Alberich had spent most of his youth in the Karsite military schools training to be an officer. At thirteen he had been chosen from among the male children of Karse by the most powerful priests, the Voices of Vkandis Sunlord. Strong of body, quick of mind, but also lowborn - and therefore grateful to the Voices for the opportunity he had been given - he was the perfect candidate for officer training. And for Alberich there was no other place to go, no way to get into a trade, no hope for any but the most menial of jobs - no way for the bastard son of a tavern whore to advance in Karse except in the army. Knowing this, he had left his loving but impoverished mother, never to see her again.
Alberich had risen in the ranks with almost unnatural speed. He had developed expertise in many weapons with an ease that was the envy of his classmates, and picked up his lessons in academic subjects with what seemed to be little or no effort. But in fact, the reclusive Alberich studied long and hard, pushing himself ruthlessly. This lean, tall, hawk-faced young man got up before dawn for extra exercise, spent all his spare time practicing against older boys, and studied by the light of Vkandis' lamps in the Temple until the priests came in for midnight prayers.
In battle, Alberich had an uncanny way of knowing what the enemy's next move would be, and when and from where the attack would come. He had always had a sort of "sixth sense" about things which were about to happen. Instinctively, he hid this ability with the utmost care, for the Sunpriests kept careful watch for anyone exhibiting the "demon powers" which were the hallmark of Karse's greatest enemy --- the witch-nation of Valdemar. Those they caught were "cleansed" in the fires of Vkandis Sunlord.
Both Alberich's skill and secret served him well in the military, and when his cavalry captain was killed during a skirmish with bandits at the border, Alberich was honored by a Voice, becoming one of the youngest captains in the army of Karse. And with this commission came a gift - a handsome white stallion "liberated from the enemy" and reputedly bred by the barbaric Shin'a'in nomads. But both the commission and the horse came with burdens of their own. Alberich had been promoted ahead of two older and more seasoned officers. It did not matter that those two together hadn't been half as effective as Alberich had been alone - those men would want revenge. And riding a white stallion, no matter how powerful its gait and excellent its temperament, made him feel as if he had a target on his back.
But these problems were merely distractions, for the Voices had laid a trap which even Alberich's strange foresight could not predict....
Saved from burning as a witch when his odd white stallion braved the flames and carried him over the border into the witch-nation of Valdemar, he was healed by the same enemies he had been taught to hate his entire life. Thought he knew he could never again return to his home, Alberich also knew he could never truly become a Valdemaran. How could Alberich remain true to his own people and still retain his honor while training Karse's direst enemy?
Mercedes Ritchie Lackey (born 1950) is an American writer of fantasy novels. Many of her novels and trilogies are interlinked and set in the world of Velgarth, mostly in and around the country of Valdemar. Her Valdemar novels form a complex tapestry of interaction between human and non-human protagonists with many different cultures and social mores.
Her other main world is one much like our own, but it includes clandestine populations of elves, mages, vampires, and other mythical beings. The Bedlam's Bard books describe a young man with the power to work magic through music; the SERRAted Edge books are about racecar driving elves; and the Diana Tregarde thrillers center on a Wiccan who combats evil.
She has also ... (more)