Songsmith (Witch World High Halleck Series #10)

Songsmith (Witch World High Halleck Series #10)

by Andre Norton

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Overview

Eydrth is a Master Songsmith...who has no magic. She will do anything to save her father from the evil that has stolen his mind. But the paths to the magic of the Witch World are many - and to save the ones you love, the truest magic must come from the heart...

Andre Norton has been called "one of the most popular writers of our time" (Publishers Weekly) and has for over twenty-five years enchanted readers with the most famous and popular of her works: the enthralling Witch World. With bestseller A.C. Crispin, Norton has woven an eternal love story, filled with magic and wonder. Songsmith is the novel that Witch World fans have been waiting for - a shining jewel in the Witch World cosmos.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785715719
Publisher: Demco Media
Publication date: 01/28/1993
Series: Witch World High Halleck Series , #10
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

For well over a half century, Andre Norton has been one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. Since her first SF novels were published in the 1940s, her adventure SF has enthralled readers young and old. With series such as Time Traders, Solar Queen, Forerunner, Beast Master, Crosstime, and Janus, as well as many stand-alone novels, her tales of action and adventure throughout the galaxy have drawn countless readers to science fiction.

Her fantasy, including the best-selling Witch World series, her "Magic" series, and many other unrelated novels, has 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. Not only have her books been enormously popular; she also has inspired several generations of SF and fantasy writers, especially many talented women writers who have followed in her footsteps. In the past two decades she has worked with other writers on a number of novels. Most notable among these are collaborations with Mercedes Lackey, the Halfblood Chronicles, as well as collaborations with A.C. Crispin (in the Witch World series) and Sherwood Smith (in the Time Traders and Solar Queen series). An Ohio native, Ms. Norton lived for a number of years in Winter Park, Florida, and now makes her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where she continues to write, and presides over High Hallack, a writers' resource and retreat.

Read an Excerpt

One

Years of salt spray borne by fierce winds had encrusted the walls guarding the steep lane leading up from the wharves, painting dirty white splotches on the age-blackened stones. The Way of the Empty-Netted Fisher was nearly deserted in the last wan illumination of sunset; only one of its many shadows possessed any substance.

That dark-cloaked, slight figure was already so unsteady from two months at sea that when a bitter cold, salt-tinged blast swept by, it staggered, nearly falling. The hapless wayfarer skidded on the slimy cobbles of the stinking, refuse-covered Way, only saved from a fall by the tall, gryphon-headed quarterstaff that served as a walking aid as well as a weapon. The traveler huddled into the half-shelter of an ancient archway to brace against another gust of wind, long-fingered hands clutching a worn hand-harp case and a much-mended backpack against the icy thrust of the coming storm.

Ahead a dim light beckoned, promising shelter from the wind and soon-to-fall sleet. As the harper neared that flickering beacon, it revealed itself to be a ship's lantern, barely sheltered enough that its flame still lived, hanging outside a hulking, dark-timbered building. Even above the whipping breeze, sounds of tipsy revelry inside were clear.

The traveler eyed the inn with its accompanying tavern warily, realizing that The Dancing Dolphin was no accommodation that anyone with a reasonably well-filled purse would seek out for a meal, much less lodging. Beneath the much-faded lettering on the swinging sign, an improbable greyish shape sported among wildly tossing waves. The harper grimaced, but there was no arguing with the light weight of the purse carefully tucked down inside a sea-stained leather jerkin.

Forcing the door open against a particularly strong wind-bluster, the songsmith stumbled into the taproom. Raucous laughter and shouted arguments made a deafening din. Eyeing the tavern-master, the dark-cloaked traveler picked a cautious way across a floor made nearly as treacherous as the alley outside by slopped wine and greasy, skittering bones.

The tavern-master, a thin, red-nosed man with a balding pate and hair-tufted ears, turned at the tug on his sleeve. "Your pardon, sir," the stranger murmured, indicating the hand-harp case. "Would there be any objection to a few songs by the fire your customers tonight?"

The tavern-master's eyes were on a level with the harper's as he eyed the stranger; then, abruptly, he nodded. "Not as long as you're willing to pay for your bed and board like anyone else, minstrel."

"Certainly." The stranger shook back the hood of the dark cloak, revealing a mass of curling black hair, cropped short, Small silver hoops winked from both earlobes. "I'll begin—"

"A wench! An' a likely-looking one at that, Mylt! By the Hounds' Teeth, where'd you find 'er?" A hand descended on the traveler's shoulder, jerking her half about to face a heavy-shouldered fisherman with a wind- and ale-reddened face.

His rough handling pulled her dark cloak open, revealing the silver ornament lying pendant on the breast of her laced overjerkin. As the man took in the meaning of that symbol, he stepped back, dropped his hand. "I didn't know—didn't see—" Clumsily, he touched thick fingers to his forehead in apology. "Yer pardon, songsmith.…"

The bard graciously inclined her head, her fingers going to the sign of her calling…three interlinked circles, each with a flattened, pointed side—stylized finger and thumb picks, for use with a hand-harp. "I'll begin now," she said to the tavern-master, as though the interruption had not occurred.

Carrying her harp case over to the bench by the fire, the songsmith opened it, drawing forth a much-used instrument. It was of old-fashioned design, carved from aged cherry wood, its scrolls and frets enhanced by a silvery blue metal shimmering faintly in the firelight. Resting the harp across her lap, she drew three picks out of the inner pocket of her red tunic, slipping them onto her thumb and first two fingers.

She began tuning the instrument. Hearing the soft strains, the twelve fishermen, eight Sulcar sailors and two grizzled old Falconer marines present in the common room ceased talking and quietly, respectfully, gathered near the fire.

"Draw nigh, sirs!" Mylt the tavern-master loudly urged. "Pay heed to a wandering songsmith who has graciously agreed to provide us with entertainment this stormy eve. Give heed to the Lady—" He hesitated, realizing he'd neglected to ask the bard's name, and she whispered, with a wry smile, "Eydryth of Kar Garudwyn."

"…the Lady Eydryth of Kar Garudwyn!" Mylt finished with a flourish. A polite silence fell.

Eydryth began playing, a rollicking, toe-tapping tune, limbering her fingers while sizing up her audience. All male, and most of them sailors or fishermen. Sea-songs would go well, then, tales of lost loves, of sweet-voiced sirens and of noble deeds. Perhaps a bawdy one to finish, making them laugh, even as they tossed coins into her harp case.…

"Give heed, kind sirs, to a tune taught me aboard the Sulcar ship Osprey," she said, hoping fervently that the cold dampness of this day's sailing had not thickened her voice. "It concerns a force of men gathered by one of your legendary heroes during the Kolder War, one Simon Tregarth. I give you 'The Riving of the Border.'"

Eydryth began singing, softly at first; then, as her voice warmed up, her contralto rang out, filling the smoke-thickened air with clear, true notes:

We pledged fair Estcarp's bounds to hold We men who ride with Tregarth's band That witches might, with knowledge old,

Avenge the wrongs done in our land.

Of Falconer blood and elder race We ride, united by one will—

To keep the invaders from this place;

Send sword and falcon forth to kill!

As she finished the second verse and began the third, the young woman glanced quickly from face to face. Her audience was leaning forward, all conversation forgotten. Tension eased from her as she realized that the people here in the Port of Eslee were equally susceptible to the "spell" cast by flying fingers and trained voice as were the folk overseas in High Hallack or her home in spell-shrouded Arvon. She hoped they'd be as generous with their coin offerings; it had taken nearly everything she'd earned on her travels through the Dales to pay for the long voyage aboard the Osprey.

Both fourth and fifth verses went even better. By now the men were nodding in rhythm to her song. Eydryth finished the ballad with a last triumphant, clarion strum, and they thumped their tankards on the board appreciatively. "Another, minstrel! Another!" One of the Sulcar sailors, massive and fair as were all his race, shouted bull-voiced over the others, "A Sulcar tune, songsmith! Give us a song for the Sons of Sul!"

Fortunately, the Sulcar sailors aboard the Osprey had taught her a multitude of songs, since they sang constantly at their work, and their music was easy for trained ears and fingers to master. Eydryth closed her eyes as she strummed, searching for the proper key.…There, she had it now.

"Very well, kind sirs. I give you 'The Fall of Sulcarkeep,' which tells the tale of the great hero Magnus Osberic and how he destroyed his own stronghold rather than let it fall into Kolder hands."

The tune this time was in a somber, minor key, as befitted a tragic tale. Eydryth began:

Wind and flame and earth and wave Sulcarkeep, proud Sulcarkeep!

All sent to dig a trader's grave;

Sulcarkeep, lost Sulcarkeep!

"'Tis built to ward," proud Osberic said,

"Sulcarkeep, strong Sulcarkeep!

There's none without permission tread In Sulcarkeep, fair Sulcarkeep!"

She continued, losing herself in the music. Her tawdry surroundings faded as the song bore her back into that ancient stronghold, transporting her to the fateful night. Eydryth's voice rose into an eerie wail as she described the desperate battle throughout the doomed fortress:

Yet when the fog stole rank and thick On Sulcarkeep, dark Sulcarkeep Sent by a Kolder demon-trick To Sulcarkeep, cursed Sulcarkeep,

The trader knew his fate was nigh In Sulcarkeep, strong Sulcarkeep For Death came drifting from the sky To Sulcarkeep, doomed Sulcarkeep.

With swinging axe and bloodied sword Through Sulcarkeep, vast Sulcarkeep They fought the mindless, soulless horde Down Sulcarkeep, through Sulcarkeep.

The big sailor's face was saddened and grim now, and Eydryth wondered whether he had lost a father or uncle during that terror-ridden night. It was almost as though she could see the mighty Osberic in his bear's-head helm, his stained sword dripping red onto the blood-slicked flags of the ancient stronghold. Her voice soared up into the final sad yet strangely triumphant verses:

And when they reached the mighty heart Of Sulcarkeep, proud Sulcarkeep Then did witchmen and Sulcar part In Sulcarkeep, damned Sulcarkeep

"With my own hand shall I lay waste My Sulcarkeep, dear Sulcarkeep!"

Said Osberic, "Now make you haste,

From Sulcarkeep, lost Sulcarkeep!"

So he unleashed the mighty power In Sulcarkeep, proud Sulcarkeep That made of stone a flaming flower;

Ah Sulcarkeep, Ah Sulcarkeep!

When she let the last, ebbing chord die away, there was silence for a long moment; then, as though just waking from sleep, the men stirred. The Sulcarman cleared his throat. "Well done, minstrel. Never have I heard it sung better." A flash of bright silver spun through the air, landing in the harp case. As though the sailor's gesture were a floodgate opening, coins spattered to join the first.

Eydryth nodded graciously, acknowledging their offerings, then gave them "The Mosswife's Bargain." A lighter mood prevailed as she spun out the skipping, skirling notes of "The One-Spell Wizard." After a refreshing swallow of ale from a tankard ordered by the Sulcarman (even though she was thirsty, Eydryth dared not drink more—her belly was rumbling with hunger, and she needed a clear head to ferret out answers to questions she dared not pose too directly), she sang "Don't Call My Name in Battle." The song was one her father had taught her, years ago—

Don't think of him, Eydryth told herself firmly, feeling a catch in the back of her throat threatening to ruin the last verse. After the singing's done, when you've money to journey on, then you can call up Jervon's face to mind. Then you can think of your foster-parents, the Lady Joisan and her lord, Kerovan. Then you can think of Obred, and your chestnut mare Vyar, Hyana and Firdun and Kar Garudwyn itself, may Neave protect those within its walls! But until then, you must sing, and give no hint of what you seek, why you have traveled so far from home.…

Mastering her sorrow, she strummed the opening chords to "Keylor's Rage," feeling weariness threaten to overwhelm and net her like a cloak thrown in battle, muffling, blinding. Two more songs, she promised herself. Only two more, then I can stop and pick up my coins, knowing I've given full measure for what's been paid.

"And now, kind sirs," she said, a few minutes later, muting the last chord of "Keylor's Rage" with her palm, "a new song, one inspired by the story told me about the Kolder-cursed city of Sippar, on the Island of Gorm. Pay heed an' you will to 'The Haunted City.'"

Eydryth hushed her voice into eerie, thrumming tones, thinking as she did that Sippar—or what was left of it—lay just across the bay, barely a day's sail away. "No children sleep in Sippar now," she began:

No vessels ride her harbor fair;

No footstep sounds on street or stair,

For all lies turned beneath death's plow.

When Kolder to rich Sippar came,

They drank its life, then stole the cup,

And when the demon-time was up,

An empty city cried its blame.

'Tis said the city twice was slain,

First with the sword, then with the mind;

By warfare of an unclean kind The unsouled walked its streets again.

Another death did Sippar die,

When Simon Tregarth struck the blow That laid the power-wielder low,

Then unlife settled with a sigh.

The corpses lay in silent speech,

Slaves from bodies freed at last To bury with them all that passed;

No more to fight, no more beseech.

No ship now comes to Sippar's quay,

For none will step upon her shore Though time has shattered every door,

The bravest let her shadows be.

Even as the final words whispered into the silence of The Dancing Dolphin, Eydryth saw her listeners shiver, then sit upright too quickly. The fellow who had accosted her when she'd first entered the tavern actually looked over his shoulder, as though a spectral hand might be descending to rest there.

Can't have them loath to walk into the night, she thought. Something a bit bawdy will leave them laughing and free with their silver, and I need have no fears about playing something from High Hallack and them not understanding it.…A bawdy is a bawdy anywhere.… "Now sirs," she called out, "for the evening's last song, I give you 'The Chambermaid's Dowry.' "

She began the opening notes to the song about the poor young chambermaid who encountered a sailor with designs upon her virtue (though, of course, he protested that he intended honorable marriage). The verses unrolled amid guffaws from the sailors as the pretty maid accepted the sailor's praises of her beauty, along with his many gifts, but through misadventure and misdirection managed to remain chaste—until one day the sailor (determined to succeed at long last) came home from a voyage only to discover that at that very moment the girl was off being married: she'd used for her dowry the gifts he'd given her!

Eydryth was smiling herself as she sang the chorus the last time:

Oh, she was fine, that bonny lass Like a fair ship upon the sea-

But oh! I rue the day we met For how that maiden plundered me!

"Thank you, thank you for your attention." She stood and bowed, sipping her ale, as they toasted her, clapping. More coins rang into the harp case. After her listeners had dispersed, Eydryth counted the night's takings. There was plenty to pay for a private room, dinner and breakfast, plus journey funds for several days.

The tavern-keeper showed her to her room, a small, bare loft beneath the overhanging eaves. After stowing away her harp case and pack beneath the wooden bedstead, Eydryth laved her face and hands in the icy water she found waiting in the ewer, then went in search of a late supper.

The tavern was deserted of all but the overnight guests by now, so she had the entire board to herself. At her request, Mylt the tavern-master brought her a late supper. Eydryth was pleasantly surprised by the hot bowl of creamy lobster chowder, vegetable pasty and respectable vintage he set before her, and ate with a good appetite. "My thanks, sir. This is excellent fare."

The little man nodded. "My own recipe. Guests will excuse much in the way of accommodations if the food be good and the beer well chilled. You're welcome to bide another day, songsmith. It's a rare bard who can hold my customers enthralled the way you did tonight."

"Thank you, but no, I must be on my way with the morn," she replied, taking a sip from the goblet of wine. "Tell me," she asked, with studied indifference, "how many days' journey to Es City itself? I've a fancy to see it."

"Walking?" Mylt asked, and at her nod considered for a moment. "At least four, more likely five. 'Tis a full two days I on horseback."

"Good roads?"

"Aye, and well-patrolled, too. Koris of Gorm is a just man, but not one to coddle outlaws, and they stay far off the main roads these days."

"Koris of Gorm…Hilder's son," Eydryth said, remembering the history she'd learned aboard the Osprey. "'Tis said that he, for all practical purposes, now rules Estcarp, with his Lady Loyse. And that the witches concern themselves with little but regaining their waning magic."

Mylt lowered his voice, even though the two of them were alone in the taproom. "Even so," he agreed, "but it is not something to speak of loudly. During the Turning many years ago, a goodly number of them died or were left burned-out shells—but there are some that still hold the Power."

"The Turning?" Eydryth ventured.

"When Duke Pagar of Karsten sought to invade from over-mountain, the witches gathered together all their might and magic to shake the spine of the earth itself. The mountains dividing Karsten and Estcarp shook and fell, while thrusting up into other heights. The invaders were wiped out in a single night of destruction, and all the trails to Karsten destroyed."

"It must have been terrible."

"Aye, that's certain. I was little more than a lad, then, but even so, I remember that day. It was as though a shadow lay over the entire land…a shadow you couldn't see, only feel. That shadow pressed upon all living things, like a fist that would grind us all into the earth, it weighed so heavy.…" The tavern-keeper shivered at the memory.

Eydryth made haste to steer the conversation back to her purpose. "But you said some of the witches still retain their Power?"

"Aye, if the accounts I hear be true. But they have turned away from ruling Estcarp, even as you said. They no longer govern our land; Koris does, he and his Lady Loyse, aided by their friends and battle-companions, the outlander, Lord Simon Tregarth, and his wife, the Lady Jaelithe." The tavern-keeper glanced around him nervously, making sure they were still alone. "Did you know that she used to be one of the witches?"

Eydryth did know, but she feigned surprise, eager to learn all she could. "Really?"

He raised a hand in a half-pledge. "Truth. Before she was wife, she was witch. After they were wed, she bore her lord children, so theirs was a true marriage—and yet—" He glanced around, then leaned so close she could smell his sour breath, see the blackened pores studding his nose. "—and yet, she still wields the Power! Even though she be no maiden!"

Eydryth summoned an appropriate expression of astonishment, though she was hardly surprised; her own mother, Elys, had not lost her Power with her maidenhead, either.

"They say that the other witches have never forgiven the Lady Jaelithe for lying with her lord, and yet not losing her gift. They regard it as a betrayal," Mylt finished.

"Perhaps they envy her," the girl ventured.

The tavern-master chuckled coarsely. "Not the witches of Estcarp, songsmith! To them, the men of this world are something to be barely tolerated, not desired!"

"Tell me, Mylt…do the witches ever…help people?" Eydryth busied herself scraping the last drops of chowder from her bowl.

"'Tis said they do, from time to time. Blessing the crops and suchlike, calling storms during dry times, soothing wind and wave to protect ships in their harbors."

"What about smaller magics…healing and such?"

"Aye, they do some of that, too. Simples and potions and amulets against fevers…" He poured the last of the wine into the songsmith's goblet, then carefully stacked dishes onto the serving tray. "Will you want more, minstrel?"

"Thank you, no," Eydryth said, finishing her wine and rising to take her leave. "Good night."

"A good sleep to you, songsmith."

With a final nod to her host, Eydryth started up the stair to her garret. Her steps were slow; she was so wearied by her long day that even the few sips of Mylt's wine had made her limbs feel as though they were weighted by such brightly colored fishing sinkers as decorated the walls of The Dancing Dolphin. The floor beneath her battered leather boots seemed to move rhythmically; she might still ride the ocean's swells aboard the Osprey. When she reached her chamber, the young woman dragged her outer garments off and burrowed beneath the coarse woolen blankets, too tired to search out her night shift.

Sleep was reaching for her with leaden arms when her eyes flew open. I forgot! But by the Amber Lady, I'm so tired.…She sighed, throwing the bedclothes aside, as she reached for the gryphon-headed quarterstaff lying near to hand on the rough wooden boards. Drawing it to her in the darkness, she fumbled with her other hand for the amulet that she bore around her neck, hidden. The amber and amethyst of its fashioning felt warm and familiar in her hand, as she traced the lines of Gunnora's symbols—a carven sheaf of ripened wheat bound by a heavily laden grapevine.

"Lady," she whispered, "I seek Your help on my quest. I pray that You protect those I love, those who live within the Gryphon's Citadel. Protect Lady Joisan and her lord, Kerovan. Protect their daughter and son, Hyana and Firdun. Most of all, I pray You, protect my father. Help me find someone who can heal him, so that Jervon may be himself again, after all these years. And Lady…" Her soft words faltered in the darkness. "Please…let me find my mother, the Lady Elys. She has been gone from us so long.…Protect her wherever she may be, You who are mindful of those who carry life.…"

She grasped the two symbols tightly, wishing for a sign—any sign—that her words were more than empty sounds. But the blue quan-iron eyes of the gryphon did not flare into brightness; the blessed metal had never shone for her. And the amber token of Gunnora was as dark as the night surrounding her. It was always so.…

With a tired sigh, Eydryth lay back down, giving herself up to sleep, hoping only that tonight she would be too tired to dream.

• • •

The two-wheeled pony cart creaked along the stone-paved road. "Up there with you, Fancy," the young farmer ordered, waving his willow switch at the round rump of the small bay gelding pulling it. "There's Es City in sight, songsmith," he called over his shoulder. "Won't be long now."

Eydryth carefully handed the farmer's wife the sleeping form of Pris, their tousle-headed little girl, before scrambling up to peer out of the cart. Even in the full light of the early-afternoon sun, the approaching city appeared dark with age; its rounded grey-green towers seeming to crouch atop the earth as though they had been there since even the land had been first created. Es was a good-sized city, one obviously built to serve as fortress as well as capital—a high wall ran completely around it, enclosing it.

When the farmer's wagon rolled up to the gate, two civil but well-armed guards scrutinized cart and occupants purposefully. After they had determined that there was nothing hidden beneath the woven rugs Catkus and Leiona had come to sell, they waved them through.

As the pony cart lurched over cobbled streets, Eydryth looked around her wonderingly. Es was the largest municipality she had ever visited; Dalesfolk were not by nature city-dwellers, and in all her wanderings across ancient Arvon, Eydryth had never seen any settlement larger than a village.

Close up, the mossy stone of ancient buildings reared before her imposingly, the patina of age surrounding them so tangible the young woman wondered—only half-fancifully—whether it would be felt by an exploring hand. She put out her fingers as the cart slowed around a precipitous corner in the narrow street, then drew them back. The stones themselves seemed to ward off the curious—or was what she sensed real witchery, a spell designed to protect the city?

"Here we be, minstrel," Catkus announced, drawing rein at the entrance to the marketplace. "Good fortune go with you on your travels." The young man touched hand to the ragged brim of his straw hat in a farewell salute. "Thanks again for singing little Pris through that bout of colic the other night."

"Thank you for the ride and the company," Eydryth returned, scrambling off the cart, then giving a farewell wave to Catkus, Leiona and Pris.

The young woman had no need to inquire the way to the Citadel—the witches' stronghold was the most massive building in Es, with a round tower overtopping all of the surrounding structures. She set off through the crowded streets, her pack and hand-harp slung over her back. As she walked, her eyes were drawn to the people treading the footworn streets—those who called themselves the Old Race.

Tall they were, and of unusually somber mien. They carried themselves proudly, walking straight-backed as any soldier. Their hair was as black as her own, but neither wave nor curl softened the planes of their long, oval, pointed-chinned faces. Eyes that were varying shades of grey were alert in their unlined faces. (It was well known even in the Dales that the Old Race of Estcarp evidenced little sign of aging until death was but a handful of seasons away.)

Seeing the folk of Es City reminded Eydryth vividly—and painfully—of her mother. It was strange to think that she might be distantly related to some of these people. Elys had often told her daughter that her own parents had fled from Estcarp, for reasons they had never discussed.

A guard in mended, serviceable mail barred her way at the gate leading into a central courtyard. "Your business…" He cast a sharp glance at the symbol she wore. "…songsmith?"

"I seek audience with one of the witches," she said, stiffening her spine to meet his flat, uncaring eyes. "A few minutes, no more."

His gaze traveled over her. "On what matter?"

"A matter of healing," Eydryth said, after a second's hesitation, trying to curb her impatience. I've come so far! Blessed Gunnora, lend me strength! "I was told any might consult with a witch on a matter of healing."

"Your name?"

"Eydryth."

"Wait here." The guardsman turned and disappeared into the huge, time-blackened portal, returning in a few minutes. "Tomorrow morn," he told her. "Before the sun tops the city wall."

"Many thanks," she said, resisting the grin of relief that wanted to spread over her face. "I will be here."

Her singing that night at The Silver Horseshoe consisted mostly of lightsome ballads, tales of wonder, good magic and love. It was hard to tone herself down when a dour old farmer requested the lugubrious "Soldier's Lament." She sang, and when her voice tired, she played her flute. By the time the Horseshoe's patrons had departed for their beds, the young minstrel had earned enough to replenish the coins she'd spent during her four days on the road.

Dawn barely silvered the east when she awoke, unable to sleep longer. After breaking her fast with porridge and goat's milk, Eydryth shouldered her pack, then footed a quick way through the twisting streets toward the Citadel. The sun had only cleared the distant horizon when she sat down to wait, half-concealed in a doorway across from the guard's post.

Her two hours' vigil stretched like an overwound harp-string, but finally she arose, brushing her cloak and breeches off, then picked her way across the now-crowded street.

There was a different guardsman on duty, but, after consulting a list, he ordered her to leave her quarterstaff with him, then waved her toward the darkened portal. Eydryth tugged open a massive, leather-bound door, to find herself in a long stone corridor. A young woman faced her, garbed in a shrouding robe of misty silver, with the heavy weight of her night-dark hair coiled into a silver net. Without a word, her dark grey eyes downcast, she motioned to the songsmith to follow her.

Eydryth strode after the girl—for a glance at the rounded face had convinced the minstrel that the witch was several years younger than herself—down the first corridor, then into a second, and then, finally, a third. Each hall was featureless, made of age-darkened stone, and illuminated only by a series of palely lit globes suspended in metal baskets.

When she first saw those globes, Eydryth barely repressed a gasp of surprise. She had seen similar lights before, but only once. They hung from the walls and ceilings of her home, the ancient Citadel of Kar Garudwyn. Knowing something of the age of that stronghold, she looked about her with even greater awe. This place was old.

The young witch stopped before another, smaller door. Opening it, she silently waved Eydryth through, then followed her.

A woman sat at a desk in the scroll-lined study beyond, a woman whose hawklike features (in the way of the Old Race) betrayed little age, but whose eyes made the younger woman flinch as she faced that unswerving gaze. The woman went gowned the same as Eydryth's guide, but with the addition of a cloudy, moon-colored jewel hanging from a chain about her neck.

The witch pushed back her chair a little and sat for a long moment in silent study. Her voice, when she finally spoke, bore a country accent, but her air of command argued that any peasant upbringing had long been put behind her. She did not introduce herself, but that did not surprise the minstrel; to give another one's true Name was to open a chink in one's armor of Power. "The songsmith Eydryth," she commented, finally. "You seek healing. For whom? Yourself? You appear healthy enough to me."

"No, not for me," Eydryth said, forcing her eyes to continue meeting the witch's uncompromising stare. "It is for someone else in my family."

"And you have come from far away, haven't you?" The woman rose to her feet, paced deliberately across the flagged floor to front the bard directly. She lacked half a head of Eydryth's height, but the aura of command surrounding her more than made up for the physical difference. "There is the smell of sea about you, and your boots have seen much walking. Are there no healers in your own province?"

"We have our Wise Women, true enough," Eydryth admitted. "But none so far have been able to help, for this illness is of the mind and spirit, not the body."

The witch's head moved in a tiny shake. "Not good, song-smith. Few indeed are the healers who can treat such. Who is so afflicted, and how did it happen?"

Eydryth took a deep breath as memory seared her. "It happened six years ago, when I was little more than a child. We were on a…quest…when we came across a place of the old Power. It was said to be a kind of oracle that could allow one to farsee the object of one's greatest desire. But when Jervon peered through it, it struck him down. Since then he has been as a small child, one who eats when fed, follows when led around—"

"He?" The witch's eyes held a faint, angry spark. "Do you mean to tell me a man sought to use a source of the Power? You seek my help for one who meddled in things those of his sex cannot hope to comprehend?"

"For my father, Jervon, yes," Eydryth stammered, wondering how she'd erred. "I was told you had ways of healing—"

She broke off as the witch's hand snaked up to grab her chin and turn it from side to side, consideringly. "Your eyes…," the woman muttered to herself, "blue…and the jaw is wider…but still, the color of hair, the chin—" She glared up at the younger woman. "You are a child of the Old Race—in part. Yet your mother surely betrayed her calling by choosing to marry, when we needed every bit of Power we could summon! Do you think I would help a man who lay with one of my sisters, thus depriving her of her witchhood?"

But she didn't lose her Power! She wasn't even bom in Estcarp! Eydryth silently protested. The undisguised hatred in the witch's eyes unnerved her; she knew that the women of Power deemed union with the males of their race as but a poor second to the holding of that Power, but nothing had prepared her for this irrational anger and hatred.

The woman's strong, short fingers tightened on the songsmith's chin. "And what about you?" she murmured, in a lower voice. "Did you escape the testing given all girl children? Do you hold the Power? If you do, we shall see—" Breaking off with a hiss, she held the cloudy jewel she wore up before the bewildered minstrel's face. "Touch it!" she commanded.

Will clashed with will as Eydryth tried to step back, away from those pale grey eyes glittering with a light that was not wholly rational. "No!"

"Touch it!"

Compelled, the younger woman blindly reached out a hesitant fingertip, felt it brush the witch's hand, then the cool slickness of the jewel's crystal. The witch broke their eye-hold, glancing down, and Eydryth watched the eagerness slowly fade from her expression. "Nothing…," the woman murmured, her eyes fixed once more on the minstrel's face. "Nothing, the jewel remains dead. But I was so sure.…"

Perversely angered by yet another demonstration of her lack of Power, Eydryth glanced down at the jewel as she pulled her hand away and stared, suddenly arrested. Had she seen a tiny spark flicker deep within the heart of the cloudy gem? You're imagining it, she thought angrily. Be grateful this time that you have no Power—otherwise, this half-crazed woman might well try to hold you here!

The songsmith stepped back, away from the witch. "So you cannot help me," she said. "Or will not—which is it, Lady?"

The grey-clad, bowed shoulders shrugged; the woman's voice was naught but the thinnest thread of sound. "Once, perhaps, before the Turning…I do not know. But now…" The witch shook her head, putting out a hand to grip the carven back of the chair as though she might fall without the support. She made a gesture of dismissal. "Go now, song-smith.…"

"If you cannot help me, do you know of any who can?" Eydryth demanded, feeling the hope that had sustained her for the past months draining away, leaching the life and color from the entire world. "I must find someone to heal him, I must! You see, the fault for his illness lies with me.…We were searching for my mother, whom he loved more than…" Sobs choked her then, and she turned away, shamed that the witch had seen her so undone.

But the woman no longer seemed aware of her presence at all. Stumbling, shoulders sagging, Eydryth blindly followed the young witch out of the room.

They threaded the dim corridors, their feet whispering against the stone flags. Slowly, the songsmith regained her control, blinking back the tears that had threatened…but her pack seemed doubly heavy, and the harp within its case made a sad, muted sound as it brushed the wall. What shall I do? Eydryth wondered numbly. Where can I go? The thought of returning home to Kar Garudwyn empty-handed was intolerable, yet her mind envisioned as an alternate naught but years of hollow wandering in alien lands.

She rounded the last corner before the entrance portal, only to nearly trip over the girl who had been guiding her. "Quietly!" the witch whispered, glancing fearfully around. "In here, we needs must talk."

A chill hand came out of the silver-grey robe to grab Eydryth's sleeve, drawing her into a darkened room. After a moment, the songsmith made out dusty barrels and boxes surrounding them. Some kind of a storeroom.

The minstrel watched as the young witch peered carefully out of the entrance, making sure they had gone unobserved. Then the girl shut the door and touched finger to a candle she produced from the sleeve of her robe. A spark flared; then the taper was alight. In the flickering dimness, they stared at each other.

"What's to do?" Eydryth began, only to have the girl lay finger to her lips in a signal for whispers.

"Quiet!" the witch cautioned. "Listen a moment. I know of a place where you may find help in your quest, songsmith."

Copyright © 1992 by Andre Norton, Ltd. and A.C. Crispin

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Songsmith (Witch World Series) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book! This book kept me on the edge of my seat through each page. I love the way Andre Norton creates twists and unexpected endings throughout the book. I have read many fantasy books by Terry Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, Georrge R.R. Martin, Garth Nix, Paolini, and i have not yet read a book with more magic and fantasy createurs as this one. I recommend this book to all, and every avid fatasy reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first read it from the library it took me two days to read. I couldn't put it down and to have a musician with her own kind of magic is enticing! The story gets better as it unfolds in this world where people with magic are in hiding. A must read!