Magics promise vlhm 2, p.5

Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 5

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


Magic's Promise v(lhm-2

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  It was the closest he'd come to admitting that he wasn't really certain how much - or how little - reserves he still had, and he quelled the rest of what he almost said.

  "You don't look good, even they should see that, ke'chara.'' She toyed with a bit of his hair, and worried at her lower lip with her teeth. "You know, I haven't been back in - ye gods, not since I checked you all for Mage-Gift! My Familial Visitation is more than overdue."

  "But - you're a Guardian - " Hope rose in him. If only Savil would be there, he'd have one kindred soul in the lions' den! He had no doubt she was more than up to the trip; he could feel her strength even as he leaned on it.

  "Won't take me but a day to set my focus in the Web and then I can Guard from Forst Reach as easily as from here. It's only a matter of Sensing threat and sending the alert, you know. It's not as if I actually had to fight anything. And it's only because I need to keep that little corner of my mind tuned to the Web waking and sleeping that I don't have a protege - ten years ago I could have done what Jays is doing; Guard and teach three." She nodded. "This is no bad notion. Provided you don't mind having me there-"

  “Mind?” He seized her hand and kissed it.

  "Then expect me in about - oh, two weeks after you arrive. It'll take Kellan a little longer to make the trip than you youngsters."

  "Savil, if you only knew how grateful I am - "

  "Pish. I'm selfish, is what I am." A smile started to twitch at the corners of her mouth. "We can guard each other's backs this way. I'm counting on you to save me from Withen as much as you are counting on me to save you."

  He rose and kissed her forehead. "I don't care what you say, it's the most generous, unselfish thing anyone's done for me in a year. And you just may save this visit from becoming the legend of how Herald Vanyel went berserk and left his entire family tied to trees with rags stuffed in their mouths! About what time is it? I'm all turned round about from being so far south."

  She checked the angle of the sun coming in her window. "I'd guess just after Court."

  "Good; I have to catch Randale and Shavri and say

  good-bye. He promised if I didn't come when he was being 'official' he wouldn't find something for me to do."

  "Then off with you, ke'chara, and I'll see you at Forst Reach-and thank you for thinking of me," she finished, touching the stone on the table beside her.

  “Because you think of me, love.'' He kissed her cheek, then her forehead again, and left her suite.

  He stopped first at his room to change back into a set of Tran's Whites and put on the soft, low boots Heralds wore indoors; not as comfortable as going barefoot, but they beat the riding boots hands down. And if he didn't change, he might not be let into the King's quarters - every time he came back, it seemed fewer folk knew his face.

  That accomplished, and now every inch his usual neat self, he headed down to the oldest part of the Palace, the extensive set of rooms shared by King Randale; his lifebonded and King's Own, Shavri; and their daughter.

  He had scarcely crossed the threshold of the sparsely furnished audience chamber-his unfamiliar face giving a moment's apprehension to the two Guards posted at the door-when a six-year-old, curly-headed, miniature whirlwind burst through the farther door and flung herself across the audience chamber at him, evidently blithely certain he would catch her before she fell.

  Which he did, and swung her around, up and over his head while she squealed with excitement and delight. "Uncle Van!" she crowed at the top of her lungs. "UncleVanUncleVanUncleVan!"

  He started to put her down, but she demanded a hug and a kiss with the same infectious charm her "father" Randale could display whenever he chose. Vanyel hoisted her into a comfortable carrying position and complied without an argument, thinking as he did so that it was a good thing that she was still so tiny.

  "Now how did you know I was coming?" he asked her, as her bright brown eyes looked solemnly down into his.

  "Felt you," she said, giving him another hug. "Felt you in my head, all blue - glowy and swirly."

  He nearly dropped her in shock. That was surely the most vivid-and accurate-description of his aura he'd ever heard out of anyone but another high - ranking Herald-Mage.

  "Or a Healer," said Shavri, coming up beside him as he gaped at the child, and Jisa giggled at the face he was making. "Healers see you that way, too, Van. And no, I wasn't eavesdropping on your thoughts-they were plain enough from that poleaxed look on your face." There was strain and fear under Shavri's light tone, as if she walked a narrow bridge above a bottomless chasm. “Besides, you aren't the only one she's 'felt in her head' during the last three months. Let's start this greeting over; hello, Van, have you a hug for me?"

  "Always." He was already bracing himself for trouble; with that look on her face there was something seriously wrong. And that meant he'd have to be the strong one.

  He included Shavri in his arms, while Jisa flung her arms around both their necks and cuddled. "Jisa sweet, can I put you down long enough for presents?''

  "Presents?" Jisa was no different from any other six-year-old when that word came up. She squirmed a little, and he set her down, then extracted the little Companion-figure from his pouch and handed it to her. She shrieked with delight, and ran outside to show it to the two Guards. Shavri watched her go, her gypsy-dark eyes darker with unconcealed love - and something else. Something secret and profoundly unhappy. His first reaction was to want to hold her, protect her, make that unhappiness go away.

  Randi's lifebonded -

  "That's quite a little impling you're raising, Shavri," he said, instead. "Incredibly unspoiled, given that I'd lay odds she's the pet of the Circle."

  "You say that every time you see her, beast," she replied, flashing an uncertain smile, startlingly bright in her sober, dark face.

  "Well, it's true." Vanyel Looked quickly around, ascertained that they were going to be alone for a few moments, and asked quickly, "How is he?"

  The smile vanished, and the fear and unhappiness were plain for anyone who knew her to read. :Oh, gods-Van, he's sick, I can't make it go away, and I think he's dying. And I don't know why :

  :What?: He gathered his scant resources to support her-and to hide the fact that her fear was making him tremble inside.

  "He's well enough," she said lightly, but Mindspoke him with a vastly different tone :There's something wrong; it isn't affecting him much at the moment other than steady weakness and a dizzy spell now and again – but it keeps getting worse with each spell. And - oh, Van - I'm so afraid -:

  He tightened his arm around her shoulders. :Easy, flowerlet - : “Then it sounds like there's no problem with my taking this leave.” :How long has this been going on?:

  Her unshed tears knotted both their throats :Eight months. It's something I can't Heal, the gods know I've tried!:

  He felt chill creep over him. :Forgive me, Shavri, but I have to ask this. Given worst case - if it is something life-threatening, and it keeps getting worse, how long do you think he has ?:

  :If he keeps weakening at the same rate? Fifteen years-maybe less, certainly not more. Gods, Van, he won't even see fifty - he won't even see his grandchildren! Elspeth was seventy-six when she was Called!:

  There was another thought, unspoken-but Vanyel felt it, since it touched so nearly on his own private loneliness.

  I'II have to go on alone-

  He held her close to his chest, with her face pressed into his shoulder as she struggled not to cry, and clamped down a tight shield to prevent any stray thought from reaching her and frightening her. Savil supported you. You support Shavri the same way, he told himself, below the threshold of her ability to Mindhear. Let her know she won't be alone. Gods, gods, they're both so young, not even twenty-five . . . and so sheltered all their lives. Oh, Shavri - your pain hurts me-

  "Easy, love," he murmured into her hair. :Does he know ?:

  :No. Not yet. Healer's Collegium does; they’re working on it. We don't want him to know until it's cer
tain. Now you know why I won't marry him. Van, I couldn't, I'm not strong enough, I can't rule! Not alone! And when he dies - and I won't have Jisa forced onto the throne too young, either.: Her mind-voice strengthened with stubbornness. :So long as we're unwedded, it can't be forced on me nor on Jisa until all the collateral lines are exhausted. I - :

  He felt the surge of terror and grief, and tried to project strength to her, not allowing her to see how fragile that strength was at the moment. With grim certainty he knew that she would not be able to cope if the worst came - unless someone she trusted was there to help. And the only one she trusted to that extent - the only one Randi trusted - was him. Gods. They really think I can do anything - and I'm no more ready for this than she is.

  He pushed the thought away, concentrated on trying to ease some of that fear. . - Gently, sweet. Don't borrow trouble. Don't assume anything. You may cure him yet; this may turn out to be something ridiculous - and you both may get run over by a beer-wagon tomorrow!:

  That startled a weak chuckle out of her, and she blinked up at him through tears she was doing her best not to release.

  :Worry about tomorrow when it comes; enjoy now. Now, what's all this with Jisa “feeling people in her head?”:

  Footsteps made both of them look up. "Are you seducing my lady, Herald Vanyel?" asked Randale, King of Valdemar, holding out his arms to embrace both of them.

  "I'd rather seduce you, you charmer," Vanyel replied coyly, batting his eyelashes at the King. But there was an edge of bitterness there in his banter, and despite his best intentions it must have crept into his voice. He saw a hint of startlement, then of worry, creep into both their expressions.

  Lighten up, dammit, he told himself angrily. They've got their own problems – they don't need yours.

  He grinned and winked, and both of them relaxed again.

  Randale laughed heartily, and hugged him hard, taking Shavri away from Vanyel as he did so. And Vanyel felt a strange twinge; another flash of uneasiness.

  Gods, what's wrong with me?

  He didn't stop to think about it. The hug wasn't as hard as it had been a year ago - and there was a transparency about Randale that made Vanyel's heart lurch. Randale had grown a neat brown beard - was it to hide the fact that his cheeks were a little hollower? Was that tidy-to-a-fault brown hair a little lackluster? There were shadows under his dark eyes; were they there from lack of sleep, or some more sinister reason? Within a few breaths Vanyel had noted a dozen small signs of "something wrong" - all of them little things, things that someone who saw him day - in, day-out might not have noticed. But Vanyel had been away for a year, and the things he saw shook him. Gods, gods - my King, my friend - Shavri is right. You’re ill, at the very least -

  Randale was not a Herald-Mage; his Gift was FarSight, and his Mindspeech was not as sure a thing as Vanyel's and Shavri's. For once Vanyel was grateful for that lack. He changed the subject before Randale could note his unease.

  "It seems your little shadow is developing precocious Gifts," he said. "At least she said she 'felt me coming in her mind.'“ Jisa ran back in, and attached herself to Vanyel's leg. "Didn't you, imp?" He looked down at her, surprised by the surge of love he felt for the child.

  She nodded, very well pleased with herself.

  "We thought about taking her to Savil, but she's been so busy," Randale replied, shrugging. "I don't suppose you'd test her, would you? That's a major spell for anyone else but you and Savil."

  “Now I see the reason for all the concern that I stop by!" Vanyel teased. “Not that you've missed me!” “Van - " Shavri said indignantly. "I never - "

  Randale chortled, and she hit his shoulder. "You can just stop that, you beast."

  Jisa giggled, and Vanyel looked down at her. "Hold still for a minute, impling," he said. "I'm about to make your head feel funny, like Mama did when you had the measles."

  "All right," Jisa said calmly, and Vanyel had the sudden unsettling feeling that she would permit her totally-trusted "Uncle Van" to chop off her hand if he wanted to.

  He rested his palm on the top of her brown curls, and focused out and down -

  -and came out again, blinking. "Well."

  "Well, what?” Shavri and Randale demanded in the same breath.

  "She won't be a Herald-Mage, not unless she gets blasted open the way I did - which I do not recommend," he added lightly, trying to catch his breath. Even that little magic had been more of a strain than he had thought it would. "But she's carrying the potential in a double dose; she'll certainly pass it to her children. She will be a MindHealer; she is an active Empath, and her Mindspeech center is opening early, too. With that combination, Randale, she'll very likely be King's Own after Shavri."

  Gods, she is so like me. Right down to the Mage-potential. Jisa, sweetling, I swear I will do anything to keep you safe -

  Shavri trembled, and Randale's arm tightened around her shoulder. "Is she likely to be Chosen anytime soon?"

  Vanyel did not answer immediately :'Fandes?: he called, softly. :Are you awake?:

  :And following the conversation. Yes, provided it's needful for her to get the training and she stays as sweet as she is. I'd say by age ten. Maybe sooner, two years from now :

  "Yfandes guesses that if she needs the training, between age eight and ten. Remember, for the presumptive King's Own, that won't be a bonded Choosing - she won't bond until - until she gets the office. Then she'll bond with Taver.'' Vanyel ignored both Shavri's frightened face and Randale's elation. "So, given that - there's a little something she and I ought to do."

  He focused himself down again, pulling on Yfandes' strength to assist his own, and thanking the gods he could do so, because Jisa should not remain as open as she was now. This time he did not close his eyes, but locked them with the child's, and showed her without words - for she did not yet have sufficient Mindspeech to use words- how to shield herself from unwanted thoughts and emotions, and unshield again at will. He was, he feared, the only person who could have taught her at this stage; Empathy not being a normal Heraldic Gift, and most Healers not using it in the way a Herald-Mage could.

  He showed her how to find her center - she knew with an instant of studying him how to ground. The fundamentals it had taken him so long and so painfully to learn came to her with the ease of breathing, perhaps because learning was as easy as breathing at her age, and perhaps because his learning had come at the cost of so much loss and pain that had nothing to do with his Gifts.

  " - there. That should hold her until she's got enough to be taught formally. Teach her yourself, Shavri. You won't find anyone in the Heralds with Empathy as strong as hers. When she's got it at full power, she'll be able to control a mob in full cry."

  Shavri had herself back under control again, and the smile she gave Vanyel was genuine. "Thank you, love."

  He shrugged. "No thanks needed. Before I forget it - I brought you two some 'pretties' also."

  Shavri took the pendant with an exclamation of genuine delight as he handed the matching cloak-brooch to Randale. "Van, you shouldn't have - " she began.

  "Of course I should have," he said. "Who else have I got to bring things to?" It came out bleaker than he intended.

  "Oh, Van - " Her eyes softened, and Randale cleared his throat and blinked. They reached out in the same moment and each took one of his hands. He closed his eyes, and for an instant allowed himself to feel a part of their closeness.

  But it was their closeness, not his.

  And I have no right.

  "Mama, I have lessons," said a small voice, still at I Vanyel's knee.

  "Bright Havens, so you do!” Shavri exclaimed "Van - "

  "Go," he said, wrinkling his nose at her. “I'll be back in a few weeks, and maybe this tyrant of a King will let me stick around for a while this time."

  She shooed Jisa out and followed her with the light step of a young girl. Randale's gaze followed both of them.

  "You sire wonderful children, Van," he said softly.
  “You raise better ones,” Vanyel replied, uneasily. “You are Jisa's papa, don't you ever forget it. I was nothing more than the convenient means to a rather attractive little end."

  The King relaxed visibly. "I keep thinking you're going to want her back-especially now that she's showing Gifts. She's more like you than you know."

  Vanyel laughed. "Whatever would I do with her? Great I good gods, what kind of a parent would I make? I can't even train the palace cats to stay off my pillow! No, Randi, she's all yours, in everything that counts. I would rather be Uncle Van, who gets to spoil her."

  Randale reached out without looking and snagged a chair with one hand. He swung it around and put it in front of Vanyel. "She'd make a good Queen."

  "She'd make a very bad Queen," Vanyel replied, draping himself over it as Randale took another. "The things that make a good Monarch's Own are weakness in the Monarch."

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