The Heralds of Valdemar are the kingdom's ancient order of protectors. They are drawn from all across the land, from all walks of life, and at all ages--and all are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women. They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more. These inborn talents--combined with training as emissaries, spies, judges, diplomats, scouts, counselors, warriors, and more--make them indispensable to their monarch and realm. Sought and Chosen by mysterious horse-like Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic, enigmatic creatures. The Heralds of Valdemar and their Companions ride circuit throughout the kingdom, protecting the peace and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.
Now, twenty-three authors ride with Mercedes Lackey to her magical land of Valdemar, adding their own unique voices to the Heralds, Bards, Healers, and other heroes of this beloved fantasy realm.
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With Sorrow And Joy
Herald Uli kept his tone as even and emotionless as possible, coached by his Companion’s soothing voice in his mind. But he was failing to keep his composure, even as he felt the burn of tears behind his eyes. In his rooms at the Collegium, he could express how he felt, acknowledge his sadness and loss with grief and proper mourning. But not here. Not in the hold of the Norton family, the place of his birth outside Westmark.
“Uli—” His Uncle Osric began as he stepped forward. He, Uli, and Uli’s older brother, Cyrus, all stood in the hold’s great hall, a place where the Norton family had gathered since bringing their family’s woodcraft from Hardorn to Valdemar. The interior had been built with the famous Norton oak, walls stained and oiled through the decades, standing as testament to the family’s craftsmanship. Ceiling to floor tapestries adorned three of the walls, depicting the arrival of the Nortons, the harvesting of trees, and the annual replanting begun by the first Father after the first winter.
It was all there. The history of Uli’s family. And it was under his ancestors’ gaze that he had just learned his estranged father, the man who had cursed him for being Chosen by a “magic horse,” had dismissed him as no longer being a part of the family . . . of their Hold.
Uli held up his hand, aware that he stood out among his family, dressed in his Herald Whites. He’d donned a clean set at a nearby Waystation on his way from the Collegium. Just returned from a two- year Circuit, Uli had rested enough to satisfy the Healer before answering an urgent summons home. He had secretly hoped the message, though not signed by his father, had come from Cade Norton so that he and his middle child could hopefully . . . mend fences.
But that was never going to happen.
“Uli,” Cyrus said, his rough, callused hands on his hips. “Are you crying? You’d think after eight years in that fancy school, you’d at least learn how to be a man.”
:It seems Cyrus is still angry,: Sillvrenniel spoke with an almost scolding tone. She had been stabled away from the rest of the Norton horses and now ran in the field amid the tall, strong trees of the north.
:He will always be angry,: Uli thought back. :Cyrus will never forgive me for leaving.:
:I do not think that is where this anger is coming from.:
Her voice took on a mothering tone. :Dry those eyes and pay attention. It is important.:
His uncle and brother were watching him. He was sure they’d noticed the faraway look in his eyes as he spoke to Sillvrenniel. “Tears are an expression of emotion, Brother. You have known of our father’s death for a year. And yet I have just learned of the tragedy upon walking into this room. Surely when you heard, you shed at least one tear for the man who raised you? Protected you?”
Uli had struck a nerve, and he knew it when he looked into Cyrus’ eyes. They narrowed as Cyrus lowered his hands to his sides and balled them into fists.
“That’s enough,” Osric said, his hands up as he moved between the two of them. “Arguments have no place here. Not now.” He turned to Uli. “It is good to see you well, Uli. Though you do look tired. It is there, behind your eyes. I heard you’ve been on what they refer to as a Circuit?”
“Yes, Uncle. An apprenticeship.” He and Osric had always been close, even when Uli’s own father had looked at his son with disgust. Osric had always seemed to know when the two had argued and had sought out Uli to comfort him, making excuses for his own brother’s behavior. Osric had been the one to escort a much younger Uli to Haven after Sillvrenniel had Chosen him, claiming to be proud there was a Herald in the Norton line. “I was paired with Herald Cerys for the last year of the Circuit. We traveled around the east, close to the border.”
“Is this Cerys a woman or a man?” Cyrus said.
“Herald Cerys is a woman,” Uli said, but did not look at Cyrus. “She is gifted with Farsight, which works well with my own gift.”
Osric clapped his hands together. “Then the reports that you have found stolen items are true?”
Uli hesitated. “I wasn’t aware there were reports.”
“I have always kept an eye on you, Uli.” Osric crossed his arms over his chest.
Uli smiled and blinked back tears. “You were always more of a father to me.”
Cyrus snorted. “So we’re back to that, are we? Father never loved me enough.”
“Cyrus,” Osric looked his nephew. “That’s enough.”
To Uli’s surprise, his brother didn’t say another word. Cyrus had always been outspoken and verbally abusive since he could put words together. To see him actually stop talking because their uncle commanded him came as a surprise. Things had changed in the Norton Hold.
“Uli, I kept up with you because I wanted to know how you were doing. What you were doing. And where you were.” Osric dipped his head and raised his shoulders.
“Unfortunately . . . on occasion I lost track of you. Heralds are good at disappearing when they need to.”
That much was true. And while traveling together, he and Cerys had made a few enemies and found it necessary to veer off their chosen path to protect themselves and their Companions. “Why didn’t you send word when he died?”
“I did,” Osric said. “But there was no response. So after three days of mourning, it was time to put your father to rest. He’s in the chapel crypt if you would like to pay your respects. But first, I must discuss with you the reason you are here.”
“Uncle—” Cyrus said abruptly.
“You can go, Cyrus. Now.”
Uli looked at his brother and saw the blaze in Cyrus’ eyes as he glanced at Osric. Cyrus bowed to his uncle, then shot a withering glance at Uli and stalked out of the room, slamming the door upon his exit.
“I see my brother’s temper hasn’t changed,” Uli muttered.
“I’m afraid not.” Osric motioned to the fire at the other end of the hall, and the two walked over and sat at a bench. Two women brought out a flagon of water and cups, a bowl of cheese and grapes, and a loaf of hot bread. Osric poured water and then gestured for Uli to break bread. “Will you be wearing those clothes the whole time you’re here?”
“Only on official Herald business,” Uli didn’t have to force a smile. He was among the many Heralds who thought the Whites a bit too . . . ostentatious. As well as absurdly visible. It was the equivalent of wearing a target. “Uncle,” he paused after breaking the bread in half. He really didn’t have an appetite. “Why didn’t you keep sending me messages?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Once the first message about Father’s death failed to reach me, why not send more? Why wait for a year before bringing me home?”
“Things aren’t as . . .” He set a cup in front of Uli. “It’s not that simple, dear boy. Your father’s death was sudden, and it destabilized the business for a while. You remember the Ohbokhens?”
“Yes, one of the other woodcrafters near Delcaire. I remember father mentioning they were here before the Nortons came.”
“Aye. Before his death, Cade shared something with me. Master Sorenson found his physical inventory didn’t match what the accounting reported. He showed Cade and together the two of them did a physical audit. When they were done, Cade said half a year’s wood and the equivalent in income were missing, even though the records said otherwise.”
“Who was doing the bookkeeping?”
Uli’s eyes widened.
Osric continued, “Sorenson noticed the discrepancy because several large orders couldn’t be fulfilled. The ledgers said we had enough wood, but that wasn’t the case. The merchants were angry, and they took their business to Stanis Ohbokhen.”
Uli put his hands on the table. “Did father confront Cyrus?”
“Cade died two days later.” Osric shook his head. “I’m sure you didn’t know this, but your father didn’t leave Cyrus in charge of the company, Uli. He left it to Eda to run.”
Eda. Uli’s younger sister. “Eda?” He looked around. “Where is Eda? How come she’s not here?”
“She hasn’t been here in over a month.”
“What—” Uli searched his uncle’s face. “What’s going on, Uncle? Why isn’t Eda here if Father left the business to her? And why hasn’t someone confronted Cyrus about the loss?”
“Because after your father died, Eda managed to build the business back up again, and we regained our reputation. But then a month ago we uncovered evidence that Eda had been selling that wood to Stanis Ohbokhen and pocketing the money. The Healer also kept evidence of Cade’s murder from the public. But I knew of it, and so did Cyrus. Eda killed your father because he found out what she was doing and threatened to disown her.”
Uli slowly stood and stepped away from the bench. “You said Father died. You didn’t say he was killed.”
“Uli—this is why I requested you come home. This is why I need you as a Herald.”
“I don’t believe you—Eda would never have hurt Father.”
“We have evidence that she poisoned him, Uli. When she was confronted, she fled, and we haven’t been able to find her since.” Osric stood and also stepped away from the bench. “Herald Uli, I request you find Eda Norton and bring her back to Norton Hold to stand trial for the murder of your father, Cade Norton.”