Wind in the Stoneby Andre Norton
Once the Wind united the Valley with the Forest, enveloping them in the strongest of magics. It was a union that endured when the Darkness came, and through it the land was preserved and the evil banished. The creatures of the Forest then retreated into their hidden glades, vanishing into the mists of legend. And the people of the Valley, blessed with the ability to hear the secret messages emitted by all living things, settled in to farm their lands. And so there was peace for many centuries.until the Dark returned.
A student-mage-a thief of sinister scraps of knowledge stolen from the ancient halls of learning-seeks to enslave the Valley and destroy the Forest. To this end, the sorcerer has sundered a family, sending a mother and her infant girl-child fleeing into the woods while holding the babe's twin-a boy-captive in a black tower, to be used in later years to further the mage's base goals of depraved domination. The mother dies but the girl survives, and is adopted by the strange and elusive denizens of the Forest. Safe from the sorcerer's influence, she grows to young womanhood, cultivating the cherished skill that has now been denied the others of her kind: the ability to truly hear the sounds of her world.
But her future will be fraught with trial and terror, for only she can smash the chains that shackle the Valley and its inhabitants. Hers is a destiny to fear, yet one that must not be shirked-even as it impels her toward dread confrontations with sorcerer and demon minions. And it will force her to oppose the one she must conquer and free: the magician's protigi and her most powerful adversary. Her bane, her blood.
"NORTON CAN STILL EVOKETHAT MYSTERIOUS AND DIFFICULT-TO-DEFINE SENSE OF WONDER."( Fantasy Review)
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- HarperCollins Publishers
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Amoung these high and narrow mountain valleys, the past, winter had been a cruel one. Supplies carefully harvested and gathered during the short summer had shrunk. There were tightly pulled in belts and children who sometimes whimpered in their sleep, sucking with cracked lips on the edge of thin blankets during frost-filled nights. Even the carefully selected breeding stock for the next season had been twice more culled and slaughtered. It seemed as if the world was passing into a punishing grip of cold.
Now there was sluggish stirring suggesting the belated coming of spring. The first trader's caravan of the season had set out, though other merchants had shaken their heads at such recklessness.
Not only the traders ventured so: a handful of other travelers always joined such trains, either paying a few coins or offering to help with the animals. No one wanted to risk the early spring trails alone-all too often, deadly rockfalls occurred.
So it was with the young man who had drifted slowly to the end of the train of pack ponies. He was mounted on a horse so bony that its joints seemed to crack with every step it took. Now he edged himself and that sorry steed into the shadow of a rock spur as the others plodded by. Though it was still only mid-morning, men and beasts alike looked as if they'd been on the trail for hours.
The rider did not turn his head to view the trail back, but his attitude was that of one listening; and he was muttering almost at a whisper a gabble of sounds that bore little resemblance to human speech. He pulled his riding cloak tighter against the probing finger of a sharp breeze, though hehad lived long enough in the heart of the heights to accept the dreary cold.
Of course, he had been well housed. His thin lips curved in a smile that was half sneer, for, behind him there still showed the towers and walls of Valarian, the Place of Learning, where he had been a novice-whether or no in good standing-until a day ago.
That sprawl of buildings, which had been added to until it choked a valley and the mountains refused it any expansion, was so old that its core might have been wrought from the very bones of the earth. Among all the scholars, who blinked in their study cubicles like distempered, disturbed owls, there was probably not one who was interested enough in the past so lost in time-the era when the first stones of the first wall had been fitted together.
In years agone, the Place of Learning had housed many more seekers of knowledge than the shrunken number who used the nearly deserted halls today. There were names out of legend connected with it; but nowadays those gathered there were like the froth floating on a jack of ale-bubbles that never sank below the surface.
Each scholar had long since settled into a chosen area of study. His or her learning might be deep and authoritative, yet the subject would be nearly meaningless to a neighbor. Had anything really useful come out of there, even in the generation immediately past?
The rider's head snapped to the left as he caught a faint sound from the rocks. His lips pursed, and he loosed a chitter that sounded much like the complaint of a rockrat finding its home territory invaded. Listening, he waited; however, there was no movement in the brush, no misshapen shadow flitting from one rock cover to the next. Irasmus, fourth son of a border warden by his third wife, smiled again. He dug his heel into the mount's tough hide, and the horse shambled on.
He had come this way-how many years ago? Season ran into season in the Place of Learning; they spoke there of eons rather than days, months, or years. His mother who had sent him to Valarian after seeing him engaged in one of his secretive games in their neglected garden. He had expected punishment; but instead, when he had followed her obediently to her bower, his real life had begun.
Mind talents were largely a matter for bards and ballad makers now; once, however, those fortunate enough to have such had ruled without putting hand to sword hilt. On that long-past afternoon, the shy youth had been encouraged to try things that had never occurred to him.
Irasmus's mother had been a scrawny, gaunt-faced female very sparing of words, yet one who could, with a single glance, set a servant-or a child-quaking. He never remembered her showing any approbation of his efforts to please her; and his failures were made doubly sour by her set face, just as the weapon trials with his brothers in the arms yard had gained nothing but jeers from them and his father. Still, he had known he possessed innate skills; and some of the trials his mother had set him did end in triumph. In that hour, Irasmus had also understood that such gifts were a private thing, not to be discussed openly. He was not to astound his brothers by performing some of the odd tricks that appeared to come naturally to him, nor let his bear-strong father guess he had any more talents than the woefully few he had shown so far.
Being the youngest, the slightest of body, and apparently the least-competent member of a fighting clan, the boy had early learned to efface himself as much as possible. He had approached happiness for the first time in his life when his mother had informed him that he was to go into exile from his unloved and unloving home. Then the future had been up to him, to make his way in the outer world.
These days, there were few students applying to the Place of Learning. If children were born with the right mind power they were not encouraged to enhance a native gift by any manner of study. Irasmus owed a great deal to his mother-she had sent him to Valarian...
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This book is written with the imagination of a child. Andre Norton keeps you enthralled with the story the entire way through. She uses just the right amount of mystery and if you do not completely give it your attention you will miss something.