Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 4part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
Vanyel had helped with that move, since it had coincided with their return - him in full Whites - from the Pelagir Hills and the Vale of the Tayledras k'Treva. The touchiest part had been moving the magic Work Room: a transfer of energies rather than physical furniture. Savil had left that to him; since they'd shared magic so intimately and so often he knew her "resonances," and more importantly, her protections "recognized" him.
The magical transfer had been a kind of graduation exercise for him-not to prove to Savil that he could do it, but to prove his ability - and his training-to the rest of the Herald-Mages. He could still remember Jaysen Kondre's face, when he'd stood in the middle of the new Work Room and "called" the shields and protections - and they'd swarmed up and followed him like bees with a migrating queen, settling into place as solidly as if they'd been cast on the new room from the beginning. Jays had looked as if he'd just swallowed a live fish.
Savil's suite now was of four rooms only; her protages' bedroom, and her bedroom, sitting room and Work Room.
:Van-: Yfandes said sleepily into his mind. :Ask Jays to get you a Work Room this time. You need a Work Room.:
:I thought you were asleep. How many times do I have to tell you that I don't need one before you'll believe me?: he replied.
:But - : Even after all these years, Yfandes still wasn't used to the idea that Vanyel's methods weren't quite the same as the other Herald-Mages'.
:I can use Savil's if I'm working formal magic. When I'm in the field, I don't have time to muck about with formalities.:
He shook his head, glad that the only other people about were used to Heralds and the way they seemed to mutter at themselves. When he'd been in the field, he'd frequently gotten knowing looks and averted eyes. :Go back to sleep, 'Fandes.:
She gave up. You ought to know by now that you can's out-stubborn me, sweetling.
Savil was still his master when it came to magic that required long, painstaking setups. Vanyel's talents lay elsewhere. He had neither master nor even peer when a crisis called for instant decision and instant action. It was that ability to use his powers on a moment's notice that made him second - rank to no one in power, and second only to Shavri in the Heraldic Circle; that, and the ability to use the lines and currents of power, and the nodes where they met, as the Ancients had done and the Tay-ledras could still do, though none of the other Herald-Mages except Savil could.
He squinted against the light as he entered the new wing. The paneling of the new section had not had time to darken with age: the halls here seemed very bright, though they no longer smelled "new."
This section feels even emptier than the old quarters; I don't think more than half the ground-floor rooms have
claimants, there's less than that on the second floor, and none at all on the third. I can't see how we'II ever fill it.
The hall was so quiet he could hear the murmur of voices from one of the farther suites without straining his ears at all. A quick Look gave him identities; Savil and Jays. He paused for a moment and sent the tentative little mind - probe on ahead of him that was the Thought - sensing equivalent of a knock on the door, and got a wave of welcome from both minds before he had taken two steps.
Now sure of his reception - and that he wasn't interrupting anything - he crossed the remaining distance to Savil's door and pushed it open.
Savil, her silver hair braided like a coronet on the top of her head, was enthroned in her favorite chair, a huge, blue monstrosity as comfortable as it was ugly. Tall Jaysen (who always looked bleached, somehow) was half-sprawled on her couch, but he rose at Vanyel's entrance- then did a double take, and staggered back a step, hand theatrically clutched to his chest.
"My heart!" he choked. "Savil, look at your nephew! Barefoot, shaggy - headed, and shabby! Where in Havens has our peacock gone?"
"He got lost somewhere south of Horn," Vanyel replied. "I last saw him in a tavern singing trios with my mind and my wits. I haven't seen either of them in a while, either."
"Well, you surely couldn't tell it from the reports we got back," Jaysen answered, coming quickly forward and clasping his forearms with no sign of the uneasiness he'd once had around the younger Herald. “There's three new songs about you out of your year down south, in case you didn't know. Very accurate, too, amazingly enough."
Vanyel sighed. "Gods. Bards."
Jaysen cocked his graying head to the side. "You should be used to it by now. You keep doing things that make wonderful songs, so how can they resist?" He grinned. "Maybe you should stop. Become a bricklayer, for instance."
Vanyel shook his head and groaned. "It's not my fault!"
Jaysen laughed. "I'd best be off before that trio wrecks my workroom. Did Savil tell you? I've been given the proteges you'd have gotten if you hadn't been in a combat zone. Count your blessings - one's a farmgirl who had much rather be a fighter than a Herald-Mage, thank you; one's a very bewildered young man who can't for a moment imagine why he was Chosen and as a result has no confidence whatsoever; and the third is an overly confident sharpster who's actually a convicted lawbreaker!"
"Convicted of what?" Vanyel asked, amused at the woebegone expression on Jaysen's face.
"Chicanery and fraud. The old shell-and-pea game at Midsummer Fair; he was actually Chosen on the way to his sentencing, if you can believe it."
"I can believe it. It's keeping you busy, anyway."
"It is that. It's good to see you, Van." Jaysen hesitated a moment, and then put one hand on his shoulder. "Vanyel-" He locked his pale, near-colorless blue eyes with Vanyel's, and Van saw disturbance there that made him, uneasy. "Take care of yourself, would you? We need you. I don't think you realize how much."
He slipped out the door before Vanyel could respond. Van stared after him with his mouth starting to fall open.
"What in the name of sanity was that about?" he asked, perplexed, turning back to his aunt, who had not left the comfortable confines of her chair. She looked up at him measuringly.
"Have you any notion how many Herald-Mages we've lost in the last four years?" she asked, her high - cheekboned face without any readable expression.
"Two dozen?" he hazarded.
Now she looked uneasy. Not much, but enough that he could tell. "Slightly more than half the total we had when you and I came back from k'Treva. We can't replace them fast enough. The Mage-Gift was never that common in the first place, and with a rate of attrition like that - " She grimaced. "I haven't told you about this before, because there was nothing you could do about it, but after the deaths of the last year, you should know the facts. You become more important with each loss, Van. You were the only one available to send to replace those five casualties on the Karsite Border. You were the only one who could replace all five of them, all by yourself. That's why we couldn't relieve you, lad, or even send you one other Herald-Mage to give you a breather. We simply didn't have anyone to send. Speaking of which - " She raised one eyebrow as she gave him such a penetrating look that Vanyel felt as if she was seeing past his clothes to count his ribs and mark each of his scars. " - you look like hell."
"Can't anyone greet me without saying that?" he complained. "You, Tran, Jays - can't you tell me I'm looking seasoned? Or poetic? Or something?''
"Horseturds; you don't look 'seasoned,' you look like hell. You're too damned thin, your eyes are sunken, and if my Othersenses aren't fooling me, you've got no reserves - you're on your last dregs of energy."
Vanyel sighed, and folded himself up at her feet, resting his back against the front of her chair and his head against her knee. That was "home," and always would be - as Savil was more his mother than his birth-mother ever could be. "It's nothing," he replied. "At least nothing a little sleep won't cure. Come on, you know how you feel at the end of a tour of duty. You're still your old tactful self, Savil."
"Tact never was one of my strong traits, lad," she replied, and he felt her hand touch, and then begin stroking his hair. He closed his eyes and relax
"I am mortally tired, Savil," he admitted, finally. "I need this leave. It won't take long to rest up - but I do need the rest. You know, I didn't ask for this. I didn't want to be a Herald-Mage, I wanted to be a Bard. I sure as Havens didn't ask to be 'Vanyel Dragonsbreath,' or whatever it is they're calling me."
The increasingly shrill tone of his own voice finally penetrated his fog. "Savil, I - am I whining?"
She chuckled throatily. "You're whining, son."
"Hellfire," he said. "I swear, every time I lose a little sleep, I turn fifteen. A bratty fifteen, at that. I'm amazed you put up with me."
"Darling boy," she said, her hand somehow stroking his headache away, "You've earned a little whine. You're thinned out in more ways than one." She sighed. "That's the one thing I regret most about the past few years - you never do or say anything anymore without thinking about it. That's good for Herald-Mage Vanyel, but I'm not entirely certain about Vanyel Ashkevron." There was a long silence behind him, then - "There's no joy in you anymore, ke'chara. No joy at all. And that bothers me more than the circled eyes and thin cheeks."
"We've all endured too much the last five years to be able to afford to do things without thinking. As for joy - is there joy anywhere, anymore? We've all lost so much - so many friends gone - "
Another long silence. "I don't know."
He cleared his throat, and changed the subject. "I didn't feel a third here. You aren't teaching?"
"Can't; don't have the stamina anymore. Not and be Guardian, too."
He'd half expected that. And he half expected what quarter. "So they made you Guardian? In whose place?"
"Lancir's. Shavri can't; she tried, and she can't. The four Guardians have to be Herald-Mages. We'd hoped Healing-Gift was close enough, but she didn't pass the last trial. I think she's relieved. It's a pity; the Guardian of the East has always been King's Own, but - "
"In that case, the present I brought you may be handy." He shifted so that he could get at his pocket, and pulled out the crystal. He closed his hand around it, feeling all the smooth planes and angles pressing into his palm. "Don't you need a Prime Focus stone of your own to set in the Web? I thought you didn't have a good Prime to use for anything but personal stuff.''
"You do, and I put a stone there, but it was a Secondary Focus, an amethyst, and not what I'd have-"
He raised the hand holding the crystal above his head, parting his fingers so she could see it, but not opening his eyes or moving his head.
"Sunsinger's Glory!" she breathed. "Where did you find that?"
"Gifted me," he said, as the weight left his hand. "People keep giving me things, Savil. An opal or amber I could have used - still - you can use it, so do."
"I shall." Her hand began to stroke his hair again, and he heard the little click as she set the stone down on the table beside her. "That will make my job a bit easier." She chuckled richly. "I thought I was so lucky when it turned out my resonances worked best with rose-quartz-not like Deedre who was stuck with topaz, or Justen, with ruby. Nice, cheap stone, I thought. Won't have to go bankrupt trying to get a good one. Little did I know how hard it was to find a good, unflawed, large crystal!"
"Little did you know you were going to turn out a Guardian," he replied drowsily.
"Hmm, true." Her mind touched softly on his. Vanyel, ke'chara, you are not well. There's more silver in this lovely black hair.:
He couldn't lie mind-to-mind, not to her, so he temporized. :The silver's from working with the nodes; you should know that. As for the rest - I'm just weary, teacher - love. Just weary. Too many hours fighting too many battles, and all of it too much alone.:
:Heart - wounded?: Her Mindvoice was etched and frosted with concern.
:No, heart - whole. Just lonely. Only that. You know. I haven't time these days to go courting a friend. Not on battle - lines. And I won't ask for more than friendship - gods, how could I ask anyone to make an emotional commitment to somebody who's out trying daily to get himself killed? I'm better off alone.:
The hand on his hair trembled a little, and rested.
:I know,: she replied, finally. :There are times when I wish with all my heart I could take some of that from you.:
:Now, now, don't encourage me in my self-pity. Honestly, you and 'Fandes-: “If wishes were fishes, we'd walk on the sea, teacher - love," he said aloud. "I'd rather you could keep Father and Mother off when I'm home.” “So you're finally making that major visit they've been plaguing you for?" She took the unspoken cue and switched to less - intimate vocal speech.
"Randale sent me word just as I was leaving the Border. Several weeks leave of absence at least. And I must say, that while I'm looking forward to the rest, I'm not at all sanguine about this little sojourn in the bosom of my loving family."
"Out of experience I'm forced to tell you: even if they behave themselves, you're all too likely to find yourself the court of appeal for every family feud that's been brewing for the last ten years," she said, and laughed. "And no one will like your judgments and everyone will accuse you of favoritism."
He opened his eyes and moved his head around, propping his chin against the seat cushion. "And Mother will haul every eligible female for leagues about in on 'visits,' and Father will go cross-eyed trying to see if I 'm attempting to seduce any of the young men on the estate. And dear Father Leren will thunder sermons about fornication and perversity every holy day, and glare. Jervis will snipe at me, try to get me angry, and glare. And Mother's maid Melenna will chase me all over the property. And on and on." He made mournful eyes at her. "If I hadn't promised, I'd be greatly tempted to take my chances with Randale finding another emergency and stay here."
"I thought Lissa was stationed right near Forst Reach. She always used to be able to protect you." Savil gave him a half smile. "She was a very good little protector when you were a child."
"I don't think she's going to feel she can leave her assigned post," he said. "It seems that Border is heating up."
"Just what we need. Another Situation."
"You could have dealt with this earlier, I suppose."
He snorted. "Not likely. That whole monstrous mess of tangled emotions and misconception is why I never have spent more than a day at home if I can help it. If it isn't Mother flinging women at me, it's Father watching me out of the corner of his eye." He throttled down savagely on the wave of bitterness that crawled up his throat, but some of it emerged despite his good intentions. "Gods, Savil, I am so damned tired of the whole dance. I really need to take a couple of weeks to rest, and where else can I go? You know I daren't stay here; if I do, Randale will recruit me. He won't want to, he won't mean to, but something will come up, and he'll have to-and I won't be able to say no. If I went to Liss-assuming she has someplace to put me -she'd end up doing the same thing. I'm a tool, and neither of them dares let a tool stand idle, even when it might break."
"Easy, lad," Savil cautioned, her face clouded and troubled.
He grimaced. "Did it again. Sorry. I won't break. I'm not sure I can break. The fact is, I still look all right, and I really don't want Randi to guess how drained out I am. If he knows, he'll feel guilty, and there's nothing he can do. He has to do what he does to me. So - " Vanyel shrugged. "The strain doesn't show; it won't take long to put right. I'm as much to blame for the overload as Randi. I could say 'no' - but I never have the heart to."
"Maybe you should choose somewhere to go besides Forst Reach. Or only stay there for a day or two, then go off visiting friends, or by yourself."
"I don't want to go off somewhere alone, I'll just brood. And I haven't anyone to
MERCEDES LACKEY SERIES:
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