Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 27part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
His heart contracted, and he banished the illusion and began another, quickly: Savil. This one started to go wrong from the very beginning, and with a gasp of pain, he wiped it out and started on a third. Not even a human this time - one of the little lizards that served the Tayledras, the hertasi.
But the hertasi began growing taller, and developed blond hair.
"Oh, gods -” He banished the third illusion, and buried his face in his hands, shaking in every limb and battling against grief.
This - this is the worst Sovvan I've ever had, he thought, feeling sorrow tearing at his chest until it hurt to breathe. It's the worst since you died. Oh, 'Lendel, ashke, I can't bear it, and I have no choice! I'm so tired, so very tired-my balance is gone. And, to know it's going to go on like this, year after year, alone...
I don't know how to cope anymore. I don't know how anyone can be this lonely and still be sane. . . . I don't even know how sure I am of myself. I thought you were the only person I could ever love, but this business with Shavri has me all turned 'round about. And Tashir - I came so close to giving in to temptation with him...
All I am certain of is that I need you as much as I ever did. And I'd give anything to have you back.
He bit his lip and tasted the sweet-salt of blood; took his hands away from his face, and willed his eyes open. Nightshadows of leafless trees moved ebony against charcoal; the last frost had killed the insects, and the birds had mostly flown south by now. There was no sign of anything alive out there; just barren shadows dark as his soul, as empty as his heart.
A wisp of glow drifted in the air in front of him, and he gave in to his anguish, to the perverse need to probe at his heartache.
To hell with it - how can I hurt any more than I do now? And everything I try turns to 'Lendel. Not Shavri - which ought to have told me who I love more.
Once again he closed his eyes and began to build a new illusion, one formed with passionate care, and at a level of detail only love could have discerned in the original. The way that one lock of gold-brown sunstreaked hair used to fall - just touching the eyebrow. The depth of the clear, brown eyes, sometimes sable, sometimes golden, but so bottomless you could lose yourself in them. The square chin, so - high cheekbones, so - the generous mouth, so ready to smile or laugh, the strong pillar of the neck. Shoulders ready to take the weight of the world's troubles. Body of a fighter or a dancer; gentle hands of a healer - It didn't take long, now that he was no longer fighting with himself.
Oh, Tylendel -
Vanyel looked up to see his handiwork, and sobbed, once, reaching out involuntarily to touch empty air.
The illusion was nothing less than heartbreakingly perfect. The Tylendel of the joyous days of their one summer together stood before him, so alive Vanyel fancied he could see him breathing, that in a moment he would speak.
And I could do that, too; I could make him breathe and talk to me. No, I couldn't bear that. It's hollow enough as it is. Oh, gods, why? 'Lendel -
Someone gasped behind him, and as he started and lost control of it, the illusion shattered, exploded outward into a hundred thousand glittering little bits that rained down and vanished, melting away before they touched the pale stone of the porch. Vanyel whipped around to see a dark and indistinct shape beside the black hole of the door.
"Who's there?" he snapped, hastily wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "What do you want?"
"I-it's Tashir." The young man came toward him hesitantly. "Medren told me you were back. I wondered where you were. Where you've been."
Depression abruptly became anger at being disturbed, and the desire to hurt fountained in him. He wanted someone, anyone, any creature at all, to suffer inside as much as he did at this moment. He knew it was base; knew that Tashir would be an easy target, and that he could hurt him. He hated the desire even as he felt it, and it sickened him as much as he wanted it. He fought it down, but the anger remained, red and sullen. This young man, for whom Vanyel had been risking his life, had been undermining everything he'd built here. It wasn't just that Tashir had been lying; it was that what he had told Jervis had come close to destroying the fragile beginnings of friendship that had cost both of them so much pain and soul-searching to create, had set them at each other's throats like enemies, and had left them, once again, uneasy and grudging allies at best.
"I've been finding out the truth," he said softly. "While you seem to have been busy trying to hide it." The anger blossomed, and he briefly lost control over it, just long enough that he growled a single sentence.
“Why did you lie to Jervis?”
"I didn't!" Tashir's voice cracked as Vanyel rose and walked toward him, one hand flaring with mage-light. The blue light reflected off Tashir's face, revealing the youngster's surprise and growing fear. The young man's eyes widened, his expression froze, and he backed away from the Herald step by forced step. He didn't stop until his thighs hit the stone railing and Vanyel had him backed into a corner with nowhere to go.
"You did," Vanyel whispered. "All those stories you told him about your perfect, loving family - that's all they were, stories. Lies. I've been in Highjorune, Tashir. I spent the last fortnight there, talking to people. One of them was your mother's maid, Reta."
The branches of the bushes nearest Tashir began to thrash as if tossed by a wind, though not a breath of air stirred anywhere else. Vanyel didn't have to see them to know that the young man had unleashed his Gift in panic. He let it go for a moment, waiting to see how violent Tashir would become. Fallen leaves whirled up in a mad dance to engulf both of them, beating at Vanyel ineffectually. But with nothing more at hand to work with than leaves, the attack wasn't even a distraction. Vanyel savagely clamped down on the young man with a shield not even an Adept could have cracked, and the leaves drifted back down to the ground and the porch.
Tashir cowered against the stone railing, averting his eyes as the mage-light on Vanyel's hand flared. Perversely, the display of subservience only made him angrier. He fought down his temper and got himself back under control, managing at last to gaze down upon the youngster with his anger held in check.
"Well, Tashir?" Vanyel whispered tonelessly. "Are we ready to hear a little truth now?"
"A-about wh-what?" Tashir croaked.
Vanyel formed the light into a ball and sent it to hover just over his head with a flick of his wrist. He folded his arms, and compressed his lips, forcing his anger to cool a little more.
I'll invoke Truth Spell on him. Then at least I'll bloody well know when he's lying.
"I think," he said, finally, "that we can start with your father."
He called up the vrondi, and when it surrounded him with faint blue light, Tashir's pale face stood out with sharp-edged distinctness against the night-dark shadows behind him. Word by agonized word, he dragged a story out of Tashir that was virtually identical to the one that Reta had told him. Three times more, whenever Vanyel dealt with the subject of his mother, the boy unconsciously attempted to evoke his Gift; he failed to break the shield Vanyel still held on him each time. Vanyel noted with a smoldering, sullen calm that while Tashir did freeze physically when this happened, he was quite conscious, if not in conscious control of what he was doing.
Finally Vanyel decided to force the issue - to deliberately evoke the same state of mind the younger man must have been in on that fatal night.
"The night I found you," he said, "your father told you something, and you refused him, and he hit you. Do you remember what that was?"
Tashir shook his head, a breath away from hysterical breakdown. The blue aura of the Truth Spell continued to glow.
"He told you that he was going to send you to your Mavelan relatives to stay; that he was washing his hands of you."
It was hard to tell in the blue glows of mage-light and Truth Spell, but Tashir seemed to become paler. Vanyel shook his head regretfully, and deliberately turned his back on the youngster. “I don't know what to do about you," he said expressionlessly. "You'
He waited for an attack; he waited for the shield to break under the stress of Tashir's Gift at the kind of level of manifestation that was indicated by the slaughter at Highjorune.
Instead, he heard a peculiar little whimper, and felt the pressure within the shield go null.
Vanyel pivoted in surprise just in time to catch the youngster as he fell over in a dead faint.
It took him the better part of a candlemark to revive Tashir. It took longer to convince him that although it might be the wisest thing to do, it was not the course of action Vanyel intended to take. The youngster was totally terrified of being sent into Mavelan hands, yet even under the stress of this absolute terror, his Gift manifested at no higher level than before.
Eventually Tashir believed him when he told the youngster that he would continue to shelter him, to try to find out what had really happened.
And then, when the young man had settled a little, he began the questioning again.
With a cool and calculated assessment of the stress he was putting Tashir under, Vanyel brought him to the breaking point over and over, until he was certain that nothing was going to evoke the kill-storm.
Finally the boy was too exhausted to be pressed further. And Vanyel wasn't too far behind him - at least emotionally. "Why, Tashir?" he asked, looking for any clue as to the truth of that night. "Why did you make up that fantasy for Jervis?"
"Because - because I wanted him to like me!" the young man blurted desperately. "How could he like me if my own father hated me? How could he like me if he knew what my mother wanted to -"
Vanyel interrupted, trying not to show the frustration he was feeling. "Tashir, Karis tried to protect you. Why did you think Jervis would be any different?''
"But Karis was there, he saw what was happening. If I told anybody else they'd think I was lying, Mother said so."
Tashir paled again, but Vanyel assumed it was only the stress of having to face that unnatural relationship squarely.
"Karis," he whispered, "was there.'“
"Tashir, from what I've been told, she was the one who lied; why would you think she'd have told you the truth about -"
"V-Vanyel," the young man interrupted. "Karis - they never told me who besides - was Karis - one of - was he -“
Then Vanyel saw what Tashir had finally realized; saw the plea in Tashir's eyes to be told that Karis was still alive, and couldn't answer it. He looked away - which was answer enough.
The youngster crumpled, holding the stone balustrade for support, his entire body shaking with harsh, racking sobs. Vanyel remembered, as he banished the shield and uncast the Truth Spell, that one of the most telling pieces of evidence against the youngster - in the eyes of Herald Lores, at any rate - was Tashir's lack of emotion when he'd been told what had happened.
Lores should see him now, he thought grimly, putting his arm around Tashir's shoulders and letting him weep himself out with Vanyel supporting him. His own anger was quite gone, and he was recalling his desire to make Tashir hurt as much as he did with a sick, shamed feeling in the pit of his stomach. Then Tashir turned to cry on Vanyel's shoulder, and it was all Vanyel could do to keep from losing control again, this time for a very different reason.
Finally the youngster pulled away, and Vanyel let him go. He walked back to his former seat or. the bench at the farther side of the porch and slumped there, his head in his hands, not really thinking, only aching.
Because Tashir was so like Tylendel.
Holding him while he wept had been like reliving the past. The dead past. ...
Hesitant footsteps behind him, and a shy sniffle.
Vanyel wished with all his heart that the boy would go - find Jervis, go back to his room, or seek solace at the festivities, anything but stay here with that far-too-familiar face, providing a ready - made knife to the heart, and not even knowing that he was doing so.
"Vanyel?" came the halting whisper. "Vanyel, who was that man? The one that disappeared when I startled you? I thought it was me, at first, but he was different."
"It was just an illusion," Vanyel replied, rubbing his temples, staring at the dark blot of his own feet against the gray stone. "I was practicing."
The youngster hovered just beside him. "But who is it?" he persisted. "It wasn't me, and it wasn't Uncle Vedric. And why were you casting a seeming of him?"
"Tylendel," Vanyel replied shortly. "His name was Tylendel. He's dead. He-was-my lover."
And half of my soul and all of my heart.
Tashir started back at that, out of touching distance, projecting clear revulsion and fear so clearly that Vanyel felt it like a blow.
Vanyel's temper snapped.
“Dammit,” he snarled, rounding on the youngster, "will you not act like I'm going to pounce on you and rape you? I don't make a habit of hitting attractive young men over the head and dragging them off to my bed, no matter who they look like!"
Tashir put out a hand as if to keep him away.
Vanyel could not longer control his temper or his words. “You came to me not all that long ago," he snarled, "and I'll thank you to remember that I didn't take advantage of the situation! So you've changed your mind about being shaych; fine, I have no quarrel with you or with that, that is your decision and yours alone to make. I have no intention of making you change your mind. But kindly remember that I'm a human being, and I lost somebody -"
He fought the words past the grief. "- lost somebody I loved more than anyone else on earth. He was my lifebonded, and I will be without him for the rest of my life. You're not the only one in the world who's alone! You're not the only one who's suffered!"
He turned away abruptly, got up, and stalked stiffly to the stone railing, staring out into the lattice of bare tree branches and trying to keep from breaking down completely. Behind him he could hear Tashir shuffling his feet, the sound betraying uncertainty.
Go away, boy. Leave me alone. Leave me to mourn my dead, my beloved, and go chase my niece. Just leave me.
But the footsteps shuffled nearer, hesitated, then came nearer still, until Tashir stood at his right elbow. Vanyel stared out ahead of him, at the branches, and the stars that seemed to be caught there.
"Was he a Herald?" The voice was timid.
"No. A trainee."
Stop driving knives in me. Go away.
"How long ago?"
"Twelve years, tonight."
Twelve years forsaken. Twelve long, lonely years, knowing I'll never be whole again.
"What happened?" the youngster persisted, sounding very young indeed.
"He killed himself."
There. Are you happy? Now will you go away?
"But -" No condemnation, just bewilderment. "- why7 How could he - when he had a Companion?"
So you know that already, do you ? How if we die, they die? But you don't know everything, laddy-boy.
"She repudiated him. That's why he did it. He - couldn't bear - the -"
He couldn't finish.
Silence, a silence marked only by the occasional rustle of leaves. Vanyel hung his head and wrestled with his grief and hoped the youngster would take the hint and finally go away.
Tashir moved a little closer. "I don't understand," he said, humbly. "I can't imagine what could have happened. Please -"
Vanyel took a deep, shuddering breath. Obviously the boy wasn't going to leave until he had his curiosity satisfied.
So tell him, and get it over with.
He looked back up at the remote and uncaring stars. " 'Lendel was Savil's trainee when my father sent me to her because I wasn't the kind of man he tho
It was all coming back with the impact of something that had happened only yesterday. "So Withen sent me off to Haven, where I was even more a stranger." He tried to laugh; it sounded like a croak. "I was put with Savil and her proteges, and Savil was supposed to 'make a man out of me' - turn me into something like Meke, I suppose. What Father didn't know was that her favorite protege 'Lendel was shaych - openly shaych. Exactly what he'd tried to keep me from. I was lonely and desperately unhappy, and 'Lendel was kind to me even when I was rotten to him. Then I found out certain things about him from other sources and suddenly a lot of inexplicable things about myself had answers."
MERCEDES LACKEY SERIES:
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