I will forever be grateful to have escaped Magic’s Promise without major trauma, despite losing Jaysen to a moment of distraction and a swarm of piranha bats. This week, we begin Magic’s Price, a book which will leave us with far more devastating losses. Since there is no way to defend ourselves from the impending catastrophe, the best course of action is to enjoy the pleasures the book offers while we can.
One of those pleasures is the cover. Like medieval saints, Heralds are depicted with attributes, so we can tell which of them the artist had in mind. As on the covers of the first two books in the trilogy, Vanyel is pictured with his cape. This cover shows him near the moment of his martyrdom, so he is sporting the Shredded Sleeves of Doom. As ever, his famously silver eyes are not silver, I presume because of the limitations of paperback book cover printing technology. The back covers of these novels have all presented evil creatures that played a role in the plot—Magic’s Pawn featured wyrsa, which are basically hell-whippets, and Magic’s Promise had the aforementioned piranha bats. Magic’s Price features soldiers on horseback.
But we’re not facing the soldiers yet—instead we get A MAP! We’ve had a map before, back in Arrow’s Flight. That was a map of Valdemar in the time of Queen Selenay. This is a map of Valdemar in the time of Herald Vanyel, so now we have an authoritative record of Valdemaran territorial changes in the intervening period! There were a lot of them. The town of Westmark, which is well within Valdemar’s borders along the North Trade Road in Selenay’s time, is north of the border in Vanyel’s. The eastern border appears to be in roughly the same place, but the western border falls far short of the shores of Evendim, and Sweetsprings, where the Road Guard gave Talia meat pies, is in Karse. The town of Zalmon will later be settled somewhere between K’Vala and K’Chona Vales near the border of Rethwellan.
In this opening section, Vanyel himself is also a pleasure. If we regard this trilogy as a historical record of the life and acts of Vanyel Ashkevron, it’s a hagiography. Vanyel usually carries his great power with a sense of moody self-denial, as befits one whose life is defined by duty. One consequence of this has been his intractable loneliness. In Magic’s Price, Vanyel finally has an adult romantic relationship. Vanyel’s nephew, Medren, introduces his uncle to his roommate, Journeyman Bard Stefen, who has the unique ability to block pain. It’s been a long time—Vanyel has no idea what he’s doing.
Stefen will turn out to be Tylendel, reincarnated, complete with lifebond. This is not entirely apparent by the end of chapter 7, but it’s hinted at fairly strongly by everything except the usual sign of reincarnation in Valdemar—a phonetically similar name. Centuries from now, Herald Tantras will be reincarnated as Kris’s Companion Tantris, and Jaysen will reappear as Companion Jasen. Stefen doesn’t sound like Tylendel. BUT Tylendel died attempting to avenge the death of his twin brother, Staven. Tylendel’s second life is, in part, a tribute to his brother.
Stefen’s unique Gift makes him invaluable to King Randale, who suffers from a mysterious degenerative illness. Presenting symptoms are fatigue, chronic pain, and bruising. Randale’s infertility may be a symptom of his illness or may be unrelated. I spent a good chunk of the late 80s reading Lurlene McDaniel’s Six Months to Live, so I suspect leukemia, but Randale has been ill for over 15 years, which seems unlikely without access to chemotherapy. In pursuit of a differential diagnosis, I consulted the Mercedes Lackey Fan Page on Facebook, where the consensus is that Randale is suffering from lupus. Whatever it is, I believe Randale’s condition is Mage-inflicted. If I were an evil mage, carefully picking off the mages in a vulnerable neighboring country one-by-one, I would definitely make time in my busy schedule to make that kingdom’s ruler desperately ill.
And Valdemar’s Mages are under attack. Their numbers have dwindled to four – too few to maintain the Web that alerts them to dangers threatening the kingdom. In their final act together, they create a heartstone to power the Web and tie all of the Heralds to it. I’m assigning them all attributes that their deeds may be better remembered. Kilchas has a telescope, Lissandra an alembic, and Savil a Tayledras bird-mask.
Meanwhile, Randale’s increasingly debilitating illness makes Stefen a vital presence at court, which means Stefen and Vanyel see a lot of each other. Vanyel struggles to remain aloof while trying to forge a platonic friendship. He invites Stefen for dinner in his quarters so they can talk about gittern chord fingerings. A gittern is a forerunner of the guitar that looks like a cross between a ukulele and a lute. The chord in question is a diminished D-minor 7th. Valdemaran gitterns can have up to twelve strings, so it’s hard to know what fingering Stefen was using, but online chord charts offer several options for ukulele players looking for a single-chord tribute to Vanyel and Stefen’s love.
That dinner ends with Vanyel and Stefen drunk, and Vanyel chastely unrolling a bedroll on his floor. Vanyel continues to seek out Stefen as a friend while denying his deeper attraction. Stefen is glad to be Vanyel’s friend, but frustrated at Vanyel’s refusal to acknowledge their sexual chemistry. Medren intervenes by telling Lord Withen about Vanyel’s new friend. Given Vanyel’s history with his dad, that seems like a bad move, but Withen responds by inviting Van to bring Stefen to visit Forst Reach. Withen is a little stiff about it, but Lady Treesa is thrilled to have a visiting Bard.
In other important developments, over the objections of the Council and her parents (all three of them), Jisa marries Treven. She is now 15. Jervis marries Melenna. Princess Juliet Habsburg-Lannister whole-heartedly approves of both matches.
Tune in next week for chapters 8-15—Vanyel and Stefen visit Forst Reach, and then everything gets worse.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.