Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 26part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
He woke about mid-afternoon, still tired, but no worse than when he'd first arrived home. The filthy rags he'd worn were gone. Evidently one of the servants had come in and picked up after him, and it was a measure of his exhaustion that he not only hadn't woken, he hadn't even heard the intruder. He was not pleased with himself; carelessness like that could get him killed all too easily under other circumstances.
On the other hand, it means I'm obviously nowhere near as jumpy as I was, which is all to the good.
The first order of business was food and a bath, and stopping by the kitchen on the way to the bathhouse solved both at the same time.
But the next order of business - and one that made him wolf down the first decent meal he'd had in a fortnight practically untasted, and while he bathed - was a long talk with Jervis and Savil.
"The boy's staying so close to Jervis you'd think he'd been grafted there," Savil said. Vanyel followed her out to the salle as the late afternoon sunlight gilded everything with a mellowing glow. "It's been entirely quiet, ke'chara. Not so much as a murmur out of the boy, or a single plate gone skyward." She looked at him quizzically, with a touch of worry. "To see you practically flying back, and in this state - I wish you'd tell me what's going on."
Vanyel shook his head, and his hair fell annoyingly into his eyes again. He hadn't had a chance to get it cut; it was a lot longer than he was used to wearing it, and he wasn't sure if he ought to find the time to do something about it or not. He raked it back with his fingers and suppressed his flash of annoyance at it. "I will, as soon as I have both you and Jervis together. I don't want to have to repeat myself, and I want to hear both of your opinions at the same time. It's - some of what I found out is terrifying, and none of it is pretty. And I don't know what to make of it."
Savil brooded on that. "I thought you were going to find answers over there."
"I did," he replied, deeply troubled. "But the answers I found only gave me more questions."
Jervis was alone in the workroom of the salle. Which might be the first piece of good luck I've had in a while, Vanyel thought with reluctance. Jervis' eyebrows went up when he saw the expression on Vanyel's face, but he didn't move from his chair; he only put down the vam-brace he'd been repairing, and waited for them to settle themselves.
"You're back, hmm?" the armsmaster said quietly. "From the look of you, I don't know as I'm going to like what you're going to tell me."
Vanyel shut the door carefully behind Savil; he would have preferred to stand, but he was just too tired. He compromised by perching on a tall stool, and then looked from Jervis to his aunt and back again, at a real loss as to how to broach the whole subject.
"Did you find out who put fear in the boy?" Jervis prompted.
That's about as good a place to start as any. Vanyel took a deep breath. "Yes," he said, and began his tale.
Jervis and Savil heard him out in complete silence, hardly even breathing. Savil's face was expressionless; Jervis, though, looked ready to call somebody out. Vanyel, for starters.
"That's it," Vanyel finished, starting to slump with weariness, his shoulders aching with tension. "That's what I found out. And you have to admit, the answers I got certainly fit the symptoms."
"Dammit Van," Jervis said tightly, plainly holding his temper in check, “I am bloody well tempted to call you a damned liar to your face!”
"Why?" Vanyel asked bluntly, too weary for diplomacy.
Jervis colored, and growled. "Because that's nothing like the things Tashir's been telling me! The way he tells it -"
"Wait a minute! Do you mean Tashir's been talking about his family to you?”
"He trusts me! Can't the boy trust somebody other than you?"
Vanyel told himself that Jervis was only reacting much the way he would if the boy were in his protection, and managed to cool his rising temper. "Why don't you begin at the beginning, and tell me what you heard?"
What emerged was nothing less than a fantasy, if what Vanyel had learned was true. In his long talks with Jervis (and it seemed that there had been several), Tashir had painted a perfect, idyllic family for himself, one in which the members were forced by circumstance and enemies to present a very different face to the outside world than the one they showed each other. His mother, for instance; Tashir depicted her as the long-suffering plaything of her Mavelan relatives. According to him, once she discovered Deveran's kindness, she took a stand firmly by the side of her wedded lord, but played the part of the discarded, unwanted spouse so as to give the Mavelans no reason to think she could be used against Lineas and its ruler.
And according to Tashir's tale, Deveran was not the bitter, half-impotent dancer on the line between Baires threat and Lineas politics. He was supposedly a stern but kindly patriarch of the Linean throne. Deveran, so Tashir had told Jervis, had only disinherited him under pressure from his people. No, there was never any question in Deveran's mind as to who Tashir's father was. No, there had never been a fight, never been anything other than a small misunderstanding that they had settled that very night.
Fiction, first to last.
"That doesn't even square with what the boy told me!"
Vanyel retorted, disgusted with the game the youngster seemed to be playing. “He told me that his father hated him - that knocking him to the ground that night was only out of the ordinary because Deveran hadn't knocked him about much in public before!"
"Hell!" Jervis replied, his face flushing. "The boy was half - crazed an' scared outa his wits."
"All the more reason that he should have told me the truth - he didn't have time to make up some tale!"
Jervis started to protest, and Vanyel raised his voice to interrupt him. "And the part about the fight wasn't just from Tashir, it was from Herald Lores!"
"A fathead," Savil put in reluctantly, "but an honest fathead."
Jervis lunged to his feet. "An' how much of this is 'cause you want that boy's tail?" he snarled, hands knotting into fists at his sides.
Vanyel went hot, then cold. "If that's what you think, I see no point in any further discussion. Think what you like - do what you like - but obstruct me, and I'll haul you off to Lissa in manacles."
"Before I am anything else, armsmaster, I am Herald Vanyel, and my first priority is to my king and land. If I judge this boy is a danger to either, I will give him into Randale's custody. Not mine, armsmaster. But I must, and will have answers, and I will not permit anyone to even attempt preventing me from finding those answers."
Vanyel rose stiffly from his stool, pivoted, and stalked towards the door.
He hadn't taken more than a few steps, when Jervis' strangled, half-smothered "wait" stopped him in his tracks.
"Why?" he asked, not turning.
"Because - I - we gotta figger out this thing." Jervis cleared his throat. "All of us."
Vanyel turned back, still angry, but suppressing it. "Very well. If we're going to figure this mess out, you'll have to take my word as being at least as good as the boy's."
Jervis plainly didn't like that, but only protested, "How in hell can we take two stories that're that different?"
"Look at the one that fits the symptoms," Vanyel's voice was grim, and his face felt tight. "He's afraid to let women between the ages of eighteen and forty even touch him - assume the story he told you is true - Ylyna alternately beating him and loving him, and then trying to seduce him -"
He wiped his forehead, and his hand came away wet with nervous sweat.
"Gods. Think about how Treesa treats every attractive male, including me. She comes on to every man like a flirt. It's only a game to her, but think how that must have looked to Tashir - the way he'd react. Given my version is true, you could predict he'd do just what he did - panic, and let his Gift act up and frighten her off - just as I was told he did with his mother. Think about how he hides from Withen! And think about the way he clings to you, Jervis! Everything makes sense."
"And everything points straight at Tashir as the unconscious murderer," Vanyel continued, heartsick.
"Now that I will not believe!" Jervis shouted, surging to his feet. "That boy is no kind of a killer! Hell, he damn near castrated himself in practice yesterday, pulling a cut when Medren lost his helm!''
"Who else could it be?" Vanyel shouted back, overriding Jervis' protests by sheer volume. "He had the power, he was at the scene, and he had the motive! There's nobody, nobody, with any kind of a motive except Tashir!''
“No!” Jervis insisted, eyes going black with anger. "No, I won't accept that! Look how he kept from hurting anybody in Treesa's bower."
“But crazed with fear, wild with anger, can you speak for that?"
"Even crazed - how could he kill that Karis? He loved that old man, he must have, to trust me so much just because I look like him!"
Vanyel sat heavily back down onto the stool. "I don't know," he admitted in a low voice. "That's only one of the things that's been bothering me. In all of the cases of Gifts gone rogue that I've ever heard of, the rogue never hurts anyone but the ones directly in his way. Everybody was killed in this case, and that doesn't make sense. It might make sense if he panicked completely and thought he was killing witnesses, but he didn't have enough time to reason something like that out, not from all I learned. And from what I know of his personality - no. I can't see him killing in cold blood even to save himself." He rubbed his pounding temples with his fists. Fits of anger always gave him a headache. "The first half of the story fits, but the second doesn't. I just can't reconcile the two."
"There're other questions," Savil pointed out from her seat on the cot. Vanyel looked at her in surprise; he'd forgotten she was there. "Lots of other questions. Some of them may tie in, others may not, but the fact is there's too many of them. Lord Vedric's behavior is certainly peculiar. It doesn't in the least match what I've heard of him. Either the man has reformed, or he's up to something. Then there's the puzzle of the Remoerdises, the Linean Royal Family. Why did Deveran insist that only those related to his family serve in the palace? Why is the place built on top of a damned mage-node? Why are the Lineans so completely against mage-craft?"
Vanyel shook his head. "You think those questions are crucial?"
"Don't you?" She stood, and smoothed down the front of her tunic. "You know damned well they are, or you wouldn't have brought them up. I tend to agree with Jervis; Tashir is no killer. I agree with you that your tale of how the boy was treated fits his behavior a lot better than the one he told Jervis. And there is something we're missing. Something important. I think we ought to all think about it."
"What about that tale he's been feeding Jervis?" Vanyel asked.
"I think whoever runs into him next ought to call him on it - no, let me amend that. Whichever of the two of us, Van. Jervis, I'm sorry, but if it comes to magic, you're defenseless. I'm pretty certain Van and I could contain the worst of anything he could do."
"The boy wouldn't hurt anybody, and especially not me," he insisted stubbornly. "I know it, damn it, I just know it!"
"Forgive me, but I'd rather not take the chance," Savil said dryly. "I hate picking up my acquaintances in palm-sized pieces. We've eaten this particular bird down to bones; let's let things simmer for a bit, and let's do something about dinner."
"Gods." Vanyel slid off the stool, held out his hands and watched them shake with a certain bemusement. "I just ate, and after this to-do, my stomach should be in knots. Instead, I could eat a cow."
"Don't fill up," Savil cautioned him, as they left Jervis mulling over the unpleasant things he'd heard. "There's Harvestfest tonight."
"What?" He looked at her, bewildered. "Harvest - can't be - oh, gods -"
He counted up the passing days in his mind, and when he arrived at today, he could feel the blood draining out of his face. "Oh, gods. It's Sovvan. I lost track of time..." He stopped dead in the path, legs gone leaden, mind gone numb. Sovvan-night. Year's turning.
The night Tylendel had died.
Coming on top of all the rest of it - exhaustion, confusion, the verbal fight with Jervis -
It was too much. What little emotional balance he had left evaporated so quickly that he felt dizzy, as if he was dangling over a precipice.
His internal turmoil must have been mirrored clearly on his face. Savil moved closer to him, brows knitting in concern. "Van-ke 'chara-let it go. You aren't helping yourself by brooding.'' She put her arm around his shoulders. "Go down to the barns with the others. I'm going to -“
He scarcely felt it. All he could see was -
- a crumpled, lifeless shape.
He clamped an iron control down over his face. “That's not something I can do," he replied stiffly. "I can't forget, especially not tonight. I won't ever forget..."
"Then, for the gods' sake, for your own sake, find something to distract you-music, dancing -"
"No, Savil." He pulled away from her, and forced himself to walk steadily toward the keep. "You deal with grief your way, and leave me to deal with it in mine."
"But - "
He shook his head stubbornly, unwilling to say more, and not sure that he could. Forget 'Lendel? How can I forget-how can I ever forget?
Oh, 'Lendel -
There was only one place where he could escape the sounds of celebration; the stone porch on the north side of the keep. All other interests had vanished when he realized what night it was; now all he wanted was solitude.
The lingering warmth of this fall had fooled him, usually. Sovvan-tide was marked by ice-edged rains and bitter winds.
Like the storm that night -
Usually he tried to find something useful to do - like stand guard-duty, or spell someone at courier, or even take the place of one of the Guardians watching the Web. Anything, so long as it was work, and didn't involve interacting with people, only serving them.
He'd completely forgotten that he'd be spending Sovvan here, in presumed idleness; leisure that would only give him the opportunity to remember how utterly alone he was.
It hadn't been this bad the first few years; in the first two, in fact, there had been moments when he thought he'd felt that treasured and familiar presence waiting, watching. But as the years passed - and it became clear that he was and would always be alone, Sovvan-night had become an occasion for profound depression unless he was very careful not to give in to it. This Sovvan-night bid fair to be an ordeal; he was too exhausted, and too shaken, to put up any kind of fight against himself.
He watched the sun die in glory; watched the stars come out, flowering against the velvet sky. He closed his eyes when the sparks of white began to waver in his vision, and struggled anyway in a losing battle against self-pity and heartache. I've wept enough; tears won't ease this, they'II only make it worse. I wish I was being Valdir. I wish I was back at Haven.
He thought briefly of Yfandes, and rejected the notion of going to her. She couldn't help him, much as he loved her. Her presence would only serve as a reminder of how much he had lost to gain her.
I need something to keep me occupied. Savil was right about that. Something that will take concentration.
There was only one task he knew that could possibly fill all his thoughts, take all his attention. Magic. I’ll build some illusions, good, tight ones. I can use the practice. I need the practice.
He perched on the edge of one of the stone benches, the gritty granite warm from the sun it had absorbed this afternoon, and concentrated on a point just in front of him. People, they're hardest. Starwind. He's vivid enough.
He closed his eyes, and centered.
It took very little to cast an illusion, just a wisp of power, and he didn't even need to take it from his reserves. The ambient energy around him was enough. He visualized a vibrant column of light growing in the air in front of him, then began forming the shapeless energy into an image, building it carefully from the feet up. Green leather boots, silky green breeches,
He opened his eyes - and before him stood the Tayledras Healer-Adept Starwind k'Treva.
For one moment he had it; perfect in every detail.
Then the hair shortened and darkened to curly blond, the face squared, and the eyes began warming and darkening to a soft and gentle brown.