Ciara's Song (Witch World Estcarp Cycle Series #9)by Andre Norton, Lyn McConchie
In Karsten, Ciara of Elmsgarth is only a small girl when the edict is carried out to kill all with Witch blood, and take all they own. As a mob murderers her family, Ciara is rescued and protected by the powerful Lord Tarnoor and his son, Trovagh. As the years pass, Ciara and Trovagh grow to love each other and marry, raising children of their own. Then an evil sorcerer rises to power, and his vendetta against Ciara threatens all she loves.
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Ciara was playing in her secret cave in the cliff when the rider came. She recognized him at once. It was her brother Larian come back from distant Kars. He was studying as apprentice merchant with an old friend of her father's. But why was he home? She scrambled down from her cave to where she could swing across from one tall elm to another. From there she could reach her bedroom window at the back of the garth. She clattered down the stairs calling, "Larian, Larian, Mother! Larian's home!"
Her parents popped out of the cook room, both looking startled. "It can't be." Her mother sounded worried. "He isn't due home again until Year End."
Her father was practical. "Well, my love, we'd better go and see." But before they could move toward the front of the garth, Larian came striding through to meet them. His face was white with exhaustion under the brown, and his eyes haunted. He wasted no words.
"Yvian's gone mad. He's ordered the three-times Horning for all of the Old Blood. I took Falco's relay and came by the mountain paths. The guards will be right behind me. Half of them were fanning out south as I slipped away. They're slaughtering any who even look as if they might be of our kind."
Ciara's mother stared up, and in a voice that the child did not recognize she spoke softly. "They took Falco at the very gates of the city. Merryon died fighting before they burned the house about his family. Even now the death-bringers circle the valley. For only one of us is there an escape."
Talyo stared at his wife. "Do you see true, beloved?"
"I see true. We have less than a candlemark. They are too close for us to flee. But Ciara might hide." She turned to the girl gently. "Don't ask questions. There's no time. You have a place where you go. Can you reach it without being seen?"
Frightened, bewildered, the child gulped. "Yes."
"Can you take possessions with you if they aren't too large or heavy?"
Ciara nodded slowly. She'd taken old rugs to furnish her cave already. Often she'd taken a meal there.
"Good, come with me. Talyo, you and Larian free the stock. Send them running. When you've done, barricade the doors."
She was gone then, dragging Ciara behind her. "I know you get out of your bedroom window. Where do you go from there?"
Ciara pointed. "Across the elms. There's a cave in the cliff up high you can reach from a branch on the end tree." Lanlia stared.
"Goddess, if I'd even dreamed it was so dangerous I'd never had ignored it. Listen, Ciara. Can anyone get to your cave from below?"
"N-n-no. You can't even see there's a cave." She remembered finding it the first time quite by accident as she scrambled about the elms.
"How big is the cave, sweetheart?"
"It's very small. I have to crawl to get inside." Lanlia's look urged her to continue. "I can lie down inside but only just. When I do I can stretch my hands out and touch the wall on each side."
"What do you have up there?"
"Rugs, only old ones, Mother. And candle ends. What are you doing?"
Lanlia was moving with a swift sure speed as she gathered items. She stowed them into a carrysack as Ciara asked her question.
"You must go to your cave. How long does it take you to reach it and return from this window?"
Ciara considered. She sensed the question was important. "Maybe a fifth of a candlemark."
"Good. Now listen to me. There may be no time later to say this. What Larian said was that the duke has ordered all of the Old Race, all of our people to be killed on sight. That's our family. Your father, Larian, and I will stay in the garth. If nothing happens you can return. If we are dead, you are to wait in the cave for five days. Five days, do you understand?" Ciara nodded, gulping back tears of fright.
"After that, try to make your way to Aiskeep. Lord Tarnoor has always been our friend. Ask him what you should do. Do not let any other see you. Now, take this to your cave. Just drop it there and return at once. Go quickly."
The carrysack was thrust into Ciara's hands as Lanlia snatched up another. Still gulping back sobs the child scrambled through the window on to a branch climbing higher and higher before she crossed the line of elms toward her refuge. But once there the peace of it seemed to still some of her terror. She stared down the length of their valley but saw no one. Maybe Larian was wrong. But something deep inside warned her the message had been true. Her other two brothers were dead. Her mother had seen it so. Mother 'saw' seldom, but when she did see what she saw was the truth.
Ciara was the baby of the family. She was barely nine. Falco and Merryon had both been adult men, Merryon married with a family. She had seen them both no more than twice in her life. They were the sons of her father's first wife whereas Larian was her full brother. He had only gone to study in Kars three years ago. Since then he had been home each Year End bringing gifts for all. She had heard of the three-times horning as any child might hear. It was something done to outlaws she recalled vaguely as she scrambled back across the line of trees. The guards blew a horn three times and named the ones who were now outside all laws. After that the wicked men could be killed without blood feud or punishment. Anything they had belonged to their killers. She almost fell through the window. Did that mean they were outlaws now?
Lanlia had no time for her questions. "Take this one back, too. Hurry!" Ciara found another full carrysack pushed into her hands and obediently hurried. A third journey, but on the way back this time she could see riders. She dropped into her bedroom gabbling the news. Her father was there. It was he who asked quietly, "How many?"
"I couldn't count, maybe twenty."
"Are they riding fast?"
"No." Ciara was puzzled. "They don't seem in any hurry."
Larian's voice was suddenly savage. "No, they know we're trapped if we're here. Why tire the horses."
Lanlia was practical. "Let them dawdle all they will. It gives us more time. Ciara, you remember what I told you, tell me again."
"I'm to go to the cave and stay there five days or until you call me back. If you can't... oh, Mother, I'm scared!"
She was hugged hard. "I know, now go on."
"If anything happens I wait five days, then go to Lord Tarnoor. Only to him."
"Yes. This time don't come back from your cave. Be careful. Don't let the riders see you." One by one her family embraced her. At the last Larian placed two items in her hand. She looked down.
His hand closed hers upon them. "If we live, I'll claim them from you, little sister. If I don't, they're yours." He helped her through the window, watching as she vanished in the foliage.
He could have gone with her. From what his mother said there would be room in the cave for two. But his seventeenth name day had passed. It was for a man to defend his home and family, not to hide while others died.
He'd been fortunate. His father was only partly of the Old Blood, but his first wife had been wholly so. For that Falco and Merryon had both died, their faces too much of the ancient race. But both Larian and Ciara looked more like the incomers. Lanlia had been a half-blood orphan who wed the widowed farmer. Her children resembled her, dark-haired, but with rounder faces and eyes of a clear hazel.
It had saved the boy's life as he thrust through blood-crazed men toward the stables. Once there he had swiftly saddled Falco's relay. He'd guessed his brother would need them no more. That first two days he had ridden all three mounts into near exhaustion to stay ahead of the news. Then he had swung up onto the foothill tracks. In a tiny valley he had unsaddled the leg-weary animals, hobbling them carefully. He had allowed the horses to graze all day while he hunted. Two hares and several rabbits would be good rations for days. He ate ravenously, tearing the roast flesh from small bones.
That night he had slept until midday, risen to eat eagerly again, and then saddled his mounts. Now he kept away from any riders. Several times he dropped down to warn garths where the inhabitants were friends and of the Old Blood. Each time he had been given filled feed sacks for the horses, food for himself. He had been able to press on to the limits of his strength. Two horses had been left behind as he rode.
Larian clamped his teeth shut on a plea to join Ciara. He knew if he stayed he would die. He stared out of the window slit as the riders approached. He recognized the enemy, and accepted death. With the guards was a neighbor who'd always coveted Elmsgarth land. Under the new Karsten laws he could take it once all males in the family were dead. Ciara had no claim. Only if she had been adult and wed could she have held it.
The neighbor might overlook the child's absence, but not Larian's. He would see the lathered horse that stood head down by the fence and guess. Larian stood straighter. If he was to die, then he would see to it their neighbor did not profit. He strung his bow and waited.
Far above Ciara had reached the cave with her last carry-sack. She huddled into the heavy gray wool of the cloak. It felt like home. Lanlia had woven it for herself only last year. Falco had sent a set of matching hareskins to line it as his Year-End gift. They'd been taken when the hares were in winter garb so that on one side the cloak was dark gray wool, and on the other pure white fur. It was far too large for Ciara, but it would keep her warm in her refuge if she must wait. It even had a hood with drawstrings to tighten it about her face.
She wiggled forward to look down. The riders had reached the garth. From her perch she could hear only a mumble until one raised his voice.
"Come out and you can go free." She knew the man. He was Tylar from Sersgarth in the next valley. He had a pack of brawling sons all looking hard at their father's garth. At least that was what her father had said once. Her mother had retorted that Tylar could look for land for his sons elsewhere. Below Tylar was shouting again.
"Come out and you can go. You leave everything and we'll leave you."
There was no movement from the house and Ciara whimpered. If Tylar was telling the truth it would be wonderful. They could just leave and they'd be safe. Then she wondered. But where would they go if they bad to leave everything behind? How would they live?
She squirmed back a little looking down at the treasures Larian had given her to hold for him.
They were treasures in truth. The slim-bladed dagger laying in her hand had never been sharpened. It had come down from the family of her father's grandmother. Legend had it the dagger had been made by an adept in the Power. Be the story true or not it was tree that the dagger remained razor sharp no matter what its usage. For that alone it was prized. Larian had been a favorite of his grandmother's. She had given the weapon to him when be left at fourteen to study in Kars. She had died soon after and Ciara knew how Larian treasured it.
The other object she held was a pendant. It was drop-shaped in silver with small wings sweeping up in a curve on either side. Minute blue stones edged each wing feather. It had been wrought with a delicacy that was sheer beauty.
That had come from her mother's side of the family. It was a bridal gift, held by each son in turn to give to his chosen. Ciara slipped the chain about her neck allowing the pendant to fall beneath her bodice. Then she wiggled back to peer out from the cave mouth again. What were they doing down there?
At first she could see no one. Then a small group of men on foot came into view. Leading them was neighbor Tylar. They carried a log from the wood stack. Ciara was puzzled; what did they plan to do with it? She gasped as below the log was swung forward to strike the door with a hollow boom. She stared blankly. Why, they'd break the door if they kept doing that. Then as the log struck again she understood. They meant to break in. Now that her family was thrice-horned anything could be done to them. There was nothing against the law. Small whimpers squeezed between her clenched teeth. All the stories she had ever heard rose up to remind her of what that 'anything' could be.
Larian sighted his arrow carefully. From among their neighbors, only Tylar was with the guards. If he was dead, there would be none to say Ciara lived. There was no hope for any within Elmsgarth, he knew that now. But his adored small sister might still survive. With Tylar dead his sons would be too busy squabbling over their own Sersgarth and the Elmsgarth land to bother about one small female child with no claim. He hung on the shot until Tylar moved clear. The arrow flew with deadly accuracy. Tylar fell soundlessly, heart pierced. The guards shouted with rage, redoubling their attack on the door.
Talyo nodded to his son in approval. He knew why the boy had shot. Larian had always been the best archer in the family. That had been a tricky shot but Tylar was silenced, and Ciara safer. His wife had vanished upstairs to the watchtower. It had been built by his great-grandfather when he took this valley for his own. The land had been more lawless then and it had been used often. It stood high above the garth. Very high. Anyone who leaped from that would not survive landing on the cobblestones below. Lanlia returned to stand beside her husband.
"The doors are open." He understood, she would not be taken alive.
The massive old door was beginning to split; soon it would fall. He laid his weapons aside and took her gently in his arms.
"Beloved, when I lost Shala I never thought I would know happiness again. With you I have found such joy and love as a man seldom finds." Lanlia said nothing but held him to her with all her strength. There was a final booming ending in a long, splintering crunch as the door gave way. Talyo thrust her behind him.
"Go to the tower now, beloved, and do what you must." In that split second as she turned to run she 'saw.' The gifts of her blood had never been real power in her. But with death reaching out she 'saw' now, as she had 'seen' the deaths of her stepsons and their family. Duke Yvian lay dead, betrayed by his own. Mountains twisted and crumbled, beneath them lay the armies of Karsten. Lanlia leapt for the stairs as her husband and son stood side by side behind her in the narrow hall.
As she flashed around the bend of the stairs she halted to stare back. Larian was down, she felt his death. Talyo was falling. She cried out as he turned to look at her one last time, love in his eyes. Then a sword fell. The guards howled in triumph surging forward to reach for her. But she was already in flight. She hurled herself through the doorways, slamming each door as she ran. It slowed those behind just enough. She reached the final door to the tower and thrust it shut, dropping the long metal bar into place. Then she flung herself up the final flights of stairs. She gained the top and it seemed more terrible to her that it should still be a bright day. All she had loved, all but her daughter were dead. It should be cold, snowing or raining. Not this soft sunshine of late afternoon.
She listened as the guards beat on the door below. It would take little time for them to realize they should bring the log again. Lanlia closed her eyes, her mind sought back to the visions of a dead duke, falling mountains. Below the door boomed. She reached to hold Ciara's face in her mind. Would her daughter be strong enough to survive as she must? The door began to splinter. Lanlia called the faces of her loves. The stepsons she'd cared for, her beloved husband, her son and daughter. She stepped out onto the tower edge. The door broke open and a rush of feet roared upward. She turned to face them then and into her mind came a calm clear voice. She knew it. Her husband's grandmother. A woman of the old pure blood who had loved them all.
*The blood shall come full circle. It shall rise to flower again. Come to me, child, and be free.*
As the guards threw themselves forward she smiled at them. Then she allowed herself to fall in silence.
High in her cave Ciara could see little. The men had broken down the door and vanished. Then her mother appeared on the watchtower. Ciara would have called to her but she remembered. She must draw no attention, she must keep silence. Her mother was facing away, looking down the stairs. Dimly the child could hear a thudding sound. The men were breaking down another door. She saw them rush onto the roof, saw her mother fall silently. And in that moment she knew she was the last of her family alive. Her hand stole up to grasp the pendant beneath her bodice. The other gripped the dagger hilt. They were hers to keep now, along with the memory. She would not forget how they'd died, that she swore on Larian's treasures.
But she was still only a child. She crawled back into her refuge and wept until her face was swollen and her eyes slits. She cried until she fell asleep wrapped in her mother's cloak. She did not see the guards leave almost empty-handed. What use were sheep or goats to them? And if Elmsgarth had held anything of value, they could not find it. A few had taken minor items. The bolt of cloth her mother had bought to make Ciara and herself new dresses. The set of good pans from the kitchen. A saddle and bridles from the stable. Several bits of clothing and a few sheepskins already tanned. They set a fire but it was already going out as they departed. They grumbled as they rode. The garth had been a waste. No loot, no women, nothing worth the energy.
It was day again when Ciara woke. She could still see her mother's body below on the cobblestones. It set off another fit of weeping. She would have climbed down but for her promise. She stayed, a child's appetite asserting itself by evening. Then she thought to rummage in the carrysacks that lay along the cave wall. Within one was food. She ate mindlessly, cramming the stale bread into her mouth and washing it down with sips from the flask she found. It was watered wine and she slept swiftly again once her hunger was assuaged.
She ate when she woke, crawling to the cave mouth to stare down the valley. Her mother had said she was to remain up here five days. There was enough food, and with the flask and a water bag as well she could stay safely. But the cave would stink soon. She relieved herself right at the back where there was a small dip. The rock was cracked there so liquid seeped away, but not solids. Nor was there any earth to cover them. Perhaps she should climb down when she must do that? But she'd promised, and what if the guards came back and caught her?
She remained, terrified, confused and grieving in her cave a third day. Then, as noon moved into early afternoon, she saw two riders moving towards Elmsgarth. She knew them, Lord Tarnoor and his son. Trovagh was only a year older than Ciara and the families had been friends. Her mother had said Ciara was to go to Lord Tarnoor, but he'd come to her instead. Still she was afraid in case any of the guards were here. She watched carefully. There was no sign of anyone but the two riders. At the garth door Tarnoor was gathering up her mother's body. It would be all right, it must be. She slipped across to the branch of the great elm nearest her refuge. Then to the next and the next until she reached her window. She could hear their voices now.
"Yvian must be mad, Gods damn him. There's only Talyo, Lanlia, and the boy here. They'll have got Falco and Merryon in the city. That hell-cursed guard even tried to set fire to the garth before they left."
He was interrupted by a lighter treble. "But, Father, Ciara isn't here. I've looked in all the rooms."
"You're right, lad." Lord Tarnoor's voice was lifted in his familiar bellow. "Ciara? Ciara, lass. Where are you?"
The child remained silent. After a while, she heard Tarnoor speak again, bitterness in his voice.
"It may be that they took her with them. We'll bury the family and then look properly. If she's dead we'll find her to lie with them."
Ciara heard the digging begin, the spade striking rocks now and then as Tarnoor sweated and cursed. Her mother had said she could trust Tarnoor. Aiskeep owed her mother a debt. As a toddler Trovagh had fallen from high in the old Keep. He'd been badly injured and Tarnoor had sent to Lanlia for help. It was known she had somewhat of the healing gift. For many nights she worked over the small child until at last he was out of danger. He would always walk a little lame, and colds tended to settle dangerously on his chest in the chillier winters. But he lived. Tarnoor's only child and the heir to Aiskeep. Ciara could remember her parents talking.
"He loves the boy," her mother had insisted. "Oh, yes, it's true he loathes the man who'd inherit if Trovagh died. But he loves the boy well. I have seen them together." Her tones had become warmly amused. "I do not think the harsh Lord Tarnoor is as hard as he would have many think. I have told him, too, that the child should have a playmate."
Tarnoor seemed to have agreed. After Trovagh was well again his father brought him regularly to Elmsgarth to play childish games with Ciara. Although she was a year younger and slighter of bone, she still was the equal to Trovagh whose injuries had slowed his growth. She had come first to like and then to trust her friend completely, and with him his father. She watched her family laid to rest, heard the old words said. But she was afraid without quite knowing why. She had always been active. Scrapes, bruises, and occasional punishment had been hers. It was not pain of body that held her back now, but pain of heart.
The guards of Karsten were to protect the people. Why, one of Falco's best friends was a lieutenant. The duke was there to give Justice. Where was his Justice in this? Where was the protection? If being one of the Old Blood was wicked, might not Tarnoor, even her friend Trovagh, turn against her? She could not bear it if they came at her with swords. Her heart would break before the bright metal struck home. She hovered indecisively edging first a little toward them, then back. The movement caught Trovagh's eye as he turned. Already wise at ten he did not run toward her but spoke quietly to his father.
"Ciara's here, but I think she's afraid."
"Don't alarm her. Walk to her very slowly, speak quietly," Tarnoor advised. He'd seen enough terrorized children in his time as a soldier. The Goddess grant none had laid hands on the lass.
Trovagh moved forward, hands held out. "Ciara, Cee? It's Tro. My father's here. Nothing bad will happen to you. Please come out. Cee?" She edged toward him, white eye rims showing like a terrified horse. He kept talking, reminding her of their games, their secrets, until at last he reached her. Still murmuring gently, he placed a hand on her arm and felt the long, slow shudders that rippled through the thin body. "Cee, no one will hurt you, I swear it. Please come with us." Overcome then with fury, his treble hardened to a lighter imitation of his father's growl. "I swear, Cee. I'll hang the man who hurts you. If I can't, I'll order one of our men." He met her eyes and suddenly the picture of his words set them both to giggling in slight hysteria.
Trovagh grinned. "I know, I know. My father gives that sort of order. But he'd say the same." He laid a careful arm about the shaking shoulders and gently led Ciara to where Tarnoor stood.
"You would, wouldn't you, Father? Hang the man who tried to hurt Cee, I mean?"
"Yes. If I could. Or keep him away from you at the least, child. Now sit down a minute and tell me what you can. Speak swiftly, for we must be away from here in case any of the guard return."
She talked, the words spilling out of her like blood. It hurt to remember her mother's orders, and how she had died. Tarnoor swore under his breath. He'd done things as a soldier under orders. But Aiskeep owed Elmsgarth a debt and he'd never been one to forget that. Nor one to harm a child, either, he added mentally. He hid a sudden smile. His son would never forgive him if anything happened to Ciara now. The boy had pledged his word his playmate would be safe. Tarnoor was not the man to see his son oathbroken.
"Can you climb up now and drop the carrysacks to us?"
Ciara nodded slowly. At his gesture she trotted up the stairs, traversed the elms, and from the cave dropped the four containers.
These were slung across the rump of Tarnoor's mount. Then he turned as she rejoined them. This should be official.
"Your mother trusted me to care for you. Will you come with me to Aiskeep? Will you accept me as your guardian?"
Ciara's eyes filled with tears. She didn't know what she was supposed to say. The questions had an air of formality about them. Was there some special way she should answer? She stood drooping before him. Small face white with grief and exhaustion, body still shaking from the shocks of past days. She was unable to think, to speak. She could only huddle into herself, huge-eyed and silent.
Tarnoor forgot formality as he wordlessly held out his arms. She flung herself to him, weeping aloud as he held her. In that moment something passed between them. She relaxed, trusting, knowing she was again protected. Tarnoor held her enfolded, a rush of love for the child he'd been sent. His daughter now. His! And let none say differently.
Meet the Author
For well over a half century, Andre Norton (1912-2005) was one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. With series such as Time Traders, Forerunner, Beast Master, and the Central Control Series (comprised of the books Star Rangers and Star Guard), her tales of adventure have drawn countless readers to science fiction. Her fantasy novels, including the bestselling Witch World series, have been popular with readers for decades.
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Although a bit fast paced, this book does tell the story of a women, her daughter, and her granddaughter. I enjoyed reading this tale of the witch world a bit more than I had enjoyed some of the others by Andre Norton. I think it was less confusing, perhaps. Anyways, I would reccomend this book to all who are seeking another great tale of the witch world and also to those who are looking for a great stand alone fantasy novel. This book is also a great lead-in for The Dukes Ballad, as it explains a little of the background story. However, reading this one is not required to understand or like the Dukes ballad.
I thought this book was wonderful! It was fast paced, a bit to much. However, I can understand why. Imagine trying to fit an entire story of young Ciara and her family down to her grandaughter. Although it wasn't the best, this book has a fantastic plot. It was a great idea that has much imagination that has an underlying meaning that will forever be remembered.
It really wasn't that detailed and stuff happened way too fast. It wasn't all that interesting. I thought it would've been better. I hope they improve their skills and keep trying.