Magics promise vlhm 2, p.3

Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 3

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

 

Magic's Promise v(lhm-2
 



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  "You humans." That phrase said it all. That was the telling difference, he realized suddenly. The telling lack.

  Yfandes was not human-and she never felt exactly the way a human would. There was always the touch of the | "other" about her, and the strange feeling he got, some - times, that she was hiding something, some secret that she could only share with another Companion. It was not a comfortable feeling. He was just as glad she wasn't awake to pick it up from him.

  He dragged himself up out of the depths of his chair to rummage paper and a pen and inkpot out of his desk. He slouched back down into the cushions and chewed thoughtfully on the end of the pen, trying to compose something that wouldn't set Withen off.

  To Lord Withen Ashkevron of Forst Reach from Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron.

  So far, so good.

  Dear Father: I'm sorry I've had to put off spending any length of time at home - but duty must always come before anything else, and my duty as a Herald is to the orders of my King.

  He licked his lips, wondering if that was a bit excessively priggish. Probably not. And I don't think I'll say anything about how visits of less than a day keep Mother from having vapors at me. He reached for the goblet again, and another swallow of wine, before continuing.

  As for Meke, I'll do my best with him, Father. You must remember though, that although I am a Herald I am also his brother - he may be no more inclined to listen to me than he does to you. With regard to your news about Baires and Lineas - may the gods help us - I have seen far too much of conflict of late. I was praying for some peace, and now you tell me we may have a Situation on our very doorstep. Unless Randale asks me to intervene, there isn't much I can do. Let us hope it doesn't come to that. I promise I will try to put some sense into Meke's head about that as well; perhaps when he has heard some of what I have seen, a war will no longer seem quite so attractive. Perhaps when he sees some of what war has done to me-| no, Father, I was not badly hurt, but I picked up an injury or two that left scars. It may be that will impress him.

  He closed his eyes and carefully picked out the least loaded words he could think of for the next sentence. When he thought he had it, he concentrated on setting it carefully down on the paper so that there could be no mistake.

  With regard to my - friends; I promised you ten years ago that I would never indulge in anything that you did not approve of or that made you uncomfortable under your roof. Do you still find it so difficult to believe that I would keep my word?

  He nobly refrained from adding "Odd, no one else seems to have that problem." That would not serve any purpose, and would only make his father guilty, and then angry.

  I do have a request to make of you, and a reminder of a promise you made to me at the same time. You pledged to keep Mother from flinging young women at me - under other conditions I would not feel that I needed to remind you of this promise, but I truly cannot handle that particular situation this time, Father. I'm exhausted; you can't know how exhausted. All I really want is some peace, some quiet time to rest and catch up with the family matters. Please do me this one small favor; I don't think it's too much to ask. Yours, Vanyel.

  He folded the letter and sealed it quickly, before he had a chance to add a postscript to that temptingly empty space at the bottom. All I want from you and Mother is to be left alone. I need that rest. Before I fall on my face.

  He picked up the second letter, and heaved a sigh of relief. Liss. Oh, bless you, big sister. My antidote to Father.

  To Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron from Guard - Captain Lissa Ashkevron: Dearest Van - if half of what I've been hearing about you is true, I'm tempted to abandon my command and kidnap you and hide you someplace until you've had some rest! Thank the gods somebody saw enough reason to give you a leave! And before you bleat to me about “duty,” just you remember that if you kill yourself with overwork you won't be around to do that duty!

  Vanyel smiled, biting his lip to keep from chuckling. Good old Liss!

  I should tell you what's going on out here, since you may be riding right into another hotbed of trouble. Deveran of Lineas has disinherited his eldest. The boy supposedly has mage-power, which, since his mother does not, is being read that he is probably a bastard. The Uneans in any case are not likely to allow anyone with Mage-Gifts to rule over them-but this Tashir is altogether too like his Uncle Vedricfor comfort. And Vedric is protesting the tacit slur on his “good name” - not that he has one - and is being backed by the entire Mavelan Clan. I suppose it is a bit much to imply that your brother-in-law was fornicating with his own sister before your marriage to her. Havens bless - talk about soiled goods!

  At any rate, I suspect there's far more to it than that; what, I don't know, but the Mavelans seldom unite for anything and they're uniting on this one. I much doubt it's over concern for Vedric's reputation or tender feelings for Tashir. My guess is there's another attempt at acquiring Lineas in the offing - but since they're both clients-by-alliance to Valdemar, the Mavelans can't just begin flinging mage-fire over there. Randale would definitely take exception to that.

  So here we are, camped on the Border, and watching for one false note. What really worries me is that it's Vedric who's fronting this; they're all snakes, but he's a viper. The only reason he's not Lord Mavelan is because his brother's been very lucky - or smart enough to buy some really good spies and bodyguards. Vedric is definitely the most ambitious of the lot; my guess is he's been promised Lineas if he can get it quietly. Through Tashir, perhaps.

  Vanyel found his eyebrows rising with every sentence. Lissa had come a long way from the naive swordswoman who had accepted that commission in the Guard. She was a lot more politically astute than Van would have dreamed-which gave him the second surprise of the day. First Father, then Liss - no bad thing, either. No one living in the days of King Randale could aiford to be politically naive.

  I hope to steal away long enough to spend at least a little time with you, love, but don't count on it. There's nothing going on overtly, but the whole thing feels very touchy to me; like the moments before the storm hits. If I feel the situation has calmed down enough, I'll come. Be well. Love, Liss.

  That was by far and away the easiest letter to answer he'd had in a long time. He scrawled a quick reply of affection, including the fact that he missed her badly, sealed the note, and laid it with the other.

  There were two or three other letters, all nothing more than invitations to various entertainments; hunting parties, mostly, at noble estates, parties meant to last a week or more. Despite the fact that he never attended these things - wouldn't have even if he'd had the time - the invitations never stopped coming. He wrote brief, polite notes, and sat back again, staring at the packs in the corner. He knew he had to sort things out of his traveling kit for his trip home - and he just couldn't muster the energy. It was so much easier just to sit and let all the kinks in his muscles respond to the soft – motionless - chair.

  A rap at the door interrupted his lethargy; it was the page sent by Tantras, with the promised uniforms. And one more thing; a note - and Vanyel recognized Randale's handwriting on the outside.

  Oh, gods - no, no! For a moment he tensed, fearing another call to duty on the eve of his promised chance to rest. Then he saw that it wasn't sealed, not even by Randale's personal seal.

  He relaxed. No seal meant it wasn't official. He took it from the wide - eyed page and motioned to the youngster to stay for a reply.

  Vanyel; come by after Court and say good-bye - don't come before then; if I'm not being official, I don't have to find something for you to do. Or rather, I don't have to assign you to one of the hundred messes that needs dealing with. I'm sorry you aren't staying, but I understand, and if you weren't planning on leaving, I'd probably tie you to Yfandes and drive you off before I work you to death. But do come by; Jisa wants to see her “Uncle Van” before he vanishes again. Randale.

  :If you don't make the time to see her, I'll bite you when you try to saddle me.:

 
Vanyel had to smother a laugh. :Woke up again, did you? Why is it anything about Jisa snags your attention like nothing else does?:

  :Because she's adorable - as most six-year-old humans are not. Besides, she's your daughter.:

  :I'm just grateful she doesn't look anything like me,: he replied, sobering. :If she'd gotten these silver eyes of mine, for instance - or black hair when both Randale and Shavri are light brown. Don't you dare let that slip to anyone!:

  :Not even another Companion,: she reassured him. :I'm not sure I understand what the problem could be, though. Shavri won't let Randale marry her, so should it matter who Jisa's father is?:

  :It would disturb some folk, because they're lifebonded. Besides, we don't want anyone to know that Randale's sterile. If he has to make an alliance marriage - that could ruin it. And there are damn few people even inside the Heralds who would understand someone wanting a child badly enough to go to bed with someone other than her lifebonded.:

  Yfandes' mind-voice was hesitant. :Truth, Chosen - in seems to bother you :

  Vanyel leaned farther back into the chair, scrawling replies to the invitations with half his attention. It did bother him, and in a way that made him reluctant to even think about Shavri, sometimes. :It's not that,: he temporized. :lt's just that I'm worried about them.:

  But the uneasy feeling continued, an uncomfortable unhappiness that he couldn't define. So he continued hastily, :Poor Shavri; you can't know how much she wanted that child. That was the only reason we did it.:

  :You like her :

  :Of course I like her!: he answered-again, just a shade too quickly. :She and Randale-they’re friends; how could I have told them no?: He shied away from examining his feelings too closely. :Besides, it was never anything more than a physical exercise for either of us. No more involved for me, certainly, than dancing. Shavri being a Healer, she could make sure she “caught” the first time. Neither of us were emotionally involved, or ever likely to be.:

  :I suppose that could have been a problem,: she replied.

  :Exactly. That's why Shavri and Randale asked me to help in the first place: I was perfect; a Herald, already a friend, physically able, and not going to get romantically entangled.:

  :Don't you . . . want the child, sometimes?: Yfandes sounded wistful. Vanyel was a bit surprised.

  :Frankly, no. I'm not very paternal. It takes more than seed to make a father, love. Great good gods, can you see me as a parent? I'd be awful. Randale has what I lack in that department.: His thoughts darkened, as he recalled what had been bothering him since he scanned the palace when they rode in :'Fandes, I'm worried about them. When Lancir died - truth, I almost expected Taver to Choose me King's Own. Instead-instead he chose Shavri, and I'm desperately afraid it wasn't because she was Randale's lifebonded. I'm afraid it was because she's a Healer.:

  There was a long silence on Yfandes' part. Then, :Why haven't you said something before this?:

  :Because - I wasn't sure. I've been wrong about things so many times - and I didn't really want to think about it. Shavri told me once that she was afraid that Randale's sterility was a symptom of something worse. I didn't know what to say, so I told her not to worry about it. But now -you know how sensitive I am; follow my line to Rondale - :

  Vanyel could "feel" every Herald and Herald-Mage in Haven, all tied to him by a kind of tenuous network of lines of life-energy, with every identity as plain to him as if he could see the faces. Most Herald-Mages could follow the line to anyone who had shared magic with them; Vanyel could follow the line of anyone who had "shared magic" just by virtue of being a Herald. He had the line that led to Randale without even thinking about it, and "felt" Yfandes follow it down with him, Seeing what he Saw.

  :There's-something not right,: she said, after a moment's study. Something out of balance. Physically, not mentally or emotionally. But I can't tell what it is :

  :Exactly,: he agreed. :I felt it as soon as we came in; he wasn't like that when we left. I wish I was a Healer-Adept like Moondance k'Treva or even little Brightstar. They're much better at understanding imbalances than I am.: He rubbed his forehead, his headache starting again.

  :I don't think I will ever forget the look on Shavri's face!, when you told her this wasn't the first time you'd done someone the favor of – uh - stud service.: Yfandes' mind-voice colored yellow with laughter, and he was just as pleased to change the subject.

  :Moondance and Starwind wanted a child to raise, and neither of them can function with a female,: he reminded her, :and Snowlight was willing to have twins, one for her, one for them.:

  :You certainly produce lovely children.:

  :Brightstar is a good lad,: he said, shyly :They’re rightly proud of him - and that's their doing, not mine. But I'm beginning to think I ought to rent myself out. Do you think I could command the same fees as a Shin'a'in stud?:

  :Oh, at least,: she giggled, as he reached for pen and paper. :Double if your Gift and beautiful silver eyes breed true!:

  He smothered a chuckle, and turned all his attention to the reply the page was waiting for. Dearest friends; of course I'm coming by. Don't you realize that you're my last taste of sanity before I spend the fall with my lunatic family?

  He sealed this last note and handed them all to the page to take away. He stood and hauled the packs over to his bed, resisting the temptation to throw himself there instead of his belongings, and began sorting out the items he'd need for his visit home.

  There was an awful lot of money in there - money he didn't remember getting, but it all seemed to be in those silly little sealed "stipend" bags, most of them still unopened. At least a half-dozen. Then again - he hadn't had much to spend it on, going from post to post like a madman, never getting regular meals, seldom sleeping in a real bed. He combined all the bags into one, and tossed the empties onto the table for the servants to collect. Then had second thoughts, and added some coins to the pile of empty bags. No harm in leaving a little something for the ones who kept things picked up for him; they did a good job. They could have just sealed the room up until he returned, but they kept it open and aired, even though that meant extra work. He'd acquired a much greater appreciation for good servants since he'd become a Herald.

  He returned to his packs; there were a lot of small, valuable trinkets he just barely remembered being gifted with in there.

  :Why do people insist on giving me all this stuff?: he asked Yfandes, a little irritably. :It isn't bribery; I'd have sensed that and given it back :

  :I told you,: she replied. :They wanted something of the excitement of your life to rub off on them, so they give you things. That's what it means to be Herald Vanyel, second only to King's Own.:

  He made a sound of contempt, as he sorted through the things; jewelry mostly. :I bet they think I have everything I could want. I suppose on a lot of levels, I do. I'm ungrateful, I guess. I don't know why I'm not happier.:

  :Vanyel Ashkevron, you are being an idiot,: she replied acidly. - .Stop feeling guilty about feeling like you’re overworked and unhappy! You’re only human!:

  :Beloved, I think you know me better than I know myself: He laughed to keep from wincing; she was cutting a bit too close to the truth. His hand fell on more jewelry, and he changed the subject. :Ah, now these I remember; I bought them honestly.: He selected the three trinkets that he had thought would please Randale, Shavri, and Jisa when he'd seen them; a cloak - clasp for Randale in the form of a vine of Heal-All twining around a beryl the green of a Healer's robes-a pendant that matched for Shavri - and a wonderful little articulated carving of a Companion complete with formal panoply for Jisa. The rest went back into the pack; he would need presents for the mob at Forst Reach, and there was surely enough there to make a start. He paused with the last piece, a crystal mage-focus stone (rose-quartz, sadly, and not a stone he cared to work with) still in his hand.

  :Think Savil would like this?:

  :You know she would. Rose-quartz is her Prime Focus, and you don't often see a crystal
that big or that clear.:

  :Good.: He put it with the little gifts on his bedside table.

  The bed looked better than ever.

  :Courtesy calls,: Yfandes reminded him. :Then you can’t take a nap. Lazy.:

  He groaned. :Too true. Oh, well: He picked up the! crystal and slipped it into his pocket :Savil first. She'll put me in a good mood for the others.:

  There was a touch of smile in Yfandes' mind-voice when he slipped out his door and down the hall-still barefoot. :You don't really need to be put in a good mood for Jisa do you ?:

  He grinned; although she couldn't see it, she would feel the rise in his spirits. :No-but if Randi ends up giving me an assignment anyway, I won't feel so bad about it!:

  Two

  Vanyels room was in the "old Palace," the original building dating back to King Valdemar; in the oldest section still used for Heralds' quarters. Savil's suite was in the new wing added some fourteen years ago. She no longer occupied the suite he'd had when he first was put in her custody by Lord Withen - she didn't teach more than one pupil at a time these days, so having no use whatsoever or a suite with four bedrooms, she'd moved instead to another suite, still on the ground floor, though without an outside door to the gardens; Moving had been something of a relief to both of them; her former quarters held too many sad memories, memories of the painful weeks following Tylendel's suicide.

 
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