Magics promise vlhm 2, p.16

Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 16

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

 

Magic's Promise v(lhm-2
 



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  :Both - the Companion, at least.: She lurched to her feet, her eyes black with distress. Moonlight poured in through the open upper half of the door to the paddock, silvering her :Vanyel, please - we must go to them!:

  "What's it look like I'm doing?" he demanded, throwing her blanket over her, then pulling down the saddle itself. "I'll have you saddled in half a moment. Where is this?"

  :Lineas. Highjorune :

  "The Linean throne-seat." He made a quick check of his mental maps. "That's relatively near our Border. Can we be there by dawn? “

  :Before: All her attention was back on the West.

  "Good, because I have the feeling what we're about to do isn't legal, at least by Linean standards, and I'd rather not break laws while people are awake to catch me. Kellan!"

  A stamp and a whicker told him that Savil's Companion had heard him.

  "Get Savil awake and tell her what we know and where we're going. And why."

  Snort of agreement.

  " 'Fandes, wait a minute, I'd better change." He began stripping his clothing off, cursing the laces that wouldn't come undone, and snapping them when he realized how much time this was taking.

  She swung her head around to stare at him frantically. :We can't afford the time!:

  "We can't afford not to take the time," he said reasonably. "Think about it, love. I had damn well better be in uniform. Even the Lineans will think twice about stopping a Valdemar Herald, but a man on a white horse won't rate that second thought. I am something less than fond of being a target, even a moving one." He rummaged in the saddlebags, coming up with a slightly crumpled set of Whites. "Thought I left those here. Thank the gods for battle-line habits." He shrugged on the breeches and tunic and belted them tight; pulled on the boots he'd pulled off when he'd wormed into his blankets. "Good thing I've only got the one pair of boots. Damn, I wish I'd thought to leave a sword here."

  :Meke left one in the tack bin by the stud.:

  "Bless you -"

  He vaulted the railings to fetch it; it was not a good blade, but it was serviceable. He strapped it and his long dagger on, inserted the short ones into their pockets in his boots.

  His cloak-he looked for it quickly; he'd need it out there. There it was, half tangled with the blankets. He pulled it out of the tangle, shook it out, flung it over his shoulders, fastened the throat-latch, and returned to the task of harnessing Yfandes. He swung the saddle onto her back, gave a quick pull of the cinch, got chest- and rump-bands buckled and snugged in - she was ready.

  He snatched her hackamore off its peg and tossed it over her head; he mounted while she shook it into place as the bells on it jangled madly. She booted the bottom of the door into the paddock open with her nose while he grabbed for the reins and brought them over her neck, and then with a leap a wild deer would envy she was off into the darkness.

  Seven

  Gods, it's like another Border-alert. Though Yfandes was frantic with the call in her mind, Vanyel kept his wits about him and reached out with a finger of power to snuff the lantern as they cleared the stable-door.

  Yfandes raced across the black-velvet of the paddock, hooves pounding dully on the turf, uncannily surefooted in all the moon-cast, dancing shadows. He'd forgotten for a moment that their path out was going to be blocked. He glanced ahead barely in time to see the fence at the far end coming at them and set himself instinctively when he felt her gather under him. They flew over the bars and landed with a jar that drove his teeth together and threw him against the pommel of the saddle. He fought himself back into balance and felt her begin to hesitate in mid-stride.

  :Van?:

  He clenched his teeth and wrenched himself into place. :Just go - I'm fine.:

  She stretched out flat to the ground and ran with all the heart that was in her. Vanyel pulled himself down as close to the level of her outstretched neck as he could, kept his silhouette low and clean, and balanced his weight just behind her shoulders where she could carry it easiest. And fed her with his power.

  No one except another Herald could know how exhausting "just riding" could be, especially on a ride like this. He was constantly moving, altering his balance to help her without thinking about it. It was work, and involved tiny muscle adjustments to complement her exertions.

  He kept his cloak tucked in all around, but it didn't help much; the wind cut right through it, and chilled him terribly. His hands and face were like ice before a candlemark had passed. The wind whipped his hair into snarls and numbed his ears, and there was nothing he could do except endure it all, and keep his Othersenses alert for trouble.

  I'll have to do something about the Border Guards when we get there. Something that isn't intrusive.

  The Border - friendly in name only, neutral in truth - was guarded by sentries and watchtowers. They reached it at just about midnight, and Vanyel blinked in amazement when the first of those towers loomed up above the trees on the horizon, a black column against moon - whitened clouds. He'd had no way to judge Yfandes' speed in the dark; only the wind in his face and the thin, steady pull of power from him, power that he in turn drew from the nodes and power-streams they passed as they came into sensing range. Her speed wasn't natural, and required magic to sustain over any distance.

  :The watchtowers-: That was the first time she'd Mindspoken him since they'd leapt the paddock fence, and her mind-voice, though preoccupied, was dark with apprehension. :The Border Guards-:

  :I've got it figured,: he told her; got a wash of relief, and then felt her turn her attention back to the race and her footing, secure in the belief that he would handle the rest.

  He closed his eyes against distractions, and Looked out ahead. He found and identified each mind that could possibly see them passing - those who were awake and those who were not - he left nothing to chance anymore. Not after he'd once been detected on a crawl through the enemy camp by a cook who happened to head for the privy-trench at just the wrong time. So, calling on more of that node-energy he'd garnered on the run, he built a Seeming that touched all those minds.

  There is nothing on the road, his mind whispered to theirs. Only shadows under the moon, the drumming of a partridge, the hooves of startled deer. You see nothing, you hear only sounds you have heard before. There is nothing on the road.

  There were plenty of circumstances that could break this Seeming. It was too delicate to hold against a counterspell and it would certainly break if they had the misfortune to run into someone physically. But anyone touched by the spell would see only shadows, hear only sounds that could easily be explained away.

  More importantly, they would feel a subtle aversion to investigating those sounds, a bored lassitude that would keep them in the shelter of their posts.

  They passed the Border - guard station, vaulting the twin gates that barred the road, Valdemar and Lineas sides, as lightly as leaves on the wind. The Linean Guard was actually leaning on the gatepost, lounging beneath a lantern, his face a startlingly pale blur above his dark uniform. He looked directly at them, and Vanyel felt him yawn as they leaped the gate. Then he was lost in the dark behind as they raced on. Vanyel did not look back, but set the spell to break the moment they were out of sight. He would cloak his own passing; he would not leave the Border to spell-mazed guardians.

  He spent no more magical energies in such spells; he didn't particularly care if the common folk of Lineas saw them. They were familiar enough with the uniform of the Heralds. If any Lineans saw him, they would assume, reasonably enough, that he'd been properly dealt with at the Border and belonged here.

  Yfandes raced on, through pocket-sized villages in tiny, sheltered river-hollows, even through a larger town or two. All were as dark as places long abandoned. Finally, in the dead hours of the night, the time when death and birth lie closest, they came to Highjorune.

  Most of the city was as dead and dark as the villages, but not all; no city slept the night through. More and stronger magic would be required to get them to their goal - whatev
er it was-without being stopped. Vanyel reached, seeking node-energy to use to pass the city gates as they had the Border, and recoiled a little in surprise.

  For a place so adamantly against mages and their Gifts, Highjorune was crawling with mage-energy. It lay on the intersection of three - five - seven lines of force, none of them trivial, all flowing to meet at a node beneath it, liquid rainbows humming the random songs of power, strong enough for even new-made Adepts to use, provided they had the sensitivity to detect them-though the node where they met would be too wild, too strong for any but an experienced Adept.

  :Yfandes, stop a bit.:

  Yfandes obeyed. He raised his hands, preparing to spin out a true spell of illusion and sound - dampening; taking the power directly from the closest stream, bracing himself for the shock as his mind met the flow of energy.

  The city gate was too well-guarded and well-lit, and the city itself too crowded with people to chance the kind of spell he'd worked on the Border Guards. He wanted to hurry the spell, but knew he didn't dare. Careful - he told himself. This is Savil's area of expertise, not yours. Rush it, and you could lose it.

  Yfandes fidgeted, her bridle - bells chiming, her hooves making a deeper ringing on the hard paving of the road. :Hurry,: she urged, her own Mindvoice dense with fear. :Please. He'll die, they'll die - there's another Companion, she's nearly gone mad, she can't speak -:

  : 'Fandes, don't interrupt. I'm working as fast as I can, but if I don't pull power now, I won't have anything when we need it.: The raw power was beginning to fill him, fill all the echoing emptiness. Natural, slow recovery had not been able to do this! He was going to have to wait until the achingly empty reservoirs of power within him were full again before he could spin a shield this complicated, though at this rate it wasn't going to take long. Besides, he was all too likely to need power. If everything went to hell and he had to Gate out of here -

  Gods. It's like - eating sunlight, breathing rainbows, drinking wind - Force poured into him, wild and untamed, and for the first time in months he felt complete and revived. There was nothing this strong anywhere near Forst Reach.

  No mystery now why the Mavelans wanted Lineas, not with this kind of power running through Highjorune going untapped and unused. He could almost pity the mage-lords. It must be like living next to people who mined up precious gems with their copper, and threw the gems out with the tailings, but wouldn't let you in to glean them. Got to hurry this. We're running out of time.

  Cautiously he pulled at the power, until it responded, flowing faster into him.

  That's it. Now I make it mine.

  He tapped into the wild power he'd taken; learned it, tamed it to his hand.

  He was sweating now; both with effort and impatience. Gods, this takes too much time, but I can't afford any surprises.

  Slowly, carefully, he began to spin the energy out into threads, visible only to his Othersight, making a cocoon of the threads that would absorb sound within it, and send the eyes that lit upon it to looking elsewhere. Layer on layer, thread on delicate thread, this was a spell that required absolute concentration and attention, for the slightest defect would mean a place where the eye could catch and hold, where sound could leak out. Yfandes stood like a statue of ice in the moonlight, no longer fidgeting.

  Finally, with a sigh of relief, he completed.the web. He replaced what he had spent, then cut off his connection to the mother-stream.

  His arms hurt, but he had the feeling that more was going to hurt than his arms before this was over.

  :Go!: he told Yfandes, who leaped off into the dark, heading for the open city gates ahead of them.

  He grabbed for the reins and pommel as she shot forward, a white arrow speeding toward a target only she knew.

  :'Fandes! Where are we going?:

  :The palace!:

  The streets wound crazily round about, with no sense and no pattern; some were illuminated by torches and lanterns, some only by the moon. They sped from dark to light to dark again, Yfandes' hooves sliding on the slippery cobbles. They splashed through puddles of water and less pleasant liquids. He could hear her hooves, oddly muffled, beneath him; and both intriguing scents and noisome, foul stenches that met his nose only to be snatched away before he could recognize them. There were people about; street cleaners, beggars, whores, drunks, others he couldn't identify. The spell held; the eyes of the townsfolk they passed slid past the two of them with no interest whatsoever.

  :The first Companion, the young one - I can't even reach him now, he's too crazed, Van, he's so frightened!: Yfandes was not particularly coherent herself; stress was distorting her mind-voice into a wash of emotion through which it was hard to pick up words. :The second one - she's - her Chosen - she can't bear what he's doing, she's shutting everything out :

  Vanyel clung to the pommel and balanced out sideways a bit as Yfandes rounded a corner, hindquarters skewing as her hooves slipped a little. This "second one”-she was probably the Companion with Randale's envoy. But what could a Herald be doing that would stress his Companion to the point of breakdown?

  Vanyel didn't have long to wait to discover the answer; they entered a zone of wider streets and enormous residences; homes of the noble and rich. The streets were near daylight - bright with cressets and lanterns of scentless oils. The palace can't be far, he thought, and just as he finished the thought, they pounded around a corner and into a huge square, then down a broad avenue. At the end of that processional avenue was a huge structure, half fortress, half fantasy, looming above the city, a black eagle mantling above her nest against the setting moon. And at the eagle's feet, an egg of light-the main courtyard, brightly lit. Vanyel banished the spell of unsight as they thundered in the gilded gates.

  The dark-charcoal palace walls cupped the courtyard on three sides, the wall they'd just passed beneath forming the fourth. There must have been a hundred lanterns burning.

  He only got a glimpse of confusion; to his right, half a dozen armed and armored men, and a Companion down and moaning on the black cobbles. To his left-a younger Companion, blood streaked shockingly red on his white coat, teeth bared and screaming with rage and battle - fury; a blond boy clinging dazedly to his back, and-

  It was like something out of his worst nightmares. A Herald, with a heavy carter's whip, beating the stallion until his skin came away in strips and blood striped bright on the snowy hide, trying to separate him from the boy.

  Yfandes literally rode the Herald down, swerving at the last moment to shoulder him aside instead of trampling him. Vanyel leaped from her saddle as he had so many times before in Border - fights; hit the cobbles and tumbled to kill his momentum, and sprang to his feet with sword drawn.

  He didn't give the other Herald a breath to react. Whatever insanity was going on here had to be stopped. Without thinking, Van reversed the grip on the sword in his hand.

  And lashed up to catch the stranger squarely on the chin with a handful of metal.

  The other Herald went flying backward, and landed in an untidy heap.

  Damn, he's still moving.

  Vanyel put himself in righting stance between the young stallion and his abuser. He touched the young ones' minds just long enough to try and get some sense out of either the boy or the stallion - but from the first picked up only shock, and from the second, fear that drowned everything else out.

  Vanyel pulled on the power within him, feeling it leap, wild and undisciplined, as the other Herald staggered to his feet, bleeding from a split lip, and prepared to lash out with the whip again. Flinging out his left hand, Van sent a lash of his own, a lash of lightning from his outstretched finger to the whipstock. The spark arced across the space between them with a crackle and the pungent smell of burning leather, and the dark, sallow-faced Herald dropped the whip with an exclamation of pain. Behind him, Yfandes was holding off the armsmen with squeals, lashing hooves and bared teeth; faced with her anger, they were not inclined to come to the Herald's rescue.

  "What in
hell do you think you're doing?" Vanyel thundered, letting the other feel his outrage, a wave of red anger. The older man backed up an involuntary pace. "What in the name of the gods themselves is going on here?"

  Vanyel sheathed his sword then. The other Herald drew himself up, nursing his injured hand against his chest, rubbing the blood off his bruised chin with the other. "Who are you to interfere -" he began, his face a caricature of thwarted authority.

  Vanyel tried to Mindspeak, but the other's channel was weak, and he was blocking it besides. And the personality was not one for much hope of compromise. Stolid and methodical - and affronted by the stranger's intervention in his jurisdiction. The young stranger, too young, surely, to have any authority.

  Gods bless - I'm going to have to pull rank on this thickheaded idiot. And he's never going to forgive me for that.

  And the only reason I didn't put him out is because he's so damn thick - headed!

 
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