Each year, Garner’s troupe makes its way to Ithkar Fair. The actors charm the crowd, winning applause and lavish reward, but none captures the audience’s imagination like the yellow-eyed, silver-haired girl whose performance conceals pain that few can understand. She is a Quintka—her coloring makes that plain—and yet even Garner, who has seen more of the world than anyone, can unlock the secrets of her unknown father, who left her mother to sacrifice herself to save the child. As she passes her seventeenth birthday, the mystery of her past drives her into danger, as she fights to find answers that no mortal should possess.
“Swamp Dweller” is a classic Andre Norton story—lush, thrilling, and impossible to put down. Like the others in this invaluable volume, it is more than mere escapism—it is an entrancing look into another world.
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
Tales from High Hallack
The Collected Short Stories of Andre Norton Volume: 2
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Andre Norton Estate
All rights reserved.
Cleveland Press, September 1943
This is Freedom—
America bought it—for a price—
From scalping knives and red war hatchets
In ragged clearings about burned cabins
This is Freedom—
America bought it—for a price—
With long rifle and starvation
At Brandywine and Saratoga,
Valley Forge and Yorktown
This is Freedom—
America bought it—for a price—
With frigates' broadsides
To proclaim seas free to all nations
This is Freedom—
America bought it—for a price—
With bayonets at Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood
And in the shattered forests of the Argonne
This is Freedom—
America buys it—at a price—
In the air and distant seas
And on the beaches of ravaged lands,
With our hands and bodies and those minds
Trained to act and work
That this Freedom shall not perish from this earth.
Cats curl upon my bed,
Hieroglyphics yet unread.
Those who worship moon-eyed Bast,
Sleep the future, dream the past.
Satin fur, sineuwy limbs,
Jeweled eyes, never dim.
Wisdom unknown to my kind,
Alien thoughts, alien mind.
Yet we are linked, will to will,
Uneasy bonds time can not still.
SONG OF THE BARBARIAN
What grins at me from the cherry tree?
Bone, unfleshed and hanging free.
What towers high in the market place?
A pile of skulls I must face.
Who rides with fire and sword?
Soldiers bought by Death's Dark Lord.
THE LAST COHORT
Mithra, God of the Morning,
Thy trumpet arouses the wall!
Mithra, Lord of the Dawning,
Who hath given rule over all.
With my sword and my shield before me,
And the spears of my men at my back,
Mithra, Lord of the Dawn Light,
March we now to attack.
For the legions have gone from Britain
And the Wall is broken stone.
Mithra, God of Soldiers,
Must we fight on alone?
The ravens scream above us,
Our square is breaking now!
Mithra, God of the Dawn Light,
Remember thou our vow.
For we are the last to hail thee,
In thy shrines to bow the knee.
Mithra, Our Lord of Sunlight,
How came this thing to be?
Do gods die with men who call them?
Lie they also among our dead?
Mithra, the Soldiers' Shield Man,
We do not believe you fled.
Magic in Ithkar (1985) TOR
I am Quintka blood, no matter my mother. Shame-shorn of skull, snow-pale of skin, her body crisscrossed by lash scarring, her leg torn by hound's teeth, lying in a ditch, she bore me, to hide me in leaves before death came. The Calling was mine from the first breath I drew, as it is with all the Kin. And Lari, free ranging that day, heard, pawing me free, giving me the breast with her own current nurseling, before loping back to Garner himself to show her new cubling.
Quintka I plainly was by my wide yellow eyes and silver hair. Though my mother was of no race known to Garner, and he was a far-traveled man.
The Kin paid her full death honors, for it was plain she had fought for my life. Children are esteemed among the Kin, who breed thinly, for all our toughness of body and quickness of mind, gifts from Anthea, All Mother.
Thus did I foster with Kin and Second-Kin, close to Ort, Lari's cubling, though he was quicker to find his feet and forge for himself. However, I mind-spoke all the beast ones, and tongue-spoke the Kin; thus all accepted me fully.
Before I passed my sixth winter, I had my own team of trained ones, Ort as my seconding. I was able to meet the high demands of Garner, for he accepted only the best performers.
Because I was able so young, the clan prospered. Those not of the blood seemed bemused that beasts such as orzens and fal, and quare, clever after their own fashion, head-topping me by bulk of bodies, would obey me. Many a lord paid good silver to have us entertain.
Nor had we any fears while traveling, such as troubled merchant caravans that must hire bravos to their protection. For all men knew that the beasts who shared our covered wagons, or tramped the roads beside us were, in themselves, more formidable weapons than any men could hope to forge.
Once a year we came to Ithkar Fair—knowing that we would leave with well-filled pouches. For Garner's shows were in high demand. Lords, even the high ones of the temple, competed in hiring us.
However, it was not alone for that profit we came. There were dealers who brought rare and sometimes unknown beasts—strange and fearsome, or beautiful and appealing—from the steppes of the far north or by ships plying strange seas. These we sought, adding to our clan so.
Some we could not touch with the Calling, for they had been so mishandled in their capture or transport as to retreat far behind fear and hate, where the silent speech could not reach. Those were a sorrow and despair to us all. Though we oft times bought them out of pity, we could not make them friends and comrades. Rather did we carry them away from all that meant hurt and horror and sung them into peace and rest forever. This also being one of the duties Anthea, All Mother, required of us.
I was in my seventeenth year, perhaps too young and yet too aware of my own powers, when we came that memorable time to Ithkar. There was no mandate laid upon me to mate—even though the Kin was needful of new blood—but there were two who watched me.
Feeta's son by Garner—Wowern. Also there was Sim, who could bend any horse to his will, and whose riding was a marvel, as if youth and mount were of one flesh. Only to me my team was still the closer bond, and I felt no need to have it otherwise.
The fair-wards at the entrance hailed us as they might some lord, though we scattered no gold. From his high seat the wizard-of-the-gate, ready to make certain no dark magic entered, broke his grave mask with a smile and waved to Feeta, who also makes magic, but of a healing kind. Our weapons were few and Garner had them already sheathed and bundled, as well as the purse for our fee ready, so there was no waiting at the barrier.
We would pay a courtesy visit to the temple later, but, since we were not merchants dealing in goods, we made only a silver offering. Now we pushed on into that section where there were beasts and hides, and all that had to do with living things. Our yearly place was ready for us—a fairward waiting, having kept that free for our coming. Him we knew, too, being Edgar, a man devoted to Feeta, who had cured his hound two seasons back. He tossed his staff in the air to pay us homage and called eager questions.
We all had our assigned tasks, so we moved with the speed of long practice, setting up the large tent for the showing, settling in our Second-Kin. They accepted that here they must keep to cages and picket lines, even though this was, in a manner, an insult to them. But they understood that outside the Kin they were not as clan brothers and sisters, but sometimes feared. I know that some, such as lly, the mountain cat, and Somsa, the horned small dragon, were amused to play dangerous—giving shudders to those who came to view them.
I had finished my part of the communal tasks when Ort padded to me, squatting back on his powerful hindquarters, his taloned forepaws lightly clasped across his lighter belly fur. His domed head, with its upstanding crest of stiff, dark blue fur, was higher than mine when he reared thus.
"Sister-Kin ..."—the thoughts of beasts do not form words, but in the mind one easily translates—"there is wrong here...."
I looked up quickly. His broad nostrils expanded, as if drawing in a scent that irked him. Our senses are less in many ways than those of the Second-Kin, and we learn early to depend upon what they can read by nose, eye, or ear.
"What wrong, Brother-Kin?"
Ort could not shrug as might one of my own species, but the impression of such a gesture reached me. There was as yet only simple uneasiness in his mind; he could not pin it to any source. Still I was alerted, knowing that if Ort had made such a judgment, others would also be searching. Their reports would come to those among the Kin with whom they felt the deepest bond.
The Calling we did not use except among ourselves and the Second-Kin—and that I dared not attempt now. But as I dressed for fairing, I tried to open myself to any fleeting impression. A vigorous combing fluffed out hair usually banded down, and I placed on midforehead the blue gem I had bought at this same fair last year, which adhered to one's flesh, giving forth a subtle perfume.
Ort still companied me. Mai, Erlia, and Nadi, the other girls, were in and out of our side tent. But there was no light chatter among us. The tree cat, that rode as often as was possible on Nadi's shoulder, switched its ringed tail back and forth, a sure sign of uneasiness. And Mai looked distracted, as if she were listening to something afar. She was like Sim with horses, though also she had two Fos deer from the mountain valleys in her team.
It was Eriia who turned from the mirror to face the rest of us squarely.
"There is ..." She hesitated for a moment with her head suddenly to one side, almost as if she had been hailed. Still facing so, she added, "There is darkness here—something new."
"A distress Calling?" suggested Mai, her face shadowed by concern. She faced that portion of the fairgrounds where dealers in beasts had their stands and where we had found those in pain and terror before. Erlia shook her head.
"No Calling—this rather would hide itself—" She brushed her hand across her face as if pushing aside an unseen curtain that she might sense the better.
She was right. Now it reached me. There are evil odors to sicken one, and evil thoughts like dirty fingers to claw into the mind. This was neither, yet it was there, a whiff of filth, an insidious threat—something I had never met before. Nor had these, my kinswomen, for they all faced outward with a look of questing.
We pushed into the open, uneasy, needing some council from any who might know more. Ort snarled. The red glare of awakening anger came into his large-pupiled eyes, while the tree cat gave a yowl and flattened its ears.
Wowern, his trail clothing also changed, stood there, his hand resting on the head of his favorite companion, the vasa hound that he had bought at this same fair last year—then a slavering, fighting-mad thing who had needed long and patient handling to become as it now was. That, too, was head up, sniffing, as Wowern frowned, his hand seeking the short knife that was all fair custom allowed him as a weapon. As we joined him he glanced around.
"There is danger." The vasa lifted lip in such a snarl as I had not seen since Wowern had won its trust at long last.
"Where and what?" I asked. For I could not center fully on that tinge of evil. Sorcery? But such was forbidden, and there was every guard against it. Not only was there a witch or wizard by every gate to test against the import of such, but those priests who patrolled with the fair-wards of frequent intervals had their own ways of snifling out dire trouble.
Wowern shook his head. "Only ... it is here." He made answer, then added sharply, "Let us keep together. The Second-Kin"—once more his hand caressed the hound's head—"must remain here. Garner has already ordered it so, for Feeta urges caution. We may go to the dealers, but take all heed in our going."
I was not so pleased. All of us usually spread out and explored the fair on our own. Within the breast pocket of my overtunic I had my purse, and I had thoughts on what I wanted to see. Though first, of course, we would visit the dealers in beasts.
Heeding orders, we moved off as a group, Sim joining us. Nadi set the tree cat in its own cage, and Ort returned reluctantly to the tents. I felt the growth of uneasiness in him, his rising protest that I go without him.
There were other beast shows along the lane where our own camp had been set up. One was manned by the people from the steppes who specialize in the training of their small horses. Then there was a show of bright-winged birds, taught to sing in harmony, and at the far end, the place of Trasfor's clan—no bloodkin to us, yet of our own race. There we were hailed by one hurrying into our path.
Color glowed on Erlia's cheeks when he held out hands in a kinsman's welcome.
"Thasus!" she gave him greeting. I believed that this was something she wished and was sure would happen. By the light in his golden eyes, she was right.
"All is well?" He broke the gaze between the two of them, speaking to all of us as if we had parted only yesterday. "The All Mother has spread her cloak above you?"
Wowern laughed, giving Erlia a tiny push toward Thasus. "Over this one at least. You need have no fear for her, brother."
Erlia did not respond to his gentle attempt at teasing. Her head turned away and on her face lay again a shadow of distress. I had caught it, also, stronger, more determined—that echo of darkness and all evil.
This time it was as if I had actually picked up a foul scent—the kind that clung to swamps, places of death and decay ruled by tainted water. Then it was gone, and I wondered if I had only made a guess without foundation. There are those who sell reptiles and crawling things, yes. But they are set apart from our beasts and have their own corner. One which I, for one, did not spend time in exploring. Yet I was sure this was no stench of animal or of any living thing—
It was gone as quickly as it had come, leaving only that ever-present uneasiness. Still, I dropped a little behind and tried in a very cautious way to pin upon that hint of evil.
"What is with you, Kara?" Wowern matched his stride to mine.
"I do not know." That was true, yet deep within me something stirred. I was certain that never before had this unknown touched me. Still ...
Once again I caught that rank stench. It was stronger, so that I wavered—and, without being aware of what I did, steadied myself by a touch on Wowern's arm. He, in turn, started as might a horse suddenly reined in.
"What—" he began again as I swung halfway about to face an opening between two smaller stalls.
"This way!" As certain as if a Calling drew me, I pushed into that narrow opening, heedless whether the rest of the Kin followed.
Ahead was a second line of booths fronting another lane. From these came the chatter of smaller animals, squawks and screams of birds. This was the beginning of the area where merchants and not showmen ruled. Yet it was toward none of these that that trace of need—for need did lie beneath the overlayer of evil—drew me.
I entered the section I had always hitherto shunned—that portion of the mart where dealers in reptiles and scaled life gathered. Dragons I knew, yes, but they are warm-blooded in spite of the scaled bodies and in their way sometimes far more intelligent than my own species. But the crawlers, the fang-jawed, armor-plated creatures, were to me wholly alien.
"What—" Again Wowern broke my preoccupation. I threw out a hand, demanding silence.
The afternoon was nearly spent. Flares outside booths and stalls blazed up—adding their acrid odor—not enough to cover the ill smells of the wares. A deep, coughing bellow drowned out whatever protest my companion might have uttered. Whether the others of our company still followed I did not know nor care.
I stood before a tent perhaps a third the size of ours. But where the leather and stiff woven walls we favored were brilliantly colored, gay to the eye, these walls were uniformly a sickly gray, overcast with a yellow that made me think of decay and pustulant nastiness.
Over the tent-flap the light of a torch brought to life a device such as might be the mark of a noble house. However, even when one stared directly at this (it was as dull as tarnished and unkempt metal) it was difficult for the eye to follow its convolutions. This might be a secret seal only a mage could interpret.
Shivering, I looked away. There was an impression of dark shadow angling forth, as might the tentacle of an obscene creature questing for prey. Still, I must pass under, for what I sought lay within.
No merchant stood to solicit buyers. Nor was there any glow of lamp. What did issue as I walked slowly, more than half against my will, toward that dark opening was the effulgence of a swampland wherein lay evil and death.
There was light after all—a greenish gleam flaring as 1 passed the flap. I could see, fronting me, a short table of the folding sort, some lumpish stools, like frozen clots of mud. Around the walls of the tent were cages, and from them came a stealthy, restless rustling. Those within were alert ... and dangerous.
Excerpted from Tales from High Hallack by Andre Norton. Copyright © 2014 Andre Norton Estate. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
Song of the Barbarian Swordsman,
The Last Cohort,
Get Out of My Dream!,
Of the Shaping of Ulm's Heir,
Rider on a Mountain,
The Silent One,
The Nabob's Gift,
Nine Threads of Gold,
A Very Dickensy Christmas,
Noble Warrior Meets with a Ghost,
Noble Warrior, Teller of Fortunes,
Noble Warrior and the "Gentleman",
About the Author,