Authors: Andre Norton
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction
IT HAS BEEN an oft-told story of our birthing that our mother, the Lady Jaelithe (she who put aside her witchhood in Estcarp to wed the outland warrior, Simon Tregarth), did demand of some Power she served certain gifts for us, whom she bore in great and painful travail. That she named my brother Kyllan, warrior, my sister Kaththea, witch (or one to control powers), and asked for me, wisdom. But it has been that my wisdom consists in knowing that I know very little, though the thirst for learning has ever been in me. Only, in spite of all my striving, I have done no more than nibble at the edges of knowledge’s rich cake, liplicked the goblet rim of true wisdom. But perhaps to know one’s limitations is, in itself, a kind of sagecraft.
In the beginning, when we were children, I did not lack fellowship, for we three, born at one birth (which in Estcarp was something hitherto unknown) were also one in spirit. Kyllan was formed for action, Kaththea for feeling, and I—supposedly—for thought. We worked together smoothly, and the bond between us was tight, as if it were wrought of flesh as well as of spirit. Then came that bleak day when Kaththea was rift from us by the Wise Women who kept the rule of the land. And for a period we lost her.
Still, in a war a man can lose himself, or be able to put aside one set of fears for another, living from each sun’s rising to its setting, each dusk to dawn. And that we were forced to do. For Kyllan and I rode with the Borderers who kept a thin line of ever-ready defense between Estcarp and the darksome menace of Karsten.
Then luck deserted me in a single swing of a short sword, and I was swept from usefulness into that human wastage resulting from the chances of war. Yet, for this once, I welcomed such a respite, painful as it was for my body. For from it came the freeing of our sister from the bondage of the Witches.
Though my right hand was maimed, my warrior life apparently past, I waited hardly past the outward healing of my wound before I went to Lormt. For during my days in the mountains I had stumbled upon a curious piece of knowledge. Which was this—though those of Estcarp knew the south of their long enemy Karsten, and the north of Arizon, greedy too for their downfall, the western seas where their long-time allies, the Sulcar seamen, cut wave and harried shores halfway around our world, yet of the east was no mention among them. It was as if the world ended at a chain of mountains we could see on clear days. And in the minds of those with whom we rode there was, I came to be sure, a block against that direction, so for them the east did not exist.
Lormt was very old, even for Estcarp which has a history so buried in the dust of years that no modern searching can disinter its beginnings. Once perhaps it was a town, though for what purpose one should be set in that bleak country I could not guess. Now it is only a moldering handful of buildings, surrounded by crumbling ruins. But in it there are records of the Old Race, long forgotten; though there are those who tunnel mole-wise among them, copying and recopying what seems to them worth the preserving, the choice of what to save theirs alone. When, perhaps in the next cupboard may lie, in near-tattered scraps, something far more worth renewing.
There I sought out an answer to this mystery of the unknown east. For Kyllan and I had not surrendered (though outwardly those about us might have believed that we did) our hope of bringing Kaththea forth and reuniting our company of three. But to escape the wrath of the Council we needed a refuge—and this eastern mystery might offer such.
So in Lormt I found two tasks to occupy me through the months; one the searching of ancient manuscripts; the other of learning to be a warrior once again, though now my left hand must curve to the sword hilt. For in the twilight world in which we lived, when the sun of Estcarp was red on the horizon, half-slipped into the dark of night, no man could ride unarmed.
I discovered enough to make me sure that in the east did indeed lie our salvation—or at least a chance of escaping the wrath of the witches. Also, I became once more a warrior—of sorts.
The final blow, decided upon by the Council, to finish Karsten, gave us our chance. While the Witches drew all power to their bidding—to stir the mountains of the south as a cook would stir a pudding in the kettle—Kyllan and I met once more at Estford, which had been home to us. And we rode together through a night of turmoil, to bring our sister out of the trap which had held her so long.
Then did we go east, to find Escore, that riven land from which the Old Race had come in the far, far past, where the powers of both good and ill had been unleashed to walk as they would, wearing strange guises. We strove with those powers, separately and together. Kyllan, having used part of his gift on our behalf, laid himself open to the possession of one of these forces, and, while the cost to him was high in peril and pain, it brought us to the People of Green Silences and into their sanctuary.
They were not wholly of our blood. Even as we were not wholly of the Old Race, sharing the inheritance from our father who had come from another space and time. Though they had in them some of the Old Race, yet for the rest they were older still, being akin to the land in a way which those of my blood are not. But then, in Escore there are many legends we had heard in our childhood which lived to walk, burrow, fly.
Then a geas was laid on Kyllan, by what Power we had no telling. And under it he went back across the mountains to Estcarp. From him spread a kind of need—I do not know the proper words for its description—which settled into some of the Old Race, who had been driven out of Karsten during the Kolder War and since had been a restless, homeless people. When he came back to us, they followed him.
Not only fighting men came so, but also their women and children, bringing all that they could to enable them to set up households in this new land. The Men of the Green Silences under Dahaun, their Lady (she who had succored Kyllan during his great peril), and Ethutur, their warlord, aided them over the cliffs and brought them to the safe Valley.
So much have I written in this chronicle, and perhaps it repeats what is already a too familiar tale. But it has been set upon me to add this to the record begun by Kyllan. This is my portion of the story, which stands a little apart from the history of the Great War, though it has a rightful place in that, since it helped in bringing about the final victory.
Rightfully, my adventure begins in the Valley—which was a lightsome place in which the heart could rejoice.
Through the years the ones who dwelt there had set such Symbols and bonds about it that it remained free of all evil—a place in which a man could take his ease. I knew those Symbols from my studies at Lormt and I thought them high protection.
Peaceful as it was in the Valley, we could not give ourselves to rest there, for about us the whole of Escore was astir. Long ago this land had been riven time and time again with wars as great as those which now gnawed our homeland in the west. Here men and women had sought knowledge, and then passed beyond the bonds set by prudence for such seeking. There arose those who sought power for the sake of power alone; and from that always issues the Shadow which is darker than any night. There was a drawing apart and some of the Old Race retreated over the mountains, wrecking behind them all roads, closing their minds to the past.
Then the remnants warred, titanic and awful force against force, blasting and blighting. Some, such as the Green People, who abode still by laws, drew back into the places of wilderness. And to them came others—a handful of humans of good will; others who were the result of early experimentation by the dabblers in strange knowledge, yet were not evil, nor had been used for evil purposes.
But all these were too few and too weak to challenge the Great Ones, drunk with their controls of energies beyond our comprehending. So they lay very low and waited for the storms to sweep and ebb. Some of the Dark Ones destroyed each other in those blasting struggles. Others withdrew through Gates they had opened that led to other times and spaces—even as that gate through which my father had come into Estcarp. But all of their striving left behind pools of ancient evil, servants who were freed or abandoned. It was unknown, too, whether or not they might choose to return if something chanced to summon them.
When we first came into Escore, Kaththea had drawn upon her witch learning to save and aid us. In so doing she had broken the false calm which had long abode here.
Things awoke and gathered, and the land was troubled, so that the Green People believed we were on the eve of new war. But this time we must fight or be utterly ground into powder between the millstones of the Dark.
Now came an in-gathering of all who were of the light, that we might plan against aroused evil. Ethutur had called this Council and we sat there, a strange mixture of peoples—or should I say, living creatures; for some in that assembly were not men at all—neither were they beasts.
Ethutur spoke for the Green People. To his right was a Renthan, who could and did bear men on occasion on his back, yet spoke with a voice when there was need, and captained a band of wily fighters—and that was Shapurn. On a large rock squatted a jewel-scaled lizard who used its front feet as hands and now fingered in its claws a cord on which were knotted at irregular intervals silver beads, as if these were reminders of points to be made in any discussion.
Beyond the lizard’s rock was a helmed man whose like I had seen many times, and to his right and left sat a man and woman in stately cloaks-of-ceremony. This was Lord Hervon, who had come from the holding Kyllan had found in the hills, the Lady Christwitha, and his Leader-of-forces, Godgar. Then there were Kyllan and Kaththea and Dahaun. Perched on another rock—thus giving him more presence in a company which towered above him physically—was Farfar the Flannan, with feathered, human shaped body, spreading bird wings, clawed feet. The Flannan was there for reasons of prestige only, since his people lacked the concentration to be reckoned among a fighting force, although they made good messengers.
On the other side were the newcomers. There was another bird-like form, but it had the head of a lizard, narrow, toothed of jaw, covered with red scales which glittered in the sun, in bright contrast to its blue-gray feathers. From time to time it spread its wings uneasily, darting the head from side to side, eyeing the company with sharp measurement. This was a Vrang from the Heights and Dahaun had greeted it with ceremony as “Vorlong, the Wing Beater.”
Beyond that strange ally was more human appearing company, four of them. These were, we had been told before their arrival, descendants of the Old Race who had fled long ago into the hills and managed there to exist and carve out some small pockets of safety. Chief among them was a tall man with the dark, familiar features of the true blood. He had the seeming of a young man, but that could be deceptive, since the Old Race show no signs of aging until a few weeks before death—if any of them live to grow old, which in the past years few have. He was both comely and courtly of manner.
And I hated him.
Bound together as we three had been, in the past we had never reached out beyond for companionship. After Kaththea had been torn from us, still had Kyllan and I been so allied. Even so, there had been comrades in arms which had our liking, and some we viewed with distaste. But never in the past had I known such strong emotion as speared me through—save when I had cut down some Karsten raider. Yet then my hatred had been more for what the foe represented than the man himself. Whereas this Dinzil out of the Heights I hated bitterly, coldly, and the reason I did not know. In fact, I was so startled by the emotion which filled me when Dahaun introduced us that I hesitated over the greeting words.
And it seemed to me in that moment that he knew what I felt and was amused—as one would be amused at some act of a child. Yet I was not a child, as Dinzil would speedily discover if the need arose.
If the need arose . . . I realized it was not hatred alone which shook me whenever I looked upon that smooth, handsome face, but also apprehension . . . as if, at any moment, this lord of the peaks would suddenly change from what he was to something very dangerous to us all. Still, reason told me, the Green People had welcomed him in friendship, regarded his arrival as a stroke of good fortune. Since they knew all the dangers of this land, surely they would not freely open their gates to one who carried with him the taint of evil.
Kaththea had insisted when we first crossed the fields and woods of Escore that she could smell out pockets of old dark magic as an ill stench. My nose did not so mark Dinzil. Yet inside of me some guardian stood to arms whenever I looked upon him.
He spoke well at our council, with good sense and showing a knowledge of warfare. Those other lords and warriors with him would now and then offer some comment which laid plain to us a past in which Dinzil had been the backbone of their country.
Ethutur brought out maps which were cunningly fashioned of dried leaves, the ribs and markings on them serving for points and divisions. These we passed from hand to hand while the Green People and the men from the Heights supplied pertinent comments, as did also the nonhumans. Vorlong was very emphatic in his warning of a certain line of hills which bore, he croaked in barely understandable speech, three circles of standing stones containing something so deadly that even to fly above them brought death. We marked out those danger spots which were known until all present recognized them.