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Stories in this Fandom are works of fan fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Recognized characters, events, incidents belong to Mercedes Lackey, Tor Publishing and their inheritors. <br>

Tests of Blood - 1. Chapter 1

A great cloud of steam momentarily obscured the view from the observation level of the train’s forward car, but it cleared within moments and Dalen Ashkevron was treated to the amazing view of the capital city of Haven as they approached from the west. A few years ago, an observation dome would have been unusable on this train because the glass would have been obscured by soot from the steam boiler. Now though, a magic-fueled boiler instead of one fueled by burning wood or coal powered this locomotive like most of the others in Valdemar. Valdemar had been the first nation in the Western Alliance to outlaw wood or coal-fueled boilers, but already Hardorn was following suit, with the last of their old boilers scheduled for replacement within two years.

“You were right, my husband.” Dalen’s mother said from his right side. He had passed her in height with his latest growth spurt, but she stood with all the regal bearing of her royal heritage. Great-grandmother Elspeth may have removed herself from the line of succession, but her great-granddaughter never forgot she was a child of the royal house. The fact that she had married the tall, dark-haired and square-shouldered middle son of the Ashkevron family didn’t reduce her ‘rank’ in her eyes either. Lofar Ashkevron had been a young Guard officer with a career on the fast track.

Both of them were amused that their only child had hair as light as any northern barbarian. Where he’d gotten the hair, no one quite knew, but he had his father’s same large build with broad, square shoulders, and even at fourteen, Dalen was quickly closing in on his father’s height.

“I told you, Selenay, the anti-pollution laws work.” Lofar Ashkevron said in his deep voice as he stood with his back straight, looking the epitome of a Guard officer in his uniform of dark blue with silver brocade. It had been two years since Dalen had seen his father, who had commanded a company of Guards on the Hardornen border with the Empire during that time. Dalen had been alarmed at the gray in his father’s hair, and had fervently wished that they’d stayed at Ashkevron Manor for longer than a few weeks before heading to the capital.

Unfortunately for Dalen, his father’s new posting carried too much prestige for them to remain behind. Dalen had been born in Haven, in the Palace even, but with his father’s first posting to a field command when Dalen was eight, his mother had been moved to Ashkevron Manor. Even at that age, he’d known it was more of an exile for his mother, and the reason they had been sent to the Manor was to get her out of Haven and keep her out of trouble with her scheming, but for Dalen it had been a blessing.

From the moment he’d first seen the Ashkevron Manor, Dalen had loved the ancestral home of his family. The teeming home of dozens of his cousins and other relations was a bright, happy place even with the fact that it was nearly a thousand years old and had been renovated dozens of times over the centuries. He had been immediately popular with the fifteen cousins that were within a year or two of his age, and he found a home where he didn’t have to worry about his mother using his friends in her political scheming with the denizens of the court.

She still kept reminding him of his ‘royal’ heritage, and after a year, had added even more to it with his ‘heritage’ as a descendent of the great Vanyel Ashkevron, Protector of Valdemar. Selenay Ashkevron even made it a big deal that he was a ‘double’ Ashkevron on both sides of his family like the ‘Great Firesong’. Like all her prattling, Dalen did his best to nod and look appropriately attentive and then ignored what she’d said.

When he’d been tested for Gifts two years ago, his mother had been nearly ecstatic while Dalen had sighed with apprehension. It seemed he did indeed have Gifts that were ‘opening’ up in him. Grandfather Ashkevron had even hired a teacher from the Mage Collegium to come out and provide Dalen with basic instruction as his Gifts matured. There had even been talk of sending him to one of the Tayledras Vales, maybe even k’Valdemar since his Gifts included Healing, but his mother had been able to block that from happening.

“Don’t slouch your shoulders, son.” Selenay Ashkevron’s voice scolded her son very slightly and he straightened his shoulders while his father smiled at him.

“Don’t worry, son, we’ll be there soon enough and you can get settled.” Lofar assured his son, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Are you sure you don’t mind staying in the apartments with us instead of your own quarters at the Collegium?”

“It’ll be fine, father.” Dalen said while barely restraining a sigh. He would prefer the Collegium room, but his mother absolutely refused. At least he’d managed to get a chance to look at the locomotive and discuss its operations with the Mage-Artificer who kept it running. If he had to be a mage, at least he could become a Mage-Artificer instead of just an Artificer. The woman he’d spoken to in the locomotive had told him how hard the coursework was, but he’d manage it, he was certain of that.

When the offer of tutelage at k’Valdemar Vale had been extended, he’d been excited by the possibility of learning from a Healing-Adept and seeing firsthand the fabled life of the Hawkbrothers. Still, he had hesitated because the Tayledras were notorious in their anti-Artificer sentiments. They did not allow tracks to be laid for locomotives in their territories, and some even refused to ride in them or any of the other new inventions of the Artificers. Dalen had dreamed of being an Artificer since he was a young boy and seen the Artificer and Mage students testing what would become the mage-powered locomotive on the Collegium grounds. Studying with the Tayledras may very well have put a damper on that dream, and so he had barely resisted when his mother had opposed his going.

“Our son will not be staying in a dormitory with commoners.” His mother snapped with a disapproving look at her husband. “Really, Lofar, I think you’ve spent too much time in the field. You’re going to be the Valdemar Guard Liaison to the Alliance now. You must remember you are not in the field anymore!”

“Yes, wife.” Lofar said with a long-suffering grin. Dalen knew his father had long since given up any illusion that his wife loved him the way he had loved her. She had chosen him because of what she saw as his potential use in her political games. He had been deluded into thinking she had loved him the way he loved her.

Dalen knew these things because while his father had not been around much over the last few years, his Grandfather was a wise man. Lofar’s father knew the real score between his son and Selenay. The older man had encouraged his grandson to correspond with his father. At first they were short little notes from a young boy to a father he missed very much, but as Dalen grew older the notes became longer until they were many pages long.

Mayhap because every time he saw his son, Dalen was older and bigger, or maybe because his primary interaction with Dalen had been in writing, but Lofar had over the last two years begun to share more, much more of himself with his son. They were as much friends as father and son, and while their relationship was still odd, both of them found they preferred it to the more traditional relationships Dalen’s peers had with their fathers. They could talk to each other and share things, much as they had in writing, and so it was that Dalen knew his father’s sadness in the unrequited love he had for Dalen’s mother, and so it was also that his father knew Dalen would prefer to be an Artificer than a young and powerful Mage.

“Have you had the servants finish packing your things?” His mother asked Dalen.

“I will go check on them, mother.” Dalen took the opening and turned to leave after she had given him a nod of permission. He knew the look on her face and didn’t want to be there when she started in on the lecture she was about to give his father. Lofar would listen to it, nod, and murmur his agreement even if he would ignore most of what she said.

Back in the small cabin that had been his home for the last two days, Dalen let out a sigh and sat down in one of the chairs while looking out the smaller window. They were passing through the farms that still dotted the countryside outside of Valdemar’s capital city. Soon they would be traveling through the relatively new industrial sector where many of the most modern devices were manufactured. The train would stop in the middle of that area, where the passenger terminal was located and they would disembark the train there. From there to Haven itself, and eventually the Palace, they would travel by more traditional horse-driven carriage.

Dalen had left behind many friends, and relatives, at Forst Reach. His family’s ancestral home had been a wonderful place to grow up. He knew that as surely as he knew his greatest dream would be to perfect the mage-powered locomotive so it no longer needed a mage to operate but could ‘pull’ magic from nearby nodes without difficulty. Already his lessons in magical theory had progressed to the point where his teacher had admitted Dalen’s ideas had merit.

Life energies, plant as well as animal, created magic. All living things gave off little bits of magical energy. From there, it flowed together until it formed ley lines, like rivers, and like water-bearing rivers, ley lines collected in ‘lakes’ that mages called ‘nodes’. Like the great Barton Dam that had been created to form a reservoir for Haven, magical energy could be directed and guided along certain routes. It would be no trouble to divert ley lines and to create nodes along the routes where train tracks had been laid. It was no hard task for Mage-Artificers to create a device that powered the steam boiler and could take its power directly from nodes. Many stationary steam boilers used such devices now instead of mages. The difficulty was having a device that could ‘switch’ between node power sources as the train moved along the track.

“My lord, we’re pulling into the station now.” A servant, an older woman he remembered from Forst Reach, said as the train began to slow. She bowed her head briefly as he focused his gaze on her instead of on his thoughts about how to solve the problem of powering trains with node-energy. “Your lady mother says you are to meet her and your father at the exit and to be properly attired. The Palace has sent a reception.”

“I’ll be right there, Sonia.” Dalen said with a sigh as he stood and went over to the bed that he’d slept on for the last two days. She’d already laid out a set of clothes for him, and as usual he’d ignored them as long as he could. Personally he preferred regular clothes like the common pants and shirt he was wearing now instead of the hand-made fine clothes all laid out neatly on the bed. The dark green shirt with its billowy sleeves and fine inlaid silver threads was far too fancy for his taste, as were the supple deer-hide black pants. The soft hide half-boots fit far more snugly than the mass produced shoes he normally wore, and cost six times as much.

It was the current fashion for the nobility of Valdemar to wear hand-made clothing instead of the newer mass-produced clothes created in the factories that ringed the capitol. Naturally that meant his mother, even though they were no longer at court, took great pains to keep them attired in those latest fashions. Meanwhile, his much more utilitarian grandfather made sure he had a good assortment of factory-produced clothes that he could wear whenever he was out of his mother’s sight.

His extended Ashkevron family had been a blessing since they moved out to Forst Reach. Most of them could care less about ‘court’ or the latest fashions. Instead they cared about farming issues, whether there would be a good crop that year, or if the weather-workers were getting lazy and letting too much (or too little) rain fall. None of them held his mother’s eccentricities against him, and most had adopted him as part of their family right away. Grandmama Ashkevron had even mentioned several times what a shame it was that his mother had only given birth to one child (usually followed by a statement that ‘even Vanyel left more children and he was shaych!’).

Now, though, he was returning to Court, and all the politics that came along with being back in the capitol of Valdemar. His mother would try to pick up her old schemes right where she left off, and his father would try to defuse them quietly while Dalen did his best to stay as unobtrusive as possible. The fact that he would now be taking lessons at the Collegium was both a blessing and a curse, because he knew as well as anyone that the politics there were as bad as the politics in the Palace.

Over a thousand years ago, Baron Valdemar had fled the Eastern Empire, taking his family and all his people with him. Together they had settled here, near where present-day Haven was, and formed a new kingdom. By acclamation, the people made Valdemar their king, because he was a good man. Being a good man, he worried about the future of his nascent kingdom.

He knew his son was also a good man, and would make a good king, but he worried that future descendants would be more like the despicable tyrants he’d led his people away from a few years earlier. Never a man for pointless worrying, Valdemar cast what was half-prayer and part magical spell, pleading to all the Gods he knew, and those he didn’t, for some way to safeguard his people. He was answered by the appearance of a being in the form of a horse, a spirit guardian that was called a Companion.

The spirit guardian was not alone, and two more, also horses, appeared as well, and the Companions bonded with the King, his son, and a close friend who was also his Herald. King Valdemar decreed that from that day forward the monarch of his kingdom, and the Heir, would have to be chosen by a Companion. The horse-shaped guardian spirits bonded with their ‘chosen’, and spent all their lives together. The Companion was transportation, friend, confidant, and a moral compass for those they chose. Most of the Chosen, who came to be called Heralds, were Gifted either with magic, or mind-magic, special abilities that they used in the service of their King (or Queen).

Valdemar had changed a lot since then, but Heralds were still a part of the kingdom. Even the fastest locomotive barely matched the speed of a Companion at full gallop, and by using their innate magical abilities, Companions could often gallop for as long as a locomotive could run before its mage was exhausted (or in the days of the fuel-burning locomotives until the fuel ran out). They were also every bit as intelligent as a human being, and they had a strong moral foundation that kept them, and their chosen from abusing the wide-ranging powers granted to them by the crown and council.

In the days of Dalen’s ancestor, Vanyel Ashkevron, Heralds had been law-givers and defenders of the kingdom. Often they would work with the Guard, act as judge in the more remote areas, and handle bandit raids. By the time of great-grandmother Elspeth, Heralds had grown more sophisticated in many ways, but still performed those same functions. Even today, when the remotest areas of Valdemar could receive messages from the capitol by Teleson or Signal-Wire, Heralds still rode circuit.

They made sure roads were clear and passable, that bandits were kept at bay, and that the various government agencies established by council were not abusing their powers. Heralds were often the most common ambassador to other countries, especially those in the Alliance, and were often used as messengers for sensitive materials. Herald Mages, those Heralds gifted with true Magic, were also in high demand to monitor the Mages Guild and to handle the occasional magical problem that would come from the border areas.

The King was also a Herald, and no one in living memory had challenged the ancient requirement that the Monarch and Heir is a Herald. When a litigant or lawbreaker believed they were being wronged, they called on the Heralds for justice in accordance with the oldest of Valdemar’s laws. Heralds were incorruptible, for if they gave in to corruption, their own Companions would repudiate them, and so they were trusted to think not of themselves or their own power first, but rather for the good of all of Valdemar, and in the cause of justice.

For centuries after Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron had given his life defending Valdemar from a great evil mage, true magic had been unknown in the kingdom. Facing a mage-King bent on conquering Valdemar, Herald-Princess Elspeth, Dalen’s mother’s great-grandmother, had gone outKingdom to find mages. She’d returned as the first Herald-Mage since Vanyel Ashkevron, and in the years that followed reestablished true magic in the kingdom.

Not all mages in Valdemar were Herald-Mages, and so they had established a Mages Collegium in the capitol along with Heralds Collegium, Healers Collegium, and Bards Collegium. The four collegiums shared many classes, Dalen knew, and also had their own unique courses for their students. As a result, most Mages in the kingdom were known to the Heralds, and were taught a strict code of ethics in the use of their magic, even if a Companion never chose them. There were even courses at the Mage Collegium for people gifted with Mind-Magic, not true Magic, and who were not chosen by a Companion either.

Most people born and raised in Valdemar dreamed about one day being Chosen by their very own Companion. A pure white horse, with blue eyes and silver hooves would show up in their dreams, speak into their mind, and tell them they would never be alone again. Then they would lead a life of adventure, gifted with strange, wondrous powers that they would use for good. Growing up in Haven with Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins who were all Heralds, and then at Forst Reach where in the last dozen years, eight Ashkevrons (and two children from other families in the area) had all been chosen by Companions, Dalen was no stranger to Heralds and their ways.

He just wanted nothing to do with them.

He also knew what most people either forgot or tried to ignore. Heralds lived much shorter lives. Granted, the death rate of Heralds was far lower than it had been in Elspeth’s day. Back then, one in three Heralds might reach retirement age. Modern Valdemar was far less hard on its Heralds. Now, nearly four out of seven Heralds reached retirement age. Still, that was far too high a rate of death for Dalen to want to be a Herald, and wanted more than to use his powers strictly for the good of the Kingdom.

Mages could be rich and powerful, although the ‘powerful’ in the sense of politics held little draw for him. He wanted to be a Mage Artificer, a builder of great things, but there were no Mage Artificers in the ranks of Herald Mages. Sure, a few of them dabbled in such things as a hobby, but the majority of their powers and time went into the service of the King and Kingdom. Being Chosen would mean that he had to give up being a Mage Artificer, and that was a nightmare for him.

When he finished dressing, Dalen joined his parents in the disembarkation area just as the train slowed to a stop. He ignored the scrutinizing gaze of his mother and focused his eyes on the platform through the hatch’s window. A porter opened the hatch and a connecter extended from the train to the platform and Dalen’s eyes glanced swiftly over the crowd of people there. Four spots of white immediately drew his attention, but he sighed with relief when he noticed that four Heralds resplendent in Dress Whites mounted all four Companions. There was no unmounted Companion here waiting to choose him, and he followed his mother and father onto the platform with a feeling of relief.

Half his nightmares for the last week had been about finding a Companion waiting for him as they got off the train.

“Cousin, welcome home.” Prince Dellinar, Heir to the Throne and Herald said as he dismounted from his Companion’s back and surged forward to greet Dalen’s mother in a formal gesture. His dismounting was a signal, and the waiting throng behind him began to mill about their business while the remaining train hatches were opened.

“Cousin, it is good to be home.” Selenay Ashkevron said in a formal tone with a very slight nod of her head. “I believe you remember my husband, Lofar?”

“General, you are most welcome as well.” Dellinar’s voice was genuinely warm and he didn’t see the frown that formed on Selenay’s face for the briefest of moments. “I know we have needed your expertise here desperately over the last few weeks.”

“I look forward to serving with you, my Prince.” Lofar said as graciously as he could, and Dalen braced himself for his turn.

“You have turned into quite a handsome young man, Dalen.” Dellinar said with a broad smile as he looked Dalen over. “I understand you will be studying under the Mage’s Collegium?”

“Yes, highness.” Dalen said softly.

“Please, we are all cousins.” Dellinar said collegially. “Call me Dell, unless I am giving your group lessons and then it’s Herald, not Prince or highness.”

“You’re a teacher at the Collegium?” Dalen asked in slight surprise. He thought the Heir would be too busy for that.

“I handle the courses on the Haven Heartstone.” Dellinar explained. “All Heralds have access to the Heartstone, and as an Adept-level mage of the Royal family, you will be given access as well. I must say, though, I was surprised that there wasn’t a Companion waiting for you here.”

“Not everyone is meant to be a Herald.” Dalen said quickly. “No offense, but Valdemar needs many things, too many for everyone with a Gift to be Chosen.”

“Something I am reminded of every time I have to deal with the Artificers.” Dellinar laughed politely. “You remind me of some of their students.”

“My son has always been interested in the projects of the Artificers.” Lofar said proudly, ignoring the glare from his wife.

“Yes, well, we really should move on to the Palace.” Selenay said brusquely. “We are holding people up here.”

“If you’ll follow me, we have a carriage waiting for you.” Dellinar said with a polite bow, but the look he gave Lofar promised they would talk more later. Dalen gave a sigh of relief at the Prince’s look, and let himself hope that maybe it would be easier to pursue his dreams than he had expected.

Dalen had not been in the capital city for many years, and he had to admit that the city was much cleaner-looking as the carriage wound its way through the city streets – past the Industrial Sector and the ring of Factory Homes where they passed through the New Wall. He remembered word coming out of Haven last year that there had been a proposal to do away with the New Wall as a relic of an age long past, but so far it still stood.

The crowds of people made the trip to the Old City longer than it should have been. Haven was not only the capital of Valdemar, but it was the home city of the Western Alliance. The Alliance had no real ‘capital’ since the countries in it were still relatively independent, but Haven served as its meeting place. In fact, its administrative center was in the New City area on the far side of Haven from where they were now. It had moved there, out of the Palace, nearly sixty years ago and taken over a section of the city that had seen better days.

Now it was a sprawling administrative complex that kept a good eighth of Haven’s population regularly employed, and was where Karse, Hardorn, Rethwellen, Ceejay, and a few other countries kept their embassies. The Tayledras and Shin’a’in kept their embassies in a section of Companion’s field, in the center of Haven, where the Healing Adept Firesong had once built an ekele for himself. It was also where Iftel held their embassy, as it was the best place for the ambassadors that often included a gryphon.

The sun was near to setting by the time they finally pulled into the courtyard of the Palace. The Royal Consort (who was not Queen because she had never been Chosen by a Companion) met them in a fine gown of Shin’a’in silk and immediately took Dalen’s mother off into the Palace, leaving Dalen and Lofar in Dellinar’s company. None of them were too displeased with that situation.

“I see my cousin has changed little over the years of her isolation.” Dellinar said with a wry smile on his face.

“No, she hasn’t at all, Dell.” Lofar said with a slight grin. “You’re looking good though. I half expected that brown hair of yours to be completely silver by now instead of just at the temples.”

“I don’t actually use the Heartstone all that much except when I’m teaching.” Dellinar said with a shrug and Dalen was surprised to find that the two men were apparently good friends as he followed them down the hall. “I’ve missed your companionship since your Company deployed, though. When I heard Queen Almorgan had recommended you for this position, I insisted Fordan agree.”

“You might regret that when Selenay gets her hooks into the Court again.” Lofar said with a chuckle.

“Why do you think we made sure Mhegan was here to greet her?” Dellinar countered with a shake of his head. “Mhegan remembers the mess my cousin made last time and is more than capable of keeping her busy with other projects. Don’t worry about that. Now, how are you doing Dalen?”

“I feel a little dizzy, but I’m fine.” Dalen said as they walked down the corridors of the Palace. It all seemed smaller than he remembered, and a little more vibrant at the same time. There was an odd pulsing sensation behind his eyes, almost like a headache, but it wasn’t painful, and there was a slight buzzing in his ears.

“I think I know what the problem is, young man.” Prince Dellinar said with a slight smile. He stopped at the doorway to a small room and motioned for Dalen to go inside. It was a small sitting room, Dalen found as he entered and the Prince guided him with a gentle hand on his shoulder to a chair that was probably three or four hundred years old. “Sit here, and I’ll help you.”

“What is it?” Dalen asked as he sat gingerly in the chair, only trusting his full weight to it after he was sure it wouldn’t collapse. He still had nightmares about the old chair he’d destroyed by jumping on it before they’d left the palace. His mother had been quite furious.

“The Heartstone.” Dellinar answered with a half-smile as Lofar looked at his son with an expression of worry.

“I thought the Heartstone was all but invisible to mages not directly keyed to it.” Lofar said worriedly.

“Dalen was here as a boy, and from the reports I’ve seen, his gifts are quite strong.” The Prince, and Adept-class mage said calmly. Dalen was already anticipating the next set of instructions and releasing the tight guards he’d been taught. “Lurhan was your instructor, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.” Dalen said with a slight smile on his face. He’d liked the mage-instructor his grandfather had hired.

“He was always good at shielding, and it looks like you learned his lessons well.” Dellinar chuckled gently as Dalen felt him probing the edges of Dalen’s mind. The Prince’s touch was light, and somewhat familiar. Along with the Prince, he could feel something else probing him, and now he recognized it as the source of the pulsing feeling behind his eyes. “You are Adept-class in power, as I see now whereas earlier, at the train station, I’d not have known you were mage-gifted without a direct probing. That is a sign that you’ve learned excellent control, and have a good start on shielding. The Collegium is going to be as happy to see you as the Heartstone is.”

“Is that the Heartstone?” Dalen asked softly and was pleased that the Prince understood what he meant.

“What’s happening?” Lofar asked. “I never had more than a touch of Mindspeech and Foresight.”

“It’s simple, really.” Dellinar said as his mind reached out with a gentle probe to Dalen, who accepted the proffered link and slipped into a very light rapport with the older mage.

The Prince wasn’t that much older than him, something he’d known vaguely but not really remembered. Dellinar’s hair was touched with white at the temples, but that was the effect of working with node, and Heartstone magic. Such power tended to bleach the hair and eyes of mages that used it extensively. Tayledras, who practically ate and drank the wild magics of Heartstone and nodes usually had pure white and silver-blue eyes by their mid-twenties. In his mid-twenties, Dellinar was just beginning to go through the bleaching effects.

“If it’s so simple, how about explaining it?” Lofar almost growled as Dalen let out a little gasp of surprise.

“Oh wow, it’s almost alive.” Dalen whispered aloud as the Prince ‘introduced’ him to the Heartstone. It was like being thrown into a pit of boiling magma, and an ice storm that flayed him to the bones, while a slow-moving intelligence inspected him and wordlessly welcomed him home.

“The Tayledras are fascinated by the Haven Heartstone.” Dellinar said aloud as he let the link between them fade away now that Dalen was directly connected to the Heartstone. “Lofar, forgive me, but the Haven Heartstone was about to give your son a blinding headache if he didn’t let it inside his shields soon. It’s very jealous of those that it considers part of its family. Normally that’s just the Heralds and Mages who are members of the Royal Family.”

“But Dalen hasn’t been here since his gifts were active.” Lofar grumbled as Dalen blinked slightly. The Heartstone was still there, in the back of his head, but it had released him from inside it, and was now like a reassuring presence. Some part of him remembered it from when he’d lived here before, and despite what he had expected, he felt more at home in the Palace than he’d expected.

“Dalen’s gifts are quite strong.” Dellinar said gently as he smiled at Lofar, and then again at Dalen. “More than likely, they were active at a very low level, even when he was younger. It’s happened before with other members of the family, that the Heartstone will actually buffer them when they are younger, reaching out to them on its own. Dalen has been keyed to it since he was a child.”

“I knew that, but I didn’t remember it until just now.” Dalen said with a breath of wonder in his voice. “I mean, I knew the Heartstone was there as a kid, but I think I forgot it when we moved. It knew I had to leave, to help keep the peace, and so it let me go gently, letting me forget it!”

“Yes, as I said, the Heartstone has many qualities unheard of even by the Tayledras, and they invented Heartstones!” Dellinar chuckled.

“Why is that?” Lofar asked dangerously. “I mean, if it’s dangerous…”

“Who said anything about dangerous?” Dellinar’s voice was sharp. “You misunderstand me, Lofar. The Haven Heartstone is different, more intelligent, and more aware than any other Heartstone the Tayledras have ever studied. Normally the Heartstone of a Vale is drained when the Vale moves every twenty or so years. No Heartstone has ever been active this long, except one in the oldest of stories.”

“The Heartstone of Lineas.” Dalen said with a knowing nod of his head. Dellinar gave him a warm smile of approval, and he almost blushed. The older Prince was a fine example of the handsome features common to the Royal Family, and not all that much older than Dalen, just a decade or so.

“Lineas doesn’t have a Heartstone.” Lofar said with a snort. “They’re practically neighbors to Forst Reach, and I’d have known if they had one there, even if I’m not a mage.”

“It was before Lineas was a part of Valdemar, father.” Dalen explained with a smile of his own and this time he did blush at the approving look the Prince was giving him while he explained it to his father. “The Heartstone was left active by the Tayledras to heal a fissure in the crust of the earth. When the Mavelan family murdered the Linean Royal Family to get at the power of the Heartstone, Herald-Mage Vanyel battled the entire family, draining the Heartstone of all its power. That is what set off the earthquake that buried the old city in Highjourone.”

“Oh, I didn’t know there was a Heartstone involved in that.” Lofar said with a grunt as he sat down roughly in another chair nearby. Dalen winced when the chair creaked, but it didn’t collapse.

“Neither did we, until the Tayledras told us their version of the story.” Dellinar said with another throaty chuckle. “A century ago we finally got the K’Treva historian to sit down with our Herald-Chronicler and shared stories of Herald-Mage Vanyel. The man was even more of a legend to them than he was to us, and they had many stories of him that never made it into the histories.”

“I see.” Lofar said with a shake of his head. “I wonder if he knows how wretched hard he’s made it on the rest of us Ashkevrons? People hear stories about everything he ever did and then expect us to pull off miracles.”

“Try being an Ashkevron mage.” Dalen said with a hint of bitterness in his voice that surprised him, as well as the two older men.

“What do you mean?” His father asked with a worried tone.

“Well, think about it.” Dalen said with a sigh as he sat back in the chair and closed his eyes. He’d never really talked about this aloud with anyone before and was nervous. “What if I were chosen? What would people expect of me?”

“Other Ashkevrons have been Chosen since Vanyel’s time.” Lofar said seriously as he looked at his son.

“Yeah, and not one of them in the family’s histories lived much past fifty either.” Dalen snorted. “What’s more, there hasn’t been a Herald-Mage Ashkevron since Vanyel’s time, and I’m a mage. Putting me in Herald’s whites and making me ride around on a Companion would be worse than putting a target on my back. People would expect me to solve all the Kingdom’s problems with a snap of my fingers and then get mad when I don’t.”

“He has a point, Lofar.” Dellinar said gravely. “You’ve been out on the border, but I think you’ve heard some of the latest grumblings about Heralds.”

“Yes, and it is pure drivel!” Lofar snorted. “No one with a half a mind pays any attention to those rantings!”

“A number of new prints have been starting up in the last few months here in Haven.” Dellinar sighed. “You know the laws regarding the free media. We can’t find out who is funding them, but they are pushing the anti-Herald slant really hard, blaming Heralds, and especially Herald-Mages as holding Valdemar, and the Alliance back.”

“It’s the Industrialists.” Lofar snorted again. “They are still bitter about the anti-pollution laws that you and the others pushed through the Council.”

“Those laws cost them a pretty copper or two in taxes, and lost profits from having to switch over to clean energy sources.” Dellinar sighed. “They made more money from coal, and we still have the miners in the Eastern region that are unsettled over lost wages.”

“They should be thankful they no longer breathe that awful dust and ruin their lungs!” Dalen said angrily. “How much gold have we spent on Healers to cure their lungs of that awful disease, and how many died because a Healer didn’t get to them soon enough?”

“The lung rot takes years to kill them while in the here and now their kids are going hungry.” Dellinar countered.

“We have to take the longer view, not just worry about the here and now!” Dalen’s voice rose an octave, breaking in that embarrassing way it still did when he got excited.

“Spoken like a true Ashkevron, son.” Lofar said with an approving look at his son.

“Welcome back to the capital.” Dellinar said to both of them. “At least the two of you are no stranger to the issues we face.”

“Thanks, cousin.” Lofar said with a deprecating tone, but there was a smile on his face while Dalen let himself wonder just how much he’d missed by living in the backwater of Forst Reach.

© 1987 - 2022 Mercedes Lackey, Tor Publishing; All Rights Reserved; Valedmar and its world belong to Mercedes Lackey. Everything else belongs to dkstories. Copyright ©2013; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction that combine worlds created by the original content owner with names, places, characters, events, and incidents that are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, companies, events or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

Dear DK,


I love all of your stories. You're killing me with the many stories in the air. I want you to update all of them!


As for Tests of Blood, I find the characters very compelling and the way magic works in this world is fascinating. I can't wait to read more. I'm sure we'll learn more about magic, politics and political plots in future chapters.

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On 01/20/2013 12:11 PM, Rebelghost85 said:
Dear DK,


I love all of your stories. You're killing me with the many stories in the air. I want you to update all of them!


As for Tests of Blood, I find the characters very compelling and the way magic works in this world is fascinating. I can't wait to read more. I'm sure we'll learn more about magic, politics and political plots in future chapters.

We're trying to get most of them back up on the site as quickly as possible without overloading the announcements, etc.


I will say though that Tests of Blood is still one of my favorites.

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absolutely amazing chapter, i am totally pulled in the story. I have been looking for such an awesome story plot for a while now its comparable to the other great stories on this site. I will look up more of your stories you have a superb writing skill reminds me of JK Rowling's Harry Potter the way she draws you in with her excellent writing skill. Looking forward to more of this story, i am amazed at how much i love this story already.

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This is my second read and while I'm not familiar with the source story, I must thank you for laying out such a complex universe with just enough to capture my attention without overwhelming me with lore I'm not ready for.

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This is my introduction to this story, and to the Valdemar universe, but not to other other stories by this author.  Fantastic start, I have an idea of the history, without being overwhelmed by details.  I think the mother will be a villian, or at least a problem!

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