw the sense in the headman's orders. Calmly, methodically, and without any fuss, he gathered up the children, including the childlike butterfly, and led them away, down paths only he and the goats knew.

Then, down paths only he and the wild things knew. Only then did he tell them, in simple words they could understand, why he had hidden them away, and why they must stay hidden.

Even the wind shuddered away from the scream, a shriek of agony that went on and on forever before it finally died to a sobbing whimper. The headman's wife sagged back into the arms that held her firmly erect.

Baron Munn handed the hot iron back to the Captain of his Household Cavalry, and turned back to the headman. Four more men held him tightly, forcing him to kneel in the dirt but holding his head up by the hair so that he could not avoid watching.

"Now," the Baron said pleasantly. "Tell me where the girl is. No more lies. No sending my men off on wild-goat chases to look where she isn't."

"I don't know! I swear it!" the headman sobbed desperately. "I told old Mikhal to hide them all, and I don't know where he went! No one knows, no one can know, he's gone where only the wild things are! Please, by the gods, you must believe me!"

The man wept, great, racking sobs that shook his body.

"Oh, I do believe you," Munn said and smiled. "But one of these others may know what you don't."

He waved a hand at the villagers gathered under the swords of his men. They winced away.

"So, in case there is someone who knows, this entertainment jvill go on until I am certain that you are correct., And when your dear wife can bear no more, I shall choose someone else."

He signaled to his Captain, who handed him the iron, reheated to whiteness. "As pleasant a diversion as this is, my objective is still the same. I want the girl."

The headman's wife began to scream again, before the white-hot iron even touched her.

Hands on her ears, the girl crouched on her haunches, rocking back and forth. She tried to shut out everything, words, thoughts, all —

"They killed Headman Cracy an' his wife last night," Deke sobbed, his voice full of anguish. "Hurt 'em real bad. afore they killed 'em."

She knew that. She'd known that long before Deke learned it. She could still feel the pain that had sent her to huddle in the back of the cave, racked with agony she could not explain.

Deke hugged his skinny arms to his chest, pausing now and then to wipe his nose and eyes with the back of his hand.

"They started on my pap and mam this morning!" Deke continued, his face screwing up into a mask of grief and bewilderment.

She knew that, too. And she knew that Deke's momma was only heartbeats from that same darkness that had taken Momma Cracy and Headman Cracy.

"Why they like that, Mikhal?" the boy sobbed, finally flinging himself into Mikhal's arms. "Why they gotta hurt and kill people? We never done nothin'! Why they gotta hurt my mam and pap?"

Mikhal pulled the boy to him, holding him close to his chest in a sheltering embrace. While the boy sobbed, Mikhal cursed under his breath.

The girl knew why. Mikhal cursed himself for sending Deke to spy on the village. Mikhal thought he should have gone himself.

"It's 'cause they're bad, Deke," Mikhal murmured between curses. "It's 'cause they want what we got, an' just 'cause they life to hurt folks, an' this's a good excuse to make somebody hurt. None of it's our doin', Deke. None of it."

The old man kept his voice high enough for the other children to hear. He was a teacher; even in the midst terror, he would teach.

"Ain't none of it our fault," he said, and the girl felt his eyes probing the darkness, looking for her. "We just gotta get through this, an' make sure it don't happen again."

They hurled Momma Cracy an' Poppa Cracy, hurted 'em an' kilt 'em. The girl's thoughts were filled with con-fusion, terror, and anguish. They hurted 'em, but it's 'cause they want me. They gonna hurt Deke's momma an' poppa, they gonna hurt everybody till they get me!

She rocked back and forth, tears burning down her cheeks, trying to work out reasons and answers. But there were no reasons, and she had never hi her life touched minds like these. Mikhal was right. Mikhal was right.

But these horrible people wanted her. These people were all her family, every adult was her Momma and Poppa, every youngling a brother or sister. They all loved her, and she loved them all. It was all she had ever known, that love, that cherishing.

They're getting hurted, an' it's 'cause of me! She buried her face in her arms, and faced the inescapable. If — -if I go to 'em, they might hurt me ... if I don't, they gonna hurt everybody, an' maybe kilt 'em, too.

Her traumatized mind kept trying to resolve the questions, and finally she groped her way through the fog to an answer, and a decision.

She loved them. They loved her. They were being hurt because of her. She could not bear that. And there was only one way to stop the hurt.

She slipped away, as quietly as a mouse, running down to the village to make the bad men stop.

Baron Munn stared at the lovely girl, completely enthralled. She was more beautiful than he dreamed, more vulnerable and tender, and her terror only served to make her lovelier in his eyes. That terror fed the hunger within him in a way that even the dying pain of her elders had not done.

She was perfect in every way.

She cowered at his feet, where she had thrown herself, weeping, placing herself between him and the woman he had been torturing, trying to hold him off with her soft little hands. Hands like fluttering doves, like white butterflies.

He took her face in his hands, carefully, and raised her eyes to his. Even weeping could not make her less than lovely.

Her eyes were as blue as the sky in winter, as a bottomless lake.

"The eyes are said to be the vision of the heart, and your heart is a heavenly blue," he said, running a hand over her molten silver hair. "What is your name, little, dove?"

"P-P-Pilane," she choked out, silver tears coursing sweetly down her cheeks.

He smiled.

He ordered the villagers to make a cage in which he would carry her back to Karse. He ordered it carved and painted, and lined in layers of the village's fine wool, to keep her warm and sheltered and safe.

He had captured the butterfly. Now he would bring his prize, his Pilane, back to his barony for all to see, see and lust after, but never to touch. Only he would savor that touch, at his leisure, and savor what came after touching.

The villagers made his cage in a day and a night, all of them laboring until they dropped from exhaustion. He left as soon as it was completed, under cover of the first snow of winter. He headed for White Foal Pass at a forced march, driving his own men as hard as he had driven the villagers. He wanted the journey to Karse, to safe-haven, to be as quick as possible.

Behind him, the remaining villagers could only gather to mourn their dead, and to pray to the gods for their special daughter. They held no illusions about what was to befall her, her beauty would serve to enchant him only for so long — and when it palled, he would feed his desires in other ways. They prayed, then, for something, someone, to send her quick release — through rescue, or painless death.

When the stranger rode into the village, it seemed that their prayers had been answered, and a rumor that he was the messenger of the gods went through the village on the wings of the wind.

He certainly looked anything but human, riding a tall, handsome white horse with strange, knowledge-filled blue eyes. And he himself was garbed in pristine white, his face heartstoppingly handsome beneath silver-streaked hair. But most startling of all were his silver eyes, as filled with knowledge, sorrow, and understanding as those of his steed.

What else could he be? And even though he protested otherwise, they knew he was goddess-sent.

He listened carefully to their story with a troubled and angry face.

"I can stop them," he said, in a clear, edged voice, as sweet as springwater and as sharp as a blade of ice. "I can stop them. But the danger is great, and there is a chance that your Pilane will not survive."

"Better that than a life as that man's toy!" Mikhal snarled bitterly. "Her life will be short enough in any case in his hands!"

Behind him, the rest of the villagers nodded or spoke their agreement. Some wept, but all agreed. Baron Munn's actions had left them no illusions.

"Go to White Foal Pass, then, as soon as the snow stops," the stranger told them.

And then, he rode away.

That night, the light snow turned into a full winter storm, a blizzard the likes of which no one, not even Mikhal, had ever seen. Snow fell so thickly and heavily

that it was a struggle just to get from house to house within the village.

Then it became too cold to snow; the wind strengthened, and whipped the snow already fallen into huge drifts. The cold grew deeper and deeper.

The blizzard lasted until moonrise the next night, then died.

At first light, the villagers put on their snow-staves, loaded up their sleds, and followed old Mikhal along the goat-tracks to the pass.

They found the Baron's soldiers and horses, frozen, as if they had been struck down by a cold more deadly than any man could imagine, and all in a single moment. They found the Baron with his hands frozen to the bars of the locked cage, his dead eyes staring into it, as if he had seen something he could not understand.

But Pilane was gone, without a trace.

They never found her.

The Queen wiped her tears away, and waited for her Herald to say something more. But as he sipped his tea, she shook her head.

"Is that all?" she demanded. "Just that? A mystery?"

"There is a little more," the Herald said, putting down his own cup. "One version of the story tells that the messenger took their prayers to the goddess, and it was She who made the storm and took the girl to her side. Another says that the man was only a man, but also a great and powerful mage, who used his magic to bring the storm and save the girl, and that he took her to his palace to live in peace. The last version says also that the man was a mage, but that he was heart-friends with the strange and mysterious Tayledras — that he begged their help, and it was they who sent the storm and took the girl to their homes above the trees, where she was loved, protected, and happy for the rest of her days."

"Tayledras?" the Queen replied. And she wondered; did Elspeth know of this legend? She was with the Tayledras, even now. Did she know the real ending to the story?

"The one thing that all three legends agree upon," the Herald continued, "is that whether it was a goddess, a mage, or the Tayledras, whoever took Pilane created a butterfly to take her place and remind those who loved her of her beauty, her goodness, and her own sacrifice to save them. They call it the 'Blue Heart' and it is a butterfly, they say, that lives only in early winter, after the first snow and only during the full moon. And they say this was done so that the memory of Pilane and all she was would never be lost to the mountains."

He sighed, and was quiet for a few heartbeats.

"And that ends my story, Your Majesty," he said at last.

"It's a lovely story," Selenay replied, lost in thought for a moment. Then something occurred to her, and she sat straight up in her chair. "The girl's name — it was Pilane] and that's your Companion's name!"

The Herald grinned a little shamefacedly. "It means 'butterfly' in a very old mountain dialect," he chuckled. "Which may be the reason why he has made himself into an expert on the little creatures."

But Selenay had another reason for laughter. "You mean that he had you two out in the snows of the mountains chasing a legend!" she laughed. "A butterfly — that is only a legend — out in snow and moonlight — in White Foal Pass?"

When she finished, tears of laughter were bright hi her eyes, and she was holding her side.

"You — the most dangerous man in the Circle — chasing snow-butterflies in the moonlight!"

He hung his head sheepishly. "I am afraid so, Majesty," he replied. "And with your leave, I really must go.”

The Queen waved her answer weakly from her chair, laughing soundlessly.

As he stood and turned to leave, the Herald placed a small package on the table beside her cup. "A gift, Your Majesty," he said. Then he was gone, the door closing behind him.

After several moments, the Queen wiped her eyes, and got herself back under control. She picked up the package, curiosity overcoming her laughter. The Herald's gifts were rare, but fortunately were seldom as sinister as his "stories" could be.

Inside a wrapping of soft gray woolen cloth she found a carved, wooden presentation case for a hand-sized book, a case she opened with the key taken from the ribbon tied around it.

In the right side was a black-velvet-lined recess, containing a thin book. In raised silver letters on the elegant white leather cover were the words, The Blue Heart and beneath them, C. Pilane.

In the left side of the box was a glass-covered velvet-lined display case.

Positioned carefully on the black velvet was a butterfly. Each wing was no larger than her two thumbnails together. The wings were the color of molten silver, with an oblong blue spot on either side of the creature's slender body. Those marks, when seen with the wings fully opened as they were displayed, made the shape of a heart.

A heart as blue as a Companion's eyes, or the color of the clear winter sky.

The End