|Series||The Last Herald Mage|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Magic's Promise|
This is the last book in Lackey's Last Herald Mage trilogy, which tell the story of Vanyel Ashkevron, a legendary hero of Velgarth. The three books are Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, and Magic's Price. In this book Vanyel and his Companion Yfandes must deal with a dark mage who wishes to overthrow Valdemar.
The story begins with the last four Herald-Mages, Vanyel among them, creating a magic barrier around their nation of Valdemar. This barrier prevents hostile mages from using magic. Vanyel intends to add other defenses when he has the time.
Valdemar's King Randale is dying of a mysterious ailment. Vanyel has taken over nearly all the responsibilities of the throne, while young Prince Treven is trained.
A young bard named Stefen is discovered in the Bardic Collegium. He has the unusual ability to block pain with his music. Vanyel arranges for Stefen to play for Randale during an official audience, proving his ability.
Stefen is openly shaych (homosexual) and falls in love with Vanyel. Vanyel hesitates to love anyone because he fears his enemies will attack those he cares about, but finds that he and Stefen have become lifebonded—that is, they are complementary soulmates. It is unheard-of to have more than one lifebond in one lifetime, and Vanyel had already had such a link with (now dead) Herald-Mage apprentice Tylendel when very young.
While visiting his family with Stefen and his aunt and mentor Savil, Vanyel wanders alone to think things over and is ambushed by a rogue mage, whom he overcomes and delivers to the family priest. The mage escapes and attacks a group of women who are listening to Stefen's music. Yfandes tries to help but is injured; Vanyel shows up just in time to step in front of a thrown dagger meant for his mother.
Savil recognizes the dagger as a leech-blade, which sucks life energy from its victim. Savil Gates away to the land of the Tayledras Hawkbrothers, to ask for help; she returns with Vanyel's former mentors, Moondance and Starwind. They discover that Vanyel's lifebond with Stefen may have saved his life and speculate that Stefen is the reincarnation of Tylendel. Vanyel is not told, as the Hawkbrothers think it would complicate his relationship with Stefen.
Vanyel, Stefen and Savil return to Haven, bringing Vanyel's parents along for their protection. King Randale has deteriorated further. Shavri, his lover and King's Own, has decided to provide him with strength through a psychic link. When Randale dies, so will Shavri.
To make matters worse, Karse, the traditional enemy of Valdemar, is about to declare a holy war. Vanyel departs to negotiate a treaty with the land of Rethwellan.
Upon his return he finds that Herald-Mages are dying in what look like accidents. Savil doesn't believe it and asks Vanyel to strengthen the protective wards around her home. Vanyel is tired and puts it off; the same night a mage-made creature murders Savil. Vanyel is now the last Herald-Mage.
Vanyel sets out to find the mage behind the deaths, followed by Stefen. They are ambushed by bandits who work for the mage, whom they call Master Dark. As instructed, Stefen runs away to hide and returns later. He finds Yfandes injured and Vanyel kidnapped.
A blocking spell has been put on Vanyel to prevent him from using his powers. The bandits rape and beat Vanyel savagely and he nearly dies; they send for a healer to revive him. This man sees the magical block on Vanyel's mind and removes it. Vanyel revives, and temporarily loses his sanity, killing everyone in sight. Stefen and Yfandes arrive and so do a pack of Kyree, who take the humans in and help them.
Vanyel is healed, but is determined to find "Master Dark", whom he now suspects of having been behind a number of mysterious deaths in Valdemar. Vanyel finds a mountain pass, where the mage intends to take his troops down into the heart of Valdemar. Vanyel sends Yfandes and Stefen to the guard post for help; knowing he may never see them again.
The dark mage's army shows up. Vanyel defeats them and finally faces Leareth, "Master Dark" himself. Yfandes returns and together they invoke the ultimate spell, Final Strike, which kills not only one's enemy but oneself. Vanyel and Yfandes die together. Stefen, who has felt Vanyel die, finds only a cracked and burned amber focus-stone—a present he had given Vanyel—and a few strands of blood-soaked horse hair.
Some months later, King Randale and Shavri have died. Lost in grief and despair, Stefen returns to the site of Vanyel's death, intending to commit suicide, but Vanyel's spirit appears before him. Vanyel tells Stefen that in order for Stefen to be free to join him, he must convince all of Valdemar that Herald-Mages are no longer necessary, and that Heralds are enough; a nearly impossible task. Stefen agrees and spends the rest of his life working for this change, until his death when he is able to join Vanyel on the other side.