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       The Seeker, p.1

           Isobelle Carmody
 
The Seeker


  LIKE EVERY ORPHAN, I had heard stories about Obernewtyn.

  It was used by parents as a sort of horror tale to make naughty children behave. But in truth very little was known about it.

  Some said it was just like another Councilfarm, and that the master there had only sought labor for an area too remote to interest normal laborers. Others said Lukas Seraphim was himself afflicted in some way, while still others claimed he was a doctor and wanted subjects to practice on.

  Those Misfits taken there were never seen again.

  ALSO BY

  ISOBELLE CARMODY

  THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES

  Obernewtyn

  The Farseekers

  Ashling

  The Keeping Place

  Wavesong

  The Stone Key

  The Sending

  Red Queen

  THE GATEWAY TRILOGY

  Night Gate

  Winter Door

  LITTLE FUR

  The Legend Begins

  A Fox Called Sorrow

  A Mystery of Wolves

  A Riddle of Green

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Obernewtyn copyright © 1987 by Isobelle Carmody

  The Farseekers copyright © 1990 by Isobelle Carmody

  Map copyright © 2008 by Penguin Group Australia

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Bluefire, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. The works in this collection were originally published separately by Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Camberwell, in 1987 and 1990. Published here by arrangement with Penguin Group Australia, a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd.

  Bluefire and the colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Visit us on the Web! www.randomhouse.com/teens/strangelands

  Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at

  www.randomhouse.com/teachers

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-97434-1

  Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

  v3.1

  CONTENTS

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Map

  Obernewtyn

  Dedication

  Introduction

  Part I: The Lowlands

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Part II: Heart of the Darkness

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Part III: The Master of Obernewtyn

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  The Farseekers

  Dedication

  Part I: Refuge

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Part II: The Lowlands

  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

  Part III: The Ken

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Epilogue

  BERNEWTYN

  for Brenda

  INTRODUCTION

  IN THE DAYS following the holocaust, which came to be known as the Great White, there was death and madness. In part, this was the effect of the lingering radiation rained on the world from the skies. Those fortunate enough to live on remote holdings and farms were spared destruction, though they had seen the skies whiten and had understood that it meant death. These people preserved their untainted land and families ruthlessly, slaughtering the hundreds of refugees who poured from the poisoned cities.

  This time of siege was called the Age of Chaos and lasted until no one else came from the cities. Unaware that the cities were now only silent graveyards on endless black plains where nothing lived or grew, the most powerful farmers formed a Council to protect their community from further siege and to mete out justice and aid. Peace came to the Land.

  But time proved that the remote community had not completely escaped the effects of the Great White. Mutations in both man and beast were high. Not fully understanding the reason for the mutations, the Council feared for the community and decreed that any man or beast not born completely normal must be burned. To remove any qualms people might have about the killings, these burnings took on a ritual air, and were used to remind the people of their fortune in being spared in the holocaust and the time of Chaos.

  The Council appointed a fledgling religious order to perform the burnings. The order, called the Herder Faction, believed that the holocaust was punishment from God, whom they called Lud. Gradually, religious dogma and law fused, and the honest way of the farmer was seen as the only right way. Machines, books, and all the artifacts of the Beforetime were abhorred and destroyed.

  Some resisted the rigid lore, but by now the Council had provided itself with a band of militaristic protectors, called soldierguards. Any who dared oppose the order were tried and burned as seditioners or were given the lesser charge of being unsafe and sent to work on the Councilfarms.

  After some time, the Herder Faction advised the Council that not all mutancies were immediately apparent at birth. Such afflictions as those that attacked the mind could not be discerned until later.

  This created some difficulty, for while the Council saw the opportunity to further manipulate the community, accusing anyone of whom they disapproved of hidden mutancy, it was more difficult to proceed with a ritual burning of someone who had been accepted as normal for most of his or her life. The Council eventually decreed that none but the most horribly afflicted of this new kind of mutant would be burned and the rest would be sent instead to the Councilfarms. A new name was devised for anyone with an affliction not apparent at birth—Misfit.

  It was a dark and violent age, though the untainted land flourished and even began cautiously to extend its boundaries as the effects of the Great White began at last to wane. New towns were established, all ruled by the iron hand of the Council from its seat in Sutrium. So great was the death toll under Council rule that hundreds of children were left orphaned each year. The Council responded by setting up a network of orphan homes to house those unclaimed by blood relatives.

  The community regarded the inmates of orphan homes with an abiding suspicion, since most were the children of Misfits or seditioners, and as such were considered dangerous.

  PART I

  THE LOWLANDS

  1

  BEFORE FIRST LIGHT, we se
t out for the Silent Vale.

  It was a half day’s journey, and we were led by a tall gangling boy called Elii, who carried a small sword and two hunting knives at his belt. These were the clearest visible reminders that our journey involved danger.

  Also traveling with us was a young Herder. He represented the true danger that lay ahead. Around our necks we wore the dull graymetal circlet that denoted our orphan status. This would protect us from robbers and gypsies, for as orphans we owned nothing. Normally the presence of a Herder would be enough to frighten off robbers, who feared the wrath of the powerful order.

  But this was a very young Herder, little more than a boy, with golden bum-fluff on his cheeks. His eyes held characteristic Herder zeal, but there was a nervous tic in one of his eyelids. I guessed this was his first duty away from the cloisters; he seemed as nervous of us as of any supernatural dangers he might perceive. It was rumored that Herders had the ability to see the ghosts of the Oldtimers flitting about as they had done in the terrible days when the sky was still white and radiant. This talent was said to be Ludgiven so they could warn of the dangers that lay in following the evil ways of the Beforetimers.

  Our expedition to collect whitestick was considered perilous but important. The Council had ruled that only orphan homes could mine the rare substance, perhaps because orphans were the most expendable members of the community. Collection of the whitestick was fraught with danger, for the substance could only be found in areas verging on tainted, where the land had not long ago been untouchable. The whitestick was poisonous to the naked skin and had to be passed through a special process designed to remove its poisons before it was of any use.

  Once cleansed, it was marvelously versatile, serving in everything from sleep potions to the potent medicines prepared by the Herders.

  I had not been to the Silent Vale before. This was the Kinraide orphan home’s area of collection, and it yielded high-grade whitestick. But the Silent Vale was considered dangerously close to the Blacklands, where the poisons of the Great White still ruled. It was even whispered there were traces of Oldtime dwellings nearby. I was thrilled, and terrified, to think I might see them.

  We passed through a side gate in the walls of the Kinraide complex. The way from that door was a track leading steeply downward. Seldom traveled, it seemed a world apart from the neat, ordered gardens and paths within the orphanage. Bush creepers trailed unchecked from side to side, choking the path in places.

  Elii chopped occasionally at the vines to clear the way. He was an odd boy. People tended to shun him because of his profession and because of his close connections with the orphan home, though he was no orphan. His father had worked in the same capacity and his grandfather before that, until they had died of the rotting sickness that came from prolonged exposure to the whitestick. He lived on the grounds at Kinraide but did not associate with us.

  One of the girls in our party approached him. “Why not travel along the crevasse instead of going up this steep edge?” she panted.

  For some way, we had been climbing a steep spur along one side of the rise. Northward the dale ran up into a glen of shadows.

  “The path runs this way,” Elii snapped, his eyes swiveling around to the rest of us, cold and contemptuous. “I don’t want to hear any more whining questions from you lot. I’m the Lud of this expedition, and I say there’ll be no more talk.”

  The Herder flushed at the nearly blasphemous mention of Lud’s name, but the restraint in his face showed he had been warned already about the rude but necessary youth. Few would choose to do his job, whatever the prize in the end. Elii turned on his heel and led us at a smart pace to the crest of the hill. From the top, we could see a long way—the home behind us and beyond that the town center, and in front of us, far to the west, lay a belt of mountains, purpled with the distance. The boundary of untainted lands. Beyond those mountains, nothing lived. Hastily I averted my eyes, for no one understood all the dangers of the Blacklands. Even looking at them might do some harm.

  The dawn came and went as we walked, a wan gray light seeping into the world. The path led us toward a pool of water in a small valley. It was utterly still and mirrored the dull overcast sky, its southern end dark in the shadow of the hills.

  “I hope we are not going to swim that because it is in the way,” said the same girl who had spoken before. I stared at her defiant face, still stained with the red dye used by Herders to mark the children of seditioners. Elii said nothing, but the Herder gave her a look that would have terrified me. A nervous young Herder is still a Herder.

  We came to the pool at the shadowed end only to find the path cleaved to the very edge of the water.

  “Touch this water not!” the Herder said suddenly in a loud voice that made us all jump.

  Elii looked over his shoulder with a sneering expression. A little farther on, a cobbled border, crumbled in places and overrun with sprouting weeds, ran alongside the track. It was uncommon enough for me to wonder if this was from the Beforetime. If so, I was not much impressed, but the Herder made a warding-off sign at the border.

  “Avert your eyes,” he cried, his voice squeaking at the end. I wondered if he saw something. Perhaps there were faint impressions of Oldtimers fleeing along this very road, the Great White mushrooming behind them, filling the sky with deadly white light.

  An eastward bend in the path led us around the edge of a natural stone wall, and there we suddenly came upon a thing that was unmistakably a product of the Oldtime. A single unbroken gray stone grew straight up into the sky like the trunk of a tree, marked at intervals with bizarre symbols, an obelisk of the ancient past.

  “This is where the other Herders spoke their prayers to Lud,” said Elii. “They saw no danger before this.”

  The young Herder flushed but kept his dignity. He made us kneel as he asked Lud for protection. The prayer lasted a very long time. Elii sighed loudly and impatiently. Making a final sign of rejection at the unnatural gray pedestal, the young priest rose and self-consciously brushed his habit.

  The same girl spoke again. “Is that from the Beforetime, then?” she asked. This time I did not look at her. She was dangerously careless and seemed not to think about what she was saying. And this Herder was nervous enough to report all of us because of the one stupid girl.

  “It is a sign of the evil past,” said the Herder at last, trembling with outrage. Finally, the girl seemed to sense she had gone too far and fell silent.

  One of the others in our party, a girl named Rosamunde whom I knew only slightly, moved near and whispered in my ear, “That girl will be off to the Councilcourt if she keeps that up.”

  I nodded slightly but hoped she would not prolong her whispering.

  To my concern, she leaned close again. “Perhaps she doesn’t care if they send her to the farms. I heard her whole family was burned for sedition, and she only escaped because of her age,” she added.

  I shrugged, and to my relief, Rosamunde stepped back into line.

  When we stopped for midmeal, Rosamunde sought me out again, sitting beside me and unwrapping her bread and curd cheese. I hoped there was nothing about her that would reflect on me. I had heard nothing of any detriment about her, but one never knew.

  “That girl,” Rosamunde said softly. “It must be unbearable to know that her whole family is dead except for her.”

  Unwillingly, I looked to where the other girl sat alone, not eating, her body stiff with some inner tension. “I heard her father was mixed up with Henry Druid.”

  I pretended not to be interested, but it was hard not to be curious about anyone linked with the mysterious rebel Herder priest.

  Rosamunde leaned forward again, reaching for her cordial. “I know your brother, Jes,” she said softly. I stiffened, wondering if he had sent her to spy on me. Unaware of my withdrawal, she went on. “He is fortunate to be so well thought of among the guardians. There is talk that the Herder wants to make him an assistant.”

  I was careful not t
o let my shock show. I had heard nothing of that and wondered if Jes knew. He would have seen no reason to tell me if he did.

  Jes was the only person who knew the truth about me. What he knew was enough to see me burned, and I was frightened of him. My only comfort lay in the tendency of the Council to condemn all those in a family tainted by one Misfit birth. Jes might not be burned, but he would not like to be sentenced to the Councilfarms to process whitestick until he died. As long as it was safer for him to keep my secret, I was safe, but if it ever appeared that I would be exposed, I feared Jes would denounce me at once.

  Suddenly I wondered if he had engineered my inclusion on the whitestick expedition. As a favored orphan, he had some influence. He was too pious to kill me himself, though that would have been his best solution, but if I died seeking whitestick, as many did, then he would be innocently free of me.

  Elii called us to move. This time I positioned myself near him, where Rosamunde would not dare chatter. The Herder priest walked alongside, muttering his incantations. We had not gone far when a rushing noise came through the whispering greenery. We arrived shortly thereafter at a part of the path that curved steeply down. Here a subterranean waterway, swollen with the autumnal rains, had burst through the dark earth, using the path as its course until the next bend.

 
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