Valdemar 06 - [Exile 01] - Exile’s Honor, p.1
Table of Contents
PART ONE - EXILE’S CHOICE
PART TWO - THE TEDREL WARS
PART THREE - THE LAST BATTLE
Raves for EXILE’S HONOR
“Highly recommended” —Library Journal
“A treat for Valdemar fans” —Booklist
“A top-notch Valdemar adventure with a twist. The
robust characterizations portrayed with complexity and
vitality are a joy to embrace.” —Romantic Times
“A substantial and enjoyable addtion to the
chronciles of Valdemar.” —Locus
“EXILE’S HONOR easily stands alone. A newcomer to
the series will enjoy it. It is also a bit of pleasant wish
fulfillment, in that we get to explore characters and a bit
of timeline not really covered before.” —SF Site
“The author excels at the details of battle scenes, both in
large-scale fights and individual struggles. Working as
both a stand-out addition to the Valdemar universe and
as a starting place for those new to the series, EXILE’S
HONOR is a novel of both action and depth.”
—The Davis (CA) Enterprise
NOVELS BY MERCEDES LACKEY
available from DAW Books:
THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR
ARROWS OF THE QUEEN
THE LAST HERALD-MAGE
THE MAGE WINDS
WINDS OF FATE
WINDS OF CHANGE
WINDS OF FURY
THE MAGE STORMS
BY THE SWORD
VOWS AND HONOR
TAKE A THIEF
Written with LARRY DIXON:
THE MAGE WARS
THE BLACK GRYPHON
THE WHITE GRYPHON
THE SILVER GRYPHON
THE BLACK SWAN
THE ELEMENTAL MASTERS
THE SERPENT’S SHADOW
THE GATES OF SLEEP
PHOENIX AND ASHES1
(Written with Marion Zimmer Bradley)
Copyright © 2002 by Mercedes R. Lackey.
eISBN : 978-1-101-11864-1
All rights reserved.
Timeline by Pat Tobin
DAW Books Collectors No. 1235.
DAW Books are distributed by the Penguin Group (USA).
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All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
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First paperback printing, October 2003
DAW TARDEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
Dedicated to the memory of NYFD crews lost 9/11/2001:
Thomas Cullen III
Safety Battalion 1:
Citywide Tour Commander:
OFFICIAL TIMELINE FOR THE HERALDS OF VALDEMAR SERIES
Sequence of events by Valdemar reckoning
by Mercedes Lackey
SILVER stamped restively as another horse on the picket line shifted and blundered into his hindquarters. Alberich clucked to quiet him and patted the stallion’s neck; the beast swung his head about to blow softly into the young Captain’s hair. Alberich smiled a little, thinking wistfully that the stallion was perhaps the only creature in the entire camp that felt anything like friendship for him.
And possibly the only creature that isn’t waiting for me to fail, hoping that I will, and ready to pounce on me and cut me to pieces when I do. Life for an officer of Karsite troops was spent half in defeating the enemies of Karse and half in watching his own back.
Amazingly gentle, for a stallion, Silver had caused no problems either in combat or here, on the picket line. Which was just as well, for if he had, Alberich would have had him gelded or traded off for a more tractable mount, gift of the Voice of Vkandis Sunlord or no. Alberich had enough troubles without worrying about the behavior of his beast.
He wasn’t sure where the handsome and muscular creature had come from; Shin’a’in-bred, they’d told him. The Voice had chosen the beast especially for him out of a string of animals “liberated from the enemy.” Which meant war booty, of course, from one of the constant conflicts along the borders. Silver hadn’t come from one of the bandit nests, that was sure. The only beasts the bandits owned were as disreputable as their owners. Horses “liberated” from the bandits usually weren’
Whatever; when Alberich lost his faithful old Smoke a few weeks ago he hadn’t expected to get anything better than the obstinate, intractable gelding he’d taken from its bandit owner. But fate ruled otherwise; the Voice chose to “honor” him with a superior replacement along with his commission, the letter that accompanied the paper pointing out that Silver was the perfect mount for a Captain of light cavalry. It was also another evidence of favoritism from above, with the implication that he had earned that favoritism outside of performance in the field.
Talk about a double-edged blade. . . . Both the commission and the horse came with burdens of their own. Not a gift that was likely to increase his popularity with some of the men under his command, and a beast that was going to make him pretty damned conspicuous in any encounter with the enemy. A white horse? Might as well paint a target on his back and have done with it.
Plus that’s an unlucky color. Those witchy-Heralds of Valdemar ride white horses, and the blue-eyed beasts may be demons or witches, too, for all I know. The priests say they are. The priests call their owners the “Demon-Riders.”
The horse nuzzled him again, showing as sweet a temper as any lady’s mare. He scratched its nose, and it sighed with content; he wished he could be as contented. Things had been bad enough before getting this commission. Now—
There was an uneasy, prickly sensation between his shoulder blades as he went back to brushing down his new mount. He glanced over his shoulder, to intercept the glare of Leftenant Herdahl; the man dropped his gaze and brushed his horse’s flank vigorously, but not quickly enough to prevent Alberich from seeing the hate and anger in the hot blue eyes.
No, indeed, the Voice had done Alberich no favors in rewarding him with the Captaincy and this prize mount, passing over Herdahl and Klaus, both his seniors in years of service, if not in experience. Neither of them had expected that he would be promoted over their heads; during the week’s wait for word to come from Headquarters, they had saved their rivalry for each other.
Too bad they didn’t murder each other, he thought resentfully, then suppressed the rest of the thought. It was said that some of the priests of Vkandis could pluck the thoughts from a man’s head. It could have been thoughts like that one that had led to Herdahl’s being passed over for promotion. But it could also be that this was a test, a way of flinging the ambitious young Leftenant Alberich into deep water, to see if he would survive the experience. If he did, well and good; he was of suitable material to continue to advance, perhaps even to the rank of Commander. If he did not—well, that was too bad. If his ambition undid him, or if he wasn’t clever enough to see and avoid the machinations of those below him, then he wasn’t fit enough for the post.
That was the way of things, in the armies of Karse. You rose by watching your back, and (if the occasion arose) sticking careful knives into the backs of your less-cautious fellows, and ensuring other enemies took the punishment. All the while, the priests of the Sunlord, the ones who were truly in charge, watched and smiled and dispensed favors and punishments with the same dispassionate aloofness displayed by the One God. Karse was a hard land, and the Sunlord a hard God; the Sunpriests were as hard as both.
But Alberich had given a good account of himself along the border, at the corner where Karse met Menmellith and the witch-nation Valdemar, in the campaign against the bandits there. Frankly, Herdahl and Klaus put together hadn’t been half as effective or as energetic as he’d been. He’d earned his rank, he told himself once again, as Silver stamped and shifted his weight beneath the strokes of Alberich’s brush.
The spring sun burned down on his head, hotter than he expected without the breeze to cool him, hot as Herdahl’s angry glare.
Demons take Herdahl. There was no reason to feel as if he’d cheated to get where he was. He’d led more successful sorties against the bandits in his first year in the field than the other two had achieved in their entire careers. He’d cleared more territory than anyone of leftenant rank ever had in that space of time—and when Captain Anberg had met with one too many arrows, the men had seemed perfectly willing to follow him when the Voice chose him over the other two candidates.
It had been the policy of late to permit the brigands to flourish, provided they confined their attentions to Valdemar and the Menmellith peasantry and left the inhabitants of Karse unmolested. A stupid policy, in Alberich’s opinion; you couldn’t trust bandits, that was the whole reason why they became bandits in the first place. If they could be trusted, they’d be in the army themselves, or in the Temple Guard, or even have turned mercenary. He’d seen the danger back when he was a youngster in the Academy, in his first tactics classes. He’d even said as much to one of his teachers—phrased as a question, of course, since cadets were not permitted to have opinions. The question had been totally ignored. Perhaps because it wasn’t wise to so much as hint that the decisions of the Sunpriests were anything other than divinely inspired.
But, as Alberich had predicted, there had been trouble from the brigands once they began to multiply; problems that escalated far, far past the point where their use as an irritant to Valdemar was outweighed by their effect as a scourge on Karse. With complete disregard for the unwritten agreements between them and Karse, they struck everyone, and when they finally began attacking villages instead of just robbing solitary travelers or going after single farms, the authorities deemed it time they were disposed of.
Alberich had spent a good part of his young life in the Karsite military schools and had just finished cavalry training as an officer when the troubles broke out. The ultimate authority was in the hands of the Voices, of course. The highest anyone not of the priesthood could expect to rise was to Commander. But officers were never taken from the ranks; many of the rank-and-file were conscripts, and although it was never openly stated, the Voices did not trust their continued loyalty if they were given power.
Alberich, and many others like him, had been selected at the age of thirteen by a Voice sent every year to search out young male children, strong of body and quick of mind, to school into officers. And there was one other qualification—that at least half of them be lowborn, so that they were appropriately grateful to the Voices for their opportunity to rise in rank and station.
Alberich had all those qualities, developing expertise in many weapons with an ease that was the envy of his classmates, picking up his lessons in academic subjects with what seemed to be equal ease.
It wasn’t ease; it was the fact that Alberich studied long and hard, knowing that there was no way for the bastard son of a tavern wench to advance in Karse except in the army. There was no place for him to go, no way to get into a trade, no hope for any but the most menial of jobs. The Voices didn’t care about a man’s parentage once he was chosen as an officer, they cared only about his abilities and whether or not he would use them in service to his God and country. It was a lonely life, though. His mother had loved and cared for him to the best of her abilities, and he’d had friends among the other children of similar circumstances. When he came to the Academy, he had no friends, and his mother was not permitted to contact him, lest she “distract him,” or “contaminate his purity of purpose.” Alberich had never seen her again, but both of them had known this was the only way for him to live a better life than she had. And there had been a half-promise—which he had no way of knowing was kept—that if he did well at the Academy, his mother would be rewarded, perhaps with a little house of her own, if she could manage to keep herself from further sin. He had trusted in that particular Voice, though. The priest had no reason to lie to him—and every reason to give his mother that reward. After all, Karse needed officers. . . . willing officers, and young boys eager to throw themselves into their studies with all the enthusiasm of youth in order to become those
And he had done better than well. He had pushed himself harder than any of his classmates pushed themselves.
Friends? When did I have the time for friends? Up before dawn for extra exercise, all my spare time practicing against the older boys, and after dinner studying by the light of Vkandis’ lamps in the Temple until the priests came in for midnight prayers.
Alberich had no illusions about the purity of the One God’s priesthood. There were as many corrupt and venal priests as there were upright, and more fanatic than there were forgiving. He had seen plenty of the venal kind in the tavern when they passed through his little mountain village on the way to greater places; had hidden from one or two that had come seeking pleasures strictly forbidden by the One God’s edicts. He had known they were coming, looking for him, and had managed to make himself scarce long before they arrived. Just as, somehow, he had known when the Voice was coming to look for young male children for the Academy, and had made certain he was noticed and questioned—
And that he had known which customers it was safe to cadge for a penny in return for running errands—
Or that he had known that drunk was going to try to set the stable afire. Oh, that had been a tricky thing to manage—to stay awake despite aching eyes that threatened to close long enough to be able to “stumble out of bed” and into the courtyard in search of a drink from the pump “just in time” to see the first flames. No matter how much noise is in a tavern, the sound of a child’s shrill scream will penetrate it. No matter how drunk the inhabitants, the cry of “Fire!” will get the appropriate response.