Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 30part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
"That ain't real likely to make Valdemar popular around here," Jervis observed. "Not that they're real popular after Van runnin' off with the boy. And if that ain't a pretty good reason for the Mavelans to kill off the Linean House and slap the blame on Tashir - who's Linean, even if he was disinherited - I don't know what would be."
"Nor I," Savil agreed grimly. “Very tidy little plot. Well, Van, you wanted a motive."
"I certainly got one." He returned to the window, and stared out of it. "And I have an excellent reason for Vedric making himself so popular with the Lineans." There was still some lingering sunset afterglow to make the sky a pearly light blue-and against it, the palace loomed ominously dark.
"Exactly. When everyone finally gets around to checking that treaty, Vedric will be the only Mavelan the Lineans will accept. And they might even do it with good grace, if he's done his job right."
"Savil," he said slowly, "I think our very first order of business is going to be -"
"The palace," she supplied.
"These seals were definitely tampered with," Vanyel observed. "A little more power behind the attacks and the shields might well have come down."
Yfandes paced up beside him and extended her nose to the door, closing her eyes. :Blood-magic,: she judged :Faint, but there. Most of the energy traces are ordinary sorcery, but whoever set the spells is used to using blood-magic, and that will taint everything he does :
"Which means it's not Heraldic - which we figured. And probably not a local. Working mage-craft around here would get you into trouble with your neighbors quickly, but working blood-magic would get you caught and hung." Vanyel licked his lips, and glanced around at the darkened courtyard. Acting on a hunch from Savil, they'd cleaned out their belongings from the inn and brought everything with them. Now he was glad they had. He raised his voice just a little. "Conference - " he called softly.
Four humans and three Companions made a huddle. Mekeal's stud was tethered as far away as possible. "Whoever tried to break the shields used something tainted with blood-magic," he said. "Yfandes smelled it out. Now I have a problem of defense here. Jervis, Tashir, every time we pass the threshold we're going to weaken those shields further. I think maybe we'd better change our plans because I don't think those shields are going to take much more weakening, and the only way for me to reinforce them will be from inside."
"That won't necessarily work either," Savil observed. "You'll just be patching. The weak spot will still be there."
"Exactly," Vanyel nodded. "It isn't going to be pleasant, but what I'd like to do is to just cross once, to keep the strain to a minimum."
His immediate answer was a silence in which the sound of dead leaves skittering across the cobbles was enough to set his nerves jumping. "Set up in residence, until we figure out what happened, you mean?" Savil asked. He nodded. She pursed her lips, and gave a reluctant assent. "I'm inclined to agree. Blood-magic will break shields the way nothing else can, and I'd rather this place wasn't left open to tampering. But what about the Companions?"
"They leave," Vanyel said unhappily. Yfandes Sent a wordless burst of protest. "I'm sorry, but I can't think of any place that's safe for them inside the city walls. The west gate stays open at night; but it's guarded. If I put a no-see, no-hear spell on them, they'll make it out all right. And if Vedric detects it, it won't matter; the stir I'm going to make by opening the shield ought to keep him thoroughly occupied."
Jervis cleared his throat. " 'Mother thing; we run into trouble, that way they're free t' run for help."
Vanyel bit his lip thoughtfully. "Good point. 'Fandes, I don't like it either, but -"
:I see no other recourse,: she answered, pawing the cobbles and radiating unwillingness.
"And you'll have to look after that damned stud." :May I kick him if he won't behave?: she asked, raising her head and ears hopefully.
Vanyel grinned to himself. Other than Jervis, Yfandes had suffered the most from the stud's behavior; the beast kept trying to induce her to mate. "As much as you have to. From here to Karse if necessary. Be my guest."
:Then this is not altogether an unpleasant prospect. Kellan, Leshya - : She waited for the humans to remove their packs from the saddles, then trotted to the tethered stud and freed him with her strong white teeth. With heads high and eyes fixed on Vanyel with acute interest, they waited for him to cast the spell.
Since the four of them already knew that the four mounts were there, the spell had very little effect on the onlookers. But Vanyel could See them surrounded with a distorting shimmer that meant the cloaking was in effect. Yfandes Mindsent him a wordless wave of love and concern, and with the stud's reins still in her teeth, turned toward the open gate to the courtyard. Then, with squeals and nips, the three Companions drove the stallion out of the gates and into the swiftly darkening streets.
Vanyel focused his inner eye on the place where he meant to set a portal in the fabric of the shields, then moved his hands in a complicated, mirror-imaged gesture. Through closed eyelids, he Saw the energy walls of the shields part just enough to let a tall man through.
"It's open." He looked with outer eyes again, and watched Jervis feel his way along the invisible - but patently tangible - shield-wall, until he came to the spot opposite Vanyel. Vanyel wasn't sure which was funnier, his expression when he couldn't force his way past the shields, or his expression when he found the "hole."
"I can't hold this too long," he warned; the other three snatched up their packs and his, and Medren's poor, battered, secondhand lute, and hurried up the stone stairs as far as the double door. They waited, white against the dark bulk of the door, while Vanyel slipped across the boundary and resealed the shields behind himself.
He took the stairs slowly, and regarded the purely physical barrier. "Tashir," he began.
The boy looked at him in startlement.
"Young friend, this is where you see how useful that Gift of yours is. My strong suit is not Fetching, and I've only seen this door once, remember." Vanyel folded his arms and raised an eyebrow at him. "I also distinctly recall that I barred the door behind Lores. You surely remember what the door and bar look like, and your Gift is Fetching. Let's see you raise that bar."
"But -" Tashir began to protest. Savil looked as if she might object as well, but Vanyel silenced her with a look.
"Do it, Tashir. You're better at this than I am."
The young man took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and took a wide-legged stance in what may have been an unconscious imitation of the one Vanyel had taken, and frowned.
Vanyel had been giving him what rudimentary instruction he could, when he could. It wasn't much. But as Vanyel had half suspected, away from the disapproval of his family and into an environment in which "magic" was actually encouraged, he'd begun practicing, probably in an attempt to get his rogue Gift under some kind of conscious control. All of them could clearly hear the grate of the bar in its sockets on the other side of the closed metal-sheathed door; Jervis clapped Tashir on the back, startling him, as the door creaked open a thumbs'-breadth.
Vanyel did the same, a bit more gently. Tashir grinned at both of them, teeth flashing whitely in the first of the moonlight. "Good work, young man," Vanyel congratulated him. "Now let's get ourselves under cover before somebody curious comes by."
Savil was already pushing the door open; the rest of them followed her into the absolute darkness of the entry hall. She waited until Vanyel had closed the door and rebarred it before fashioning a mage-light and sending it upward to dance and flare above her head.
"Gods!" she hissed, shocked at the extent of the wreckage in the next room.
Jervis moved past her to stand at the top of the stairs, shaking his head. "I've seen wars and looters that weren't this thorough. What'n hell did that?"
Vanyel glanced over at Tashir, who had lost his expression of triumph and had become very pale. His eyes were shadowed; his expression haunted. Vanye
Savil joined Jervis, oblivious to Tashir's distress, walking very slowly. “I can tell you what didn't,'' she said, unexpectedly. '' Tashir.'' The youngster jerked in startlement. "You're sure?" Vanyel asked softly, feeling a tense core inside him go limp with relief. He really hadn't believed it was the boy, but still. , . .
"Positive. You get under the glare of the node-energy, and this place is dusted all over with magic." She closed her eyes, and reached out her hand as if to touch something. "There's a very old spell tied to the node that's rooted somewhere just ahead of us. But there's a second spell overlaid on the walls themselves, and that's what caused this mess. Van, let me handle that one; it's a trap-spell, and I'd rather you didn't trigger it."
"I'll second that. You're much better with set-spells than I am. Tashir, Jervis, did you understand that?"
Tashir looked both frightened and hopeful. "She said that there was a magic spell on the palace that - did all this? But why does that eliminate me?"
"Because you haven't even Mage-potential. Your Gift isn't magic, as we use the term. Real magic leaves traces of itself behind, like the dust a moth's wings leave on your hands when you catch it. You couldn't have done something that would leave those traces; you're not capable of it; for you, manipulating mage-energies would be like trying to carry water in a bucket with no bottom."
"And that's good enough evidence for Valdemar," Jervis put in. "Trouble is, I'd bet it ain't good enough evidence for Lineas."
Tashir's face fell. "That's only too true," he said, crestfallen.
"So our job is to find good enough evidence for Lineas." Vanyel took on unconscious authority. "First off, let's clean out one of the smaller chambers and set up living quarters. Then we'll get some sleep; we'll be better off working by daylight.''
Savil dropped out of her half-trance and rejoined them. "I agree. I don't want to tackle anything that tricky without a full night's sleep. Tashir, this was your home; what would be the best place for us to set up where we aren't likely to be seen or disturbed?'' She shivered in a sudden chilly draft. “And where we can build a fire; I don't fancy freezing to death in my sleep, and there's a winter bite to the air at night."
Tashir looked about; although he had lost some of his apprehension, there was still fear and great unhappiness in him that Vanyel could Sense without effort. Small wonder. Everyone he ever knew died here.
"The kitchen, I think," Tashir replied. "And there wouldn't have been anybody back there when -" He shuddered, and not from the cold.
"Another thing to consider," Vanyel said gravely. "We're all likely to come on some very grisly relics, and of us all, Tashir is the least used to such things. Tashir, don't go off alone. Stay with one of us; Jervis, by preference. If at any time this gets too much for you, just go straight back to the kitchen until you get yourself settled again. I do want you to try and remember what happened that night. I don't want a repetition of what you did in Mother's bower. It's not that I think you'll hurt anybody because I know you won't." He managed a little smile of encouragement. "It's that you'll be noisy, lad. There's not supposed to be anybody here. I'm sure Vedric has figured it out, but he might not dare act on his knowledge just yet. We want to keep him from having reasons. We don't need someone sending for your Uncle Vedric to lay the ghosts, now, do we?"
Tashir paled, and Vanyel was immediately sorry he'd mentioned either ghosts or Vedric. The youngster shook his head wordlessly.
"All right, then let's get to the first stage." He shouldered his pack; the others did the same. "Tashir, it's up to you. Find us that kitchen."
None of them slept particularly well. The first light of dawn saw three of the four lying open-eyed and tense on their sleeping mats; held prisoner by cold, nebulous fears, and waiting for someone else to make a sound that indicated rising. Vanyel was actually the last to claw his way out of uneasy half-dreams, which wasn't surprising, considering how exhausted he was. He felt the wakefulness around him after a confused moment or two and made a mage-light without thinking. Three gasps of startlement answered the first flare of the light; three pairs of eyes reflected blue flickers back at him.
"If you were all awake," he said, still sleep-mazed and confused, "why didn't you just get up?"
He told Jervis later that - on reflection - he was surprised no one killed him for that question.
There were still usable supplies in the kitchen; dried, salted, or otherwise preserved, and the kitchen had its own pump and well, which solved the problem of where they were going to get water. Trying to ignore the nagging thought that they were robbing the dead, Vanyel helped Jervis cobble together a tolerable meal of bacon, tea, and biscuits.
They sat on folded blankets beside the hearth to eat it; the windowless kitchen was dark, and it somehow echoed more than it should. Even Jervis was affected by the somber atmosphere, casting surreptitious glances over his shoulder at the shadows behind him.
"I think we're going to have to divide our attentions," Vanyel said quietly, as they sipped their tea from an assortment of whatever containers had come to hand. "Does anyone object to my taking charge?" He waited, but no one said anything. "Fine. Savil, I'd like you to look into the trap-spell; find out what it does, or did, if you can. And how it was set here in the first place. Jervis, Tashir, I'd like you two to start going over the palace, room by room. Jervis, you've been in and out of highborn homes for a good part of your life; you know what belongs and what doesn't. I want you to look for anything that seems odd or out of place. Tashir, you're to try and trigger your memory of that night. While you're both at it, we need candles down here, and a bit more in the way of blankets and bedding would be nice."
"And you'll be- ?" Jervis raised a thick, grizzled eyebrow. His tone was not accusatory, just inquiring. Once again he and Vanyel had achieved a delicately balanced friendship. It was beginning to grow into something closer and less tentative, something more like a reliable partnership.
A partnership built on respect, and concern for the boy. That Tashir had confessed his fictions hadn't hurt.
"I'll be doing exactly the same, but from the bottom up; I want you two to work from the top down." Vanyel grimaced. "I don't think things are going to be very pretty in the cellars, and, to be brutal, I'm the one of us most recently off a battle-line. I don't want Tashir to have to deal with the kind of things I may find down below. I did learn that your father wasn't holding any prisoners, Tashir, but I doubt the searchers spent much time in the cellars looking for victims."
Tashir blanched, and took a large, audible gulp of tea.
"Eventually there's one more thing I'll be doing - I've got a hunch that the magic-node beneath the palace plays a major part in the why of all this; I want to find out just what the connection is, if I can. There has to be some kind of a connection; I cannot believe that Tayledras Adepts just left a powerful node like that undrained and unattended. That kind of carelessness goes counter to everything I know about them. Even if they were forced out, they'd have come back to release the mage-lines and drain the node - if not the original clan, then the descendants, or allied clan. I think that old spell Savil mentioned is very likely to have something to do with that."
Tasks assigned, they parted. Vanyel had taken the cellars for another reason; he and Savil were the only ones capable of producing their own light without needing to resort to candles or lanterns. They had no such physical lights, and there obviously were no windows in the cellars.
He had cause to be grateful for a strong stomach before the morning was over. He'd been right about searchers not checking below. And Lores had not exaggerated the violence of the massacre in the least. Even this old, the shredded remains were appalling. But he had seen remains as bad, or worse, over the past year. And he began to discover a pattern: where there had been no people present, the damage to things was minimal, or nonexistent.
He did find candles, and the wine cellar. The former he took up the stairs and left at the kitchen landing; the latter he sealed. Half the casks had been split and all the bottles shattered. And as for what remained intact-he rather doubted anyone would ever want to drink from casks that had been stained and spattered with-
Well, it was better not to dwell on it.
They could drink what they found in the kitchen, or water.
From the look of things, four of the servants had been drinking and dicing down there when the disaster had struck. At least, he thought it was four. There were four overturned mugs beside the dice and pile of coins, but he couldn't find more than six hands before he gave up searching.
And the hands were the only parts still recognizably human.
It was odd though; four of those six hands had worn rings exactly like the one the maid Reta had worn; dull silver with strange, dead-white stones. Reta's ring had plainly been something other than ornament, but although he Mindtouched one of the rings cautiously, Van could find nothing out of the ordinary about it.