Scent of Magicby Andre Norton
Norton's latest creation is a faraway dukedom rich in intoxicating aromas: powerful fragrances carried on gentle breezes, some with the capacity to enchant and befuddle, some capable even of toppling great leaders from their thrones. A scullery maid - an orphaned child - possesses an uncanny ability to sense and understand the magical odors that pervade her world; a… See more details below
Norton's latest creation is a faraway dukedom rich in intoxicating aromas: powerful fragrances carried on gentle breezes, some with the capacity to enchant and befuddle, some capable even of toppling great leaders from their thrones. A scullery maid - an orphaned child - possesses an uncanny ability to sense and understand the magical odors that pervade her world; a talent/curse that carries young Willadene far from the fetid kitchen and a repulsive impending marriage, into an apprenticeship with a revered herbalist and, ultimately, to the highest circles of the Ducal court. But there is a malevolence lurking within the castle's walls, inspiring brazen treacheries and usurpations...and a foul abduction as unthinkable as it is unexpected. Something horribly strange and forbidden has struck at the dawn of a new day of corruption and terror. And a young girl finds the heightened sense that has been her fortune now drawing her inextricably down into a maelstrom of evil. Now a great quest is in Willadene's future: a journey to a place of darkness; of tainted covenants and ancient battles of blood and sacrifice when monsters warred with heroes. For the extraordinary power that has molded her destiny is propelling her toward shocking self-knowledge and an impossible rescue in a realm of shadows, secrets, and devastated hope where the invincible lord of abominations reigns.
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The great bell in the central watchtower of Kronengred boomed the same warning as it had for more years than the most diligent scholars could remember. A heavy vibration of sound penetrated every one of the aged buildings huddled comfortably together, rising even to the castle on a mount which rivaled the height of the bell tower. Though the dark of the passing winter season still held in thick blots around alleys and doorway, yet the bell's call now sounded to, all responsible citizens those who had kept Kronengred's prosperity and safety alive to be up and about the day's labors.
His Highness, the Duke, might wriggle deeper into the covers of his great bed, but in the tiny cupboard (one could certainly not dignify it with the tide of "room") off the vast kitchen of the Wanderers Inn, Willadene sighed herself into sitting up, the musty staws pricking through the ragged cover of the pallet beneath her, meeting her every movement with familiar scratching.
Her first real act was always the same. Before she reached for undersmock her hands went to that small bag, warm between her small breasts, and lifted it to her tormented nose. A deep sniff of the crushed spices and herbs within cleared her head, but the dull ache from last night's long service in the taproom did not go away.
Now she dressed hurriedly, pulling on clothing which had been cobbled down from a much larger size, so worn that its color was now a uniform muddy gray. Smells it was always the smells against which she had to brace herself each morning. She was sure sometimes thatthose invaded her very dreams, bringing shadows of nightmares. The kitchen was no flower garden for the pleasuring ofsome lord's daughter, that was certain.
She was still twisting her lank hair up under a kerchief when she heard, as she had feared, the clang of pans, harshly slammed down together on the long table. Aunt Jacoba was the only one who dared to use those utensils without order, and, by the sound of it, she had a monumental temper to work off this morning.
"Willa get you here, you lazy slut!" That voice, which even sounded like a badly scrubbed kettle, arose on the end of one crash. Certainly Aunt Jacoba had deliberately swung the big porridge kettle on its hanger so that it had rebounded from the smoke-darkened stone of the wide hearth.
Willadene (sometimes she forgot she had once been called that it had been years now since the great plague had decimated the inhabitants of the city and she had been grudgingly accepted under the orders of the district Reeve by her father's cousin as a scullery maid, or scullery drudge) hurried into the kitchen.
Wisely she had been on guard and so dodged the heavy tankard which might have struck her senseless if it had landed true. There was no easy greeting from Jacoba when she was in this foul mood. Swiftly the girl reached well over her head and pulled down a flitch of bacon. She had to fight with all her strength against the smell of the meat it was never of the first quality and always kept too long. Jacoba pinched each pence when it came to supplies for the majority of those eating early in the morning. Perhaps they were still so drowsy they were able to choke it down in a dull fog of half sleep.
Jacoba had turned to the stirring of the Yast pot of porridge which had been set to cook slowly the night before. Figis, the waiting boy, his face still masked with most of yesterday's grime, was slamming bowls onto a tray. He did not look up, but Willadene, sighted the bruise near his eye. There was an ever-going feud between Figis and Jorg, the horseboy.
She sawed away at the bacon with a knife which Figis should have sharpened yesterday. What she turned off now were not smooth slices but ragged hunks to be put in the footed skillet, when she knelt in the ashes which had drifted out from the fire to thrust her burden close enough to the flames for its contents to begin to sputter.
Longing to pull out her spice bag and use it as a defense against the heavy odor of the now-crisping meat, Willadene hunched her shoulders and held on, grimly determined not to attract any attention from Jacoba.
The big woman was sawing at rounds of yesterday's black bread now near stone hard. These were the plates waiting to hold the bacon and wedges of cheese. The fare might be of third or even fourth grade, but Jacoba did not stint on portions.
Then she turned to ladling out porridge there were five bowls waiting. Willadene haunched in upon herself.
So fortune had not favored her. Wyche had stayed the night. When she had crept away as the last two candles were near to guttering out in the taproom he had still been there, the huge bulk of his body half sprawling out of the one large chair which the inn owned. The odor of mulled cider of the strongest had not been enough to hide that other stench exuding from him. It was not only that of unclean flesh, and/or filthy clothing but something else of which she was aware but could not put name to-though now and then the inn sheltered other patrons who carried the same odor and mostly they had been an ugly lot.
Meet the Author
Few authors have achieved such renown as World Fantasy Life Achievement honoree and Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, Andre Norton. With the love of readers and the praise of critics, Norton's books have sold millions of copies worldwide.
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On a whim, I checked to see if this old favorite of mine was in ebook form. Hooray! It was, and on rereading it, it's as good as I remembered! It's also better than many written today!
It was very boring i could barely get interested in it at the beginning yawn!
This book by the brilliant Andre Norton was a masterpiece of Fantasy-Fiction.I enjoyed reading about the special young healer and the mysteries of a Ducal court.
I read this book and fell in love with Andre Norton's way of writing. She clearly knows her herbs and judging by the titles of the other books, she must know a lot more about the other senses. I just hope everyone else has time to read this...