A taste of magic, p.1
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       A Taste of Magic, p.1

           Andre Norton
 
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A Taste of Magic


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  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Notice

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  The Tale Behind Taste

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Also from Tor Books by Andre Norton

  Copyright

  For Sue Stewart … who made Andre smile

  Acknowledgments

  This is the final novel Andre Norton worked on. The Grand Dame of science fiction and fantasy tried to finish this tale on her own. However, tired fingers and other unfortunate circumstances got in her way.

  In the last days of her life, in March 2005, Andre plotted the end of this story with me. She’d given it much thought, and when she was certain I understood just what she wanted, she wished her characters well and bade us all good-bye.

  What an extreme honor this was for me—to be gifted with the task of filling in the gaps for A Taste of Magic.

  Only two words suffice for several people regarding this book: Sue Stewart, Andre’s friend and assistant, who chose me to finish the manuscript; Bill Fawcett, who encouraged me and who packaged this project; Brian Thomsen, who made this a better book, and me a better writer, through his editing; Linda Baker, who shared her first-person wisdom, and who managed to find time to proof a good portion of these pages despite her own deadlines and dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane; and Tom Doherty, my publisher, for graciously saying yes to A Taste of Magic.

  Thank you.

  The Tale Behind Taste

  In October 2002, Andre Norton entered the hospital for surgery to repair a hernia. It was to be a simple procedure, but some things went wrong and it ended in serious complications, including Andre getting a vicious infection.

  In effect, what was to have been a forty-five-minute operation turned into a two-hour operation. And what was supposed to be an overnight stay in the hospital turned into a six-week ordeal, some of it spent in intensive care.

  Andre came close to dying then, but found the will to make it, especially when friends smuggled in a few of her cats for visits. When Andre finally returned home from the hospital, she tried to find some normalcy after all the “mass hysteria” of the past many weeks. But things were never wholly normal again.

  It was mid-December 2002 when she decided to write the final novel for her “senses” series, and she began ruminating over various plots. (The Scent of Magic was published in 1999.) In January 2003, she began the outline for A Taste of Magic. She’d read several books on the sense of taste and had done a little research. The outlining took her some time.

  Then, in March 2003, she began the actual process of writing the novel. Unfortunately, Andre found it very difficult to concentrate. Her words didn’t flow as easily as they used to. Everything seemed to have changed after her long stay in the hospital.

  She finished a few chapters, and decided she would leave it a while, then come back to it at a later date. She carefully placed the manuscript into a brown leather zip-up pouch and put it into her filing cabinet. She did not take it back out to work on until I moved her into my home in May 2004.

  One month later, after getting completely settled into her new apartment, she pulled the brown leather pouch out of her lower desk drawer and tried again to work on Taste.

  Still, the words would not come, and she ended up frustrated and depressed. I came into her bedroom one day and found her with her head down, crying over the manuscript. This is when I put my arm around her and told her not to worry. I told her that her hands had made her a living all of her life through their creativity, and there was no reason why those same hands couldn’t do another form of creativity.

  I told her to start beading her necklaces again. It was a favorite hobby of hers. Susanne Hebden, a friend of Andre’s, had taught Andre how to bead and had worked with her on the beading before she’d moved into my house. However, one of Andre’s assistants at the time railed against the beading parties and discouraged Andre’s newfound hobby. But in my house Andre could do as she pleased. The beading began in earnest.

  Though Andre was having trouble writing, she became inspired by various beading projects. Andre Norton the writer became Andre Norton the designer and crafter of jewelry. From that point on, she never looked back, nor did she shed another tear over an unfinished writing project.

  She gathered up her Taste manuscript, carefully stacking the papers and placing it back into the zip-up brown leather pouch and into her lower desk drawer. She then got into her upper desk drawer and pulled out the bead catalogs and began ordering beads and beads and beads.

  In February 2005, Taste resurfaced again. Andre’s health was failing, but her mind was clear, and she was thinking about that manuscript. Andre didn’t leave things unfinished, and she insisted that I have her partial A Taste of Magic and lots of notes on how she planned to finish it. This was a book she wanted finished, one more wonderful story of magic and heroes. To allow me to handle the book myself, Andre generously sold Taste to me for the traditional one dollar on February 25, 2005. She then suggested that Jean Rabe, whom she had enjoyed working with before, could put it all together. Jean agreed, and the two spoke several times.

  So this is the story behind A Taste of Magic. It includes both of those things Andre loved even in her last days, a good tale and wonderful jewelry. One of the necklaces mentioned in the novel is one that Andre made and sent to Jean as a Christmas present.

  —Sue Stewart,

  Andre’s friend and assistant,

  spring 2006

  1

  The green ones favored me this day.

  A brace of curl-horns, mates I’d tracked to a shallow den, lay across Dazon’s saddle. No room for me to ride, they were so large! I knew they would pleasantly fill all of our bellies this evening and the next.

  For the past five Oath Marks, and all the days between, our hunting had been disappointing. We’d been ranging farther north of the village and into the darkest parts of the Sabado Forest. Our families were proud and not known for depending on the elaborate rituals of either the Dawn Priests or the Sun Sisters, but lately there had been talk of seeking spiritual aid for our hunt. Perhaps if the Green Ones favored me again tomorrow, such prayers—and their expensive offerings—would not be necessary.

  Lady Ewaren, our House Lady, was a weaver, and so I bowed my head respectfully as I led Daz
on out of the thickest section of woods and past a large glow-spider resting in a dew-sprinkled net. Many minutes later the trees thinned considerably more, longleaf pines and mature persimmons giving way to a scattering of sweetbays and young elms, signaling my approach to the Village Nar. The afternoon sun stretched through the scant branches and warmed my face and bare arms. I closed my eyes and took a few blissful moments to enjoy this spring day, and to listen to the birdsong and the other small sounds of this undisturbed place—the chitter of ground squirrels and gray backs, the soft chirp of insects.

  Abruptly a bellow shattered the natural melody. The bellow came again and again. I recognized it as a cow demanding milking. The village cattleman was not one to be tardy to his work and ignore our small herd. So I quickened my strides out of concern and curiosity, tugging my horse to a faster pace until we cleared the woods completely. The recently sown fields and the hedge of high brush that walled the Village Nar came into view.

  I stopped in midstep, listening to the repeated bellows and smelling fire and burnt meat. I tentatively opened my mouth and extended my tongue to confirm the scents.

  I am a docent of Bastien t’Ikkes, a once-royal guard and near-fabled Moonson who saved the Emperor’s life during a bear hunt many years past. His injuries from that incident forced his retirement, his courage earned him a pension and a home in this village, and his patience garnered me the post as his student.

  Bastien taught me how to fight with a sword and knives and how to taste the breeze and scent for danger and other things, which was what I did now.

  The tip of my tongue registered an unpalatable acridity, the distinctive taste of death and the lingering scents of fear and desperation.

  There’d been a raid while I was hunting!

  Our village is filled with farmers, hunters, and weavers, not warriors. Peaceful people! My heart seized with fear. I dropped the reins, knowing Dazon would follow me, and I rushed through a gap in the brush.

  Who attacked us? And why?

  I saw no one.

  The gate to the courtyard swung in the wind.

  Near Willum t’Jelth’s house I spotted a snorter stretched on a frame over a now-smoldering fire, more than half of its carcass hacked away. I heard the bellow again, and I slipped along the hedge to the north, drawing upon all the stealthy skills Bastien had taught me and trying to force down the dread threatening to overwhelm me.

  “Willum? Gerald?”

  No answer.

  I raised my voice. “Maergo? Lady Ewaren? Lady Ewaren!”

  Now I could see a section of the yard beyond the gate, the Great House and its various attendant buildings essentially forming the walls of the courtyard. Inside, a large cow tramped across the soft loam of a newly seeded herb garden and continued to bellow loudly, two smaller ones trailing behind it. Another cow leaned against the side of the Great House. The sun caught on shards of metal protruding from its black hide, as numerous as the pins in Lady Ewaren’s sewing pillow. Blood dripped from its wounds. I vowed to end its suffering—after I saw to the village.

  I looked elsewhere, cupping my hands over my eyes, shutting out the light and focusing on my wyse-sense and on my tongue and what the wind was telling me.

  Death.

  The wind spoke of death and suffering and confusion.

  I thought I saw a foot and a torn piece of material just under the shadow of a jutting second story.

  A foot …

  “Willum! Maergo! Lady Ewaren!”

  Loosening the web of my backpack, I sat it on the ground and placed my blowpipe and quiver of bolts next to it. I did not want to be encumbered when I faced the enemy, but I wanted to be prepared. I drew the longest of my knives and fought to keep my senses sharp. Fear and grief threatened to overwhelm me.

  It was easy to suspicion all manner of horrid things, especially after seeing the throwstars in the cow’s side and finding no one outside and no one to answer my call. I wanted more than suspicion to work with, and so struggling desperately to keep panic at bay, I again tasted the air, urging my tongue to find the scents.

  Blood—blood is always strong enough to make itself known first. There was more blood than I had ever scented before. And I picked up a touch of sweat—of men and mounts—and the fire I smelled earlier, and ashes. Then I strained my senses to the limit, barely able to reach and identify emotions. I tasted terror, pain, and hate. And above all of that, I tasted my own horror, choking and dreadfully nauseating.

  “Willum.” My voice grew weak, a whisper. “Lady Ewaren.”

  Still, nothing stirred in the village.

  The foot I spied in the distance did not move, and somehow I knew it belonged to a corpse. How many dead? I knew I would have to search the entire village to learn what had happened. My stomach churned with the grisly possibilities, and my heart hammered with each step I took. I was feeling faint from the scents and the notion that I wouldn’t find a soul alive, that everyone I knew and loved had been brutally butchered.

  But slain by whom? Slain why?

  And why had I gone hunting so early this morning? Had I lingered, I could have defended this place.

  “Willum!”

  The coughing sickness had taken Bastien this past winter. The village had no guards, the elders thinking Bastien’s presence enough protection. But after his death, the elders still took no steps for defense, thinking our world oh so peaceful and safe, and thinking that I could be sufficient defense, given the skills Bastien had taught me. Too, there had been no rumors of invasion from the Twisted Lands, and Lady Ewaren seemed held in favor with the neighboring countries to the west—even though it was said she was descended from the long-outlawed House of Alchura.

  I sheathed my knife and tugged a long, thin chain free from my belt. I preferred it as a weapon because of its reach. Then I started down a gentle slope, making use of the shadows from buildings to provide me some cover. Within heartbeats I stood in the gate road. Once more I tongue-tested, finding more blood, ashes, terror, and hate. Oddly, hate was the strongest here, almost overwhelming. Darting around the corner of the gate, I came into the courtyard.

  The foot …

  The rags that had been her spring-green gown lay torn on the ground between myself and where the body lay. Her ripped undergarments were saturated with blood. Something stronger than anger welled from deep within me, and a horror I’d never felt overcame me. I grabbed on to a post to support myself.

  I edged closer.

  The foot … it belonged to Lady Ewaren, our House Lady. My breath caught and I went down on my knees beside her body, fighting for air.

  “My lady!” The first words I’d spoken since entering the village were filled with grief. “By the Green Ones, my lady!”

  Lady Ewaren had taken me in after the death of my mother ten years past. Hers was the only home I truly remembered. Her face … now a broken ruin. Sobbing, I tugged down from her curve cap a length of lace veil. It didn’t hide all the blood, but it softened the worst of it around her face. Then I noticed her other injuries. Each and every one of her fingers—which she had used to weave such beauty that nearby lords and ladies begged for her work—every one had been broken. Deliberately, cruelly, I knew, broken while she’d lived.

  Once more I heard the bellow of the cow. Though the mournful sound was muted now by the intervening buildings, it was nonetheless demanding. In the intervals between the bellows, I heard an incessant buzzing from the bees in the hive housed on a balcony above me. I noticed the sound of flies, too. They were drawn to Lady Ewaren’s body.

  Lady Ewaren, I should pray for her.

  I hesitantly touched her broken fingers and under my breath, in the thinnest of voices, I uttered old, old words.

  “Nesalah dorma calla—”

  “Yaaaaaah!” The scream spun me around so quickly I nearly lost my balance. I saw a slip of a girl, just a heartbeat before her knifepoint flashed down and sliced my tunic at the shoulder. I moved fast enough that the blade only drew a thin lin
e of blood. Without pause, I lashed out with my chain, whipping it around her arm.

  She cried in surprise and pain, and dropped the blade as I dragged her close. But she didn’t give in. Her wide golden eyes flashed with madness, and her teeth snapped at my throat. It was as if I held a night fiend instead of the slight girl that Lady Ewaren had taken as an apprentice almost a year ago. Lady Ewaren had hoped I’d be like a sister to this girl, but that hadn’t happened. I didn’t want to hurt the girl if I could help it—and it would be so easy for me to end this fight with a single blow. I was that much stronger, and she was half my age … at most ten years old.

  “Demon!” she spat. “Thrice-damned demon may you be!”

  I dropped my chain and grabbed both her wrists, shaking her roughly in an effort to bring her to her senses. She kicked at me now, her heavy boot landing a solid blow against my shin. I cringed and dragged her so close against me she had no room to kick again, while at the same time I twisted her arms behind her in a hold Bastien had taught me early on. I crushed the air out of her, and she swayed and gasped. I truly hadn’t intended to hurt her, but she’d given me no choice.

  I bent my head to her ear, as I stood several inches taller. “Alysen, what happened here?”

  She went limp, and I held her up now.

  “They came for you, Eri,” she said after a moment.

  “Who? Tell me, Alysen!”

  She didn’t answer this, saying instead, “They came for you because the Emperor’s dead. And so is your father. You and your kin, the Empress has had you drummed!”

  I loosed her then and she staggered back, stumbling toward one of the slender pillars that held up the outer edge of a narrow roof. Catching at the pillar with both hands to support herself, she faced me. Alysen’s smooth face was a scarlet mask of hatred.

  “They came for you!” Her voice was stronger now, spittle flecking at her lips. “You they wanted! And all this death, Eri, is because you weren’t here! Everyone died because of you!”

  Me? All this because of me? A wave of dizziness crashed against me.

  “Everyone is dead, Eri!”

 
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