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Only deep in dreams do you appear

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Lissa sat in the shelter of a small gazebo, hugging herself and watching the rain sliding off the roof in sheets, inches from her nose.

She had made better time to Haven than she expected, and arrived late that morning. With more temerity than she had dreamed she possessed, she had marched right into the Palace and requested an audience with the Queen. She hadn’t gotten one, of course, but the Seneschal’s Herald had come to briefly speak with her after a candlemark or two spent waiting in a small but well appointed room. He had assured her, in about two sentences, that Savil was sending regular reports on the situation and that everything was, supposedly, fine, and then dismissed her. 

At which point it had occurred to her that she hadn’t made any plans beyond this point. She didn’t even have a place to sleep. She had managed to stop a page in the hallway who knew the way to Savil’s quarters, but since no one was actually there, she felt weird about letting herself in. She didn’t know anyone else in Haven, and she hadn’t bothered to find out where Lord Corey and his family would be staying. Probably someone would find space for her in the Palace guest quarters if she requested it, but she hadn’t quite been able to face the embarrassment of asking. And she could go to an inn, maybe, but the closest inns were outside the Palace walls, and some part of her desperately wanted to be as close to the Palace as she could. So she had wandered the grounds and the gardens, until it started raining and she took refuge here.

It was dark, the only light coming from a guttering torch sheltered by the overhanging room of the nearest building, and the occasional flash of lightning. She had no idea how late it was. Candlemarks after sunset, at least.

She had just been thinking of giving up and running for Savil’s rooms, until the storm had redoubled itself a few minutes ago. She would get drenched if she went out now – and she had left her saddlebags, with her changes of clothing, in the hands of the guardsmen who had accompanied her, whom she had lost track of when she stormed into the Palace and hadn’t seen since. Gods, girl, you’re not exactly making a good showing of yourself, she thought, grumpily. This had not been well thought out. You’re supposed to be too old to need a nursemaid!

She had heard some shouting a few minutes ago, she thought, just after she saw a weird flash of light from the general direction of the Heralds’ temple, but it was hard to tell over the rain. It might just have been lightning; there was certainly enough of that.

The sound of hoofbeats jerked her out of her daydreaming. She looked around in time to see a white-clad Herald sprinting out through the nearest door, on a collision course with a Companion now leaping the short wall that surrounded the ornamental garden. She had started to stand when the two met. A roll of thunder drowned out her shouted question; the Herald clambered onto his Companion’s back and moments later they were galloping in the opposite direction.

She stared after them. Something’s wrong. People only moved that fast in emergencies, and no one would be out in weather like this unless they were urgently needed. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with her…but she had a bad feeling.

For a moment she hovered under the shelter, indecisive. Then she took a deep breath and dashed out into the rain.

It was colder than she had expected and her riding leathers were drenched in seconds. Visibility was poor; she lost sight of the Herald-Companion pair when she had gone only a dozen paces. She kept running, though, she was already wet now and she might as well find out what was going on. Maybe she could make herself useful.

She was almost in sight of the river when another Companion passed her, a tall stallion, bearing a plump woman carrying a bundle of something, who she thought might be wearing Healer greens – it was hard to tell the colour in the dark, but the cut looked right. She ran harder, the breath wheezing in her chest. Gods, I thought I was in good shape!

There was a light in the distance, on the bank of the river. Clean white light, nothing that came from a torch or lantern. Her foot slipped in a patch of mud and she fell hard, catching herself and rolling over her shoulder. Ow. She scrambled up, pushed a hank of sopping hair out of her eyes, and kept running.

Gradually, the strangest diorama she had ever seem swam into view, lit by a small, glowing globe that definitely wasn’t natural. Several Companions were standing around, mud-splattered to the withers, and another, a mare, was down on her haunches, practically lying on the ground, under the shelter of…something. The rain seemed to be sliding from an invisible surface, falling in a circular sheet around the scene. An older but powerful-looking man in Herald’s Whites, so wet they were half-transparent and clung to his muscled torso, sat back on his heels. The plump Healer, another curly-haired young woman – no, she was barely more than a child, maybe twelve or thirteen years old – and a young man were kneeling around something.

A second Herald, the young man she had seen dashing out of the Palace, was leaning against his Companion’s shoulder. She could see his lips moving as he spoke to the older Herald, but a burst of thunder drowned out his words.

What’s going on?

She heard hoofbeats behind her, and moments later yet another Herald, a woman this time, had passed her on her way to the scene.

She slowed to a jog, then a careful walk; the ground was a morass of mud, the sodden grass torn up by the passage of hooves. She still almost slipped and fell again as she reached the two young Heralds, now speaking to each other.

They ignored her as she bent over and tried to catch her breath, blinking rainwater out of her eyes. What was going on? The Companion and people were clustered around a blanket-draped figure, all she could really see was a shock of wet black hair–

Her heart thudded in her chest. No, it was impossible. No, gods, no. She stumbled around the strange invisible ceiling, trying to get a better look, and then she sank to her knees.

She closed her eyes, open them. Still the same. “Van,” she breathed, feeling numb. “Oh, Van, no…” She rubbed at her eyes. What…how…?

She felt a touch on her shoulder, and lifted her head. The young man looked into her eyes. He was about eighteen, she thought, tall and slim, his blond hair darkened by rain. “Do you know him?” he said.

“He’s my brother…” She felt faint. “I don’t understand.”

“Yfandes pulled him out of the river,” the boy said, looking at her with sympathy.

Vanyel lay on his side, eyes closed, his face deathly pale and his lips bluish. His breathing was laboured and shallow. A deep cut across his cheekbone bled sluggishly, and a bruise was purpling on his forehead.

She took a deep breath, tried to slow her racing heart. Whatever was going on, panicking wasn’t going to help. She looked up at the Companion, meeting blue eyes like a piece of sky. “Yfandes, I’m guessing? I wish you could tell me what’s going on!” 

:It should be bloody obvious: a woman’s voice said in her head, dry with a hint of amusement over a great deal of anxiety. :I Chose your brother, but for some damned reason he went and jumped into the godforsaken river, and here I am hoping my Chosen doesn’t die on me before I’ve even met him!: Then the mare went back to ignoring her, too.

She sat back on her heels. “I must be dreaming,” she said to herself. “I hope I’m dreaming. Oh, gods, Van…”

“Gemma?” the older Herald said, looking at the woman in Healer’s robes. “Can we move him?”

The woman took a long moment to respond, and her voice was flat when she did. “Think we’d better. Move your barrier with us? Should keep the rain off him.”

More quiet voices behind her. Lissa looked over her shoulder. There were four Heralds now, standing around and watching, and a fifth was sliding down from her Companion’s back.

Vanyel wasn’t even supposed to be in Haven! Her mind was still skidding, not quite believing her senses, everything felt slightly unreal.

The older Herald raised his hand, beckoning to the others. “All right, we can use your hands now. I’ll move the mage-barrier and the light with us.”

Lissa stood and took a step back, trying to get out of the way, unsure if she ought to be doing something to help. It was very odd to see the water pooling and sliding from, apparently, nothing. She had never seen magic done before.

“–Wait.” The man frowned. “Taver says Yfandes says absolutely not to take him to Healers’. I can’t think why, but I suppose it’s not too far to Savil’s rooms.” He ran a hand over his face, then slowly levered himself up on one knee. “Let’s move.”

 


 

Elspeth, Queen of Valdemar, sighed and put aside the harvest-tax report she was trying to read. She could hear rain pounding away at the stone roof of the Palace, and despite the fire blazing in her private office, the storm was making her bones ache. She was tired and cranky and longed for her bed. Not that she was likely to find it at any reasonable time tonight!

Not for the first time, she wished they had more really strong Mindspeakers. Tantras was very good, but even his prodigious range could only cover half the distance between the Leshara holding and Haven, so his messages had to be passed up-chain through another Herald before reaching her. Usually that was fine; usually a delay of up to a candlemark made no difference, and it was rare that she questioned the judgement of the Herald on-site anyway.

This time they had received two fragmentary messages, only about ten minutes apart, from Savil via Tantras and then passed urgently through several intermediaries until it reached her – well, Jaysen, she herself wasn’t a Mindspeaker. And she had actually received them both at the same time, after Jaysen – correctly, probably, at the time – judged the first message didn’t need her personal attention.

One: the Ashkevron boy had apparently been missing for several hours. A search was in progress. It was a routine update message and no one sounded very alarmed at that point, just irritated.

Two: they had found his horse, dead, and a trail. They were starting a search. That message came with an emergency header.

It hadn’t been long at all after that when the Death Bell rang. Which was a very, very bad sign. Quite possibly there was another message on its way to her right now, but until then she had no way of knowing. It made her feel so helpless, as though she were blind and deaf.

Damn it, Savil, why did you have to be so careless? She could only hope that the reinforcements she had sent would reach them in time, and that the kid wasn’t already dead – she had no way of knowing at this point. She knew a Herald was dead. Savil? One of her students? Tantras? Her mind wouldn’t stop speculating, though she knew it was a morbid waste of energy. Her job was to stay calm and do her best to get some work done, since she couldn’t affect the outcome at this point anyway – in fact, it was quite possible she ought to just go to bed, and trust her subordinates to wake her if she was needed. Then again, I'll be too worried to sleep. 

The storm had redoubled its efforts a half-candlemark ago, and she was getting flashes of alarm from her Companion and a hazy image of the river; she was too agitated to drop into the kind of trance she needed to share more detailed words and concepts at this distance, and her Companion wasn’t calling to her, like he would if her personal attention was needed. For some reason, no one could find Herald Jaysen – she had some questions for him, but apparently he had left Haven. Somehow. Without asking. The page she had summoned told her that he had also seen several Heralds go tearing outside. Why? In the name of all the gods, why? No one had seen fit to stop on their way and tell her, and this late at night, her regular secretary and attendants were in bed. Not for the first time, she lamented her lack of Mindspeech. It was a damned useful Gift.

The door banged open, and she looked up just in time to see her Queen’s Own stagger into the room, soaked and covered in mud from head to toe.

“Lance!” she yelped, leaping from her seat and running to him. She led him to a chair and pushed him down into it.

“M’alright, Beth,” he said faintly. “Just tired.”

“You’re drained to a husk.” She might not have Mage-Sight, but she had known him enough years to recognize the look in his eyes. “What happened? Was there a battle of some kind?”

He shook his head. “No. I’m afraid I fed just about all my energy to a very young Healer-trainee. You know they’re not very efficient at it when they’re new.”

Elspeth stared at him. That wasn’t an answer – it only gave her fifty more questions. “Lance,” she said, with every ounce of control she had to keep her voice level. “Please start at the beginning and tell me what’s going on.” She had no idea how the disaster currently in progress could explain Lancir’s condition. Or Jaysen up and vanishing, come to think of it, since those lands were a week’s journey away even by Companion.

Lance tried to smile, but it emerged as a grimace. When he spoke, though, it was in his normal, calming tones. “We’re still piecing it together, I’m afraid. To start with the worst part: Savil’s trainee Tylendel is dead, and he took out half the Leshara lands with him.”

“WHAT?” she yelped, much louder than she had intended. Deep breath. She tried to pull together her composure. “Please explain.”

“Um. I’m not sure what the sequence of events was, but it sounds like he found Vanyel Ashkevron – rescued him from a mage, it wasn’t Evan Leshara who had him after all, though he may have been involved – and they were ambushed by wyrsa trying to escape. He must’ve gotten separated from Herald Savil and her other students somehow. I have no idea what Savil was thinking, taking her trainees off on their own without any other support! Anyway, Trainee Tylendel and his Companion had gotten pinned down somewhere, and it sounds like he was trying to Gate them out. I – We think his Companion was killed, and then it appears he called down a Final Strike.”

Elspeth managed not to yelp out loud this time. Why– But it didn’t matter why. Think about it later.

Lancir rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “Um. There are some more details there, but it’ll take too long to explain. Anyway. Savil’s alive, but she’s hurt, and her trainee Donni is with her. Her trainee Mardic went to investigate the Gate. He’s here in Haven. Jaysen was the first one who sensed the Gate-energies on the grounds, so he got to it first, and went through to reach Savil.” He stopped and swallowed.

Elspeth gave in to the urge to rub her forehead; she didn’t have to be perfectly composed all the time with Lance, and she was getting a headache. “I don’t get it, Lance, if he...how was the Gate still–”

“We have no idea, but it was tied to Vanyel, and he made it through before...well. Yes. I don’t understand how that was possible either. Except, maybe… Nevermind. Trainee Mardic took the Gate down, rather messily – he’s in bed with backlash shock. His Companion filled Taver in on most of what I’m telling you now.” Lancir stopped. He looked down.

“What about the boy?” Elspeth pushed. “Vanyel, I mean.”

Lancir took a deep breath. He tried to speak; his voice faltered, and then came out much flatter than usual. She had never heard him sound like that. “He – he wandered off, while Mardic was in shock. Made it as far as the river, and jumped in. Deliberately, I have to assume. At which point Yfandes Chose him.”

“…Wait, what?” Another blow. It felt like someone kept kicking her feet out from under her, she couldn’t find her balance.

Lancir shrugged helplessly. “She Broadsent a call for help to every Companion in the damned city, I’m sure that’s the ‘commotion’ you picked up, and went in after him. At which point there was a great deal of panic and running around.” He gestured at his clothes. “As you can see. Anyway. He’s alive, but he’s a mess, Beth. Not only did he almost drown, he’s got a bad case of backlash; from the Gate, I have to assume; and I think there’s something else, some other kind of damage, but I didn’t have time to get a closer look. I left him with the Healers and I came straight to you.”

Elspeth felt her head reeling. She had no idea how to react. “Savil’s never going to forgive us,” she heard herself saying. “Gods. What do we tell the boy’s father?”

Lancir shrugged, too casually. “I guess it depends if he survives the night.”

She massaged her forehead. “If we lose him, we’ll lose Yfandes too, won’t we? Dammit!” She gave into the temptation to stamp her foot, like a little girl. “Damn all this to high hells, Lance! I’m too old for it!” The anger drained out of her and weariness replaced it; she felt very, very small. It was too much… “What do we do?” she said, almost plaintively.

He shrugged. “What we always do, Beth. Pick ourselves up and keep going.”

She took a deep breath, trying to gather her scattered thoughts, to claim back the cloak of composure that a Queen ought to wear. “Herald Tantras. He was still with the Lesharas, wasn’t he? Is he–”

“He’s badly hurt but he’ll live. Oh, a couple more things you should know. One. The boy’s sister is here in Haven, apparently. Lissa Ashkevron. She followed us down to the riverbank, somehow, so she saw what happened. And two. Vanyel and Tylendel were lifebonded.”

“…Oh.” Of all the things.

He sighed. “I knew. I didn’t tell anyone. Savil knew the boys were lovers; they were trying to keep it concealed from Vanyel’s father, for the obvious reason. It wasn’t my secret to share. And I’d rather not spread it around now, either, but I figured you ought to know.”

“I see.” Unexpectedly, her eyes prickled. “Poor boy. No wonder he…”

“Tried to kill himself? Yeah.” Lancir leaned forwards over his knees, dropping his head into his hands. His voice was thick. “I– I’m tired, Beth. I need time to get my own feelings sorted, and I’m not sure there will be time. Not with all the cleanup to do.”

She put her hand on his shoulder. “You blame yourself for Tylendel.”

For the first time in all the long years they had known one another, she saw tears spill over from Lancir’s blue eyes. She stepped in close and pulled his head against her chest. He took a shuddering breath, trying to regain control, and then gave in and sobbed silently against her.

Oh, Lance. We need you to be strong all the time, don’t we? But you’re only human.

He pulled away from her after only a few seconds, scrubbing his face on his sleeve. “I knew Tylendel wasn’t stable,” he said, too calmly. “He lost a load-bearing support, when his brother died. I thought that with enough time to heal, he might be all right. But he didn’t get that time, did he? I pushed for us to send him home before he was ready. The damned mage kidnapped his lifebonded partner – I’m surprised he didn’t go berserk then. But they had to kill Gala too.” He sighed heavily. “He was only human. People break. He stayed in control of the Gate-spell, and he got Vanyel through to safety. Have to give him credit for that much.”

Elspeth didn’t know what to say. There were going to be repercussions to this. People would want an explanation. It would quite possibly take years for things to calm down, and more reparations than she wanted to think about, and there was a very real risk of some kind of civil war.

But she couldn’t think about the future yet; she could only think of Tylendel’s face as she had last seen him, rocking, closed into himself, pain in every line of him. There wouldn’t even be a body left, now.

Lancir guessed her thoughts, like he always did. “Not your fault either, Beth,” he said gently. “You’re only human too, and you’re no Foreseer.”

She nodded, knowing with her head it was true, wishing her heart would believe it. “Where’s the sister now?”

“With Vanyel, I expect. They’re in Savil’s quarters. For some reason Yfandes wouldn’t let us take him to the House of Healing.”

She sighed. “Someone should talk to her, if they haven’t yet. Can you take care of that while I decide what needs to be done tonight?”

He nodded and reached out, and she offered her arm for him to pull himself up. “I’ll go straight there.”

She looked down at him. “Not before you change into something else. You look like something the cat dragged in, and what will that do for our reputation?” After a moment, she shrugged. “I’ll come with you.” There was no good reason for it, she ought to be focusing on the bigger picture, but Lancir was her best friend. Right now, she wanted his soothing presence.

 


 

Lissa sat hunched over by Vanyel’s bedside, draped in one of Savil’s robes. The room they were in was big and airy; rain lashed against the windows and the glazed door that led out to the garden. Yfandes was guarding that door like some kind of gigantic dog, after trying and failing to fit through it.

It had to be well after midnight, now, and she was exhausted. Her hair was a mess, her nose was clogged shut from crying, and she didn’t dare go near a mirror.

Vanyel hadn’t stirred the entire time, not when they were carrying him or when they had stripped him out of his wet clothes and bundled him in warm blankets. He lay too still, his breathing laboured, and his hand was ice-cold in hers.

The plump Healer, Gemma, was still there, watching Van through half-closed eyelids. She had two youngsters with her, trainee-Healers who were far too excited about the opportunity to stay up all night with a critical patient. They kept whispering to each other in the corner.

There was a polite knock at the door – not the main door to the rest of the suite, but the garden door.

“Come in,” Gemma said wearily.

The door creaked open. Lissa’s jaw dropped, and then she leapt to her feet and did her best attempt at a courtly bow; she wasn’t even going to try to curtsy. “Your majesty!”

The Queen of Valdemar nodded politely to her, then gracefully shed her cloak, passing it to the older Herald who had entered after her – Lissa recognized him from the riverbank.

“You can sit down,” the Queen said. “It’s too late at night for formalities. Outside the throne room I’m just another Herald, you know.”

Lissa hadn’t known. She stayed on her feet, staring. The Queen didn’t look very queenly. She was thin, her Whites loose on her slight body, and her dark hair, slightly damp from the rain, was messy and pulled back in a simple knot. There were bruised-looking circles under her eyes. Still, somehow she had presence – it moved with her like a mantle.

The other Herald nodded to her. “Lissa Ashkevron, right? I’m Lancir.”

The Queen’s Own Herald! She felt her eyes widening again. She had last seen him limping away with his arm on Taver’s neck, soaked to the skin and covered in mud. Now he had changed into pristine Whites and his posture was perfectly erect, his face calm and open. He hung the cloak on one of the pegs by the door, then went to stand by Queen Elspeth’s elbow.

Gods, here she was in the same room as the two most important people in Valdemar!

Gemma, who hadn’t bothered to make any greeting to them other than a short nod, jerked her chin at her two trainees, and they hurried to offer their chairs to the Heralds, and then left the room. Elspeth sat, moving gracefully; Lancir shook his head.

“How is he?” he said. The Healer shrugged.

“Hanging on. I don’t dare do more than steady his vital signs.”

“Why not?” Lissa burst in before she could stop herself. She immediately regretted her rudeness, but Lancir just smiled and turned to look at her.

“It’s to do with how Healing works, Lissa. The Healer can provide most of the required energy, but some of it has to come from the patient, which means the patient has to have enough. Healing is hard on the body. Really, all a Healer does is take a natural process and speed it up a hundredfold. If you ran a hundred times faster than you could walk for a few leagues, you’d be exhausted afterwards, wouldn’t you?”

Lissa lowered her eyes and nodded, not quite following.

“I want you to look at something, Lance,” Gemma said after a moment. “I’ve got a link to him; I just need you to follow it. I don’t want to bias you until you’ve seen it too, but honestly I don’t know what I’m looking at, and I want confirmation I’m not imagining things.”

Lancir walked over to the bed, slowly. “Why me? You know I’m not a Healer – not that kind, anyway.”

She shrugged. “You’re a Herald-Mage,” she said cryptically.

Lissa watched uncertainly as Lancir sat down in her abandoned chair, scooted it close to the bed, and placed his hand on her brother’s forehead. He closed his eyes, his face going blank, and stayed there for a long time. Lissa shifted her weight nervously and resisted the urge to chew what was left of her nails; it didn’t seem like the sort of thing one ought to do in front of their monarch.

Finally he sat back, and rubbed a hand over his face. “Well, that’s something I’ve never seen before.”

“What?” Lissa said, unable to help herself. “What is it?”

“You’re going to think I’ve gone mad.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Something’s awakened all his potential Gifts. And by all, I really do mean all – Savil’s much better trained to read this sort of thing than I am, but at very least he’s got Thoughtsensing, Empathy – both projective and receptive – Foresight, I think, and by far the strongest Mage-gift I’ve ever seen.” He let his hand fall back into his lap. “And by ‘awakened’, I mean something’s blasted him open. His channels are burned raw, gods, he must be in agony. Would be if he was conscious, rather.” He glanced over at the woman. “I see why Yfandes wouldn’t have wanted to bring him to Healers’, not with untrained mind-Gifts like this. He would be projecting everywhere if he wasn’t so deeply unconscious, and probably reading us right through our shields.”

Gemma shrugged. “Reckon she’s right. Not that I’m happy being this far from backup.” She pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. “I’ve been telling Aber for years that we need a shielded room over at Healers’ for exactly this sort of situation.”

Lancir was still staring into the middle distance. “I have no idea what could do this to someone,” he said finally.

“Think it’s m’fault, sir.” An uncertain voice came from the open doorway, and Lissa spun around. A short, sturdy brown-haired boy was watching them, swaying and hanging onto the doorframe with one hand, the other hand holding his head.

“You should be in bed, Mardic,” Gemma said wearily.

The boy ignored you. “Heard you talkin’.” His voice was slurred with exhaustion. “Didn’t get to t-tell anyone, when I took down the Gate, think maybe I did it wrong. Was fightin’ me, like it had a mind of its own, an’ I – I was rushed an’ I just kinda tried to smash it. And it came down, but I, I remember it didn’t just come apart – it went through him.” He pointed at Vanyel. “Like a b-bolt of lightning.” There were tears shining in his eyes. “I did somethin’ terrible to him, d-didn’t I?”

“You saved his life, lad,” Lancir said, standing up and crossing the room to place a hand on Mardic’s shoulder. “He wouldn’t have lasted another five minutes with the Gate still draining him. And I’m not sure anyone’s ever tried to take down someone else’s Gate when it was already going unstable like that. Hells, it can’t have been under control at all at that point, not with Tylendel dead. I might well have done the same thing you did.” Mardic looked dubiously at him, clearly not reassured.

Tylendel. That was Savil’s trainee, Lissa thought, the one with the family feud. Dead?

“I shoulda called Jaysen back,” the boy said miserably. “I, I shoulda told him I didn’t know what I was doin’!” His knees seemed to give out and he sat down suddenly against the doorframe, holding his head in both hands. “It’s my fault!”

Lancir just shook his head. “I don’t think we can really say this is anyone’s fault – well, except for Evan Leshara’s. And it might not’ve been related to you working with the Gate at all. Could be it happened when Tylendel set up the Gate through him in the first place; could be it’s from Tylendel’s Final Strike. Hells, Trainee Shavri was basically blasting him at random with Healing energy, it could’ve been that!”

Lissa rubbed her eyes. What is he talking about?

“Not likely, but I suppose it’s possible,” Gemma said. “It’s fascinating, actually, what she did – it’s something I’ve read about but never seen. We usually teach trainees to center their link on a patient’s heartbeat, so if his heart wasn’t beating when they pulled him out… Could be it’s the only thing that would’ve worked at all. Anyway.” She blinked owlishly. “Can you Heal this damage you’re talking about? I certainly can’t; I wouldn’t be able to see what I was doing.”

“I suspect you need Mage-sight,” Lancir said. “Maybe a Herald-Mage who also had a strong Healing Gift could do something? I’ve never heard of that, though. I wish Savil were here. She knows a lot more esoteric stuff than I do.”

“Speaking of Savil and Jaysen,” the Queen interrupted. “Lance, I want them back in Haven. We’ll need someone to stay on site to sort out the Lesharas, but it can’t be my Seneschal’s Herald.” She spoke calmly, but Lissa had the impression she was irritated. “Savil’s the only one I trust to stand up to Lord Ashkevron when he shows up here ready for murder, which he’s bound to do.” She looked sharply at Lancir. “Have we sent word to him, by the way? I would prefer he learned about this from an official source rather than the rumour mill.”

You can say that again, Lissa thought, trying to imagine how Father would react. Probably with a lot of shouting.

“I agree with you on the first item,” Lancir said, “but I don’t see how. Not unless we use a Gate again, and Savil won’t be up to it.”

“Jaysen will do it,” Elspeth said firmly. “He’s Master-level. Should be able to handle a Gate.”

Lancir groaned. “I’ll pass it on. Don’t think he’s ever tried to Gate even a quarter that distance. Gods. We’re going to set a record for Gating – and it’s not going to make this awful weather any better.”

“Well. Make it so. And send someone to Forst Reach for me.” She stood up and came over to Lissa, and her face softened. Close up she looked much older, her face webbed with lines. “I’m sorry, Miss Ashkevron,” she said quietly.

Lissa shook her head, confused, feeling her cheeks heat up, she could barely think with the goddamned Queen that close to her, let alone apologizing to her personally. “I, I don’t see how…”

“The situation was handled badly, and I should have prevented it. That’s what my job means. But thank you for understanding.”

Lissa swallowed hard. “I do want an explanation,” she said, before she could lose her courage.

The Queen nodded. “Lance, take care of that for me? I’ll go round up the senior Circle. Meet us in fifteen minutes.”

She moved gracefully, if a little stiffly. Lancir retrieved her cloak and helped her put it on, and she left through the door to the rest of the suite, closing it firmly behind her.

Lissa sat down heavily. Now that she wasn’t distracted by being in the same room as the goddamned Queen, she was suddenly angry. “I want to know what’s going on,” she said flatly. “Why did Savil take my brother with her in the first place, when they left? All I got was a cryptic letter from him.”

Lancir sighed. “I’m sorry. I keep forgetting that no one’s actually had a chance to tell you anything. Just a moment.” He knelt and gently shook Mardic’s shoulder. “Lad, you’d best get back to your bed.”

Mardic opened his eyes and looked at him blearily. “...Oh, it’s you. M’sorry.”

“Get some more rest. Let me help you up.” Lancir pulled the boy to his feet and, when he swayed and nearly fell, pulled his arm over his own shoulders and helped him out the door. He was back a brief interlude later; he closed the door firmly, then grabbed one of the abandoned chairs and pulled it over to sit next to Lissa.

“All right. There’s some background here that will help it fit together for you. Your brother and Tylendel Frelennye were lifebonded.”

She rubbed her eyes. I really must be dreaming this time. “What do you mean, how is that–”

“It appears your brother is – Savil would say shay’a’chern, it’s a Tayledras word, all the Valdemaran words are, well, also insults. He prefers his own sex.”

“Oh.” She groaned. She wasn’t as surprised as she would have thought, but. “Gods! Father’s going to have kittens when he finds that out!”

“Yes. I haven’t met your father, Lissa, but from what I’ve heard, I’m not altogether surprised that he might react, well, badly. But I would prefer to worry about that when the time comes.”

Lissa’s mind was racing. “So when Tylendel’s brother died...of course Van would’ve wanted to go with him when he went home! How could he not? But I’m still confused about where the Gate comes in.”

Lancir grimaced. “I’ll get there. We had sent in a dozen or so Heralds to secure the Leshara lands, in case the mage was still there, but they searched and didn’t find anything, so we had a couple platoons of the Guard relieve most of them, we couldn’t afford to leave that many circuits uncovered for long. Everything seemed fine… But it seems the mage hadn’t left and gone back to his own land after all. He must have been hiding, probably using magic to shield himself from the searchers. Yesterday afternoon he kidnapped Vanyel.”

She just stared at him. “You’re kidding.”

Lancir rubbed his eyes. “It surprised us about that much, too. I’m not sure if it was planned or just an attack of opportunity. We may know more in a few candlemarks, or we may not. It’s not like we can ask the mage anymore.”

Lissa glared at him. “How did they manage to kidnap Van anyway? Why wasn’t Savil keeping him safe?”

He shrugged. “We made a mistake. We thought there was no danger anymore, after we had Wester Leshara locked up and no sign of trouble for a week.”

She could feel the blood rushing to her face. “Damn right you made a mistake.” She knew she ought to get her anger under control, she had been trying to practice keeping her temper, but her blood was boiling at the unfairness and petty, pointless stupidity of the whole thing. “Anyway. So… Tylendel would’ve gone after Van; I guess he found him, and then tried to Gate back to Haven. What went wrong?” Her jaw worked. “I know what a Final Strike is. Why? Why didn’t he just come through the Gate with Van? Why did he kill himself? And nearly kill someone he loved as well? Why would he do that?” She was forcing the words out through sobs now; she fought to regain control.

Lancir met her eyes mildly as she stared him down. “One: they were being chased by some of the same Pelagirs creatures that killed his brother. They got his Companion. Heralds don’t take that well. Two: some more background. Tylendel wasn’t in a good place, after his brother died. They were twins, they shared a sort of bond, and losing that nearly destroyed his sanity. I spent candlemarks talking him out of a suicidal plot for revenge. I think he would’ve come through it okay eventually, with your brother’s help, but he was already unstable when this happened.”

That was it. She was on her feet, fists clenched, pulse pounding in her ears. “You. You sent him home. Knowing he wasn’t stable. Knowing there was likely to be danger. You, you knew he would lose it if anything else happened!” She spat the words out at him like nails. “Why. Did. You. Let. Him. Go.”

Vanyel moaned and stirred under the covers. His breath caught, and Gemma leapt to her feet and placed both hands on his forehead.

“I think you’d best calm down, Lissa,” Lancir said quietly, still seated. “Your brother has newly-awakened Gifts. Even unconscious, best assume he’s picking up everything both of us are thinking and feeling.” He stood up, and placed his hand over Gemma’s for a moment. “There. I’ve put my shields on him for the moment. Should have done that right away, I reckon we should really have one of us keeping him shielded all the time, but I guess we’re all distracted.”

Lissa took deep, heaving breaths, trying to slow her racing heart. Sheer terror had pierced through her when she saw Gemma jump up, it was never a good sign when a Healer moved fast like that, and she didn’t imagine intense fear would do Van any more good than intense anger. “All right. I’m not – I won’t get angry. But why?”

Lancir shrugged. “Because the whole situation over there was like a forest full of tinder, ready to go up at the slightest spark. We wanted things settled as soon as possible, in a way that wouldn’t just cause more resentment, and I thought Tylendel’s people would be more likely to listen to him than to any old Herald. And...and I thought perhaps it might do him good, to mourn his brother in the place where they grew up together.”

She bit her lip. She would only hurt Van if she let herself get angry again. And besides. The part of her that couldn’t help trying to be reasonable and kind was pointing out, quietly, that it sounded like a difficult and confusing situation, where one risk had to be balanced against another, where there were no really right decisions.

“I...understand,” she said stiffly, forcing her hands to unclench, rolling her shoulders to try to get them down from around her ears. You had a hard choice to make, you gambled, and you bet wrong. She still hated him for it, a little, but saying so wouldn’t be productive – she might’ve said it anyway a year ago, but she was learning.

“You’re a remarkable young woman, Lissa,” Lancir said; to her surprise, a small smile played around his lips. “And less like Savil than I thought. She wouldn’t have been able to see it so clearly, not at your age.” His face grew serious again. “Anyway, the rest you mostly know. ‘Lendel didn’t have the strength on his own to open a Gate, but somehow he pulled from Vanyel. I wouldn’t have thought that could work, concert work with Gates isn’t supposed to be possible at all; my only guess is that he could do it because of their lifebond. Mardic took the Gate down. Your brother jumped into the river. We pulled him out. And here we are.”

She nodded. “Yfandes Chose him,” she said slowly.

Lancir nodded. “Yes. If he lives through this, he’ll be a Herald. Which, by the way, means your father has no claim on him anymore.”

The reminder that Vanyel might not survive sent another pang through her chest – she had been trying not to think about it. “That’s a relief.”

“And one bright spot in all this darkness,” Lancir said. “He – he must be something really special. It’s been a decade that Yfandes was waiting to Choose someone.”

Lissa said nothing; she wasn’t sure what to say. Of course Van was special! But, he really wasn’t someone she would ever have pictured becoming a Herald. “He wanted to be a Bard,” she said – brokenly, pointlessly. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “I...I think I’d better go for a walk. I’m not very good at trying not to be angry.”

To her surprise, Lancir laughed. “Go, then. I don’t blame you; I think your anger does you credit, truly.”

Lissa didn’t know what to do with that. The room, for all its airiness, felt suddenly claustrophobic. She bowed stiffly to him, walked to the garden door, opened it, and ran out into the rain.

–And right into a wall of horsehide. She had forgotten about the Companion. Shaking, she threw her arms around Yfandes’ neck and buried her face in her mane, sobbing, letting go of all control.

:This is the first time I’ve really regretted being horse-shaped: the woman’s voice said in her head again. :It’s terribly inconvenient that I don’t fit through the door: