Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 35part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
Getting dressed had been an ordeal, too, but the Healer had said he could have visitors, and he wasn't going to see them bundled in bed like an invalid.
He eased himself down into the chair with a hiss as someone knocked on the door to his room. "Come," he called, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
It was not anyone he had expected. It was Melenna.
A much subdued, sobered Melenna.
"I came to see if you were really all right," she said, shyly, “and to ask Herald Vanyel for a favor, and some advice."
Herald Vanyel. Not Van. And the fear is in her, too.
"Please, Melenna, sit down. I can't imagine why you'd want my advice, but -"
She remained standing. "Vanyel," she said softly. "You - and me. There's no hope, is there?"
He looked up, and the honest longing in her eyes made his heart go out to her, the anger and frustration of the past few weeks evaporating. The gods knew, he knew exactly how it felt to long for something you'd never have - or never have again. "I'm sorry, Melenna, but I won't lie to you. It was hopeless from the start. A woman can never be anything more than my friend. I do value you as a friend, and the mother of my very young friend Medren, but I can't offer you any more than that."
She bent her head, and quickly wiped her eyes, all coquettishness gone. "I - you know how I feel. Couldn't you - pretend? It would make Lady Treesa and Lord Withen awfully happy. And I wouldn't mind, really I wouldn't."
He looked away from those sad, sad eyes. The offer was terribly tempting. But ultimately, a lie. "I know it would make them happy, but I'm a Herald, Melenna. I can't tell lies - how could I live one? And you would care, eventually. It would make you very unhappy. There are other men - shay'a'chern - who've talked with me, who tried just what you're suggesting. In the end, instead of two people who were only moderately happy most of the time, there were two people who were desperately unhappy all the time. The wife was jealous of his lovers, and his lovers were jealous of her, and it went downhill from there." He shook his head. "No, my friend, it won't work. I'm sorry."
She wiped another tear away. "I'm sorry, too," she said. "But to tell you the truth, I'm mostly sorry for myself, and a little bit for Treesa." She sighed. "Can I - ask you a favor? And you can say no. It's about Medren."
"If it's about Medren, the answer is probably 'yes,' " he said. "Your son is a delight to any musician, and a charmer all by himself."
"Would you - sort of be his guardian until he's settled? He's never been away from home at all. I know he isn't shy, but that's the problem. He seems a lot older than he really is, and that's my fault, I guess. He could get in with a faster crowd than he can handle."
He stared at her, astounded. "You'd trust me - ?”
She returned his astonished stare levelly. "I'm not very clever, sometimes," she replied, "but I listen, I listen a lot. You're very honorable, and in all the stories about you and - others, there's only been men. Not boys. Besides, Medren told me how he offered to pay for lessons, and how you turned him down. Yes, I trust you. I'll always trust you. I've loved you, Vanyel ... for a very long time."
Greatly moved, Vanyel took her hand and kissed the back of it gently. "Then I will be very honored to see Medren settled properly," he replied. "And I can only pray that I will always be worthy of your trust."
She got up before he could say another word, and headed for the door - Only to be run over by the rush of people crowding in, as the door slammed open.
"Now look, you peabrain - " Savil was shouting, as Vanyel's head began to spin.
"Look yourself,” Withen shouted back, shaking his finger at her. "The damned Lineans won't accept anything but the boy!"
"But he's a Herald,” Lores wailed over the din.
Vanyel's head began to spin, and he clutched the edge of his table. Rescue came from an unexpected source.
“Shut UP!'' Jervis roared, in a tone of voice that hearkened back to the parade ground.
Silence descended so suddenly that Vanyel's ears rang.
"Would someone mind explaining what all this is about?" he whispered into it.
"Let me see if I have all this straight," he said, after everyone had said his or her piece - except Melenna, who'd found herself trapped by the influx of people and hadn't had the courage to push past them to escape. "Tashir now holds both thrones according to the treaty. Now that he's been acquitted, the Lineans are willing to accept him, and the Bairens are willing to take about anybody so long as it isn't a Mavelan. The problems with this are: first, he's a Herald, which means he has to be trained, and would normally mean he'd abdicate lands and titles; second, he doesn't want to be a King; third, he's very young, which would be a temptation to others to come and attack, and would drag Valdemar into defending his kingdom for him."
"Something like that," Withen admitted, as the others nodded.
"Why me?" he demanded. "Why am I suddenly the arbitrator?"
Savil flourished a piece of parchment. "Because according to this little piece of paper I have, under Randale's official seal, you understand the problems, so you're appointed full and final authority."
:I'II get you for this, Savil :
:You can try.:
He massaged his temples, and wished for wine. "All right, let's take this slowly. First of all, we've waived the rules for Heralds before when they were the only heirs. It isn't done often, but I think it's called for in this case. Lores, your Gift is Fetching, right?"
Startled, the Herald nodded.
"Fine, I hereby appoint you Tashir's mentor, to stay with him and teach him until you feel he's ready for Whites. You can serve double duty that way; mentor and envoy. Now - Tashir, would you be willing to take the ruling seat if we arranged for you to make the two lands a vassal-state? That means you are holding the lands of Randale, and it would make them part of Valdemar.''
Tashir considered that for a moment, his face sober. "D-does it have to be - do I have to be a King? I don't want to be a King. It's pretty stupid, anyway, to be a King of something you can ride across in a few days."
"Provided you can get your people to agree, I can't see what difference it makes."
"Then I'll be a Baron," Tashir replied, sitting up very straight. "Lord-Baron of the March of Lineas-Baires. If there aren't any straight-line heirs, it all goes back to Valdemar.''
Vanyel sighed his relief. If Tashir hadn't been willing to take the damned power seat - civil wars were not what Valdemar needed on the Border.
"Now, when there's a ruler as young as you, he usually has a Council of older people to advise him - "
"There isn't one," Tashir interrupted. "Father had one, but they all died."
"True. Have you any objections to my appointing you one?"
Tashir shook his head, and Vanyel plowed on before anyone could stop him. "First Councilor and Chamberlain, Herald Lores. Second Councilor and Seneschal, Kaster Ashkevron. He's Meke's right hand, Father, and he's Meke's accountant. Any objections so far?"
Withen snapped his mouth shut on whatever he was going to say, and shook his head.
"Right. Third Councilor, have somebody sent over from your local temple - pick a scholar. Fourth Councilor, the current Chief Elder of Highjorune. Fifth Councilor - huh. You'll need a Marshal, a good military advisor, I would think. Jervis."
"Huh?" Jervis responded, "I what?"
"He'll be very good," Vanyel continued before he could object, "and Radevel is certainly capable of taking over here as armsmaster. And since you're a bachelor, you'll need a Castelaine - otherwise you're never going to have cooked meals or clean shirts." He went blank for a moment-until his eyes fell on Melenna.
"Think you'd be able to keep Tashir in roasts, herbs, and clean linen?"
"Me?" she squeaked. "Me? Castelaine?"
"Of course, there's a catch." Vanyel was beginning to enjoy this. "You'll have to be ennobled, but Randi did give me full powers." He sa
"But - but I - but I don't know a thing about - "
"B-beanshucks," Withen rumbled, changing his epithet in mid-syllable. "You've been doing Castelaine duty here for years. Treesa'll have vapors, of course."
Savil interrupted him. "Let her have vapors. If she doesn't want to mind Forst Reach, let Meke's lady deal with it. I know young Roshya. She's a bright little thing, and I know she's been properly trained. That's one of your worst problems here, Withen - too many trained hands and not enough jobs for them."
Melenna turned anxious eyes toward Vanyel. "Herald Vanyel? Do you think that I - could-"
"I think you'll do just fine. Now - does that solve all the problems?"
Because I'm about to run out of brilliant ideas, energy, and the ability to hold off pain.
"I think so," Savil replied. "I think we can start off by collecting Kaster and showing Tashir something of what he'll be dealing with."
"You won't need me, will you?" Jervis asked suddenly.
''Probably not - at least not for a while.''
"Then I need a word or two with young Van here. Could you send to fetch me when you need me?"
Savil raised one eyebrow, but nodded.
The mob left, and Vanyel sagged as Jervis put a pitcher down on the table before him.
"Gods. That was a hell of a way to spend my first day out of bed." He cast a wistful glance at the pitcher. "I don't suppose that's wine, is it?" The Healer, used to fighters, who would use the infirmary as a good place to hold an impromptu party, had forbidden him wine. He was getting very tired of cider.
Besides, the drugs the Healer had given him were too strong. He wasn't taking them except to sleep, and the pain-dulling effects of alcohol would have been welcome.
"Well-cider," Jervis said slyly, "and help." He reached inside his jerkin and held up a little bottle of apple brandy. "Couldn't get wine past that snoop, but I could this. Figured you could use it. Little bird told me you probably weren't taking those pills."
He poured a generous dollop of brandy into each mug before adding the cider; Vanyel accepted his gratefully. "What little bird?"
"One name of Lissa. I've been playin' her eyes an' ears over here."
"She could be right," he admitted. "She knows I hate to be muddle-headed these days."
Jervis grimaced. “Anybody been on front-lines hates t' be muddle-headed. Wish them Healers'd figure that out."
"Have you heard anything out of Highjorune? Like about the palace, and the heart-stone?"
"Buried, and gonna leave it that way. Seemed safest. Van, you really think I should do this?"
"Why? Don't you?"
Jervis chewed his lip. "I dunno," he said after a moment. "Tashir trusts me. I'm getting too old to try and beat sense into more young heads than one at any one time. What do you think of the notion? Too damned foolish to believe?"
"I think you'd make a good Marshal," Vanyel replied honestly. “You've certainly proved that you aren't too old to change."
Jervis snorted. "You say that after I nearly ruined your life for you?"
"But you saved it," Vanyel pointed out. "If you hadn't been there, I would either have let the palace bury me, or I'd have gone down under Leren's knife. I'd have been dead before anyone found me. I think we're even."
"Huh." They drank in silence for a moment. The pain of Vanyel's wound seemed a bit eased.
"About Leren - you heard anything yet?"
Vanyel shook his head. "I was hoping you'd get around to him. I have some information for you, since you're relaying to Liss. Leren was mage-controlled."
Jervis swore under his breath. "So he was tryin' t' take us both out a purpose. If he hadn't gotten distracted - "
"Exactly - and I'm the one that distracted him for you; there was - I felt something about him, but it got away from me."
Jervis shook his head. "Damn. We found out he was planted on us by the Mavelans. And now the priests of Astera are sending 'finders' into every damn temple along the Border here, to see how many more there are like him. Seems the Mavelans bought themselves a temple-school. The High Prelate is not what you'd call pleased. But I guess Leren's even twistier than we thought?''
Vanyel nodded. "I told Savil this morning and she relayed it to Haven, but Liss might as well get it from you. He may have been serving the Mavelans, but he was serving somebody else, too. And I don't know who or what. It was no power I recognized.''
"And you won't ever find it from him. Liss couldn't get it out of him, and whoever it was killed him before she could turn him over to Heralds."
Vanyel swore creatively and descriptively in Tayledras. “Savil didn't tell me that.”
Jervis grimaced. “She didn't know. Liss' sergeant found him dead in his cell just this mornin', guts torn out, and nobody next or nigh him since they'd brought him dinner. But Savil an' Lores an' Tashir showed up right after that, an' that kinda got lost in tryin' t' figger out what to' do 'bout Tashir."
Vanyel pondered for a moment. "Did you ever find out why he tried to kill me?"
"Oh, aye. That was easy enough. Leren knew what was goin' on here; that Mavelan bastard was keepin' him briefed. That much Liss got outa him afore he got his insides tore out. Vedric figured you were getting too close to the truth about the boy. When he breached the shields, he didn't know we'd unraveled everything. He had it figured that his spell was too good to unravel. What he meant to do was send you Gating home, and the boy with you. Leren was supposed to knife you both. They figured you'd use the same place to Gate into as last time, so Leren was waiting once Vedric contacted him. What they didn't figure on was Savil and me bein' there, nor you and Savil splitting up, and they didn't figure on me bein' with you an' not the boy."
"I'm glad you were," Vanyel said, softly. "If it hadn't been for you throwing my own words back in my face - well, I wouldn't be here."
"Is that a thing to thank me for?" Jervis asked unexpectedly. "How much you going to take before you crack?"
"As much," Vanyel replied deliberately, "as I have to."
Jervis pondered that a moment. "Van - are we friends now?''
Vanyel closed his eyes. "We're friends. And I think I know what your next question is going to be. You want to know why I'm sending you away with Tashir."
"I'm trying to scatter my targets. I had a lot of time to think, the past couple of days. I figured out something. Enemies might not be able to get me, but they can get at me through the people I care for. Some of them - they're pretty well protected. But ordinary people, like you, Medren - " He shook his head. "So I'm trying to send you all away - far away from me. The farther away you are, the safer you are. Either you'll be too distant to get at, or it will look as if I don't care. Either way, you'II be all right."
"And you'll be alone."
"That's better than knowing you took a mage-bolt because someone wanted to rock me,” he retorted, and swallowed the contents of the mug at a gulp.
Silence, then Jervis reached out and refilled his mug. Vanyel found himself getting a little light-headed. "Let me ask about something inconsequential; how's Medren? Is he going to forgive me for wrecking his old lute?''
"Lute?" Jervis chortled. "He'd have forgiven you for wrecking Forst Reach so long as you came back safe. Funny thing; remember you said Medren'd be safe from the Swarm because he was Bardic-Gifted and not Mage?
You was almost right. Seems like the instant the Swarm tried t' find a target here, ev'ry one of his lute strings snapped. How's that for strange?"
Vanyel shook his head. Too close. Too damned close. I was right.
"Anyway, he's safe at Bardic; word came back from a Bard called Breda that 'if there's any more at home like him, they're staging a raid."
"Better than well. I think that's the reason Melenna decided to take that Castelaine position. I think she's startin' to look at being something other than 'Somebody's lady' or 'Somebody's momma.' I think maybe she wants to take a shot at being Somebody, herself."