Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 29part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
Tashir looked relieved; Ghost lowered his head in a clear gesture of agreement. The young Companion stood steadily for Tashir while his Chosen pulled himself up onto his back, then nosed the stall door open and trotted out into the paddock.
"All right," Vanyel said, turning back to Jervis. "What is all this about?"
"Just come with me," Jervis said gleefully, and led Vanyel out of the stable to stand just under one of the windows in the tiny temple.
"- possessed at the best; a red-handed murderer at the worst!" Father Leren was shouting, his voice muffled by all the intervening stone.
"That boy's no more a murderer than I am!" Withen shouted back. "You were dead wrong about Vanyel, and by the gods, you're even more wrong about this boy! Van asked me for sanctuary for him, I pledged it, and I'm not taking back my sworn word!''
"You're putting your soul in jeopardy, Lord Withen," the priest thundered, "The gods -"
"The gods my ass!" Withen roared, in full and magnificent outrage. "There isn't an evil hair on that poor boy's head! Who made you the spokesman for the gods? Last I was taught, if the gods want something done, they don't bother with a damned mouthpiece, they do it themselves - or they choose a vessel and make their power plain! I haven't seen you glowing with holy light, old man!"
Leren sputtered, incoherent, obviously taken aback by this revolt of his erstwhile supporter.
"And I'll tell you one thing more, I judge who's to be Forst Reach priest. I put you in, and I can throw you out just as easy! If you want to stay Forst Reach priest, you'll keep your mouth off Tashir - aye, and while we're at it, off Vanyel as well! When you've done as much for Valdemar as he has, you can call him pervert and catamite to your heart's content, but till you do, you keep a respectful tongue in that head of yours! He's Herald Vanyel, first-rank Herald-Mage of Valdemar and confidant of the King, and furthermore he's my son and you'd better damned well remember that fact!"
Leren tried to say something else, but Withen's roar drowned him out.
Vanyel signaled that they probably ought to move on; Jervis nodded as he stifled snickers with his hand, biting the edge of it to keep from laughing out loud as they slipped away. Vanyel was too surprised to laugh; it felt as if his eyebrows were about to make a permanent home in his hair.
It was certainly the last argument he'd ever expected to overhear.
The falling-out found Leren taking his meals with the hirelings instead of with the family, a circumstance that Vanyel tried not to rejoice in, but couldn't help enjoying. It certainly made mealtime easier for him to face. The quarrel also gave Jervis ascendancy, and as a result of that, Vanyel thought he might be detecting a certain softening of Withen's attitude toward his firstborn, although what with everything and everyone stirred up it was impossible to be sure.
That was the state of things when Captain Lissa Ashkevron rode in through the gates of Forst Reach at the head of her company.
"Lord Withen," said the solemn hatchet-faced woman in dress blues, bowing slightly over her horses's neck in the salute of equals. She waited his response with her helm tucked at a precise angle under her left arm, her bay's reins held at an equally precise angle in her right. The blue-dyed rooster feathers mounted in a socket at the top of the light dress helm fluttered across her arm in the light breeze. Her brown hair had been braided and coiled atop her head with the same military precision that characterized the rest of her equipage.
This was the first time Vanyel had seen his sister "on duty," or in any kind of official capacity. She was certainly a far diiferent creature from the careless, untidy hoyden he remembered her being as a child, or even the wild rogue she could become off-duty.
"Captain Ashkevron." Withen returned her salute, visibly torn between worry and pride.
"Permission to bivouac the troops, sir."
"Granted." Pride won out, and Withen beamed. "The South Home Pasture's been vacated; it's all yours, Captain."
"Thank you, my lord," she replied formally. "Sergeant Grayse, front and center!"
A Guardsman with a brown, round face that seemed vaguely familiar to Vanyel marched crisply from the front rank to Lissa's right stirrup, and waited.
"South Home Pasture; lead the troops there and bivouac. I'll join you shortly."
The sergeant saluted and pivoted, heel and toe, and Vanyel realized why he seemed familiar; Grayse was one of the holding families, and this solid young man must be one of the sons. He barked out a series of orders as Lissa moved her horse off the road; turned again and stepped out with the rest of the troop following as promptly as if they hadn't just spent all day on their feet. Lissa stayed on her horse at semi-attention until the last of her troop was out of sight, then grinned and tossed Vanyel her helm. She dropped her horse's reins as she vaulted out of her saddle, ground-tethering him. As soon as her feet hit the ground she made straight for Withen. Vanyel caught the tumbling helm as she flung her arms around her father's neck and kissed him soundly, and then he held it out of the way as she made it his turn for an enthusiastic embrace, an embrace which he returned one-handed.
"Weil, Father," she said, after kissing Vanyel just as thoroughly. "What do you think of my youngsters?"
"Fine!" Withen glowed. "Damn fine! Gods, I hardly knew my little daughter, up there on her warhorse and in her uniform and all!"
"I've never seen you on duty either, Liss," Vanyel reminded her. "I think you look wonderful."
She hugged him again, then stood beside him with her arm around his waist. "I'm just sorry it has to be under alert-conditions," she said soberly. "I'm sorry, Father. The last thing I ever wanted to do was -"
"Don't worry about it," Withen interrupted. "Now, is there anybody you want to quarter at the keep?''
"My Healer; I want him to have an infirmary set up. I bivouac with the troops."
Withen looked a little disappointed, but Vanyel found himself grinning with approval. "Good!" he said. "I didn't think it was my place to say anything, but it seemed to me down at the Karsite Border that all the best officers stayed with their troopers."
"So I'm told," Lissa replied. "Don't worry, Father, you'll see more of me than you think." She hugged Vanyel hard. "Come on, little brother, help me get this nag in a stall, hmm?"
He let her go and handed back her helm. She caught up the bay's reins and walked beside him to the stable.
"Lord Marshal doesn't like the way things are shaping up," she said in a quiet voice as soon as they got out of earshot. "Vedric has been making himself into the Linean patron saint, what with supporting their protests to Randale and all. I wish I knew what he was up to; this doesn't square with any of the intelligence I've had on him up until now. As for you, my impetuous little brother, I've got official orders that if I find Tashir I'm to take him in, but I've also got this -"
She reached into her belt-pouch and took out a much-creased note with Randale's private seal on it, and handed it to him. Vanyel noticed that it was addressed only to her, and opened it.
Captain Ashkevron; it read. Show this to your brother - you know which one I mean. This is an order. It overrides any other orders you may receive until you hear differently under my hand and seal. You haven't seen either Vanyel or the boy Tashir Remoerdis. You won't see them until I tell you that you have. Randale.
Vanyel handed it back to her with no other comment than a slightly raised eyebrow.
"He's covering for you, Van," she said worriedly, "but he can't do that for much longer. Have you got any idea of what you can do?"
"Not at the moment," he told her. "But I soon will."
His generous room seemed very crowded with both Savil and Jervis sprawled across the window seat and a chair, respectively.
"Ideas?" Vanyel asked, looking from Savil to Jervis and back again. "I've got one, but I want to hear yours first."
Savil wedged herself in the window seat, back flat against one wall, feet braced against the opposite wall, fingers laced together across her knees. "You said you went across the Bor
"And I found them - some of them," he agreed, eyes half-closed, staring at the patterns that firelight and shadows made on her Whites.
"But you also found more questions. I'm wondering if you just weren't there long enough. And I wonder if we all really ought to go back there. With two Adept-class mages it ought to be ridiculously simple to come up with illusion-disguises for four of us."
"Hide the boy in plain sight you mean?" Jervis was sitting backwards on one of the straight-back chairs, with his chin resting on his arms. He blinked sleepily while Savil spoke. Now he raised his head and looked alert. "I like that! Last place they're going to look for the boy is back where he came from!"
Vanyel nodded. "That was something of the same idea I had. We could further confuse the issue - go across the Border as, say, four Heralds making up a peace envoy to Vedric. Once outside Highjorune, we could switch to magic disguises and come into the city by pairs - Jervis and me, Tashir and Savil. One thing they won't be expecting, and that's Tashir with a woman. We meet up at an inn, say, on the better side of town. I could be a Bard this time, instead of a minstrel; you lot could be my entourage. Nose around, see what we can find out."
"Van, I think you and I need to actually get into the palace," Savil put in, staring up at the ceiling. "I think we ought to try and find out exactly what happened and what that attack was. If it was magic, that alone would rule Tashir out."
"Hmm." Moisture beaded the outside of his goblet. He ran his finger down the side, collecting the droplets, and traced little patterns on the table in front of him with a wet forefinger. "Do you think getting Tashir back into the palace might trigger his memory as well?"
"It might," Savil said, moving her gaze down until she caught his eyes. "It's worth a try.” “Then let's do it."
"I never thought I'd see this nag cowed!" Jervis chuckled, the rising sun at his back throwing their shadows far ahead of them on the dark-paved road. Three of the four shadows were as long-limbed and graceful as the Companions that threw them. The fourth crow-hopped from time to time as the raw-boned, ugly stud Jervis sat made his displeasure as obvious as he could.
Savil laughed. "He doesn't look too cowed to me!”
"Compared to what he was like before your two ladies chased him up and down the paddock all night, he's an angel!" Jervis chuckled, reaching out and hitting the stud between the ears with his fist when he bucked a little too hard. The gray stud squealed and laid his ears back; an answering squeal from Kellan and a showing of her formidable teeth settled him back down.
“I hate to think what Meke is going to do to me when he finds out what we've done," Vanyel murmured. He was still feeling guilty about "borrowing" the stud without a "by your leave."
"What else were we going to use?" Savil asked in a sweetly reasonable tone of voice, as Yfandes snorted. "That blasted stud of Meke's was the closest thing to white on the holding, besides being the only beast with the endurance to keep up with three Companions!" She chortled. "Come to that, he's a good match for Jervis as a Herald, provided you're seeing the real Jervis and not the glamour you put on him."
Jervis did make a very unlikely looking Herald. Tashir fit a set of Vanyel's cast-off Whites, left from when he was seventeen, fairly well. Vanyel and Savil had their uniforms, of course. But for Jervis it had been a case of hasty make-do. He wore one of his own shirts, and had squeezed himself into a pair of Vanyel's white breeches, but they'd had to sacrifice a sleeveless leather tunic of Savil's, opening the seams on both sides and punching holes, then lacing it onto him. He wore his own boots - brown - but they hoped no one would notice that.
"So long as we aren't dealing with anyone who can see through the glamour we'll be all right."
"Are you sure any spy Vedric might have on the Border won't pick this up?" Savil asked.
"Well, Heralds are supposed to feel a little of magic. A full illusion would radiate for too much, but an enhancement should pass without any trouble."
“But won't Vedric pick up the illusion-disguises once we're in town?" Jervis said suddenly. The stud took advantage of his distraction to try to buck him off.
Yfandes nipped the stud's flank, Kellan kicked him, and Jervis bashed him between the ears, all simultaneously. Vanyel choked down a laugh.
The stud shrilled his indignation, but settled again.
"He would, if the ambient magic in Highjorune wasn't going to mask my relatively weak spells. The illusion is only going to be on the Companions, to make them something else. Hardly a whisper on the wind."
The stud tried to rid himself of the bit. "You fixed his outside," Jervis said wistfully. "If you could only do something about the inside of his ugly head. ..."
Held to the pace of the stud, it took them three days to reach Highjorune. To pass the gates, Kellan and Ghost became donkeys led by an old peasant woman and her son. Vanyel became a Bard on a showy gold palfrey, and Jervis his man-at-arms and general servant. If attention was to be drawn, Vanyel wanted it drawn to him.
And indeed, he drew enough attention coming through the gates to more than distract the guards from the old woman and her offspring behind them. Vanyel and Yfandes pranced and preened, sidled and danced - and in general made a thoroughgoing nuisance of themselves. Jervis grunted, looked long-suffering, and earned the sympathy of the gate guards. The stud tried to take off someone's hand and got a fist in his teeth for his trouble.
No Row taverns for Vanyel, not this time. He lodged in the best inn in Highjorune, right across from the residency of the Master of the Weaver's Guild. Not so incidentally, that put the palace and all its mage-energies and shield-spells between him and the house where Lord Vedric was staying. Hopefully, any disturbances the illusions were creating would be lost in the greater wash of the shields and the node beneath the shields.
"Somebody's tried to break the shields," Vanyel observed, staring fixedly put the window.
"You can tell that from here?" Jervis asked, surprised, looking up from sharpening his dagger.
"Uhm - hmm." Vanyel probed deeper, and let his eyes unfocus. "I can even tell what spells he used. And that it was a he and not a her. Nobody I recognize, but I'd bet it was Vedric."
"Couldn't you - I don't know - get a look at Vedric so you'd know for certain?"
Vanyel turned restlessly away from the window and shook his head. "No. Probing him to get his signature would tell him I was here. Having the palace between us wouldn't hide me long if he started looking for another mage. I don't like it, though. I wish I knew for certain. And I wish I knew why whoever it was tried to breach the shields. It can't be pure curiosity, not with spells that powerful being used. Oh, I can guess that it's Vedric, and that he wants to get in there to destroy some kind of evidence, but I'd much rather know for certain if my guess is wrong or right."
"Well, I wish Savil and the boy would get here," Jervis growled. "I don't like the notion of us bein’ split up like this."
"I agree," Vanyel began, when a tap at the door interrupted him.
He whirled, but it was Jervis who answered it and with a grimace of relief let in Savil and Tashir.
"Where in Havens have you been?" he demanded. "You were s'pposed to be here long before sundown!"
"Detained," she replied, smugly. "And what I got was worth the delay! What would you two say to a motive for the Mavelans to destroy the entire Remoerdis Royal House?"
“What? “ Jervis and Vanyel exclaimed simultaneously.
"We were playing peasants seeing the sights," Tashir said tiredly. "One of the sights is the Great Hall of Justice. They keep important documents in there, under glass, so that anybody who can read can see them. I remembered one of them was the treaty between Baires and Lineas and told Savil, so that's why we went there."
“It took a fair amount of Tashir playing gawker to give me time to read it; by then it was dinnertime, and they shooed us all out." Savil threw herself down in a chair beside the table, picked up the
"If I ever knew that, I'd forgotten it," Tashir confessed into the silence.
"In other words, if Tashir is declared guilty of murder, the Linean throne gets handed over to the Mavelans - and Valdemar has to enforce this?" Vanyel said, incredulously.
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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