Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 25part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
"They" meaning the Mavelans. "Why didn't you say something?" he asked, trying to understand what could have led her to stand by and watch, and not act.
She shrugged. "Who would have listened? I was Her Highness' personal maid, as I was Deveran's mother's. Deveran would have thought me either besotted or bewitched. He wasn't known for thinking much of women in the first place." She shook her head and stared at the ring on her finger. The peculiar, dull white stone seemed to brighten for a moment, and her voice and expression became abstracted, as it had the first time she'd spoken openly.
It's happening again! Valdir held his breath, all his exhaustion, his personal concerns forgotten, hoping against hope...
"No, Deveran had no faith in the good sense or the honesty of women. After all, his own mother had betrayed him by dying when he most needed her, or so his own father kept claiming. And Ylyna - not a virgin, possibly mad, and surely little better than a trollop - certainly didn't help matters."
Valdir could not stay silent; he protested such inexcusable, willful blindness. "But the way she treated Tashir -"
"Was likely the way she'd been treated." The old woman shook her head again, continuing to stare at the stone of her ring. "When you reach my age, you have generally seen a great deal. Adults who have been beaten as children beat their own children. And - other things. I sometimes wonder if that isn't what Holy Lerence meant when he said 'the sins of the fathers shall be taken up by the sons.'“ Her eyes grew even more thoughtful - or entranced. She didn't seem to be paying any attention to him.
There was something stirring here. Again he felt some Power moving under the powers he could detect easily. Gods! I don't dare try to probe for it. The frustration maddened him. He could feel it, something deep, and powerful, it vibrated so that he felt it rather than "detected" it; the way he could sometimes "feel" the vibrations of a note too low to actually hear.
But it was stronger this time, much stronger, and it seemed to be stirring to his good, for the old chambermaid was saying things she hadn't more than hinted at before.
"What other things was she doing?" Valdir prompted in a whisper, hands clenched together so tightly they ached. This was it. This was what he was looking for. The secret no one knew. The key to it all.
She sounded as if she was talking to herself. "When Tashir grew older - and handsomer - she started looking at him differently. The gods know Deveran hadn't come to her bed for four years, and wouldn't allow any male servants near her, only women. She had never had any pleasure except in bed, I think. I wonder if that wasn't the only thing she thought she could do well." The old woman was gazing deeply into her stone and not at all at him now, and her voice was very low, so that he had to strain to hear it. She shifted just a little, and he caught the sharp smell of lavender from the folds of her dress. "Tashir began looking more and more like his uncle, and he was still terrified of her. Of her, who never frightened anyone, and couldn't even command respect from her servants. It must have been too seductive to resist, that combination; fear, and the handsome young face and body. She set out to seduce her own son into her bed."
Valdir froze. No - that's - my gods -
She continued on, still speaking in that same, dreamy voice, as if she was speaking only to herself. "That frightened him even more, I think, once he realized what was going on. Poor child. I hardly believed it at first; I just thought the petting was getting a little - overwarm. She'd use any excuse to get her hands on him. Any excuse at all."
Valdir licked his dry lips, but couldn't make his voice work.
Reta sighed. "And Deveran either didn't know or didn't care; I tend to think the latter. He had what he wanted; three sons indisputably his, and likely to reach maturity. What happened to Tashir didn't matter. The only person who cared what was happening to him was the old armsmaster, the one Deveran had retired. Karis. He had taken to teaching the boy, when he saw no one else would. He protected him as much as he could. Which wasn't much, but it was something. He gave the boy a place to hide- and a person to look up to who was stable, sane, and fond of him."
"A good man?"
And possibly another way to get Tashir to open up -
"A very good man. A pity he was in the palace with the rest of them."
Valdir wanted to curse, and restrained himself only by a strong effort of will.
"Finally it got to the point that Tashir couldn't keep her away - and that wizard-power of his intervened. He had a kind of fit; smashed half the bower before it was over. That was when Deveran decided."
"Decided what?" Valdir asked.
At that moment, the power faded abruptly. One breath it was there. Then it was gone. Her eyes finally came back to their normal sharp focus. "What?" she asked him, looking up at him suddenly.
Gods - the spell's broken. Oh, Lady of Light, help me persuade her. Would she finish the sentence? Could he convince her on his own? "You were going to tell me what Deveran had decided to do about Tashir," he prompted. "That night."
"Oh." She shrugged, indifferently. "That. I thought everyone knew about that."
“I don't," he pointed out. "And nobody wants to talk about it, much."
"It's simple enough. Since Vedric was making such a big to-do over the boy, Deveran decided to let him deal with the problem. Deveran was going to send the boy to his Mavelan relatives - permanently. That was what he told Ylyna after they cleared the boy and the mess out of her bower. That he intended to tell the boy at dinner." She sighed. "And I can only assume, given that Tashir was even more frightened of that den of madmen than he was of his mother, that this was exactly what happened, and what brought - everything-down."
He hadn't realized how much time he'd spent in the little sitting room; when he took his leave of Reta, he was appalled. One candlemark to sundown.
Panic stole thought. He could only think of one thing.
He had to get home, before it was too late. He didn't dare try to Mindtouch Savil from here; that would be as stupid, with Vedric so near, as riding through the gates in full Whites on Yfandes.
He ran across town, dodging through foot and beast traffic, trying to reach the east gate before they closed it for the night. Once closed-he wouldn't get out until morning. He didn't dare cast any kind of spell to get him by, no more than he dared Mindtouch Savil. Vedric would detect spellcasting even faster than the use of a Mind-Gift. And every moment he stayed here was another moment the same disaster that wiped out Tashir's family could move to harm his.
The sun was dropping inexorably toward the horizon; he had a pain in his side, and he was gasping for breath- and still he wasn't more than halfway to his goal. He stumbled against a market-stall; recovered; ran on. He realized with despair that he was not going to make it in time.
And candlemarks could count; could be fatal, given what he knew now.
It was only too possible that Tashir had done exactly what he'd been accused of; that he had been pushed too far by his father's ultimatum, and he had lost his hold temporarily on his Gift and his sanity. It was only too likely that he had unleashed power gone rogue and had destroyed his own home and everything and everyone in it.
Valdir stopped, unable to run any farther; clung to the corner of a building at a cross street, and watched the sun turn to blood, and sink below the horizon.
Taking with it his hope.
Valdir slipped into the Pig and Stick, keeping to the wall and the shadows as much as he could. He managed to get within touching distance of Renfry, and froze there, unmoving, in the shadows behind him.
He prayed that Renfry was about to finish a set, and that he had not just begun one. The tavern was hot, and he was sweating from his run. His side still hurt, and he wanted to cough so badly his chest ached with the effort of holding it back. Sweat ran down his back, and into his eyes. Odor of bread and stew and spilled ale made his stomach cramp up with hunger, and his eyes watered. The lamps flickered, and he gripped the wall behind him, as the room swam before his
Too long on too little. Oh, gods, keep me going!
Finally Renfry finished, and waved aside requests for more. "Not now, lads," he said genially. "Not until I wet my throat a bit.''
He turned, and saw Valdir behind him. He started to say something - then took a second, closer look at him, and his eyes grew alarmed.
He picked up the gittern by the neck, and grabbed Valdir's elbow with his free hand. Without a single word, he propelled the unresisting Valdir before him through the door leading to the kitchen.
It was light enough in here, though twice as hot as the tavern common room, what with two fires and the brick bake-oven all roaring at once. A huge table dominated the center of the room; an enormously fat man in a floury, stained apron was pulling fresh loaves out of the oven with a long wooden paddle and putting them to cool on the table. There were two boys at each of the fireplaces, one turning a spit, one watching a kettle. A fifth boy was sitting on a stool right by the door, peeling roots.
Renfry pushed the boy peeling roots off his perch and shoved Valdir down onto it.
"What's wrong?" he said, "And don't tell me it's nothing. You look like somebody seeing a death sentence."
Valdir just nodded; he'd already concocted a story for Renfry, and one that fit in with what he'd already told the man. "I've -" He finally coughed, rackingly; swallowed. "I've got to get out of here. Now. Tonight."
Renfry looked at him narrowly. "Wouldn't be that little matter of a song, would it?"
Valdir just looked at him, pleadingly. "If Vedric finds out I'm here," he whispered truthfully, "he'll probably kill me, You didn't tell me it was Vedric here."
“Vedric!” Renfry exploded. "Great good gods, boy, you sure don't pick your enemies too carefully! Oh, hell.”
He folded his arms and gazed up at the ceiling, brows knitted together so that they came close to meeting. "Let's see. First off, we got to get your things away from Bel. Huh ... got it!"
He slipped out into the taproom and returned within a few moments. "I just paid that little sneak brat of the cook's to pinch your things. If he can't nip 'em, nobody can. Now - how much coin you got?"
Valdir turned out his purse. There wasn't much. Renfry counted it carefully. "Tel!" he shouted into the chaos of the kitchen. "How much day-old bread and stuff can I get you to part with for twenty coppers? Be generous, the boy has to run for it."
The massive cook blundered over to their side of the big central worktable, peered at Valdir, and then at the tiny heap of coin. "Huh. Apples is cheap right now; got some with bad spots. All right fer the road, no good t' store. Bread, uh - got some I was gonna use fer stuffin'. Let ye have it all. Got some cheese w' mold all through. Mold won' hurt ye, just looks like hell an' tastes mighty sharp; people round about here don't care for sharp cheese. Skinny runt like you, hold ye least a fortnight."
Renfry gave Valdir a look brimming with satisfaction. "That'll get you across the Border, easy, and there's a Harvestfest going on over there right now. Boy with a voice like yours that can't get coin at a Harvestfest don't deserve t' call himself a minstrel."
"Hey, 'Fry!" An insolent urchin slid in under Renfry's elbow, Valdir's pack and blanket in one hand, his lute in the other. "These whatcha lookin' fer?"
Valdir snatched the lute out of the child's hand and held it to his chest, his eyes going moist. "Oh, gods - Renfry, I - "
I never dared hope for this much help from him. Never even prayed for it.
“Don't you cry on me!" Renfry growled, cuffing his ear. "Just getting my competition out of town, I told you. Tel, here - pack up the boy's food." He scraped everything but two small silver pieces off the table and poured them into the cook's hand. The handful of copper bits vanished into a pocket of the stained apron, and a hand rivaling Bel's for size and strength took the pack. "Now, listen careful, because I'm only going to tell you this once. You go down to the west gate. I know it's the wrong way, just circle around the city walls once you get outside. You ask for Asra. You got that?"
"Asra," Valdir repeated, nodding. "West gate."
"You tell him Renfry sent you, and you give him one silver. That's his standard bribe to let folks out after dark, and don't let him tell you different. Then when you get to the Border, you give the other to our lads. That'll get you past them. Valdemar folk don't give a hang about who crosses to their side, so long as you don't look like a fighter or a trader. Fighter they'd question, trader they'd tax. You got that?"
"One silver to Asra at the west gate, one to the Border Guards."
"Good lad." Renfry nodded approvingly. "Now belt that blanket around you under your cloak; you're going to need it, it's cold out there. When you get 'round the walls, you take the east road as far as the second farm on the right tonight. You stop there. There's a haybarn right on the road and the old boy that owns it don't give a hang if people sleep there so long as they don't build fires. After that, you're on your own."
Valdir was pulling his threadbare cloak on over the blanket when the cook returned with his pack bursting at the seams. He tucked the two tiny coins into his now-empty purse, slung pack over one shoulder and lute over the other, and turned to Renfry, trying to think of some way to thank him.
Renfry took one look at his eyes, and softened. "Damn. Wish you could have stayed a while," he said gruffly, and suddenly pulled Valdir into a quick, rough embrace. "Now get out of here, before Bel comes looking for you."
Vanyel made the best meal he'd had in a fortnight of half a loaf, the cheese, and a couple of apples. Yfandes got the rest.
:Funny, how you seem to be able to find friends in the most unexpected places,: she mused. :Sometimes I wonder...:
"Friends? What are you talking about?" he asked her, cinching the blanket pad in place, and pulling himself up on her back. "Gods." He clung there for a moment, as another wave of disorientation washed over him.
:Never mind. Are you all right?:
"I'll be fine. Just low on resources, and worn out." Anxiety cramped his stomach a moment. He wouldn't have stopped long enough to eat if he hadn't found his legs giving out as he circled around the city to his meeting place with Yfandes. The shadows under the trees seemed sinister. The wind in the near-naked branches moaned as if in pain. He had to get back -
- but the old man was one of those that died. The thought kept nagging at him. He must have loved that old man, given his reaction to Jervis. That wasn't feigned. I can't believe that he would have killed the only person he trusted, even in a fit of uncontrolled rage and fear.
Never mind. The important thing was to take this knowledge back, now - before it was too late. Before the same thing could happen at Forst Reach. It still might not have been Tashir who killed the Remoerdis Family, but he dared not take that chance.
"All right, 'Fandes," he said aloud. "Let's get out of here."
And she leaped out onto the moon - flooded road.
If Vanyel had dared to Gate so close to Vedric Mavelan he would have. But he didn't; he didn't dare alert him to the fact that a mage powerful enough to Gate had been within the city. If the Mavelans were somehow behind the disaster after all, he would be a fool to alert his quarry. So he and Yfandes pounded into Forst Reach just after dawn-
To find everything as peaceful as when they'd left.
:I told you,: Yfandes said, in a maddeningly reasonable tone of mind-voice as she pulled into a tired walk. :I told you if anything had gone wrong we'd have felt it, the way we felt the first surge. Didn't I tell you?:
Visions of slaughter and mayhem melted, taking with them the fear that had strengthened and supported him. When they got to the stable, Vanyel just slid wearily off her back, vowing not to say a word.
Because if he did, he'd take her head off. He hated it when she said, "I told you so."
And he did not want to get into a fight with her, didn't even want to have words with her; she didn't deserve it.
He hurt; he ached all over, an
"Get some rest," he told her, fatigue dulling his mind and slurring his words. "I'm going to do the same."
He didn't remember how he got to his room; all he really remembered was leaving Medren's lute by the door, stripping his filthy rags off and dropping them on the floor as he staggered to his bed, and falling into the bed. Literally falling; his legs gave out at that point. He held onto consciousness just long enough to pull off the patched breeches and his boots, drag the blankets over himself and wrap them around his chilled, numb body; as soon as he stopped shivering, he was asleep, and oblivious to the world. At that point, Tashir could have replicated the massacre in Highjorune, and he'd have slept right through it.
MERCEDES LACKEY SERIES:
Other author's books:
- ChoicesEye SpyApex: A Hunter NovelThe Snow QueenThe Mage WarsA Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, Volume 2The Outstretched Shadow ou(tom-1The Serpent's Shadow
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