Magic's Promise v(lhm-2, page 8part #2 of Valdemar (02): Last Herald Mage Series
"But milord Vanyel, it was nothing, it was common plowman's pie - surely you'd have preferred wine to cider; venison or a stuffed pheasant - and you paid me far too much -"
Vanyel felt a headache coming on. "Actually, no, inn-keeper. The truth is I've been on iron-rations for so long anything rich would likely have made me ill. And venison - if I never have to see another half-raw deer - Your good, solid fare was feast enough for me. I'll tell you what -" He decided on the lie quickly. "I've been too long within walls. I have a fancy for trees and sky tomorrow; if you'll have your excellent cook make me up a packet for breakfast and lunch, I'll consider us more than even. Will that serve your honor, good sir?"
The innkeeper stared, chewing his mustache ends nervously, as if he thought Vanyel might be testing him for some reason, and then nodded agreement.
"Now I - I'm just a little more tired than I thought. If I could use the bathhouse, and get some sleep, do you think?"
To the man's credit, he supplied Vanyel with soap and towels and left him alone. In the steamy quiet of the bathhouse Vanyel managed to relax again. But the cheer of this morning was gone.
He sought release in sleep, finally, in what must have been the finest room in the inn - a huge bed wide enough for an entire family, two featherbeds and a down comforter, and sheets so fresh they almost crackled, all of it scented with orris and lavender. Far below he could still hear the laughter and singing as he climbed into the enormous bed. He blew out the candle then, feeling as lonely as he had ever been in his life, and prayed that sleep would come quickly.
For once his prayers were answered.
"I wish I dared Gate," he mused aloud, carefully examining, then peeling a hard-boiled egg. Yfandes had not said anything about his early-morning departure from the inn, or the fact that he had not waited for breakfast. It was chilly enough that he needed his cloak, and there was a delicate furring of frost on some of the tall weeds beside the roadway. "Gating would shorten this trip considerably."
:You try and I'll kick you from here to Haven,: Yfandes replied sharply, the first time she'd spoken to him this morning :That is absolutely the stupidest thing you've said in months!:
He bit into the egg and looked at her backward - pointing ears with interest. "Havens, ladylove - didn't your tryst go well?"
:My “tryst” went just fine, thank you,: she replied, her mind-voice softening. :I just get sick every time I think about what happened the last time.:
"Oh, 'Fandes, it wasn't that bad."
:Not that bad? When you were unconscious before you crossed the threshold? And hurting so badly I nearly screamed?:
"All right, it was bad," he admitted, popping the rest of the egg into his mouth and reaching into the "breakfast packet.” “And I'm not stupid enough to Gate without urgent need." He studied a roll, weighing it in his hand. It seemed awfully heavy. As good as the food had been so far, it didn't seem likely that it was underbaked, but he was not in the mood to choke down raw dough. He nibbled it dubiously, then bit into it with a great deal more enthusiasm when it proved to have sausage baked into the middle of it. "It would just be very convenient to not have to stop at inns."
:Don't tell them your real name,: she interrupted.
: If reactions like last night bother you, you don't have to tell them your real name. Tell them you're Tantras. Tran won't mind.:
" 'Fandes, that's not the point - never mind." He finished the last of his breakfast and dusted his hands off. A skein of geese flew overhead, honking. The farmers already out in the fields beside the road, scything down the grain and making it into sheaves, paused a moment and pointed at the "v" of birds. "Tran was right, and I'm going to have to get used to it, I guess. And I can't do that hiding behind someone else's name." He managed a wan smile. "It could be worse. They could be treating me like a leper because I'm shay'a'chern, instead of treating me like a godlet because I'm Herald-Mage Vanyel Demonsbane." He grimaced. "Gods, that sounds pretentious."
She slowed her pace a trifle. :It isn't that important - is it?:
"It's that important. I'm a very fallible mortal, not an Avatar. Magic is a force - a force I control, no more wonderful than a Mindspeaker's ability, or a Healer's. But they don't see it that way. To them it's something beyond anything they understand, and they're not sure it can be controlled." He sighed. "Or worse, they think magic can solve every problem."
:You thought that, once.:
"I know I did. When I was younger. Magic seemed to offer solutions to everything when I was nineteen." He shook his head, and stared out at the horizon. "For a while - for a little while - I thought I held the world. Even Jays respected me, came to be a friend. But magic couldn't force my father to tell me I'd done well in his eyes - or rather, it could force him, when I wanted the words to come freely from him. It couldn't make being shay'a'chern any easier. It couldn't bring back my Tylendel. It was just power. It's dividing me from ordinary people. Worse than that - it seems to be doing the same between me and other Heralds - and 'Fandes, that scares the hell out of me."
:You won't be getting any of the godlet treatment from your kin, I can promise you that.:
“I suppose not.''
It was getting warmer by the moment. He bundled his cloak, and wondered if he should get out his hat. Gods! Change the subject-before you brood yourself into depression again. “Do you think Father will be able to keep Mother off my back?"
:Not to put too fine a point upon it, no.:
"I didn't think so." His shoulders were beginning to hurt again. He clasped his arms behind him and arched his back, looking up at the blue, cloudless sky. "Which means she'll keep trying to cure me by throwing every female above the age of consent within leagues at me. I could almost feel sorrier for the girls than I do for myself."
:You ought to, Van.:
He looked down at Yfandes' ears in surprise.
:Did it ever occur to you that you could well have broken a fair number of susceptible young hearts?:
He raised an eyebrow, skeptically. "Aren't you exaggerating?"
:Think! What about the way you charmed that poor little kitchen girl back at the Palace?:
He winced a little, recalling the romance in her eyes, but then irritation set in. " 'Fandes, I've never done anything other than be polite to any of them."
She snorted :Exactly. Think about it. You're polite to them. Gallant. Occasionally even attentive. Think about the difference in your station and that kitchen maid's. What in Havens do you think she was expecting when you were polite to her? What does any young man of rank want when he notices a servant or a farmer's daughter?:
Now he was something more than irritated. "I don't suppose it's occurred to you that it might just be the simple fact that I'm a Herald, a safe sort of romance object? Great good gods, 'Fandes, I doubt she had any notion of my rank!"
:Well what about all those young women your mother parades before you - telling them they're prospective brides? What do they think that gallantry is?:
"I would imagine that Mother tells them plenty," he replied with heat, beginning to flush, and very glad there was no one about to overhear this conversation.
:Well, you imagine wrong. Talking to servants is beneath her. As for the others, all she ever tells them is that you - and I quote - ”lost your first love tragically. “ Now what in the Lady's name do you think that makes them want to do?:
"Gods, 'Fandes, is that somehow my fault? Was I supposed to interrogate them while they were chasing me?"
:You,: she said, ice dripping from every word, :never asked. Or bothered to ask. Or wanted to ask. It never occurred to you that Withen might not want it spread about the neighborhood that his first-born son prefers men ?:
" 'Fandes," he replied, after a long, bitter moment of silence. "I don't see where it's any of your business. It has nothing to do with my duties as a Herald."
Silence on her part. Then, :You're right. I'm sorry. I . . . overstepped myself. I - I just wanted you
"Is that what I've been doing?" he asked quietly.
:Well - yes.:
"Then I should apologize. I can't afford to react automatically to things - not even in my personal life. And - gods. Not when I'm hurting people."
A wash of relief. Then a tinge of sarcasm. :You're thinking. And about time, too. Now are you going to enjoy a long wallow in self-accusation?:
Something about the tone of her mind-voice - and the exact wording she'd used - made him pause for a moment. "Wait a minute - let me look at this from another angle." He made a mental checklist of all the young women Lady Treesa had pushed off on him, and what they'd done when he'd failed to succumb to their various charms. And the more he thought about I t-
"You are exaggerating, aren't you?" he accused.
:Well - yes. But the situation exists. What are you going to do about it?:
"Be careful, I suppose. But I'll have to watch what I say."
:Good. You're still thinking.:
"The ones Mother keeps flinging at me are the hardest. If I tell them the truth, I'll hurt Father. I'll shame him, at the least. Even if I pledge them to silence, it'll get out."
"I don't know. But I'll think about it."
:Now that is the Vanyel I Chose.: Her mind-voice was warm with approval :You’re not “just” reacting anymore :
"Havens, I've been going numb between the ears for the past year, haven't I?"
: Well - yes. You had reason but -
He nodded, slowly. "This last year - I've gotten into a lot of habits."
:Exactly. You can't let your heart or your habits control you. Not when you're who you are, and wield the power you do. Think about reacting emotionally in a battle situation. Think about even reacting reflexively, instead of tactically.: He did, and shuddered.
He always stopped at Halfway Inn - the name, he'd learned since, was a conscious pun - the hostelry that sat in the middle of the forest that cut Forst Reach off from the rest of the Kingdom.
In a way, what he had become had started here. The Inn had certainly marked his passage into a different world, though young Vanyel Ashkevron, more than half a prisoner of his escort, had not gotten the attention that Herald-Mage Vanyel got now.
It was an enormous place, and in the normal run of things very few travelers even saw the Innkeeper. A Herald was an exception. The Innkeeper himself saw to Vanyel's every whim - not that there were very many of those. The Inn was quite comfortable even for those who were less noteworthy than Vanyel.
There was less of the hero - worship here than there had been in other inns along the road. Vanyel was "local”; everyone attached to the inn and most of those staying there knew his family, his holding. They seemed to regard him with proprietary pride rather than awe, as if the things he had done were somehow reflections on them; as if his fame brought them fame. And as if they had something to do with what he had become.
In a way, perhaps they had. If events that occurred here had not made him feel so utterly alienated from the rest of the world he might not have responded as strongly as he had to Tylendel.
He left Halfway Inn just after dawn, hoping to reach Forst Reach by early afternoon at the very latest. He had always made excellent time on this last leg of his journey every other time he'd made his trips home - though he always left much faster than he arrived. . . .
But he stopped Yfandes before they had traveled more than a candlemark, while fog still wreathed the undergrowth and it was dark beneath the silent trees. The air was damp-smelling, with the tang of rotting leaves, and a hint of muskiness. No birds sang, and nothing rustled the fallen leaves underfoot or the branches overhead. This forest was always quiet, but this morning it was too quiet,
"Something's wrong," he said, straightening in his saddle, and pulling his cloak a little tighter around his shoulders.
:I can feel it, too,: Yfandes agreed, :but it's very subtle.:
This forest-unnamed, so far as he knew - had frightened him to the point of near-hysteria the first time he'd traveled this road. Now he knew why; there was magic here, old magic of the kind that the Tayledras used, that they frequently drained off in order to weaken it, and open the lands to more ''normal" human settlements The kind of magic that made the Pelagir Hills the changeling-haunted places they were. Anyone with so much as the potential for the Mage-Gift could feel enough to make them unhappy and uncomfortable.
But this magic had been dormant for a very long time.
"I'm going to probe," he said, and closed his eyes going in, then opening out -
The magic was still there, but it lay even deeper below the fabric of the forest than it had the last time he had passed this way. Now that his Gift was fully trained, he could even see the traces that told him it had been drained by the Tayledras at least twice, which meant it should be "safe." The Hawkbrothers never left wild magic behind when they abandoned an area.
But that draining and abandonment had been long ago - very long ago.
Yes, the magic still slept, deeper than the taproots or the trees and harder to reach - but it slept uneasily. All magic was akin, and all magic touched all other magic - an affinity that made the Gate-spell possible. But close proximity meant stronger ties to magics that neighbored one another; disturbance to one site frequently disturbed another.
Vanyel could feel that disturbance in the magics here A resonance with another pole of power at a distance - probably across the Border, and most probably in Baires given that the ruling family was composed of mages Something somewhere was powerfully warping kindred magic fields, and this field housed in the forest was resonating to that disturbance, like a lute string resonating to a touch on the one beside it.
But it was too far away, and the resonances too tenuous, for Vanyel to determine who was causing it, or where it originated, or even what was being done. Although -
Vanyel brought himself up out of his scanning-trance, and bit his lip in thought.
" 'Fandes, did you get anything?"
:No more than you,: she replied uneasily, resuming her pace without his prompting. - .Except - the root of all this is evil.:
"And I know better than to ask you to probe anything I can't reach. But I don't like it either. I like it even less now, with the Border uneasy. It makes me wonder if someone is forcing an issue - and if so, what, and to what end?"
:Tell Lissa. That's all you can do for now.:
He glanced uneasily to either side of him. "I'm afraid you're right, ladylove," he agreed. "I am afraid you're only too right."
Despite everything he'd told himself, despite being adult and with experiences behind him Withen could not even imagine, Vanyel felt his shoulders beginning to knot with anxiety the moment he crossed the gate marking the edge of the Forst Reach lands. By the time he rode through the gate in the wall that surrounded the Great House of the estate, he was fighting to keep himself from hunching down in the saddle like a sullen, frightened child.
It never changes. Outside these walls I may be a Herald-Mage who can admonish the King himself; inside I'm Vanyel, prodigal son, with habits we don't talk about, and tastes best politely ignored. Gods, when are they ever going to accept me for who I am ?
:Perhaps never. Perhaps when you accept yourself, Chosen.:
The unsolicited reply nettled him a little.
:Perhaps,: she continued, :when you know who you are, and know it well enough that you can't be reduced to an adolescent just by riding through the gates.:
He glanced down at Yfandes' ears, and then ahead, down the road to the destination that was causing him such discomfort. :Are you saying I don't know who I am ?:
She didn't reply, but picked her pace up to a trot - the easy kind-and rounded the final curve and hill that brought them within sight of Forst Reach itself, bulking heavy and gray against the brilliant autumn sky.
The building had once been a defensive keep, and still had something of that blocky, n
Someone had been watching for him. Vanyel saw a small, fairly androgynous figure leave a position on a little rise beside the road and run toward the main building. It vanished somewhere in the vicinity of one of the old postern gates, which were now doors, and Vanyel assumed he (or she, though it was probably a page) had gone to tell the rest of the household that he had arrived. Heralds were distinctive enough to be spotted at any distance, and few enough that it would be safe to assume that any Herald coming to Forst Reach was going to be Vanyel.
MERCEDES LACKEY SERIES:
Other author's books:
- ChoicesEye SpyApex: A Hunter NovelThe Snow QueenThe Mage WarsA Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, Volume 2The Outstretched Shadow ou(tom-1The Serpent's Shadow
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