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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. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Valdemar world, characters, events belong to Mercedes Lackey and Tor Publishing

Tests of Blood - 2. Chapter 2

Valdemar belongs to Mercedes Lackey and her publisher.

“Again.” The old woman’s cold voice washed over Dalen and he closed his eyes before calling up the energy from his own personal reserves. She was a skilled instructor, and would know if he ‘cheated’ by using power from the Heartstone. When he’d finished with the spell, turning the minute flows of power into the delicate strands that settled over the waiting crystal, he opened his eyes to see her response. It was as brusque as anything else he’d heard from her. A single word, no more and no less. “Acceptable.”

“I’m glad you approve.” Dalen said and couldn’t help the trace of bitterness that crept into his voice. Mona Leland was barely worth the name of Mage, in terms of power. At first he had wondered why this woman whose gift was barely in existence was a teacher, but she’d proven that even a weak mage like her could do valuable work. She had also proven that she’d had more than enough of attitudes like his from mages more powerful, and enjoyed the time that she’d have to feel superior over them, as their teacher.

“I am sure you are.” She said in a longer sentence than normal, and her voice was just as acidic as he’d come to expect. When she picked up the clear crystal he’d just finished charming, he let out a gasp as she released a very small trickle of power into it, shattering it into a hundred little pieces. “Unfortunately, the crystal was flawed and you will have to begin again.”

“I...how…” Dalen spluttered in frustration. This was the fifteenth crystal she had shattered.

“You do not look deep enough.” The old woman sighed as she sat down. Her long hair was long since turned white, and not by the great powers of node or Heartstone, but rather advanced age. She really should have long since retired, but like every other person who wore Herald White; she kept on working even after she was barely able to walk from her quarters to these workrooms.

“What do you mean I do not look deep enough?” Dalen asked in frustration. “I examined all of them with mage-sight and they looked fine.”

“Exactly.” She said with satisfaction and clammed up, watching him with those dark, glittering eyes and a smirk on her face. It was said she’d been one of the last students of Darkwind k’Sheyna, partner of Dalen’s own ancestor Herald-Mage Elspeth. If those whispered rumors were true, then she had learned her craft from one of the greatest mages of history, a mage who had helped Valdemar’s Mage Collegium establish a training program that taught true magic as effectively as the Herald’s Collegium trained Heralds in mind-magic…

“Do you have mind-magic?” Dalen asked aloud as his train of thought made him think of something. The smile that flittered across her face was answer enough, and the first smile he’d seen from her since becoming her student.

“I have taught fifteen students since the last time one thought to ask that question.” She said with a throaty rumble that might have been a laugh. This workroom, unlike most others, had a comfortable armchair that she moved to sit in while he sat on the simple wooden stool that was more common.

When magic got out of hand, furniture was usually demolished so the furniture in a workroom was usually cheap stuff no one would miss if it was broken. That was when a workroom had furniture. This room, where most of the work was in placing charms on objects had several stools, a single long wooden table, and the plush chair occupied by the old woman.

“So you just let them fail without ever knowing your secret?” Dalen asked acidly.

“Who said I didn’t just tell them?” Mona laughed aloud this time and Dalen felt his cheeks brighten a bit with shame. “The point is I had to tell them instead of them using their heads and figuring it out. When you’re out there facing a hostile, he isn’t going to tell you he has a secret weapon. He’s just going to wait until he has his opening and he’ll strike.”

“I am not a Herald.” Dalen reminded her and she shook her head.

“You’ve got several more years before you’re older than normal for being Chosen.” She said, and actually smiled at the uncomfortable look on his face, and the way he shifted on the stool.

“So what’s your other gift?” He asked her, trying to change the subject.

“Guess.” She said sternly and closed her eyes. He’d already figured this trick out. When he first met her she’d do this and pretend to drift off to sleep while waiting for him to answer. The one time he’d waited until her breathing deepened before quietly making faces at her, she’d started mimicking his faces back at him…

“Farsight.” Dalen blurted aloud as his mind made the connections.

“Very good.” She said as she opened her eyes and actually smiled at him for the first time.

“But the crystals are right here, you don’t need Farsight to see them.” Dalen said with confusion as he returned to the problem of the flawed crystals.

“Farsight is about more than seeing distant things.” She said as she got up from the chair and crossed the workroom to sit in a stool across from him. “You can also use your Farsight to see small things, things otherwise hidden. It was Herald Tarvin, a contemporary of Herald-Mage Elspeth’s that figured that out. Farseers are taught it in advanced training, and I am told that you have a fair amount of that gift. It seems that you simply lack training.”

“My Farsight is nowhere near as strong as my Mage gift, or even my Mindspeech.” Dalen said with a shrug. “I’ve mastered the basics, and can see up to twenty leagues away with no problem.”

“Yes, a good strong gift and you dismiss it because it is not as strong as your others!” She sniffed at him. “Ah, the arrogance of Adepts! Well, we will show you just how wrong you are to dismiss your Sight so easily!”

Three hours later, as he stumbled back to the Palace, Dalen felt as if his head was going to burst open. It was an odd thing she was teaching, this method of using Farsight to look at small things, to magnify them much like the distance viewers that stargazers often used to look at the stars. He could understand her statement of how the Healers used the new skill, especially in treating things like the Lung Rot of the coal miners. A Herald trained in this ability could link with a Healer and help them cure even the nastiest of diseases.

The lesson had only ended when he could no longer manage the fine control necessary to release the small rivulets of power into the crystals, repairing the miniscule flaws that were there. These crystals were part of the newest crystal sets used in creating Telesons. Only mages gifted with Mindspeech as well as Mage gift could create these newest crystals, and they required flawless crystals to work.

From what he’d accomplished today, they would have ten new crystals to use in creating the public Teleson sets that the Crown had ordered in all public squares of all cities and villages. The rapidly expanding network, placed in public places, guaranteed even the remotest village could call for help, and that loved ones separated by long distance could gossip to their heart’s content, if the Teleson wasn’t needed for other business.

Strict laws were enforced regarding the devices. Official Kingdom business required no payment. A call for help was a call for help, and would always be answered. A personal call though required a small payment, to keep old grannies from spending all their day gossiping with their long-separated sisters. Industrialists were not happy with the arrangement, and had stalled the passage through Council for several months before the Crown ordered the new Telesons put into place.

The Industrialists saw a chance for profit with the newest version of the devices. They no longer required a Mindspeaker to work, just a Mindspeaking Mage to create the crystals. There were enough of those who were not mages that they could pay large amounts of money for many such crystals. Then they wanted to sell them to the old grannies to use in their own homes instead of the public square.

The Crown insisted that the devices were too important to be used that way, or be an item for regular trade and profiteering. The truth was that despite their advances, Telesons were still limited in function. Too many used too close together resulted in leakage, so that you heard the calls of others near you. Many times if a public square had more than one Teleson, you could hear the conversation of people using another nearby Teleson. Too many Teleson sets would cause a mass of confusion all over the place.

“Watch out!” A high-pitched voice called Dalen’s attention back to what he was doing, and he stopped before walking off the garden path into the middle of the now blooming flowers. His mother might know what they were called, and probably the age of these particular bushes, or vines or whatever they were, but Dalen only knew they were very pretty yellow and red flowers and that if he trampled them, the gardeners would make his life hell for a week.

“Thanks.” Dalen said as he nodded at the younger boy in page’s livery. He felt sorry for the pages of the Court who were required to wear costumes that were extremely outdated. The linen doublet of dark blue with light blue hose made the younger boys look cute, but on the older pages, like this one, they looked downright ridiculous.

“No problem.” The page said with a bright smile. He had pale hair that was almost white and was of a very slender build. His accent was that of Northern Valdemar. As ridiculous as the page’s outfit looked, at least this one didn’t look totally awful like some of the other pages that Dalen had seen. “We don’t see many mage students in the Palace. Are you a student of the Prince’s? I thought most of those were Herald-trainees.”

“You are nosier than is smart for a page.” Dalen said sharply, although he was trying to do his best not to laugh.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” The younger boy said with a slight blush. “I’m still new here. My father sent me down here to Court for a few seasons and well, it’s all kind of confusing. I saw your Mage student uniform and thought…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Dalen said in a nicer tone. It was true, he was wearing the brown shirt of a Mage student, and while his pants were also brown, they were a finer make than most mage students wore. If the boy was new here, he probably hadn’t learned to pick up on those things yet, and the truth was that in the months he’d been in Haven, Dalen had done his best to not attend any Court events. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before, either. My name is Dalen, Dalen Ashkevron.”

“Oh!” The boy exclaimed with a brighter blush as he made a very neat bow. “I am sorry my lord, I didn’t know…”

“Don’t do that.” Dalen said quickly and reached out to pull the boy back up from his bow. “That is a very outmoded custom.”

“I know, but I made the mistake of not bowing to your lady mother one time, and she…” The boy started to explain and realized he might have said too much before shutting his mouth with an audible snap.

“My mother is more worried about rank and protocol than is good for her.” Dalen said, mostly because he found that he liked the younger boy’s honesty and forthrightness. Unlike most of the fools he’d met at court so far, this page actually had an honest bone in his body. “What is your name?”

“Bartholomew Firkan, my lord.” The boy replied with another bow that he aborted before he’d done more than bend his head and knee. “I am from k’Valdemar. My friends call me Bart.”

“Well Bart, it is a pleasure to meet you.” Dalen said with a smile on his face as he held out his hand and forearm for a friendly clasping. Bart smiled at the gesture and extended his own. The two of them clasped hands to forearms while smiling. “If you’re free at the moment, why don’t you come with me? I was just heading back to our apartments.”

“Really?” Bart asked with a surprised expression. “I mean, I’m nobody special.”

“You’re the most honest person I’ve met since we moved back here, Bart.” Dalen said with a bright smile of his own. “How old are you?”

“I’m fourteen.” Bart said with a hint of defensiveness in his voice. “I know I look younger, but I’ll be fifteen in another two months.”

“That’d put me about eight months older than you.” Dalen said with a wider smile while he began walking down the garden path towards the section of the Palace reserved for the royal family.

“Oh, I thought you were older.” Bart said in a slightly lost voice and Dalen chuckled.

“See, we were meant to be friends.” Dalen said around his laughter. “Everyone thinks I’m older than I am, and they all think you’re younger than you are. Symmetry.”

“Old Fallon would fall on his tail over that.” Bart said with a laugh of his own, but grew quiet afterwards and looked a little depressed.

“Is Fallon a relative of yours back home?” Dalen asked as they neared the garden entrance to the Palace. The guards at the doors were already snapping to attention with their firesticks and one was leaning in to open the door for Dalen.

“No, Fallon’s an old hertasi that’s served my family for years and years.” Bart said sadly as they went through the doors and Dalen nodded his thanks to the guard.

“I’ve never even seen one of them.” Dalen said neutrally. He hadn’t really cared about seeing one, really, but that was mostly because it was something he’d never thought about. Hertasi were lizard-like sentient beings that coexisted with Hawkbrothers in their vales. It would make sense that Bart knew one if he lived in k’Valdemar vale. “Funny, you don’t look Tayledras.”

“That’d be because I’m not, by blood.” Bart chuckled this time at the look of surprise on Dalen’s face.

“I didn’t know there were non-Tayledras living in the vales now.” Dalen said as they neared the stairs that led up to the level where his family’s apartments were located. As they walked they moved past several servants who gave the page a couple of wary glances before shrugging and going about their business.

“It’s a different situation.” Bart said with a little shake of his head. “K’Valdemar has always had a lot of outsiders, what with Ghost Clan, Tayledras, and Valdemarans all living so closely together. I grew up in the Vale, but spent time with all the different groups in the area.”

“That must have been neat.” Dalen said with a shake of his head, not really imagining growing up in a place like that. It seemed almost barbaric as he opened the door to his family suite. Bart entered behind him and moved quietly as they passed through the small entryway and into the sitting room where they found Dalen’s mother holding ‘court’ with several other ladies.

“Dalen, you are home!” His mother said in that sweet ‘public’ voice that he hated. She was wearing a satin gown of the faintest pale pink colors that hurt his eyes, and he did not miss the frown on her face as she saw Bart behind him. Still, she rose and glided across the room to wait for him to greet her with a proper kiss on her cheek. “You remember the Baroness Gritchard and Lady Elswhin, do you not?”

“My lady mother, you are looking wonderful as always.” Dalen said politely, just the way she had drilled into him when he was a little boy. “Ladies, it is good to make your acquaintance once again.”

“Dalen has been at his lessons in the Mage’s Collegium again.” His mother said with an artful little smile on her face as she turned back around and resumed her seat, picking up her cup of tea as she did so. He noticed that it was some of the most expensive porcelain that was imported from the Kaledin city of White Gryphon in the northern lands of the Haileigh Empire. His mother preened as the ladies made appropriately appreciative sounds. “I was told the other day by dear cousin Dellinar that he is one of the most powerful students the Collegium has seen in a generation.”

“Mother, power is not everything.” Dalen said quickly as the two older women tittered like girls two decades younger.

“Is there something you need, page?” Selenay Valdemar said sternly to Bart, ignoring her son’s comment.

“He is visiting with me, mother.” Dalen said firmly.

“My son is always so kind.” His mother said to the ladies in that same sweet tone she’d used moments earlier. “He is always dragging some waif or another home, hoping to make its life better. I do remember this time at Forst Reach where he tried to bring this orphaned colt into the Keep itself…”

“If you will excuse us, ladies.” Dalen said quickly, bowing his head to his mother and backing out the room, grateful that his new friend took the hint and bowed his way out as well. Once they were through the sitting room and into the hallway that led to his rooms, Dalen let out a sigh and turned to look at Bart. The apology he was preparing died unspoken when he saw the look of barely repressed laughter on the younger boy’s face.

“Dear Goddess, I think I’d have slit my wrists if I was raised by her!” Bart exploded when the door to Dalen’s rooms closed behind them. He was giggling, and instead of taking offense at the insult from his mother, Dalen felt himself laughing.

“If we hadn’t gone to live with the other Ashkevrons when I was little, I probably would have!” Dalen admitted as he chuckled. “She can be a little much at times. I wonder what she’s doing with those two old hags.”

“She’s probably buttering them up about her proposal to democratize the regional representatives on the Valdemar Grand Council.” Bart said as he entered the sitting room that was the front area of Dalen’s rooms. He sat down on the comfortable chair as Dalen went to the small stand near the door and poured two cups from the pitcher of cool cider that was sitting there. He handed his new friend one of the cups as he sat down in the chair opposite of Bart. At least his new friend knew better than to stand on protocol with him. “Gritchard’s husband is the Western Representative on the Council, and Elsewhin’s brother is the Merchant’s Guild representative. The Evendim folks have been pushing for democracy ever since some backwoods religious figure started preaching.”

“I heard about him.” Dalen said with a shake of his head. “Isn’t he the one that claimed he was the son of some God or another sired on a mortal woman?”

“No, he claimed to be the son of the Lady, sired by a warrior.” Bart said with a sigh. “My father’s an Adept, and he built the gate for the Shin’a’in shaman that came to investigate the claim. A Herald escorted him from k’Valdemar and he came back two weeks later. The shaman said there was no way he was an offspring of the Lady and that she herself repudiated him.”

“But isn’t he still out there?” Dalen asked with a frown.

“Oh yes, but he’s lost most of his following.” Bart laughed. “Still, there’s always someone who will listen to the wailing of the wind. The shaman denounced him and challenged him to the Moon Paths. The man refused and ran away.”

“You’d think the Star-Eyed would have denounced him herself, the way she gets involved in things.” Dalen said with a shake of his head. “I don’t think we’ve ever recorded another God or Goddess getting so involved in the affairs of mortals as the Shin’a’in Lady and Vkandis Sun-Lord.”

“It would have been easier to pick another goddess, but you know Valdemar has always had a soft spot for the Lady.” Bart said with a shake of his head. “Some would say she has always had a soft spot for Valdemar as often as she’d gotten involved in this land’s affairs.”

“You almost sound like a priest there.” Dalen laughed.

“When my parents figured out that I had no gifts at all, they considered sending me to the plains for training as a Shaman.” Bart said with a wistful sound in his voice. “I told you we’re not Tayledras, but the truth is that the Firkans have always lived in the Vale. The difference is that we always seem to fall in love and marry someone who is not Tayledras. All my brothers are gifted, as are my sisters. They’re mages, healers, or at least have Mindspeech. Kalen, my younger brother even has animal mindspeech that is very powerful. Me, I have no gifts at all.”

“That must have been difficult.” Dalen said with a frown, trying to imagine what it would be like to be totally head blind like that. “I mean, the Vales, it’s said everyone there has some gift or another.”

“That’s why they considered sending me to the clans.” Bart shrugged as he took a sip of the cider and put his feat up on the small coffee table. The ancient style of slippers on his feet showed he had slightly larger feet than Dalen had expected. “The Shin’a’in don’t usually have gifts. I went with the Shaman when he returned to his clan, but after a couple of months I knew it wasn’t the life for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the horses, but being a nomad isn’t for me.”

“Wow, you sound like you’ve been around to a lot of places.” Dalen said with a shake of his head.

“The Tayledras move around a lot.” Bart shrugged. “The Kal’e’din that sprouted both the Tayledras and Shin’a’in were largely nomadic according to legend.”

“I have read the Chronicles of Ma’ar.” Dalen snorted. “They are required reading for all mages in the Collegium and I read them before I even came here. Ma’ar hated the Kaled’a’in almost as much as he hated the Gryphons. I’ve also read the private accounts of the life of Vanyel Ashkevron by Adept Firesong.”

“I didn’t think they let people outside the vales see that.” Bart exclaimed in genuine surprise as he looked at Dalen with wonder.

“I’m an Ashkevron.” Dalen shrugged. “It’s said the copy I read was given by Adept Firesong to the Lord Ashkevron right before the Adept’s death. He gave it to be read by every Lord Ashkevron, and any Ashkevron born with the Mage-Gift so we would know the sacrifices, and price paid, by our Ancestor.”

“The Vales let anyone who wants read it, as long as they are from the Vale.” Bart said with a slight shake of his head. “Your ancestor was amazing. Could you imagine living through the things he did?”

“No.” Dalen said with a shudder. “Nor would I want to pay the price he paid. Think about it, being stuck as a guardian spirit of a forest for century after century…”

“At least he was with his lifebonded.” Bart said with a hint of wistfulness in his voice.

“Don’t forget his acerbic Companion.” Dalen chuckled. “Firesong was quite clear about her weird sense of humor.”

“You don’t think it was romantic?” Bart asked with a slight frown.

“Sure, it was romantic, what with Bard Stefan ‘earning’ his way to centuries of being bound to the forest with Vanyel.” Danel snorted. “That sounds like something the Lady would demand, or Vkandis. Jump through the Fires of Heaven so you can spend eternity bound to protecting others.”

“You don’t care about others?” Bart asked with an undertone in his voice. “I thought all the royal family members were Heralds.”

“Do you see me wearing white?” Dalen asked with another snort. “Or my mother? No, not all the royal family members are suited to being Heralds. Sure, to be Heir, or the Monarch, you have to be a Herald, but you know, that’s not something I worry about.”

“What are you going to be?” Bart asked cautiously.

“If I get my way, I will be a Mage-Artificer.” Dalen said in a low voice, just in case his mother or one of her servants was listening at his door again. The fact that his new friend didn’t frown at his statement was a good sign at least.

“That’s not too bad.” Bart said as he gave Dalen an assessing look.

“What brings you to court, anyway?” Dalen asked, switching the topic away from him and to the page. “I haven’t seen you around before, and you seem a little too old to be starting out as a Page at your age, even if you don’t have any gifts.”

“I told you my father sent me to the plains and that I didn’t quite take to the nomadic life of the Shin’a’in.” Bart said slowly while looking at his almost-empty cup. “They hoped I’d take to being a Shaman, I think, but I really didn’t have the temperament. The Lady expects certain things from her priests and I didn’t quite have what she wanted. I guess I could have gone the route of a Swordswon, but that wasn’t really for me, and like I said, the nomadic life was a little bit too much. Sure, the Tayledras move every ten years or so, but when we do it isn’t like the nomadic roaming the Shin’a’in do every year. They said I could have learned to be a horse trainer as well, but you know how the horse markets are doing. Not even Shin’a’in mounts are bringing in the money like they did before those locomotives. When the artificers finally perfect their steam wagons that can use regular roads instead of rails, horses will be a thing of the past altogether.”

“You think so?” Dalen countered. “It is one thing to have a mage power a locomotive, but another thing to power hundreds, maybe thousands of steam wagons that could use the roads.”

“What do mages have to do with it?” Bart asked. “You know they use wood or blackrock in other countries, right? It’s only Valdemar and Hardorn that have switched over to pure mage-powered locomotives. The Royal lines use mage-power in Rethwellan, and the Prophet’s lines in Karse use their sun-mage power on their official lines, but most of the locomotive transports in those countries still use blackrock or wood. The smaller Alliance countries don’t use mage-power at all.”

“I just assumed that since the Valdemar Council mandated the change that…” Dalen started to say but let his voice drift off as he blushed slightly.

“Ah, the infamous Valdemaran arrogance!” Bart laughed aloud. “It’s always about Valdemar!”

“Shut up.” Dalen groused. “You’re Valdemaran too, or you wouldn’t be a page.”

“Dual citizenship as Tayledras and Valdemaran.” Bart stated, holding up a slender finger and wagging it at Dalen. “The Firkans have always had dual citizenship, and I’m truly a child of the Alliance, having lived in three member-states.”

“So why are you here now?” Dalen asked his original question again.

“When I returned from the plains, my father worried about what to do with me.” Bart said with a shrug. “Frankly, being ungifted in the Vales can be dangerous, especially with the Heartstone after our last move.”

“Why is that?” Dalen asked.

“You know most of the damage from the last Mage Storms has been cleansed, right?” Bart asked and Dalen nodded.

“Part of that is because the defense devised by Herald-Mage Elspeth and Darkwind k’Sheyna.” Dalen answered. “They drained all the nodes in the Alliance in the last wave of the storm, cancelling out magic for a while. It took years for ley-lines and nodes to start forming again.”

“Yes, well, the draining kept things better than the histories say it was after the first Cataclysm.” Bart said before finishing off the last of his cider. “When the Valdemar population started expanding westward, all the Vales focused on clearing those lands as quickly as possible. We’d never before been able to coordinate with kingdoms like Valdemar, and it was a good opportunity. K’Valdemar and K’Treva cleansed most of the lands in the Valdemar border area, while the rest of the Vales took the lands to the South. Our last move, well it was a patch of land actually closer to Ghost Clan and the original vale than we’d been in forty years, but it is further north, and it’s had a long time to fester. The cleansing is a lot more difficult than normal and the new Heartstone is a little more unstable.”

“What does that have to do with you?” Dalen asked.

“I said I was ungifted.” Bart said with a hint of regret in his voice.

“So?” Dalen asked. “Aren’t there other ungifted in the Vale?”

“Not really.” Bart said with a shrug. “The Tayledras all have some level of gifts, and are able to handle the energies of a Heartstone. Me, though, like I said, I have no Tayledras blood. Normally that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the Heartstone could be a problem with this bad patch needing cleansing. Father thinks it will be safe for me to return in a decade or two. Until then, he sent me to the court because I thought it would be better here than on the plains. At least here you’re not expected to move around every few weeks, and there is a Heartstone here, so it doesn’t feel too weird like the plains did.”

“What do you mean by that?” Dalen asked, feeling totally lost.

“I don’t have any active gifts, but I do have dormant gifts.” Bart sighed. “Maybe they could be blasted open, but I never wanted that and neither did my parents. It’s so easy to go mad during the process, it wasn’t worth the risk. I can feel the Heartstone partly because of that, and because I grew up with one around. It gives this place a feeling of home, almost.”

“Oh.” Dalen said with a frown. He’d never really thought of it like that before. Ever since he’d arrived here, and been reintroduced to the stone, it had been a presence in the back of his head, a part of his life and he let himself imagine for a moment of life without it around, and he thought he might understand, in some way, what Bart was talking about. “So, why a page?”

“I think I might want to work for the Alliance someday, or maybe Valdemar.” Bart said with a slight shrug. “The Royal Page Program is a good way to get full scholarship into the Collegium, and from there into the Civil Service program.”

“You want to be a parchment-pusher?” Dalen asked with a feeling of incredulousness.

“You make it sound awful or something.” Bart laughed. “How typical. You don’t think the Alliance is kept running just by mages, Heralds, and the monarchs or their ambassadors, do you? What would you lot do without scribes to make sure your important words are written down faithfully, or Lady help me, the tax collectors that make sure the Merchants pay their taxes on time and properly?”

“What kind of person wants to be a tax collector?” Dalen shook his head in wonder. “They have to be the most hated people in the kingdom?”

“Yeah, the most hated until someone’s home gets destroyed by a fire and it is the tax collector’s duty to give them credit for past taxes and assistance from the emergency funds.” Bart laughed and Dalen nodded his head to concede the point. That was one of the duties of a tax collector in an emergency situation. They had the power to open the local treasuries to cover local emergencies until the capitol could respond.

“So that is what you want to do?” Dalen asked again.

“Hellfires no.” Bart laughed. “I’m not sure what I want to do, but it’ll be something in the Civil Service, I’m pretty sure. I like Haven, and I think I’m more at home here than I am back in k’Valdemar. Don’t get me wrong, I hate the Page’s Barracks. Most of the pages wouldn’t last ten minutes in the Vale, or five on the plains, but once I’m in the Collegium it’ll be better with the dorms.”

“Don’t count on it.” Dalen laughed. So maybe the kid didn’t have it all figured out yet.

“What do you mean by that?” Bart asked with a worried tone.

“Let’s just say I ended up being glad my mother made me stay in the apartments.” Dalen was amused by knowing something his new friend didn’t. “They are probably as immature in the dorms as you’re seeing in the Page’s barracks. Not a day goes by that someone or another played a prank on someone else, or there was a water war between the Artificers and the Herald-Trainees or something else going on. This morning Lordan walked into History with ink-smeared notes claiming one of the mage students magicked his room to make it rain.”

“Did they?” Bart chuckled.

“No, it was an Artificer that did it.” Dalen smiled in reply. “She managed to somehow set off the sprinkler system in that room, and only that room to get him back for shutting off the hot water lines while she was bathing the day before.”

“That sounds just like the Page’s Barracks.” Bart said with a rueful shake of his head, but there was a hint of a smile on his face.

“You wouldn’t believe half the…” Dalen stopped speaking in mid-sentence as he felt a very peculiar feeling wash over him. It took him a moment to realize what it was, and was surprised at the faint frown on Bart’s face.

“That felt like a shield.” Bart said in a low voice.

“You felt that?” Dalen asked as he got to his feet.

“Yes.” Bart answered and Dalen turned to head out the doorway even as the Palace’s bells began ringing in a sequence he’d never heard before. “That’s the alarm sequence.”

“What’s happening?” Dalen’s mother demanded as the two young men entered the sitting room of the suite. The two older women were on their feet as well, with worried expressions on their faces. “That is the alarm sequence. It hasn’t been used since the Empire attempted to invade Hardorn when I was a little girl.”

“I don’t know, yet, mother.” Dalen said firmly.

“If you will pardon me, my lady, I must report to the Council Chambers.” Bart said with a stiff bow to Princess Seleney who barely acknowledged him.

“Find out what’s going on, son.” Seleney ordered in a tone and Dalen took the opportunity to leave the room at a trot with barely a bow to his mother.

What is happening? Dalen wondered to himself as he headed towards the room of the palace that housed the actual Heartstone itself. He was sure he would find answers there.

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. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works.
Valdemar world, characters, events belong to Mercedes Lackey and Tor Publishing
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And here is the beginning of that first crisis. I wonder what is going to happen?


Bart is really intriguing too. I hope he has a larger part to play in this story.

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hmm i’m feeling that Bart’s dormant gifts are going to be forced open 🤨 

Vanyel’s dormant gifts were forced open in the Magic Trilogy 😬 and that was how started that Vanyel’s legend 

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I like the fast comaradery between Bart and Dalen.  I have a feeling that Bart will be more than just "scenery", and that his pretentious, snobby mother will object.  Looks like the action is about to start!

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