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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 - 4. Chapter 4

“Really, why we’re spending good Valdemaran blood for those barbarians down south I will never understand!” Lord Prager, a court fop who rarely visited his ancestral lands in the east of Valdemar said with contempt in his voice.

“What worries me is the discussion on raising taxes.” Master Karl Tanner, one of the many Guild representatives on the Council said with a grimace as he stood next to Lord Prager. Dalen wished he could be somewhere else, doing something besides wearing court finery that made him feel foolish, and listening to these ‘friends’ of his mother.

“Tell me, Prince Dalen, is it true that they will be dropping two more runs of the locomotives because they are drafting those mages to go south?” Ilyena Frost, a young lady whose father was a prominent banker asked with a frown on her face.

“Surely not!” Karl Tanner exclaimed. “We have heard nothing about this on the Council! Such a decision would have to at least be mentioned to us! Trade must continue if we are to pay for the burden of this little war!”

“Changes to the assignments of Court or Valdemar Mages are the responsibility of Herald Torrance.” Dalen said with a very slight shrug as he took a glass of fine pale wine from a passing attendant. Taking a sip let him pause before having to speak again. He hated these Court games, but had to admit his mother’s teachings had given him more than enough preparation. “I have my hands full enough handling my own responsibilities.”

“Hrmph. Tanner grumbled. “What are we coming to that a fine young man such as yourself has to be trusted to such duties? No offense intended, your highness. You are proving just how capable you are from all reports, but you shouldn’t be spending your days and nights doing such things. You should be free to spend that time how you would wish instead of doing the jobs of others who rushed off after fame and glory!”

“I heard there was a new offensive against the barbarian capital and it nearly broke through their defenses.” Ilyena giggled like it was a dirty secret and Dalen barely managed to not set her straight, nor did he storm off as he wanted. She had no way of knowing that a mage had died in that particular fight, and that mage had been the man who had trained him all those years back at Forst Reach.

The Black Kings were particularly vicious in targeting mages and other gifted. So far they had killed a good number of northern mages, or completely drained them so they would never cast magic again. The Alliance leadership, including the monarchs of the various kingdoms were being very careful to keep that bit of information secret, and Dalen was not about to tell any of these fops in front of him.

“Perhaps if they succeed we will be able to bring our troops home.” Tanner said with a sneer. “Hopefully it will teach those Heralds a lesson in humility!”

“I don’t know about that.” Lord Prager said with a slight huffing noise. “These Heralds are always throwing away lives like they are nothing but copper. What value do they place on the lives of normal people when they spend their own so freely?”

“Now that is a question we need to hear more often in Council.” Tanner said with a sharp nod of his head and a gleam in his eye. “I, for one, have been blessing the Dawn Lord every day since the Princess Selenay returned from that godforsaken backwater village. How your lady mother survived out there I have no clue, highness.”

“It was not as bad as you might believe from my mother’s stories, Master Tanner.” Dalen said with a shake of his head and silently praised whatever God or Goddess sent the Kaled’a’in ambassador across his path at that moment. “Pardon me gentlemen and my lady, but I do need to speak with the Ambassador no matter what I might personally prefer.”

“Of course, young man, do your duties.” Tanner said with another nod of his head as Dalen moved away. The short woman in the flowing robes of the Kaled’a’in gave him a brief nod as he fell in step beside her.

“It is a pleasure to see you again, young man.” The woman who was in her late fifties said with a brief smile. Her long dark hair had gray streaks at the temples that gave her a more dignified look, as did the beaded jewelry threaded through the small braids that adorned her. Silentstorm was wearing a robe of brown with green geodesic patterns that twisted the eye the longer one stared at them.

“It is an even greater pleasure to see you, ambassador.” Dalen said with humor in his voice. She was not a mage, but rather a strong Empath. Last week, he’d been astonished to learn that she had been assigned to give him further lessons in his Empathic gift. The first of those lessons had been two days ago, and instead of the draining experience he’d expected, he had left the lessons with her more relaxed and happier than he’d been in many days.

“Ah, I adjusted my course when I saw you were cornered by associates of your mother’s.” Silentstorm said in a voice just loud enough to reach his ears. “Those are three of them you talked about, were they not?”

“It would seem I am again in your debt, my lady.” Dalen said with a shake of his head.

“So I was right.” She smiled as they reached what seemed her destination, a spot free of courtiers but close to the dais so that the musicians playing would drown out their voices before anyone could get close enough to overhear them.

“Yes, you were right.” Dalen agreed.

“Any news from the front?” She asked him and allowed a hint of worry to enter her voice. He knew it was genuine. Silentstorm’s husband was a Kaled’a’in Adept fighting in their settlement on the northwestern rim of the Dhorisha Plains.

“Two more mages died in Kata’shin’a’in since last we spoke.” Dalen told her and felt his voice tighten slightly. “No news of any import from the Kaled’a’in settlement. The battles on the plains themselves continue with nothing significant to report as well.”

“The mages that were killed, you knew them, or one of them?” She asked him.

“Yes.” Dalen said, and allowed the lump in his throat to close it for a moment while tears filled his eyes. “The man who first taught me magic, he was killed down there. He didn’t want to go, but when Dellinar issued the call he answered. There was no way he should have been in a combat zone!”

“Your loss saddens me, Dalen.” She said sympathetically as she laid a hand on his forearm.

“I know I shouldn’t take it this bad, but it hurts.” Dalen said as he took a deep breath and bowed his head so the courtiers would not see the tears there. Weakness would not do him any good in this time.

“You’re still young, Dalen, and I dare say this is the first time you’ve had to deal with the loss of someone that you cared about.” Silenstorm said gently.

“I’m a Prince of the blood, and I’ve known my father was a soldier since I can remember!” Dalen’s voice was a bit fierce, but he didn’t care.

“Still, have you ever had to deal with the loss of someone you cared for?” She pushed and he shook his head.

“You will come see me after the lunch period tomorrow.” She said firmly and shushed him with a gesture when he opened his mouth to protest. “No, I will tell the King directly that you are needed. Until then, let yourself feel what you feel. I would suggest you have stayed long enough in tonight’s Court. You can seek out your quarters in good grace.”

“Thank you.” He said heavily and nodded to her briefly before heading out of the Hall and into the passageways.

His mother had been at the Court that evening, so he knew their apartments would be empty, yet Dalen didn’t quite feel like heading back there right away. With Court in full-swing tonight, the Royal Gardens would likely be near empty, and he felt an urge to go there and relax amidst the blooming plants. As soon as he found his way through the corridors of the Palace and out into the Gardens, he knew he’d made the right choice.

The Gardens were all but deserted, and lit only by the dimmest of mage lights tonight. Above them, the night sky was filled with stars, albeit not as many as could be seen back home in Forst Reach. The city lights of Haven prevented that, but a nearly full moon had risen and bathed the Royal Gardens in its pale light. Dalen walked down one of the paths until he reached a happily tinkling fountain and sat on the nearby bench.

Leaning back he closed his eyes and stretched out, not caring if the damp grass ruined his fancy court boots. The fountain was an old one, probably from as far back as the time of his ancestor Vanyel and was of a figure on the back of a winged horse, the symbol of Valdemar from its founding. The chains on the feet of the winged horse caused the tinkling sound as the water flowed over and through them down into a round pool that held several decorative fish in wild, garish colors.

With his eyes closed, Dalen was able to open his other senses and feel the other life in the Gardens around him. The plants and fish did not know anything about far-away wars, and neither did the insects crawling around, little sparks of life amidst the life of the grass and flowers around them. Here it was relaxing, and he could understand the allure for mages like him that could sense the deep life in all things of nature. Almost he was tempted to follow the path of mage-craft that studied and used them, but he knew his true interest lay in machinery, not living things.

“Dalen.” Bart’s soft voice wasn’t as much a surprise as it would have been if Dalen hadn’t sensed the familiar life energy of his friend. Nor was it a surprise when he opened his eyes to see two other figures next to his friend. One was a female of around the same age as Bart, and another was a brown-haired male about Dalen’s own age. Both of them were wearing non-descript clothing like Bart was at that moment.

“Hullo Bart.” Dalen said with a soft smile. The tension and headaches he’d felt in the Court hall had faded from him already, and he realize with a start that he had been meditating for close to a candlemark.

“I thought you were stuck in court all night.” Bart said with a slight smile.

“I snuck out with some help.” Dalen said with a shrug. “I was on my way back to the apartments when I stopped here for a rest.”

“Oh, well, um, Paet, Lynn, and I were about to head out to a tavern they know.” Bart said with a slight blush of his cheeks. “Do you want to come along?”

“Thanks for the invitation, but I’m not dressed for that.” Dalen said with a slightly wider smile. He knew his friend meant the invitation, and that made him feel good.

“We wouldn’t mind waiting while you changed, if you want, Lord Dalen.” Paet said in a voice higher than Dalen would have expected him to have. The guy was not slender, although he wasn’t fat either. He had the look of a farmer, with strong muscles and well-rounded shoulders accustomed to hard labor.

“You sure?” Dalen asked, sensing nothing but honesty. Both him and the girl seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite place them and their clothing gave nothing away about their status. The jean material of their pants were manufactured, as were the cotton shirts they wore, green with white stripes for Paet and a russet color for Lynn.

“We don’t mind at all, my lord.” Lynn said in a husky voice that made him stare at her a little. No, it seemed that was her normal voice as she continued. “I mean, if you don’t mind just going to a normal tavern.”

“It would be a welcome break from that stuffy Court.” Dalen said with a gentle laugh as he stood up and stretched. “Oh, and no need for the titles. Friends of Bart should use my name.”

“You want us to wait here for you?” Bart asked with a pleased smile and Dalen shook his head.

“No need, come with me.” He told them and led the way towards his apartments. As expected the guards did not raise a fuss at his ‘guests’, and he knew that meant that whoever they were, they at least belonged on Palace grounds. Perhaps they were classmates of Bart’s, or even Bardic or Healer students. Whatever they were, they walked in silence while Bart asked Dalen about the night’s festivities.

“I swear your mother should know better than to associate with the likes of Tanner and Lord Prager.” Bart said with a shake of his head. “Those two are some of the biggest supporters of the plebiscites!”

“Can we please not talk about politics or the war tonight?” Dalen asked with a sigh as they neared the apartments. “I am sick and tired of both those topics.”

“Well how about Hoopball?” Paet asked with a wide grin that showed slightly crooked teeth. “Did you hear that the Lancers are trading their star forward to the Wolverines?”

“No, really?” Dalen asked with a slight chuckle. He wasn’t that big of a fan of the game, one of the first professional sports organized in Valdemar, but he knew the basics and most of the teams.

“Oh yes, he’s going to the Rethwellan Dragoons!” Lynn spoke up in an excited tone. There was a brief break in the conversation while he left the three of them in the sitting room of his apartments and went into his room to change. Taking his cue from how the others were dressed, he chose a decent pair of jeans and a cotton shirt in royal blue from his wardrobe, as well as a pair of low-cut leather boots that his mother hated, as well as a coin purse. When he returned, the conversation picked up right where it had left off, with more of the pre-season juggling that was going on between the teams.

“I think the Gryphons will be difficult to beat again.” Paet said as they approached the Guard Post at the gate leading to the Inner City. The guard on duty exited his little shack with a clipboard but frowned when he saw Dalen.

“Prince Dalen, I um, do you have an escort, my lord?” The young guard asked in a worried tone.

“Oh surely you don’t mean to make him go around with guards do you, Jack?” Paet said in a familiar tone with the guard. “Aren’t we enough?”

“Uh, we are at war, Paet.” Jack said with a frown. He was a slender man, several years older than any of them, and moved with the grace of a well-trained fighter. The wheel-lock pistols in his belt gleamed in the light from the gas lamp and he was frowning.

“It’s not like he isn’t going out without some escort.” Lynn said gravely and for a moment she looked dangerous from the subtle shifting of her stance.

“I suppose it’ll be okay with you two along.” The Royal Guard said with a sigh. “Just make sure you’re back before curfew.”

“We will be, we’re just going to the Winged Horse.” Paet assured the Guard, who nodded before making a few notes on his clipboard.

“Have fun, and uh, may you have an enjoyable time, my lord.” Jack said with a slight bow of his head to Dalen who was frowning slightly as they left through the gate.

“You’re Herald Trainees?” He asked the two when they were finally in the Inner City through the gate.

“Oh, I thought you recognized me from those classes we had together.” Lynn said with a frown and Dalen finally placed her. She had been in one of his Geography classes for a few days before matriculating out. Classes in the Collegium were taught in cycles and you were considered to have completed a course when it finished the cycle where you started.

“You looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place you.” Dalen said with a slight smile as he tried to put away the uncomfortable feelings he always got around Heralds.

“I was under the impression you didn’t necessarily share your mother’s dislike of Heralds.” Paet said cautiously.

“No, it’s not that.” Dalen said with a sigh and a shake of his head. “Heralds are a vital part of what makes Valdemar work. It’s just… well… ever since my Gifts manifested I have been afraid I’d end up being Chosen.”

They had to stop as the two Herald-Trainees stopped dead in their tracks, staring at him before breaking into incredulous laughter that lasted for several minutes. The two of them were leaning on each other for support while Bart gave Dalen a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. For his part, Dalen felt his cheeks flushing slightly.

“I have never heard of someone worried they might be Chosen!” Paet finally managed to gasp out as he calmed down.

“I want to be an artificer, a Mage-Artificer to be precise, and Heralds are too busy to spend much time doing those things.” Dalen said with quiet dignity and the two of them sobered up almost immediately.

“Quite right, and I can see why you wouldn’t want to be Chosen.” Lynn said with a nod of her head although she was still smiling. “It would be difficult to find time for such a career if you were a Herald. It’s just that most people in the Kingdom dream of being Chosen at one time or another.”

“I’m not most people.” Dalen said seriously, but he returned the smile of the two of them.

“No, definitely not!” Paet chuckled. “Are you sure you want to go to the Winged Horse? It’s mostly Herald Trainees and a few others there. We could go to the Compass Rose instead. That place is always full of Artificers.”

“No, thank you, though.” Dalen said and heaved a sigh of relief. The offer put him at his ease with these two. They understood, just as Dellinar had, and Torrance for that matter. He had a strong suspicion that most Heralds would understand his feelings on the matter.

The Winged Horse was not that far from the Palace gates, and was filled with people ranging in age from Bart’s to several years older than Dalen. A minstrel near the corner played lively dance tunes and quite a few of the patrons were dancing to the music while others sat in groups around the tables talking in soft tones. Dalen joined Bart and his two new friends at a table with six other people ranging in age from Dalen’s to Bart’s, and were mixed Herald-Trainees as well as a few general Collegium students like Bart.

When Paet introduced him as simply ‘Dalen’ without any titles, there were several knowing looks, but generally nods of welcome for him. Not once that night did anyone say ‘Prince’, ‘Highness’, or even ‘Mage’, but rather his name. It was a nice feeling, and for the first time since coming to Haven he began to relax in a group of people. By the time the common room was beginning to empty and they knew they would have to leave, Dalen was beginning to feel like he had back at Forst Reach with his cousins.

The streets were nearly empty as they left the pub in a group with other Trainees and students. Dalen found himself in the middle of a group of about fifteen young people, all talking and laughing happily as they moved up the deserted streets towards the Palace. For the first time in a while he was completely relaxed and just enjoying himself as he joined in an argument about whether the Gryphons would benefit from their player trading or not.

It was his connection to the Heartstone that gave him his first warning. The Heartstone had been active in Haven for a long, long time and it knew what belonged and did not belong. The faint taste of foreign magic that was in the air screamed wrongness to it, and because he was there, and linked to it, the Heartstone knew something nearby was wrong. It had not been there before, on their way down, and he wondered what it could be, slowing his steps slightly.

Because he slowed, he was towards the back of the group when the sense of wrongness peaked, and he knew something bad was about to happen. Months ago he might have reacted differently, but he had been taking lessons from Herald-Mage Torrance. More than that, he knew Valdemar was at war, and how his first teacher had died in Kata’shin’a’in. Without thinking about it any further, he drew upon his own mage energies and began spinning out a basic shield to cover the group around him.

Herald-Mage Trainee Alvin was one of the people in the group with Dalen. Alvin was only fifteen, and of only moderate mage power so he had not yet been thrown in Whites and sent to the border. Of the trainees and students in the group, he was the one who felt Dalen’s actions and started looking around for danger even as Dalen’s shield began forming. It was also he who first let loose with a Mind-Call to his Companion.

Neither of their actions were quick enough though, to stop the ambush that was waiting for the group of trainees and students. Dalen had gotten reports from the front lines about the newest weapons of the Black King’s armies. Long metal sticks, half the size of a lance that allowed un-gifted troops to send blasts of mage-lightning or balls of fire into the Alliance ranks had been one of the nastiest surprises so far. They negated the advantages of wheel-lock pistols and firerods that used black powder to shoot balls of lead at the enemies of the Alliance.

The expanding shield managed to catch about half of the dozen bolts of lightning that streaked towards the groups of trainees and students heading back to the palace. Another, smaller group of students in front of them were not so lucky and took the full brunt of fireballs and lightning aimed at them. A group behind Dalen’s was also hit, and the peaceful night air was rent with cries of pain and the sounds of the fireballs and lightning exploding against flesh and the cobblestones of the street.

Part of Dalen was quivering in a ball, shrieking that this could not be happening here in the heart of Valdemar. Fortunately that part of him was small, and easily pushed aside as he finished the shield before the attackers could claim more lives than the two from his group. Knifes were appearing in the hands of all the Herald-Trainees even as Alvin lifted his hands over his head and began to send bolts of lightning back into their attackers who were now moving from their shadowed hiding places to press their attack. Dalen quickly began to spin more shields even as Alvin continued his counterattack.

His own personal mage power was going to be quickly expended as he wove shields and reinforced the existing ones now being attacked. Fortunately he had more than enough reserves to call upon from the Haven Heartstone, and he pulled on that power with a savage form of glee. His shields now protected all the remaining students and Trainees in the streets and power flooded into him from an angry Heartstone. This was the downside of a near-sentient Heartstone, because its savage core demanded revenge for this attack on ‘its’ people.

With the trainees and students safe behind the shields he had formed, Dalen clasped his hands over his head and began to weave lightning of his own to join those being cast by Alvin. The other Mage was quickly growing tired because they had to weave powerful bolts. Their attackers were shielded by something Dalen had never seen before, and it took several bolts to knock them down.

He was vaguely aware of the sound of equine screams as Companions thundered down the street. Many of them had riders on their backs, Heralds in various stages of dress, and all of them armed to the teeth. Behind the Heralds thundered more Guards in the blue and silver of the Royal Guards, and the battle lasted for no more than a few minutes as the Heralds chased down the few surviving attackers that chose to flee.

As quickly as it started, the attack ended and Dalen lowered his hand while releasing the shields he held. Just as quickly as the Heralds, Companions, and Guards had flooded down the street, so they were now flooded with Healers and Apprentices in their green uniforms, seeing to the wounded. Dalen immediately recognized the senior Herald that was now moving among the groups of students.

“By the gods, Prince Dalen!” Herald Sorenson said as she recognized Dalen in the shuffling group. Dalen was doing his best not to lose the contents of his stomach. The sausage rolls and cider had tasted good in the pub, but now they were queasy things rolling around his stomach and threatening to come back up. Bart, standing next to Dalen was pale-faced, but showed no signs of being ready to lose his stomach contents. Instead he was putting away a rather large dagger that Dalen had not known his friend was carrying.

“Herald Sorenson.” Dalen said in a shaky voice as his mind’s eye replayed the image of his lightning bolts hitting one of the attackers and flash-frying his skin. That was all it took and he was pushing through the crowd of students to kneel on the cobblestones while the contents of his stomach splashed everything near him.

“Don’t worry, it’s okay.” Bart whispered soothingly as he rubbed Dalen’s back. “It’s going to be okay. It’s over now.”

“How can you be so calm?” Dalen spat out once his stomach was emptied, vaguely aware that he was not the only one regurgitating his last few meals, but also aware that only two of them were Herald-Trainees. Looking around he noticed the Healers and Heralds were already gathering up the wounded and using horse litters to ferry them back towards the Palace and the Halls of Healing.

“It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this.” Bart said calmly. “You have to remember, I lived in a Vale. I was only ten the first time we came across a Tervadi family that a cold drake caught for its dinner. Father sent me back to the Vale while he and some other mages hunted the creature down, but I saw the Tervadi. It was worse than this.”

“Oh.” Dalen said as he accepted a wet cloth someone handed him. He looked to the source of the cloth after using it to wipe his mouth and looked up into Herald Sorenson’s face.

“You okay, young man?” Sorenson asked him gently. She was a strong-shouldered woman with a plain face and dark hair who was just entering middle-age. On her face was a comforting look that somehow made Dalen feel guilty.

“I will be, Herald.” Dalen said as he shakily regained his feet, leaning on his friend more than he thought he should, but feeling too weak to do otherwise. “Sorry I lost control like that.”

“Lad, you didn’t lose control until after things were over.” She said with a very gruff chortle. “That is nothing to be ashamed of at all. From what Trainee Alvin says, you managed to save a great many lives tonight.”

“I didn’t react fast enough.” Dalen said sourly as he looked around and noticed the bodies now being covered. “How many died?”

“Four Herald Trainees and six students were killed outright.” She replied with sadness in her voice. “Another eight Trainees and three students are seriously wounded, but the Healers think most of them stand a chance of surviving. More importantly, eleven Trainees and fifteen students are alive and unharmed. Your shields are responsible for that bit of good news.”

“Alvin helped.” Dalen said. “Others too, I think I felt a few Fetchers using their abilities.”

“You did, and we’re proud of how everyone reacted to this.” Herald Sorenson said gravely but her green eyes were focused on him. “The point is that you reacted correctly, and you saved lives. Do not blame yourself for those that perished. You did the best you could, did you not?”

“Yes.” Dalen said with a sigh and closed his eyes. “They were from the Haileigh, there can be no doubt of that.”

“Yes, and we will be having a full investigation.” She replied. “Unfortunately we took none of them alive. The few we cornered killed themselves before being captured.”

“There is a lot we can learn, and I know I’ve been wanting to study one of these weapons of theirs.” Dalen said as he looked at a few of the metal rods lying on the ground nearby. “You need to be careful picking them up though. Some of those captured on the front exploded after being handled. There is some type of trap spell put on them.”

“We know, lad.” Herald Sorenson said with a slight chuckle. “I’ve seen the same reports from the front as you. We’ll wait for one of the Herald-Mages to come and deal with them, or maybe one of the other mages.”

“Diers should handle them.” Dalen said with a sigh. “They are a little beyond my skill level right now. I can shield and throw lightning, but I haven’t mastered all the subtler magics yet.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Prince Dalen.” Sorenson said firmly. “What you are capable of saved many lives tonight.”

“Yes, but if the enemy can strike at us here, what else are they capable of doing?” Dalen asked. “They should not have been able to get these things past the wards or guards in the city.”

“That is something we will have to find out.” Herald Sorenson’s voice was as grim as his own thoughts. “For now though, if you are feeling better, we should get you back to the Palace. There are a lot of worried folks there who want to make sure you are alright.”

“Let’s get going, then.” Dalen said with a sigh, not looking forward to the scolding his mother was likely to give him.

“Don’t worry.” Bart whispered comfortingly, and Dalen put his arm around his friend. At least Bart wasn’t one of the dead or injured. That thought gave him more comfort than it should have as they made their way back to the Palace.

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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A war and Dalen is the keeper of the Heartstone! I'm worried that his mother is in the thick of things and Dalen will be forced to imprison here. The more we learn the more questions appear!

 

Great chapter and I can't wait for more.

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i am even more worried about the war and its reason and also that the enermy is black so to speak lol. but the story is progessing nicely so far

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On 01/23/2013 02:37 PM, itachibones said:
i am even more worried about the war and its reason and also that the enermy is black so to speak lol. but the story is progessing nicely so far
The books by Mercedes Lackey titled "Black Gryphon", "White Gryphon" and "Silver Gryphon" give a lot of background about why this war is happening and about the Haliegh. A short summmary is that Urtho was a super-powerful mage from thousands of years before this story who died after decades of war against the evil mage Ma'ar. The Haleigh are a dark-skinned race that live in the far south of this world. One of their defining characteristics is their adherence to tradition. They stick to tradition so hard it's almost impossible to get them to change unless at very specific times.

 

Their skin color is used as a description, not from the animus that we might have as a society. It's really a description of them, nothing more. They have reasons for what they are doing - reasons that will come out later in the story and might even make a lot of sense.

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I am guessing that there are traitors in Haven, perhaps connected to some of the court fops Dalen's mother associates with?  I hope for Dalen and his father's sake, his mother is not involved.

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