When we left off last week, Kilchas had just fallen from the icy roof of his observatory. Vanyel and Yfandes were suspicious of the circumstances, but were distracted—Vanyel had just returned from a three-month diplomatic mission to Rethwellan and Stefen had a romantic evening planned. This distraction will prove tragic as chapter 15 opens with the “And then there were none” sequence.
Valdemar now has only three Herald Mages. Vanyel attempts to compensate through a combination of long-distance spell-casting and working through non-Herald Mages who have Mage potential. This may have fascinating implications for Valdemar’s national defense, and for the role Vanyel will play in it after his death. Can he work through Heralds with Mage Potential as a ghost? Can Companions use Heralds with Mage Potential this way? The forty-three words Lackey wrote about this leave a lot of room for speculation.
Trigger Warning for sexual violence.
The Heraldic Web helps Vanyel’s long-distance work, but it also connects him very strongly to Heralds who die. Vanyel is knocked flat in a Council meeting when Lissandra is poisoned by fumes in her alchemy lab. Vanyel can’t understand why she would work with such dangerous substances in her personal lab, when she could have used the fume hood at the Healers’ Collegium. OK, Vanyel doesn’t actually use those words. He thinks, “The still-room at Healer’s Collegium has adequate ventilation against accidents.” This is exciting news about the Collegium facilities, and about the state of scientific studies on Velgarth. Earth’s historical alchemists had difficulty grokking the concept of toxic fumes. Lissandra’s death is blamed on human error, but Savil is not satisfied. She insists that Vanyel look into it further. Vanyel thinks she’s getting irrational in her old age. He’s a patronizing bastard here—he sympathizes with her over-reaction and agrees to strengthen her wards when he gets a little free time.
Savil is dead within hours. Her room is locked, her wards are undisturbed, and there’s blood everywhere. Vanyel investigates using the spell the Tayledras used to track Jeff the Mage back in Forst Reach. That took four Mages, but Vanyel works alone now. Like Batman in his darker moments. Savil was killed by a Mage-constructed shape shifter that disguised itself as a pile of wood. At last, Vanyel has proof that someone is killing Valdemar’s Herald Mages, and he vows to seek vengeance.
Swearing vengeance is frowned upon in Valdemar. That’s how Tylendel got repudiated. Vanyel justifies his desire for revenge by framing it in the context of his duty to the Kingdom. The Companions back Vanyel up with a rare display of their ability to influence their Chosen. Vanyel vows to defend Valdemar with his dying breath and gets the Council’s blessing to head north and take out the evil Mage. Stefen insists on coming with him. Stef couldn’t go to Rethwellen because Vanyel needed to negotiate with their homophobic rulers, but he’s not going to be negotiating with anyone up north. Vanyel relents and gets a pack chirra.
The journey is hard. The weather is awful. Vanyel doesn’t want to stay at inns, so accommodations are magically heated, but primitive. We’ve switched from Vanyel’s point-of-view to Stefen’s, which is both interesting and ominous. Stefen is a lot like Vanyel was when he rode into the night with Tylendel to seek vengeance against the Leshera. Thematically, the story is beginning to turn itself inside out here. The young, anxious Vanyel of Magic’s Pawn has taken on the frightening aspects of Tylendel’s personality. Stefen, who is also Tylendel, has become the anxious young man hoping that an act of vengeance will heal his partner.
This shift continues as Vanyel faces his enemy’s henchmen for the first time. This is the gang rape scene, and it’s every bit as disgusting as anything George R.R. Martin has ever written. This is a difficult scene to deal with as a re-reader. I really wanted the scene to serve a greater narrative purpose. As a demonstration of evil, it’s gratuitous. We knew Vanyel’s enemy was evil before he left Haven, and their leader isn’t even here. These are evil henchmen. We don’t need the scene to show that Vanyel is in danger. The winter weather on the trip was more than sufficiently life threatening. The best I can do is this: We need to need to see how, even though Vanyel has turned towards the grimdark side, his enemies represent his symbolic opposite. Vanyel and Stefen’s sexual relationship has been a major feature of this book. This scene shows Vanyel’s enemies using sex for an opposing purpose. This helps make Vanyel redeemable when he kills all of them, including the boy who was their servant, and the Healer who tried to help him.
While Vanyel is being held captive, Stefen and Yfandes are plotting his rescue. Companions often don’t go through much in the way of interesting character development in the course of a novel. Yfandes usually comes across as a gentle, caring creature, deeply concerned about Vanyel’s welfare. At this point, Yfandes is in emergency mode. With Vanyel captured, she Mind Speaks with Stefen, informing him that this is something that Companions can do, but usually don’t. With Stefen, Yfandes is a no-nonsense salty bitch with a creative approach to profanity. Were you wondering about Velgarth’s deities and their genitalia? Yfandes is here for you!
Stefen and Yfandes find Vanyel just in time to stop him from forcing a bandit to disembowel himself. This shows how far gone Vanyel is—Krebain did the same thing to a villager Vanyel rescued back in Magic’s Pawn. Stefen, Vanyel, and Yfandes are rescued by a kyree, and they nurse Vanyel back to health.
You know what happens next, but we’ll handle the details and implications of chapter 19 next week.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.