Table of Contents
Strong, controlled, and near at hand.
âhis mind screamed.
The pear orchard!
âFandes leaped the hedge surrounding the gardens, and flew into the orchard.
Women were screaming at the tops of their lungs, and scattering in all directions.
It was obvious whom they were fleeing, as a brown-clad stranger raised his hands above his head.
A mageâand his target was equally obvious.
Yfandes screamed a battle-challenge just before the man let loose a bolt of mage-fire, and writhed sideways as she tried to evade the bolt, but was only partially successful. The edge of it hit them both.
Vanyel was protected but Yfandes squealed as the bolt clipped her. She collapsed, going down in mid-leap, falling over onto her side. A sudden blank spot in Van's mind told him that she'd been knocked unconscious.
He wanted, needed to help her. But there was no timeâno time.
He managed to shove himself clear of her as she fell; hit the ground and rolled, and came up with mage-bolts of his own exploding from both hands.
The stranger dodged the one, and his shields absorbed the other. Then he looked directly into Vanyel's eyes, and smiled.
And then a shock that twisted the world out of all recognition in a heartbeat, picked him up by the scruff of the neck, shook him like a dog shakes a rag, and flung him into the darkness....
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
BY THE SWORD
TAKE A THIEF
SWORD OF ICE
SUN IN GLORY
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
And don't miss:
THE VALDEMAR COMPANION
Edited by John Helfers and Denise Little
Copyright Â© 1990 by Mercedes R. Lackey
All Rights Reserved.
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Interior map by Larry Dixon.
All songs Â© 1990 by Firebird Arts & Music Inc., Lyrics by
DAW Book Collectors No. 821.
First Printing, July 1990
eISBN : 978-1-101-12745-2
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and everyone who dreams of wearing Whites
Sweat ran down Herald Vanyel's back, and his ankle hurt a littleâhe hadn't twisted it, quite, when he'd slipped on the wooden floor of the salle back at the beginning of this bout, but it was still bothering him five exchanges later.
A point of weakness, and one he'd better be aware of, because his opponent was watching for such signs of weakness, sure as the sun rose.
He watched his adversary's eyes within the shadows of his helm.
Watch the eyes,
he remembered Jervis saying, over and over.
The eyes will tell you what the hands won't.
So he studied those half-hidden eyes, and tried to hide his entire body behind the quillons of his blade.
The eyes warned him, narrowing and glancing to the left just before Tantras moved. Vanyel was ready for him.
Experience told him, just before their blades touched, that this would be the last exchange. He lunged toward Tantras instead of retreating as Tran was obviously expecting, engaged and bound the other's blade, and disarmed him, all in the space of a breath.
The practice blade clattered onto the floor as Tantras shook his now-empty hand, swearing.
“Stung, did it?” Vanyel said. He straightened, and pulled at the tie holding his hair out of his eyes, letting it fall loose in damp strands. “Sorry. Didn't mean to get quite so vigorous. But you are out of shape, Tran.”
“I don't suppose you'd accept getting old as an excuse?” Tantras asked hopefully, as he took off his gloves and examined the abused fingers.
Vanyel snorted. “Not a chance. Bard Breda is old enough to be my mother, and she regularly runs me around the salle. You are woefully out of condition.”
The other Herald pulled off his helm, and laughed ruefully. “You're right. Being Seneschal's Herald may be high in status, but it's low in exercise.”
“Spar with my nephew Medren,” Vanyel replied. “If you think
fast, you should see him. That'll keep you in shape.” He unbuckled his practice gambeson while he spoke, leaving it in a pile of other equipment that needed cleaning up against the wall of the salle.
“I'll do that.” Tantras was slower in freeing himself from the heavier armor he wore. “The gods know I may need to face somebody using that cut-and-run style of yours some day, so I might as well get used to fights that are half race and half combat. And
“That's me, unorthodox to the core.” Vanyel racked his practice sword and headed for the door of the salle. “Thanks for the workout, Tran. After this morning, I needed it.”
The cool air hit his sweaty skin as he opened the door; it felt wonderful. So good, in fact, that between his reluctance to return to the Palace and the fresh crispness of the early morning, he decided to take a roundabout way back to his room. One that would take him away from people. One that would, for a moment perhaps, take his mind off things as well as his bout with Tantras had.
He headed for the paths to the Palace gardens.
Full-throated birdsong spiraled up into the empty sky. Vanyel let his thoughts drift away, following the warbling notes, leaving every weighty problem behind him until his mind was as empty as the air aboveâ
:Van, wake up! Your feet are soaked!:
Yfandes' mind-voice sounded rather aggrieved.
:And you're chilling yourself. You're going to catch a cold.:
Herald-Mage Vanyel blinked, and stared down at the dew-laden grass of the neglected garden. He couldn't actually see his feet, hidden as they were by the long, dank, dead grassâbut he could feel them, now that âFandes had called his attention back to reality. He'd come out here wearing his soft suede indoor bootsâthey'd been perfect for sparring with Tran, but nowâ
:They are undoubtedly ruined,:
she said acidly.
She sounded so like his aunt, Herald-Mage Savil, that he had to smile. “Won't be the first pair of boots I've ruined, sweetheart,” he replied mildly. His feet
were very wet.
And very cold. A week ago it wouldn't have been dew out here, it would have been frost. But Spring was well on the way now; the grass was greening under the dead growth of last year, there were young leaves unfolding on every branch, and a few of the earliest songbirds had begun to invade the garden. Vanyel had been watching and listening to a pair of them, rival male yellowthroats, square off in a duel of melody.
:Probably not the last article of clothing you'll ruin, either,:
she said with resignation.
:You've come a long way from the vain little peacock I Chose.:
“That vain little peacock you Chose would still have been in bed.” He yawned. “I think he was the more sensible one. This hour of the day is positively unholy.”
The sun was barely above the horizon, and most of the Palace inhabitants were still sleeping the sleep of the exhausted, if not the just. This half-wild garden was the only one within the Palace grounds with its eastern side unblocked by buildings or walls, and the thin, clear sunlight poured across it, making every tender leaf and grass blade glow. Tradition claimed this patch of earth and its maze of hedges and bowers to be the Queen's Gardenâwhich was the reason for its current state of neglect. There was no Queen in Valdemar now, and the King's lifebonded had more urgent cares than tending pleasure gardens.