If you remember way back, you got to meet Ludger. Valeska is his servant/student, and you meet her in the first book of my current series as an already established member of the household. Here is how she arrived at the keep and met both Manas and Ludger – and how she made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere.
Valeska stared at the rugged stone edifice in front of her. She swallowed past the lump in her throat and rubbed the back of her neck. She tossed her braid back over her shoulder and tucked the few strands that had escaped behind her ears. The spirits guiding her faded from her sight and the sense that the Fates loomed over her shoulders vanished. This wasn’t what she’d wanted to do with her life, but as her first teacher had said – “When the Fates say walk this path, you obey.”
She took a deep breath and started climbing the path. She shuddered at the sight of the bloodstained stone. She could hear the screams of the dead as she moved along the well-kept cobblestone road. They were old, these deaths. Far older than the young lord who now ruled Phiri Hu.
The chill morning air didn’t help the feeling of foreboding as she approached the blood soaked keep. She finally reached the main gate. Two soldiers dressed in crisp uniforms were standing at the entryway. They stopped her, hands on their blades. “What is your business with our lord?” one of them asked.
Valeska took a deep breath. “My business is not with the lord of these lands, but one of those who serve him,” she said, her Hiilguusi heavily accented.
One of the guards frowned. “Who would that be?” he demanded.
“Ludger Vilhjalmsson,” Valeska said.
“And who are you?” the guard asked.
“I am Valeska Groos. I have come from his homeland to speak with him,” Valeska said.
“I’ll go see if he’s willing to talk to her,” the second guard said.
“Will you pass on a message for me?” Valeska asked.
“I suppose so,” the second guard said.
Valeska pulled a small note out of one of her pouches. “It’ll be easier if you give him this to read. It’s in our language and I don’t know if you can repeat what I’d have to say or not,” she said.
“Since I don’t speak the Northern tongue this will make it simpler,” the second guard said, taking the note. He walked inside the keep.
A short while later he returned. “Ludger says he’ll see you,” he said with an amused smile. “Don’t be surprised if he sends you packing immediately though. He’s not in a good mood after reading that note.”
“I was not expecting him to be,” Valeska said. “Where will I find him?”
“I’ll take you to him,” the second guard said.
He led Valeska through a few winding corridors until they reached a room with a heavy wooden door. She could sense the power within it even as the guard left her there. Valeska took a deep breath and knocked.
“Get in here, girl,” came the gruff reply. Valeska opened the door and entered the room. It looked very similar to a room she might find in a shaman’s hut in her home village. “Don’t bother putting your pack down because you aren’t staying. I don’t care who sent you. I don’t need a servant or a student.”
Ludger was a mountain of a man, broad of shoulder and chest, with white shot through his black hair. His agate gray eyes were hard as stone. He glared at her from his chair.
Valeska dropped her pack on the floor and put her hands on her hips. “You’ve definitely lost your sense of courtesy by living down here all these years,” she said bluntly. His eyes narrowed. “And you can stop trying to impress me with your powers. I’m well aware of your strength. I could feel it long before I ever reached the keep. I’ve been ignoring your presence for a while now.” She was proud of the fact that her voice remained steady in spite of the fact that she was shaking inside. “Let me be plain. I was told by the gods, the spirits, and my former teacher there there was nothing I could be taught back home. I was also told that my teacher would be the only shaman to leave our homeland. My teacher did a Sending and found out it was you. He wasn’t thrilled with sending me down here because you were essentially exiled, but he and I agreed that if the gods and the spirits were screaming at me to be down here I had better get my arse on the road and down here immediately.”
“You really expect me to believe that?” Ludger asked.
“Why else would I have left my family, my home, and my status as a shaman?” Valeska asked. And my daughter, she added silently, a stab of pain running through her.
“What else did you sacrifice when you left our homeland?” Ludger asked sharply. “I can sense your pain.”
“I left behind a three year old daughter,” Valeska said. “She now lives with my sister, who will raise her as her own daughter. My child will never know me as her mother because the gods willed me onto this road.” Her temper flared and the fear she felt vanished. “Do you truly think I’d have left Elfriede there, alone, without me if I’d had a choice? What mother abandons her child on a whim? My teacher, my parents, my sister – they all tried to talk me out of it. At least they did until my former teacher did his Sending. Then suddenly everyone was fine with me leaving.”
“I see no marking on here as to who your former teacher was,” Ludger said, looking at the note in his hand again. “Who was he? And why didn’t he sign this?”
“He didn’t sign it because he knew his name would prevent me from even being allowed to see you,” Valeska said.
“Who was he?” Ludger asked again.
“My former master’s name was Halvdan,” Valeska said.
Ludger turned red. “That old man is still alive?” he asked, his voice deadly quiet.
“Unfortunately yes,” Valeska said. “And I was forced to become his student in spite of the fact that he has the penchant of raping his female students. He was the only shaman in the steading.”
Ludger blinked. “You are from Nosktens?” he asked, fingering a fire opal lynx hanging around his neck.
Valeska pulled her token from the spirits – a stylized feline shaped from an ice opal – out from under her tunic. “Yes, I am. I was born and raised there, and heard much of you.” Her lips quirked. “Halvdan didn’t have many kind things to say about you until my token appeared. Then he got very…quiet for several days. When he recovered he started teaching me again but he treated me with less care than he did his other students. When he had the Sending that brought me south I was thrilled, even if it meant leaving Elfriede behind.”
“Why would you leave your daughter behind?” Ludger asked. “She’d be safe here.”
Valeska looked down at her spirit token. “My path is not one a child should walk, though I will be forced to walk it at the side of a girl-child not my own,” she said softly. “I don’t know who this child is, why I will follow her, or who the other person who wanders that path with us is. But the ice spirit who gave me this showed me that a great lynx will give me the knowledge I need to walk with them.” She looked up. “You are the Great Lynx, Ludger. You are the only shaman who holds the aspect of a lynx, and you are the one I was commanded by the Fates to find.”
Ludger got to his feet. “Then I suppose I have a servant and student rolled into one,” he said. “Come. You need to meet the lord of these lands. He is a good friend to me, and one I am soul bound to protect.” He met her gaze. It was refreshing to stand almost eye to eye with someone instead of being taller than most. “You too will be bound to that same promise, though not to the same degree I am.”
“Then I will be bound to protect him and his bloodline,” Valeska said.
Ludger beckoned with one thick fingered hand. “Then come, let me introduce you to Manas, High Lord of Phiri Hu.” He led her out of his room.
Manas was in a library seated in a very shabby looking chair. He looked up from a book he was reading when the two of them entered. Valeska bit her lip. He was attractive enough for a Hiilguusi, but she saw the curse sitting over him. She couldn’t see what form it took but the darkness was there.
“Old friend, who is this?” Manas asked in a rough voice.
“This is Valeska Groos,” Ludger said. “She’s come this far south to be my servant and student. I thought I’d bring her in and introduce her to you.”
Manas raised an eyebrow. “Do I need to know the whole story?” he asked.
“No. There’s nothing to worry about. She’ll serve me and stay out of your way,” Ludger said. He paused. “I’ll have to tell her about your difficulty though.”
“I can see it, though I don’t know the whole of the situation,” Valeska said. “Great Lord, I will serve my master but I am bound now to serve you as well. My gifts, minor though they are, are now yours to command – so long as my master approves.”
Manas looked at Ludger. “You can explain the whole thing to her,” he said. He went back to his book. “As well as figure out if you want to risk trying to get the Grand Arbiter to approve her use of magic in Hiilguus.”
“I’ll take that into consideration,” Ludger said. He looked at Valeska. “Come, girl. We have much to talk about.” He led her back out of the room and down to his chambers.