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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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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.

Tests of Blood - 5. Chapter 5

“You are alright, are you not, son?” Lofar Ashkevron’s image was in the viewer of the Teleson and Dalen sighed yet again. His father looked tired, and worn as he stood in the viewing disk of the long-range communication device. These devices were not secure, could be overheard by enemy mages, but Lofar would not settle until he was able to see his son.

“I am, father.” Dalen said with a forced smile on his face. He reckoned his own appearance wasn’t much better, under the glamours he’d put on just before this call to his father. It wouldn’t do for General Lofar Ashkevron to be disturbed by worries about his son when he was the commander of all troops in the central front against the Black Kings. “Things are much more secure here, now.”

“Well, give my love to your mother, and take care of yourself.” Lofar said as he prepared to end the call. He paused though and gave his son a smile. “Oh, and Dalen, I am proud of you. From all accounts you handled yourself very well.”

“Thank you, father.” Dalen said with a slight smile. “You take care of yourself down there. It is far more dangerous where you are than up here where I am.”

“I will, son.” Lofar said before ending the call. Dalen leaned up from the small wood machine with its large central viewing disk and sapphire control handles. As soon as he moved away from the machine, the MindSpeaker who was in charge of it took it back and fiddled with the controls. This device was one of those normally used for communications with the southern border, and was in constant demand. Dalen just nodded to the man in his late twenties and moved out of the chamber in the Palace that was set aside for these devices.

“Your highness, his Majesty requests that you attend him as soon as you were done.” A young page of no more than ten years old said to Dalen as soon as he was in the corridor. Dalen looked at the brown-haired boy who was shifting nervously as he waited for a response.

“That’s good, Jembry.” Dalen said calmly. “Why don’t you lead the way?”

“Yes, your highness.” The boy said in his high-pitched voice, sketching a bow before turning to lead Dalen down the halls of the Palace. There was no need for him to lead the way, but the pages seemed to love this part of their duties, and Jembry more than most. Silentstorm had remarked that the boy seemed to have a great deal of self-doubt and associating with ‘important people’ raised his self-esteem.

How the ambassador of a foreign government knew so much about the inner workings of the Valdemar Court, Dalen knew better than to ask. It was odd, but then there were so many things about life that were odd he knew he could spend all his life being surprised by them. Instead he just adjusted and filed it away as something to know about his surroundings.

Meeting with the King was not something Dalen had done often before the ambush in Haven’s streets a week ago. Now though, he was surprised if a day went by when he was not summoned to the royal chambers. Part of him was deeply flattered by this attention, especially since part of it was because it seemed the King, his cousin, was truly worried about him.

Dalen was surprised when he realized that Jembry was not leading him to the Royal Chambers, or any of the regular meeting rooms used by the King of Valdemar. Instead they were heading outside, onto the Palace grounds. His confusion grew even more as the page led him towards the great meadow in the heart of Haven that was known as Companion’s Field.

“Where are we going?” Dalen asked the boy as they neared the stable and fence that marked the territory that really belonged to the Companions of Valdemar. He had not been down here since he was a little boy and had seen a Companion choose the daughter of one of the Court’s functionaries. At first he’d been scared the companion was coming for him, but then it veered off and went to the girl who was standing at the fence just a few paces away.

“The King is riding and wanted you to join him.” Jembry said innocently and Dalen sighed while the boy led him into the stable. The King was already astride his Companion, a tall mare Dalen knew was named Colette.

“Your Majesty.” Dalen said with a slight bow of his head as was appropriate for this situation. He noted a brown gelding that was saddled and held by a groom nearby.

“I assume you know how to ride, cousin?” King Rothan, Monarch of Valdemar asked with an arched eyebrow.

“I do, sire.” Dalen said and followed the gesture of the King to the waiting gelding. He mounted with confidence and clucked at the horse to follow the King and his Companion out of the stable. No boy could grow up in Forst Reach without learning how to ride a horse, and this gelding was well-trained and relatively gentle.

“I don’t get enough time to ride with Colette these days.” Rothan said quietly after they had cleared the stable and headed out into the rolling meadow known as Companion’s Field. Dalen looked around nervously at all the riderless Companions and reminded himself that most of them already had Heralds.

“I haven’t been riding since I returned to Haven.” Dalen said while forcing himself to relax a bit. His horse was getting restive, picking up on his own nervousness and he knew he would need to calm down before the horse acted out on Dalen’s nerves.

“We haven’t talked about my restricting you to the Palace.” Rothar said gently as they continued their leisurely ride. “Are you alright with that?”

“Yes, I am.” Dalen said, dropping the honorifics as his cousin had instructed for when they were alone. “I only went out into the city that once, really. You do realize that I was not the target? They were targeting the Herald-Trainees as near as we have been able to discover.”

“Yes, I am fully aware of that, Dalen.” The King chuckled. He was a man of middling height and narrow shoulders. More than anything he resembled a scholar despite the Herald Whites he wore. “I was just concerned you might feel confined. You should know you are always welcome to come riding with me if you need to get out of the Palace.”

“Thank you.” Dalen said politely, but he would still avoid Companion’s Field as much as possible.

“Ah, your usual reticence to being around Companions.” Rothar laughed lightly. “I’ve heard about it, of course. Some of the Heralds first thought you shared your mother’s dislike of Heralds altogether, but Trainee Paet assured us that you just don’t want to be Chosen.”

“It is true.” Dalen murmured, his cheeks flushing as Colette gave him a very direct look and the King laughed again.

“Colette says I should tell you something.” Rothar laughed and Dalen shivered slightly at the reminder that Companions were every bit as intelligent as humans. “She says that no Companion would force themselves on someone. If you don’t want to be Chosen, you will never be Chosen.”

“I wish I could believe that.” Dalen chuckled to himself and ignored the snort of outrage from the companion, letting her know he was joking by the smile on his face. The King, for his part, laughed as well.

“I really do wish I had been able to see you growing up here at Court.” Rothar said after he had finished laughing. “You are a delightful young man that I am proud to know.”

“I think it wouldn’t have been worth having my mother around.” Dalen said, and as much as he loved his mother, he knew it was true.

“That is a fact.” Rothar said with a frown as they made their way around a small grove of pine trees that gave off a wonderful scent. “Your mother and her love affair with the plebiscites are pure headaches at this point in time. I suppose you have heard their latest demands for election of representatives to the Royal Council?”

“I have.” Dalen said with a sigh. “Mother is quite convinced they will elect her as one of them.”

“Yes, she would, and it is a reasonable assumption on her part.” Rothar sighed again and had a pained look on his face. “To be honest, I am not intrinsically opposed to the idea. Valdemar is growing more populace every year, and we have good people in the general population, most of whom would lend needed voices and opinions to the deliberations of the Council. Unfortunately, most of them want nothing to do with the plebiscites and would not end up on any such Council.”

“I heard an interesting idea, the other day.” Dalen began cautiously, not sure if the King would want to hear about it or not.

“Oh?” The King said when he did not continue.

“Yes, a friend of mine wondered why we just didn’t create something to let the plebiscites get their voice, but no real power.” Dalen continued. “He said we could make a type of People’s Council or something like that. They’d be elected by the people and have representatives from all over Valdemar. It’d be their job to review civil proposals, taxes, and similar stuff, and then they’d vote their recommendations to the Royal Council for a final decision.”

“Now that is an interesting idea.” Rothar said after a moment of silence. “We could let them review all tax policies, civil laws and the like. The Army and Alliance issues would play no part in that, of course. Their vote wouldn’t be binding, I assume?”

“No, but it should carry some weight.” Dalen said, adding his own thoughts to what Bart had suggested. “Like, on domestic spending, the Royal Council would have to vote to not implement something the People’s Council supported.”

“That has real merit, Dalen.” Rothar said with a chuckle and a gleam in his eye. “You should know, I have had nothing but good reports from all of your instructors. It is almost a pity you aren’t Chosen.”

“Why is that?” Dalen asked defensively.

“Don’t get so worried.” The King replied with a chuckle. “Both of my children are showing signs that they will make great Healers, and you know that means they will not be Chosen. Healers are very rarely Chosen. Dellinar of course has several children, but they are still very young. If you were Chosen, I wouldn’t hesitate to name you Heir Presumptive.”

“I…” Dalen felt like the horse he was riding had just kicked him in the gut. His eyes were round as saucers as he stared at the King, who was again chuckling.

“Your mother of course wouldn’t know if she should be happy or mad.” Rothar continued as he chuckled. “She’d be happy her son was the Heir of course, and mad that you had the gall to be Chosen when she was not.”

“I am not my mother and I do not live for her approval.” Dalen almost growled as he shook his head and glared at the King.

“No, you most certainly are not.” Rothar agreed. “I thank the gods that for Valdemar’s sake you are not like your mother. If memory serves, you do turn sixteen in a few months, do you not?”

“That is correct.” Dalen said cautiously as his horse and the King’s Companion resumed their movement.

“Sixteen is the Age of Reckoning as you know full well.” Rothar continued in a light tone, but there was an edge of steel below the surface of his voice. “Put simply, you are of adult age and able to enter into legally binding contracts, get married, or any other adult responsibilities.”

“I’m not about to get married if that is what you are worried about.” Dalen said quickly.

“No, not unless you were to marry that Firkin boy.” Dalen laughed and then frowned at the shocked look on the King’s face. “Come now boy, you should know we would not look down on a shaych Prince in the family.”

“I’m not shaych.” Dalen almost growled.

“Oh, then I apologize for my presumption.” The King said in a sober voice. “We’ve just seen how close the two of you have become, and when you asked Dell to get the boy into the Collegium…”

“It was to get him away from my mother’s clutches.” Dalen said through half-gritted teeth and the King held up his hands defensively as Dalen’s horse began to shuffle with uneasiness at his anger.

“My apologies, cousin.” The King said gently and Dalen took in a deep breath, holding it and then releasing it slowly while letting go of his anger. Controlling emotions was the core of becoming a good mage, and he exercised the controls that were among his first lessons in magecraft.

“Accepted, cousin.” Dalen said when he’d gotten a handle on his emotions.

“Herald Torrance informs me that you are becoming quite skilled as a mage.” The King said after a long silence between them. “I am not a mage of course, but I do understand much about the rankings amongst mages. Journeyman is of course the first level after a mage has finished his initial training, usually a mage achieves this rank when they have reached a basic level of control of basic skills. Most of the time the tests are given when a mage reaches legal age at sixteen, here in Valdemar.”

“I haven’t taken the Journeyman level tests yet.” Dalen said softly, not quite sure where the King was going with this topic.

“You haven’t taken the test, but when you arrived here in Haven your abilities were between those of a Journeyman and a Master, was that not accurate?” Rothar asked and Dalen nodded slowly.

“I… I wasn’t allowed to take the Journeyman tests at Forst Reach, and I declined when Prince Dellinar offered.” Dalen answered the question.

“Why?” The King asked.

“I didn’t want to seem too greedy, or like I was getting preference because I am from the Royal Family.” Dalen said quietly and the King laughed loudly.

“You have no idea how many questions I’ve dealt with from people who wondered if you were trying to hide your true abilities!” Rothar said. “At least one Herald approached Dellinar to ask if you were a danger to the Crown because it was obvious you were far more capable than you were showing.”

“I didn’t know that.” Dalen said calmly.

“It wasn’t something to concern you with.” Rothar shrugged it off. “Torrance tells me that since Dell left us, you have been operating somewhere between the level of a Master and an Adept.”

“I’m not ready for an Adept level test, yet.” Dalen said swiftly, defensively. “I mean, yes, handling Heartstones and nodes is usually part of being an Adept, but I was born with the ability to manipulate them at some level. There is more to being a mage than raw power. I think I’ll be ready for Master when I reach sixteen, but I’ll need years more training before I can reach Adept.”

“Or experience.” The King said gently and Dalen frowned at him.

“What kind of experience, your majesty?” Dalen asked, purposely using his cousin’s title because it sounded like he was talking as King first and foremost here.

“We have drained the Palace of our most experienced mages, and we will need to replace the mages on the front line soon, pulling them back here to rest up and recuperate.” The King said. “This abrupt war has proven to be a dangerous drain on all of our resources, both across the Alliance and within Valdemar itself. We have been at peace for so long that we have grown to live in dependence on magic for many parts of our everyday life.”

“I’ve heard the likes of Master Tanner and Lord Prager complaining about that.” Dalen said with a nod of his head in agreement.

“Yes, well we have had enough non-Herald mages volunteer to join the war effort so that we won’t need to conscript any.” Rothar said with a frown. “But, that leads many of their duties unfulfilled. Dell will be returning with the first wave, shortly after your sixteenth birthing day. At that time I would appreciate it if you would consider a posting in Burnham. It is…”

“The southernmost town on the Central line that runs North to South in Valdemar.” Dalen interrupted the King’s explanation of the town’s location. “It is the primary shipping point for goods from central Valdemar to the Southern areas as well as where all the Holderkin ship their wool and crops to the main markets. Population is estimated at ten thousand and it is governed by a locally elected council in combination with guild officers. Lord Aberly is the nearest nobility with a manor house three leagues outside of town and there is a garrison of company strength permanently assigned there.”

“Very good.” Rothar said without a hint of irony or sarcasm. “I want you to be the Crown Representative to their local Council, as well as resident Mage until the mages normally assigned there return. I am assured you are more than capable in the weather-working skills needed, and that you will be able to handle the local nodes even if you are not an official Adept.”

“It is also the local hotbed of plebiscite rabble rousing.” Dalen added with a frown.

“Yes, there is that, and one other thing.” The King said with a sigh. “The last Herald on circuit there was injured in a bandit raid over in the Holderkin territory. There haven’t been bandits in that area since the treaty with Karse.”

“You think the Karsites have lost control of the bandits in the area?” Dalen asked with a little bit of surprise. Nothing had shaken the alliance between Valdemar and Karse since it was formed.

“No, we think the bandits are coming from Menmillith with the backing of their crown.” King Rothar said with a frown of disgust. “The Son of the Sun is sending a Sun-Priest to the area with a detachment of troops because there have been raids on their side as well. You should not get directly involved with this problem, but if there is magic involved, your assistance might be needed. I will be sending Herald Landir down there in the next week along with two Trainees that are nearing their Whites. We have plenty of troops down there, and Landir knows if he needs magic help to call on you or the Sun-Priest. Are you willing to do this for me?”

“Are you sure you want me?” Dalen asked and the King gave him a long look before he sighed. “I hate politics, you know. Given a choice I’d rather just be an artificer.”

“You should have asked to be born into another family.” Rothar chuckled ruefully. “I think when I am in the Havens I will demand a normal family my next time around.”

“So you believe…” Dalen started to ask but shook his head. “No, sorry, that is just me trying to ignore the topic. The answer is: yes. I will accept the posting.”

“Excellent.” Rothar said with a smile. “I didn’t really doubt you would. Unfortunately for you, I am afraid you will have to undertake several more lessons. Torrance says he can make time in your schedule in the evenings.”

“Yes, especially since I won’t be able to go out to a tavern anymore.” Dalen half-joked.

“Excellent!” Rothar said with a fake enthusiasm that was somehow catching. “Don’t worry, some of these lessons will be with me, directly. I want you to understand exactly what I want of you, and what authority you will be given. The rest will be with Crown attorneys as well as the Seneschal and Heralds who have ridden circuit there recently and are currently in Haven. Don’t worry, we won’t overload you but there will be plenty to learn.”

“Gee, thanks your Majesty, just what I wanted: more lessons.” Dalen sighed.

“I’ll see that at least some parts of the lessons are out here, while we ride.” Rothar said and Dalen groaned at the thought of regular trips out amidst Companions. At least the King’s Companion chose that moment to turn and begin to head back to the stable. “Ah, I see our time is up and we should be heading back. Care for a gallop?”

The question was rhetorical as Colette leaped forward into a gallop. His gelding had little hope of keeping up, but did his best to follow the swiftly moving Companion. For some reason, there was a smile on Dalen’s face as he dismounted, clasped hands with the King, and watched as his Royal Cousin was immediately surrounded by a bevy of Advisors, including the sharp-faced King’s Own Herald.

Dalen smelled like horse all through his afternoon activities deep in the Palace’s Heartstone Chamber. They were a mixture of lessons and actual working as he cast complicated seeking spells along a specific range of Valdemar’s eastern border with Hardorn. It required him to draw significant amounts of power from the Heartstone to scan the metals below the surface that far away. By the time they finished, he was exhausted, but he was certain they had found a new copper deposit that would be a source of revenue for the miners put out of work by the environmental regulations.

Dalen ate a quick snack of high-energy fruit bars before heading back to his own quarters. Herald Torrance was nearly asleep where he stood, and he directed two palace servants waiting outside to take the elderly Herald back to his quarters. Diers for his part was in little better condition and left for his own quarters without even saying farewell.

“Mother.” Dalen exclaimed in surprise when he entered the apartments he shared with his mother. Last time he had spoken to her, in the early hours of the morning, she was planning to be at Lady Orland’s party tonight. “What are you doing here? Was the party cancelled?”

“No, I sent my regrets.” She said with a smile. Tonight she was dressed in her lounging robe of pure blue silk with white lace at the sleeves and neckline. Her smile was calm as she motioned to one of the chairs in the sitting room. “Why don’t you join me? We never seem to have time to talk anymore.”

“I, uh, you know things have been busy.” Dalen said softly. After the attack, she had been near frantic with worry over him and almost seemed to blame him for putting himself in danger.

“Yes, and by all accounts you are doing more than your duty.” She said with a sigh as he sat down. Leaning forward, she rang a little bell and a servant appeared with a large tray full of food. There was already a pot of tea and two cups on the table. “I assume you will not want any wine with dinner?”

“No, I need a clear head for all the spellwork.” Dalen said uncomfortably shifting in his seat at his mother’s words.

“You shouldn’t let them work you so hard, son.” She said sourly. “There are rings under your eyes again.”

“I do what is necessary, and no more than anyone else is doing.” He said with a sigh.

“Has there been any more word from your father?” She asked.

“I spoke with him today by teleson.” Dalen said quietly.

“Funny.” She shook her head. “You have received a letter from him at least once every handful of days and spoken with him by teleson several times. I, on the other hand, have only received two letters from him in all the time he has been gone.”

“You can’t blame me for that.” Dalen said far more sharply than he would have if he wasn’t so tired.

“I do care about your father, you know.” She said acidly as the servant hastened from the room. Dalen leaned forward and took a plate of food, filled with a good serving of roast, sweet potatoes, and fresh steamed vegetables. A rich gravy covered everything, and there was a healthy trencher of fresh bread as well, soaked with butter and juices.

“I know.” Dalen said with a slight sigh as he took a bite of food. It was every bit as good as what was served at the royal table during meals with the Court.

“He has always had his duties, as I have had mine.” She said primly as she played with the food in front of her.

“Royal mischief-maker-in-chief?” Dalen asked and instantly regretted his words. If he had been less tired he’d have never spoken them aloud.

“That was unkind.” His mother snapped at him.

“Sorry.” He replied instantly and she frowned at him.

“I know very well what your father and you both think of me.” She said with a sigh. “I don’t know what I can do to help you understand me. Valdemar is at a crossroads, I have always known that. How we govern our people must change or we will be caught up in the mess when the people demand change.”

“For some reason I don’t see the streets filled with unhappy people.” Dalen said with a shake of his head. “Most people seem well-satisfied with how Valdemar is ruled.”

“What would you know?” His mother snapped at him derisively. “When was the last time you left the Palace and talked to the common people?”

“That would be the night of the ambush.” Dalen said sarcastically.

“Yes, and what has your investigation shown?” She asked, knowing full well the answer.

“They were helped by certain citizens of Haven who fled that night.” Dalen replied, giving her the answer she was looking for and then he chose to turn it around on her as he continued. “As I recall, they were associated with the plebiscite movement of which you are so fond.”

“I had nothing to do with the attack.” She snapped right back at him. For a moment he doubted her truthfulness but he pushed it aside. There was no way she could have been involved. “Nor were the leaders of the plebiscite movement. They have taken steps to make sure they have not been further infiltrated by the agents of the Black Kings.”

“I know that, mother.” Dalen said in an aggravated tone as he set the bread down. “I don’t see what your point is here.”

“The King is sending you away from Haven after your birthing day.” She said flatly.

“How do you know that?” He asked her in surprise. “I haven’t told anyone and just found out today.”

“He is my cousin as well as yours, my son.” She said firmly. “I would advise you to politely refuse his request. He wanted to send you earlier but I flat refused. Do not forget, you are not yet of age and I have final say on what you can and cannot do.”

“Unless I get chosen, and then the Crown would decide.” Dalen shot back and instantly regretted it as she laughed.

“No, I think you still do not want to be Chosen.” She laughed. “It would destroy your dreams for the future.”

“I’d rather be Chosen than be caught up in your games.” Dalen said angrily as he stood up and barely reigned in his anger before saying what he really wanted to say to her. Instead he continued in a much calmer voice. “Mother, I am a member of the Royal Family and will do my duty as I see fit. When I am of age, I will accept the King’s posting and do my duty in this time of war. You will not be able to stop me, and I suggest you do not try and do anything between now and then to make the situation more difficult. Despite everything, I do love you and do not want to have to directly defy you.”

“You love me?” She snarled loudly, throwing the cup of tea so that it shattered against a wall. “You say you love me, but all your life you have connived with your father and the rest of them to keep me hobbled! Well! If that is what you want Dalen Valdemar Ashkevron, that is what you can have! You want to do what you want so much? I tell you what. Tomorrow you can find your own quarters!”

“If that is what you wish, my mother.” Dalen said and turned on his heel before storming out of the apartments. The door was slammed behind him and he bit back the tears that were almost forming in his eyes. The halls echoed with his footsteps as he stormed out of the Royal wing and headed towards the Mage’s Collegium. He’d be able to get a room there for the night.

After that, well there were plenty of options.

© 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. Authors are responsible for properly crediting Original Content creator for their creative works. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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.
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The mother son talk went about as well as I expected. I'm afraid that there is something else behind all the political intrigue and it's a shame that Dalen is getting caught up in it.

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yes a shame indeed, very weary of his mother but u think she is right in some ways the common folks are always restless

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On 01/23/2013 08:57 AM, Rebelghost85 said:
The mother son talk went about as well as I expected. I'm afraid that there is something else behind all the political intrigue and it's a shame that Dalen is getting caught up in it.
Mother/son talks rarely go well at Dalen's age...and that's without all the politics added in to the mix.
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Dalen could use time away from his mother. Ultimately she will find that her scheming doesn't pan out in the way that she thinks.

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