Actions

Work Header

Magic's Path

Chapter Text

"I'm sending you to Haven, son."

Whatever Vanyel had expected his father to say when he took him aside before dinner, this wasn't it. "To Haven, sir?" he repeated carefully.

Withen nodded firmly. "I need a set of eyes and ears there. Just for the summer season, mind, you'll be home in time for the harvest."

"But..." He cut himself off before he could ask why Withen wasn't sending Mekeal or one of his other brothers instead. Vanyel didn't want to stay here and dutifully trot around behind his father as Withen went about his duties as Lord Holder.

"The fact is, son, that when those folks in Haven think of Forst Reach, they need to be able to put a face to the name. They'll be a lot more inclined to support us if they can think 'Ashkevron', not 'horses and farmers', and with the border so close, we need all the help we can get."

Vanyel nodded slowly. The logic made sense - more sense than he would have expected from his father - and yet, the unspoken question of "Why me?" remained. Maybe he's realised that Mekeal would make a far better Lord Holder than I would - and he'd enjoy it to boot. If I'm in Haven, Meke can take over some of my duties. It hurt, but as long as Withen wasn't planning some way to get rid of Vanyel permanently...

He tried to read his father's expression, but he could make out nothing other than that Withen was uncomfortable with the conversation.

"The connections you make in Haven will shape the rest of your life, son."

And suddenly everything fell into place. Oh, hellfire. He doesn't want me to make friends; he wants me to find a wife. Vanyel's blood ran cold, the same way it always did when he thought of marriage. Twenty-two years old and I still feel nothing when I look at a woman. What is wrong with me?

"I've arranged rooms with an old friend of mine. You're leaving next week."

"Yes, father," said Vanyel, giving no outward indication of his churning thoughts. I just want somebody I can talk to. Somebody like Liss; somebody who will treat me like an equal. I don't want to end up like father and mother, with nothing in common and nothing to talk about.

"I also sent a letter to your Aunt Savil," said Withen, and his expression grew even more strained. "She has Court connections and I've asked her to help you get established."

This just kept getting worse and worse. Playing nice with the ladies of Court and under the thumb of his dragon aunt? Being Lord Heir of Forst Reach had never seemed so attractive.

"I understand, father." He hesitated for a moment. "Thank you." Undoubtedly his father expected he would be thrilled at this opportunity to expand his horizons, and resented him for it.

Withen patted him awkwardly on the shoulder, but was saved from a response by the dinner bell.

Hell, maybe Father's even right, thought Vanyel, as he trailed in his father's wake towards the dining hall. Maybe I will find somebody in Haven.

--

"You're Withen's lad?" asked the gruff old man who had to be his father's old friend, Lord Grayel. "There's not much resemblance, if you don't mind me saying so."

"I'm Vanyel Ashkevron, yes," said Vanyel. He cocked his head to the side. "They say I take after my mother."

Lord Grayel snorted. "You may, at that. I haven't seen Treesa since she was a girl, but she was a pretty lass. You'll do well at Court, with a face like that."

Vanyel fought back a blush, but he found himself liking this brash, outspoken man.

"I've arranged for you to be introduced to the Queen tomorrow, and I'll give you a tour of the city, but most days you'll be left to your own devices. I'm sure you'll come up with something to occupy yourself."

The rooms he was shown to were comfortable without being extravagant. His packs were already next to the bed, waiting to be unpacked. He winced internally as he thought of the state his clothing must be in after several days of travel. His shirts would undoubtedly be completely crushed.

"I've invited my niece to join us for dinner," said Lord Grayel. "It won't be for another candlemark, so you should have time to get ready." He winked. "You'll hear the bell when it's time to come down."

Oh hellfire, thought Vanyel. I wonder if Father asked him to do that. He sat on the bed for several moments after Lord Grayel left, trying to sort through conflicting emotions. I haven't even met her, so why do I feel so resentful? If she's anything like her uncle she's probably going to be ten times more interesting than any of the ladies back home.

In the end, vanity won out over resentment. He almost wanted to laugh at himself. What's the point of bringing all these fine clothes if I won't wear them? Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Choosing the right sort of clothing occupied him for far longer than he would have expected, and he wished he'd had more warning. It needed to be conservative, since he didn't know what was in fashion in Haven, and he had to find clothes that hadn't been too badly crushed in the journey to Haven. Black is probably going to be too dramatic, even if it does look good on me. Blue, perhaps?

He steadfastly ignored the little voice in his head telling him that he didn't need to spend so much time on what he wore. This isn't Forst Reach, father. Appearances are important here.

Vanyel finished dressing just in time for the bell and hurried downstairs.

Lord Grayel's niece was named Carissa; she was nineteen years old and a student at the Bardic Collegium. Vanyel felt a little twist in his gut at that discovery, but managed to maintain a neutral facade of interest as she talked about her studies.

"Do you play anything?" she asked, turning dark brown eyes on him.

Vanyel swallowed. "No... not anymore. I used to, a little. Lute."

"Oh," she said. "That's a pity."

Vanyel wanted to apologise, but he took another sip of wine instead. "What do you play?"

Lord Grayel snorted. "You'd be better off asking what she doesn't play."

Carissa gave her uncle a tolerant smile. "I like to experiment," she said. "The artisans at Bardic always have something new for me to try."

"Like what?" asked Vanyel, curious in spite of himself.

After the meal, Lord Grayel left them alone on a pretext so obvious that Vanyel felt his cheeks burning with humiliation.

Carissa rolled her eyes as soon as her uncle had departed. "Listen, Vanyel, I think I need to let you know that no matter what my uncle has told you, I'm not looking for a husband right now."

Vanyel blinked and struggled to come up with a response. "I, er--"

"I'm sure you're very nice and all, but I'm not just at Bardic for fun. I'm going to be a Bard, and I'm going to play in noble houses and it's going to be a long, long time before I want to marry anybody."

"I don't want to get married either," offered Vanyel hesitantly.

She glanced at him sharply.

"Perhaps we could just be friends?" he continued.

Carissa appeared to consider that for a moment. "No, I don't think so. It doesn't matter what we tell anybody, they'll assume we're courting each other."

Vanyel felt himself flush again. "I see."

"I'm sorry, I must seem terribly rude. But I want to make a point to my family that this sort of thing is not acceptable, and the sooner they accept my choices in life the sooner we can all move on."

Vanyel nodded. "I understand."

"So, I'll be going now. I'll explain to my uncle on the way out."

"Good luck," he told her, in complete sincerity.

--


Dear Vanyel,

I'm sorry I was unable to greet you upon your arrival in Haven, but I was unavoidably detained on Crown business.

Since I am at present confined to my suite in the Herald's quarters, I would like to invite you to join me here for dinner tomorrow night.

Please send a message back if you are amenable to this arrangement.

Regards,
Herald-Mage Savil

Savil read the note over once, then gave it to one of the servants to deliver. If she sounded pompous, well, there was nothing she could do about that.

I don't have time for this, Withen, you arrogant ass. If you'd wanted him to have 'connections' you should have sent him to the Collegium when he was a boy.

She'd only met Vanyel once and remembered him as spoiled, arrogant and far too pretty for his own good. She could hardly imagine what another eight years had wrought.

The sole puzzle to her mind was Withen's reference to "suitable female company". Had Vanyel been courting the wrong kind of girl? Sleeping around with no thought to marriage?

If he's twenty-two and no hint of an engagement on the horizon, I should think the problem is whether or not the male is suitable, not the female company he courts. Gods!

The afternoon brought with it a reply from her nephew.


Dear Aunt, I would be honoured to join you in your suite tomorrow evening.

Sincerely, Vanyel Ashkevron.

Well, at least he's polite, thought Savil.

Polite and punctual - Vanyel arrived at her door right at the specified time and greeted her with an elegant, charming smile. He was dressed well, although she didn't know enough of the current fashions to determine whether he'd made a special effort or not.

A decade had only improved his features, and the sullen arrogance of youth had been replaced by a refined indifference that Savil didn't quite know what to make of. "You'll forgive me not getting up," said Savil, indicating her bound leg, "but I'm under orders not to move on pain of death."

Vanyel took the chair she indicated and sat down carefully. "If those orders are from the Healer, I think that would be counter-productive," he commented.

She would bet that wit was winning him friends in Court. She snorted in response. "Logic is often lost on Healers, I'm afraid."

Vanyel gave her a tentative smile.

"So, you've been in Haven a week. How are you finding it?"

Vanyel hesitated, and she was abruptly reminded of a trickster trying to decide between roles. Her perception of her nephew shifted again.

Apparently settling on 'cheerful and somewhat vapid', Vanyel replied, "Oh, it's fine. Everybody has been very friendly and it's a beautiful city. I'm sure I will be very happy here."

"I would have invited you earlier, but as you can see, circumstances delayed my return."

Vanyel glanced at her injured leg. "May I ask what happened?"

"Karsite demon got through my shields," she said bluntly. "I wasn't prepared for ambush at a diplomatic meeting. We managed to fight them off, but it was a close call."

"Oh," said Vanyel.

An awkward pause followed, which she was accustomed to receiving whenever she discussed a Herald-Mage's duties with the un-Gifted. To Vanyel's credit, he didn't seem frightened of her, just... subdued.

Better that than his eyes light up and demand more details, she thought. She'd seen that far too often with young men of his upbringing.

"I--" she started, but her reply was cut short by a knock on her door. A little irritated at the interruption and hoping it wasn't a sign of something desperately wrong, she gestured at the door. "Could you get that for me?"

Vanyel rose with easy grace - I bet he practices that, she thought cynically - and opened the door.

"Oh, I... Isn't this Herald-Mage Savil's suite?"

She thought she recognised that confused voice, and she was justified when a familiar dark-gold head popped around the door. "Tylendel? It's all right, come on in. I'm just bed-ridden at the moment."

Tylendel gave Vanyel a sideways glance, but walked to her smoothly, and picked up her hand to kiss it in greeting. "You, confined to your suite? I bet the staff are hating every moment."

"You bet the staff are hating it!" she said, in mock outrage.

"Well, with your temper, how could they not?"

Savil laughed. "Gods, I've missed you. What happened? We weren't expecting you back for another week."

"Gala and I were quite sick of being on the road, so we pushed every boundary we could to get back as quickly as possible. And, before you ask, we have a very fine treaty to show for our efforts."

"Well, at least something is going right," she remarked.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Vanyel gingerly sitting back down on the edge of his chair. "Tylendel, I'd like to introduce you to my nephew, Vanyel Ashkevron. Vanyel, this is Herald-Mage Tylendel Frelennye."

Tylendel glanced at Vanyel with renewed interest. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Vanyel."

:Down, boy,: she said, establishing a Mindspeech link with ease. :He's his father's heir.: Best to nip this one in the bud. Tylendel was a little too quick to lose his heart to impossible causes.

Vanyel murmured something polite in response.

:He is lovely, though,: replied Tylendel, punctuating it with a purely mental sigh. :You don't let me have any fun at all.:

:If he's anything like his father you'll only get your heart broken. I'm just looking out for your well-being.:

Another mental sigh.

"Vanyel, would you mind if we take a third for dinner? Tylendel was my own trainee, and it's been a good year since we've had a chance to talk." She winked at 'Lendel. "Who knows when we'll get another chance? You could be whisked off on another mission tomorrow."

"You're being unfair. I should think I'll have at least a week!" Tylendel protested, laughing.

Vanyel blinked slowly. "No, of course," he said quietly. "I understand."

She felt a little bad, but of the choice between awkward conversation with her nephew and Tylendel's always-witty commentary on his latest missions, well - there wasn't any choice.

"Tell me about Hardorn," demanded Savil.

--

Despite his best efforts, that evening in Savil's suite kept coming to the fore of Vanyel's thoughts the next day, and the day after that.

Unable to concentrate on his reading, he'd finally taken the opportunity to explore the palace gardens.

His thoughts burned with humiliation at how quick his aunt had been to dismiss him, but the arrival of the second Herald had, he felt, made up for that failure. Throughout the day he was periodically distracted by one memory or another of something the Herald had said, and it never failed to bring a smile to his face.

Even envy and a dash of resentment couldn't bring him to dislike Tylendel Frelennye.

"Oi! Vanyel!"

Vanyel looked up and, as if his thoughts had summoned him, Tylendel finished striding the few steps between them. "Herald Tylendel," he greeted him politely, ignoring the little swoop of delight in his stomach that the Herald had recognised him. Gods. What does that mean?

"I want to apologise for the other night. It was unaccountably rude of me to interrupt your dinner with your aunt."

Vanyel laughed brightly. "Oh, Havens, don't worry about that."

Tylendel cocked his head to the side and looked Vanyel up and down. "Savil says you're new to Haven."

He nodded. "It's just for the summer; my father wants me to widen my horizons. Forst Reach is a long way from Haven."

"Right at the border with Lineas, isn't it? Where are you staying?"

"With Lord Grayel, in town. He's an old friend of my father's."

Tylendel nodded. "I've met him. I think he was-- Oh, hellfire, hide me?" He ducked and made a token effort to conceal himself behind Vanyel.

Vanyel stared at the Herald in bemusement, but soon became aware of somebody else running towards them.

"Herald Tylendel, sir! I have a message for you!" The palace servant bowed quickly to both of them.

"Oh, let's have it," said Tylendel, straightening himself. "But if it's another meeting I'm lodging a formal protest. I've hardly had a moment to myself since I got back." He unsealed the message and read it through.

Vanyel had been preparing to sneak away, but Tylendel caught his eye again. "Just a social invitation, thank the gods."

"Shall I take a message back?" asked the servant.

"Yes, tell Randale I'll be happy to take dinner with him."

The page nodded and departed.

Vanyel shifted his weight onto his other leg. "Was there something else you wanted, Herald Tylendel?"

"Gods, don't keep trotting out my rank like that. We're the same age, or near to it."

Vanyel nodded uncomfortably and waited for him to continue.

"I just wanted to know that you can ask me if there's anything you need. I know how hard it can be to establish yourself in a new place."

"Thank you," said Vanyel. "But I can't think of anything." It's not like I can ask him to find me a girl who won't leave me cold, or an interest in rural politics, he told himself. And I don't think Father approves of Heralds.

Tylendel looked at him for a moment. "Well, if you think of something, the offer's still there. I'm in the Herald's quarters. Any of the servants should be able to tell you where."

Vanyel nodded again.

"Then, for now, farewell, Vanyel Ashkevron." Tylendel waved cheerfully as he departed, leaving only confusion in his wake.

--

Savil was trying to decipher a legal contract on too little sleep and the words kept running into each other, refusing to make sense no matter how many times she reread each sentence. The knock on her door was more than welcome.

A light Mindtouch told her who her visitor was. "It's not locked," she said. "Come in, Tylendel."

Once Tylendel was settled in the chair opposite her, she pointed a finger at him. "And what brings you here again so soon? You should be making the most of every moment of freedom you get."

"But I can't think of any better way to spend my time than with my favourite teacher," he said impishly.

She snorted. "With my temper like this? Try again, lad."

"You caught me. It's not just that. I ran into your nephew again today." Tylendel's lips quirked into a mockery of a smile. "Havens, it's like talking to a wall, trying to get a reaction out of him."

"Who? Oh, Vanyel?" She narrowed her eyes at him. "What did I tell you about not falling for him? His father is a hidebound old fool with prejudices coming out his ears, and if Vanyel is anything like him--"

Tylendel nodded quickly. "That's just it. I think you're wrong about him. He doesn't want to be like his father."

"He has more sense than I gave him credit for, then." Tylendel's Empathy might not be strong, but it was enough to pick up emotional currents beyond the obvious in casual conversation. There was a good chance that whatever he'd picked up from Vanyel was accurate.

"He wants his father's approval," added Tylendel. "But that's not the same thing."

Savil snorted. "Withen won't be satisfied until he has a little copy of himself."

Tylendel smiled wryly. "I was afraid you'd say something like that."

Savil tried to follow his line of thought. "You think he's been forcing himself into that mould? Being the perfect son even when he doesn't want to be?"

"More than that, I think he's taught himself that wanting things for himself is wrong. He has to know that isn't healthy."

Something about Tylendel's earnest expression made her suspicious. "'Lendel, just what are you plotting?" It wouldn't be the first time Tylendel picked up on something from a person and just decided to help because he could... but it also wouldn't be the first time he'd had ulterior motives.

"Nothing! He's hurting and he doesn't even seem to realise it. I just want to help him, that's all."

"You're no MindHealer. Look, I'll talk to him. I know what Withen's like, maybe I can get through to him."

"Savil, don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think you stand a chance of getting through his walls. I love you dearly, but you are terrible with people."

Savil sighed. "It's a wise woman who knows her weaknesses. All right, you take him on. But, 'Lendel, don't fall in love with him, no matter who he ends up being under all that repression."

"I understand, teacher mine," said Tylendel cheerfully. "But if he comes to me I'm not going to turn him down. I am not made of stone!"

--

The worst part of Court evenings were the mind-numbing repetition. The same conversations, night after night, just repeated with different faces (and sometimes not even that). And it all seemed so pointless! The vast majority of the women he met were either already engaged or just like the ones at home - and sometimes both. Some of them even seemed to be pretending to be brainless to get his attention, which just made him feel sick inside.

And even the ones that seemed intelligent, he just... couldn't see himself marrying them, no matter how pretty the face or enjoyable the conversation.

On this particular evening, Vanyel had been welcomed into a circle of girls a few years younger than him and was currently listening to them gossip about some couple he'd never even heard of. His attention wandered around the ballroom, searching for another group that would be likely to welcome his company.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Herald Tylendel enter, accompanied by another Herald and a woman in Healer's greens.

Vanyel waved politely when the Herald caught his gaze, but Tylendel seemed happily occupied talking to his friends so Vanyel didn't even try to disengage himself from his gaggle of women.

"Ooh, Vanyel, who is that?" breathed one of the girls.

It didn't take much to guess who she meant. "Herald-Mage Tylendel," said Vanyel diffidently. "He was my esteemed aunt's protégé."

One of the other girls sighed. "Oh, a Herald." Some of the other girls imitated her sigh.

"What's wrong with Heralds?" asked Vanyel, confused.

"You don't want to marry a Herald, you'll always be second-place to 'duty'." She formed air-quotes with elegant fingers, then followed it up with a conspiratorial wink. "If you're looking for a temporary diversion, though..."

The first girl's expression turned speculative. "Do you think you could arrange an introduction?"

Vanyel froze, instantly wanting to refuse for no reason that seemed immediately apparent to him.

He was saved by the snort of another girl. "Tylendel Frelennye? Forget him, Sira. Vanyel would have a better chance than you would."

Sira's brow furrowed for a moment. "Oh! You mean he's..."

"Mmhmm." The girl smiled smugly. "I knew him as a trainee. No doubt about it, I'm afraid."

"Oh, poot. And he's so handsome, too!"

Vanyel managed to extricate himself from the group, his mind whirling. His memory just kept repeating, "Vanyel would have a better chance", over and over.

Lost in thought, he wandered out of the hall and into the silent gardens.

Had he misinterpreted the conversation completely? Was it even possible for men to be interested in other men?

The entire idea seemed boggling, and yet... and yet...

It was like finding the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. So many things suddenly seemed to make sense, where they never had before.

Vanyel found himself at the fence that marked the Companion's Field, and leant over it heavily. Father must think I'm like him. It's the only thing that makes sense. Oh, gods. Is he right? I've never... I just thought I was looking for a different kind of girl...

"Vanyel?"

Gods. The last person I wanted to see. He turned to face Tylendel, schooling his face into a mask of neutrality.

"Vanyel, are you all right?"

Vanyel laughed. "Oh, Havens, yes. I just needed some fresh air - it get so hot at these events. You didn't need to come all the way out here after me."

Tylendel frowned at him.

"I'm fine," added Vanyel desperately.

"Van, I just want to help you, all right? I know you're upset, and if you want to talk about it, I'm here. It doesn't matter what you say, I'm not going to tell anybody else. I'm a Herald; you can trust me."

Vanyel shook his head, and looked back over the silent field.

Tylendel walked over to stand beside him. He didn't speak, but Vanyel could feel his presence anyway.

Long moments passed, and Tylendel didn't seem to be growing restless.

Vanyel took a deep breath, then let it out again. "Do you ever feel like you're fighting between your duty and what you want?"

Tylendel's expression turned distant for a moment. "More than most, I expect. Any Herald would."

Vanyel felt his hopes fall. "You mean, you just have to do your duty, no matter how you feel about it?"

Tylendel shook his head, making his curls bounce lightly in the night breeze. "If you never think of yourself you'll just keep giving and giving until either you have nothing left, or you go crazy. No, you have to decide whether what you want is in conflict with your duty or not."

"How do you mean?"

"Say..." Tylendel looked at him sidelong. "Getting married. Just because it's what's expected of you doesn't mean it's your duty. Duty is a lot more complicated than just making other people happy."

Vanyel furrowed his brow. "But surely that's the entire reason for duty. Making other people happy."

"Hmm." Tylendel was silent for a moment. "It depends on who you're performing your duty for. Now, a Herald performs his or her duty for the sake of Valdemar's people. As a Lord Holder, your duty is the same, only a little more restricted."

Vanyel nodded, still confused.

"To the people. Not to your father, or your mother, to general society, or even to the Crown, although it's generally considered wise to follow the Crown's wishes."

Tylendel winked, and Vanyel found himself smiling back tentatively.

"As far as I'm concerned, if your people are being looked after, it shouldn't matter what you do in your spare time." Tylendel paused for a moment. "Well, within reason, of course."

Maybe that's why he doesn't mind what the Court thinks of him, thought Vanyel. I wish I had that kind of self-confidence.

Unbidden, on the heels of that thought came, I wish I had him.

Vanyel pushed himself away from the fence hurriedly. "Thank you, Herald Tylendel. You... you've given me a lot to think about."

He turned and walked to the great hall without looking back, in case Tylendel turned that smile on him again.

--

After a week in Haven his room was starting to feel a little more like home, but Tylendel knew from experience that as soon he started growing comfortable it would be time to leave again.  

Now, he paced the length of the room, memorising the lengths of the wall with every turn. The candles were growing shorter and he knew he should be sleeping, but his restless thoughts would not give him peace.

Was that spark of interest I felt just wishful thinking? Am I just letting my own attraction to him get in the way? Vanyel was handsome enough to have almost anyone he wanted, so it wasn't difficult to come up with certain reasons he might still remain unmarried...

Tylendel sat down on the comfortable armchair that decorated the south corner of his room, then got up again immediately.

It's not just physical attraction, he admitted to himself ruefully. No, physical attraction I can fight. I don't want to bed him, I want to cuddle him and talk with him and make him smile again. He sighed. No, this is definitely encroaching on 'infatuation' territory.

He threw himself down on the bed face-first. Ah, Savil is right, I'm a fool for a lost cause.

Gala broke into his thoughts gently. :You are a right idiot, but... I don't think you're wrong in what you're picking up from him.:

Tylendel felt his hopes rise, then abruptly squashed them again. :But that doesn't get around his being his father's heir. Even if we started something now...: He knew how that story ended.

:He'd eventually have to get married, or he'd be called back home.:

:Or someone would find out and he'd be forced to disavow me to 'protect' me.: He tried to suppress the swell of bitterness that came with that thought, but he knew Gala felt it anyway.

Gala sent back a pulse of wordless love and acceptance, and he basked in it for a moment.

Tylendel's gaze fell on his packs lying accusingly in the corner, still only half unpacked. Havens, I'm not sure why I'm even considering starting a relationship now, when I could be called back to the border at any moment.

The more he thought about it, the more selfish it seemed. I've spoken to Heralds in relationships with non-Heralds. The misunderstandings, the hurt feelings... It's not fair to put a lover through that.

:Just because something's hard doesn't mean it's not worth doing,: said Gala unexpectedly. :But... never mind, I expect you're right.:

:Better a stable friendship than a broken heart, dearling.:

But still, he wished...

--

Vanyel navigated the fence that marked the edge of the Companion's Field slowly, trying his best to look like he was just taking a casual morning stroll. It was a beautiful day for it - still early enough that the day hadn't truly started to heat up, there was a cool breeze tickling his hair and bringing with it the varied scents of summer bloom.

The sound of hoof beats on dry grass caught his ear, but he deliberately didn't turn until he heard them stop.

"Heyla, Vanyel," said Tylendel cheerfully.

"Oh, Herald Tylendel," said Vanyel, in affected surprise. "I didn't realise you'd be out today." Which was a blatant lie - one of the servants had told him Herald Tylendel was out riding with his Companion. He cleared his throat. "Thank you for the other night. I'm sorry if I was rude to you."

Tylendel shook his head. "No ruder than I deserved for bullying you into talking to me."

The needed apology over with, Vanyel found further words stuck in his throat. He was getting a crick in his neck from looking up at Tylendel and his Companion.

"Did you have any plans for this morning?" asked Tylendel suddenly.

"No," Vanyel replied. "Not this morning."

"Would you like to come for a ride with Gala and I?"

"Gala?" repeated Vanyel, confused.

Tylendel patted his Companion's neck. "This is Gala, my Companion. Gala, this is Vanyel Ashkevron." He was silent for a moment, then grinned. "She says she's pleased to meet you."

Vanyel gave a little half-bow. "And I, her. She's beautiful." He'd never been so close to a Companion before. They might look like horses, but the way Gala was standing, patient and attentive, wasn't horse-like at all.

Gala arched her neck proudly. "Don't feed her vanity," said Tylendel, and Gala stamped a foot in response.

Vanyel found himself smiling in spite of himself.

"You do have a horse, don't you?" When Vanyel nodded, he continued, "Well, go get saddled up. I'll meet you at the entrance to the North trail." He didn't appear to have even considered that Vanyel would say no.

True to his word, Tylendel was waiting for him at the trail when Vanyel and Star rode up.

"And who is this lovely lady?" asked Tylendel.

"Her name is Star," said Vanyel, feeling a little shy.

Tylendel bowed slightly in the saddle. "Well, Star, I'll let you lead. I wouldn't want to make a horse try to keep up with a Companion."

Vanyel urged Star into a gentle trot. The sun was warm on his back, and for a while he even forgot his riding companion, losing himself in the simple pleasure of riding. It's been a long time... Star, I've been neglecting you, I'm afraid.

Realising he had been silent for longer than strictly polite, Vanyel cleared his throat. "I haven't ridden like this in years."

Tylendel cocked his head. "That doesn't really surprise me. When was the last time you did something purely for fun?" When Vanyel shrugged, Tylendel's expression softened. "Don't you have any hobbies, Van?"

Van. It wasn't the first time that nickname had slipped out, but Vanyel couldn't find it in himself to question it. "I used to play lute," he said slowly.

"Used to? Why did you stop?"

Vanyel shrugged. "Father never approved of it. I stopped after... After I convinced him to let me study other fighting styles than what our arms master taught." It just hadn't seemed worth fighting, after he'd wrangled that concession out of his father.

"When was that?"

Almost six years ago, but Vanyel wasn't about to admit that. "A while back."

"So, what, you won the first battle and you decided not to fight the rest?"

Vanyel glanced at him, startled and a little offended.

"I'm not trying to hurt you, Van, I'm just trying to get you to think."

Vanyel looked away for a moment. "We spend a lot of time talking about me," he said carefully. "Why don't you tell me about yourself for a change?"

Tylendel slowed down, and Vanyel reined Star in to match his gait. "There isn't much to tell about me."

"Well, do you have any family?"

A shadow passed over Tylendel's face. "Not anymore," he said shortly. "The Heralds are my family now."

Vanyel hesitated. "Can I ask why?"

Tylendel shook his head. "Not right now. Someday, maybe. It's not a good story for a lovely day like this."

"Oh," said Vanyel.

They rode in silence for a while. Gods, why do I have to be so awkward? He's been nothing but kind to me, and I go and make him depressed. "What made you decide to become a Herald?"

Tylendel's lips twitched. "You don't decide to become a Herald, Van. The Companions choose you."

"Oh," said Vanyel. Now that Tylendel mentioned it... "Is that what the Companion's Choice they mention in the songs is?"

Tylendel nodded. "If you have the right qualities to be a Herald and Valdemar needs you, a Companion will find you."

"Well, were you happy to be chosen?"

Tylendel looked away for a moment. "That's another long story," he said, finally. "But - yes. Yes, I was happy." He patted Gala's neck. "Gala is my best friend in the world. It makes all the long border duties in the world worth it to have her with me."

Vanyel felt a little twist of envy, and swallowed against a lump in his throat.

"But you ask any Herald, they'll probably tell you the same thing."

A butterfly fluttered across the path, and Star whuffled at it gently. Van reined her in and smiled. "I think we're boring her with all this talk."

Tylendel raised a delicate dark-gold brow. "Oh? Well, we'll see what can we do about that..." Without any sign of consultation, Gala set off at a run.

Laughing in spite of himself, Vanyel kicked Star into following.

--

Vanyel gently tuned the lute Lord Grayel had found for him, sitting cross-legged on his bed. One of Carissa's old practice instruments, he had been told, although it had far finer a sound than any practice instrument Vanyel had ever used. Carissa clearly had a great ear for instruments - but a Bardic student would.

Once the lute sounded good, he quickly ran through a few scales, wincing a little as the strings pressed into finger-pads gentled by years of disuse. He closed his eyes and tried to remember some of the pieces he'd been able to play by heart.

His mind might have forgotten, but his muscles hadn't, quite. He managed to pick out several songs - slowly, with a few sour notes, and his memory for the lyrics was quite gone, but... it was adequate.

Gods, it's like coming home. I'd forgotten how much I loved this.

A knock on the door startled him from his reverie. "Come in."

One of the servants nodded to him politely. "Sir, there's a Herald here to see you."

Vanyel started. "A Herald?"

"Yes, sir. I've left him in the parlour."

Well, if the Herald was male, that only left one likely candidate... Vanyel's heart thudded in his chest and he took a few breaths to calm himself before braving the stairs.

Tylendel seemed pleased to see him, but there was a worried crease in his forehead that reminded Vanyel of the way he'd looked when Vanyel had asked about his family. "I'm sorry to come by unannounced. I hope you weren't busy."

Vanyel shook his head. "I was just practicing the lute."

Tylendel's smile turned more genuine. "How is it?"

"Hardly fit for public consumption yet," said Vanyel, with a theatrical sigh. "But there's hope yet."

"You'll have to play for me when I get back."

"Get back?"

Tylendel nodded. "That's why I'm here. As predicted, the Crown has ordered me back to the border. It'll probably be several months - maybe three, possibly six."

"Oh," said Vanyel, his stomach feeling like it was somewhere in the vicinity of his knees.

"I thought you'd want to hear it from me," said Tylendel gently.

"Will you--" Vanyel swallowed. "I mean. Be careful."

"I will. Promise." Tylendel looked at the ceiling for a moment. "Listen, Van, I'm probably the last person to lecture anybody about their duty, hypocrite that I am, but... Just think about what I said. You're not doing anybody any favours forcing yourself to be somebody you're not."

"I understand," said Vanyel.

"And try to relax. Havens, it's like you're a statue, most days. I think you scare people off."

Vanyel wanted to take offense, but Tylendel's teasing smile relaxed him again. "I'll try."

I'm going to miss him, he thought to himself, after Tylendel had left with promises to write. More than I miss anyone at home, and we've only spoken a few times. I've never felt this happy to be with a person before; not even Liss.

Gods. Maybe he's right; maybe I'm just lonely.

He laughed at himself softly. Why am I even worrying about this? Relax, make some friends - that's just what Father told me to do. Maybe if I'm not so focussed on finding a girl to marry it'll be easier.

Back in his room, Vanyel picked up his lute and picked out another song he remembered from before.

This thing with Father... Part of me wants to prove he's wrong, and the other half wants to prove he's right and prove I can do my duty, and do it well.

He thought about that for a moment. Well, I've already tried it the first way and just made myself miserable. I guess I'll try it the other way for a while.

--


Dear Vanyel, I would be pleased if you were to join me for dinner in my suite in two night’s time. Regards, Savil.

Savil hoped the note weren't so short it was terse - any platitudes or excuses she tried to force onto the page came out awkward and insincere. If it's long, I sound officious, if it's short I sound rude. I just can't win.

For his part, Vanyel's reply didn't indicate whether or not he had taken offense.


Dear Aunt Savil, I will be honoured to join you for dinner. It has been some time.

Regards, Vanyel.

"Look after him," Tylendel had said before he left.

"He's twenty-two, not a child," Savil had protested gruffly, but she acceded in the end, of course. She never had been able to resist Tylendel.

So far, dinner was going better than their first attempt. Vanyel was far more relaxed and talked about riding along the various trails around the Collegium, as well as what appeared to be a burgeoning friendship with Herald Heir Randale and his lifebonded Shavri.

Huh. I wonder if I wasn't the only one Tylendel asked to look out for Vanyel.

Vanyel cleared his throat. "Aunt Savil, I... if something happened to Herald Tylendel, you would tell me, wouldn't you?"

Caught off-guard, Savil could only stare at him for a moment. Vanyel's cheeks turned bright pink.

Recovering, Savil took a sip of wine to calm herself. "Herald Tylendel is the best active Herald-Mage we have, or near enough. You don't need to worry." At least, not any more than the rest of us do...

Vanyel nodded. "I know that, it's just I'd hate it if something happened and I wasn't even aware."

Savil nodded in sudden understanding. "I'll make certain you're in the loop, as much as I can." Well. At least it seems Tylendel's affections weren't unrequited. This could be a problem on its own, of course...

Vanyel seemed to be gearing up for another difficult question and took a long sip of his own wine. "Aunt Savil... What happened to Tylendel's family?"

Savil carefully put her glass down and raised her eyebrows. "He mentioned that to you?"

Vanyel shook his head. "I asked him about his family, but all he said was that he didn't have any anymore."

Oh, 'Lendel...

"You don't have to tell me," added Vanyel quickly. "I think I hurt him when I asked, that's all."

"Well, everybody around here knows the long and short of it, so there's no harm in telling you. At least from me you'll get accurate information." Savil tapped a finger on the table. "The first thing you have to know is that Tylendel's family were in a long and bloody feud with another family. We did our best to keep Tylendel distanced from it, but... when his twin brother was killed, he went over the edge for a little while."

"His twin?"

Savil nodded. "They were very close, and Tylendel felt it when he died. He wanted vengeance on the people who had killed him, and... we barely managed to keep him from enacting it." One of the worst nights of her life, it still sent a shiver of dread down her spine to think of it. So close, 'Lendel, you were so close...

Vanyel was staring at her. "What happened?"

"We managed to convince him to take his evidence to the Courts instead. He got justice for his twin and nobody died, but... He hasn't mentioned Staven since." She glanced at Vanyel thoughtfully. "If you can get him to talk, please, do. Some wounds don't heal on their own; they need a helping hand."

Vanyel nodded firmly. "If... when... I see him again, I'll try. It's the least I can do."

"There's a good lad. 'Lendel spends far too much time thinking of others and not thinking of himself for my own comfort."

"I thought that was just what Heralds did?" said Vanyel, a little too innocently. Savil suspected she was being teased.

"Within reason, lad. Take everything with moderation; yes, even moderation." She pointed a fork at him. "You could take a little of that advice yourself."

He nodded slowly. "I'm starting to see that."