Lost Lands of Witch World
By Norton, Andre
Tor Books Copyright © 2004 Norton, Andre
All right reserved.
I am no song-smith to forge a blade of chant to send men roaring into battle, as the bards of the Sulcar ships do when those sea-serpents nose into enemy ports. Nor can I use words with care as men carve out stones for the building of a strong, years-standing keep wall, that those generations following may wonder at their industry and skill. Yet when a man passes through great times, or faces action such as few dream on, there awakes within him the desire to set down, even limpingly, his part in those acts so that those who come after him to warm his high seat, lift his sword, light the fire on his hearth, may better understand what he and his fellows wrought that they might do these same things after the passing of time.
Thus do I write out the truth of the Three against Estcarp, and what chanced when they ventured to break a spell which had lain more than a thousand years on the Old Race, to darken minds and blot out the past. Three of us in the beginning, only three, Kyllan, Kemoc, and Kaththea. We were not fully of the Old Race, and in that lay both our sorrow and our salvation. From the hours of our birth we were set apart, for we were the House of Tregarth.
Our mother was the Lady Jaelithe who had been a Woman of Power, one of the Witches, able to summon, send and use forces beyond common reckoning. But it was also true that, contrary to all former knowledge, though she lay with our father, theLord Warder Simon, and brought forth us three in a single birth, yet she lost not that gift which cannot be measured by sight nor touch.
And, though the Council never returned to her her Jewel, forfeited at the hour of her marriage, yet they were also forced to admit that she was still a Witch, though not one of their fellowship.
And he who was our father was also not to be measured by any of the age-old laws and customs. For he was out of another age and time, entering into Estcarp by one of the Gates. In his world he had been a warrior, one giving orders to be obeyed by other men. But he fell into a trap of ill fortune, and those who were his enemies sniffed at his heels in such numbers that he could not stand and meet them blade to blade. Thus he was hunted until he found the Gate and came into Estcarp, and so also into the war against the Kolder.
But by him and my mother there came also the end of Kolder. And the House of Tregarth thereafter had no little honor. For Simon and the Lady Jaelithe went up against the Kolder in their own secret place, and closed their
Gate through which the scourge had come upon us. And of this there has already been sung many songs.
But though the Kolder evil was gone, the stain lingered and Estcarp continued to gasp for life as her enemies, ringing her about, nibbled eternally at her tattered borders. This was a twilight world, for which would come no morning, and we were born into the dusk of life.
Our triple birth was without precedent among the Old Race. When our mother was brought to bed on the last day of the dying year, she sang warrior spells, determined that that one who would enter into life would be a fighter such as was needed in this dark hour. Thus came I, crying as if already all the sorrows of a dim and forbidding future shadowed me.
Yet my mother's labor was not at an end. And there was such concern for her that I was hurriedly tended and put to one side. Her travail continued through the hours, until it would seem that she and that other life, still within her, would depart through the last gate of all.
Then there came a stranger of the Ward Keep, a woman walking on her own two dusty feet. In the courtyard she lifted up her voice, saying she was one sent and that her mission lay with the Lady Jaelithe. By that time so great was my father's fear that he ordered her brought in.
From under her cloak she drew a sword, the blade of it bright in the light, a glittering, icy thing, cold with the burden of killing metal. Holding this before my mother's eyes, she began to chant, and from that moment it was as if all the anxious ones gathered in that chamber were bound with ties they could not break. But the Lady Jaelithe rose out of the sea of pain and haunted dreams which held her, and she too gave voice. Wild raving they thought those words of hers as she said:
"Warrior, sage, witch--three--one--I will this! Each a gift. Together--one and great--apart far less!"
And in the second hour of the new year there came forth my brother, and then my sister, close together as if they were linked by a tie. But so great was my mother's exhaustion that her life was feared for. The woman who had made the birth magic put aside the sword quickly and took up the children as if that was her full right--and, because of my mother's collapse, none disputed her.
Thus Anghart of the Falconer village became our nurse and foster mother and had the first shaping of us in this world. She was an exile from her people, since she had revolted against their harsh code and departed by night from their woman village. For the Falconers, those strange fighting men, had their own customs, unnatural in the eyes of the Old Race whose women hold great power and authority. So repugnant were these customs to the Witches of Estcarp that they had refused the Falconers settlement land when they had come, centuries earlier, from over seas. Thus now the Hold of the Falconers was in the high mountains, a no-man's land border country between Estcarp and Karsten.
Among this people the males dwelt apart, living only for war and raiding, having more affection and kinship with their scout hawks then they did with their women. The latter were quartered in valley villages, to which certain selected men went at seasons to establish that their race did not die out. But upon the birth of children there was a ruthless judging, and Anghart's newly born son had been slain, since he had a crippled foot. So she came to the South Keep, but why she chose that day and hour, and seemed to have foreknowledge of our mother's need, she never said. Nor did any choose to ask her, for to most in the Keep she turned a grim, closed face.
But to us she was warmth, and love, and the mother the Lady Jaelithe could not be. Since from the hour of the last birth my mother sank into a trance of sorts and thus she lay day after day, eating when food was put in her mouth, aware of nothing about her. And this passed for several months. My father appealed to the Witches, but in return he received only a cold message--that Jaelithe had seen fit to follow her own path always, and that they did not meddle in the matters of fate, nor could they reach one who had gone long and far down an alien way.
Upon this saying my father grew silent and grim in his turn. He led his Borderers out on wild forays, showing a love of steel play and bloodletting new to him. And they said to him that he was willfully seeking yet another road and that led to the Black Gate. Of us he took no note, save to ask from time to time how we fared--absently, as if our welfare was that of strangers, no real concern to him.
It was heading into another year when the Lady Jaelithe at last roused. Then she was still weak and slipped easily into sleep when overtired. Also she seemed shadowed, as if some unhappiness she could not name haunted her mind. At length this wore away and there was a lightsome time, if brief, when the Seneschal Koris and his wife, the Lady Loyse, came to South Keep at the waning of the year to make merry, since the almost ceaseless war had been brought to an uneasy truce and for the first time in years there was no flame nor fast riding along either border, neither north to face the wolves of Alizon nor south where the anarchy in Kasten was a constant boil and bubble of raid and counter-raid.
But that was only a short breathing space. For it was four months into the new year when the threat of Pagar came into being. Karsten had been a wide battle field for many lords and would-be rulers since Duke Y vian had been killed during the Kolder war. To that wracked duchy the Lady Loyse had a claim. Wedded by force--axe marriage--to the Duke, she had never ruled. But on his death she might have raised his standard. However, there was no tie between her and a country in which she had suffered much. Loving Koris, she had thankfully tossed away any rights over Karsten. And the policy of Estcarp, to hold and maintain the old kingdom, not to carry war to its neighbors, suited her well. Also Koris and Simon, both bolstering as well as they could the dwindling might of the Old Race, saw no advantage in embroilment aboard, but much gain in the anarchy which would keep one of their enemies employed elsewhere.
Now what they had forseen came to pass. Starting as a small holder in the far south, Pagar of Geen began to gather followers and establish himself, first as a lord of two southern provinces, then acclaimed by the men of the city of Kars of their own free will, the ruined merchants there willing to declare for anyone likely to reestablish peace. By the end of our birth year Pagar was strong enough to risk battle against a confederation of rivals. And four months later he was proclaimed Duke, even along the border.
He came to rule in a country devasted by the worst sort of war, a civil struggle. His followers were a motley and hard-to-control crew. Many were mercenaries, and the loot which had drawn them under his banner must now be replaced by wages or they would go elsewhere to plunder.
Thus Pagar did as my father and Koris had expected: he looked outside his borders for a cause to unite his followers and provide the means for rebuilding his duchy. And where he looked was north. Estcarp had always been feared. Y vian, under the suggestion of the Kolder, had out-lawed and massacred those of the Old Race who had founded Karsten in days so far distant that no man could name the date. They had died--hard--or they had fled, across the mountains to their kin. And behind they left a burden of guilt and fear. None in Karsten ever really believed that Estcarp would not some day move to avenge those deaths. Now Pagar need only play slightly on that emotion and he had a crusade to occupy his fighters and unite the duchy firmly behind him.
Still, Estcarp was a formidable foe and one Pagar desired to test somewhat before he committed himself. Not only were the Old Race dour and respected fighting men, but the Witches of Estcarp used the Power in ways no outsider could understand, and which were the more dreaded for that very reason. In addition there was a firm and unbreakable alliance between Estcarp and the Sulcarmen--those dreaded sea rovers who already had raided Alizon into a truce and a sullen licking of sore wounds. They were as ready to turn their serpent ships southward and bite along Karsten's open coast line, and that would arouse the merchants of Kars to rebellion.
So Pagar had to prepare his holy war quietly. Border raiding began that summer, but never in such strength that the Falconers and the Borderers my father commanded could not easily control. Yet many small raids, even though easily beaten back, can gnaw at the warding forces. A few men lost here, one or two there--the sum mounts and is a steady drain. As my father early knew.
Estcarp's answer was loosing of the Sulcar fleets. And that did give Pagar to think. Hostovrul gathered twenty ships, rode out a storm by spectacular seamanship, and broke the river patrol, to raid into Kars itself, with such success that he left the new Duke unsteady for another full year. And then there was an insurrection in the south whence Pagar had come, led by his own half-brother, to keep the Duke further engaged. Thus three years, maybe more, were won from the threat of chaos, and the twilight of Estcarp did not slide into night as quickly as the Old Race had feared.
During these years of maneuvering the three of us were taken from the fortress of our birth--but not to Es, for both our father and mother held aloof from the city where the Council reigned. The Lady Loyse established a home in a small manor-garth of Etsford, and welcomed us into her household. Anghart was still the center of our lives, and she made an acceptable alliance with the mistress of Etsford based on mutual regard and respect. For the Lady Loyse had adventured, disguised as a blank shield mercenary, into the heart of enemy territory when she and my mother had been ranged against all the might of Kars and Duke Y vian.
Upon her long delayed recovery the Lady Jaelithe assumed once more her duties with my father as vice-warder. Together they had control of the Power, not after the same fashion as the Witches, but in another way. And I know now that the Witches were both jealous and suspicious of the gift so shared, though it was used only for the good of the Old Race and Estcarp. The Wise Ones found such talent unnatural in a man and secretly always reckoned my mother the less because of her uniting with Simon. At this time the Council appeared to have no interest in us children. In fact their attitude might be more termed a deliberate ignoring of our existence. Kaththea was not subjected to examination for inherited Power talent as were all girls of the Old Race before they were six.
I do not remember my mother much from those years. She would descend upon the manor, trailed by fighters from the Border forces--of much greater interest to me, for my first crawl across the floor took me to lay a baby's hand on the polished hilt of a sword. Her visits were very few, my father's even less; they could not often be spared from the patrol along the south border. We turned to Anghart for all answers to childish problems, and held the Lady Loyse in affection. To our mother was given respect and awe, and our father had much the same recognition. He was not a man who was easy with children, I believe, and perhaps he unconsciously held against us the suffering our birth had caused his wife who was the one person he held extremely dear.
If we did not have a closeknit relationship with our parents, we made up for that with a tight bond among the three of us. Yet in nature we were different. As my mother had wished, I was first a warrior, that being my approach to life. Kemoc was a thinker--presented with any problem his was not the response of outright and immediate action, but rather a considered examination and inquiry into its nature. Very early he began his questions, and when he found no one could give him all the answers he wished, he strove to discover the learning which would.
Kaththea felt the deeper. She had a great oneness, not only with us, but things about us--animals, people, even the countryside. Oftentimes her instinct topped my force of action or Kemoc's considered reasoning.
I cannot remember the first time we realized that we, too, possessed a gift of the Power. We need not be together, or even miles close, to be in communication. And when the need was we seemed a single person--I the arms for action, Kemoc the brain, Kaththea the heart and controlled emotion. But some wariness kept us from revealing this to those about us. Though I do not doubt that Anghart was well aware of our so-knitted strength.
We were about six when Kemoc and I were given small, specially forged swords, dart guns suited to our child hands, and began the profession of arms which all of the Old Race must follow during this eventide. Our tutor was a Sulcarman, crippled in a sea fight, sent by our father to give us the best training possible. He was a master of most weapons, was Otkell, having been one of Hostovrul's officers during the raid on Kars. Though neither of us took to the use of the axe, to Otkell's disappointment, both Kemoc and I learned other weapon play with a rapidity which pleased our instructor; and he was not in any way easy with us.
It was during the summer of our twelfth year that we rode on our first foray. By that time Pagar had reduced his unruly duchy to order and was prepared once more to try his luck north. The Sulcar fleet was raiding Alizon, his agents must have reported that. So he sent flying columns north through the mountains, in simultaneous clawing attacks at five different places.
The Falconers took out one of these, the Borderers two more. But the remaining two bands made their way into valley land which the enemy had never reached before. Cut off from any retreat they fought like wild beasts, intent on inflicting all the damage they could before they were dragged down.
So it was that a handful of these madmen reached Es River and captured a boat, putting her crew to the sword. They came downstream with some cunning, perhaps in a very vain hope of reaching the sea. But the hunt was up and a warship was in position at the river's mouth to cut then off.
They beached their stolen boat not five miles from Etsford and the whole of the manpower from the farms around turned out in a hunt. Otkell refused to take us along, an order we took in ill part. But the small force he led was not an hour gone when Kaththea intercepted a message. It came so sharply into her mind that she held her head and cried out as she stood between us on the watch walk of the center tower. It was a Witch sending, not aimed at a girl child a few miles away, but for one of the trained Old Race. And a portion of its demand for speedy aid reached us in turn through our sister.
We did not question the rightness of our answer as we rode forth, having to take our horses by stealth. And there was no leaving Kaththea behind--not only was she our directional guide, but we three had become a larger one in that moment on the tower walk.
Three children rode out of Etsford. But we were not ordinary children as we worked our way across country and approached a place where the wild wolves from Karsten had holed up with a captive for bargaining. Battle fortune does exist. We say this captain or that is a "lucky" man, for he loses few men, and is to be found at the right place at the right moment. Some of this is strategy and skill, intelligence and training serving as extra weapons. But other men equally well trained and endowed are never so favored by seeming chance. Battle fortune rode with us that day. For we found the wolves' den, and we picked off the guards there--five of them, all trained and desperate fighters--so that a woman, blood-stained, bound, yet proud and unbending, came out alive.
Her gray robe we knew. But her searching stare, her compelling measurement made us uneasy, and in some manner broke the oneness of our tie. Then I realized that she had dismissed Kemoc and me, and her attention was focused on Kaththea, and by that direct study we were all threatened. And, young as I was, I knew we had no defense against this peril.
Otkell did not allow our breech of discipline to pass, in spite of our success. Kemoc and I bore body smarts which lasted a few days. But we were glad because the Witch was swiftly gone out of our lives again, having spent but a single night at Etsford.
It was only much later, when we had lost the first battle of our personal struggle, that we learned what had followed upon that visit--that the Witches had ordered Kaththea to their testing and that our parents had refused, and that the Council had had to accept that refusal for a time. Though they were not in any way defeated by it. For the Witches never believed in hasty action and were willing to make time their ally.
Time was to serve them so. Simon Tregarth put to sea two years later on a Sulcar ship, his purpose an inspection of certain islands reported newly fortified in a strange way by Alizon. There was a hint of possible Kolder revival there. Neither he nor his ship were heard from again.
Since we had known so little of our father, his loss made small change in our lives--until our mother came to Etsford. This time it was not for a short visit: she came with her personal escort to stay.
She spoke little, looked out overmuch--not on the country, but to that which we could not see. For some months she shut herself up for hours at a time in one of the tower rooms, accompanied by the Lady Loyse. And from such periods the Lady Loyse would emerge whitefaced and stumbling, as if she had been drained of vital energy, while my mother grew thinner, her features sharper, her gaze more abstracted.
Then one day she summoned the three of us into the tower room. There was a gloom in that place, even though three windows were open on a fine summer day. She gestured with a fingertip and curtains fell over two of those windows, as if the fabric obeyed her will, leaving open only that to the north. With a fingertip again she traced certain dimly-seen lines on the floor and they flared into flickering life, making a design. Then, without a word, she motioned us to stand on portions of that pattern while she tossed dried herbs on a small brazier. Smoke curled up and around to hide us each from the other. But in that moment we were instantly one again, as we had ever been when threatened.
Then--it is hard to set this into words that can be understood by those who have not experienced it--we were aimed, sent, as one might shoot a dart or strike with a sword. And in that shooting I lost all sense of time, or distance, or identity. There was a purpose and a will and in that I was swallowed up beyond any protesting.
Afterwards we stood again in that room, facing our mother--no longer a woman abstracted and remote, but alive. She held out her hands to us, and there were tears running down her sunken cheeks.
"As we gave you life," she said, "so have you returned that gift, oh, my children!"
She took a small vial from the table and threw its contents upon the now dying coals in the brazier.
There was a flash of fire and in that moved things. But the nature of them, or what they did, I could not say. They were gone again and I was blinking, no longer a part, but myself alone.
Now my mother no longer smiled, but was intent. And that intentness was no longer concentrated upon her own concerns, but upon the three of us.
"Thus it must be: I go my way, and you take another road. What I can do, I shall--believe that, my children! It is not the fault of any of us that our destiny is so riven apart. I am going to seek your father--for he still lives--elsewhere. You have another fate before you. Use what is bred in you and it shall be a sword which never breaks nor fails, a shield which will ever cover you. Perhaps, in the end, we shall find our separate roads are one after all. Which would be good fortune past all telling!"
Omnibus copyright 2004 by Andre NortonThree Against the Witch World, copyright 1965 by Andre Norton Continues...
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