On a planet in a parallel universe where magic is a reality, these three high fantasy novels of the Witch World set on the eastern continent of Estcarp once again illustrate why prolific author Andre Norton was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Trey of Swords: A trilogy of swords, sorcery, and spectacular adventure set in the Witch World. In Sword of Ice, an ancient blade of incredible power that holds the spirit of the ancient hero Tolar will forge young Yonan into the greatest weapon in Witch World. In Sword of Lost Battles, only Yonan and his loyal friend Uruk can stop the dreaded Targi—the near-invincible warlock who leads the Darkness. With Yonan and Uruk missing in the past, the untrained witch Crytha must hold back the Darkness alone by countering the power of the vile sorceress Laidan with the help of a lethal, legendary blade, in Sword of Shadows.
Ware Hawk: Tirtha, last of a decimated clan, must return to her family’s ancient stronghold of Hawkholme. For protection, she hires Nirel, once a proud Falconer, now a blank shield for hire, who survives by using his gift for seeing the future in his dreams. But he cannot see everything, and a Dark One is determined to stop them.
Gate of the Cat: When she tries to help an injured wildcat, Kelsie McBlair is transported from the Scottish Highlands to a world where magic users, mighty heroes, and terrible monsters dwell. There she embarks on an incredible adventure, accompanied by a cynical witch who doesn’t trust her and a young warrior sworn to protect her. For Kelsie will prove to be the only one who can face off against the Lord of the Dark himself . . .
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.
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Sword of Ice
My mother was of the Old Race, those hunted out of Karsten when Duke Yivan put to the Outlaws' Horn all of a blood far more ancient than his, upstart mercenary that he was dabbler in forbidden things, one who companied with the unspeakable Kolders.
Of a heritage older than Karsten's naming, all my mother brought into Estcarp when she fled death was herself and a tail of three fighting men from her father's lordship. Those she sent to join the Borderers who served under the Outworlder Lord Simon Tregarth, to hold back the evil which had come upon our world. She herself took refuge with a distant kinswoman, the Lady Chriswitha. And later she wed, not with a man of her own people, but with a Sulcarman, thus divorcing herself abruptly from her kind.
But he was slain in one of the forays against the southern ports. And, since she felt no home-love among his people, she returned to her own kin, bearing in her body a child conceived during her short wed-time. Also within her the need for life dimmed, so that when I was born ahead of the proper day. She went out from this life as goes a candle blown by an impatient breath.
The Lady Chriswitha took me. Even keeping me though she had married another lord fled from the south, Hervon. His family had vanished during the horning, but he was a man of war learning and wrought well along the Border, rising to his own command. And he had two daughters and a son, Imhar. This Imhar was my senior in age by two years; a strong, healthy boy who took readily to the uncertain world of alarms and war in which we were bred.
With me it was not so. From my birthing I was a weakling and needed much care, given to many small illnesses so that I was ever a concern and a source of impatience to all but my lady, this impatience being made plain to me as soon as I was old enough to be aware of those about me. Though I strove to match Imhar, there was never any chance during our boyhood that I might. A sword fitted into his hand as if he were born carrying that blade, and he used it as if it were an extension of himself, with a skill precise and beautiful to watch.
He rode fearlessly, and was out on patrol before he could count barely the years of his youthful training. And Lord Hervon took pride rightfully in his heir, a youth who had all the attributes necessary to make his way in perilous times.
I trained with sword and with dart gun — the weight of the war ax was ever too much for my arm. Among the dark Old Race, I was a stranger in more than my lack of physical strength, for I had the fair skin, the light hair of the Sulcars — but unfortunately, neither the height nor the fine strong body of that people.
Though I tried so hard to match Imhar, in my heart I longed for something else. Not the sea of my father's people, which might have been natural enough, but rather learning — the forgotten learning which had once been a part of our past.
It is true that no male could possess the Power, or so the Wise Women, those Witches who ruled in Estcarp, proclaimed. But there were old legends, fragments of which I heard from time to time and treasured in my memory, that this was not always so. That once men had also walked that road, and to some purpose.
I could read well enough, and I hunted out all I could that pertained to this age-dimmed past. Though I never spoke of such to those about me — for they would have deemed me stricken in wits, perhaps even a danger to the household should the Witches learn of my heresy.
In the year I belted on my own sword and took to riding with the Border Guard, Karsten loosed against us the greatest threat of all. The Kolders were gone, Lord Simon and his lady having ventured overseas and closed the World Gate through which that horror had come. Yivan, lord in the south, had been a part of the Kolder menace and had died of it. Then, for some time, there had been chaos across all of Karsten, as lord fought against lord for the leadership.
At last Ragan of Cleen triumphed. And, to unite his people, proclaimed a crusade against the Witches. For it is always in such straits a shrewd move to find an enemy outside the borders against which all may march, taking their minds away from wounds and losses nearer home.
So there came a great hosting, but not of our swords, rather of the Power. For the Witches united for a single night and day, summoning such strength as they could call. And then they aimed this southward and the land itself obeyed their commands. Mountains moved, the very earth twisted and rent this way and that. Accordingly they themselves paid a great price, for many of their number perished, being used to channel that Power until it burned out their lives
Lest chaos fall upon us as it had on Karsten when Yivan was slain, Koris of Gorm took command in the land and the rule passed then from the Council to him.
Lord Simon and the Lady Jealithe had been lost long since in a quest to the northern seas, and there was no other war leader great enough to command the respect and loyalty of Estcarp.
But there came a strange tale, passing from manor to holding, holding to manor, that the children of the House of Tregarth had fled the land under the great anger of the Witches and that they were now outlawed, to be given no aid by any, lest those be condemned also into the state where all men's hands were lawfully raised to pull them down.
It was whispered that the known "Power" which Lord Simon had had and used was in his sons also. And that they had conspired, against all rightful custom, to aid their sister out of the House of the Witches where she trained. There was a very strange thing about them, unknown elsewhere in the world; the three had been born at one birthing! Thus, they were very close.
I speak of these three because they caused the changing of my life, and the lives of all who dwelt in Lord Hervon's household. And I, myself, was eager to hear all I could of the young lords who, as their father before them, differed from our kind.
Karsten being no longer to be feared. Lord Hervon had set about realizing his own dream for the future. During his riding up and down the land in his hosting, he had found a place which seemed to him a fair setting for a manor. And none would gainsay his claim as it lay well to the east, in a section of the country which had long been forsaken and half forgotten.
Thus, we set out for this place to build anew in a peace which still seemed strange and which we still doubted, so men went armed and we kept sentries about. There were fifty of us, mainly men — though the Lady Chriswitha had five women in her household and she had also her daughters, her sisters, and their husbands, as well as a child born two years after me to her younger sister, who died thereafter.
Now I must speak of Crytha — yet that is difficult. For from the time I looked down into her cradle on the hearth-side, there was something which tied me to her, in spite of all reason. No kin-tie lay between us, nor could any. For by the ancient custom of our people, she must wed Imhar when the time was right, thus unifying the lordship Hervon was determined to found.
She was truly of the Old Race, dark and slender. And to my eyes, there was always something a little remote about her, as if she sometimes said, or heard, that which was not shared by those about her.
Because of my weakly boyhood, I was closer in companionship with Crytha than Imhar, and she began to turn to me in little things, asking that I aid her in nursing a wing-broken bird and the like. For it was apparent from her earliest years that she had a gift of healcraft.
That her talents went farther than that I learned when I was near the age to ride with the Borderers (having gained strength to the point that I could call myself a fighter, if not an outstanding one). I had come upon her unawares by the brook which ran near the farm-garth which, at that time, the Lady Chriswitha called home.
Crytha sat very still in the grass, which there grew nearly as high as the top of her head. Her eyes were closed as if she slept, but she moved her hands gently back and forth. I watched her, puzzled, and then saw, with sick horror rising in me, there coiled in the grass a snake perhaps as long as my sword arm. Its head was raised and swayed, following the command of Crytha's hand. I would have drawn steel and slain the thing, but I found I could not move.
At length she clapped her hands and opened her eyes. The snake dropped its head to the ground, disappearing into the grass as if it had been a hallucination.
"No fear, Yonan." She did not turn her head to look at me, yet she knew that I was there. And as she spoke, that compulsion on me vanished, as had the snake. I took two strides to her side, my anger rising to match the fear that had held me.
"What do you do?" I demanded.
She looked up at me. "Come sit." She beckoned. "Should I explain myself to a mountain whose eyes I cannot meet without a crick in my poor neck?"
I gingerly surveyed the grass, longing to rake through it with my sword that I might not drop upon her late companion — with dire results for both of us. And then I settled down.
"It is a part of healcraft — I think." But her voice sounded a little puzzled. "They do not fear me, the winged ones, the furred ones, and today I have proved that even the scaled ones can be reached. I think we close our minds too often, or fasten them on such as this" — she leaned forward a little to touch a single finger tip to my sheathed sword — "so that we cannot hear much of what lies about us — the good of the wide world."
I drew a deep breath, the anger seeping from me. For some inner sense told me that Crytha knew what she was doing, even as I knew the swing of steel.
"Yonan, remember the old tales you used to tell me?"
For it was with Crytha alone that I had shared my scraps of legend and ancient song.
"In that world, man had Powers —"
"There are Powers in Estcarp," I pointed out. And then a new fear rose in me. The Witches were avid recruits to their number. So far they had not drawn upon the refugees from Karsten, unless some girl child showed unusual skills. Crytha — Crytha must not vanish behind their gray walls, lay aside all that life made good in return for power.
"I am no Witch," she said softly. "And, Yonan, with you alone I share what I know. Because you understand that freedom is more than Power. Of that one can become too fond."
I caught her wrist in a firm grip and held it, also drawing her gaze squarely to meet my own eyes.
"Swear not to try that again — not with any scaled one!"
She smiled. "I do not swear any oaths, Yonan; that is not my way. This much I shall promise you, that I will take no risks."
With that I had to be content, though I was seldom content in my mind when I thought of what she might be tempted to do. And we did not speak of this again. For shortly after, I joined the Borderers and we saw each other very seldom indeed.
But when we went to the east and set up the new Manor hall, it was different. Crytha was of hand-fasting age. It would not be long until Imhar could claim her. And the thought of that was a dark draft of sorrow for me. So I tried not to be in her company, for already I knew my own emotions, which must be rigidly schooled and locked away.
It was before we had the hall complete that the stranger came.
He walked in from the hills, one of our sentries at hisback, and he gave to Lord Hervon the proper guesting greeting. Yet (here was about him a strangeness we all felt.
Young he was, and plainly of the Old Race. Yet his eyes were dark blue, not gray. And he held himself proudly as one who had the right to greet named warriors on an equal ground.
He said he was a man under a geas. But later he revealed that he was an outlaw — one of the Tregarth sons — and that he came recruiting into the lowlands from the long-lost land to the east — Escore — from which, he said, our race had sprung in the very early beginnings.
Lord Hervon saw danger in him, and to this point of view he was urged by Godgar, his marshal. So it was judged he be delivered up to the Council's guard, lest we be deemed outlaws in turn.
But after he rode away with Godgar, there grew unrest and uneasiness among us. I dreamed and so did others, for they spoke aloud of those dreams. And we went no more to cut wood for the building, but paced restlessly about, looking toward the mountains which rose eastward. In us there was a pulling, a need. ...
Then Godgar returned with his men and he told a story hardly to be believed, yet we knew in this haunted land many strange things came to pass. There had been a vast company of birds and beasts which had gathered, stopping their journey to the west. And, guarded by those furred and feathered ones, Kyllan Tregarth had started back to the mountains. But that company had let Godgar and his men also return to us unharmed.
It was then that the Lady Chriswitha arose and spoke to all our company.
"It is laid upon us to believe this message. Can anyone beneath this hall roof deny that in him or her now there does lie the desire to ride? I spoke apart with Kyllan Tregarth — in him there was truth. I think we are summoned to his journey and it is one we cannot gainsay."
As she so put it into words, my uneasiness was gone; rather there arose in me an eagerness to he on the way, as if before me lay some great and splendid adventure. And glancing about I saw signs on the faces of the others that in this we were agreed.
Thus, gathering what gear we should need for such a journey, not knowing into what we rode, we went forth from the Manor we had thought to make our home, heading into a wilderness in which might lurk worse danger than ever came out of Karsten or Kolder.
Thus, we came into Escore, a land long ago wracked by the magic of those adepts who had believed themselves above the laws of man and nature. In an uneasy peace, it had lain for generations keeping a trembling balance between the forces of Light and those of the Dark. The adepts were gone — some had perished in wild quarrels with their fellows which had left the land blasted and shadowed. Others had wrought gates into other times and worlds and, possessed by curiosity — or greed for power — had departed through those.
Behind, the vanished Great Ones had left a residue of all their trafficking in forbidden things. They had created, by mutation, life forms different from humankind. Some of these were close enough to man to allow kinship of a sort. Others were of the Dark and harried the country at their will.
Before the Old Race had claimed such power, there had been another people in the land; not human, but appearing so. These had a deeper tie with the earth itself than any man could have, for they did not strive to rend or alter it as is the custom of my kind; rather did they live with it, yielding to the rhythms of the seasons, the life which the soil nourished and sustained.
These were the People of Green Silences. When the doom wrought by the adepts came upon the land, they withdrew to a waste yet farther east, taking with them or drawing to them certain of the creatures which the adepts had bred. And there they dwelt, holding well aloof from all others.
But there were remnants of the Old Race who were not seekers after forbidden knowledge. And those had journeyed westward, preyed upon by things of the Shadow, until they reached Estcarp and Karsten. There, even as the Witches had done to defeat Ragan, those among them possessing the Power had wrought a mighty earthshaking, walling out their ancient homeland. So strong was the geas they then laid upon men that we could not even think of the east — it dropped from our memories. Until the lords of the House of Tregarth and their sister, being of half blood and so immune to this veiling, dared return.
Our journey was not an easy one. The land itself put many barriers in our way. And also, though we were met by those Kyllan had aroused to wish us well, we were dogged by creatures of the Dark, so that we won to the Green Valley as pursued as we had been in the flight from Karsten a generation earlier.
But the Valley was a haven of safety — having at its entrance special deep-set runes and signs carved. And none that were not free of any dealing with the Shadow could pass those and live.
The houses of the Green People were strange and yet very pleasing to the eye, for they were not wrought by man from wood and stone, but rather grown, tree and bushes twined together to form walls as deep as those of any Border keep. And their roofing was of the brilliant green feathers shed in season by those birds which obeyed the Lady Dahaun.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Witch World: Estcarp Cycle"
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Table of Contents
TREY OF SWORDS,
THE GATE OF THE CAT,
About the Author,