Long ago, after the Elder People deserted the place known as Witch World, a portal opened from another realm, bringing the people of Hallack to colonize the abandoned lands. But although the old inhabitants had gone, the Old Gods still existed to confound the new mortals beneath them.
This is the story of the first ones: Elron the Clanless and Gathea the Wise Woman, who sought their own separate fates in this new mountainous country; Iynne of Garn whose clan ventured into an unknown land of power and was seduced by sinister magic; and Gunnora, the Amber Lady, and her fight against Raidhan, Lady of the Dark Moon.
For any fan of the Witch World novels by Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Andre Norton, this is the must-have origin story for the adventures that have gripped lovers of sword and sorcery for generations.
Horn Crown is the 5th book in the Witch World: High Hallack Cycle, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
For well over a half century, Andre Norton was one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. With series such as Time Traders, Solar Queen, Forerunner, Beast Master, Crosstime, and Janus, as well as many standalone novels, her tales of adventure have drawn countless readers to science fiction. Her fantasy novels, including the bestselling Witch World series, her Magic series, and many other unrelated novels, have been popular with readers for decades. Lauded as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, she is the recipient of a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. An Ohio native, Norton lived for many years in Winter Park, Florida, and died in March 2005 at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
A Witch World Book
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
The rain fell with sullen persistence to make one's travel cloak a sodden burden weighing upon the shoulders, even as fear can weigh heavily on heart and mind. Those among us who were simple and unlettered, who had never stirred far from the fields they tilled or the herd pastures known to their long-kin before them, muttered together of Glom the Weeper and looked upon the gray sky as if they expected moment after moment to see her two welling, tear-filled eyes above us, her sorrow hanging as heavily as a curse.
Even those who were lettered and learned could be disturbed by the thought of curses and condemnation after this exile came to us.
Were our Bard-Sages right to use their knowledge so that when we passed through the Gate, household by household, lord-kin by lord-kin, we not only left behind us our homeland, but also a part of all memory? Now we might question for a while why we had come to ride this rain-washed, dreary land. However that questioning diminished as we rode north. That the reason for our flight was dire we carried ever in our minds. Not only did Sword Brothers ready for instant alarm ride before us to scout this strange land, but a full company of them were the last at the Gate as a rearguard. With them were Laudat and Ouse, whose singing had opened that world portal and who now closed it with the clack-clack of their spirit-drums so that there could be no retreat, and perhaps, mercifully, no pursuit.
Those who rode in the van as our guides had met us this side of the Gate. They had been near a full moontally of days here, spying out what must be faced. Their report was strange. They told of tall hills and dales, once held by men—or else some life-form which was near enough like our own to pass for men—for our scouts had found the land now deserted, save for relics of that earlier race.
Not that the land was entirely safe. There were places here and there where other forces had been awakened and lingered, which we must take good care to avoid. However, there was much clear land waiting for the plow, hillsides rich in tall growing grass to feed our sheep, our cattle, the horses which carried our packs and pulled heavily loaded wains.
Each lord-kin moved in company, possessions well stacked, and the old and the very young riding either on wagons or on the most docile of our mounts, while swordsmen and liegemen of each clan kept on alert to wall them in.
We moved at a slow pace. Sheep and cattle cannot be overdriven. Also, I think, the strangeness of this land weighed upon us, perhaps because, as we went, we sighted certain pillars or structures here and there and, too, the sun did not make a welcome warmth or light for us.
My Lord was Garn and our household was not equal to most in either wealth of gear or strength of liegemen. Our small flock of sheep were easily numbered and we had only a single bull and five cows to watch. Relics of the old life we had brought with us filled only three wagons, and some of the younger women rode, many with a child before and another behind, holding to their girdles.
I was lord-kin, though not heir, being a late-born son of Garn's father's brother. Still I carried kin-shield and there were four crossbow men who rode at my command—a very small company to be sure. I was young enough to be seriously concerned with my responsibilities, and now, as I rode with my men strung out behind me at intervals, I kept to the right flank of the clan, searching among the hills for sight of anything that might move.
We had debated—or rather the Lords had, when they had come through the Gate—the advisability of this route. Only the Sword Brothers had affirmed that it led straight through a deserted land and there were none of the other people's traces near it.
It was, however, a true road—running straight, the blocks of its making showing now and again through the overgrowth of grass and plants. Our wagons jolted along it with better going than we might have found had we taken to open country.
The rain was not all that veiled this new-old land from us. There were patches of mist which hung about the crowns of some of the hills on either side. In places, that mist was not the expected gray-white but had a bluish gleam, or was darker, which gave one a feeling of uneasiness.
One of the Sword Brothers spurred past me, heading from the rear guard toward the fore. I watched his passage with outright envy. They were men apart, owing no kin once they had taken Sword Oath, having no clan ties. Their skill with sword, bow, and short-spear was so well known that they carried much authority without ever having to touch steel. However, they made no demands upon the kin, supplying themselves from their own flocks and herds which the foot-brothers tended.
To be accepted into their number was the dream of most of the youth of the clans. For most that dream was never realized, for they remained always the same in numbers, adding no one except on the death of a brother.
After the passing of the rider my own overlord, Garn, came at a lesser pace, his two sworn men at his back, checking upon those of us who rode as a side guard. He was a man near as dour as this land and the weeping sky over us, not given much to talking, but with a quick eye for any failure in service, or possible cause of trouble. Silence was the best praise a man could hope for from Garn. I felt my hands tighten on the reins as his hawk face turned toward where my small company trotted. I had expected him either to voice some disparaging comment on my deploying of that part of his forces, or to check upon the rear guard who were ordered by his son Everad. Instead his horse matched pace with mine, his escort dropping back a little, until he rode stirrup to stirrup with me.
I did not expect any comments from him about the land about us, the discouraging weather, or the past. I merely waited, recalling hurriedly all I might have done lately that was not to his liking. His head turned slowly as his gaze swept from one ridge bordering the road to the other—though I did not think he was trying to see the rear riders of the Household clan of Rarast which preceded us.
"There is good forage." I was astonished at his words, though I knew that Lord Garn was one to judge well the worth of land and the uses it might be put to. I knew all those around me, I knew their likes and dislikes, their faults and virtues, and how we were allied one to the other. I knew my own part in the kin-clan, the training in weaponry which I had had, I knew—everything but why we had come into this other world and what danger we had eluded by coming.
"There shall be a council at the night camp," Garn was continuing. "Then shall be decided where we settle. The Sword Brothers have scouted well. This land is wide. Fortune may favor even those of us who have not grown so great in the past."
I still sought the reason for this frankness of speech from him. It was as unlikely as if my plodding horse had spoken. What Garn said began to sink into my mind past the surprise that he spoke so at all. A large land—open for settlement. There was near a hundred clans, most of them far beyond us in numbers of kin, stock, all which might put a lord into the first consideration. Only no lord would want to spread his meiny so thinly that it could not be easily defended. Thus there was a very good chance that even so small a clan as ours might come into land riches.
Garn was continuing: "Those of the kin-blood will be present and there will be a drawing of lots. This has been agreed upon—that there will be only one choice. Either for shore lands or for the inner ways. Siwen, Uric, Farkon, Dawuan have already spoken for the shore. The rest of us will have the choice. I think," he hesitated, "I would speak with you, Hewlin, and Everad, also with Stig, when we halt for nooning."
My agreement was perhaps unheard, for abruptly he wheeled his mount and rode to where Everad held his place in our march. He left me still surprised. Garn made his own decisions; there would be no need for any consulting, even of his heir. It was doubly startling that he would ask any advice of Stig, who was the headman of the field workers, the non-kin.
What was in his mind? Why had he mentioned the shore lands? We had had no such settlement in the past. To turn aside from long custom was not in our way of life. Still—we had come into a new world, which was perhaps reason enough to break with that custom and lead us into new ways.
I tried to remember how far we might be from the shore, which the Sword Brothers had explored only in very small part. There had been talk of harsh cliffs and reefs leading cruelly into the sea. We were not a sea-going people, though those of the four clans Garn had mentioned were fisherfolk—or had been.
The morning drizzle was lifting. Before nooning a watery, pallid sun shone. Under it the land shook off some of the brooding shadow which had made it so alien to our eyes. We camped where we were on the road, not pulling the wains away, the households strung out along its length like loosened beads on a too-long string.
Those small braziers of coals which had been so carefully tended in the foremost wain were brought out and charcoal sparingly fed into them—enough to warm pots of the herb drink which strengthened the traveler, washed down bites of journey cake. I hurried over my share that I might not keep Garn waiting.
He sat a little apart on a stool which had also been taken from the gear and waved us to less lofty seating on a strip of thick woven matting which had been unrolled at his feet. I noted that beside Everad and Stig, was Hewlin, who was the eldest of his guard, his face near as grim as his lord's.
"There is the choice," Garn began as soon as we were seated. "I have had word with Quaine who rode the shore way the farthest." He took from his belt pouch a strip of skin which had been rolled into a thin tube, spread this out so that, leaning forward, our heads close together, we could see running on it a number of dark lines.
There was one heavy black line which curved in and out, and feeding into that from one side, three thinner ways, also uneven. Two indentations of the larger line were already marked with a thick black cross, and to these Garn pointed first.
"This is the shore as Quaine has seen it. Here and there are bays which are open and this land will be taken by two of those who have already said they want only the sea." His fingertip now moved on, still along the pictured coastland, until it tapped against a much smaller indentation.
"Here is a river, not as great a stream as the others, but of good water and it leads inland to a wide dale. A river is an easy road for traveling, for the carrying of wool to market—"
Wool! I thought of our sorry herd of sheep. What did we have to market? All that was ever shorn from their backs was woven and worn by our own people and there was never more than enough for perhaps a new kirtle, a new under jerkin, at three or four years' time.
It was Everad who dared ask the question that was in all our minds: "This is what you would choose, my lord, if the lot comes to you and it is not already taken?"
"Yes," Garn said shortly. "There are other things—" He stopped short and none of us had the courage to ask what those other things might be.
I stared at the lines on the bit of skin and tried to imagine what they were meant to represent—land and sea, river and wide dales to welcome our plows, our small herds and flocks. Only they remained stubbornly but lines on skin and I could not see beyond them.
Garn invited no advice or comments from us. I had not expected that he would. He had called us together only that we might know his will and be prepared for the decision he was about to make if all went favorably for him at the lot drawing.
That river he had Indicated lay well to the north, beyond the bays which he had said would be the first choices of the sea lords. I wondered how long a journey northward it would be, also how many days of foot travel it would take us. The time was spring, we should be getting into the ground the precious bags of seeds which weighed down half of our last wain—if we expected any sort of a crop at all this year.
There was no telling how chill the winter seasons might be here, or how swiftly they would come, how short or long the growing time could last. Too lengthy a journey might bring us under the dark shadow of winter want, a specter to haunt any clan. Still, the choice was Garn's and no lord ever led his people into outright disaster if he could help it.
The night's council was held at the midsection of our strung out line of march, near where Lord Farkon's long parade of wains and folk wagons were in place. They had ready a fire and around that the lords sat, their blood kin behind them while Laudat and Ouse, both pulling their gray cloaks close about them as if they felt the damp chill even more than any others, and Wavent, Captain of the Sword Brothers for this Ten Year, were in the center of that circle.
Both the Bards looked thin, tired, their faces nearer to gray in color. The opening and the closing of the Gate might have worn them close to death, but they held themselves to the task before them. However, it was Wavent who spoke.
He described again the land ahead, saying that it was uneven, lacking any strength of plains. Rather, it was ridged by hills and between those were dales, some wide and well covered with vegetation, some narrow and stony. He also spoke of the rivers that were on Garn's crude map and of the two well shaped and open bays.
He had scarcely finished when Lord Farkon broke in: "You have said little, I note, Sword Captain, of these strange places left by an Elder People—or of such people themselves. Do any linger—and if so will they not take sword to defend their own lands as any lord will do?"
There was a murmur which ran from lord to lord. I saw Ouse's shoulders straighten, almost as if he were about to rise and speak in answer. Still he did not, but left that to Wavent.
"Yes, this was once a land well held," the Captain admitted readily. "But those who held it have gone. We have found things of theirs—but in most there is no harm. In fact, there are places of peace and safety which are welcoming. But there are others, and I do not deceive you, my lords, which are pools of evil. These you shall know by the very stench of them. Also, it is well that you have no dealing with any building or ruin which you may find. We of the Sword have quartered and requartered this land and have seen nothing but beasts, have found no trace of any land holder. It is empty now; we do not know why."
Lord Rolfin shook his head, the firelight flashing from the three bits of red gem set in his helm just above his eyes.
"You do not know why those others withdrew," he repeated. "Thus we may be facing an unknown, unseen enemy here."
Again there was a stir and murmur among the lords. This time Ouse did stand, shrugging the hood of his cloak back so that his gray-haired head was fully bared and all could see his thin, lined face.
"The land," he said quietly, "is empty. Since we have come into it we have sensed nothing which we may term enemy. This night before you came to council, my lords, Laudet and I sang the warn words and lit the torches of the Flame. It burned fair, there was no stir at our invocation. There are traces of old power—of a kind we do not know—but the Flame can burn nowhere when there is war rising and evil moving in."
I heard a grunt from Lord Rolfin. He was ever apt, as all men knew, to go seeking menaces in each new place, though he could have no answer to Ouse's reassurance. It was true that the Undying and One Flame could not survive if evil ringed us round, and I am sure that I heard several sighs of relief at that reply.
Now Wavent pushed forward with his right foot a basin of bronze which Laudet had set out for him. The Captain stooped and picked this up, holding it with both hands.
"Here, Lords of Hallack," his voice becoming more formal, as if speaking ritual words, "are your choices by lot. In the Light of the One Flame are all kin-chiefs equal. Thus it was in the past, so shall it be here. Let each of you now draw by chance, for at midmorning tomorrow we shall reach the first of the open dales and one of you may there withdraw from our journey to take up a new home."
Excerpted from Horn Crown by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1981 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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Travelling through space to another world humans find themselves in a world abandoned by another people. These people have left legacies of energy and gods that now have to be dealt with by the humans. Elron the Clanless and Gathea the wise woman find themselves exploring this realm and find out more about themselves in the process.A history of the Witchworld and a very interesting and compelling read. I did really want more!
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