Hunting the white witch, p.1
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       Hunting the White Witch, p.1

           Tanith Lee
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Hunting the White Witch


  Previously published as Quest for the White Witch, Hunting the White Witch is the conclusion to Tanith Lee’s legendary debut trilogy!

  “Lee is one of the most powerful and intelligent writers to work in heroic fantasy, and this book displays her strengths.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Quite remarkable...an outstanding novel of strange adventure.”

  —Analog (for The Birthgrave)

  “The Birthgrave is one of the most beautifully written pieces of fantasy I have ever read.”

  —The Drexel Triangle

  “Lee paints her scenes rather than writes them; there’s no other way to describe it. Her characters live and breathe off the page, and the reader is drawn into a world of magic and barbarism. It’s not a pretty world. Lee does not write the sweet fantasies of Tolkien, Beagle, or even Cabell. Her fantasy worlds are cruel, painful, dirty, harsh, and frequently depressing. But they are at the same time colorful, real, and absorbing.”

  —Critical Mass

  “An exciting, feverish, obsession-laden sword and sorcery epic, unlike anything then current—or, arguably, since.”

  —LOCUS (for The Birthgrave)

  “Marvelously paced and beautifully written.”

  —British Fantasy Society Bulletin (for The Birthgrave)

  “A quality tour de force not to be missed.”

  —Science Fiction Review (for The Birthgrave)

  “[Shadowfire] is full of what all Tanith Lee novels are renowned for: lost cities, ancient empires crumbled, savages aping old cultures, violence, vengeance, tragedy, death and gore.”

  —Madison Review of Books

  DAW Books presents classic works of imaginative fiction by multiple award-winning author TANITH LEE

  THE BIRTHGRAVE TRILOGY

  THE BIRTHGRAVE

  SHADOWFIRE

  (originally published as Vazkor, Son of Vazkor)

  HUNTING THE WHITE WITCH

  (originally published as Quest for the White Witch)

  TALES FROM THE FLAT EARTH

  NIGHT’S MASTER

  DEATH’S MASTER

  DELUSION’S MASTER

  DELIRIUM’S MISTRESS

  NIGHT’S SORCERIES

  THE WARS OF VIS

  THE STORM LORD

  ANACKIRE

  THE WHITE SERPENT

  AND MORE:

  COMPANIONS ON THE ROAD

  VOLKHAVAAR

  ELECTRIC FOREST

  SABELLA

  KILL THE DEAD

  DAY BY NIGHT

  LYCANTHIA

  DARK CASTLE, WHITE HORSE

  CYRION

  SUNG IN SHADOW

  TAMASTARA

  THE GORGON AND OTHER BEASTLY TALES

  DAYS OF GRASS

  A HEROINE OF THE WORLD

  REDDER THAN BLOOD

  DAW is proud to be reissuing these classic books in new editions beginning in 2015.

  Copyright © 1978 by Tanith Lee.

  Originally published as Quest for the White Witch.

  All Rights Reserved.

  Cover art by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme.

  Cover design by G-Force Design.

  DAW Book Collectors No. 276.

  Published by DAW Books, Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

  All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  eBook ISBN 978-0-698-40461-8

  DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED

  U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES

  —MARCA REGISTRADA

  HECHO EN U.S.A.

  Version_1

  Contents

  Praise for Tanith Lee

  Other Works by Tanith Lee

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Prologue

  Book One Part I: Great Ocean

  Part II: The Sorcerer

  Part III: The Crimson Palace

  Part IV: The Cloud

  Book Two Part I: In the Wilderness

  Part II: White Mountain

  Part III: The Sorceress

  Prologue

  PREVIOUSLY*, I HAVE recounted how I spent my youth among the tribal krarls of the Red Dagkta. How I was named Tuvek and believed myself the son of Ettook, the krarl’s chief, and his out-tribe wife, Tathra. How I was tattooed in the Boys Rite, how when the tattoos did not remain on my skin I fought grown men to prove myself—which skirmish I won and to spare, earning thereby the enmity of the krarl’s stinking seer, Seel. Neither did Ettook much like me, though he told me to pick a gift from his treasure chest. I chose a silver lynx mask, because it was workmanship of the old cities—his prize. I became a warrior of the krarl, unequalled and fighting-mad, yet I was dissatisfied with my life, not knowing why. My flesh had a strange knack of healing. No wound festered; I even survived the bite of a venomous snake.

  When I was nineteen, the krarls were at a Spring Gathering when we were attacked by city-men and their cannon. These cities lay over the mountains, ancient, corrupt and decayed. The folk there went masked, man or woman—only our females hid their faces in the shireen—and supposed themselves descended from a god-race, superior to humanity. They captured many of our men in their raid, and bore them off to be slaves.

  I alone dared follow, with rescue and loot in mind. However, near the raiders’ camp, a strange force seemed to take possession of me. I found I could speak the city tongue. More, the raiders mistook me for another, a man they feared and named Vazkor. It was easy to free their captives and slaughter the city-men in their alarm. Among their pavilions I discovered a gold-haired city girl whom I greatly fancied, and carried home with me to the krarl. Here, I interrupted my own Death Rites—to the dejection of Seel and Ettook.

  I came to love my city girl, Demizdor, and she to love me, despite her contempt for my tribal origins. Soon I wed her. She was much superior to my krarl wives, Chula and the rest.

  I had neglected my mother, Tathra, who alone, formerly, I had cared for. She was heavy with Ettook’s child, and presently bore the thing and died of it. On the night of Tathra’s death, Kotta, the krarl healer, told me this: That I was not, after all, the son of Tathra and Ettook, but of a white-haired city woman—she whose silver lynx mask Ettook had taken. This woman had given birth about the time that Tathra had, but Tathra’s child died. The tent being empty, the city woman had substituted for the dead baby her unwanted one: myself. This story I credited when Kotta told me the white woman claimed to have killed her husband, a sorcerer and city king, by name Vazkor.

  In a turmoil of grief and arrogance, I meant to slay Ettook. But another peculiar power came to me, and I struck him down with a white lightning that burst from my brain. However, I could not control this phenomenon, which overwhelmed me, too. When I recovered my senses, I was helplessly bound and about to be executed by the krarl, Demizdor, too, when they were done raping her. It was Sinharn Night, when reputedly ghosts walked. But the ghostly riders who entered the krarl were Demizdor’s city kin. She, they saved. Me, they also took. Believing me the son of the
hated Vazkor, they would make a spectacle of me in their city of Eshkorek.

  * * *

  Vazkor had been creating for himself an empire, which crumbled at his death, bringing war and ruin to the cities. Uastis had been his wife, an albino sorceress, believed by some to be a reincarnated goddess of the old Lost Race. She had murdered Vazkor, escaping herself. These then: my father and my mother.

  Now the cities existed in poverty-ridden luxuriousness, tended by a dark ugly slave-people. The lords of Eshkorek were hot for second-hand vengeance on Vazkor, through me. But I healed fantastically of the grim wounds they gave me, without even a scar, and was taken under the dubious protection of Prince Erran. To the amazement of all, I instinctively understood and could speak and read the language of the cities. I concluded this was due to my magician father’s blood in me. I was treated well enough, and, despite despising them, came to enjoy the things of Eshkorek, their books and music, their arts for battle and for the bed. My ancestry seemed to surface in me. I was no longer the tribal savage, but what they called me, Vazkor, son of Vazkor. But Demizdor had begun to hate me again, for her treatment by the braves, and because her proud kin regarded me as a barbarian and this shamed her.

  At her instigation, one of her princely lovers let loose on me a demented horse. Its madness came from poison he had given it, but, astonished, I found myself able to heal the animal. In my rage, though, I killed Demizdor’s prince. I was instantly imprisoned and promised a grisly death. However, Demizdor, relenting, enabled me to get away via an underground route which led from the city and beyond the mountains. Her plots had cured my love, yet I asked her to accompany me, for her own safety. She refused.

  The tunnel opened into a vast subterranean concourse built by the Lost Race. Perversely, in view of its magnificence, they had named it SARVRA LFORN—Worm’s Way. Here I saw frescoes of this magician people performing miracles—walking on water, in sky flight, and so on. Many were albino, like Uastis, some were very dark, as my father had been, as I was. One other fact became clear. The Lost neither ate nor drank, nor did they need to relieve themselves—the wretched latrines were plainly for their human slaves.

  Emerging above ground, pursuit followed me. The chase was led by Demizdor’s kin, Zrenn and Orek. I killed most of their soldiers. One I slew by means of the white lightning Ettook had perished from—and, as then, I was debilitated by its use. I sought refuse in a krarl of the black people, by the sea, and discovered I could master their language, too. I assumed I had inherited all these powers from my father.

  Peyuan, the krarl’s chief, spoke to me of my mother, for she had come among his folk after leaving Ettook’s krarl. His words confused me. Though he had only seen her masked—I had met none who had seen her face—he told me she was beautiful, charismatic, yet a gentle friend who had saved his life. I inwardly rejected his version. Peyuan advised me to seek refuge from the city-men on a small island, invisible from the shore. This I did, accompanied by Peyuan’s daughter, Hwenit. She was the healer-witch of the krarl, and went with me in order to make jealous her half-brother, whom she loved, scorning his scruples against incest.

  On the island, Hwenit, who was cunning, schooled me usefully in my own psychic abilities. Yet she made a fire-magic by night to witch her brother. The fire was spotted by enemies, and soon Zrenn and Orek ambushed me, having been rowed to the island in a stolen boat by their dark slave. In the ensuing fight, Hwenit was viciously stabbed by Zrenn. But I mesmerized this bastard, using my powers, and killed him. Orek chose suicide, having told me Demizdor had hanged herself. I was burdened by this onerous news, but the dark slave galvanized me into action. He had formerly seen me strike the man dead with the white light—now the slave, Long-Eye, reckoned me a sorcerer-god. He expected I would heal Hwenit, who was near death. I had healed the horse in Eshkorek, and a child in the black krarl, but I was unsure. Still resolved to try, and indeed, I saved Hwenit and she lived.

  Stunned at the magnitude of my “sorcery,” I faltered. I had reached a hiatus in my life. Earlier, I had sworn a secret oath to Vazkor that I would avenge his death on Uastis, the white witch. I too had a score to settle—my desertion, the king’s birthright she had deprived me of. Now, I resolved to seek the bitch. In a moment of prescience, I ascertained I must travel east, then southward, across the sea.

  Long-Eye, electing me his new master, took me to Zrenn’s stolen boat, and we put out on to the morning ocean.

  What follows is the second portion of my narrative . . . .

  Book One

  Part I: Great Ocean

  1

  THE BOAT ZRENN had chosen to steal was a skiff, very similar to Qwef’s craft, but capable of sail. The slave had stepped the mast and unfurled the coarse-woven square, rigging it to catch the ragged morning wind that came slanting from the mainland far behind. He told me after, for he was unusually talkative to me, how his people sailed back and forth over a wide blue river in the course of trading. They understood ships and boats in the same way they understood gods—a hereditary oblique wisdom, passed from father to boy. This blue river lay a million miles distant west and north; he had sculled there in his childhood before the slave levy fell due and he, along with countless others, was taken to black Ezlann, later bartered to So-Ess and finally absorbed, via a raid, into Eshkorek Arnor.

  Long-Eye was four years my senior and looked old enough to have sired one twice my age. He said the girls of his people were nubile at nine or ten, many had borne babies at the age of eleven; even among the tribes, this would have been considered forward. Not surprisingly, the poor wenches were used up before they reached twenty, wizened hags at twenty-five, and dead most often a couple of years later. The men fared not much better. An elder of forty was unusual and greatly revered. Their hair and the hair of their women commenced turning gray about the twentieth year. I saw some evidence of this, for, as Long-Eye’s pate began to blossom into blue-black stubble, badger gray tufts sprouted along the ridge of his skull. Oddly, his face remained bald. I had occasion to envy that, as the thick growth of beard continued to push, itching, through my own jaw and upper lip.

  Long-Eye raised the sail to catch the wind, put it to rest, and took up the oars when the wind failed. At night we drifted, but by various sailors’ tricks he kept abreast of the skiff’s inclination and the mood of the sea. We must head east before south, his old map had told him. We baited lines with dead Zrenn’s provender, and caught fish. There was even a fire-box in the boat on which to grill them, and two clay water bottles Long-Eye had replenished at the island spring.

  I had lost my discomfort at the size of the ocean; yet the curious phenomena of the sea did not leave me untouched. The height of the sky, the large clouds at its edges, looking close enough to put your hand on; the light of a fine day penetrating liquid like glass; the shine of fish burning with their own cold fire in the darkness; the sea laced with phosphorous, the oars catching it, turned to silver.

  Looking over my shoulder at this wild venturing of mine, I try to recall what I must have felt, having abandoned myself with such fatalistic, grim optimism to the unknown. I think my life had moved too swiftly for me, and I had not caught up. That would account, perhaps, for my complaisance and the curious, uneasy sense of waiting that lurked beneath it.

  Five days went swimming by. The climate was deceptively, as I might have noted, threateningly mild. The sea went down under the skiff, blue-green and clear, into a shadowy weed-forest, peopled by fish.

  Toward the end of that fifth day, just as the innocent sky was folding itself into a scarlet sunset, something loomed up on the sea’s eastern edge, a bar of red-lighted cliff stretching north to south, and out of sight.

  The wind had been dying, though the sea was heavy as syrup. Long-Eye unstepped the mast, and sculled. We reached the cliff wall as the last embers went out in the west. A rough escarpment led up from the sea; the base of the wall was clogged with the green hair of Hwenit’s se
a maidens: They must have enjoyed much love on the barren ridges. We hauled the boat aground for the night, and found birds visited there—one to its regret, since it provided dinner.

  An oddity, that wall of rock, breaking the ocean end to end, as it seemed, yet only a mile or so wide. I climbed the bastion at moonrise and looked out to the east, beyond the barrier, at new miles of white-painted water and that other great ocean of stars. Perhaps a continent had sunk here, leaving only the tops of its highest mountains, transmuted ignominiously to cliff. I had been childishly expecting to reach new land every day, and thought this marvel to be the outpost of it.

  At sunup, after a breakfast of eggs—two other potential birds that had lost out at a chance of life—we slid the boat back in the water. I took the oars, the god feeling in need of exercise; Long-Eye acted as lookout. Presently he located a curious hollow tunnel that passed through the cliffs to the open sea.

  The sky was like the inside of a glazed pot. Little fine hairs of pale blue cirrus were all that disturbed its enamel perfection. The storm did not come that day but on the next.

  * * *

  The ocean, credited here and there with being female, has a woman’s wiles and ways. She wants you to love her, but she wants your guts into the bargain. Man’s weight and dominion of ships she bears with a honey groan, but soon she means to swallow you whole into the hungry, salty womb. At her most benign, she is promising a scourge.

  That day of transcendent quiet ended with another crimson, copper sunset. Fish leaped from the swells, ruby plated along their backs, their wings spread as if they would fly up to the red clouds. Black night, with no wind, followed; next, a silver dawn, and still as metal. By midmorning every hair on my body was electric.

  “What is it?” I said to Long-Eye.

  “It has been too calm. A storm, perhaps.”

  I glanced around like an idiot, the way a man will, looking for something he wishes for but knows is not there. We were more than a day from land at back and none in sight before. It was hard to be sure, from Long-Eye’s wooden manner, what variety of rough weather threatened, yet the feel of the air was bad.

 

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