Disclaimer: Everything relating to the world of Velgarth in general, and the kingdom of Valdemar in specific, is the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.
Notes: Whoa. So; this one completely bit me out of the blue. I’m really interested in what people make of this.
He kept a special set of carving tools for this particular aspect of his job. The matt silver sheen of the graded chisels matched that of the specially forged mallet. The set had been a gift, from his parents, when he’d achieved the rank of Master Stone Mason. The tools were almost works of art in and of themselves, and he only kept them for the most special occasions.
Then; he’d become the Master Stone Mason attached to the Palace and he assumed new duties; unique duties.
The first time he’d been called to perform the function that was his, and his alone, he’d been off balance and had grabbed the first set of tools that he had reached; his special set of tools.
After using them, it had come to him that there was no task more important for them to do, and after that, he only used the specially commissioned and decorated chisels and mallet for the… task.
Everyone had told him, when he first moved to Haven, making a break from the town which held so many memories of his recently deceased parents, that he would see more Heralds in one candle mark than he had in the whole of his life up until that point. This was true; it was common to see at least one Herald (usually mounted on their glorious Companions) a day in the city, more if you were near the Palace.
He had always been in awe of the Heralds; of their almost inhuman sense of justice and strict moral code, and that didn’t lessen the more that he saw of them.
Rather… it changed. He still held the Heralds— and their Companions— in awe, but living in such close proximity to where they themselves lived and were trained, he began to see them as human beings, as well.
It was somewhat enlightening, in many ways. That simple, ordinary people could do such… good.
It gave him hope.
Arali was the eldest daughter of the city’s most prominent Master Jeweller, and a Master in her own right.
He was smitten the moment he met her, and it took him a good half year before he could muster up the courage to speak to her.
Last day of the Midsummer festival; that was when they were married.
Although there was no way he could supervise the building of their new house; there wasn’t, after all, any available space to build on in the whole of the Merchant’s Quarter, he did supervise the extensive renovations that their newly acquired home required before it could be considered habitable for a young couple.
They were happy together; and together they rose up through the ranks of their respective Guilds. Each brought something to their partnership that the other didn’t, and together they completed themselves.
Death stalks the unwary, it is said.
First it was a fire; unexpected and violent, that had claimed the majority of the Metal-Workers Master Guildhall. Arali’s parents, as advocates of the Jewellers Guild, had been inside. It was said that they didn’t suffer.
A bad fall down the main staircase of their house. Arali heavily pregnant and unable to catch herself before tumbling down the hard stone steps.
The bleeding was too bad for the Healers to do much besides save the baby. Arali died in his arms; blood a shocking stain drawn around them like a scarlet cloak, marred by footprints and skid marks.
She was a girl and she looked like Arali; had the same dark blue eyes and black hair and he loved her desperately as soon as he saw her. A Healer moved into his house, lived with him and showed him how to care for a helpless infant; how to be both her mother and her father.
His appointment to the Royal Household came soon after.
Leaving the house where he and Arali had lived— and Arali had died— was a strange, unsettling mixture of pain and relief, but a Royal Appointment meant responsibilities that could be best handled by residing in the Palace complex.
Eventually, the sharp pain of loss had blunted to a distant, ever present ache, and he had— as they say— gotten on with his life. The Master Stone Mason to the Royal family had many and varied duties, after all.
Overseeing the constant renovations and improvements; designing the bulk of any additions to be considered for any of the primary buildings that made up the Palace and Collegia took the majority of his time.
Always, though, he had time for his precious daughter; the one thing of Arali’s that was still in this world and that he could touch and love.
In turn, the baby that grew; first into a serious little girl, and then into a quietly demonstrative adolescent returned his love with emotion that was equally fierce.
After all; they were the only thing that each other had, the only family to each other.
Nothing could have prepared him for the day that it happened. It had seemed like a perfectly ordinary day.
He was out inspecting the garden walls of the House of Healing; checking that the re-pointing that he’d set two of his apprentices to do the previous day was satisfactory, when the delighted cry reached him.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Thea; his normally reserved daughter had come racing down the path towards him, her expression one of shocked rapture, and had flung herself at him.
He wrapped arms around her waist as she clung to him, hanging from his neck like she had when she was a little.
“Chosen! Daddy, I’ve been Chosen by a Companion!”
Oh— had been his first thought; a mirror of the stunned shock that Thea was obviously still in the grips of. Then— then had come the surge of joy and the fierce pride. Of course Thea had been Chosen to be a Herald; how could he expect any less for his bright, wonderful child?
He laughed, spun her around in a circle like a little and hugged her tight.
Thea was going to be a Herald; he was so proud.
Jealousy. Not an emotion that he ever entertained, nor one that he was proud to start experiencing. But… one that he became increasingly familiar with. Cold, sour tasting tendrils that wrapped around his mind and clung like ivy to an old tree.
Thea had become brighter and more focused; growing into the potential that he always knew she had hidden away. But… she seemed to be one step removed from him.
It was no longer him and her; it was Thea and Jati.
It was Jati that Thea confided in— Jati who got to hear about her nightmares, when she had them. Jati who was a party to Thea’s deepest secrets and who with she spent nearly all of her time.
Awe became touched with bitterness, then. He threw himself into his work, distancing himself from the sense that he was losing his only child to a family that he could never be a part of, but that she was inextricably linked with.
The whole of the Palace roof was due for survey and he found the time to repair and oversee the restoration of all of the decorative stone gargoyles and cornices; even the ones that had been left mouldering in half-decayed neglect on the top of roofs that had been chopped and changed by generations of modifications.
He visited all of the abandoned balconies and walkways, ones that could only be accessed by illogical and circuitous routes through private suites, servant’s quarters and storage cupboards indiscriminately.
He was hailed as a kind of explorer by the Court; rediscovering a multitude of trysting-places and private areas, renovating and improving them; providing discreet access where required and generally adding to the world that the Palace encapsulated. At the same time, he could see his daughter growing up.
Growing away from him.
So he worked more, worked harder. Became hailed as the greatest Royal Stone Mason in twenty generations.
The morning that he heard the Bell ring, he was in his workshop in the newest wing of the Palace. The muted, solemn tones were ones that he knew almost as well as the Heralds and Companions, he fancied. Placing his charcoal stick neatly beside the large sheet of paper he had been roughing out the design for a new statue to stand in the Council Hall, he wiped his hands clean on a cloth and stood to retrieve the special tools from the rack on the far wall that held them and them alone.
As always, the dull silvery metal of the chisels and mallet felt like cool silk against the rough calluses of his hands.
The Bell continued to toll, the sound echoing around the Palace and making the day seem somehow dim.
He did not rush; this time, now, was for the Heralds and the Companions who would gather by the two white-marble monuments that stood all alone in a corner of Companion’s Field, close to the Grove. His time with the smooth perfection of the stone monuments would be later, would be all alone.
Tools ready, he debated going back to his drawings, whilst he waited for the King’s Own to bring him the names of the Herald and Companion who had died. It usually took several candle-marks before she was collected enough to—
—a knock on the closed door to his workroom, but no one followed the knock into the room.
Frowning faintly, he walked over to the door and twisted the handle, before pulling it open.
Hyci, the King’s Own Herald was standing in the doorway. Her face was white and her eyes were red and she was crying.
He had never seen her crying before, she was always composed, if worn looking, when she came to find him.
But she was too soon—
And she was crying—
And all that he could feel was the chilling embrace of numbness as it folded around him.
If looked at closely, the carved names of Herald Thea and Companion Jati; who had given their lives in the name of Valdemar, appear no different from any of the names that lie above them, imprinted eternally in marble. The strokes that created them were steady and sure, the proportion of each letter exactingly perfect and matched to those around it, a memorial upon a memorial.
It was only after he finished the last letter that he allowed the chisel and mallet to fall from his hands and the tears to burn and blur his vision.