Praise for Darkover:
“Suspenseful, powerfully written, and deeply moving.” —Library Journal
“A warm, shrewd portrait of women from different background working together under adverse conditions.” —Publishers Weekly
“For sheer skill in storytelling and worldbuilding, for wit, for strikingly intelligent development of the concept of telepathy, above all, for continuous concern for people, Bradley has put some more famous sagas in the shade.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“A rich and highly colored tale of politics and magic, courage and pressure.... Topflight adventure in every way!” —Analog Magazine, Lester Del Rey
“Delightful...a fascinating world and a great read.” —Locus
“Literate and exciting.” —New York Times Book Review
“May well be [Bradley’s] masterpiece.” —New York Newsday
Set during the lawless Ages of Chaos, when the ruling families of the Seven Domains of Darkover ruthlessly inbred their psychic offspring to gain powerful and fearsome talents, two young women are born with "wild" psychic gifts. These stories—Stormqueen! and Hawkmistress!, one tragic and one triumphant—combine to give the reader a vivid and poignant picture of a devastating time period in the history of this fantastic world.
During the lawless Ages of Chaos, when the ruling families of Darkover ruthlessly inbred their laran-gifted offspring to gain powerful talents, a baby was born to the lord of Aldaran. This child, born on a dark and thunder-filled night, was possessed of a terrifying and uncontrolled talent: Dorilys, heiress to her father’s domain, could unwittingly call forth lightning, even while still a fretful child. Fearful for his daughter’s life and the safety of his domain, Lord Aldaran sent to a tower for help. But even the powers of a trained monitor and a Hastur lord might not be enough to save this painfully afflicted and deadly young woman.
Romilly was an independent tomboy from a noble family, contrary to the social demands of Darkovan women. That was bad enough, but when Romilly’s father arranged her marriage to a nobleman she found repulsive, she rebelled. Disguising herself as a boy, she fled into the deep forests. Living off the land was not nearly as difficult for Romilly as for most people, for she possessed a rare and highly-treasured gift—telepathic communication with hawk and horse. But Romilly soon discovered her newfound freedom was far from complete. Pulled into the maelstrom of a civil war, could Romilly find her true role in life without sacrificing her ideals?
Praise for Darkover:
Read an Excerpt
The storm was wrong somehow.
That was the only way Donal could think of it . . . wrong somehow. It was high summer in the mountains called the Hellers, and there should have been no storms except for the never-ending snow flurries on the far heights above the timberline, and the rare savage thunderstorms that swooped down across the valleys, bouncing from peak to peak and leaving flattened trees and sometimes fire in the path of their lightning.
Yet, though the sky was blue and cloudless, thunder crackled low in the distance, and the very air seemed filled with the tension of a storm. Donal crouched on the heights of the battlement, stroking with one finger the hawk cradled in the curve of his arm, crooning half-absently to the restless bird. It was the storm in the air, the electric tension, he knew, which was frightening the hawk. He should never have taken it from the mews today—it would serve him right if the old hawkmaster beat him, and a year ago he would probably have done so without much thought. But now things were different. Donal was only ten, but there had been many changes in his short life. And this was one of the most drastic, that within the change of a few moons hawkmaster and tutors and grooms now called him—not that-brat-Donal, with cuffs and pinches and even blows, merited and unmerited, but, with new and fawning respect—young-master-Donal.
Certainly life was easier for Donal now, but the very change made him uneasy; for it had not come about from anything he had done. It had something to do with the fact that his mother, Aliciane of Rockraven, now shared the bed of Dom Mikhail, Lord of Aldaran, and was soon to bear him a child.
Only once, a long time ago (two midsummer festivals had come and gone), had Aliciane spoken of these things to her son.
“Listen carefully to me, Donal, for I shall say this once only and never again. Life is not easy for a woman unprotected.” Donal’s father had died in one of the small wars, which raged among the vassals of the mountain lords, before Donal could remember him; their lives had been spent as unregarded poor relations in the home of one kinsman after another, Donal wearing castoffs of this cousin and that, riding always the worst horse in the stables, hanging around unseen when cousins and kinsmen learned the skills of arms, trying to pick up what he could by listening.
“I could put you to fosterage; your father had kinsmen in these hills, and you could grow up to take service with one of them. Only for me there would be nothing but to be drudge or sewing-woman, or at best minstrel in a stranger’s household, and I am too young to find that endurable. So I have taken service as singing-woman to Lady Deonara; she is frail, and aging, and has borne no living children. Lord Aldaran is said to have an eye for beauty in women. And I am beautiful, Donal.”
Donal had hugged Aliciane fiercely; indeed she was beautiful, a slight girlish woman, with flame-bright hair and gray eyes, who looked too young to be the mother of a boy eight years old.
“What I am about to do, I do it at least partly for you, Donal. My kin have cast me off for it; do not condemn me if I am ill-spoken by those who do not understand.”
Indeed it seemed, at first, that Aliciane had done this more for her son’s good than her own: Lady Deonara was kind but had the irritability of all chronic invalids, and Aliciane had been quenched and quiet, enduring Deonara’s sharpness and the shrewish envy of the other women with good will and cheerfulness. But Donal for the first time in his life had whole clothing made to his measure, horse and hawk of his own, shared the tutor and the arms-master of Lord Aldaran’s fosterlings and pages. That summer Lady Deonara had borne the last of a series of stillborn sons; and Mikhail, Lord of Aldaran, had taken Aliciane of Rockraven as barragana and sworn to her that her child, male or female, should be legitimated, and be heir to his line, unless he might someday father a legitimate son. She was Lord Aldaran’s acknowledged favorite—even Deonara loved her and had chosen her for her lord’s bed—and Donal shared her eminence. Once, even, Lord Mikhail, gray and terrifying, had called Donal to him, saying he had good reports from tutor and arms-master, and had drawn him into a kindly embrace. “I would indeed you were mine by blood, foster-son. If your mother bears me such a son I will be well content, my boy.”
Donal had stammered. “I thank you, kinsman,” without the courage, yet, to call the old man “foster-father.” Young as he was, he knew that if his mother should bear Lord Aldaran his only living child, son or daughter, then he would be half-brother to Aldaran’s heir. Already the change in his status had been extreme and marked.
But the impending storm . . . it seemed to Donal an evil omen for the coming birth. He shivered; this had been a summer of strange storms, lightning bolts from nowhere, ever-present rumblings and crashes. Without knowing why, Donal associated these storms with anger—the anger of his grand-sire, Aliciane’s father, when Lord Rockraven had heard of his daughter’s choice. Donal, cowering forgotten in a corner, had heard Lord Rockraven calling her bitch, and whore, and names Donal had understood even less. The old man’s voice had been nearly drowned, that day, by thunder outside, and there had been a crackle of angry lightnings in his mother’s voice, too, as she had shouted back, “What am I to do, then, Father? Bide here at home, mending my own shifts, feeding myself and my son upon your shabby honor? Shall I see Donal grow up to be a mercenary soldier, a hired sword, or dig in your garden for his porridge? You scorn Lady Aldaran’s offer—”
“It is not Lady Aldaran I scorn,” her father snorted, “but it is not she whom you will serve and you know it as well as I!”
“And have you found a better offer for me? Am I to marry a blacksmith or charcoal-burner? Better barragana to Aldaran than wife to a tinker or ragpicker!”
Donal had known he could expect nothing from his grand-sire. Rockraven had never been a rich or powerful estate; and it was impoverished because Rockraven had four sons to provide for, and three daughters, of whom Aliciane was the youngest. Aliciane had once said, bitterly, that if a man has no sons, that is tragedy; but if he has too many, then worse for him, for he must see them struggle for his estate.
Last of his children, Aliciane had been married to a younger son without a title, and he had died within a year of their marriage, leaving Aliciane and the newborn Donal to be reared in strangers’ houses.
Now, crouching on the battlements of Castle Aldaran and watching the clear sky so inexplicably filled with lightning, Donal extended his consciousness outward, outward—he could almost see the lines of electricity and the curious shimmer of the magnetic fields of the storm in the air. At times he had been able to call the lightning; once he had amused himself when a storm raged by diverting the great bolts where he would. He could not always do it, and he could not do it too often or he would grow sick and weak; once when he had felt through his skin (he did not know how) that the next bolt was about to strike the tree where he had sheltered, he had somehow reached out with something inside him, as if some invisible limb had grasped the chain of exploding force and flung it elsewhere. The lightning bolt had exploded, with a sizzle, into a nearby bush, crisping it into blackened leaves and charring a circle of grass, and Donal had sunk to the ground, his head swimming, his eyes blurred. His head had been splitting in three parts with the pain, and he could not see properly for days, but Aliciane had hugged and praised him.
“My brother Caryl could do that, but he died young,” she told him. “There was a time when the leroni at Hali tried to breed storm-control into our laran, but it was too dangerous. I can see the thunder-forces, a little; I cannot manipulate them. Take care, Donal; use that gift only to save a life. I would not have my son blasted by the lightnings he seeks to control.” Aliciane had hugged him again, with unusual warmth.
Laran. Talk of it had filled his childhood, the gifts of extrasensory powers which were so much a preoccupation with the mountain lords—yes, and far away in the lowlands, too. If he had had any truly extraordinary gift, telepathy, the ability to force his will upon hawk or hound or sentry-bird, he would have been recorded in the breeding charts of the leroni, the sorceresses who kept records of parentage among those who carried the blood of Hastur and Cassilda, legendary forebears of the Gifted Families. But he had none. Merely storm-watch, a little; he sensed when thunderstorms or even forest fire struck, and someday, when he was a bit older, he would take his place on the fire-watch, and it would help him, to know, as he already knew a little, where the fire would move next. But this was a minor gift, not worth breeding for. Even at Hali they had abandoned it, four generations before, and Donal knew, not knowing precisely how he knew, that this was one reason why the family of Rockraven had not prospered.
But this storm was far beyond his power to guess. Somehow, without clouds or rain, it seemed to center here, over the castle. Mother, he thought, it has to do with my mother, and wished that he dared run to seek her, to assure himself that all was well with her, through the terrifying, growing awareness of the storm. But a boy of ten could not run like a babe to sit in his mother’s lap. And Aliciane was heavy now and ungainly, in the last days of waiting for Lord Aldaran’s child to be born; Donal could not run to her with his own fears and troubles.
He soberly picked up the hawk again, and carried it down the stairs; in air so heavy with lightning, this strange and unprecedented storm, he could not loose it to fly. The sky was blue (it looked like a good day for flying hawks) but Donal could feel the heavy and oppressive magnetic currents in the air, the heavy crackle of electricity.
Is it my mother’s fear that fills the air with lightning, as sometimes my grandsire’s anger did? Suddenly Donal was overwhelmed with his own fear. He knew, as everyone knew, that women sometimes died in childbirth; he had tried hard not to think about that, but now, overwhelmed with terror for his mother, he could feel the crackle of his own fear in the lightning. Never had he felt so young, so helpless. Fiercely he wished he were back in the shabby poverty of Rockraven, or ragged and unregarded as a poor cousin in some kinman’s stronghold. Shivering, he took the hawk back to the mews, accepting the hawkmaster’s reproof with such meekness that the old man thought the boy must be sick!