Valdemar Books, page 1
The Valdemar Series by Mercedes Lackey
Official Timeline of Valdemar
--1 The Black Gryphon (1994)
--2 The White Gryphon (1995)
--3 The Silver Gryphon (1996)—
Last Herald Mage
--1 Magic’s Pawn (RE 1994)—
--2 Magic’s Promise (RE 1994)
--3 Magic’s Price (RE 1994)
Brightly Burning (2000)
Vows & Honor
--1 The Oathbound (1988)—
--2 Oathbreakers (1989)
--SS Oathblood (1998)
--1 Exile's Honor (2002)
--2 Exile’s Valor (2003)
Take a Thief (2001)
Heralds of Valdemar
--1 Arrows of the Queen (1987)
--2 Arrow’s Flight (1987)
--3 Arrow’s Fall (1988)—
-- By the Sword (1991)
--1 Winds of Fate (1991)
--2 Winds of Change (1992)
--3 Winds of Fury (1993)
--1 Storm Warning (1994)
--2 Storm Rising (1995)—
--3 Storm Breaking (1996)
--1 Owlflight (1998)
--2 Owlsight (1999)
--3 Owlknight (2000)
Short Stories of Valdemar
--1 Sword of Ice (1997)
Official Timeline of Valdemar
1000 BF - Prehistory: Era of the Black Gryphon
THE MAGE WARS
The Black Gryphon (1994)
The White Gryphon (1995)
The Silver Gryphon (1997)
0 - Founding of Valdemar
750 AF - Reign of Elspeth the Peacemaker
THE LAST HERALD-MAGE
Magic’s Pawn (RE 1994)
798 AF - Reign of Randale
THE LAST HERALD-MAGE
Magic’s Promise (RE 1994)
Magic’s Price (RE 1994)
1077 AF - Reign of Theran
Brightly Burning (2000)
1270 AF - Reign of Co-consorts Arden & Leesa
VOWS AND HONOR
The Oathbound (1988)
1315 AF - Reign of Roald
1355 AF - Reign of Sendar
Exile’s Honor (2002)
1376 AF - Reign of Selenay
Exile’s Valor (2003)
Takes A Thief (2001)
THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR
Arrows of the Queen (1987)
Arrow’s Flight (1987)
Arrow’s Fall (1988)
By the Sword (1991)
THE MAGE WINDS
Winds of Fate (1991)
Winds of Change (1992)
Winds of Fury (1993)
THE MAGE STORMS
Storm Warning (1994)
Storm Rising (1995)
Storm Breaking (1996)
--1 The Black Gryphon (1994)--
version 2.0 compared to original, spell checked. completed January 31, 2004
Dedicated to Mel. White, Coyote Woman A legend in the hearts of all who know her.
Cold wind played against Skandranon's nares—a wind as frigid as the hearts of the killers below. Their hearts pumped blood unlike any other creature's; thick black blood, warmed when their commanders willed it—only when they flew, only when they hunted, only when they killed.
Their blood was cold, and yet it ran warmer than their masters'. This much Skandranon Rashkae knew; he had fought their masters since he was a fledgling himself. They were cruel and cunning, these makaar, and yet the worst aspects of these manufactured horrors paled before the cruelty of their creators.
Silence. Stay still. Quiet.
Skandranon remained motionless, crouched, feathers compressed tight to his body. He was silent to more than hearing; that silence was but one of the powers that had made his master and friend so powerful, although it was the power that had given him his name—Urtho, the Mage of Silence. Urtho's champions had invisibility against magical sight—to mind-scanning, to detection spells, to magical scrying. The enemies of his monarchy had spent much of their resources on foiling that edge—to no avail, it seemed—and now concentrated on more direct methods of destroying Urtho's hold on the verdant central-land's riches.
Skan kept his wings folded, the leading edge of each wing tucked under the soft black feathers at the sides of his chest. It was important to be quiet and keep his head down, even this far from the encampment. The journey here had been one of long soars and kiting, and although he was in his best physical shape ever, flight muscles protested even yet. Better now to rest and watch. The chill wind rippled against his coat of feathers. This day had turned out unseasonably cold, which hadn't helped him any—except that it kept the makaar willing to make only the most necessary flights.
He watched them sleeping restlessly, twitching in their dreaming. Did they know how transient, how fleeting, they were? How their creators built them, bred them, refined them, letting the bad stock die out by assigning them to the border? Did they know their masters designed them with short lives so the generations would cycle quicker, to reveal the defects more conveniently?
They were, despite their horrifying appearances and deadly claws, quite pitiful. They'd never know the caress of a caring lover—they would only know the heat of imposed breeding. They knew their lot was the searing pain of a torture-weapon if they failed. They never lay in the sun with a friend, or dashed in the air with their wingmates....
They'd never risk their lives to do something because they felt it was right. Perhaps that was the greatest pity of all; they could not be broken because they had no honor to compromise, no will to subvert.
The makaar and the gryphons were a study in contrasts, despite the darker mages' obvious attempts to mimic the Mage of Silence's handiwork. If gryphons were sinuous, graceful storms, makaar were blustering squalls. The gryphons were bold, intelligent, crafty; the makaar were conditioned to blind obedience. And one need only ask Skandranon which was the more attractive; he'd likely answer, "I am."
Vain bird. You'll make a lovely skin on a Commander's wall.
Skandranon breathed deeply behind the line of trees atop the hill; before him was the Pass of Stelvi. The coming army had stormed it, at the cost of but a few hundred of their soldiers compared to the thousand of Urtho's garrison. Farther down the pass was the split valley which once supported a thriving trade-town. Laisfaar was now the army's quarters, and the surviving townsfolk made into servants no better off than slaves. In the other fork of the valley the commanders had stationed the army's supplies and creatures, including the sleeping makaar.
They might as well sleep; they did not need to fear sorcerous spying. The army's mages had shielded the area from magical scrying, and none of Urtho's many attempts to search the valley by spell had worked. That had left the need for study by stealth—risky at best, suicidal at worst.
Skandranon had, of course, volunteered.
Fly proudly to your doom laughing, vain bird, the best of the best; more suitors than sense, more wealth than wisdom, sharp claws ready to dig your own funeral pit....
His meeting with Urtho had been brief by choice. The offer was made to send guards and mages; Skandranon declined. Urtho offered to bolster his defensive spells, as he had done so many times before; it was declined as well. What Skan asked for was enhancement of his ma
That was three dozen leagues and four meals ago; a long time to cover such a distance. It was a tactical disaster for his side that the enemy's army had advanced this close to Urtho's Tower; now it appeared they were prepared to march on the Tower itself. The layout of the encampments showed three separate cadres of troops; the makaar had been assigned equally to two of them. And between those two was the Weaponsmaster's coach, staked firmly and blanketed, flanked by two canvas-covered wagons.
Hold a moment now. With a town nearby—hearths and comfortable bedding—the Weaponsmaster is staying in a tent?
Each side in this war had Seers and Diviners, whose powers could throw secret plans, however perfectly laid, awry. A Seer waking with a premonition of an assassination could thwart the attempt, for instance. The night before Stelvi Pass was taken, a Seer's vision told of a horrible new weapon that would devastate the garrison Urtho had placed there. It was something magical, the woman had said, but was in the hands of common soldiers. That warning alone was enough to make the gryphon wary, and had made him determined to explore this valley.
In a war of mages, the limited number of Adepts and Masters made tactical planning easier; you could study your opponents, guess their resources, even identify them by their strategies without ever seeing the commander himself. What alarmed Skandranon was the idea that the power of a mage could be put in the hands of untrained people—those who did not have the innate powers or learned skills of a mage. The units that could be fielded with such weapons would be an unwelcome variable, difficult to guard against if at all. A Master could ride onto a battlefield and call on his own powers, unleashing firebolts, lightning, hurricanes of killing wind—yet he was still just one man, and he could be eliminated. But soldiers that could do that would be devastating, even if the weapons were employed but once each. And if an Adept had discovered a way for the weapons to draw on power from magical nodes—
That was too horrifying to think of further. Skandranon had faced the Adept commander of all the troops below, the Kiyamvir Ma'ar, twenty months ago. He had volunteered for that mission, too, and had limped home wing-broken, stricken with nightmares. He had seen his wingmates skinned by the Adept's spells, feathered coats peeled back in strips by the Adept's will alone in full daylight, despite Skan's attempts to counterspell. The nightmares had left him now, but the memory made him determined to protect Urtho's people from the Kiyamvir's merciless rule.
Skandranon's eyes focused on the town of Laisfaar. Urtho's garrison had not all been human; there had been hertasi, a few tervardi, and three families of gryphons. His eyes searched the ramparts, noted the wisps of smoke of fires still burning since the attack. There were the aeries of the gryphons; the ramps for visitors, the sunning beds, the fledglings' nests....
... the bloodstains, the burned feathers, the glistening rib cage....
All the usual atrocities. Damn them.
She had been alive until very recently; she had escaped the worst of it by dying of shock and blood loss. The makaar had no love for gryphons, and their masters gave them a still-living one after a battle as a reward. Often it was a terrified fledgling, like this gray-shafted gryphon had been. The rest of the garrison's gryphons had doubtless been wing-cut, caged, and sent to the Kiyamvir for his pleasures by now. Skandranon knew well that, unless Ma'ar was distracted by his business of conquest, there would be nothing left of them to rescue by day's end.
If he could, Skandranon would insure the captives would not last that long. Crippled as they would likely be, he couldn't help them escape; but he might be able to end their ordeal.
Before that, he had a larger duty to attend to.
Now he moved, slinking belly-flat to the ground, catlike; one slow step at a time, eeling his way through the underbrush with such delicate care that not even a leaf rustled. The Weaponsmaster's wagons had plenty of guards, but not even the Weaponsmaster could control terrain. The mountains themselves provided brush-filled ravines for Skandranon to creep through, and escarpments that overlooked the wagons. The encampment was guarded from attack from above by makaar, but only over the immediate vicinity of the camp. It was guarded from penetration from below by the foot-soldiers, but only outside the camp itself. No one had guarded against the possibility of someone flying into the area of the camp, behind the sentry lines, then landing and proceeding on foot to the center of the camp.
No one could have, except a gryphon. No one would have, except Skandranon. The omission of a defense against gryphon spying told him volumes about the military commanders who led this force. The Kiyamvir would reprimand them well for such a mistake—but then, Ma'ar was the only one of their side who understood the gryphons' abilities. Most commanders simply assumed gryphons and makaar were alike, and planned defenses accordingly.
So Skandranon stayed in the shadows, moving stealthily, as unlike a makaar as possible.
Time meant nothing to him; he was quite prepared to spend all night creeping into place. Even in the most strictly ruled of armies, discipline slackens after a victory. Soldiers are weary and need rest; victory makes them careless. Skan had timed his movements to coincide with that period of carelessness.
He noted no sentries within the bounds of the camp itself; his sharp hearing brought him no hint that the commanders prowled about, as they were known to do before a battle. Doubtless, the commanders were as weary as the soldiers and slept just as deeply.
He spent his moments waiting committing details to memory; even if he died, if his body were somehow recovered, Urtho could still sift his last memories for information. That would only work if he died swiftly, though. Otherwise, the memories would be overcome by sensory input; thus the immediate torture of gryphon captives. Daring rescues had occurred before, and once retrieved, the gryphons' bodies were tremendous sources of information.
That could also be a clue to where the rest of the gryphon families were; it was also not unheard of to use captives as bait for rescue-traps. Captives' minds were often stripped of the will to resist, the prisoners forced to give information to the enemy. This was why Skandranon held a horrible power—a spell of death keyed to gryphons—for mercy.
And he hoped with every drop of blood that he would never be required to use it again.
Halfway to his goal he froze as he heard footsteps approaching the stand of tall grasses where he lay hidden. The cover that had seemed adequate a moment earlier seemed all too thin now—
Clever bird, hiding in grass. Better hope the wind doesn't blow—
But the footsteps stumbled, and Skan held his breath, not wanting to betray his position by breathing steam into the cold air. He froze in mid-step, right foreclaw held a mere thumb length above the ground.
He could not see the human who approached without turning his head, which he would not do. He could only wait and listen.
The footsteps stopped; there was a muffled curse, and the sound of hands fumbling with cloth—Then, clear and unmistakable, the sound of a thin stream of water hitting the matted grasses.
The human grunted, yawned; the sound of trousers being hitched up followed. The footsteps stumbled away again.
Skandranon unfroze and lowered his claw to the ground.
There were no other incidents as he made his way up the escarpment and slid under the shelter of a knot of wild plum bushes, to wait until dawn. He could feel the beetles and spiders of the thicket exploring their newly-arrived piece of landscape as the minutes went by. Despite the impulse to yelp and swat them, though, he stayed still. Their irritation provided a blessing in a way; something to feel, to keep his senses alert after nightfall.
Skandranon's tentative plan was to wait until darkness, then sneak out to explore the camp. Other warriors suspected his stealthiness was a result of Urtho's magicking, although the elder denied
Silence alone is not enough. Urtho has learned that the hard way—we've lost border towns for half a generation, and only now begun doing more than simply defending our borders. Eh, well, Urtho had never intended to become Archmage. He's more suited to crafting silver and carving figures than deploying armies.
Such a pity that a man so kindhearted would be pressed into the role of a warlord... but better he than a heartless man.
And I'd certainly rather be off making little gryphlets.
That would have to wait until the world became a safer place to raise young, though. For now, Skandranon waited... until a shriek rang out from the town, echoing off the walls of the valley. Only practiced self-control kept him from leaping into the air, claws stretched to rend and tear.
One at least still lives. I'm coming, friend, I'm coming... just hold on a little longer. Just a little. Feh, I can't wait any longer.
Skandranon stood and surveyed the layout of the encampment again; he'd heard screams like that too many times in his life. Not again. He spread his wings half-open and leapt, down toward the Weaponsmaster's wagons, depending on speed to be his ally. Knifelike wind whistled against his nares, chilling his sinuses, sharpening his mind. All the sights and sounds of the world intensified when he was in motion, sizes and details of shapes all taken into account for the entire span of his vision.
Snatch and fly, that's your plan, isn't it, damned foolish bird? You're going to die the hero they all call you, for what? Because you couldn't stand another moment of another gryphon's pain? Couldn't wait any longer.
The wagons rushed closer in his sight, and their magical alarms blazed into light, waiting like barbed snares to be triggered. Were they traps, too, besides being alarms? Would they trap him? Were they the bait, not the tortured gryphon?