Magics promise vlhm 2, p.1

Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 1

 part  #2 of  Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series

 

Magic's Promise v(lhm-2
 



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Magic's Promise v(lhm-2


  Magic's Promise

  ( Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage - 2 )

  Mercedes Lackey

  In this book, Vanyel is 28 years old and is now the head of all the Herald-Mages in Valdemar. Vanyel has just returned to Haven from more conflicts on the Valdemar, Karsite border and deserves a rest. But, as it goes for most Heralds, the greater the Herald you are, the more you are needed. He needs to go visit his family, which is unfortunate since he and his family barely get along. While there, Yfandes receives a cry for help from a neighboring kingdom. Urged by this cry they go to investigate. They find a place that is in the middle of a Magical Holocaust. There they find Prince Tashir, a newly chosen Herald. This boy has a powerful Gift that he cannot control; Is he responsible for this Magic-made destruction? Find out.

  Magic’s Promise

  Mercedes Lackey

  Last Herald Mage 02

  Dedicated to:

  Elizabeth (Betsy) Wollheim

  Who said - "Go for it"

  One

  The blue leather saddlebags and a canvas pack, all a-bulging with filthy clothing and miscellaneous gear, landed in the corner of Vanyel's room with three dull thuds. The lute, still in its padded leather case, slithered over the back of one of the two overstuffed chairs and landed with a softer pumph, to rest in the cradle of the worn red seat cushion. Once safely there it sagged, leaning over sideways like a fat, drunken child. The dark leather lute case glowed dully in the mid-morning sun still coming in the single eastward-facing window. Two years of mistreatment had not marred the finish too much, although the case was scuffed here and there, and had been torn and remended with tiny, careful stitches along the belly.

  Vanyel grimaced at the all-too-visible tear. Torn? No, no tear would be that even. Say cut, or slashed and it would be nearer the truth. Pray nobody else notices that.

  Better the lute case than me ... that came closer than I really want to think about. I hope Savil never gets a good look at it. She'd know what that meant, and she'd have a cat.

  Herald-Mage Vanyel took the other chair gracelessly, dropping all his weight at once into the embrace of comfortable upholstered arms.

  Home at last. Havens, I sound like the pack hitting the corner.

  "O-o-oh." Vanyel leaned back, feeling every muscle in his body crying out with long-ignored aches and strains. His thoughts fumbled their way into his conscious mind through a fog of utter exhaustion. He wanted, more than anything, to close his gritty eyes. But he didn't dare, because the moment he did, he'd fall asleep.

  Someday I'm going to remember I'm not sixteen anymore, and keep in mind that I can't stay up till all hours, then rise with the dawn, and not pay for it.

  A few moments ago his Companion Yfandes had fallen asleep, standing up in the stable, while he was grooming her. They'd started out on this last leg of their journey long before dawn this morning, and had pushed their limits, eating up the last dregs of their strength just to get to the sanctuary of "home" the sooner.

  Gods. If only I would never have to see the Karsite Border again.

  No chance of that. Lord and Lady, if you love me, just give me enough time to get my wind back. That's all I ask. Time enough to feel like a human again, and not a killing machine.

  The room smelled strongly of soap and the beeswax used to polish the furniture and wall paneling. He stretched, listening to his joints crack, then blinked at his surroundings.

  Peculiar. Why doesn't this feel like home? He pondered for a moment, for it seemed to him that his modest, goldenoak-paneled quarters had the anonymous, overly-neat look of a room without a current occupant. I suppose that's only logical, he thought reluctantly. They haven't been occupied, much. I've been living out of my packs for the last year, and before that I was only here for a couple of weeks at a time at most. Gods.

  It was a comfortable, warm-and quite average-room. Like any one of a dozen he'd tenanted lately, when he'd had the luxury of a guest room in some keep or other. Sparsely furnished with two chairs, a table, a desk and stool, and a wardrobe, a curtained, canopied bed in the corner. That bed was enormous-his one real indulgence: he tended to toss restlessly when-and if-he slept.

  He smiled wryly, thinking how more than one person had assumed he'd wanted that particular bed for another reason entirely. They'd never believe it if I told them Savil gets more erotic exercise than I do. Oh, well. Maybe it's a good thing I don't have a lover; he'd wake up black and blue. Always assuming I didn't strangle him by accident during a nightmare.

  But other than that bed, the room was rather plain. Only one window, and that one without much of a view. It certainly wasn't the suite he could have commanded-

  But what good is a suite when I hardly see Haven, much less my own room?

  He put his feet up on the low, scarred table between the chairs, in defiance of etiquette. He could have requisitioned a footstool-

  But somehow I never think of it until I'm five leagues down the road headed out. There's never enough time for-for anything. Not since Elspeth died, anyway. And gods-please let me be wrong about Randale.

  His eyes blurred; he shook his head to clear them. Only then did he see the pile of letters lying beside his feet, and groaned at the all-too-familiar seal on the uppermost one. The seal of Withen, Lord of Forst Reach and Vanyel's father.

  Twenty-eight years old, and he still makes me feel fifteen, and in disgrace. Why me? he asked the gods, who did not choose to answer. He sighed again, and eyed the letter sourly. It was dauntingly thick.

  Hellfire. It-and every other problem-can damned well wait until after I've had a bath. A bath, and something to eat that doesn't have mold on it, and something to drink besides boiled mud. Now, did I leave anything behind the last time I was here that was fit to wear?

  He struggled to his feet and rummaged in the wardrobe beside his bed, finally emerging with a shirt and breeches of an old and faded blue that had once been deep sapphire. Thank the gods. Not Whites, and I won't be wearing Whites when I get home. It's going to be so nice to wear something that doesn't stain when you look at it. (Unfair, nagged his conscience-properly treated, the uniform of Heraldic Whites was so resistant to dirt and stains that the non-Heralds suspected magic. He ignored the insistent little mental voice.) Although I don't know what I'm going to do for uniforms. Dear Father would hardly have known his son, covered in mud, stubbled, ashes in his hair.

  He emptied the canvas pack on the floor and rang for a page to come and take the mishandled uniforms away to be properly dealt with. They were in exceedingly sad shape; stained with grass and mud, and blood-some of it his own-some were cut and torn, and most were nearly worn-out.

  He'd have taken one look and figured I'd been possessed. Not that the Karsites didn't try that, too. At least near-possession doesn't leave stains . . . not on uniforms, anyway. What am I going to do for uniforms? Oh, well-worry about that after my bath.

  The bathing room was at the other end of the long, wood-paneled, stone-floored hallway; at mid-morning there was no one in the hall, much less competing for the tubs and hot water. Vanyel made the long trudge in a half-daze, thinking only how good the hot water would feel. The last bath he'd had-except for the quick one at the inn last night-had been in a cold stream. A very cold stream. And with sand, not soap.

  Once there, he shed his clothing and left it in a heap on the floor, filled the largest of the three wooden tubs from the copper boiler, and slid into the hot water with a sigh-

  -and woke up with his arms draped over the edges and going numb, his head sagging down on his chest, and the water lukewarm and growing colder.

  A hand gently touched his shoulder.

  He knew without looking that it had to be a fellow Herald-if it hadn't been, i
f it had even been someone as innocuous as a strange page, Vanyel's tightly-strung nerves and battle-sharpened reflexes would have done the unforgivable. He'd have sent the intruder through the wall before he himself had even crawled out of the depths of sleep. Probably by nonmagical means, but-magical or nonmagical, he suddenly realized that he could easily hurt someone if he wasn't careful.

  He shivered a little. I'm hair triggered. And that's not good.

  "Unless you plan on turning into a fish-man," Herald Tantras said, craning his head around the partition screening the tub from the rest of the bathing room and into Vanyel's view with cautious care, "you'd better get out of that tub. I'm surprised you didn't drown yourself."

  "So am I." Vanyel blinked, tried to clear his head of cobwebs, and peered over his shoulder. "Where did you pop out of?''

  "Heard you got back a couple of candlemarks ago, and I figured you'd head here first." Tantras chuckled. "I know you and your baths. But I must admit I didn't expect to find you turning yourself into a raisin."

  The dark-haired, dusky Herald came around the side of the wooden partition with an armload of towels. Vanyel watched him with a half-smile of not-too-purely artistic appreciation; Tantras was as graceful and as handsome as a king stag in his prime. Not shay'a'chern, but a good friend, and that was all too rare.

  And getting rarer, Vanyel thought soberly. Though, Havens, I haven't exactly had my fill of romantic companionship either, lately . . . well, celibacy isn't going to kill me. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Gods, I should apply for the priesthood.

  There was concern in the older Herald's deep, soft eyes. "You don't look good, Van. I figured you'd be tired-but from the way you passed out here-it must have been worse out there than I thought."

  "It was bad," Vanyel said shortly, reluctant to discuss the past year. Even for the most powerful Herald-Mage in the Circle, holding down the positions of five other Herald-Mages while they recovered from magical attack, drainage, and shock was not a mission he wanted to think about for a long while, much less repeat. He soaped his hair, then ducked his head under the water to rinse it.

  "So I heard. When I saw you playing dead in the tub, I sent a page up to your room with food and wine and sent another one off for some of my spare uniforms, since we're about the same size.''

  "Name the price, it's yours," Vanyel said gratefully, levering himself out of the tub with a groan and accepting the towel Tantras held out to him. "I have nothing worth wearing right now in the way of uniforms."

  "Lord and Lady-" the other Herald swore, looking at him with shock. “What have you been doing to yourself?"

  Vanyel paused in his vigorous toweling, looked down, and was a little surprised himself at the evidence of damage. He'd always been lean-but now he was whipcord and bone and nothing else. Then there were the scars- knife and sword scars, a scoring of parallel claw marks on his chest where that demon had tried to remove his heart. Burn marks, too-he was striped from neck to knee with three thin, white lines where mage-lightning had gotten through his shields. And there were a few other scars that were souvenirs of his bout with a master of mage-fire.

  "My job. Living on the edge. Trying to convince the Karsites that I was five Herald-Mages. Playing target." He shrugged dismissively. "That's all. Nothing any of you wouldn't have done if you could have."

  "Gods, Van," Tantras replied, with a hint of guilt. "You make me feel like a shirker. I hope to hell it was worth what you went through."

  Vanyel compressed his lips into a tight line. "I got the bastard that got Mardic and Donni. And you can spread that as official."

  Tantras closed his eyes for a moment, and bowed his head. "It was worth it," he said faintly.

  Vanyel nodded. "Worth every scar. I may have accomplished something else; that particular necromancer had a flock of pet demons and I turned them back on Karse when I killed him." He smiled, or rather, stretched his mouth a little. "I hope it taught the Karsites a lesson. I hope they end up proscribing magic altogether on their side of the Border. If you can believe anything out of Karse, there's rumor that they're doing just that."

  Tantras looked up again. "Hard on the Gifted-" he ventured.

  Vanyel didn't answer. He was finding it very hard to feel sorry for anyone on the Karsite side of the Border at the moment. It was uncharitable, un-Heraldic, but until certain wounds healed-and not the physical ones-he was inclined to be uncharitable.

  "There's more silver in your hair, too," Tantras observed, head to one side.

  Vanyel made a face, just as glad of the change in subject. "Node-magic. Every time I tap into it, more of my roots go white. Moondance k'Treva was pure silver by the time he was my age; I guess I'm more resistant." He smiled, it was faint, but a real smile this time. "One nice thing; all those white hairs give me respect I might not otherwise get!"

  He finished drying himself and wrapped the towel around his waist. Tantras grimaced again-probably noting the knife wound on his back-and handed him another towel for his hair.

  "You already paid that forfeit, by the way" he said, plainly trying to lighten the conversation.

  Vanyel stopped toweling off his hair and raised an eyebrow.

  "You stood duty for me last Sovvan."

  Vanyel clamped down on the sudden ache of loss and shrugged again. You know you get depressed when you’re tired, fool. Don't let it sink you. “Oh, that. Any time, Tran. You know I don't like Sovvan-night celebrations, I can't handle the memorial services, and I don't like to be alone, either. Standing relay duty was as good as anything else to keep my mind off things."

  He was grateful when Tantras didn't press the subject. "Think you can make it to your room all right?" the other asked. "I said you don't look good; I mean it. Falling asleep in the tub like that-it makes me wonder if you're going to pass out in the hall."

  Vanyel produced something more like a dry cough than a laugh. "It's nothing about a week's worth of sleep won't cure," he replied. "And I'm sorry I won't be able to stand relay for you this year, but I have the Obligatory Familial Visit to discharge. I haven't been home in- gods, four years. And even then I didn't stay for more than a day or two. They're going to want me to make the long stay I've been promising. There's a letter from my father waiting for me that's probably reminding me of just that fact."

  "Parents surely know how to load on the guilt, don't they? Well, if you're out of reach, Randale won't find something for you to do-but is that going to be rest?” Tantras looked half-amused and half-worried. "I mean, Van, that family of yours-"

  "They won't come after me when I'm sleeping-which I fully intend to do a lot of.'' He pulled on his old, clean clothing, reveling in the feel of clean, soft cloth against his skin, and started to gather up his things. "And the way I feel right now, I'd just as soon play hermit in my rooms when I get there-"

  "Leave that stuff," Tantras interrupted. "I'll deal with it. You go wrap yourself around a decent meal. You don't look like you've had one in months."

  "I haven't. They don't believe in worldly pleasures down there. Great proponents of mortification of the flesh for the good of the spirit." Vanyel looked up in time to catch Tantras' raised eyebrow. He made a tragic face. "I know what you're thinking. That, too. Especially that. Gods. Do you have any idea what it was like, being surrounded by all those devastatingly handsome young men and not daring to so much as flirt with one?"

  "Were the young ladies just as devastatingly attractive?" Tantras asked, grinning.

  "I would say so-given that the subject's fairly abstract for me."

  "Then I think I can imagine it. Remind me to avoid the Karsite Border at all costs."

  Vanyel found himself grinning back-another real smile, and from the heart. "Tran, gods-I'm glad to see you. Do you know how long it's been since I've been able to talk freely to someone? To joke, for Lady's sake? Since I was around people who don't wince away when I'm minus a few clothes?"

  "Are you on about that again?" Tantras asked, incredulously. "Do you reall
y think that people are nervous around you because you're shaych?"

  "I'm what?” Van asked, startled by the unfamiliar term.

  "Shaych. Short for that Hawkbrother word you and Savil use. Don't know where it came from, just seems like one day everybody was using it." Tantras leaned back against the white-tiled wall of the bathing room, folding his arms across his chest in a deceptively lazy pose. "Maybe because you're as prominent as you are. Can't go around calling the most powerful Herald-Mage in the Circle a 'pervert,' after all." He grinned. "He might turn you into a frog."

  Vanyel shook his head again. "Gods, I have been out of touch to miss that little bit of slang. Yes, of course because I'm shay'a'chern, why else would people look at me sideways?"

  "Because you scare the hell out of them," Tantras replied, his smile fading. "Because you are as powerful as you are; because you're so quiet and so solitary, and they never know what you're thinking. Havens, these days half the Heralds don't even know you're shaych; it's the Mage-Gift that makes them look at you sideways. Not that anybody around here cares about your bedmates a quarter as much as you seem to think. They're a lot more worried that-oh-a bird will crap on you and you'll level the Palace."

 
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