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The Jargoon Pard
A Witch World Book
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1974 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
Of Gunnora's Shrine and What Chanced There in the year of the Red Boar
Many are the chronicles of Arvon, for that is a land old beyond the imaginings of men, even though those men may be born of the Elder Races and, therefore, long in their own lives. Some tales are near forgotten, so that a song smith has but bits and patches of them caught in memory. Others are new forged and detailed. For in a land where the Power is known and used, then marvels do follow after, as the long-fleeced sheep of the Dales follow close upon the piping of their shepherd.
There is much in Arvon pertaining to the Seven Lords and those who ruled before them that is lost, though their judging still lies active in the land. Even those who can wield the Power do not know all, nor ever will.
Who was Gunnora? Was she once a Wise Woman of such stature in the land that after her passing some spoke of her as never having been flesh, but spirit alone? If so—that part of the truth is long befogged. But that Gunnora's influence remains, that all womankind knows, to take heart in. For she is the one whose sign is a sheaf of ripe grain bound together with fruit of the vine ready for the plucking. It is Gunnora's amulet each maid wears, upon which she lays her hand at the moment that she conceives, and that she will hold tightly when the time of childbirth is upon her.
To Gunnora's shrine came those for whom doubtful runes have been cast, that in her sanctuary they may be cured of barrenness, or else have an easier time of child-bearing. And that she has power within the matter of healing, all will testify.
Thus, at Gunnora's shrine, begins the chronicle of Kethan—or if I speak less like a songsmith and more in the common tongue of the land—my own story. Yet the truth of what happened within that shrine at my birthing was a long time hid and held secret. At last only sorcery wrested it forth into the light of day and the full knowledge of men.
It was the custom of the Four Clans—Redmantle, Gold mantle, Bluemantle and Silvermantle—that inheritance follows the old ways. Thus a man's son does not succeed him in leadership, no, rather the son of his full sister does she bear a boy child. For it be the blood of the women of the Clan that is reckoned the truest by descent. In the House of the Car Do Prawn, she who would provide the heir was the Lady Heroise.
Though her brother, the House Lord, Erach, had wed early, having already a son, Maughus, and a daughter, Thaney (yet an infant in her cradle), Heroise showed no inclination to take any man to her chamber. She was a woman fiercely proud, with a small talent for the Power. As a young maid she had studied with the Wise Women of Garth Howel, bringing one of their number, Ursula, with her to Car Do Prawn when summoned to return.
The idea was firm in her mind that she should, in time, bear a son to take the chieftain's chair. To the shaping of that son, mind and body, she must bend every care, so that when the day arrived that he was shield-raised by the men-at-arms, and his name shouted to the four corners of the Great Hall, it would be her will that would govern all his actions. And in this project she had the alliance of Ursilla, with all the knowledge of her calling.
Who was the father of the child she carried in the early spring of the Year of the Red Boar no one could name. It was accepted as her right to choose such in temporary alliance only, if that was her wish. Stories were whispered behind hands that her mate was of Ursilla's providing, but it was best not to inquire too deeply into his beginnings lest that be uncovered which would make the coming heir less—or perhaps—more than human. For heir, Heroise was certain, her child would be. And in this Ursilla also gave her assurance.
In the Month of Snowbird, the Lady Heroise and her women, together with Ursilla, traveled to Gunnora's shrine, for the Wise Woman, Ursilla, had cast a foretelling that troubled her. Her uneasiness alarmed Heroise in turn, so that she determined to have all the help she could call upon that the result of all her planning would match her consuming desire. Thus by easy stages, for ragged sweeps of snow still lay upon the ground (though the hint of coming spring was in the air at midday at least), they came to the shrine.
Gunnora has no priestesses nor shrine attendants. Those who seek her out come into a Presence that they may sense but never see. Thus they were met by no one of their own kind. But in the stabling, a little distance from the shrine, were two horses, while in the outer court a man paced like a great caged cat up and back, up and back, since he dared not enter the inner chamber, which was Gunnora's alone.
The stranger glanced at Heroise as she came in, walking awkwardly because of the clumsy bulk of her swollen body. Then he turned away quickly, as if he feared that he did a discourteous thing. So he did not note that Ursilla gave him a long, measuring glance as they passed him by, and that a faint frown crossed the Wise Woman's face, as if she had touched upon the edge of some troubling thought.
But she had no time now for any other save her charge, for it seemed that the Lady Heroise had miscalculated her time, and her pains were already upon her. She settled in one of the small inner rooms, only Ursilla, as a Wise Woman, attending her, the other women awaiting without.
There was a languorous scent upon the air, as if all the flowers of late summer bloomed in abundance, and it seemed to the Lady Heroise that she drifted among the beds of a great garden. She knew pain, but that was a far-off thing, which had no tie with her body and meant nothing. Rather in her now worked a great joy, such as in her cold and devious mind she had never known before.
Nor was she aware that in a neighboring chamber of the shrine rested another woman and with her one of the Wise Women from the neighboring village. She, too, dreamed joyfully, awaiting a child to fill her arms as love for it already filled her heart.
Nor were either aware of the storm that gathered, though the man, who paced and waited, went to the outer doorway and stared at the black massing of clouds overhead, regarded the clouds anxiously and shivered. It seemed to him that, though he knew all the humors of nature well and through many years, the brooding stillness under the dark roof now stretched over the land was not quite like anything he had seen before. Because of his own nature, he was alert to forces that were not of the Arvon of men, but the Arvon of Power. Perhaps now that Power was about to manifest itself in some fashion that was a threat to all below.
His hands went to his belt, and he ran his fingertips questioningly along it, as if he sought something there that was no longer his to find. But his chin was up, as he eyed the clouds, and what he half-believed might move them so, with a grim defiance. His clothing was plain, a brown sleeveless jerkin over a shirt of forest green. His cloak lay behind within the court. On his feet, the boots of a horseman were dull brown, the breeches above them green.
Yet there was that about him which said he was no field man, nor even chief of some small and unimportant holding, such as his garb suggested. His dark hair was thick and grew in a peak upon his forehead, and his eyes were strange in his weather-browned face—for they were a tawny yellow, like unto the eyes of some great cat. Anyone glancing at him once might well turn to look again, drawn by his air of authority, as if here stood one who answered only to his own will.
Now his lips shaped words, but he did not utter them aloud. His hand rose from his belt to make a small sign in the open air. At that moment there came a great neighing cry from the stable. The stranger turned swiftly—though he could not see around the corner of the building. At a repetition of that cry he darted back, caught up his cloak, and was off toward the horses he had earlier stabled.
He found there the men who had ridden with the party from Car Do Prawn making haste, in view of the storm, to get their own animals into shelter. But the two mounts already there reared and neighed, striking out with front hooves, as do warhorses trained for the fierce battles in the Dales, so that the servingmen and guards swore lustily and fingered their riding quirts, yet dared not push closer.
There were elements of strangeness about these two mounts now prepared to defend their own quarters against any invasion. They were dappled gray and black, the markings not well defined, but so intermingled that perhaps in the wooded countryside, their shading would produce a cover to confuse any who searched for them. Longer of leg than most were they, also, and slimmer of body.
Now they swung their heads toward the man who had come running, and whinnied in combined complaint and greeting. The stranger pushed past the men from the Keep without a word and went to the mounts. At his coming, they stood quiet, only blowing and snorting. Their master passed his hands down the arch of their necks and over their flanks. They made no further sounds as he urged them toward the opposite end of the stabling.
There he put them together within one wide stall and for the first time spoke:
"There will be no trouble, but keep to your own end—" His words were curtly delivered, carrying a tone of order. The commander of Lady Heroise's escort scowled. That such a common-appearing fellow dared speak to him so before his men was an insult, which, in another place, he would have been quick to answer.
However, this was the shrine of Gunnora. Here no man dared test what might happen if blades were drawn—weapons of death bared in a place dedicated to life. Still, the glance he shot after the stranger promised no good at any future meeting.
There was one among the men of Car Do Prawn who continued to stare at the stranger standing between his mounts, a hand lightly laid upon the neck of each as they inclined their narrow heads toward him, one nibbling at his hair. Pergvin had served the Lady Eldris in years gone by, she who had borne the Lord Erach and his sister Heroise. Deep in him memory stirred, yet it was a memory that he would not share with any here. If what he half suspected might indeed be true, what a wild chance of fate had brought this meeting at this day and hour? He wanted mightily to confront the stranger, call him a certain name, see if he made answer. Only there had been an oath sworn in the past after an exiled one went out the Gates of Car Do Prawn never to return.
"Pergvin!" A sharp summons from the commander brought him to the task of helping with their own horses for this was a gale that was like to crush utterly any puny human creature.
So heavy was the rain that they could not see the shrine from the door of the stable, though that building lay only a short distance away. Wind swooped upon them, driving in a lash of icy rain, until they pulled shut the door and barred it. While the stable itself shuddered around them in warning.
The stranger left his horses, went to lay hand upon the door bar. However, Cadoc, the commander, stepped quickly before him, interposing his body between that uplifted hand and the latch.
"Leave well enough alone!" He had to raise his voice to a near shout as the howl of the wind outside deafened them. "Would you let in the wrath of the clouds?"
Again the stranger's fingers dropped to his belt, slipping back and forth, searching. He wore a short sword, but the weapon—closer to a forester's all-purpose tool and clearly no battle arm—was tight sheathed.
Cadoc, in spite of his anger, shifted from one foot to another under the stare the stranger turned upon him. Still he held his ground while the other, after standing so for a long moment, gave way and returned to the far stall where once more he stood between his mounts, a hand on each. But Pergvin, stealing a look when he could, saw that the man's eyes were closed and his lips moved to shape words, which he could not, or dared not, voice aloud. Also, when he watched, Pergvin had an uneasy—nearly shamed—feeling, as if he intruded upon some man who was engaged in that which was very private. He turned away quickly, to seek out his own unhappy fellows who jerked their heads and hunched their shoulders with every blast of wind that struck upon what now seemed a very flimsy shelter.
Their own horses, unlike those of the stranger that now stood quiet, showed signs of panic. So the men needs must work to soothe the beasts. Thus they forgot some of their own fear as they dealt with the animals.
Within the shrine the Lady Heroise was unaware of the fury sweeping beyond the walls. But Ursilla, watching by the Lady, harkened to those gusts and wails, felt the beat of wild nature's force reaching her through the very substance of the ancient building. In her there grew a fear and wonder, for she could not expel from her mind that this was a portent. She longed to be able to use the Power, to perhaps read the meaning behind the fury that now enfolded them. But she dared not distract any of the energy that she kept centered on the Lady Heroise so that their mutual desire be safely accomplished.
In the other chamber, the woman on the couch half stirred out of the drowse Gunnora had sent. She frowned and put out her hands as if to ward off some threat. The Wise Woman, who watched by her, took the hands in hers, willing peace and comfort to return. Not possessed of any great Power was she. Beside that which Ursilla could summon, her talent was the feeble striving of a maid as yet much untutored in the ancient learning. Yet the peace and goodwill in her flowed through her hands and stilled the fear that rose in the half-conscious woman. The dim shadow that had touched her fled.
It was at the height of the storm that the birth cry sounded and from each chamber did it come, one being like to an echo of the other. Ursilla looked down upon the baby she had received into her hands. Her face twisted, her mouth was a wry grimace.
The Lady Heroise's eyes opened, she looked about her as her mind awakened. Her struggle was over, all she had planned and worked for was won.
"Let me look upon my son!" she cried.
When Ursilla hesitated, Heroise pulled herself higher on the couch.
"The baby, what is the matter with the baby?" she demanded.
"Naught—" Ursilla replied slowly. "Save that you have a daughter—"
"Daugh—" It was as if Heroise could not force the whole of that word from her quivering mouth. Her hands grasped so tightly on the covering of the divan that she might be preparing to rend the stout cloth into strips.
"It cannot be! You wrought all the spells the night that—that—" She choked. Her face was a twisted mask of rage. "It was in the reading—that you vowed to me."
"Yes." Ursula wrapped the birth cloth about the baby. "The Power does not lie; therefore, there must be a way—" Her features set, her eyes stared straight at Heroise. Yet in them there was now no intelligence. It might be that Ursula's spirit had left her body, sought elsewhere for knowledge she must have.
Heroise, watching her, was tense, very quiet. She did not spare a single glance for the child now whimpering in Ursula's hold. All her attention was fixed avidly on the Wise Woman. She felt the Power. Enough of her early tutoring remained for her to recognize that Ursilla now wrought some spell of her own. But, though Heroise's tongue uttered no more reproaches, she twisted and tore at the covering with crooked ringers she did not try to still.
Then intelligence came back into Ursula's eyes. She turned her head a little, pointed with her chin to the wall at their left.
"What you would have lies there. A boy child, born at the same moment as this one you bore—"
Heroise gasped. A way out—the only way out!
"How—" she began.
Ursilla gestured her into silence. Still holding the baby within the crook of her left arm, the Wise Woman faced the wall. Her right hand rose and fell, as with the tip of her finger, she drew signs and symbols on the surface of that barrier. Some of them flared red for an instant, as if a spark of hearth fire glowed in them. Others Heroise could not follow for the swiftness of those gestures.
Excerpted from The Jargoon Pard by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1974 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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