The Valdemar Reread

The Last Herald Mage: The End

We read about Vanyel’s death for the first time in the opening pages of Arrows of the Queen. We read about it again in Magic’s Promise when Vanyel got his ForeSight and started dreaming about it. We already know that Vanyel dies, that he dies for Valdemar, and that he dies alone. Chapter 19 offers no hope of escape or survival—Vanyel is a dead man walking.

First-time readers might have been waiting for a female Herald to take Stefan to safety. But that was Talia’s daydream, not the historical record. Otherwise, Vanyel’s final moments are exactly what we’ve been led to expect. Vanyel himself notes the similarities between the situation and his dreams, as if readers might fail to notice. We also know what happened to Vanyel after he died—the forest he guards almost killed Talia in Arrow’s Flight. There’s no point in re-reading for plot here.

Information on Valdemaran cultural geography is generally very limited, but this chapter offers two new insights. Chapters 18 and 19 describe a significant kyree presence in the Ice Wall Mountains. The kyree are famously reclusive. It’s possible that the community is still present in the area in Talia and Selenay’s day. Vanyel’s ghost is, of course, still guarding the forest at that point. Although none of Lackey’s protagonists seem to be aware of it, it’s possible that the kyree also contribute to the forest’s defenses. This offers a tiny bit of explanation for wolf-obsessed servant Talia and Kris encountered in Westmark, back in Arrow’s Flight.

Geography also explains evil Mage Leareth’s decision to attack Valdemar. North of the Ice Wall Mountains, the climate is arctic and the land is populated by nomadic caribou herders. Velgarth has caribou! I’m not real clear on whether Leareth came from the north or just chose it as his base of operations. In either case, he’s not content with his northern lands, the Tayledras prevent him from penetrating into the Pelagirs, and he can’t strike at Iftel, which is divinely protected. Valdemar and Iftel were allied as a result of Queen Elspeth’s marriage. The only long-term consequence of this alliance is the Valdemaran belief that the kingdom can use strategic marriages to make up for the deficiencies of its standing army. If Leareth wants to conquer anything, he needs to go through Valdemar.

Chapter 19 provides a number of insights into Leareth, mostly information Vanyel gained while escaping from the bandits. Leareth has been killing off Valdemar’s Mages for some time, even identifying and killing Mage Gifted children before they could be Chosen. Leareth was indirectly involved in Tylendel’s death, and this chapter implies that Leareth sent Krebain to kill Vanyel (it’s not clear whether he did this himself or used the Leshara as his agents). Leareth’s ominous nature is undermined by his fashion choices. He affects an all-black version of a Herald’s uniform. I hope it includes the thigh-high boots Vanyel is wearing on the cover of Magic’s Promise.

The major difference between Vanyel’s dreams and his death is the presence of Yfandes. When Vanyel realizes that Leareth’s attack on Valdemar is imminent, he sends Stefan to safety on Yfandes. She takes a straight line to the nearest guard post, using what she describes to Stefan as “a kind of Fetching,” then bucks him off into a snowdrift and races back to the pass to add her power to Vanyel’s Final Strike. Most of the time, Companions provide their Chosen with emotional support and a partner for their inner monologues. On rare occasions, like when Dirk and Elspeth rescued Talia, they enhance their Heralds’ abilities. In Magic’s Price, Yfandes begins the process of revealing the extent of the Companions’ powers. There’s very little they can’t do, but a lot of things they usually don’t. In the face of her Chosen’s imminent death, Yfandes throws out the playbook. Her decisions follow the logic of Vanyel’s situation. What’s less clear is why the rest of the Companions hide their abilities. That theme will appear one more time in this book.

The Companions are covertly assisting Stefan. Lifebonded partners rarely survive each other. Vanyel nearly died when Tylendel did, and Shavri ultimately dies within hours of Randale. Stefan survives Vanyel’s passing, and then plans his own death. He’s in a cave in the mountains with a vial of argonel when Vanyel’s ghost stops him. They can be together in death, Vanyel promises, but first there’s a job he needs Stef to do. Stefan needs to write the songs that persuade Valdemar of the abilities of non-Mage Heralds. This will lay the groundwork for Valdemar’s inability to speak about Mages. It also continues the process Lackey began in the last section of shifting Vanyel’s burden of patriotic duty on to Stefan. In the Epilogue, a young Herald escorts aged Stefan as he rides through Sorrows on his way from Haven to Forst Reach. Stefan disappears into the forest, and the Herald’s Companion makes him forget that Stefan was there. Try to focus on Stefan riding into the sunset and joining Vanyel in defending the Forest of Sorrows for all eternity, and not on the relative locations of Sorrows, Haven and Forst Reach as shown on the map.

Magic’s Price closes with a second collection of songs. This is a shorter set than the one at the end of Arrow’s Flight, and a more focused one. “Shadow Stalker” and “Demonsbane” explain how Vanyel got some of his fabulous nicknames. “Windrider Unchained” is the first song Medren played for Vanyel. “My Lady’s Eyes” is Vanyel’s mother’s favorite. Everyone always said it was drivel. They did not lie. “Shadow Lover” is the song Medren hears Vanyel play when he’s mourning Tylendel in Magic’s Promise. Finally, “Magic’s Price” is the song Stefan wrote about Vanyel’s sacrifice. Tragically, “The Crafty Maid” was not included in the collection.

Tune in next week for the opening section of By the Sword!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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