/ Language: English / Genre:sf_fantasy, / Series: Valdemar (11)

Sword of Ice

Mercedes Lackey

Sword of Ice

by Mercedes Lackey and John Yezeguielian

Hailing from the Chicago area, John Yezeguielian began his writing career at 14, when an article of his was published in a local paper. Since then he's written a music review column and various other pieces of journalism. This short story marks his first published fiction. Previously he has worked in fast food, owned and operated three businesses, trained animals, programmed computers, and been a bodyguard to celebrities and princesses. His hobbies include sailing, scuba diving, motorcycling, aviation, Aikido, and falconry. (Yes, he's a real-life Hawkbrother.) Prose and music, however, remain his highest passions. He lives near Tulsa with a cougar, a bobcat, two German shepherds, and, of course, a mews full of hawks and falcons.

:Downwind,: the voice in Savil's head demanded, and Savil followed in the direction of the falcon as it changed trajectories. The huge bird pulled its wings in tightly now, an arrow slicing through the sky.

:Hurry!: the raptor pleaded, and Savil felt the urgency in the falcon's mental message.

If only it could give me more than vague concepts. Savil mumbled imprecations under her breath as she scrambled over yet another boulder in this miserable craggy landscape.

All at once, as if in answer to her unspoken wish, Savil's mind flooded with images. Sensations of speed overwhelmed her as her vision was superseded by the bird's point of view as it twisted and gyrated, plummeting recklessly from the heavens. Vertigo swept Savil's footing from beneath her. She scrambled blindly now, her fingers clawing desperately at the granite face, struggling for purchase as she slid down the side, dangerously close to a ledge.

Shut it down. Center, she reminded herself. This is novice stuff. Regain control. In an instant, Savil was back in charge of her perceptions. Then she slowly let the bird's sendings back in, until they were vaguely superimposed on her true sight.

She couldn't see a man yet, but from the bird's eyes she could see what lay over the next rise. Rock scorched and molten, trees burst, their trunks still smoldering. The scene was one of rampant havoc, implying power turned loose to run wild in a way that sent atavistic chills up her spine. And then the falcon swiveled around one last boulder. Kicking its feet out before its body, the bird flared its long, pointed wings and set down gently upon firm ground.

Or what? In her mind's eye, Savil could see the falcon looking in what must be her direction, the raptor's sure, steady gaze finding her amidst the mass of upthrown debris, still quite some distance off. But the bird's vision was wavering, rising and falling. And then the falcon cast its gaze downward, and Savil saw the burned face of a man.

The rising and falling must mean she's perched atop his chest. He's alive and breathing, though the gods only know why.

Her resolve hardened, Savil reached out with her special Gifts, locating the man and probing swiftly and delicately at his mind. Gently, she pulled back a layer of unconsciousness, moving deeper, and pulled back as if stung. This man, this strange one somehow linked with a hawk, was able to function while the full, raw power of a major node of magical energy flowed in and through his body. Though still young, Savil was decidedly a master, a full Herald-Mage, and she could not do that for even an instant. He must be like a sword of ice to channel such power and still be alive, Savil thought to herself.

Still wondering what peculiar sort of being it was which she was being called to aid, Savil scrambled across the tops of the last few boulders and began climbing down into what used to be a mountain glade.

:Tayledras, beloved,: Savil's Companion spoke into her mind. :This is a Hawkbrother.:

Until Kellan had Mindspoken, Savil had all but forgotten her Companion amidst the excitement and shock of a bird's-eye view of flight. As she was reminded, Savil realized Kellan's voice had been conspicuously absent during the usurpation.

.7 was blocked,: Kellan pouted, feigning a sulk, :by your whirlwind rapport with that bondbird creature.:

Oh? Really? And just how did that come about? Savil thought to question her Companion further, but the descent was over and she had other concerns now. Before her were the charred, breathing remains of the only Hawkbrother she had ever seen.

So badly wounded was he that Savil was barely certain where to start. Something had ripped down the Hawk-brother's side, scorching and cauterizing flesh as it apparently continued from his shoulder to the ground. It seemed to be a lightning strike, but that was simply not possible. No man could have survived even that one blow, let alone the other tears and rips in this man's flesh and the agonizing burns across his skin.

As Savil's hands cleared his clothing from the wounds, her mind sent him energy — healing energy essential to his survival, though she was no Healer. The going was slow as she gingerly pulled the fabric from the Hawk-brother's devastated form. The power was still flowing through him somehow, and Savil knew better than to attempt to touch him or his fragile, dangerous mind again.

Without warning, the bird let out a scream from deep within its throat. Startled, Savil pulled away and turned to look at the huge falcon. When she looked back again, the Tayledras' eyes were open, breathtaking ice-blue eyes surrounded by a mass of seared flesh which was healing, changing right before her eyes. The Hawkbrother's gaze met hers for a brief moment, then his eyes closed again. Through the aura of pain which she now realized she'd been feeling from him the entire time, she could have sworn she'd felt the faintest of smiles.

A myriad of sendings from the bird confirmed what Savil had begun to suspect — that the Tayledras could heal himself better if she'd just remain to protect him and continue to transfer energy to him.

"Well," she said aloud, looking down at him. "It looks as though you and I are going to be together for a while. At least I was ahead of my schedule and there won't be anyone missing me for a couple of weeks." Then she waited for Kellan to catch up with her, picking his own way through the rocks, and prepared for a long vigil.

Throughout the rest of that day and the next, she remained close to the stranger, imparting as much healing energy as her own reserves would allow. She left his side only to gather wood for the nighttime fires, and to step behind a boulder to relieve herself.

She could see a gradual but marked improvement over that first day. By the end of the second, she sensed he had recovered enough for her to bathe him. Savil's gentle hands lifted the Hawkbrother's head and washed his neck and face with the meager supply from her water-skin. Even more carefully did she move his body from side to side to wash it, removing his tattered garb and replacing it with a clean set of Whites of her own. At no time during those two days did the Hawkbrother make movement or sound, and his eyes remained shut, as if he were locked in a very deep sleep.

Early in the morning of the third day, Savil's routine of preparing breakfast was interrupted once more by the falcon's scream. When she looked over at the Tayledras, he was struggling to rise to his elbows. Savil rushed to help him.

:Thank you, but you have already done more than enough,: the Tayledras said to her in clear and coherent Mindspeech. Then, though not entirely steady in his movements, the Hawkbrother rose carefully to his feet. His bondbird began chittering pleasantly at him. His eyes closed again for a moment, and he nodded, a warm smile upon his lips.

:My friend has been telling me of your vigilance these past few days. It would seem that I am in your debt....: It was a question phrased as a statement.

The Tayledras were reclusive by nature, even hostile toward strangers. That she knew, though little else. Even though Savil had helped him, and perhaps she had even saved his life, he would probably be suspicious of her motivations.

By the customs of some of the strange people who dwelled in this wilderness, the fate of one not of one's own tribe was usually left to the gods; it was not for anyone else to interfere or concern themselves with what happened to strangers. That might be the case with the Hawkbrother. It could be that while he was grateful for her assistance, he would also wonder why she had done so, and be suspicious of her motives.

Savil noticed his wary mood, and was quick to recognize the skepticism in his tone of voice.

:You may start your repayment by telling me the name by which I am to call you,: she said, smiling, knowing that to some folk, asking for a personal name was tantamount to asking for a weapon to use against them.

.7 am called Starwind,: he said with much dignity, :And the falcon you have been in rapport with is my bondbird; you might refer to her as my familiar.:

Savil stole a quick glance in the direction of the bird and thought to herself that she wished she'd had some bit of meat to offer the hawk. As if it had heard her, the bird launched itself from the stone it had been perched on, taking to the sky with swift, powerful beats of its wings. Soon it was circling high above them. Then, all at once, the bondbird dropped its head, folded its wings, and fell, scorching straight downward from the sky toward the quarry its powerful vision had spied. Excited by the hunt, the impressions the bird sent were intense. Once again, Savil was swept up in the bird's aerial pursuit.

But not enough so that she was unaware of her companion. Starwind, too, appeared caught up in the bond-bird's sendings. His eyes narrowed, a hint of fiery temper behind the hooded lids, as he watched through the bird's keen eyes. When the falcon made impact with the prey, Starwind's fingers clenched just as the bondbird's talons closed on the duck's neck. For another few moments, Savil knew that she and Starwind were sharing in the bloodlust the falcon felt in the kill. She found she was salivating along with the bird, in anticipation of the rich, red feast quivering beneath the falcon's talons.

This was such a unique experience, that Savil allowed herself to remain caught up in it a little longer. Starwind was first to break from the trance, and as she slowly disentangled herself, she noted by his reaction that he had suddenly realized that Savil had been linked with the bird during the kill as well as he. At the same time, his knees gave out, and he sat down abruptly on the boulder beside him.

She made no move to help him, as it was possible that such a movement could be misinterpreted. He stood up again, slowly, clearly taking stock of himsetf. Then, as though he'd decided something of great importance, Starwind gathered himself and faced Savil directly.

:// I may trouble you a bit more, Sister,: Starwind said, looking deeply into Savil's eyes..7 fear I am yet too weak to return to my ekele without help.:

:That's hardly surprising,: Savil said gently as she looked back, awestruck by the strange beauty of this man. :I'm more than a little amazed that you are able to stand at all. And I'd be happy to help you get to your...?:

:My ekele? My home.: Starwind confirmed her guess.

:Your ekele, then,: Savil continued,/ and you need not call me "Sister" to convince me to do so.: She flushed a little, wondering how he was reacting to her. :ln fact, I'd rather that you not... think of me ... as your sister.:

Though hardly innocent, Savil had never been so forward with any man before. But there was something about this one, something exotic and compelling about this Starwind that had her heart beating fast, her palms breaking a sweat. She supposed she'd seen it in him the first time he opened his eyes, but she'd been too busy tending to his wounds then to pay it any heed. Now, though, his face all but healed, his elegant movements, those ice-blue eyes, and that mane of snow white hair combined to make an irresistible package.

Or perhaps it was just that she had been out on circuit for a very long time. Or perhaps —

Starwind seemed very well aware of her reaction. :It is the fever of the bondbird, Sister,: he said gently, but firmly. :And I would call you otherwise, if I had your name.:

She sighed — but made a little resolution that the game was not over yet.:/ am Savil, Herald-Mage of Valdemar, Chosen by Kellan ... and at your service-Over the next couple of days, Starwind and his bond-bird, Savil and Kellan wove their way carefully through the mountains back to Starwind's home, the place where his Tayledras clan lived. When they finally arrived, they were met by a small group of Tayledras, Starwind's people, all similarly exotic, most with the same white hair and ice-blue eyes. They greeted Starwind with warmth and relieved enthusiasm, obviously glad for his safe return, but kept Savil at a goodly distance. Starwind spoke with them in a light, musical language at once similar and different to the few words of Shin'a'in she knew, apparently explaining how he'd come to be hurt and how Savil had rescued him. At one point in his telling of the tale, he must have said something shocking, because all of the welcoming party turned at once to look at her, their eyes wide in disbelief. The group then quickly disbanded, leaving the four of them alone again. On the way to Starwind's home, Savil had explained the nature of the relationship between Heralds and Companions. Starwind had not seemed overly surprised, explaining that his people had stories of Valdemar and even kept some fluency in the tongues of other peoples. Accordingly, Starwind directed Kellan toward a meadow rich with herbs and grasses for him to eat before accepting Savil's assistance in the monumental ascent to the Hawkbrother's home.

That home! It was lodged somewhere up in the branches of a tree so huge she could hardly believe her eyes, and to reach it, one had to clamber up a contrivance that was more ladder than staircase. Savil's one real fear was of heights, but somehow she managed to put on a brave front, showing no signs of her fear in climbing up into the ekele. After only one look out the window though, she decided she'd prefer to seek lodgings on firm ground. The vertigo she experienced while in the lofty ekele was simply too much for her.

Starwind chuckled quietly, but unkindly.

:You have the Tayledras' ability at rapport, but not our love of the heights? It is merely foreign to you. Remain here a few days, and you will come to cherish the here-above as we do.:

The mere idea was appalling. :A few days? If I remain here a few days, I'll be in worse shape than you were when we met!: Savil was already quite dizzy from the climb, and getting more nauseous by the moment. She could not help it; now that she was no longer moving, she felt a jolt of fear each time the ekele moved with the wind. Starwind took pity on her, probably because although she could conceal the more obvious signs of fright with jokes, she could not conceal her increasing pallor.

:As you wish, then. I would not care to dwell in a deep cave below-ground either,: he said. :The hertasi keep some rooms here-below, and you are welcome to make your stay in one of them. There are some matters I must attend to — affairs of my people.:

With that, Starwind guided her back down from the ekele and to an oddly constructed building surrounding the trunk of the huge tree, which somehow incorporated a warm spring and much green foliage. As they walked, Starwind explained to her about the hertasi, and how the sentient, elusive lizard-people tended to the Tayledras' needs in exchange for protection. Then he left her to er own devices, promising to return within a couple of candlemarks.

Savil used the time to rest and think, to take in and shelve away all of the strange wonders she'd discovered in the past few days. She Mindspoke with Kellan about it all. While he carried on a lively conversation with her, Savil made note that her Companion didn't seem unduly surprised by any of this.

:There are a great many things we know of, my love, which we are not at liberty to share with you before it is time to do so,: he said, in that infuriatingly patronizing tone he very occasionally used with her. It reminded her of her father and brother — and how they used to pat her on the head and tell her that she would be told about something "when she was old enough." And then, of course, having dismissed the mere female, they would go on about their business and never tell her anything' at all.

Savil was about to send Kellan a scorching retort when all of the exertions of the last few days caught up with her. It seemed like far too much effort to go to, and besides, she wasn't in the mood for an argument. So instead of retorting, she ignored him, even to the extent of partly blocking him out of her mind while she searched for a place to lie down. It didn't take long to find a kind of couch, built among all the leaves and foliage, and she fell into it, and then into a deep and sudden sleep.

The meeting of the Tayledras clan had been going on for hours. Starwind had been severely chastised for having brought Savil into the midst, not only of k'Treva's holdings, but into the very heart of the Vale. Outsiders were never brought this far; at the most, one allowed them a little way into the fringes of Clan territory before dismissing them. It had caused no small commotion when Starwind had argued that he'd done no such thing since Savil was not an outsider, but one who deserved the title of Wingsister. The elders had called it nonsense, and accused Starwind of making up such an outrageous claim to justify his actions, claimed his desire for this Herald was the true cause of his behavior.

While Starwind did have strong feelings for Savil, it was not the lust the elders suspected, although he himself could not have explained the insistent feeling that he must bring this stranger into the very center of k'Treva. He could only feel it, and without facts to bolster the feelings, could only rely on thin logic to convince the others.

"I bring this woman," he cried out defiantly, "because she is one of us. Have I not told you of her rapport with my bondbird? What greater testimony can there be than this? Tell me, when has such a thing happened before?"

There began a quiet murmuring amongst the elders. Though relatively young, Starwind had proven himself and his worth on numerous occasions. He could only hope that they would decide that it would be unfair to take his word lightly.

"It is not that we do not believe you," one elder finally confessed, "but that we have no precedent for such a thing. We are an ordered people, as well you know. Never has anyone who was not of our cousin-Clans, the Shin'a'in, ever been granted the title of Wingsib. This woman has not even a drop of shared blood with us!"

He set his jaw. "Do we share blood with hertasti? With tervardi or kyree? With dyheli? Yet all of these are welcome here!"

The elder sighed. "Starwind, you are young and eager for a change that you see as a clear necessity, but we are not comfortable when someone wishes to make things change so suddenly. This makes us unwilling to accept that which brings changes, and ... it frightens us to think of how different we may one day become."

The honest wisdom of the elder held them all in silence for some time. Starwind's mind was running the whole while. He had seen inside of Savil, knew her good heart. How could he convince them of this, or even get them to depart from the strictness of their ways long enough to look at her objectively? The silence was deafening. Starwind knew if he did not speak up, convince them somehow, that they would retreat back into the safety of their routines.

"Savil should be — no, is! — Wingsister to k'Treva. She has proven her worth with her rapport with my bond-bird, and earned her place by the acts of charity she performed for this member of the clan. I speak for her hi claiming that place, and challenge you to examine her spirit and say why this should not be so."

How could he tell them the things he only felt, but had no reason to feel? That he knew, without doubt, that this stranger would be important to the future of k'Treva, and that k'Treva would be instrumental in shaping, not only her future, but that of many, many people outside of the Hawkbrother lands, people that Starwind would never see and who would probably never even dream that Tayledras were anything but a fable. He had never shown any trace of ForeSight; never been able to look into the future without the aid of one who did have that talent. He knew he was taking a chance that all of his actions for many years to come would be regarded with suspicion and mistrust if he could not convince them. But he knew what he was doing was right, and trusted in the wisdom of the elders to overcome their fears.

"How can we know that you are not simply seeing what you wish to see?" the first elder asked.

"She sleeps, and she is too weary to awaken if you do not alarm her," Starwind said. "She trusts us. You may touch her mind now, and from there see into her heart. Read what you see there, see what it is she represents for her own great Clan k'Valdemar, and then tell me if she is not indeed worthy to be named our Wingsister."

"Even if we find it so," another elder spoke, "what difference will it make? Tell me, Starwind k'Treva, why we should bring her into our clan? She has people of her own, and the Heralds of Valdemar are different from us in more ways than they are similar. We do not eat the same foods, speak the same tongue — we do not even swear by the same gods!"

"She should be made one of us because she is one of us, she and her kind differ from us only in the names by which we swear, not to the spirit behind those names," he replied stubbornly. "And because we can learn much from each other, the k'Treva and this Herald-Mage. In many ways, our magic is much greater than theirs. Yet there are things they can do which we cannot. It is my belief that what we learn from each other — the combination — will be greater than any that we can each of us perform apart."

Another long silence followed. Each of the elders was considering what Starwind had said. Surely they knew he was right that the k'Treva could not live isolated in the Pelagirs forever. There had even been visions, Fore-- Sight some of them had experienced, which suggested that events in the future would require that they learn to broaden their ways. Finally, the first elder spoke.

"It will cost us nothing to look at this Savil you bring us. We must at least look before we judge."

Savil's sleep was interrupted by dreams, memories, and nightmares. In them, she relived experiences from the years since she had first donned Whites, the moment that Kellan had Chosen her, battles fought in the service of Valdemar, even passionate feelings for those loved and lost. Then came a dream of a test — a decision she was forced to make three times, one which left her frightened, exhausted, and drained. Countless hopeless scenarios presented themselves to her. Over and over again she was forced to decide how to react. Just as her decision was made, the scene would fade, and another would take its place. Each was progressively worse than the last, more hopeless, more futile, and in it she and those around her were suffering greater and greater loss. Only when the scenario required that she sacrifice Kellan, her Companion, did she wake from the nightmare, unable to make the impossible choice.

She woke with a start, her own voice screaming to be left alone, tears streaming down from eyes wide open in the darkness.

:It was only a dream, dearheart,: Kellan consoled her,

:A hideous, ugly, necessary dream. I am fine. Return to your sleep.:

She was too sleep-fogged to take in anything except Kellan's reassurance, too exhausted to question anything Kellan said. Relieved to have Kellan's voice in her mind, she fell back into the embrace of the strange bed, and slept until morning. If she continued to dream, she didn't remember any of it.

When she awoke, she found Starwind sitting beside her, his hand resting gently on her shoulder. She could feel the soft tingle of power as it flowed through him to her.

:Good morning, Wingsister,: he said cheerfully. .-Wind to thy wings.:

:Wind to thy wings, Starwind k'Treva," she answered automatically, her head throbbing. She wished, vaguely, that he wasn't being so damned cheerful. -.Gods, but I've one miserable headache!:

He sobered, and looked both contrite and a little guilty. -.Forgive me, Wingsister. The elders felt it was necessary.:

She frowned. :What have the elders to do with my headache?: Then she sat up, her own suspicions flaring. :Were your people messing about in my head?:

Starwind closed his eyes and spoke quietly into her mind. .-Remember all, little sister. There is nothing to fear.:

With that touch, Savil suddenly recalled the dreams and sendings she'd gotten after the nightmare of sacrificing Kellan, the knowledge slowing coming forward to her consciousness. In a single flash, she knew as much about the Tayledras as they knew themselves, as if she had studied them and their ways all her life.

The history of the k'Treva, their philosophies, their purpose as entrusted to them by their Goddess, their mysterious bond with their birds, everything given to her, including Starwind's own memory of the meeting last night, every newly gifted memory, all rose up and became a part of her. As they did, her headache dulled and then faded. Savil lay there unmoving, sharing Star-wind's loving gaze for quite some time. They may have lain there for hours longer, basking in the communion, if a hertasi had not crept in quietly to bring them some fruit.

Without conscious thought, she thanked the hertasi (who was already leaving,) in Starwind's own tongue. Then she laughed out loud of the pleasure and strangeness of it all.

Once before in her life she had known the incredible, indescribable joy of finding that she belonged somewhere, that there were people in the world who welcomed her as one of their own. That had been when she became a Herald — and now it had happened again.

"So this is what it means to be one of you," she whispered.

"Not entirely, shayana," Starwind replied, "but you now share the most of it."

Savil's eyes had been alight with the joy of the newfound knowledge and abilities of these strange and wondrous people she knew she could now call her own. She was overwhelmed by the all-pervasive sense of the peace of this place, of the serenity of those who lived here. After all the conflicts within and besetting Valdemar, k'Treva Vale seemed like a vision of paradise, and she. wanted to remain here forever.

And as soon as she had that thought, she knew it was impossible. For a moment, her eyes stung with tears.

"You know I can't stay. You must know that I'm a Herald first, and always will be so."

"Of course, ashke, of course," Starwind patted her hand to console her. "It was that which finally convinced the elders of the trueness of your heart."

"But I want to," she confessed desperately, as Star-wind's elegant fingers brushed a tear from her cheek. "I want to stay here, live here in this peace."

"We each have our duties, Wingsister. Mine is to the land, yours to your people. Neither of us can fully understand the other, yet it is so. But we can revel in that which we share. I believe that this sharing, this exchange between us, will be of great importance in times yet to come."

Savil nodded, understanding, remembering the certainty she held in memories now her own, shared with him. Neither of them knew why — but the certainty was there, as real as if they had absolute facts to prove it to be true.

"There is much yet to learn, Wingsister, and far too little time to learn it in. We are now your clan, as you are one of us. Every member of k'Treva will do what he can to help you gain the skills that are ours, and we know you will share willingly of your ways as well. And I feel this will not be the last time that those of k'Treva and k'Valdemar will share their wisdom."

She thought about her duty — but she had been far ahead of her schedule, and there was time. A little, but there was time. "Where do we start?" Savil asked. "With your lessons, or mine?"

He smiled. "Where both our powers flow from, at the nodes."

Then Starwind took her hand, guiding her to her feet, and their journey toward knowledge was begun.