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Vanyel Ashkevron is the protagonist and titular character of The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy. A tragic figure with a strong moral compass, he is hailed throughout Valdemar as the greatest Herald-Mage in history. As the name of the trilogy suggests, he is the last Herald-Mage of his time and remains so for over 500 years.
Vanyel first appears as the delicate and cosseted firstborn son of Lord Withen Ashkevron and Lady Treesa of backwater Forst Reach. His mother's pet, Van is considered by most of the family to be a 'vain little peacock' and 'too pretty for his own good'; while in reality, he is an emotionally neglected child whose only protector, his sister Lissa, is sent away to foster and learn to be a swordswoman with hopes of a commission into the Guard and his only joy, music, is frowned upon by his homophobic father who fears the boy to be fey.
Introverted and (eventually) emotionally detached, Van is unable to fit into any of the options open to him. In desperation, Withen sends his son to the capital city of Haven to be tutored by his somewhat estranged elder sister, Herald-Mage Savil, in hopes of 'making a man of him.'
Upon arrival, Vanyel is informed he is little more than an inconvenience to the woman and finds that things might just have gone from bad to worse; alone in a strange place with no protector to champion him. His dreams of music crushed, Van finds that he has begun to feel things for his aunt's protege, Herald-Mage Trainee Tylendel, he had no means to understand until he learns of Tylendel's own preferences adding only more confusion and sending him further into his desperate grabbing for the detatchment of his 'ice dream.'
A nightmare on a stormy night has Van confessing his desires, those matching 'Lendel's own, the two become lovers and lifebonded; and things begin to look up from Vanyel.
However fate is a cruel mistress. A series of tragic events leads to Tylendel's death and forcibly brings about all of the Heraldic Gifts in Vanyel.
Vanyel is one of the few to Lifebond to more than one person in his lifetime. First to his Aunt Savil's young protege Tylendel Frelennye and later to a young Bard named Stefen. It is later revealed that Stefen is a reincarnation of Tylendel.
Vanyel possesses all of the Heraldic Gifts, in various measure, even the one he most wanted, the Bardic Gift.
Of his Gifts, Vanyel's MindSpeaking (Thought-Sensing and Projecting), Fetching, FarSight, and the Mage Gift are by far the stronger. He possesses ForeSight, though it has manifested itself in the form of his 'dream' of the battle with Leareth, so the extent of this Gift is unknown and a reasonable level of Empathy. He also has "enough FireStarting to ensure he'd never need to use a tinderbox again," as well as a touch of the Healing Gift. He also mentions an Othersense, which alerts him to presences and energies.
Because of his extraordinary combination of abilities, Vanyel can do the one thing no other Herald or mage could do before him. He could use magical energy to power his mind-magic. He demonstrated this ability when he Fetched the magical construct that had killed Savil and Kellan, tapping into a node for the power needed to reach over such a great distance. (Magic's Price) It was primarily this ability that made him First among the Heraldic Circle.
Vanyel's Gifts did not awaken naturally. Instead they were 'blasted open' and 'burned' raw by the combination of being used as the source of the Gate's energy and (primarily) the backlash of that energy into him (Magic's Pawn).
Vanyel is the son of Lord Withen and Lady Treesa Ashkevron of Forst Reach. He is the eldest son, but upon being Chosen his claim to the Ashkevron titles went to his younger brother Mekeal. Vanyel was trained by his aunt -- Herald-Mage Savil Ashkevron -- and the Tayledras Adepts Moondance and Starwind k'Treva. Vanyel's nephew is Bard Medren, who introduced him to his lover and second lifebonded partner, Bard Stefen.
Vanyel is the biological father of four children: twins—son Brightstar and daughter Featherfire k'Treva; Arven, the daughter of two retired lesbian fighters from his sisters Lissa's command, and Herald Jisa, daughter of the King's Own Herald-Healer Shavri and later King's Own and Co-consort. It is through his children that he is also the direct ancestor of both Herald Elspeth and Healer-Adept Firesong. Herald Kris is a cousin of Selenay, and thus is also a descendant of Vanyel.
Death and LegacyEdit
Vanyel dies at the end of the trilogy, while fighting the army of Leareth. He is able to defeat Leareth by using the powerful "Final Strike," but at the cost of his own life. Because of who and what he is, he is offered the choice to continue protecting Valdemar. His spirit, as well as the spirits of Yfandes and Stefen/Tylendel, are joined with Wendwinter Forest (later known as the Forest of Sorrows). In this form, known as "Vanyel's Curse," they protect Valdemar's northern border from those that would harm Valdemar and the Heralds. It is in this form he "appears" in the book Arrow's Flight, when Heralds Talia and Kris are trapped by a snowstorm in Sorrows.
During the Mage Winds trilogy, Vanyel's spirit is able to hijack the magical power of the Tayledras Heartstone in order to power the Heartstone in Haven. He also redirects the magical Gate of Herald Elspeth and Firesong k'Treva to bring them to Sorrows, before sending them to Haven. During the Mage Storms trilogy; Vanyel's spirit, along with Yfandes and Stefen/Tylendel, travel to the remains of Urtho's Tower to perform the final "Counterstrike" that negates the Mage Storms. At that time, the trio is "sent on to where they are needed."
Throughout Vanyel's trilogy, called "The Last Herald-Mage," he is shown as an emotional character, tending towards extreme depression. In the first book (Magic's Pawn), Vanyel is highly misunderstood by his family, alternately coddled by his frivolous mother and emotionally abused by his detached father, while his younger siblings and cousins mock and ignore him. The only refuge he finds is with his lively elder sister Lissa, who acts as his protector. Constant emotional abuse and neglect lead him to repress his emotions, and to deny himself emotional contact lest he be hurt. This makes his romance with Tylendel slow, only taking off after a nightmare reveals to both Vanyel's hatred of his self imposed isolation, and their mutual love. Vanyel becomes highly dependent on Tylendel upon their whirlwind courtship and sudden intimacy; after his lover's death, he tries to commit suicide when a stray thought leads him to believe himself guilty of causing Tylendel's death. Eventually, he comes to realize that he has love still in his life, even if it is not nearly as intense as a lifebond, including an intimate soulbond with his Companion Yfandes, though he continues to carry the pain and grief of Tylendel's death for the rest of his life.
Even as a young man, Vanyel shows a large dose of cynicism, which leads to him scoffing at both the glory-hungry mannerisms of his younger brother and the self-sacrificing natures of the Heralds he meets. Nonetheless, he comes to realize the call of his powers and the responsibility he has to protect people with the tremendous power he commands, finally understanding what drives Heralds to do what they do.
In the second book (Magic's Promise), although Vanyel has ceased to blame himself for Tylendel's death and in spite of the twelve years separating the books, he is still desperately lonely. He misses his former lover and finds thoughts of him painful, soon becoming confused about his sexuality and his relationships with others. Duty has contested his wish for oblivion, but his fear that those he loves will become targets against him, and his hurt that people fear him and the power he wields, leads him to withdraw into a cold shell not unlike the one he used as a defense in the first book. During the course of events, Vanyel comes to a truce and begins burgeoning friendship with Armsmaster Jervis; and even begins to mend his relationship with his father. The tragic climax of the book (in which yet another close friend, Herald-Mage Jaysen Kondre, is lost) results in Vanyel being offered his peaceful end -- the death he has wanted for twelve years -- but refusing it, because of his duty, because Valdemar needs him and his abilities.
In the third book (Magic's Price), Vanyel's fear of loved ones being used against him nearly leads him to reject the love and lifebonding of Bard Stefen, a reincarnation of Tylendel. When his beloved aunt, Savil -- along with some of his dearest friends and fellow Herald-Mages -- is brutally murdered, he becomes nearly unhinged with his desperate need for revenge, as well as his need to protect Valdemar from the threat of the murdering mage. Stefen accompanies him on this mission, and only his presence saves the day when Vanyel is captured and goes berserk, and when Stefen must summon the Guard to combat the dark army he and Vanyel discover. Following Vanyel's death, Stefen tries to poison himself, only to be prevented by Vanyel's ghost, who says that Stefan can join him as a spirit, protecting Valdemar -- but only if he dies a natural death.
The underlying emotional theme of the trilogy is the wish for death overcome by love and duty. Although the book ends on a happy note, with Vanyel and Stefen/Tylendel reunited as spirits, the overall tone of the series is emotive and tragic. Mercedes Lackey once facetiously described her plot tactics with Vanyel and with her other main characters as "Drop a mountain on them. Recover them, make them happy again. Then drop another mountain on them."
Vanyel was the first of Mercedes Lackey's main characters to be openly homosexual, though there were other notable gay characters, such as Keren, Ylsa and Sherrill from the original Heralds of Valdemar trilogy.