For decades, Andre Norton forged a truly individual legacy. Garnering a devoted legion of fans for her series, including the Witch World sagas, her boundless imagination and literary skill earned her numerous accolades including the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Award and World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, culminating with the establishment of her High Hallack Genre Writers’ Research and Reference Library—an institution devoted to the betterment of the fantasy and science fiction genres.
This collection is the first of three volumes that showcase her unforgettable talent.
Stories include “The Last Spell,” “Sword of Unbelief,” “Earthborn: A Witch World Story,” “That Which Overfloweth,” “By a Hair,” “The Gifts of Asti,” “Falcon Blood,” “The Dowry of the Rag Picker’s Daughter,” “All Cats Are Gray,” “The Way Wind,” “Black Irish,” “The Boy and the Ogre,” “Through the Needle’s Eye,” “The Toymaker’s Snuffbox,” “Ully the Piper,” “Dream Smith,” “One Spell Wizard,” and “London Bridge.”
About the Author
Jean Rabe had the immense pleasure of co-authoring novels with Andre Norton: Taste of Magic, Dragon Mage, and Return to Quag Keep. She also edited an anthology with Norton, Renaissance Faire, and edited several of her short stories for various DAW Books anthologies. Rabe and Norton were friends, longtime pen pals, and shared books and stories about their cats and dogs. Rabe is the author of thirty fantasy and adventure novels, and many, many short stories.
Read an Excerpt
Tales from High Hallack
The Collected Short Stories of Andre Norton, Volume One
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
The Last Spell
Ancient Enchantresses (1995) DAW
She had somehow gotten him here—to this, his own well-guarded shrine where the ancient wisdom had been so many times called upon. Some of its power must cling to these rough rock walls. How long had it been—two days, three—she could not remember with any certainty. Her mind had been too occupied with hope and what she could recall of the knowledge which had been his gift to her.
They had this place as their goal when the first pangs struck him and he had near fallen from his mount. Only his iron will had kept him in the saddle. And they had both known at once what darkness had struck at him. Her lips thinned over her teeth in a vixen's snarl, as the she fox might lift lip to show teeth when her den and cubs were in danger.
She had brought him here, and by the time they had stumbled within he was nearly past her handling. He was a tall man and though not full-fleshed, she was well overtopped by him. Since that coming she had fought—by the Lady—how she had fought!
It was twilight dim in the cave except where a spear thrust of sunlight struck through a high wall crevice to reveal clearly the bed and that wasted figure lying under the covers. So quiet now. The watcher edged her stool closer. Fear arose in her, making her firmly call upon the controls she had learned so well.
The air was thick with scents of herbs—herbs steeped, herbs charred, herbs crushed by impatient hands. And there was sound as ever present as those odors. Breathing, slow, which seemed now and then to pause. Then she who crouched on the stool would lean yet farther over that shrouded body, listening with a catch of her own breath.
Not yet—not yet was her battle lost! He must not leave for whatever waited outside, even though she knew—the hurt deep in her—that might be his choice. The last spell—she must have the last, otherwise all she had labored for was nothing more than a broken sword left lying on a field of dire defeat, useless even as a trophy.
Her eyes smarted. She rubbed at them impatiently, fearful of losing some small sign. Now she leaned still farther over—his breathing sounded more regular. Would there be another short period when he would rouse—would know her—be able to listen and respond?
She slipped her arm under the folded cloth which served him as a pillow. His gray head rolled a little toward her. By the Lady, he was old—old!
Memory broke through her absorption—a man in the full of his strength, a man who drew all eyes when he strode in company, who had sought out a girl-child braiding buttercups into a wreath beside the mirroring lake. The summer sun had lain warm on her hair, as brightly yellow as the flowers she twisted to suit her will.
Even as she had reflected the sun, so had that stranger cloaked himself in a kind of shadow. Still she had no warning of any ill intent when she looked upon his straight body, his ordered hair, the subtle richness of his cloak. However, he had been a stranger—and when her eyes had been caught and held by his, she had been slightly troubled.
This man, who had said he was sworn in service to a great lord and knew the court, had somehow changed her life even with his first greeting. He had settled himself on the ground a little away from her, but he had continued to talk or, rather, to subtly question. He had drawn from her much more than she had learned from him.
The hair against her arm, now wet with death sweat, had not been ash colored then but black, with a gloss under the sun's touch. And from the beginning his gray eyes had held a fire such as she had never seen in another's.
Though how limited had been her chance of knowledge of the outer world, cloistered and curtained as she had been in the Lady's lake hall. King's daughter she might once have been, but when her father impatiently brought her to the refuge, honoring as he said a promise to his wife lately dead, she became no more, no less, than any new sister in learning. There was no hint of rank or old blood among them.
Having chanced upon her that day, the stranger had not left her. Oh, no. He had schemed and sworn oaths until she was bonded to him as pupil to teacher, for he had revealed himself at last to her guardians as Merlin, he who stood in the High King's shadow but whose own shadow lay over king and land alike.
She knew the rules of the Old Learning—it passed from man to woman, woman to man. Thus he had awakened her quick interest, fed her hopes, brought to life ambition, held before her promises which had finally led them to this place, this hour of fast speeding time.
Quick of mind, swift of hand, she had served him very willingly. In his own place she had read lore supposedly long lost to the world, the lore of the drowned western lands. She had watched while he wrought with forces strong enough to claw them both into shreds had he not known the bindings.
Ah, yes, she had learned, drinking in what he offered as water sinks into sand, always eager for more and more. While he tantalized her with hints and half promises of greater power to come.
She knew what others had whispered behind their hands at the court when she had journeyed there with him at the High King's asking—that she warmed his bed and fed his man's appetites. But that was not so, for such lusts were no part of the kind of bond which tied them. Other men there had eyed her and had striven to make her aware of their interest. But to her they meant nothing. She was too thirsty for what her service would bring her in the end.
In the end! The girl who was Nimuë, King's daughter, seer's chosen vessel of knowledge, stared down now at the man half resting against her shoulder. He had sworn to her that time itself could be tamed, brought to a halt even as one would break an unridden mount. Time was the last of the great talents to be mastered. And here and now time was her enemy—as if it were a being that sensed what she wished to do.
"Lord!" Her voice was imperative as she thought she saw that twitch of the eyelids which signaled another small moment of consciousness, of being aware of where he was and why. Surely hate for the one who had set this doom on him must burn hot enough to give him strength—Morgause—King's sister, Queen now to stern Lot, Mistress of dark weavings.
That one had broken the pattern Merlin had woven for the safety of Britain, enticing the young High King to her bed, he unknowing of their shared parentage. Thus that one—Nimuë's lips moved now as if she gathered moisture to spit—had thought to hold Arthur under her rule in secret because she carried and birthed a child of forbidden union—an act which could blacken his name among all men.
But Morgause had failed in her schemes, even as Merlin had failed in his plans partly because of her. When he had earlier tossed and turned here on this bed, he had often muttered in delirium, reckoning up all that had gone awry.
To bring Arthur to birth Merlin had wrought one of the first high magics, delivering the Lady Ygraine to Uther Pendragon who wore, through Merlin's powers, the seeming of her rightful Lord, Galoris. So it had been set by the ancient rule which was older even than Britain itself—that a woman of the noble blood of the Drowned Lands was to lie with Pendragon, born of the very stuff of Britain, and so bring forth in secret a son to hold fast the old order against the chaos of the new. But death had spread a red hand across that planning—Galoris' death, which had set the first besmirching of the bright future Merlin strove to bring.
And Arthur himself had failed him then—twice—once when he fell victim to Morgause and again when he had chosen Guinevere, the wrong wife.
Nimuë frowned at the thought of Guinevere—the beautiful, the light of mind, the traitor at heart. Perhaps even yet Merlin's cause could be served if someone kept close guard on Guinevere. While Merlin was still at court that one had feared him. Without him—was that one reason for what Morgause had done? For truly it was her poison which ate at him now.
Some said the Queen was barren, for she had not quickened though the High King showed her all favor and shared her bed. But others looked from Arthur to Morgause and spoke of a sin which could smite a man so. Perhaps it was both—who knew what moved the Great Powers to grant or deny?
The man Nimuë half supported sighed as if he shared that dread thought of hers. His eyes opened and for a moment he again showed that strength which had drawn her to him from the beginning.
"Master—" she said softly.
His features seemed to change under her very eyes, become firmer, younger. For a breath or two she even hoped that her potions had turned the tide, routed what Morgause had secretly sent to slay him.
"Bright one—" Even his voice was stronger, closer to that half-teasing one he had always used when they were private together. Then his mouth worked as if something sour had been dribbled into it. She felt his body stiffen in her hold and knew that once more the pain of his coming death was sharp. He must tell her—he must!
Did he not realize that his sharing of that last knowledge might perhaps save his life—if she were strong enough to try?
"The Time Spell!" Her words were sharp, a command. "The Time Spell—as you promised, Master."
He was still staring at her; he had not slipped back into that place of inner hiding. She hunched around a little and caught up from the floor the cup of the last of her brewing, the most potent she had ever mixed.
Nimuë held the cup to his lips and he drank, drank as if it were spring water, such as he had once drunk from her cupped hands beside the lake among the earliest flowers of a year.
Visibly he swallowed.
"Tell me—" She was not ordering now, she was pleading. "The last spell—teach me the bending of time itself, Master."
There was a shadow smile on his lips. "So is it ever," his words came more briskly than she had expected. "They frowned when my choice fell upon you, child of light. But when I first looked at your face, I was certain. The last spell—what would you do with it?"
She spoke fiercely now. "I will use it to save you!"
Slowly his head turned on her arm. The smile had vanished. "For me the end comes. Three times I have tried to make safe the future, yet each time there was a flaw. The old order changes. One cannot stand forever against change."
The weariness in his voice caught at her, her grasp on him tightened. This was not the Merlin she had known—strong to stand in strange battles. Had that she-devil leached the manhood out of him?
"Our reckoning with that woman is yet to come," she said between gritted teeth. "Death has not gotten you yet. I shall seek the answer to what she willed on you. But I must not let you go before I can do this. Master, give me the last spell. Aid me and yourself!"
Again he held her eye to eye with that strength of will he could use to bring any man or woman to his service.
"You shall indeed serve a purpose, even if it is not the one you seek, my child. But the grand design has failed, and you can only hold off the coming night for a little while."
"The last spell!" Now she feared—was he choosing not to give it?
Again he stretched that shadow smile. "The last spell. If you use it as you think to do, my heart's daughter, you will be reviled by men until their curses become tattered legends."
Nimuë eyed him narrowly. "I ask this not for any foreseeing, Master, but only that my knowledge will be complete even as you promised it must."
Again his head moved slightly, this time in a nod.
"True. Full knowledge I promised when I chose you—so will it be. In your own time, Nimuë, you may find one fit to pass it to in turn." He stopped almost in mid-word and then his eyelids closed, making her heart give an extra beat before they reopened.
"No, great in the Old Learning you shall be, heart's daughter. But the magic drains and will not last forever. Only faint gleams of it will light men's memories. This, then, is the spell." There were words. They came slowly, emphatically, and she shaped each herself as it was spoken. He gave a dry cough and his body once more quivered in her hold, yet he continued to look at her.
She had had the old training which took into memory and rooted there forever whatever of import was given her. The words were hers for all time.
"Go to the High King." He moved, slid away from her support to lie flat once more. "In time there will be services at his need."
Nimuë arose and stood looking down at him.
"You have taught me great things, Lord Merlin. Now this I swear—perhaps there is more than one kind of knowledge in the world. If so, I shall seek it out and bring you back to life and strength again. As you awakened my mind, so shall I awaken your body—but I shall keep you safe until that hour."
Her hands moved, her lips shaped, she wrought with all the force which was in her. The last spell of all.
She saw his eyes blaze and knew that he realized what she had said and meant. He raised one shaking hand as if to pull at her robe.
It fell limply back again. His eyes closed. But not in death—no, not in death! Tears gathered in her eyes, trickled unnoticed down her cheeks. He would sleep, and sleep, and sleep—even as she would search. If she was not successful, the Lady would send some greater mage to come to his aid.
Yet he would sleep until at the appointed time, time itself would release the bonds she had set upon it and him. He had given her life in a way when he had plucked her out of the stultifying bonds of the cloister; now she would do what she could in return by giving him another chance against the tyranny of time.
A shimmer appeared over his now-motionless body. That darkened, hardened, until it took on the appearance of a trunk of a mighty tree felled in its prime. Nimuë looked around the cave; there was very little here to be taken with her. She set about gathering what she must.
Already the burden of foresight was closing upon her. At the lake cloister she who had ruled there so long was dead. It was now set upon her, Nimuë, to become in turn the leader there. "Lady of the Lake" men would call her. Then she must go to the High King's court, to pick up that flawed weaving left by her master and see what might be done with it—what still might be saved. His own words warned of dark rising. But the dark always rose and still the light flooded about it. She must believe it would happen now.
Foresight also told her what would be her name among men—traitor, even as Morgause, one who had betrayed her master—her commonly named "lover"—for gain. But truth often went awry in the world. She straightened her shoulders as one who would take on a burden. Strong he had found her when he tested her, strong she would be to carry also such infamy while still she followed the path on which he had set her feet. She was Nimuë, the chosen, and that she would hold in her heart.
She knelt for the last time beside what looked to be a tree trunk, her hand going out to touch its rough surface as she might touch the cheek of a sleeper. Foresight again—she would not be the one to wake him. No, she would have long since ceased to walk the earth when he roused. What deeds he would do in that far time were not for her viewing.
So she would leave him, the true guardian of a land which would enfold him until that last spell was tattered and gone. Once more she touched the seeming shell of wood and then she turned to leave—Lady of the Lake—one and alone.
Excerpted from Tales from High Hallack by Andre Norton. Copyright © 2013 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction ... Jody Lynn Nye,
The Last Spell ...,
Sword of Unbelief ...,
Earthborn: A Witch World Story ...,
That Which Overfloweth ...,
By a Hair ...,
The Gifts of Asti ...,
Falcon Blood ...,
The Dowry of the Rag Picker's Daughter ...,
All Cats Are Gray ...,
The Way Wind ...,
Black Irish ...,
The Boy and the Ogre ...,
Through the Needle's Eye ...,
The Toymaker's Snuffbox ...,
Ully the Piper ...,
Dream Smith ...,
One Spell Wizard ...,
London Bridge ...,
Acknowledgments ... Sue Stewart,