The Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: It Gets Better

When we left our hero last week, he was slouching moodily towards Haven, hoping he would someday be a Bard. This week, we’re looking at chapters four through six (and a tiny sliver of chapter seven) of Magic’s Pawn.

Here, Vanyel meets his aunt Savil for the second time, and begins to settle in to his new life. At first, things look bleak, but Vanyel’s mood improves dramatically by the end of the section.

Vanyel isn’t sure what to make of his aunt, Herald-Mage Savil. She does Van a series of favors—she insists that he be allowed to keep his horse, and she destroys a letter from Vanyel’s father without reading it. She also repeatedly reminds Vanyel that she can barely tolerate him, but fails to articulate meaningful behavioral expectations. She’s much more clear in her communication about hierarchies in her little household. As a Herald-Mage, Savil is sharing a suite of rooms with her three protégés—Tylendel, Donni, and Mardic. They all outrank Vanyel.

Savil is brusque because she’s incredibly busy being a Herald-Mage. At this point, it’s not really clear what Herald-Mages do. They see and manipulate energy fields, which appears to be dangerous work—Savil and her students practice in special fortified rooms. The real world implications, like the role the energy fields play in road construction projects and border defense, are mysteries for a later chapter. What’s important here is Tylendel.

Tylendel is the youngest of Savil’s apprentices. He’s a charming scamp with a lot of emotional baggage. Vanyel discovers that Tylendel is gay through court gossip, and then starts noticing that being around Tylendel makes him feel strange. Vanyel is not having an easy time in Haven. His classes are overwhelming, his dreams of being a Bard have been gently-but-firmly crushed, and he feels like everyone who matters hates him. And then one night, while Savil is busy Herald-Mageing at an all-night Council Session, Vanyel has a nightmare about ice, and Tylendel comforts him. Vanyel confesses his feelings, Tylendel stares deeply into Vanyel’s eyes, and then they blow out the candles and spend the night in each other’s arms.

They’re so sweet. They tell each other all about their families and their childhoods—Tylendel has a twin brother, and his family is embroiled in a feud. They hang out with Tylendel’s Companion, Gala. Tylendel teaches Vanyel the Tayledras word for “beloved”—Ashke, which is also the first part of Vanyel’s last name, Ashkevron. They lounge around Savil’s apartment studying and staring deeply into each other’s eyes. Savil finds them a little cloying.

Because of the need to keep their relationship a secret from Vanyel’s father, Vanyel and Tylendel pretend to dislike each other in public. This is unfortunate, but they embrace it by staging a fight. They choose a rainy day to wrestle each other in the mud, and Tylendel tears Vanyel’s shirt off. Savil stages a fake fit and confines them to quarters, which is great, because Savil’s quarters are the only place where Vanyel and Tylendel can openly express their love. It’s also hilariously unfortunate, because Savil has a limited tolerance for expressions of adolescent love, and nearly barfs when Tylendel tenderly bandages Vanyel’s ankle.

There are many reasons to love the fake fight—half-naked man wrestling and evidence of Van and Tylendel’s mutual devotion are both reasonable starting points. I love it because it provokes The Letters. Vanyel and Tylendel have to keep their relationship a secret because gossip travels swiftly from Haven to Forst Reach, and Lord Withen is likely to hear what Vanyel is getting up to from sources other than Savil. Indeed, Withen hears about the fight. At the beginning of chapter seven, Vanyel receives four letters. Two of them are from his parents. Lord Withen notes that he has heard of the fight, and sends Vanyel some money as a token of his approval. Lady Treesa has also heard of the fight, and sends a hilariously hysterical letter, written in purple ink on pink paper, full of extraneous capitals, and also accompanied by a gift of money. As Van notes, “One reward for beating up a pervert, one consolation for getting beaten up by a pervert.” Vanyel’s parents are deeply flawed people, but it’s good to see them become a little more human. The third letter is from Vanyel’s awesome sister, Lissa. The fourth letter is a matter for next week.

Loyal readers will have noticed that, in the brief glimpse Arrows of the Queen gave us of the end of Vanyel’s life, his “gentle lifemate” was named Stefen, which is not even remotely plausible as a nickname for Tylendel. Enjoy this moment while you can—tell me about your favorite Vanyel/Tylendel moments in the comments. Tune in next week for chapters seven through ten! You might want to bring a hanky.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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