Chapters 8-14 of Magic’s Price feel like summer vacation. This is partly because it is—Vanyel and Savil take Stefen with them to visit Forst Reach. Stefen has been worn down by weeks of constant performance, both to block pain for King Randale and to demonstrate his Gift for the Healers. He needs to recover, and Withen invited him.
The more relaxed feeling also comes from the focus of this section. This is the love story, and while it has a few tense and dangerous moments, its focus on the relationship between Stefen and Vanyel is a lot like a romance novel. The Heralds of Valdemar trilogy neglected its central romance. Magic’s Pawn provided a longer look at Vanyel’s relationship with Tylendel, but ended it in the first half of the book. This chunk of Magic’s Price explores Vanyel and Stefen’s relationship in a more sustained way.
From the very first moment in the Valdemar series, we have known that Stefen will be with Vanyel in the moments leading up to his death. Knowing what looms in the winter of Vanyel and Stefen’s future makes the romantic clichés of their summer in Forst Reach feel like a gift. And as conventional as it is now, nothing about this relationship would have seemed clichéd in 1990 when the book was first published.
Stefen is the younger partner in this relationship. He appears to be about 18 at this point. Vanyel is roughly 36. This feels a little weird. But, Jisa is only 15, and is old enough to defy her parents and marry Treyven. Vanyel’s oldest children are 19, which implies that he was 17-18 when they were conceived, and actually that doesn’t help the weirdness at all, maybe don’t think about that. But Stefen takes the lead in their relationship. He is assisted in this by Vanyel’s parents, who have put Van and Stefen in the same bedroom for their visit. This is a nice, if totally unexpected, step forward for Withen and Treesa. It comes as a shock to Vanyel, who gallantly offers to relocate. Stefen bolts the door so he can tell Vanyel about his feelings. The conversation leads to the kind of sweet, vague love-making that Mercedes Lackey writes so well, and Vanyel realizes that he and Stefen are lifebonded.
The lifebond overcomes one of Vanyel’s usual objections to sexual relationships—he has avoided casual encounters because he felt he would be endangering his partners without fully giving of himself. However, Vanyel’s concern for his loved one’s safety continues to be an obstacle between him and complete romantic happiness. His angst is aggravated by an attack on his mother. Vanyel himself unknowingly facilitated this attack—while out riding Vanyel is attacked by a Mage who has slipped past Valdemar’s newly installed vrondi alert system. This Mage drives all of the non-romantic action in this section, and it’s inconvenient that he doesn’t have a name. I’ve decided to call him Jeff.
Vanyel arrests Jeff, who seems to be insane, and leaves him with the family priest. Once he’s alone with the priest, Jeff overpowers him and heads for the orchard, where Treesa and her ladies are sewing. Jeff attacks Treesa, and is swiftly incapacitated by Vanyel’s cousin Radevel. Yfandes tramples Jeff to death. In the chaos, Vanyel is hit with a leech-blade. To save Vanyel’s life, Savil Gates to K’Treva Vale and persuades Moondance and Starwind to come to Forst Reach.
The Hawkbrothers rarely leave their Vales, so this is a really big deal. Moondance uses the opportunity to have a conversation with Withen about the importance of acceptance. This seems less important to Withen than it is to Moondance, who tells the Tallo story again. Allegedly, this is not a subject Moondance likes to talk about, but we’ve seen him twice in this trilogy and he’s brought it up both times. I don’t find the story of how Tallo killed his ex, then found a new lover and changed his name, even a little bit heartwarming. It seems to have a positive impact on Withen. I don’t know why.
The Tayledras heal Vanyel, and help uncover Jeff’s origins. Jeff turns out to have been an assassin, sent to strike at Vanyel indirectly by killing Withen and Treesa. The apparent insanity was a magical disguise provided by Jeff’s employer, who remains unknown. To protect his parents, Vanyel urges Withen to come to Haven to take a seat on the Council.
With Jeff’s attack on his mind, it’s unsurprising that Vanyel spends part of the ride back to Haven trying to convince Stefen that he is too dangerous to love. Stefen points out that Haven is safe enough for Vanyel’s parents, and that unlike Heralds, Bards run away from danger. Vanyel will stick his foot in his mouth again when he lectures Stefen on giving him presents. After a three-month diplomatic mission to Rethwellen, Stefen greets Vanyel with a huge chunk of unflawed amber. Forgetting that Stefen was rescued from the mean streets of Haven and feels fortunate to have escaped being forced into prostitution, Vanyel demands to be assured that Stefen hasn’t sold himself or misused his gift. He’s lucky that they’re lifebonded.
Their romantic reunion is further interrupted by the death of Herald-Mage Kilchas, who falls from the roof of his observatory. Summer is over. Tell me about your favorite Stefen/Vanyel moments in the comments and tune in next week for ice and trigger warnings.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.