something far more powerful. Will, imagination and faith were the weapons of magic as Estcarp used it. Of course, they had certain methods of focusing or intensifying that will, imagination, and faith. But the end result was that they were extremely open-minded about things which could not be seen, felt, or given visible existence.

And the hatred and fear of their neighbors was founded upon just that basis — magic. To Alizon in the north, Karsten in the south, the power of the Witches of Estcarp was evil. “You shall not suffer a witch to live.” How many times had that been mouthed in his own world as a curse against innocent and guilty alike, and with far less cause.

For the matriarchate of Estcarp did have powers beyond any human explanation, and they used them ruthlessly when necessary. He had helped to bring a witch out of Alizon where she had ventured to be eyes and ears for her people.

A witch — Simon drank again. Not every woman of Estcarp had the Power. It was a talent which skipped willfully from family to family, generation to generation. Those who tested out as children were brought to the central city for their schooling and became dedicated to their order. Even their names were gone, for to give another one’s name was to give a part of one’s identity, so that thereafter the receiver had power over the giver. Simon could understand now the enormity of his request when he had asked the name of the woman in whose company he had fled over the moor.

Also the Power was not steady. To use it past a certain point wore hardly upon the witch. Nor could it always be summoned at will. Sometimes it was apt to fail at some crucial moment. So, in spite of her witches and her learnings, Estcarp had also her mail-clad Guards, her lines of forts along her borders, her swords loose in many sheaths.

“Sa…” The stool beside him was jerked back from the table as a newcomer swung leg across to sit. “It is hot for the season.” A helm banged down on the board and a long arm swept out to reach the jug of wine.

The hawk on the discarded helm stared at Simon glassily, its beautifully wrought metallic plumage resembling true feathers. Koris drank while questions were shot at him from about the table, as men might aim darts for more deadly purpose. There was discipline in the forces of Estcarp but off duty there was no caste and the men about that board were avid for news. Their commander banged his tankard down with some force and answered briskly:

“You’ll hear the muster horn before the hour of gate closing, in my opinion. That was Magnis Osberic who prayed safe passage from the west road. And he had a tail in full war gear. It is to my mind that Gorm makes trouble.”

His words fell into a silence at the end. All of them, now including Simon, knew what Gorm meant to the Guards’ Captain. For rightfully the lordship of Gorm should have rested in Koris’ powerful hands. His personal tragedy had not begun there, but it had ended on that island when, wounded and alone, he had drifted from its shore, face down in a leaking fishing boat.

Hilder, Lord Defender of Gorm, had been storm-stayed on those moors which were a no man’s land between Alizon and the plains of Estcarp. There, separated from his men, he had fallen from a floundered horse and broken an arm, to blunder on in a half daze of pain and fever into the lands of the Tormen, that strange race who held the bogs against all comers, allowing no encroachment upon their soggy domain by any race or man.

Why Hilder had not been slain or driven forth again remained ever a mystery. But his story was untold even after he returned to Gorm some months later, healed again of body and bearing with him a new-made wife. And the men of Gorm — more straightly, the women of Gorm — would have none of that marriage, whispering that it had been forced upon their lord in return for his life. For the woman he had brought with him was misshapen of body, stranger yet of mind, being of the true blood of Tor. She bore him Koris in due time, and then she was gone. Perhaps she died, perhaps she fled again to her kin. Hilder must have known, but he never spoke of her again, and Gorm was so glad to be rid of such a liege lady that there were no questions asked.

Only Koris remained, with the head of a Gorm noble and the body of a bog loper, as he was never allowed to forget. And in time when Hilder took a second wife, Oma, the well-dowered daughter of a far-sailing sea master, Gorm again whispered and hoped. So they were only too willing to accept the second son Uryan, who, it was plain to see, had not a drop of suspect outland blood in the veins of his straight young body.

In time Hilder died. But he was a long time in dying and those who whispered had a chance to make ready against that day. Those who thought to use Oma and Uryan for their purposes were mistaken, for the Lady Oma, of trading stock and shrewd, was no easily befooled female of the inner courts. Uryan was still a child, and she would be his regent — though there were those who would say no to that unless she made a display of strength.

She was not a fool when she played one lord of Gorm against another, weakening each and keeping her own forces intact. But she was the worst befooled mortal in the world when she turned elsewhere for support. For it was Oma who brought black ruin to Gorm when she secretly summoned the fleet of Kolder to back her rule.

Kolder lay over the rim of the sea world, just where you could find only one man in ten thousand among the seafarers who could tell you. For honest men, or human men, kept aloof from that grim port and did not tie at its quays. It was accepted everywhere that those of Kolder were not as other men, and it was damnation to have any contact with them.

The death day of Hilder was followed by a night of red terror. And only one of Koris’ superhuman strength could have broken from the net cast for him. Then there was only death, for when the Kolder came to Gorm, Gorm ceased to be. If any now lived there who had known life under Hilder, they had no hope. For Kolder was now Gorm, yes, and more than just the island of Gorm, for within the year stark towers had risen in another place on the coast and a city called Yle had come into being. Though no man of Estcarp went to Yle — willingly.

This Yle lay like a spreading stain of foulness between Estcarp and their one strong ally to the west — the sea wanderers of Sulcarkeep. These fighter-traders who knew wild places and different lands had built their stronghold by Estcarp favor on a finger of land which pointed into the sea, their road to encircle the world. Master Traders were the seamen of Sulcarkeep, but also they were fighting men who walked unchallenged in a thousand ports. No trooper of Alizon or shieldman of Karsten spoke to a Sulcarman except in a mild voice, and they were esteemed as swordbrothers by the Guardsmen of Estcarp.

“Magnis Osberic is not one to ride forth with the summoning arrow unless he must have already manned his walls,” remarked Tunston, senior under officer who kept the forces of Estcarp to the mark. He arose and stretched. “We’d best see to our gear. If Sulcarkeep cries aid, then we loosen swords.”

Koris gave only a preoccupied nod to that. He had dipped finger into his tankard and was drawing lines on the scrubbed board before him, chewing absentmindedly the while at a flat-sized hunk of brown bread. Those lines made sense to Simon, looking over the other’s hunched shoulder, for they duplicated maps he had seen in the muster room of the city keep.

That finger which ended with Sulcarkeep on its tip formed one arm to encircle a wide bay, so that across the expanse of water the city of the traders faced — although many miles lay between them — Aliz, the main port of Alizon. In the confines of the bay itself was cupped the island of Gorm. And on that Koris carefully made the dot to signify Sippar, the main city.

Strangely enough Yle did not lie on the bayside section of the peninsula coast, but on the southwest portion of the shoreline, facing the open sea. Then there was a sweep of broken line southward, extending well into the Duchy of Karsten, all rock cliff with no safe anchorage for any ship. The bay of Gorm had been of old Estcarp’s best outlet to the western ocean.

The Guards’ Captain studied his work for a long instant or two and then with an impatient exclamation, rubbed his hand across it, smearing the lines.

“There is only one road to Sulcarkeep?” asked Simon. With Yle to the south and Gorm to the north, parties from each Kolder post could easily slice in two a peninsula road without greatly bestirring themselves.

Koris laughed. “There is one road, as old as the ages. Our ancestors did not foresee Kolder in Gorm — who in their sane minds could? To make safe that road,” he put his thumb on the dot he had made for Sippar and pressed it against the age-hardened wood as if he were remorselessly crushing an insect, “we would have to do so here. You cure a disease by treating its source, not the fever, the wasting which are the signs of its residence in the body. And in this case,” he looked bleakly up at Tregarth, “we have no knowledge upon which to work.”

“A spy—”

Again the Guards’ officer laughed. “Twenty men have gone forth from Estcarp to Gorm. Men who suffered shape-changing without knowing whether they would ever again look upon their own faces in a mirror, but suffering

Вы читаете Witch World
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату