Dragonwhore.  Those words had actually come out of Kestrel’s mouth with the idea that I’d be happy now?  He had elevated the term so that I’d think it was some vast compliment?  This was his way of justifying his actions?  The anger I’d felt building up just … burst out of me.  I came out of my chair and hit him hard with both my open palms, right on the shoulders.  His chair went over backwards and I landed in the middle of him with my fist drawn back.  He never batted an eye. 

“Oh, fine, if it will make you feel better,” he said in a completely flat tone of voice, and just that lack of resistance, that absolute … control … told me I was making a fool of myself.  That I was a weanling filly, running frantically up and down some fence somewhere, crying for a relationship that had come to an end.  My masters had other plans for me.  I was to be trained for what they wanted me to be, the task they’d planned for me all along. I could resist, but I could not win.

I dropped my fist and just … looked at him for a minute.  “I will be useful,” I said, “but I will not be used.  I will accept my destiny, but not without question, and not without change.”

“You have a bony ass,” he said. 

I realized at that point that nobody else at the table had moved.  I stuck my nose in the air, got up with as much dignity as I could muster, and reseated myself at the table. 

“I do hope you’ll help me make some changes,” Harrier said in a conversational tone. 

Nothing has happened here.  Two people have not been on the floor locked in a kind of mortal combat.  Again there was that sense of weightless surrealism that had dominated the morning.  I wondered how long I’d actually been here, and if I was going to wake up in my bed to discover that this had been a particularly vivid and protracted dream.  Maybe it was something I’d had for dinner.  I knew there was no point in trying to wake myself up.  Either I would, or I wouldn’t. “Changes with what?” I asked.

“In the virtual reality that gets you from infancy to young adulthood.  You said you’d loved your life, but now this has been an awful jolt for you.  Think about how we could make that an easier transition.”

“Telling me all along who I was and what I was getting into would have been a nice touch,” I muttered. 

“No it wouldn’t,” he said gently.  “Wait until your anger cools.  You’re going to live a long time.  You have time to think.”

“Maybe if someone else had been … from here as well.  One of my friends, or Dunlin.  Someone to transition with.”

“Now see, that’s a good idea,” Harrier said.  “You are going to add so much insight, and so much bright energy to this place, Wren.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, because I was once again swinging wildly from one emotion to another, and it was once again confusion’s turn.  “Am I here?  Am I at Lycee?  Are my rights as a citizen intact?  Am I to be swept off into a corner and dusted off when the next Dragonhorse comes along? Now that I am alive in this reality, are the hopes and dreams of the last reality gone forever?”

“They are not gone,” said yet another voice, and an absolutely spectacular elderly gentleman stepped through the archway into the kitchen.  Everyone stood up.  He came over to me, took my hands in his, turned them palms up and kissed them, as is done in the Equi wedding ceremony.  “I pledge to thee gentleness always.  For as long as we live I am thine.”

He raised his eyes then, but kept my hands in his and held them against his chest. “Your destiny is to be brilliant, a light for us, and for the world outside these walls, and for you to be able to do that, you must go to school.  When you are not in school, and not enjoying games and leisure in the company of your friends, you will be here with us, learning the ancient ways of this place – the ancient wisdom of our people.  You are a citizen, Ah’ren, and your rights are intact.  What you were created to do, will come from a place of wisdom, not fear.  What you truly choose not to do, you will not be forced to do, I promise.”

“Who are you?” I breathed.  I didn’t want him to let go of me, ever.

“I am Chirion,” he said.  “I am the eldest.”

He smiled, and I knew I was awake, that my life until now had been a dream, and that to move forward was to move into reality – the reality of being immortal and insuperable – a reality that was uniquely mine, and one which I was going to have to find balance.