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Gryphon in Glory
A Witch World Book
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
About me there was only the gray light of predawn, which left the ridges black and harsh against the sky. Like all who deal secretly, I used this cover of shadows as I prepared to ride forth. Though I believed I was well armed in spirit for what I must do, still I shivered under my mail and leather as if I needed the cloak now rolled behind my saddle.
"Lady Joisan --"
That voice out of the dark, deep-set Abbey gate gave me a start. I swung around, my hand going without bid of conscious thought to the hilt of the sword swinging heavy at my belt.
It was Nalda, who had been my right hand, and sometimes the left also, when the invaders drove us out of Ithdale and we wandered guideless westward across unknown lands. Last night I had given her, not my orders, but my confidence.
She had listened as I pointed out that those who were left of our people were now safe in Norsdale, that they would continue to be given shelter and work by the Dames, even as were the other refugees who had come this far, there being no near fear to trouble their future.
"But you," she said, shrewdly seizing upon what must have colored my voice, "you speak as if you will not be here."
"I will not—for a space. None of us can know what lies ahead from one day's dawning to the next. I have been your lady, and, in a manner, also your lord, during our wanderings. Now I must consider my own affairs."
"My lady, do you go to seek him, then—my Lord Amber?"
"Not Amber!" My answer had been sharp. That was the name we had given him when he first found us and we had thought him one of the Old Ones aiding us because of some whim. "You know that he is my wedded lord—Kerovan. Yes, I must go to him—or at least seek him. I must, Nalda."
I had hesitated then, shy of revealing my feelings to anyone, even to Nalda, true of heart though she had always been. But she had nodded. "When my lord rode forth these five days past—I knew you would follow, my lady. There is the bond between you, which cannot be denied. Nor are you one to abide behind safe walls to wait there in patience for tidings. You must be a-doing—even as you were in Ithdale when we strove to defend it." Her voice faltered. I knew that she remembered what ties of her own had been broken on that raw, red day when we had run from death, our escape so hard bought.
I had become brusque, for memory is sometimes a burden one must throw away lest it weigh too heavily, the past against what must be done in the present.
"To you I would give my keys, if those still hung from my girdle. I set you in charge of my people, knowing that you will see to their good—" She had interrupted me quickly. "Lady, you have kin here. I am not of the keep household nor kin to the House. What will my Lady Islaugha say to this? She has recovered and no longer wanders in her wits—and she is a proud woman—"
"She may be my aunt but she is not of Ithdale," I had pointed out decisively. "This is our own matter, none of hers. I have told the Lady Abbess that you are to be my deputy. No"— I shook my head at the open question on her broad, sun-browned face --"the Abbess does not know my intentions. I have only said that this shall be so should accident or illness strike at me. Your authority will stand."
There was only one under that roof besides Nalda who knew what lay in my head or heart—and it was by her contrivance (that of the much revered Past-Abbess Malwinna) that I rode forth wearing unfamiliar steel and leather, mounted on a tough mountain mare, in the dim light of morning. Or would ride when I had done with Nalda.
She came closer, her voice a husky whisper. It would seem that she, no more than I, wanted to arouse any notice. Now her hand, pale in this dim light, raised as if to catch at the reins I had gathered up when I swung into the saddle.
"Lady, you must not go alone!" she said urgently. "I have been burdened with worry since you told me of what you would do. Outside this dale the country may be a trap—danger crawls there."
"All the more reason that I ride alone, Nalda. One only, who goes with caution, can slip between shadows." My hand rose to cup over that which hung about my neck—the globe of crystal with its imprisoned silver gryphon, my lord's own gift to me, and one that was—was what? I did not truly know; this might be the time for me to discover the power of that which I wore, carried, and had once used, without understanding what it could or would do.
"I have seen things, Nalda. Yes, and been a part of them also, that would make those raving Hounds of Alizon turn and run, their tails clapped between their legs, their jaws foaming with fear. I ride alone and when I return, then my lord shall be with me—that, or I shall not come at all!"
She stood, her shoulder brushing against my saddlebag, looking up at me with searching intensity. Then she nodded briskly as I had seen her do many times on the trail when we had come to the solution of some problem.
"So be it, my lady. Be sure when you come for an accounting all shall be as you wish. May Our Lady of the Harvest Shrine guide your way—for she is ever mindful of those who love true!"
I made my own farewell, but Nalda's invocation of Gunnora, the lady who is mindful of the pains and pleasures of womenkind, was a warm thing to carry. In my heart I blessed her for such an invocation—though she gave it in the very shadow of the House of the Flames, where Gunnora holds no rule or place.
Or was there one behind the walls who would also give me a blessing strange to the learning of the Dames? As I headed out into the first thin light of day I thought of that other—the Past-Abbess Malwinna, her ancient body so well tended by her "daughters," who perhaps did not even guess what her thoughts might be or where they might roam.
I had sought her out in misery, coming into her small walled garden, which was a place of infinite peace, though there was no peace for me, nor could there be now. Within me battled feelings that were hot and high. I had thought her perhaps too old to understand what I felt. She was so near the Dames' idea of perfection—how could she find sympathy for me?
Then my eyes had met hers and I knew that there was full awareness there. She did not weigh me in that long moment we sat so, eyes linked to eyes, or rebuke my savage impatience. All she took from me was that hampering self-pity, my sense of outrage, and so cleared my thoughts to positive ends.
"I will not let it end so!" I had cried out of my hurt and anger, which fed each other into a mighty storm.
Still our gaze had locked. She gave me nothing—I was young, uncertain. I wanted some one to say now, "Do this, or that, Joisan, and all will come right." Except there was no one left to so order my life. I stood alone.
That loneliness was the very core of what ate at me.
"I am his wife—not only by ceremony, but by my heart's wish!" I said that with defiance. To speak of such emotions here might well be a sin. The Dames of Norstead put aside all the desires of the flesh when they take their vows. "Two ways I can claim him—still we are not one!"
She did not answer—my words tumbled on, growing shriller as I thought upon my loss.
"We stood against evil, and after that, I thought our true marriage must come. He—I knew he was exhausted by the struggle, that he would turn to me soon—perhaps that he must learn a little to be himself after that ill fortune had passed.
"So I was patient." Now, remembering my words, my clasp on the reins tightened, I stared ahead not seeing the road before me. "I tried to let him know by word and act that in him I found all that any woman might desire. Marriage between House and House is not rooted in liking of maid for man, man for maid. We wed, or are wed, for the advantage of our kin. But I believe, yes, I must believe that sometimes a richer life comes from such couplings. I thought it would be mine!
"You know the marks he bears," I had continued, "the sign of the Old Ones. When his enemies seized and would have used me for their foul purposes he alone came. Then I understood that such marks meant nothing, he was not one to hold in awe, but one to love.
"His hurts were mine, his way my road. I know this will be so as long as that Flame Eternal burns upon any altar. But—what I had to give him was not enough ..."
So I had poured out my hurt, and my hands had been tight upon the englobed gryphon which was all he had left me, even as I held it now, left-handedly, for comfort. The gryphon was the badge of my lord's house, but this talisman was far older, a thing out of the Waste where the Old Ones had gone.
I looked down at it. Even in this half light its tiny gemmed eyes glittered, I could almost believe that its half-furled wings had moved, that it longed to break free of the confinement of the crystal. It was a thing of Power, though neither my Lord or I knew how to use it. Also it was a Key—
I remember the words of that strange man who had come at the end of my lord's battle. Neevor, he had called himself. It was he who said that I held a key.
What I had was not enough! My pain caught at me, it had burned away pride. Pride of that kind I did not want. I shifted in the saddle, I was beyond the outermost farm, soon I must turn into the southern way-path. Still I could not control my backward-looking thoughts.
When I had made that same cry to the Past-Abbess she had answered me with what I had not expected—agreement.
"No, what you have is not enough."
"Kerovan." She had said his name in her soft voice, as if she blessed him. "He has been ever made poor. His father—to him a son was needed for his own pride, that one of his blood follow him in the great seat of his hall. Kerovan knew this with his heart before he could understand.
"Darkness feeds and grows stout on unhappiness, draws also thoughts which are misshapen and hurtful. We all have such thoughts—some held so secretly we do not know with our full minds that they exist. Yet, in spite of such a fashioning, Kerovan was not wrought into what they term him—monster. Rather he is stronger within than he believes.
"I have met your lord."
That startled me, for I knew that no man entered the inner part of the Abbey. I must have made some sound, for the Past-Abbess had smiled at me.
"Great age brings its own privileges, my child. Yes, when I heard your story I wished to learn more of him. He came and—in spite of his inner wall against the world—he talked. What he said was less, of course, than what he did not, but he revealed more than he knew.
"He now stands in a place from which run many roads—he must choose and that choosing shall make of him, for good or ill, a different man. Child, we know so little of the Old Ones. Though, in spite of prudence telling us to walk with care, we are drawn to the unknown—those wonders and perils beyond our understanding. Kerovan has their heritage; he is now like a child who faces a pile of glittering toys. But the caution born of his strange birthing makes him ever suspicious. He fears giving way to anything that he senses will make him feel instead of think. Most of all he fears himself, thus he will not be drawn to any he loves—"
"Loves?" I had been bitter then.
"Loves," she repeated firmly. "Though he knows it not, nor, even if he did, would he allow himself to be moved now. He feels safe within those walls of his—not only safe for himself, but for others. He will not come again to you, Joisan—though he does not admit this even to himself. He will not come because he cares—because he fears that the strange blood in him shall, in some manner, threaten you."
"But that is not true!" I had cried then. My hold upon the crystal gryphon became so tight that I might have crushed it.
"To him it is. Unless he can break his inner wall—"
"Or have another break it for him!"
She had nodded then. And again, when I had added, "I am not free, nor shall he be! Let him ride south at Lord Imgry's bidding as he has done. They will try to use him—even as they make wardsigns for evil behind his back. He shall find no friends there. Oh, why did he go?"
"You know why, child."
"Yes! He thought he had nothing else, that he might as well spend his life thus. So he tells his wife that she is free—and he goes! Well, I care! I have no false pride. If Kerovan rides to the bidding of those who would make him a tool—then I shall ride also!"
"You shall. For this is a meant thing, and, perhaps, of greater importance than you can guess now. Go with the Will of the Flame. That shall be your cloak and shelter, dear child. May It lighten your path and kindle joy in your heart at last."
So she had not only given me her full blessing, but, by her orders, the storehouse of the Abbey had been opened to me. There I had chosen weapons and gear from that brought by refugees, keeping my own council until all was readied. Then I held my meeting with Nalda and so had come to this lonely ride into the unknown.
My mare, an ugly beast if compared to the larger horses of the plain, was mountain bred. I called her "Bural" which is a landsman's name for a tough root it is hard to pull free. She turned now under my urging into the trail southward that my lord and his escort had taken earlier.
I had little hope of catching up with him; there were too many days gone. Also, though this road must be my guide, I was wary of riding openly.
The land was now a roaming place for more than one kind of enemy. Before the war the Waste, which lay not too far distant, had been a haunt for outlaws and masterless men, raiders. I also had heard that there were small bands of the enemy quartering the land to the eastward—though those had grown fewer of late. Perhaps their scouts had found this trail, visited it to spy upon any traffic there.
Once this had been a merchants' path. The abbey dales were notably good for trade and several sponsored yearly fairs. However, there had been no attempt to keep this road open since the invasion began and now it was overgrown; winter slides had cut away slices of the way where it climbed the ridges.
I was glad of the coming of better light, for several times I had to dismount and lead Bural over loose footing. Still I was not too delayed until the second day of travel when a thick mist became a threat. It was so complete a cloaking of the ground that I could see less than a sword's length before me. Moisture gathered on my helm, trickling down to wet my face, and my hands were clammy on the reins as I led the mare on.
To continue so blindly was folly. I began to look for shelter. There were rocks and heaps of stone in plenty, but nothing in the way of a cave or even a half-roofed crevice. I had no mind to squat on wet stones in the open while waiting for better weather.
Then, before us reared a sudden barrier of rock. Bural jerked at the reins, turned her head stubbornly to the left, though whether that was north, south, east, or west, I could not have said. We had left the road earlier, as it lay straight and open for a space and I had no mind to be seen.
Since the mare was so stubborn, and the footing seemed less loose in that direction, I allowed her her will. Thus we skirted along the wall so closely that now and then the saddlebag brushed the stone. I do not know when I first noticed that it was not just an escarpment of natural rock, but in truth a wall made to some purpose.
The stones, though rough and very large, had been laid with such skill that I do not believe I could have forced the point of my belt knife into the cracks. Though on other rocks one could see the ash-green or rusty-red of lichen in growth, this wall was clear except for runnels of moisture condensed from the fog.
I was certain we had come upon another ruin of the Old Ones and I paused, holding out the gryphon as a test. The crystal was, as ever, warm, while the glittering eyes of the imprisoned beast were bright, but there came no real glow. Not all the remains scattered about the Dales were imbued with unknown Power. There were many no different from the new-made ruins of our own where war had swept. I judged this to be one of the dead places where I had nothing to fear.
Bural plodded steadily on. There was no break in the wall. Then, suddenly, the mountain mare snorted, her head came up higher as if she had scented something through the mist. She hastened pace, pulling determinedly when I would have held her back.
Excerpted from Gryphon in Glory by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1981 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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