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02 the land of the sil.., p.1
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       02 - The Land of the Silver Apples, p.1

         Part #2 of Sea of Trolls series by Nancy Farmer
 
02 - The Land of the Silver Apples


  THE LAND OF THE

  SILVER APPLES

  Sea of Trolls - 02

  Nancy Farmer

  (An Undead Scan v1.5)

  For Ruth Farmer

  1916-2006

  May the life force hold you

  in the hollow of its hand

  CAST OF CHARACTERS

  HUMANS (SAXONS)

  Jack: Age thirteen; an apprentice bard

  Lucy: Jack’s sister; age seven

  Mother: Alditha; Jack and Lucy’s mother; a wise woman

  Father: Giles Crookleg; Jack and Lucy’s father

  The Bard: A druid from Ireland; also known as Dragon Tongue

  Pega: A slave girl; age fourteen

  Brother Aiden: A monk from the Holy Isle

  Father Sivein: The abbot of St. Filian’s Well

  Brutus: A slave at St. Filian’s Well

  Father Severus: A prisoner of the elves

  Hazel: A child stolen by hobgoblins

  HUMANS (NORTHMEN)

  Thorgil Olaf’s Daughter: An ex-berserker; age thirteen

  Olaf One-Brow: A famous warrior and Thorgil’s adoptive father; deceased

  Skakki: Olaf’s son; shipmate of Thorgil

  Rune: A skald

  Eric the Rash: Shipmate of Thorgil

  Eric Pretty-Face: Shipmate of Thorgil

  Heimlich the Heinous: Nephew of King Ivar the Boneless

  PICTS

  Brude: Leader of the Old Ones

  HOBGOBLINS

  The Bugaboo: King of the hobgoblins

  The Nemesis: The Bugaboo’s second-in-command

  Mumsie: The Bugaboo’s mother

  Mr. and Mrs. Blewit: Adoptive parents of Hazel

  ELVES

  Partholis: Queen of Elfland

  Partholon: Partholis’ consort

  Ethne: An elf lady; daughter of Partholis and an unknown human

  Gowrie: An elf lord

  Nimue: The Lady of the Lake; a water elf

  UNCLASSIFIABLE

  King Yffi: Ruler of Din Guardi and Bebba’s Town; half-kelpie

  Man in the Moon: An old god; exiled to the moon

  Forest Lord: An old god; ruler of the Green World

  The Hedge: Aspect of the Forest Lord

  Knuckers: They look like your worst nightmare.

  Yarthkins: Also known as landvættir; spirits of the land. You really don’t want to meddle with them.

  The Song of Wandering Aengus

  I went out to the hazel wood,

  Because a fire was in my head,

  And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

  And hooked a berry to a thread;

  And when white moths were on the wing,

  And moth-like stars were flickering out,

  I dropped the berry in a stream

  And caught a little silver trout.

  When I had laid it on the floor,

  I went to blow the fire aflame,

  But something rustled on the floor,

  And some one called me by my name.

  It had become a glimmering girl

  With apple blossom in her hair

  Who called me by my name and ran

  And faded through the brightening air.

  Though I am old with wandering

  Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

  I will find out where she has gone,

  And kiss her lips and take her hands;

  And walk among long dappled grass,

  And pluck till time and times are done

  The silver apples of the moon,

  The golden apples of the sun.

  —William Butler Yeats

  Chapter One

  THE NECKLACE

  It was the middle of the night when the rooster crowed. The sun had disappeared hours ago into a mass of clouds over the western hills. From the wind buffeting the walls of the house, Jack knew a storm had rolled off the North Sea. The sky would be black as a lead mine, and even the earth, covered with snow as it was, would be invisible. The sun when it rose—if it rose—would be masked in gloom.

  The rooster crowed again. Jack heard his claws scratching the bottom of his basket as if he was wondering where his soft nest had gone. And where his warm companions had hidden themselves. The rooster was alone in his little pen.

  “It’s only for a while,” Jack told the bird, who grumbled briefly and settled down. He would crow again later, and again, until the sun really appeared. That was how roosters were. They made noise all night, to be certain of getting it right.

  Jack threw back the heap of sheepskins covering him. The coals in the hearth still gleamed, but not for long, Jack thought with a twinge of fear. It was the Little Yule, the longest night of the year, and the Bard had commanded they put out all the fires in the village. The past year had been too dangerous. Berserkers had appeared from across the water, and only merest chance had kept them from slaughtering the villagers.

  The Northmen had destroyed the Holy Isle. Those who had not been drowned or burned or chopped to bits had been hauled off into slavery.

  It was time for new beginnings, the Bard said. Not one spark of fire was to remain in the little gathering of farms Jack knew as home. New fire had to be kindled from the earth. The Bard called it a “need-fire.” Without it, the evils of the past would linger into the new year.

  If the flame did not kindle, if the earth refused to give up its fire, the frost giants would know their time had come. They would descend from their icy fortresses in the far north. The great wolf of winter would devour the sun and light would never return.

  Of course, that was the belief in the old days, Jack thought as he pulled on his calfskin boots. Now, with Brother Aiden in the village, people knew that the old beliefs should be cast away. The little monk sat outside his beehive-shaped hut and spoke to anyone who would listen. He gently corrected people’s errors and spoke to them of the goodness of God. He was an excellent storyteller, almost as fine as the Bard. People were willing to listen to him.

  Still, in the dark of the longest night of the year, it was hard to believe in such goodness. God had not protected the Holy Isle. The wolf of winter was abroad. You could hear his voice on the wind, and the very air rang with the shouts of frost giants. Surely it was wise to follow the old ways.

  Jack climbed the ladder to the loft. “Mother, Father,” he called. “Lucy.”

  “We’re awake,” his father replied. He was already bundled up for the long walk. Mother was ready too, but Lucy stubbornly clung to her covers.

  “Leave me alone!” she wailed.

  “It’s St. Lucy’s Day,” Father coaxed. “You’ll be the most important person in the village.”

  “I’m already the most important person in the village.”

  “The very idea!” Mother said. “More important than the Bard or Brother Aiden or the chief? You need a lesson in humility.”

  “Ah, but she’s really a lost princess,” Father said fondly. “She’ll look so pretty in her new dress.”

  “I will, won’t I?” said Lucy, condescending to rise.

  Jack went back down the ladder. It was an argument Mother never won. She tried to teach Lucy manners, but Father always undermined her efforts.

  To Giles Crookleg, his daughter was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to him. He was forever cursed with lameness. Both he and his wife, Alditha, were sturdy rather than handsome, with faces browned by working in the fields. No one would ever mistake them for nobility. Jack knew he would be just like them when he grew up. But Lucy’s hair was as golden as afternoon sunlight and her eyes were the violet blue of an evening sky. She moved with a bright grace that seemed barely to touch the earth. Giles, with his lumberi
ng, shambling gait, could only admire her.

  Jack had to admit, as he stirred up the hearth for one last burst of heat, that Lucy had been through much in the past year. She had seen murder and endured slavery in the Northland. He had too, but he was thirteen and she was only seven. He was willing to overlook most of her annoying habits.

  He heated cider and warmed oatcakes on the stones next to the fire. Mother was busy dressing Lucy in her finery, and Jack heard complaints as the little girl’s hair was combed. Father came down to drink his cider.

  The cock crowed again. Both Jack and Father paused. It was said in the old days that a golden rooster lived in the branches of Yggdrassil. On the darkest night of the year he crowed. If he was answered by the black rooster that lived under the roots of the Great Tree, the End of Days had come.

  No cry shook the heavens or echoed in the earth. Only the north wind blustered against the walls of the house, and Jack and Father relaxed. They continued to sip their drinks. “I wish we had a mirror,” came Lucy’s petulant voice. “I don’t see why we can’t buy one from the Pictish peddlers. We’ve got all that silver Jack brought home.”

  “It’s for hard times,” Mother said patiently.

  “Oh, pooh! I want to see myself! I’m sure I’m beautiful.”

  “You’ll do,” Mother said.

  In fact, Jack had more silver than his parents knew. The Bard had advised him to bury half of it under the floor of the ancient Roman house, where the old man lived. “Your mother has good sense,” the Bard had said, “but Giles Crookleg—excuse me, lad—has the brain of an owl.”

  Father had spent some of his share on Brother Aiden’s altar and a donkey for Lucy. The rest was reserved for that glorious day when she would marry a knight or even—Father’s hopes rose ever higher—a prince. How Lucy would meet a prince in a tiny village tucked away from any major road was a mystery.

  The little girl climbed down the ladder and twirled to show off her finery. She wore a long, white dress of the finest wool. Mother had woven the yellow sash herself, dying it with the pollen-colored washings from her beehives. The dress, however, had been imported from Edwin’s Town in the far north. Such cloth was beyond Mother’s ability, for her sheep produced only a coarse, gray wool.

  Lucy wore a feathery green crown of yew on her golden hair. Jack thought it was as nice as a real crown, and only he understood its true meaning. The Bard said the yew tree guarded the door between this world and the next. On the longest night of the year this door stood open. Lucy’s role was to close it during the need-fire ceremony, and she needed protection from whatever lay on the other side.

  “I know what would go with this dress—my silver necklace,” Lucy said.

  “You are not to wear metal,” Mother said sharply. “The Bard said it was forbidden.”

  “He’s a pagan,” Lucy said. She had only just learned the word.

  “He’s a wise man, and I’ll have no disrespect from you!”

  “A pagan, a pagan, a pagan!” Lucy sang in her maddening way. “He’s going to be dragged down to Hell by demons with long claws.”

  “Get your cloak on, you rude child. We’ve got to go.”

  Lucy darted past Mother and grabbed Father’s arm. “You’ll let me wear the necklace, Da. Please? Please-please-please-please-please?” She cocked her head like a bright little sparrow, and Jack’s heart sank. She was so adorable, all golden hair and smiles.

  “You can’t wear the necklace,” Jack said. Lucy’s smile instantly turned upside down.

  “It’s mine!” she spat.

  “Not yet,” Jack said. “It was given into my keeping. I decide when you get it.”

  “You thief!”

  “Lucy!” cried Mother.

  “What harm can it do, Alditha?” said Father, entering into the argument for the first time. He put his arm around the little girl, and she rubbed her cheek against his coat.

  “Brother Aiden says this is St. Lucy’s Day. Surely we honor the saint by dressing her namesake in the finest we have.”

  “Giles—” began Mother.

  “Be still. I say she wears the necklace.”

  “It’s dangerous,” Jack said. “The Bard says metal can poison the need-fire because you can’t tell where it’s been. If it’s been used as a weapon or for some other evil, it perverts the life force.”

  Father had treated Jack with more respect since his return from the land of the Northmen, but he was not going to be lectured by his son. “This is my house. I am the master,” Giles Crookleg said. He went to the treasure chest with Lucy dancing at his side.

  Father took the iron key from the thong around his neck and unlocked the chest. Inside were some of the things Mother had brought to the marriage: lengths of cloth, embroidery, and a few items of jewelry. Underneath were a heap of silver coins and a gold coin with the face of a Roman king that Father had found in the garden. Wrapped in a cloth was the necklace of silver leaves.

  It gleamed with a brightness that was strangely compelling. Jack could understand Lucy’s desire for it. It had been looted in a Northman raid, claimed by Frith Half-Troll, and had come to Thorgil the shield maiden. Thorgil fell in love with it, and this was most unusual because she scorned feminine weaknesses such as jewelry and baths. Then Thorgil, who valued suffering even more than silver, had given her beloved necklace to Lucy.

  From the very beginning, the little girl had reacted badly to this generous gift. She claimed it came from Frith, who—Lucy insisted—had treated her like a real princess. And she became hysterical when Jack reminded her of the truth, that the evil half-troll had kept her in a cage and planned to sacrifice her. Jack had taken charge of the necklace then.

  “Ooh!” cried Lucy, putting it on.

  “Now we really have to go,” said Father, locking the chest. He had lit two horn lanterns for the journey. Mother had packed several of her precious beeswax candles in a carrying bag. Jack poured water over the hearth, and smoke and steam billowed up. The light in the room shrank down to two brownish dots behind the panels of the horn lanterns.

  “Be sure it’s out,” whispered Mother. Jack broke up the coals with the poker and poured on more water until he could feel only a fading heat in the hearthstones.

  Father opened the door, and a blast of icy wind swept in. The rooster groaned in his pen, and a cup rolled along the floor. “Don’t dawdle!” Father commanded, as though Jack and Mother had been responsible for the delay. Snow lay everywhere, and they could see only a few feet ahead by the dim lantern light. The sky was shrouded with clouds.

  Father fetched the donkey for Lucy. Bluebell was an obedient, patient beast, chosen by Brother Aiden for her good character, but she had to be dragged from her pen on this night. She fought until Father smacked her hard and seated Lucy on her back. The donkey stood there, shivering and blowing steam from her nostrils.

  “Good old Bluebell,” crooned Lucy, hugging the animal’s neck. The little girl was covered in a heavy woolen robe with a hood, and the robe hung down over Bluebell’s sides. It must have given the donkey some warmth because she stopped resisting and followed Father’s lead.

  Jack went ahead with a lantern. It was slow going, for the road was icy where it wasn’t covered with snow. Jack had to keep trudging to the side to find the posts that marked the way. Once, they wandered off course and knew they were wrong only when Jack bumped into a tree.

  The wind gusted and the snowflakes danced. Jack heard a rooster crow, but it wasn’t the golden bird sitting on the branches of Yggdrassil. It was only John the Fletcher’s fighting cock that threatened anyone who passed by. They came to a cluster of buildings and turned at the blacksmith’s house. “There’s no fire,” Mother murmured. The forge where iron bars were heated was as black as the anvil under the oak tree.

  Jack felt a cold even deeper than the winter night. Never, in all his days, had he ever seen that fire out. It was like the heart of the village, where people gathered to talk and where you could warm your toes aft
er a walk. Now it was dead. Soon every fire would be dead, including the two brown spots of light they carried.

  More would have to be called up, using wood that had drawn its strength from the earth. For the need-fire had to be alive to turn the wheel of the year. Only then would the frost giants return to their mountains and the door be closed between this world and the next.

  Chapter Two

  THE NEED-FIRE CEREMONY

  The chief’s house was large and surrounded with outbuildings for livestock, storage, and a dairy. To one side was an apple orchard, now leafless and dark. Jack had often visited the chief since he’d become the Bard’s apprentice. He carried the old man’s harp for musical evenings and relished his position by the fire. Earlier, when Jack had been only Giles Crookleg’s brat, the boy had been pushed to the coldest part of the room.

  He had been given his own small harp, but he was not nearly ready to perform. His fingers, more used to digging turnips, did not have the practiced ease of his master’s. The Bard said not to worry. The skill came with the years, and anyhow, Jack’s voice was good enough to stand on its own.

  Jack rapped on the chief’s door with his staff, and Father shouldered his way in with Lucy in his arms. The hall was filled with the men who would take part in the ceremony. They needed to be strong, for the rite was difficult and might take a long time. The weak, the elderly, the children, and most of the women were huddled under sheepskins in their own dark homes. The Bard and Brother Aiden sat together by the still-burning hearth.

  “May I put the donkey in your barn?” Father asked the chief.

  “Sit down and rest, Giles,” said the chief. “I know how difficult it was for you to walk here. Pega! Stir your stumps and attend to that beast.” A girl sprang up from the shadows in a corner.

  Jack had glimpsed her before. She was a silent creature who fled the instant you looked at her, and no wonder. Pega was woefully ugly. She had ears that stuck straight out through wispy hair. She was as skinny as a ferret, and her mouth was as wide as a frog’s. Saddest of all, she had a birthmark covering half her face. It was said her mother had been frightened by a bat and that this was the mark of its wing.

 
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