Table of Contents
HERALD'S DOOM ...
Surrounded before she could even think of calling out for aid, Talia fought with every trick she'd learned from the weapons master, but it was hopeless. Struggling, she was half-carried, half-dragged to the river bank, and tossed up into the air, landing in the icy waters of the river with a shock that drove what little breath she had from her lungs.
Unable to breathe, or to cry out for help, her mind shrieked in incoherent fear.
Then, like a gift from the gods, a trumpeting neigh split the air and something huge plunged in beside her. Strong teeth seized her collar, pulling her within reach of a broad, white back that rose beside her like magic.
“Rolan!” she gasped, trying to make her fingers work enough to grab mane or tail. For a moment it almost seemed as if it would work. Then Talia's fingers loosed their grip and she began sliding away, dragged by the strong pull of the current. And as the water closed over her head, darkness closed over her mind....
NOVELS BY MERCEDES LACKEY
available from DAW Books:
THE NOVELS OF VALDEMAR:
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
SWORD OF ICE
SUN IN GLORY
CHANGING THE WORLD
BY THE SWORD
TAKE A THIEF
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
*Coming soon from DAW Books
And don't miss:
THE VALDEMAR COMPANION
Edited by John Helfers and Denise Little
Copyright Â© 1987 by Mercedes R. Lackey.
For color prints of Jody Lee's paintings, please contact:
The Cerridwen Enterprise
P.O. Box 10161
Kansas City, MO 64111
DAW Book Collectors No. 702.
First Printing, March 1987
eISBN : 978-1-101-49737-1
to Marion Zimmer Bradley
and Lisa Waters
could do this ...
A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the tree, but the young girl seated beneath it did not seem to notice. An adolescent of thirteen or thereabouts, she was, by her plain costume, a member of one of the solemn and straight-laced Hold families that lived in this Borderland of Valdemarâcome there to settle a bare two generations ago. She was dressed (as any young Holdgirl would be) in plain brown breeches and a long, sleeved tunic. Her unruly brown curls had been cut short in an unsuccessful attempt to tame them to conform to Hold standards. She would have presented a strange sight to anyone familiar with Holderfolk; for while she sat and carded the undyed wool she had earlier cleaned, she was reading. Few Hold girls could read, and none did so for pleasure. That was a privilege normally reserved, by longstanding tradition, for the men and boys of the Holdings. A female's place was not to be learned; a girl readingâeven if she
doing a womanly task at the same timeâwas as out of place as a scarlet jay among crows.
If anyone could have seen her thoughts at that moment, they would have known her to be even more of a misfit than her reading implied.
Vanyel was a dim shape in the darkness beside her; there was no moon, and only the dim light of the stars penetrated the boughs of the hemlock bushes they hid beneath. She only knew he was there by the faint sound of his breathing, though they lay so closely together that had she moved her hand a fraction of an inch, she'd have touched him. Training and discipline held her quiet, though under other circumstances she'd have been shivering so hard her teeth would have rattled. The starlight reflected on the snow beneath them was enough to see byâenough to see the deadly danger to Valdemar that moved below them.
Beneath their ledge, in the narrow pass between Dellcrag and Mount Thurlos, the army of the Dark Servants was passing. They were nearly as silent as the two who watched them; only a creak of snow, the occasional crack of a broken branch, or the faint jingling of armor or harness betrayed them. She marveled at the discipline their silent passage revealed; marveled, and feared. How could the tiny outpost of the Border Guard that lay to the south of them ever hope to make a stand against these warriors who were also magicians? Bad enough that they were outnumbered a hundred to oneâthese were no simple barbarians coming against the forces of Valdemar this time, who could be defeated by their own refusal to acknowledge any one of their own as overall leader. No, these fighters bowed to an iron-willed leader the equal of any in Valdemar, and their ranks held only the trained and seasoned.
She started as Vanyel's hand lightly touched the back of her neck, and came out of her half-trance. He tugged slightly at her sleeve; she backed carefully out of the thicket, obedient to his signal.
“Now what?” she whispered, when they were safely around the ledge with the bulk of a stone outcropping between them and the Dark Servants.
“One of us has to alert the King, while the other holds them off at the other end of the passâ”
“With what army?” she asked, fear making her voice sharp with sarcasm.
“You forget, little sisterâI need no armyâ” the sudden flare of light from Vanyel's outstretched hand illuminated his ironic smile, and bathed his white uniform in an eerie blue wash for one moment. She shuddered; his saturnine features had always looked faintly sinister to her, and in the blue light his face had looked demonic. Vanyel held a morbid fascination for herâdangerous, the man was; not like his gentle lifemate, Bard Stefen. Possibly the lastâand some said the bestâof the Heraldmages. The Servants of Darkness had destroyed the others, one by one. Only Vanyel had been strong enough to withstand their united powers. She who had little magic in her soul could almost feel the strength of his even when he wasn't exerting it.
“Between us, my Companion and I are a match for any thousand of their witch-masters,” he continued arrogantly. “Besidesâat the far end of the pass there isn't room for more than three to walk side by side. We can hold them there easily. And I want Stefen well out of this; Yfandes couldn't carry us double, but you're light enough that Evalie could easily manage both of you.”
She bowed her head, yielding to his reasoning. “I can't like itâ”
“I know, little sisterâbut you have precious little magic, while Evalie does have speed. The sooner you go, the sooner you'll have help here for me.”
“Vanyelâ” she touched his gloved hand with one fur mitten. “Beâbe safeâ” She suddenly feared more for him than for herself. He had looked so fey when the King had placed this mission in their handsâlike a man who has seen his own death.
“As safe as may be, little sister. I swear to you, I will risk nothing I am not forced to. ”
A heartbeat later she was firmly in the saddle, Evalie galloping beneath her like a blizzard wind in horseshape. Behind her she could feel Bard Stefen clinging to her waist, and was conscious of a moment of pity for himâto him, Evalie was strange, he could not move with her, only cling awkwardly; while she felt almost as one with the Companion, touched with a magic only another Herald could share.
Their speed was reckless; breakneck. Skeletal tree-limbs reached hungrily for them, trying to seize them as they passed and pull them from Evalie's back. Always the Companion avoided them, writhing away from the clawlike branches like a ferret.
“The Dark Servantsâ” Stefen shouted in her ear “
they must know someone's gone for help. They're animating the trees against us!”
She realized, as Evalie escaped yet another trap set for them, that Stefen was rightâthe trees were indeed moving with a will of their own, and not just random waving in the wind. They reached out, hungrily, angrily; she felt the hot breath of dark magic on the back of her neck, like the noisome breath of a carrion-eater. Evalie's eyes were wide with more than fear; she knew the Companion felt the dark power, too.