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The Luck of Brin's Five
Book 1 of the Torin Trilogy
By Cherry Wilder
Mashup PressCopyright © 1977 Cherry Wilder
All rights reserved.
I will tell how we found our luck, the great Luck of Brin's Five, and how, being found, it led us on to good fortune beyond all dream-spinning.
I am Dorn, eldest child of our Family. When the Luck came, I was twelve years old and we lived high on the slopes of Hingstull Mountain, near the Warm Lake. It was a hard winter: our fingers were stiff with cold as we worked at the looms; the snow bore down on the fabric of our house. A blizzard had ripped families of spinners from our home trees and rolled them down the mountainside like dead birds.
Food was scarce; two families had quit the glebe and now only two were left. Hunter Geer, who boasted many thick pelts, and, as we said, a thick head and a thick hide, was bound in under a rock wall across the glebe, watching us perish with cold by the east gate.
We could not go down the mountain because our Luck was dying. At first we sang; Old Gwin boiled herbs after scratching them from the snow; dearest Brin embraced us all; but it was no use. Mamor and Harper Roy talked all night apart, but they could not find a solution. Our Family, Brin's Five, and a perfect five it had been, five adults with no outclips, was doomed. Odd-Eye lay in his bag, spinning yarns still in a dream voice, with the marks of death on his face.
I remember Narneen weeping at night in the sleeping bag, because the spring would not come if our Luck died. It seemed perfectly possible to me. No good thing would ever happen again: the suns would not rise, the spring would not come, our webs would break and our youngest child, still hidden, would never be seen. In the city, as I have since observed, people live in a different way and have no Family, no Luck to bind them, and they survive very well, but as mountain people we followed the old threads.
We did not give up easily. Every day we fought against our doom by searching for a new Luck. Sometimes Brin went out as far as the lake, alone or with Mamor. Harper Roy went out in the night, and we heard him singing against the storm and harping for our deliverance. When the wind died down, they sent Narneen and me to the lake shore, with instructions to walk in circles, to pray, to call, to bring back news of any stranger passing.
It is strange to stand in winter by the Warm Lake. Clouds of steam rise up off the surface into the frosty air, and where the cold mist from the pass meets the steam they form spiral patterns. I remember once standing hand-in-hand with Narneen, letting the water play over our frozen feet. We looked up and saw two figures watching us from a crag, Hunter Geer and Whitewing. One fierce and ruddy, with hair the color of dried blood hanging over a wolf-skin tunic. The other even more frightening, immensely tall and thin and white as the snow, for Whitewing had no color. Whitewing was the Luck of Hunter Geer's Five ... white-haired, bloodless, from the first showing.
From where we stood by the lake, we could not see those pink eyes flashing ill-will upon us. I bent down and seized a warm pebble, then molded snow around it. I flung it at Whitewing, high on the crag, crying out as it fell short, "We will find our Luck again!"
Whitewing laughed aloud, a high, jagged laugh that rang and echoed from the farthest shore.
Two days later we ate the last of the preserved game birds; there was nothing left but blackloaf and dried sunner. A blizzard was blowing, and Mamor could not hunt. Odd-Eye did not speak, and we felt sure our Luck was dying; but suddenly, towards noon on the second day, his mind became clear. Odd-Eye spoke to each of us in turn and prayed for the hidden child. I felt desolate and strange when my turn came to sit beside him. Odd-Eye had a long hatchet face; one of his eyes was green, the other brown. He was short and misshapen, but in all the time I could remember, he had been so agile I could not think of him as old. He was a good Luck, for he had made it his calling; he was "a Luck out of the bag."
Every Luck has suffered some misfortune: there are dwarfs and cripples, the blind, the deaf, the mad and the half-mad. I have never seen a hunchback who was not the Luck of some Family or some grandee. It is equally correct to adopt as a lucky person someone who has lost a leg or been scarred in a fire or maimed in some other fashion, though some say a "born Luck" is best.
Odd-Eye said to me, when my turn came, "Cheer up, Dorn. I have dreams for you that are as fine as Blacklock's mantle."
I could not help smiling. We had often talked in summer, at the loom or in the woods, of Blacklock, the swaggering hero from Rintoul. I had half-persuaded Odd-Eye to take me downriver, across the plains, to see the great city of Rintoul and watch Blacklock perform his feats. The fame of Blacklock had certainly reached our mountain. Hunter Geer, who had visited Rintoul, claimed to have shaken Blacklock by the hand, but Hunter Geer is a liar.
"Now Dorn, you must take me!" said Odd-Eye in a quavering voice. "Take me out to the lakeside, to our rock under the burned tree, and I will have a last try. I must find my dear family a replacement."
They looked sideways at me, to make sure I was not afraid, then Harper Roy bound Odd-Eye upon our sled wrapped in the thickest rugs we had and covered with our only wolf pelt. I was wrapped up just about as tightly, and when the wind dropped, I started on my way.
Before I left, Old Gwin came up with a basket of hot stones and three roasted graynuts that she had been saving. The stones went at Odd-Eye's feet to warm him, and I had a warm pocketful of graynuts. I have had to laugh, since those days, when I have heard scholars in Rintoul swear that the "primitive Moruia" use no fire. Indeed we were chary of fire ... our home was made of flaxen cloth pulled over a tree! I never saw a blaze or a flame in our glebe, but we certainly used fire in winter, and we warmed our food. A point in the scholars' favor is this: we never spoke of fire or called a flame, a flame. We were superstitious. Old Gwin made us say instead "the kind one."
It was a weaver's mile to the lakeside; but after the first rise outside the western gate, it was downhill all the way. The sled was light because Odd-Eye was nothing but skin and bone. I trudged through the snow numb with anxiety as much as cold. This journey was like stepping off the edge of the world; I felt that the worst was about to happen, that I was hard up against the cruelty of life and could do nothing to change it.
I had a hard time hoisting the sled to our comfortable place under the burned tree. Then I checked to see if Odd-Eye was alive; his odd eyes blinked at me. I went down and warmed my hands and feet at the lake, then I came back to sit on the rock and eat my graynuts. There was no snow falling, and the winds were still. We saw Esto, the Great Sun, go down, a smear of orange in the distant west; it was the time of "runar," the little darkness before the rising of the Far Sun. Trails of phosphorescence sprang up on the lake's surface and overhead the stars blazed. I was dozing when Odd-Eye gave a thin cry.
"What is it?" I was frightened, sure that he was dying, that his mind was wandering again.
"A glider!" He was straining against the thongs that bound him to the sled. His voice was so weak that I had to put my ear close to his lips.
"Look, Dorn ... coming down over the lake ..."
I stared and saw what he meant, but it was no glider. It was more like a falling star, then blazing closer, like a fireball or meteor. I thought, in fact I hoped, that it would fall short, a long way from us, behind the peaks on the far bank of the lake. But Odd-Eye was whispering in my ear, and the fireball came closer, "A glider! A balloon! It will strike in the lake and your Luck is there, I know it! A great Luck is there!"
The light from the fireball grew from white to orange to pinkish red; I was terrified now, for I could see that it would not fall short. I was sure it would crush us, right there under the burned tree. It came on and on, and I could not look away until it fell hissing and burning into the lake near the far bank. Then I saw two other things: a hunting party on that bank, near the dark peaks — city dwellers with banners and lances — and in the upper air floating towards our side, two little white tents on strings wafting down among the tendrils of steam.
I left Odd-Eye without a word and ran back along the track. Halfway to the rise I cannoned into Brin and Harper Roy, coming to relieve me at my post, and blurted out my story.
"We saw the fireball!" said Brin. "What's this about a tent in the air?"
"The Luck!" I gasped. "Don't you see? It will land in the lake!"
"Odd-Eye called it a glider?" asked Harper Roy.
"Some vessel," I said. "Some air ship. Oh please come ... the Luck is in the lake by now ..."
They were coming along with me as I babbled, and we came in sight of the lake. The white tents floated in a tangle about fifty feet from the shore.
"Something came down ..." said Harper Roy.
There were shouts and torch lights springing up on the far bank. The hunting party was trying the steamy water, to probe the place where the fireball struck. Suddenly there was a movement near us; I saw the tents and their cordage wrap against a heavy body, circling slowly in the wide whirlpool eddies of the warm lake.
"Quickly!" said Brin, "reef in the cords ... there is someone bound to them!"
We waded into the warm water until I was swimming and dragged at the cords and fought with billowing heaps of warm, wet fabric, soft as silk. There was a grotesque figure floating in the water: ballooning legs, stiff arms, square head with one dark, glistening eye, big as a whole face. Then it came to rest on the shore, and we all saw what it was ... a kind of body-shaped bag of fine metallic cloth. The dark eye was a piece of glass. Someone lived inside the bag, and we knew it must be our Luck.
"Blood ..." said Harper Roy, "... on the sleeve ..." From within the helmet there came a feeble gasping cry, for all the world like that of a hidden child.
Brin struggled with the square helmet while Harper Roy got to work with his knife on the strangling mess of cords. He reefed in the two white tents. I could see that Roy did not mean all that wealth of white silk to go to waste. Brin gave a soft cry; the helmet was off. There in the night, with no light but a radiance off the snow, we could just make out a face. A young face, with pale soft features and short hair; black hair, black as night. The eyes were open now, and a deep voice implored and questioned; we did not understand one word. We all replied at once in the most soothing tones we knew: You are safe. You are our dear Luck, come in answer to our prayers. We will help you. You have come to Brin's Five. We are your Family, and we will love you.
There was a confused shouting and splashing from the far bank.
"Do you read that crest?" asked Harper Roy.
"Star and spindle," said Brin, peering through the mist at the torchlit banners. "Some grandee. But they will not have our Luck."
The Luck lay still now, eyes closed; I could not look away from that pale face. Then suddenly Harper Roy was beside me with our sled and coverings, gently rolling the Luck upon it, still in the body bag. I started up. "Odd-Eye!"
But Brin pulled me down again into the shadow. "Odd-Eye has no need of these things any more."
Then I was filled with remorse and sadness and almost hated the new Luck because I had left Odd-Eye alone to die, by the burned tree.
The hunting party had not seen us, but they were beginning to move around the head of the lake towards our beach. We took everything including the bales of white silk; the Harper dragged a branch over the places where we had been. We went quickly up the track, bent double, dragging the sled, and a light snow fell behind us, covering our traces as we bore the Luck safely home.CHAPTER 2
We were afraid of pursuit that same night, but it did not come. We sat in the dark, retelling the miracle to Old Gwin and Mamor and Narneen. Then Brin made a bold decision and lit two candlecones from Gwin's secret store.
"We must not lose the Luck now it is come!" said Harper Roy, in answer to Old Gwin's protest. "Pray to the Kind One or whatever you like, but we must tend these wounds."
"A glider?" rumbled Mamor. "Burn us but it must be some rich grandee that will never stay with mountain folk!"
"An air ship!" I insisted, "not a glider!"
"You sure it ain't some Hairywing, some goblin come through the void from Derrin?" teased Mamor again.
"Hush!" said Brin. "It is a person ... a Moruian. Perhaps it is an Islander."
Old Gwin who had been wrestling with the shining body bag found the way to work the fastening and began to peel it off.
"You see, Mamor?" I said. In the confined space we slid off the body bag and had it folded away quickly.
"Not bad ..." said Old Gwin. "Fetch clean snow in a basket. There's a cut ... oh poor dear ... the Luck has a burn. The Luck's poor dearest hand is burned."
"If it were perfect," said Harper Roy, "we might not have a Luck."
While Old Gwin washed and dressed the burned hand and the cut head, we examined our new Luck. We saw a tall, strongly made figure, like our own and yet not like. The proportions were different: heavier muscles, especially on the shoulders, like a porter. Arms shorter, head more round, face rather more flat, eyes more frontal and so on. This has all been detailed now and studied, but we were the first ones, so I believe, to make such observations.
The hair we could not believe: black as night, soft and curly as fleece; we all touched it as the Luck lay there, breathing strongly. We compared it with our own hair, all straight, of course, and fine, from Old Gwin's gray strands to the even brown of the grown-ups and the streaked blonde of myself and Narneen. Then the skin, paler than ours even in winter, pale and unmarked by the sun, the way grandees in Rintoul might be, if they took care and used sunshades.
"An Islander?" asked Brin.
The Luck wore a beautiful suit of rich, soft fabric, all in one like the body bag; a dark blue suit down to the feet, covered in white stockings after the heavy boots came off. Over the suit was a sleeveless vest covered with pockets and pouches, closed with that same interlocking fastening that had tried Old Gwin's patience. We took off the vest and laid it aside, then Mamor worked the fastening on the beautiful blue suit and drew it down over the shoulders, drawing the burned hand carefully from the left sleeve. More clothes — a shirt and long trunk-hose in fine white woven stuff.
"A quick look!" said Old Gwin. "We mustn't freeze the Islander to death!"
"It's not cold," said Harper Roy. "This is the Luck's showing!"
We laughed, and Brin stripped off the shirt; Old Gwin gave a sharp intake of breath.
At first I saw only those tantalizing marks of difference — like and unlike all together. The stripping made the Luck more slender because the suit gave shape and padding. The rib cage was the same, the muscles heavy like an athlete or porter. The skin was utterly foreign in its pallor and the pattern of body hair, thick on the chest and descending onto the belly, was unlike a moruian.
"I think the Luck could grow that hair on its face!" said Mamor.
"So much?" said Harper Roy enviously, feeling the Luck's smooth chin. "You're right. It has hair scraped off right up to the ears."
Old Gwin was amazed at something else: two circular marks on the hairy chest.
"Great North Wind!" whispered Harper Roy, "what sort of creature is this ... to have teats on the chest?"
"They're not true nipples," said Brin. "Could they be scars? Some kind of ritual cicatrice? Remember the legend of the Branding."
Old Gwin clucked and made some crude remark to Mamor, which he did not repeat. She made a sign to avert threads of evil and reefed off the Luck's last garment. There was no doubt, the Luck was a male person, and below the waist his appearance was remarkably normal. There was a round, sunken scar in the center of the body, which we found puzzling, but the rest of him quite sound and well-formed. Gwin covered the Luck and put back the beautiful blue suit; Narneen, cheeky wretch, had slipped off a white sock and counted the Luck's toes. Five of course, rather squashed and flattened from their tight covering.
Excerpted from The Luck of Brin's Five by Cherry Wilder. Copyright © 1977 Cherry Wilder. Excerpted by permission of Mashup Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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