Valdemar 11 - [Owl Mage 02] - Owlsight, p.1
Table of Contents
A MAGE’S TRAINING....
“I hear and obey,” he said, bowing a little at the waist, and sent his mind down that peculiar “twist” that Firefrost had shown him.
Once again, the world around him was overlaid with the overworld of energies. This time he had a kind of double vision, with the real world showing through the flowing energy-fields, and he decided to see if he could narrow his focus—
Even as he thought that, in a dizzying rush that “felt” exactly as if he were diving off a cliff into the river, he found himself contemplating the life-forces of a single blade of grass. Except that he was far, far “smaller” in perception than that blade of grass!
Oh. My. The slender stem loomed “over” him like one of the great trees of the Vale. As he gazed “upward,” his mouth falling open, he tried to take in the immense complexity of this seemingly insignificant bit of flora, and failed.
I think my brain is overflowing! He tried to break free of the fascination and couldn‘t—tried again and still couldn’t—and gave a wordless cry for help to his teacher....
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
VOWS AND HONOR
THE COLLEGIUM CHRONICLES
BY THE SWORD
TAKE A THIEF
SWORD OF ICE
SUN IN GLORY
Written with LARRY DIXON:
THE MAGE WARS
THE BLACK GRYPHON
THE WHITE GRYPHON
THE SILVER GRYPHON
THE BLACK SWAN
THE DRAGON JOUSTERS
THE ELEMENTAL MASTERS
THE SERPENT’S SHADOW
THE GATES OF SLEEP
PHOENIX AND ASHES
THE WIZARD OF LONDON
RESERVED FOR THE CAT
And don’t miss:
THE VALDEMAR COMPANION
Edited by John Heifers and Denise Little
Copyright © 1998 by Mercedes R. Lackey and Larry Dixon
All rights reserved
Interior illustrations by Larry Dixon
All the black & white interior illustrations in this book are available as 8” X 10” prints, either in a signed, open edition singly, or in a signed and numbered portfolio from:
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Time line by Pat Tobin
DAW Books Collectors No. 1099
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Putnam Inc.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
eISBN : 978-1-101-12754-4
First Printing, October
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without whom this would not be possible.
OFFICIAL TIMELINE FOR THE
by Mercedes Lackey
HERALDS OF VALDEMAR SERIES
Sequence of events by Valdemar reckoning
“Keisha?” When Keisha didn’t answer, the fluting voice calling her name in the distance grew noticeably impatient. “Keisha!”
Keisha Alder ignored her sister Shandi’s continued calls; she was in the middle of a job she had no intention of cutting short. The sharp smell of vinegar filled Keisha’s workshop, but she was so inured to it that it hardly even stung her nose. Shandi could wait long enough for Keisha to finish decanting her bruise potion, straining out the bits of wormwood with a fine net of cheesecloth. Keisha wrinkled her nose a little as the smell of vinegar intensified; the books said to use wine for the potion, but she had found that vinegar worked just as well, and there was no mistaking it for something drinkable—unless your taste in wine was really wretched. A cloth steeped in this dark-brown liquid and bandaged against a bruise eased the pain and made the bruise itself heal much faster than it would on its own, so despite the odor the potion was much in demand. She needed so much of it that she always had several jugs or bottles of the finished potion in storage, and more jars of it in various states of preparation. It had to steep for six weeks at a minimum, so she tried to empty one jar and start another once a week.
Keisha held her hands steady; she didn’t want to waste any of it in spillage. She even wrung the cheesecloth dry, then reached for a stopper whittled from a birch branch and her pot of warm paraffin. As soon as the last drop was sealed into its special dark-brown pottery jug, and the jug itself placed safely on a high shelf, she knocked the soggy fragments of herb out of the wide-mouthed jar, added two handfuls of freshly crumbled dry wormwood, and poured in vinegar to the top. Footsteps behind her warned her that Shandi had come to the workshop looking for her, so she wasted no time in tying a square of waxed linen over the top of the jar and setting it at the end of the row of nine more identical jars.
She turned to face the door, just as Shandi stepped across the threshold into the cool gloom of the workshop, blinking eyes still dazzled by the bright sun outside. Although not dressed in her festival best, Shandi was, as always, so neat and spotless that Keisha became uncomfortably aware of the state of her own stained brown breeches and far-from-immaculate, too-large tunic. Shandi wore a white apron embroidered with dark blue thread, a neat brown skirt, and a pristine white blouse with the blue embroidery matching the apron, all the work of her own hands. Keisha’s tunic and breeches were hand-me-downs from her brothers, plain as-a board, indifferently shortened, and both had seen their best days many years ago.
But what else am I supposed to wear for working with messy potions, dosing sick babies, and sewing up bloody gashes? she asked herself crossly, annoyed at herself for feeling embarrassed. This isn’t some tale where everyone wears cloth-of-gold and tunics with silk embroidery! Shandi would look pretty sad after a half day of my work!
“Keisha, are we going to the market or not?” Shandi asked impatiently, then screwed up her face in a grimace as a whiff of vinegar reached her.
“Dye,” Shandi replied promptly.
“No, thank you, I have too much to do right now,” Keisha said impishly, grinning as Shandi first looked puzzled, then mimed a blow at her for the pun.
“You know what I mean!” Shandi giggled. “You never know what the hunters are going to bring in, and I’m still looking for a decent red, one that won’t fade the first time someone looks too long at it.” She smiled. “You know I need to have you along. After all, you know so much more about these things than I do. And you’re better at bargaining; I’d be sure to get cheated, and then you’d be annoyed because you weren’t with me to save me from a sharp trader!”
Keisha’s irritation had vanished, as it always did around Shandi. No one could stay irritated with her sister for long; Shandi’s nature was as sweet as her innocent face, and she played peacemaker to the entire village of Errold’s Grove. Keisha and Shandi were almost the same height, with the same willowy figures, same golden-brown hair and eyes, and almost the same features, but in all other ways they were as different as if they had come from opposite sides of the world. Sometimes I think when the gods gave out tempers, they gave me all of the thorns and her all the rose petals. “You’re right, of course, I would be annoyed.” She rinsed her hands in lemon-balm water to remove the vinegar smell and any lingering trace of wormwood—poison, if ingested—and dried them on a clean rag. “And I should have remembered about the red. How many of the girls have you promised embroidery thread to?”
“Only three—Hydee, Jenna, and Sari. I wouldn’t trust the rest with red. They’d be sure to do something tasteless with it.” Shandi’s bright brown eyes glowed with suppressed laughter. “Ugh! Can’t you imagine it? Roses the size of cabbages all around the hems of their skirts!”
“Or worse,” Keisha said dryly. “Roses the size of cabbages over each breast. Lallis is not exactly subtle.” And she’s always looking for a way to bring attention to her “assets. ” Not that anyone needs help in seeing them. You could hide half the village in that cleavage, and a quarter of the village would be oh-so-happy to stay there! “I’m all done for now, let’s go before someone decides they have a bellyache and comes looking for a posset.”
Side by side, Keisha and her sister strolled down a neat, stone-edged path between the houses, heading toward the village square. Once a week, the village of Errold’s Grove held a market day, and those from outside the village and no particular interest in seeking further—and possibly more lucrative—venues took full advantage of it. For some people, it simply wasn’t worth the effort to travel long distances just to make more money from their goods; they’d rather that other folk did the traveling and took the extra profit. As had been the case in the past, there were plenty of traders willing to do just that, so the weekly market was usually visited by at least one far traveler from spring to early winter. And three of the quarterly Faires—Spring Equinox, Midsummer, and Harvest—brought traders in their dozens.
Errold’s Grove was more prosperous now than it had been in its earlier heyday, with dozens of trappers and dye-hunters working the forest and hills. None of them was actually from Errold’s Grove; the villagers were still far too wary of the forest to be tempted by the possibility of profit hidden in its depths. But the Hawkbrothers were here now, and to some people, their presence meant increased safety or, at least, a smaller likelihood of being eaten by misshapen monsters. So the dye-hunters and all the people who supported and profited by them were back, as well as a new class of folk who actually specialized in trapping the strange new creatures created by the Change-Circles. The population of Errold’s Grove had swelled to half again more than the village had ever held before.
They even had their own temple and priest, so now the children of the village got proper lessons in the winter, instead of being home-schooled or taught by one of the old women. For most of the children, that was a mixed blessing, as the priest took his duty seriously and wasn’t as easily distracted as a mother or as prone to doze off as an old granny.
They still didn’t have a fully trained “official” Healer, though, and Keisha served in place of one, wearing her ordinary clothing rather than even the pale-green robes of a Trainee. Healers were in short supply still, and so far, there hadn’t been a real need to have one posted to Errold’s Grove. Lord Breon had a Healer, and according to Healer’s Collegium, he could take care of anything here that Keisha couldn’t.
Though never selected for her Gift by a fully trained Healer in the approved and official manner, Keisha had begun showing her talents at the age of five, by taking care of the ills of the stock on the farm, then moving on to patching up the childhood hurts and illnesses of her brothers and sisters. It got to the point where they came to her instead of their mother, since Keisha’s remedies were far more likely to set things right and taste better than their mother’s book of recipes from her granny.
Things might never have gone any further, but fear of the Changebeasts and longing for other human company together drove Keisha’s parents to resettle in the village. That had happened a few months after the barbarian invasion when one family decided they’d had enough of Errold’s Grove and a house fortuitously fell vacant. Not long after that, once she widened her circle of “patching up” to the rest of the children and their pets, the villagers discovered Keisha’s talent, and a concerted effort began to turn their new citizen into a fully educated, fully stocked, fully prepared Healer.
As she and her sister passed the home that had drawn them here—now silent, with the rest of the family out working the fields and tending the stock—Keisha grinned a little. Maybe if her parents had known what was going to happen, they wouldn’t have been so quick to leave the farmstead! Her mother and father hadn’t stood a chance against the will of the village, and they’d lost Keisha’s labor at the farm before they knew what had happened. They might have tried to fight to keep Keisha (and her two sturdy hands) theirs alone, but the arrival of a Herald on circuit put an end to any thoughts of making the attempt.
That golden moment was a cherished memory, the point when Keisha became something other than “ordinary” in her parents’ eyes. The Herald-oh, he was fine to look at, all white and tall on his silver Companion.... He took one look at me that went right down to my bones and declared, in a voice like a trumpet, “This girl has the Healer’s Gift. ” Much to Keisha’s bemusement, before he left for the rest of his circuit, he had arranged for Lord Breon’s Healer, Gil Jarad, to give Keisha instruction. Several weeks later a trader delivered into her hands copies of every book used by the Trainees at Healer’s Collegium, courtesy of that august body, and a polite note reminding everyone that the books were worth, not a small fortune, but a rather large one. Enough to buy half the town, and theft or harm to the books counted as a crime against the Crown! With the books had come three sets of the pale-green robes of a Healer Trainee, lest anyone doubt her acceptance. Keisha still preferred not to wear them, though; it seemed a pity to get them as stained and dirty as they would be if she donned them for her regular work.
No more weeding and mowing for her; the letter that came with this library told her that she was expected to study those books any time that she wasn’t tending the ailments of man or beast, or brewing medicines for same. She already had the skills needed to make most medications and had lacked only the knowledge of what herbs were needed—the books supplied that, with good pictures to guide her when she went hunting for them in the forest and fields, and detailed instructions for each preparation. Along with the books came a box of seeds for those herbs that did well under cultivation, all carefully labeled with planting and growing instructions. It was obvious that she was expected to become self-sufficient, and quickly.
For a while, Keisha had used the kitchen of the family home for her workroom—and her mother had seen that as a possible way to discourage this new career.
In fact, the Council didn’t wait for her to complain directly to them; the moment the Village Council got wind of the complaints, they assigned Keisha her own workshop, a sturdy little stone building that had once been the home of the village savior and hero, Wizard Justyn. They even went so far as to make a special day of preparing it for her, organizing a village-wide cleanup and repair of the place, presenting her with a cottage scoured inside and out, roof newly thatched, all the bits and pieces still littering the interior taken out and broken into kindling. She had only to say where she wanted workbenches and shelves, and they appeared; had only to ask for a place to lie down and a fine feather bed and a pile of pillows and quilts showed up in the sleeping-loft. The people of Errold’s Grove had learned their lesson about treating a Healer right, having had to do without a Healer of any kind for so long after Wizard Justyn died.
Heady stuff for a fourteen-year-old youngster, she thought wryly, from her distant vantage of eighteen. I’m surprised my head didn’t get too big to fit a hat. She waved at the blacksmith’s oldest apprentice as they passed the forge; he waved absently back, but his eyes— as all the eyes of any male over the age of thirteen—were on Shandi. I suppose the only reason it didn’t was that I was too busy to get a swelled head.