The wild magic is taking its toll on the land. Many Heralds and Herald-Mages have died fighting to preserve the peace. Even Vanyel, the most powerful of the Herald-Mages is almost at the end of his strength, in need of a respite from the dual threats of war and dark magic. But for Vanyel, there can be no rest. Not when his Companion, Yfandes, receives a summons which can’t be ignored—a desperate cry for help which draws them both into the heart of a magical holocaust in the neighboring kingdom. Almost overwhelmed by the devastation they discover there, Herald-Mage and Companion must try to unravel this tragic mystery. Is the young Prince Tashir, a newly Chosen Herald who can’t control his own magic, responsible for the destruction? Or is Tashir a pawn in a deeper, more deadly game—and, if so, will Vanyel be able to find and defeat the true destroyer before this master of dark powers can strike again? Don’t miss MAGIC’S PAWN, the first novel The Last-Herald Mage trilogy.
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Mercedes Lackey is a full-time writer and has published numerous novels and works of short fiction, including the bestselling Heralds of Valdemar series. She is also a professional lyricist and a licensed wild bird rehabilitator. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and collaborator, artist Larry Dixon, and their flock of parrots.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Copyright © 1990 by Mercedes R. Lackey.
All Rights Reserved.
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DAW Book Collectors No. 803.
First Printing, January 1990
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
Table of Contents
Also by Mercedes Lackey
It was like something out of his worst nightmares. . . .
A Herald, with a heavy carter’s whip, beating the young Companion until his skin came away in strips and blood striped bright on the snowy hide, trying to separate him from his newly-Chosen boy.
Vanyel pulled on the power within him, feeling it leap, wild and undisciplined, as the other Herald staggered, prepared to lash out with the whip again. Flinging out his left hand, Van sent a lash of his own, a lash of lightning from his outstretched finger to the whipstock. The spark arced across the space between them with a crackle and the pungent smell of burning leather, and the dark, sallow-faced Herald dropped the whip with an exclamation of pain. Behind him, Yfandes was holding off the armsmen with squeals, lashing hooves and bared teeth; faced with her anger, they were not inclined to come to the Herald’s rescue.
“What in hell do you think you’re doing?” Vanyel thundered, letting the other feel his outrage, a wave of red anger. The older man backed up an involuntary pace, nursing his injured hand against his chest.
“Who are you to interfere—” he began, his face a caricature of thwarted authority.
“Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron,” Vanyel cut him off. “Called Demonsbane, called Shadowstalker, First Herald-Mage in Valdemar. I outrank you, Herald, and your damn fool actions tonight called me out of my bed and across the Border. You’ve exceeded your authority, and I’m ordering you to let this boy be. Who in hell are you?”
NOVELS BY MERCEDES LACKEY available from DAW Books:
THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR
ARROWS OF THE QUEEN
THE LAST HERALD-MAGE
THE MAGE WINDS
WINDS OF FATE
WINDS OF CHANGE
WINDS OF FURY
THE MAGE STORMS
VOWS AND HONOR
THE COLLEGIUM CHRONICLES
BY THE SWORD
TAKE A THIEF
SWORD OF ICE
SUN IN GLORY
CHANGING THE WORLD
FINDING THE WAY
UNDER THE VALE
Written with LARRY DIXON:
THE MAGE WARS
THE BLACK GRYPHON
THE WHITE GRYPHON
THE SILVER GRYPHON
THE BLACK SWAN
THE DRAGON JOUSTERS
THE ELEMENTAL MASTERS
THE SERPENT’S SHADOW
THE GATES OF SLEEP
PHOENIX AND ASHES
THE WIZARD OF LONDON
RESERVED FOR THE CAT
HOME FROM THE SEA
And don’t miss:
THE VALDEMAR COMPANION
Edited by John Helfers and Denise Little
Elizabeth (Betsy) Wollheim
Who said—“Go for it”
The blue leather saddlebags and a canvas pack, all bulging with filthy clothing and miscellaneous gear, landed in the corner of Vanyel’s room with three dull thuds. The lute, still in its padded leather case, slithered over the back of one of the two overstuffed chairs and landed with a softer pumph, to rest in the cradle of the worn red seat cushion. Once safely there it sagged, leaning over sideways like a fat, drunken child. The dark leather lute case glowed dully in the mid-morning sun still coming in the single eastward-facing window. Two years of mistreatment had not marred the finish too much, although the case was scuffed here and there, and had been torn and remended with tiny, careful stitches along the belly.
Vanyel grimaced at the all-too-visible tear. Torn? No; no tear would be that even. Say cut, or slashed and it would be nearer the truth. Pray nobody else notices that.
Better the lute case than me . . . that came closer than I really want to think about. I hope Savil never gets a good look at it. She’d know what that meant, and she’d have a cat.
Herald-Mage Vanyel took the other chair gracelessly, dropping all his weight at once into the embrace of comfortable upholstered arms.
Home at last. Havens, I sound like the pack hitting the corner.
“O-o-oh.” Vanyel leaned back, feeling every muscle in his body crying out with long-ignored aches and strains. His thoughts fumbled their way into his conscious mind through a fog of utter exhaustion. He wanted, more than anything, to close his gritty eyes. But he didn’t dare, because the moment he did, he’d fall asleep.
Someday I’m going to remember I’m not sixteen anymore, and keep in mind that I can’t stay up till all hours, then rise with the dawn, and not pay for it.
A few moments ago his Companion Yfandes had fallen asleep, standing up in the stable, while he was grooming her. They’d started out on this last leg of their journey long before dawn this morning, and had pushed their limits, eating up the last dregs of their strength just to get to the sanctuary of “home” the sooner.
Gods. If only I would never have to see the Karsite Border again.
No chance of that. Lord and Lady, if you love me, just give me enough time to get my wind back. That’s all I ask. Time enough to feel like a human again, and not a killing machine.
The room smelled strongly of soap and the beeswax used to polish the furniture and wall paneling. He stretched, listening to his joints crack, then blinked at his surroundings.
Peculiar. Why doesn’t this feel like home? He pondered for a moment, for it seemed to him that his modest, goldenoak-paneled quarters had the anonymous, overly-neat look of a room without a current occupant. I suppose that’s only logical, he thought reluctantly. They haven’t been occupied, much. I’ve been living out of my packs for the last year, and before that I was only here for a couple of weeks at a time at most. Gods.
It was a comfortable, warm—and quite average—room. Like any one of a dozen he’d tenanted lately, when he’d had the luxury of a guest room in some keep or other. Sparsely furnished with two chairs, a table, a desk and stool, and a wardrobe, a curtained, canopied bed in the corner. That bed was enormous—his one real indulgence: he tended to toss restlessly when—and if—he slept.
He smiled wryly, thinking how more than one person had assumed he’d wanted that particular bed for another reason entirely. They’d never believe it if I told them Savil gets more erotic exercise than I do. Oh, well. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have a lover; he’d wake up black and blue. Always assuming I didn’t strangle him by accident during a nightmare.
But other than that bed, the room was rather plain. Only one window, and that one without much of a view. It certainly wasn’t the suite he could have commanded—
But what good is a suite when I hardly see Haven, much less my own room?
He put his feet up on the low, scarred table between the chairs, in defiance of etiquette. He could have requisitioned a footstool—
But somehow I never think of it until I’m five leagues down the road headed out. There’s never enough time for—for anything. Not since Elspeth died, anyway. And gods—please let me be wrong about Randale.
His eyes blurred; he shook his head to clear them. Only then did he see the pile of letters lying beside his feet, and groaned at the all-too-familiar seal on the uppermost one. The seal of Withen, Lord of Forst Reach and Vanyel’s father.
Twenty-eight years old, and he still makes me feel fifteen, and in disgrace. Why me? he asked the gods, who did not choose to answer. He sighed again, and eyed the letter sourly. It was dauntingly thick.
Hellfire. It—and every other problem—can damned well wait until after I’ve had a bath. A bath, and something to eat that doesn’t have mold on it, and something to drink besides boiled mud. Now, did I leave anything behind the last time I was here that was fit to wear?
He struggled to his feet and rummaged in the wardrobe beside his bed, finally emerging with a shirt and breeches of an old and faded blue that had once been deep sapphire. Thank the gods. Not Whites, and I won’t be wearing Whites when I get home. It’s going to be so nice to wear something that doesn’t stain when you look at it. (Unfair, nagged his conscience—properly treated, the uniform of Heraldic Whites was so resistant to dirt and stains that the non-Heralds suspected magic. He ignored the insistent little mental voice.) Although I don’t know what I’m going to do for uniforms. Dear Father would hardly have known his son, covered in mud, stubbled, ashes in his hair.
He emptied the canvas pack on the floor and rang for a page to come and take the mishandled uniforms away to be properly dealt with. They were in exceedingly sad shape; stained with grass and mud, and blood—some of it his own—some were cut and torn, and most were nearly worn-out.
He’d have taken one look and figured I’d been possessed. Not that the Karsites didn’t try that, too. At least near-possession doesn’t leave stains . . . not on uniforms, anyway. What am I going to do for uniforms? Oh, well—worry about that after my bath.
The bathing room was at the other end of the long, wood-paneled, stone-floored hallway; at mid-morning there was no one in the hall, much less competing for the tubs and hot water. Vanyel made the long trudge in a half-daze, thinking only how good the hot water would feel. The last bath he’d had—except for the quick one at the inn last night—had been in a cold stream. A very cold stream. And with sand, not soap.
Once there, he shed his clothing and left it in a heap on the floor, filled the largest of the three wooden tubs from the copper boiler, and slid into the hot water with a sigh—
—and woke up with his arms draped over the edges and going numb, his head sagging down on his chest, and the water lukewarm and growing colder.
A hand gently touched his shoulder.
He knew without looking that it had to be a fellow Herald—if it hadn’t been, if it had even been someone as innocuous as a strange page, Vanyel’s tightly-strung nerves and battle-sharpened reflexes would have done the unforgivable. He’d have sent the intruder through the wall before he himself had even crawled out of the depths of sleep. Probably by nonmagical means, but—magical or nonmagical, he suddenly realized that he could easily hurt someone if he wasn’t careful.
He shivered a little. I’m hair triggered. And that’s not good.
“Unless you plan on turning into a fish-man,” Herald Tantras said, craning his head around the partition screening the tub from the rest of the bathing room and into Vanyel’s view with cautious care, “you’d better get out of that tub. I’m surprised you didn’t drown yourself.”
“So am I.” Vanyel blinked, tried to clear his head of cobwebs, and peered over his shoulder. “Where did you pop out of?”
“Heard you got back a couple of candlemarks ago, and I figured you’d head here first.” Tantras chuckled. “I know you and your baths. But I must admit I didn’t expect to find you turning yourself into a raisin.”
The dark-haired, dusky Herald came around the side of the wooden partition with an armload of towels. Vanyel watched him with a half-smile of not-too-purely artistic appreciation; Tantras was as graceful and as handsome as a king stag in his prime. Not shay’a’chern, but a good friend, and that was all too rare.
And getting rarer, Vanyel thought soberly. Though, Havens, I haven’t exactly had my fill of romantic companionship either, lately . . . well, celibacy isn’t going to kill me. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Gods, I should apply for the priesthood.
There was concern in the older Herald’s deep, soft eyes. “You don’t look good, Van. I figured you’d be tired—but from the way you passed out here—it must have been worse out there than I thought.”
“It was bad,” Vanyel said shortly, reluctant to discuss the past year. Even for the most powerful Herald-Mage in the Circle, holding down the positions of five other Herald-Mages while they recovered from magical attack, drainage, and shock was not a mission he wanted to think about for a long while, much less repeat. He soaped his hair, then ducked his head under the water to rinse it.
“So I heard. When I saw you playing dead in the tub, I sent a page up to your room with food and wine and sent another one off for some of my spare uniforms, since we’re about the same size.”
“Name the price, it’s yours,” Vanyel said gratefully, levering himself out of the tub with a groan and accepting the towel Tantras held out to him. “I have nothing worth wearing right now in the way of uniforms.”
“Lord and Lady—” the other Herald swore, looking at him with shock. “What have you been doing to yourself?”
Vanyel paused in his vigorous toweling, looked down, and was a little surprised himself at the evidence of damage. He’d always been lean—but now he was whipcord and bone and nothing else. Then there were the scars—knife and sword scars, a scoring of parallel claw marks on his chest where that demon had tried to remove his heart. Burn marks, too—he was striped from neck to knee with three thin, white lines where mage-lightning had gotten through his shields. And there were a few other scars that were souvenirs of his bout with a master of mage-fire.
“My job. Living on the edge. Trying to convince the Karsites that I was five Hera...
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