Mirror of Destinyby Andre Norton, Matt Stawicki
From the Grandmaster of Science Fiction comes this classic tale of fantasy intrigue. Twilla, betrayed by her fiance, flees into a vast, mysterious forest with the blinded brother of her betrothed. Captured by the forest people, they are transported to a faerie realm where Twilla will free a band of dwarves and help forge an alliance among faeries and dwarves.
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Mirror of Destiny
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
The room was long, low ceilinged, and had the unusual attribute of seeming to change size at times—though that may only have been a fantasy of those suddenly entering it. It also would have been unimaginably cluttered had any other mistress been in charge.
In the numerous side cupboards were boxes, crocks, jars beyond any but a very patient numbering. Drawers were meticulously divided by strips between which lay stores of dried herbs, leaf, flower, root and stem, and more precious packets of foreign spices.
Down the long center table marched a line of bottles, of several sizes, each stoppered with a representation of a grotesque head, some clearly non-human, or outright beast—things never to be seen in an honest cottage or its garden.
Though there was the first impression of gloom and over many shadows, after one became accustomed to the long chamber, there was a measure of light. That past all natural laws appeared to gather and hold immediately about any busied occupant of which, on this brisk spring morning, there were two and a half—the half being represented by a large shadow-gray cat, sitting on the tabletop as stiff and upright as one of the bottles at his back.
He had something of the air of an overseer and the worker he watched so intently was indeed busy, her head bent a little as if she must keep a constant eye upon the rhythmic movements of one set of fingers.
Her tightly bound braids were of a medium brown and her pale, somewhat too chiseled features expressed complete concentration. For all of that she was young, and the shabby hearthside dress she wore was a dull green, girdled in by a workwoman's belt with loops for various small knives, tools, and pouches. The robe bunched about her but not enough to disguise the fact that her body was childishly slim.
Twilla, apprentice to Wisewoman Hulde, raised her right hand out of a constant circling movement and inspected narrowly the small pads which covered each fingertip. She allowed the disk she had been working on to rest upon her knee and with her other hand worked off each finger a pad now worn to a near vanished thread web. Placing these discards carefully to one side, she reclothed each finger with new pads taken from a store heaped near the table edge before her.
Once those were firmly in place, she returned to her task, smoothing the clear silver face of the disk with a series of motions, which formed a pattern in themselves and which did not vary.
"Up and down, out and in,
Sun's path and widdershin.
Power answering to the call
Of flesh and blood and inner all."
Just such a singsong type of jingle as might girl children voice when skipping rope or bouncing a ball. But this was no child's play and she repeated the words carefully knowing that they were not to be skimped, any more than her hour of mirror polishing each day was to be interrupted by anything—save perhaps a crashing of the house wall about her.
She had been eight years of age—as far as the Kinderhost Keeper had been able to judge—one of the pieces of flotsam which are to be found in a port city even when it is well policed. Then the Wisewoman had come seeking a maid—there were not many in Varvad who would think to apprentice their daughters to such an unchancy trade.
Even at those few years Twilla had learned suspicion, caution, the need for being always self-guarded—the harsh laws of survival. But she had not shrunk back when Hulde, looking like horrow bird in her long flapping cloak, had pointed to her after surveying the five girls available.
There was nothing in the least maternal about Hulde. She was thin, tall, craggy of feature as a man, and her voice had the rasp note of one used to obedience. Yet Twilla had been pleased that it was she who scampered out of the Kinderhost at the Wisewoman's heels, taking an extra skip now and then to keep up with her now appointed mistress.
And after ten years under Hulde's direction Twilla realized very often, with thanks to whatever power might be listening, that she had come here. There had been months, years of testing, but she had learned, how she had learned—as avidly as one lost in a desert might gulp down the water of an unexpected well.
Hulde's trade was not even to be mastered in a lifetime, as the Wisewoman had often said. She herself was still learning, stretching her powers a fraction at a time. While Twilla was yet but a beginning scholar still she had mastered the art of reading, of writing, of memorizing that which was so important. She knew the usage of countless herbs and had attended birthings and soul loosings with her mistress until the ceremonies and skills for each were as a second nature for her—even though she had never tested either truly on her own.
Now what she wrought would be her own by Hulde's decree. Some three months earlier the Wisewoman had produced this disk mirror. The reflecting side was dull as a fogged window pane, the back was of a greenish metal and wrought intricately to cover every inch with symbols and hints of creatures which might just be peering out between the swirl of lines which netted them.
To Twilla was given the finishing—the polishing of the upper surface, which must be done with her fingers, each padded with silken pockets seeped in herbal mixtures so that her constant programmed rubbing brought forth scents as she worked, some pleasing and some baneful, but all to be accepted.
She was intent upon her work but not so unseeing and unhearing as to miss the sudden action of the cat who had been watching her with a guardian eye. Greykin had whipped to his feet, facing the outer door which was behind Twilla's stool, his yellow eyes were slit narrow and his tail bushed. From his throat came the low note of a fighter's growl. As if that signaled her, Hulde turned away from the fireplace where she had been methodically stirring the contents of a small kettle. She gave a long look at the cat and then swung the pot away from the full heat of the flames, hooking up its chain, before she too turned to face the door, wiping her narrow, bony hands on a towel clipped to her apron band.
Twilla's own hand stopped in mid-glide down the silver mirror surface. She looked to Hulde and then squirmed around on the stool to face also the outer door. The walls of this ancient house were thick and near all the sounds of the busy port were shut off from its inhabitants. However, Hulde did not need sight or sound, any more than Greykin, to alert them for trouble. Trouble?
Twilla felt a twinge of foreboding. Swiftly she slid the mirror into its bag, drew the string tight and lifted that string over her head to rest breast high on her body. She tucked it way beneath her loose bodice and then shed the polish pads, sweeping all the used ones into a pile and dropping them into a wide-mouthed jar, snapping down the lid of the box which held the unused.
Yet nothing had disturbed them—there was no pounding on the door—
That came even as she wondered about it. Hulde's hand raised and she snapped two fingers to Twilla's surprise. The Wise woman was not used to revealing any signs of power save when she and Twilla were alone.
The bar at the door obeyed that signal, sliding back, and the door itself pushed inward so quickly that he who had been ready to deliver another drumming of knocks stumbled after it. Then drew himself up to blink as if he had come straight out of day into night. Without any cause the room brightened enough to show the two women their visitor.
"Harhodge," Hulde greeted him by name and Twilla recognized him as one of their street neighbors. Two weeks past Hulde had delivered his son alive and saved his wife into the bargain when all others had given her up to death loosing.
"Wisewoman," he was breathing heavily as one who had been running, "they are coming, sweeping down Gunter Lane, and through Gryfalcon Court. The quota has not been filled this time and they are taking even in spite of the law."
Twilla hunched herself into a smaller self on the stool. There was no reason for Harhodge to give further explanation—they knew.
The maid hunt! For five years now it had swept through the port city—as it did through the countryside and the two other major cities of Varslaad also. Any unbetrothed and able bodied maid was liable to be the prey they sought.
It was a legal thing—passed by the Council in full office, the stating of it signed by the King. Those in the Far Land needed wives; their home country would supply them. Noble born need not fear such a fate, but all below blooded rank, unless betrothed with formal listing at the town hall or some such protection, could be swept away from family, home, all which they knew, and shipped over mountain to wed some stranger out of hand. How this had come about was told in whispers only—the strangest being that the new settlers—whose produce from the land was greatly needed by Varslaad—were in some grave danger unless they were wed: a rumor so unbelievable as to be laughed at—only it never was.
Varslaad, its land torn by the strip mining of those ores upon which all its wealth and safety was founded, needed new productive farmland. There had been riots just last cold season when dispossessed farmers and underfed miners had protested the present state of affairs. And the western land was rich—the caravans venturing over mountain brought such an abundance of grain and other food that people still gathered to see one come in and marveled at what it unbaled and basketed.
Still there was this maid hunt and there were only so many eligible maids— no more than one could be taken from any family—and those daughters of the near-starved farmers and miners were not judged strong enough to make the trip.
"Twilla is apprenticed," Hulde broke the short silence.
"Wisewoman, they say that Skimish has laid notice at the town archives that your Twilla was took from the Kinderhost and that she was never a true apprentice, not having any kinfolk to give bond for her. Also—please, Wisewoman, do not give the blame to me, but there are those who have spoken against you—behind their hands to be sure, but with words which carry— that you deal with unchancy things and that the councilers should have a sure eye set on you. If you stand against them now you will give substance to their shadow."
Twilla moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. She knew that those with powers such as Hulde could summon would always be feared and even hated by some, no matter how much good the use of those powers might have done. The baker was right—
The girl arose from her stool, moving out a little to face Hulde.
"Master Harhodge has the right of it, mistress. I would not be the cause to bring down all you have striven to do here. I am from the Kinderhost and it is true there is none to blood claim me. You know how my kind are thought of in Varvad." She was shaking a little as she spoke that last word. But she held to her purpose—Hulde had given her so much that was good, she was not going now to return that gift with something which would lead to evil.
Hulde raised one hand and beckoned to her so that Twilla came to stand directly before the Wisewoman. That beckoning hand now grasped her own right one, turning it over, palm up, as Hulde bent her head to stare into that palm as if it held some answer to what might happen.
Through that touch Twilla was aware of a sudden tenseness in Hulde's body and then the woman spoke:
"One must go as the power calls—one cannot swim against a current in denial of its force. I had not thought to lose—" She raised her head now and stared down from her greater height directly into Twilla's eyes.
"If it is to be, there is no way of denying it. You have been near Kin-daughter to me, girl, but it would seem my fate line no longer runs with yours. If these come to take you"—now there was a flash of fire in her eyes and her lips drew tightly against her teeth in a half snarl—"then they will discover that they are the ones who may have made a poor bargain. Take that which you wear, use it as the spirit leads you—and in the end it may prove salvation for more than you, Twilla. You are healer trained; that perhaps will win you good standing. Use all you know as best you can."
Sound from outside reached them now, the clatter of thick-soled boots, the rattle of wagon wheels. Hulde raised her hand and pointed to the door behind Harhodge. Without a sound that swung closed, sealing them once more into their own world.
"You have, Master Harhodge," Hulde's tone was formal and its words were set to impress, "come here to ask for a sleep potion for your wife." She took two steps to the long table, her hands now going out in a sweeping gesture above that long array of bottles.
He nodded jerkily, wisps of his straw colored hair free from his cap, flopped near down to his eyes, in which Twilla could see the fast-growing apprehension of one found in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Now a gesture from Hulde sent her also in motion, sliding swiftly around the end of the table to the fireplace where she swung back the waiting pot over the flame and took up the long-handled wooden spoon the Wisewoman had thrust through one chain loop, beginning to stir the mixture as if this was the task she had been set to.
Just as Hulde selected a bottle and held it out into the better light before Harhodge there was another imperious rattle of knocks, one following the other with manifest impatience at the door. A swift streaking of a gray furred body marked the retreat of the cat. Hulde, bottle in hand, went to lift the latch and confront the knocker.
He was hardly of middle height for a man; the Wise-woman could match inches with him easily. Perhaps because of that very fact he bore himself with all the arrogance of an up-country noble new come to town. His lean, forethrusting jaw was badly scraped of beard, leaving patches of dark shadow which could well mark themselves as the paths of dirty fingers.
His leather jacket was well worn and stained—what could be seen of it, for he was fully accoutered with a stout breastplate and long metal cuffs extending nearly to his elbows. He had pushed his helmet back a little, perhaps to clear his field of sight, and the eyes which swept from Hulde to the other two and back were cold and suspicious. It did not need the addition of that much-creased scarf banding crossways on the half armor from shoulder to hip to proclaim his rank. This was undoubtedly the leader of the search-troop.
"You wish? There are many potions for healing—" Hulde's voice had changed oddly, taken on a quiver, a harshness such as age would bring, and also she appeared somehow to shrink—drawing years about her as one would draw a cloak.
"You have under this roof one from the Kinderhost!" he snapped. "She is of marriage age and not bespoken—"
"She is my sworn apprentice." Hulde's voice held now a servile note.
"She is Kinderhost—one without kin to sign her papers—therefore she is not apprentice bound. You, girl—stand forth!"
He was now a step or two within the room and he broke the eye-to-eye wary stare he had kept on Hulde to shoot that order at Twilla.
She took her time as if to emphasize that what she had been doing was of more importance than this—which she thought would be the proper attitude for one completely under her employer's thumb—once more hooking the pot away from the full heat before she turned.
The strutting squad commander swept her from head to foot conveying somehow that his opinion of this particular prey was very low.
"As you say, Captain." Hulde bowed her head with deference and Twilla realized that the Wisewoman was playing for time. "She shall be ready upon the summons."
"She'll be ready now!" he shot back. "Tathan." He did not turn his head toward the door, but he raised his voice and that not quite closed barrier was given a push at his summons.
The woman who tramped in was near as heavy-armored as her leader, lacking his breastplate but wearing a double quilted leather jacket, breeches, and boots clearly of army issue. Her hair was cropped short and her features were thick and heavy, her eyes small, yet alert, seeming to dart from side to side to take in all before her with a suspicion as keen or even keener than that of her commander.
"Tathan will go with you, girl. She will see to your gear and you will be bound by her choices. Understand?"
Twilla nodded, allowing herself an expression of fear, which might well lead them to believe that she was most biddable.
Excerpted from Mirror of Destiny by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1995 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I received this book as a gift for easter one year, and since then I reread it at least once every year. The story is engaging and fun every time. I highly recommend it.
I picked the book up just to read something by Andre Norton, and found it to be a great book. A really good fantasy book.