In the dark of night, Vanyel scrambles into a uniform, mounts his Companion, Yfandes, and races for the border to answer a mysterious distress call from two Companions in the nearby country of Lineas. To his surprise, Yfandes takes him to the palace in the capital city of Highjorune, where he finds a Herald beating a Companion with a bullwhip while a blond boy clings to its back.
Herald Lores is a first for us, as readers. We have met neurotic Heralds, flawed Heralds, homophobic Heralds, and Heralds with daddy issues. We have met Heralds who wondered if Vanyel’s life was worth saving, who nearly killed him through casual negligence, and who thought him a poor trade for Tylendel. They all realized the error of their ways and sought to make amends. Here, for the very first time, we meet a Herald with his head permanently stuck up his ass. So Yfandes tramples him, and Vanyel decks him with his sword-hilt.
Vanyel has to use his list of embarrassing nicknames to get Lores to stand down. Lores is Randale’s envoy to Lineas. He’s adamant that the Companion is a shape-shifting demon and the boy is a murderer. An entire palace full of people have been torn into hand-sized bits.
Lores asserts that the newly-Chosen boy, Tashir, was known to be an angsty adolescent, had argued publicly with his father that evening, has an untrained Fetching gift, and was the only person left alive in a locked palace. Vanyel asserts that a kid with an untrained Fetching gift could not have torn all the people in the palace into palm-sized pieces, and Companions do not choose murderers. Lores makes a snide comment about Tylendel’s Companion Gala. Tashir faints. Vanyel carries him into the palace where, indeed, everyone has been torn into palm-sized pieces, but before Vanyel can really investigate THAT, he notices that Tashir looks just like Tylendel.
To the book cover! The Companion on the cover has whip-marks on its flank, so the boy on it must be Tashir, and now we know what Tylendel would look like if Jody Lee drew him with curlier hair! So that’s one major mystery solved. But who tore everyone in the palace into palm-sized pieces? If Van was Miss Marple, he would know some of the palace servants who had that night off. If Vanyel were Sherlock Holmes, he would have someone on whom he could thoroughly rely, and also a problem with cocaine. Vanyel is still working out a detecting style.
In defiance of Linean prejudices against using magic, Vanyel Gates back to Forst Reach with Tashir (who is too traumatized to remember what happened, so if you were thinking this was CSI and Vanyel could ask a witness, think again). He borrows a lute from Medren in order to disguise himself as a down-on-his-luck minstrel and return to Highjorune to find out everything that tavern servers and cheap prostitutes know about the sort of high political intrigue that might have led to their royal family mostly being torn into palm-sized pieces. Thus, Vanyel is Batman. Medren is Robin, and, surprisingly, Jervis steps into the role of Alfred the Butler.
It would be easy for Vanyel to simply never have any contact with the man who broke his arm to prove a point when he was 15, and that is, in fact, what Vanyel would prefer. But Jervis demands that Vanyel spar with him, and Vanyel finally loses his temper at Jervis leading to a conversation in which they clear the air. Jervis admits he was in the wrong in Vanyel’s youth, and explains that his demands on Vanyel during this visit have been intended to aid Medren. Poor little Medren has an education, but no lands or title. Jervis doesn’t want to see him forced to live his life as someone’s squire and has been trying to learn Vanyel’s fighting style to teach to Medren so Medren can become a mercenary. Medren has a real career plan now that he’s being sent to the Bardic Collegium but he still needs to know how to defend himself, so Vanyel agrees to help Jervis out. Jervis is also the only person Tashir trusts.
Tashir’s childhood has been marked by emotional abuse with sexual overtones, and the only person he felt safe with was his family’s Weapons-Master, who seems to have had some sort of physical resemblance to Jervis. Tashir is also afraid of women and, like Vanyel, is questioning his sexuality. Tashir attempts to resolve his identity issue by propositioning Vanyel. Vanyel responds by initiating a respectful dialog about the difference between liking and merely feeling less averse, accompanied by a thoughtful explanation of how caring adults don’t take advantage of teenagers. Apparently, Vanyel’s Afterschool Special channel was blasted open at the same time as the channels for his Mind Gifts.
As chapter 10 draws to a close, Vanyel interviews a palace servant who provides the details of Tashir’s dysfunctional family dynamics and the machinations of the Mavelans, the mages who rule the OTHER neighboring kingdom of Bourne. We still don’t know who’s responsible for the murders, or why there’s an enormous magical node underneath the capital of a country that shuns magic, but we’ll find out next week in chapters 11-14!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.