Ciaras song, p.1
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       Ciara's Song, p.1

           Andre Norton
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Ciara's Song


  A Time Warner Company

  CIARA’S SONG. Copyright © 1998 by Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

  For information address Hachette Book Group USA, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

  A Time Warner Company

  ISBN 978-0-7595-2049-3

  A mass market edition of this book was published in 1998 by Warner Books.

  First eBook Edition: February 2001

  Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroupUSA.com

  Contents

  A Word About the Chronícles of Wítch World

  Book One

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Book Two

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  PRAISE FOR

  THE WITCH WORLD SERIES

  “One of fantasy’s most enduring spectacles.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “One of fantasy’s most beloved and enduring creations.”

  —Rave Reviews

  AND FOR THE KEY OF THE KEPLIAN

  “Classic . . . Norton and McConchie mesh smoothly. . . . A necessary addition to the Norton shelf.”

  —Booklist

  “Richly textured and exquisitely written, this topnotch fantasy is sheer delight.”

  —Romantic Times on

  The Key of the Keplian

  “Very readable—more power to the authors!”

  —Kliatt

  “Recommended to all who love Andre Norton’s Witch World and its diverse creatures.”

  —Norm Hartman, The Book Net

  (Web site magazine)

  OTHER NOVELS OF

  THE WITCH WORLD

  THE KEY OF THE KEPLIAN

  Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

  THE MAGESTONE

  Andre Norton and Mary H. Schaub

  THE WARDING OF WITCH WORLD

  Andre Norton

  Also available from Warner Aspect

  To animal-loving friends Helen McCarthy, Rachel Denk, Linnette Horne, and of course Andre Norton as always. To them this book is dedicated; may their beloved associates live long and prosper.

  A Word About the Chronícles of Wítch World

  Andre Norton

  What seeker of knowledge can say with truth that the history of Witch World has been wholly preserved, even in the masses of parchment rolls, the wood-bound books, or those metal plates of yet earlier date engraved in tongues that have not been used for a millennium or more?

  Where lie the life stories of those who raised the walls of that ruined city in the far South, site of a battle waged but yesterday? Whence came all the flotsam and jetsam of clans and races, whose only memories and records do not stretch back even to their arrrival through one of the world gates?

  Yes, even though those portals giving upon all the other dimensions have been closed, still there are many tales worth the telling to be found by delving into the Archives at Lormt. For centuries, Lormt acted as a depository for the histories of families and the keeping of clan lines, so that kinfolk widely separated by war or witchery might possibly find those of their blood again. There also, far in the past, the custom began for clans, families, and even solitary rovers to leave accounts of their own journeyings, battles, and victories, thereby illuminating some small facet of the history they knew, having acted within it—and, perhaps, upon it as well. Thus, records left by even single wanderers are to be found there, piled against official reports of vanished kingdoms.

  It has now absorbed the attention of some of the burrowing scholars to search out accounts concerning events that they may have been involved in themselves but which they found hard to comprehend as being experienced simultaneously by unknown others. These seekers have included those tied to forceful action in the past and determined to leave for the future some detailing of the roots and branches of the tree of their tale. Such enlargers of the Witch World’s store of lore are Ouen and the Lady Mereth.

  In a time of relative peace, when the inroads made by the Dark from without are no longer to be feared (though still, and ever, guarded against) these earlier tales are mined by songsmiths, and some mighty sagas have been wrought from even modest accounts. Thus, Lormt is now not only what it has always been—a treasure-house of ancient knowledge—but, in this day, it fosters new wisdom as well, spreading over the land a web of such stories as will make clear to the survivors of a past in which many went armed how well their kindred bore those weapons and to what end.

  So, from out of their safekeeping at Lormt, different ages of the Witch World come to life again. In this way, those new-born can learn what passed before: actions of not only potent sorcerers and great lords and ladies but of folk like themselves, meant to live untroubled lives but prevented by fate from so doing.

  One such tale, humble in origin only, is that of Ciara, who had to make her life anew under the very shadow of the Dark.

  BOOK ONE

  Thríce-Horned to Death and Destructíon

  1

  C iara was playing in her secret cave in the cliff when the rider came. She recognized him at once. It was her brother Larian come back from distant Kars. He was studying as apprentice merchant with an old friend of her father’s. But why was he home? She scrambled down from her cave to where she could swing across from one tall elm to another. From there she could reach her bedroom window at the back of the garth. She clattered down the stairs calling, “Larian, Larian, Mother! Larian’s home!”

  Her parents popped out of the cook room, both looking startled. “It can’t be.” Her mother sounded worried. “He isn’t due home again until Year End.”

  Her father was practical. “Well, my love, we’d better go and see.” But before they could move toward the front of the garth, Larian came striding through to meet them. His face was white with exhaustion under the brown, and his eyes haunted. He wasted no words.

  “Yvian’s gone mad. He’s ordered the three-times Horning for all of the Old Blood. I took Falco’s relay and came by the mountain paths. The guards will be right behind me. Half of them were fanning out south as I slipped away. They’re slaughtering any who even look as if they might be of our kind.”

  Ciara’s mother stared up, and in a voice that the child did not recognize she spoke softly. “They took Falco at the very gates of the city. Merryon died fighting before they burned the house about his family. Even now the death-bringers circle the valley. For only one of us is there an escape.”

  Talyo stared at his wife. “Do you see true, beloved?”

  “I see true. We have less than a candlemark. They are too close for us to flee. But Ciara might hide.” She turned to the girl gently. “Don’t ask questions. There’s no time. You have a place where you go. Can you reach it without being seen?”

  Frightened, bewildered, the child gulped. “Yes.”

  “Can you take possessions with you if they aren’t too large or heavy?”

  Ciara nodded slowly. She’d taken old rugs to furnish her cave already. Often she’d taken a meal there.

  “Good, come with me. Talyo, you and Larian free the stock. Send them running. When you’ve done, barricade the doors.”

  She was gone then, dragging Ciara behind her. “I know you get out of your bedroom window. Where do you go from
there?”

  Ciara pointed. “Across the elms. There’s a cave in the cliff up high you can reach from a branch on the end tree.” Lanlia stared.

  “Goddess, if I’d even dreamed it was so dangerous I’d never had ignored it. Listen, Ciara. Can anyone get to your cave from below?”

  “N-n-no. You can’t even see there’s a cave.” She remembered finding it the first time quite by accident as she scrambled about the elms.

  “How big is the cave, sweetheart?”

  “It’s very small. I have to crawl to get inside.” Lanlia’s look urged her to continue. “I can lie down inside but only just. When I do I can stretch my hands out and touch the wall on each side.”

  “What do you have up there?”

  “Rugs, only old ones, Mother. And candle ends. What are you doing?”

  Lanlia was moving with a swift sure speed as she gathered items. She stowed them into a carrysack as Ciara asked her question.

  “You must go to your cave. How long does it take you to reach it and return from this window?”

  Ciara considered. She sensed the question was important. “Maybe a fifth of a candlemark.”

  “Good. Now listen to me. There may be no time later to say this. What Larian said was that the duke has ordered all of the Old Race, all of our people to be killed on sight. That’s our family. Your father, Larian, and I will stay in the garth. If nothing happens you can return. If we are dead, you are to wait in the cave for five days. Five days, do you understand?” Ciara nodded, gulping back tears of fright.

  “After that, try to make your way to Aiskeep. Lord Tarnoor has always been our friend. Ask him what you should do. Do not let any other see you. Now, take this to your cave. Just drop it there and return at once. Go quickly.”

  The carrysack was thrust into Ciara’s hands as Lanlia snatched up another. Still gulping back sobs the child scrambled through the window on to a branch climbing higher and higher before she crossed the line of elms toward her refuge. But once there the peace of it seemed to still some of her terror. She stared down the length of their valley but saw no one. Maybe Larian was wrong. But something deep inside warned her the message had been true. Her other two brothers were dead. Her mother had seen it so. Mother ‘saw’ seldom, but when she did see what she saw was the truth.

  Ciara was the baby of the family. She was barely nine. Falco and Merryon had both been adult men, Merryon married with a family. She had seen them both no more than twice in her life. They were the sons of her father’s first wife whereas Larian was her full brother. He had only gone to study in Kars three years ago. Since then he had been home each Year End bringing gifts for all. She had heard of the three-times horning as any child might hear. It was something done to outlaws she recalled vaguely as she scrambled back across the line of trees. The guards blew a horn three times and named the ones who were now outside all laws. After that the wicked men could be killed without blood feud or punishment. Anything they had belonged to their killers. She almost fell through the window. Did that mean they were outlaws now?

  Lanlia had no time for her questions. “Take this one back, too. Hurry!” Ciara found another full carrysack pushed into her hands and obediently hurried. A third journey, but on the way back this time she could see riders. She dropped into her bedroom gabbling the news. Her father was there. It was he who asked quietly, “How many?”

  “I couldn’t count, maybe twenty.”

  “Are they riding fast?”

  “No.” Ciara was puzzled. “They don’t seem in any hurry.”

  Larian’s voice was suddenly savage. “No, they know we’re trapped if we’re here. Why tire the horses.”

  Lanlia was practical. “Let them dawdle all they will. It gives us more time. Ciara, you remember what I told you, tell me again.”

  “I’m to go to the cave and stay there five days or until you call me back. If you can’t . . . oh, Mother, I’m scared!”

  She was hugged hard. “I know, now go on.”

  “If anything happens I wait five days, then go to Lord Tarnoor. Only to him.”

  “Yes. This time don’t come back from your cave. Be careful. Don’t let the riders see you.” One by one her family embraced her. At the last Larian placed two items in her hand. She looked down.

  His hand closed hers upon them. “If we live, I’ll claim them from you, little sister. If I don’t, they’re yours.” He helped her through the window, watching as she vanished in the foliage.

  He could have gone with her. From what his mother said there would be room in the cave for two. But his seventeenth name day had passed. It was for a man to defend his home and family, not to hide while others died.

  He’d been fortunate. His father was only partly of the Old Blood, but his first wife had been wholly so. For that Falco and Merryon had both died, their faces too much of the ancient race. But both Larian and Ciara looked more like the incomers. Lanlia had been a half-blood orphan who wed the widowed farmer. Her children resembled her, dark-haired, but with rounder faces and eyes of a clear hazel.

  It had saved the boy’s life as he thrust through blood-crazed men toward the stables. Once there he had swiftly saddled Falco’s relay. He’d guessed his brother would need them no more. That first two days he had ridden all three mounts into near exhaustion to stay ahead of the news. Then he had swung up onto the foothill tracks. In a tiny valley he had unsaddled the leg-weary animals, hobbling them carefully. He had allowed the horses to graze all day while he hunted. Two hares and several rabbits would be good rations for days. He ate ravenously, tearing the roast flesh from small bones.

  That night he had slept until midday, risen to eat eagerly again, and then saddled his mounts. Now he kept away from any riders. Several times he dropped down to warn garths where the inhabitants were friends and of the Old Blood. Each time he had been given filled feed sacks for the horses, food for himself. He had been able to press on to the limits of his strength. Two horses had been left behind as he rode.

  Larian clamped his teeth shut on a plea to join Ciara. He knew if he stayed he would die. He stared out of the window slit as the riders approached. He recognized the enemy, and accepted death. With the guards was a neighbor who’d always coveted Elmsgarth land. Under the new Karsten laws he could take it once all males in the family were dead. Ciara had no claim. Only if she had been adult and wed could she have held it.

  The neighbor might overlook the child’s absence, but not Larian’s. He would see the lathered horse that stood head down by the fence and guess. Larian stood straighter. If he was to die, then he would see to it their neighbor did not profit. He strung his bow and waited.

  Far above Ciara had reached the cave with her last carry-sack. She huddled into the heavy gray wool of the cloak. It felt like home. Lanlia had woven it for herself only last year. Falco had sent a set of matching hareskins to line it as his Year-End gift. They’d been taken when the hares were in winter garb so that on one side the cloak was dark gray wool, and on the other pure white fur. It was far too large for Ciara, but it would keep her warm in her refuge if she must wait. It even had a hood with drawstrings to tighten it about her face.

  She wiggled forward to look down. The riders had reached the garth. From her perch she could hear only a mumble until one raised his voice.

  “Come out and you can go free.” She knew the man. He was Tylar from Sersgarth in the next valley. He had a pack of brawling sons all looking hard at their father’s garth. At least that was what her father had said once. Her mother had retorted that Tylar could look for land for his sons elsewhere. Below Tylar was shouting again.

  “Come out and you can go. You leave everything and we’ll leave you.”

  There was no movement from the house and Ciara whimpered. If Tylar was telling the truth it would be wonderful. They could just leave and they’d be safe. Then she wondered. But where would they go if they had to leave everything behind? How would they live?

  She squirmed back a little looking down at
the treasures Larian had given her to hold for him.

  They were treasures in truth. The slim-bladed dagger laying in her hand had never been sharpened. It had come down from the family of her father’s grandmother. Legend had it the dagger had been made by an adept in the Power. Be the story true or not it was tree that the dagger remained razor sharp no matter what its usage. For that alone it was prized. Larian had been a favorite of his grandmother’s. She had given the weapon to him when be left at fourteen to study in Kars. She had died soon after and Ciara knew how Larian treasured it.

  The other object she held was a pendant. It was drop-shaped in silver with small wings sweeping up in a curve on either side. Minute blue stones edged each wing feather. It had been wrought with a delicacy that was sheer beauty.

  That had come from her mother’s side of the family. It was a bridal gift, held by each son in turn to give to his chosen. Ciara slipped the chain about her neck allowing the pendant to fall beneath her bodice. Then she wiggled back to peer out from the cave mouth again. What were they doing down there?

  At first she could see no one. Then a small group of men on foot came into view. Leading them was neighbor Tylar. They carried a log from the wood stack. Ciara was puzzled; what did they plan to do with it? She gasped as below the log was swung forward to strike the door with a hollow boom. She stared blankly. Why, they’d break the door if they kept doing that. Then as the log struck again she understood. They meant to break in. Now that her family was thrice-horned anything could be done to them. There was nothing against the law. Small whimpers squeezed between her clenched teeth. All the stories she had ever heard rose up to remind her of what that ‘anything’ could be.

  Larian sighted his arrow carefully. From among their neighbors, only Tylar was with the guards. If he was dead, there would be none to say Ciara lived. There was no hope for any within Elmsgarth, he knew that now. But his adored small sister might still survive. With Tylar dead his sons would be too busy squabbling over their own Sersgarth and the Elmsgarth land to bother about one small female child with no claim. He hung on the shot until Tylar moved clear. The arrow flew with deadly accuracy. Tylar fell soundlessly, heart pierced. The guards shouted with rage, redoubling their attack on the door.

 
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