Magics promise vlhm 2, p.2

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

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


Magic's Promise v(lhm-2

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  "Me?" Vanyel stared at him in disbelief.

  "You. You've spent most of the last four or five years in combat zones. We know your reflexes are hypersensitive. Hellfire, that's why I came in here to wake you up instead of sending a page. We know what you can do. Van, nobody I've ever heard of was able to take the place of five Herald-Mages by himself! And the very idea of one person having that much power at his beck and call scares most people witless!"

  Vanyel was caught without a reply; he stared at Tantras with the towel hanging limply from his hands.

  "I'm telling you the plain truth, Van. I wish you'd stop wincing away from people with no cause. It's not your sexual preferences that scare them, it's you. Level the Palace, hell-they know you could level Haven if you wanted to-"

  Vanyel came out of his trance of astonishment. "What do they think I am?" he scoffed, picking up his filthy shirt.

  "They don't know; they haven't the Mage-Gift and most of them weren't trained around Herald-Mages. They hear stories, and they think of the Mage Wars-and they remember that once, before there was a Valdemar, there was a thriving land to the far south of us. Now the Dhorisha Plains are there-a very large, circular crater. No cities, no sign there ever was anything, not even two stones left standing. Nothing but grass and nomads. Van, leave that stuff; I'll pick up after you."

  "But-" Vanyel began to object.

  "Look, if you can spend most of a year substituting for five of us, then one of us can pick up after you once in a while." Tantras took the wet towels away from him, cutting off his objections before he could make them. "Honestly, Van."

  "If you insist." He wanted to touch Tantras' mind to see if he really meant what he said. It seemed a fantastical notion.

  But Tran had not invited, and a Herald did not intrude uninvited into another's mind, not unless there was an overriding need to do so.

  "Is ... that how you feel?" he asked in a whisper.

  "I'm not afraid of you, but let me tell you, I wouldn't have your powers for any reward. I'm glad I'm just a Herald and not a Herald-Mage, and I don't know how you survive it. So just let me spoil you a little, all right?"

  Vanyel managed a weak smile, troubled by several things-including that "just a Herald" business. That implied a division between Heralds and Herald-Mages that made him very uneasy. "All right, old friend. Spoil me. I'm just tired enough to let you."

  The fog of weariness came between him and and the corridor, and he was finding it all he could do to put one foot in front of the other. Lady, bless you for Tantras. There aren't many even among the Heralds I trained with that will accept what I am as easily as he does. Whether it's that I'm a Mage or that I'm fey-although I can't see why Mage-powers would frighten someone. We've had Herald-Mages since there was a Valdemar.

  I wish he was as right about that as he thinks he is; I still think it's the other thing.

  The stone was so cool and soothing to his feet; it eased the ache in them that was the legacy of too many hours-days-weeks-when he had slept fully clothed, ready to defend the Border in the blackest, bleakest hours of the night.

  That reminder brought bleaker thoughts. Every time he came back to Haven it was with the knowledge that there would be fewer familiar faces to greet him. So many friends gone-not that I ever had many to begin with. Lancir, Mardic and Donni, Regen, Dorilyn. Wulgra, Kat, Pretor. All gone. Not many left besides Tran. There's- Jays. Savil. Andy, and he's a Healer. Erdane, Breda, a couple of the other Bards. How can I be anything but solitary? Every year I'm more alone.

  True to Tantras' promise, Vanyel found an overflowing plate waiting for him beside the pile of letters. It held a pair of meat pies, soft white cheese, and apples, and beside the generous plate of food was an equally generous pitcher of wine.

  I'd better be careful with that stuff. I'm not used to it anymore, and I bet it'll go straight to my head.

  He stifled a groan as he sagged down into the empty chair, poured a goblet of wine, then picked up the topmost letter. He broke the seal on it, gritted his teeth, and started in.

  To Herald-Mage Vanyel from Lord Withen Ashkevron of Forst Reach: My dear Son-

  Vanyel nearly dropped the letter in surprise, and reread the salutation to be certain that his eyes hadn't played tricks on him.

  Great good gods. “My dear Son?” I haven't been “dear,” much less “Son” for-years! I wonder what happened-

  He took a long breath and continued.

  Though you might find it difficult to believe, I am pleased and grateful that you are going to be able to find the time for an extended visit home. Despite our differences, and some hard words between us, I am very proud of my Herald-Mage son. I may not care for some aspects of your life, but I respect your intelligence and good sense. I confess, Vanyel, that your old father has need of some of that good sense. I need your help in dealing with your brother Mekeal.

  Vanyel nodded to himself with cynicism. Now we come to it.

  He has made some excessively poor judgments since I turned over the management of some of the lands to him, but this spring he has outdone himself. He's taken the cattle-good, solid income-producing stock-off Long Meadow and installed sheep down there instead!

  Vanyel chuckled. Whoever Withen had roped into being his scribe on this letter had reproduced his father's tones perfectly. He could feel the indignation rising from the page.

  And as for that so-called “Shin'a'in warsteed” he bought-and a more ill-tempered, ill-favored beast I never saw-the less said, the better! All these years I spent in building up the Forst Reach line-and he'll undo it all with one unmanageable stud! I feel sure he'll listen to you; you're a Herald-the King himself trusts your judgment. The boy has me ready to throw him down the blamed well!

  Vanyel shifted a little and reached for a wedge of cheese. This letter was proving to be a lot more enlightening than he'd had any reason to expect.

  This is no time for Meke to be mucking about; not when there may be trouble across the Border. Maybe you remember that alliance marriage between Deveran Remoerdis of Lineas and Ylyna Mavelan of Baires? The one that brought a halt to the Linean-Baires war, and that brought that minstrel through here that you were so taken with as a boy? It doesn't seem to be working out. There've been rumors for years that the oldest child was a bastard-now Deveran seems to have given substance to those rumors; he's disinherited the boy in favor of the next in line. In some ways I can't blame him too much; even if the lad didn't look so much like his uncle-I've seen both the boy and the man, and the resemblance is uncanny-the rumors alone would have been enough to make his inheritance shaky. I wouldn't trust that entire Mavelan family, frankly. A pack of wizardly snakes, the lot of them, the only time they stop striking at each other is when they take on an outsider. I only thank the gods that they've stayed at each other's throats all this time. But there've been some nasty noises out of them about Tashir's disinheritance and if it gets to be more than noises, we may have trouble across the Border. Your brother is all fired up for a war, by the way. Gods, that is the last thing we need. I just thank the Lady that Randale had the good sense to send a plain Herald into Lineas as envoy, and not a Herald-Mage. A good solid Herald might be able to keep this from growing into another feud like the one the marriage was supposed to stop in the first place. The Lineans will certainly be far more inclined to listen to a plain Herald; they don't trust anything that smacks of wizardry, and given what the Mavelans did to them, who can blame them ?

  Vanyel bit his lip, the half-eaten scrap of cheese dangling forgotten from his fingers. Withen was showing a great deal more political astuteness than he'd ever given his father credit for. But this business in Lineas -

  Please, he sent up a silent prayer. Not now -

  It's evidently worrisome enough that Randale sent your sister Lissa and her Guard Company to keep a cross-Border eye on the Mavelans. You'd know what that would mean better than your old father, I think. If we're lucky and things stay calm, perhaps she can slip off for a few days' visit
herself. I know you'd both like that. By the way - I hope you aren't planning on bringing any of your -friends-home with you, are you? You know it would upset your mother. You wouldn't want to upset your mother. By the hand of Radevel Ashkevron and my seal, Lord Withen Ashkevron.

  Vanyel grimaced, dropped the letter back down on the table, and reached for the wine to take the bitter taste of those last words out of his mouth. He held the cool metal of the goblet to his forehead for a moment, an automatic reaction to a pain more emotional than physical.

  :He doesn't mean to hurt, Chosen.: Yfandes' mind-voice touched the bitterness, but could not soothe it.

  :Awake again, dearling? You should sleep-:

  :Too much noise,: she objected. .'Equitation lessons, and I'm too tired to find a quiet corner of the Field. I'll just stand here by the stable and let the sun bake my sore muscles and wait for the babies to go away. Your father truly does not mean to hurt you.:

  Vanyel sighed, and picked up a meat pie, nibbling the flaky crust listlessly :I know that. It doesn't stop it from hurting. If I weren't so tired, it probably wouldn 't hurt as much. If I weren't so tired, it might even be funny,: He swallowed another gulp of wine, painfully aware that even the simple act of chewing was becoming an effort He put the pie down.

  :You have nothing left,: she stated. :No reserves at all :

  :That's ridiculous, love. It's just that last push we made. And if I haven't anything left, then neither have you-:

  :Not true. I may be spent physically, but you are spent emotionally, magically, mentally. Chosen, beloved, you have not spared yourself since Elspeth Peacemaker died.:

  :That's because nobody had a choice,: he reminded her, reaching for a piece of cheese, but holding it up and staring at it, not eating it, seeing other times and places.

  :Everybody else has been pushed just as hard. The moment poor Randale took the throne that fragile peace she had made for us fell to pieces. We had no warning it was going to come to that. Mardic and Donni-:

  The cold hand of grief choked his throat. The lifebonded couple who had been such steadfast friends and supporters to him had been two of the first victims of the Karsite attacks. He could feel the echo of his grief in the mourning of Yfandes' mind-voice.

  :Poor children. Goddess hold them-:

  :'Fandes - at least they died together. I - could wish-: he cut off the thought before he could distress her. He contemplated the white wedge of cheese in his hand as if he had never seen anything like it, and then blinked, and began nibbling at it, trying to force the food around the knot of sorrow blocking his throat. He had to eat. He'd been surviving on handfuls of parched corn, dried fruit, and dried beef for too long. He had to get his strength back. It wouldn't be long before Randale would need him again. Well, all he really needed was a couple of weeks of steady meals and sleep. . . .

  :You ask too much of yourself.:

  :Who, me? Strange thoughts from a Companion. Who was it who used to keep nagging me about duty?: He tried to put a measure of humorous teasing into his own mind-voice, but it felt flat.

  :But you cannot be twenty places at once, Chosen. You are no longer thinking clearly :

  The cheese had finally migrated inside him, and most of the lump in his throat was gone. He sighed and reached for the meat pie again. With enough wine to help, he might be able to get that down, too.

  The trouble was, 'Fandes was right. For the past few months he'd been reduced to a level where he really wasn't thinking much at all-just concentrating on each step as it came, and trying to survive it. It had been like climbing a mountain at the end of a long and grueling race; just worrying about one handhold at a time. Not thinking about the possibility of falling, and not able to think about what he'd do when he got to the top. If he got to the top. If there was a top.

  Stupid, Herald. Looking at the bark and never noticing the tree was about to fall on you.

  The sun coming in his window had crept down off the chair and onto the floor, making a bright square on the brown braided rug. He chewed and swallowed methodically, not really tasting what he was eating, and stared at the glowing square, his mind going blank and numb.

  :Randale uses you beyond your strength, because of the nodes,: Yfandes said accusingly, breaking into his near - trance. :You should say something. He'd stop if he realized what he was doing to you. If you were like other Heralds, unable to tap them-:

  :If I were like other Heralds, the Karsites would be halfway to Haven now, instead of only holding the disputed lands,: he replied mildly :Dearest, there is no choice. I lost my chance at choices a long time ago. Besides, I'm not as badly off as you think. All I need is a bit of rest and I'll be fine. We're damned lucky I can use the nodes- and that I don't need to rest to recharge.:

  :Except that you must use your power to focus and control-:

  He shook his head :Beloved, I appreciate what you're, telling me, but this isn't getting us anywhere. I have to do what I'm doing; I'm a Herald. It's what any of the others would do in my place. It's what 'Lendel-:

  Grief-he fought it, clenching his hand hard on the arm of his chair as he willed his emotions into control. Control yourself, Herald. This is just because you're tired, it's maudlin, and it doesn't do you or anyone else any good.

  :I could wish you were less alone :

  :Don't encourage me in self-pity, love. It's funny, isn't it?: he replied, his lips twitching involuntarily, though not with amusement. :Dear Father seems to think I've been seducing every susceptible young man from here to the Border, and I've been damned near celibate. The last was-when?: The weeks, the months, they all seemed to; blur together into one long endurance trial. A brief moment of companionship, then a parting; inevitable, given his duties and Jonne's.

  :Three years ago,: Yfandes supplied, immediately. :That rather sweet Guardsman.:

  Vanyel remembered the person, though not the time.

  “Hello. You’re The Herald-Mage, aren't you ?''

  Vanyel looked up from the map he was studying, and smiled. He couldn't help it-the diffident, shy smile the Guardsman wore begged to be answered.

  “Yes-are you-''

  “Guardsman Jonne. Your guide. I was born not half a league from here. “ The guileless expression, the tanned face and thatch of hair, the tiny net of humor lines about the thoughtful hazel eyes, all conspired to make Vanyel like this man immediately.

  “Then you, friend Jonne, are the direct answer to my prayers,” he said.

  Only later, when they were alone, did he learn what other prayers the Guardsman had an answer for-

  :Jonne. Odd for such a tough fighter to be so diffident, even gentle. Though why he should have been shy, when he was five years older and had twice my -uh- experience-:

  :Your reputation, beloved. A living legend came down off his pedestal and looked to him for company.: Yfandes sent him an image of a marble saint - statue hopping out of its niche and wriggling its eyebrows in a come - hither look. There was enough of a tired giggle in her mind-voice to get an equally tired chuckle out of him. But he sobered again almost immediately. :And that lasted how long? Two months? Three? Certainly not more.:

  :You were busy - you had duties-both of you. It was your duties that parted you.:

  :I was,: he replied bitterly, :a fool. More than duties would have parted us in time. I know exactly what I'm trying to do-when I admit it to myself. I'm trying to replace 'Lendel. I can't; I can't ever, so why do I even bother to try? A love like that happens once in a lifetime, and I'm not doing myself or my would - be partners any favor by trying to recreate it. I know it, and once the first glow wears off, they know it. And it isn't fair to them.:

  Silence from Yfandes. There really wasn't much she could say. He was left to contemplate the inside of his own thoughts, as faint sounds of distant people and a bit of birdsong drifted in his window.

  Damn it, I'm feeling sorry for myself again. Heralds are all lonely; it isn't just me. We’re different; made different by our Gifts, made even more so by the Co
mpanions, then driven even farther away from ordinary people by this fanatic devotion to duty of ours. Herald-Mages are one step lonelier than that. He couldn't help himself; the next thought came automatically, despite his resolution not to fall into a morass of self - pity. Then there's me. Between the level of my Gift and my sexual preferences--

  He buried his face in his free hand. Gods. I am a fool. I have 'Fandes. She loves me in a way no one else ever will or ever did, except 'Lendel. That ought to be enough. It really ought-if I wasn't so damned selfish.

  She interrupted his thoughts. :Van, you almost need a friend more than a lover. A different kind of friend than me; one that can touch you. You need to be touched, you humans -: Her mind-voice trailed off, grew dim, in the way that meant she was losing her battle to fatigue and had fallen asleep again.

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