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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Blue Sword CHAPTER TWO

Harry and Lady Amelia took their leave, and the older woman closed the breakfast-room doors with a sigh. Harry smiled. Lady Amelia turned back to her in time to see the smile, and returned it ruefully. â€Å"Very well. We will leave the men to do their uncomfortable waiting alone. I am going to visit Mrs. McDonald, you are going to go riding with Beth and Cassie and bring them back here for luncheon.† â€Å"Perhaps under the circumstances – † began Harry, but Lady Amelia shook her head. â€Å"I see no reason why you should not. If he is here, those girls have very pretty manners, and are just whom I would invite if we were to give a formal dinner. And – † here her smile broadened and became as mischievous as a girl's – â€Å"if he has brought his thousand best men, we shall be terribly short of women, and you know how I dislike an unbalanced table. I shall have to invite Mrs. McDonald as well. Have a pleasant ride, dear.† Harry changed into her riding-clothes, mounted her placid pony, already bridled and saddled and held for her by one of the Residency's many servants, and rode off in a thoughtful mood toward her meeting with her two friends. She wondered first what and how much she should tell Cassie and Beth; and, second, found herself hoping that this Corlath would stay at least long enough for her to see him. Would a witch-king look any different than any other man? The sun was already hot. She pushed her hat back long enough for a cautious squint at the sky. It was more dun-colored than blue, as if it, like everything else near Istan, were faded by the fierceness of its sun. It looked as hard as a curved shell overhead, and brittle, as if a thrown lance might pierce it. The placid pony shuffled along, ears flopping, and she stared out over the sands. The woods to the west of her father's house were old, hundreds of years old, tangled with vine and creeper. Ancient trees had died and, not having room to fall, crumbled where they stood. No landlord had thought the old forest worth clearing and the land put to use; but it had made a wonderful jungle for herself and Dickie as children, to be bandits in, and hunt dragons through. Its twisted shadows had always been welcome to her; when she grew older she liked the feeling of great age that the forest gave her, of age and of a vast complicated life that had nothing to do with her and that she need no t try to decipher. The desert, with the black sharp-edged mountains around it, was as different from what she was accustomed to as any landscape could be; yet she found after only a few weeks in Istan that she was falling by degrees in love with it: with the harsh sand, the hot sun, the merciless gritty winds. And she found that the desert lured her as her own green land never had – but what discovery it lured her toward she could not say. It was an even greater shock to realize that she was no longer homesick. She missed her occupation; and even more she missed her father. She had left so soon after the funeral that it was difficult to believe that he was dead, that he was not still riding around his estate in his shabby coat, waiting for her to return. Then she found that she remembered her parents together again; as if her mother had died recently, or her father five years ago – or as if the difference, which had been so important, no longer mattered. She didn't dream of honeysuckle and lilac. She remembered them with affection, but she looked across the swirled sand and small obstinate clumps of brush and was content with where she was. A small voice whispered to her that she didn't even want to go Home again. She wanted to cross the desert and climb into the mountains in the east, the mountains no Homelander had ever climbed. She often speculated about how other people saw the land here. Her brother never mentioned it one way or another. She was accustomed to hearing the other young people refer to â€Å"that hateful desert† and â€Å"the dreadful sun.† Beth and Cassie didn't; they had lived in one part or another of Daria for most of their lives – â€Å"except the three years our mother took us Home, to acquire polish, she said† – and to both of them, Darian sun and Darian weather, whether it be on the fertile red earth of the south, with the eternal fight against the jungle to keep the fields clear, or the cool humid plateaus of the orange plantations, or the hot sand of the northeast Border, were simply things that were there, were part of their home, to be accepted and adjusted to. Harry had asked them how they liked the Homeland, and they had had to pause and think about it. â€Å"It was very different,† Cassie said at last, and Beth nodded. Cassie started to say something else, stopped, and shrugged. â€Å"Very different,† she repeated. â€Å"Did you like it?† pursued Harry. â€Å"Of course,† said Cassie, surprised. â€Å"We've liked all the places we've lived,† said Beth, â€Å"once we made some friends.† â€Å"I liked the snow in the north,† offered Cassie, â€Å"and the fur cloaks we had to wear there in the winter.† Harry gave it up. The older people at the station seemed to put up with the land around them as they would put up with any other disadvantage of their chosen occupation. Darian service, civilian and military, bred stoicism in all those who didn't give up and go Home after the first few years. The Greenoughs' making-the-best-of-it attitude was almost as tangible as mosquito netting. Harry had once won an admission from Mr. Peterson, Cassie and Beth's father. There were several people to dinner at the Residency that evening, among them the Petersons. Mr. Peterson had been seated across from her at dinner, and had not appeared to pay any attention to the conversation on the other side of the table. But later in the evening he appeared at her side. She was surprised; he spoke rarely enough at social gatherings, and was notorious around the station for avoiding young unattached ladies, including his daughters' friends. They sat in silence at first; Harry wondered if she should say anything, and if so, what. She was still wondering when he said: â€Å"I couldn't help hearing some of what that young chap next to you was saying at dinner.† He stopped again, but this time she waited patiently for him to continue and did not try to prompt him. â€Å"I wouldn't pay too much attention, if I were you.† The young chap in question had been telling her about the hateful desert and the dreadful sun. He was a subaltern at the fort, had been there for two years and was looking forward to his escape in two more. The subaltern had continued: â€Å"But I wouldn't want you to think we have no change of seasons here. We do: we have winter. It rains steadily for three months, and everything gets moldy, including you.† Mr. Peterson said: â€Å"I rather like it here. There are those of us who do.† He then stood up and wandered away. She had not spoken a word to him. But she remembered what he said later as she realized that she too was becoming one of those who liked it here. She pondered who else might belong to their select club. It was a game, and she amused herself with it when she ran out of polite conversation. She took mental note of all those who did not complain of the heat, the wind, the unequal rainfall; and then tried to separate those like herself who actually enjoyed being scratchy with blown sand and headachy from glare, from those like Cassie and Beth who were merely cheerfully adaptable. Harry at last settled on Colonel Dedham as the most likely member of her club, and began to consider if there was any way to broach the subject with him. She thought that perhaps there was a club rule that read, Thou shalt not speak. But her chance came at last, less than a fortnight before Corlath's messenger arrived at the Residency at four a.m. It was at another small dinner party at the Greenoughs'. When the gentlemen brought themselves and an appalling reek of Sir Charles' finest cigars into the drawing-room to join the ladies, Colonel Dedham came across the room and tossed himself down on the window-seat beside Harry. She had been looking out at the mysterious white pools the moon poured across the desert. â€Å"Open the window a bit,† he said, â€Å"and let some of this smoke out. I can see poor Amelia being brave.† â€Å"Cigars should be like onions,† she said, unfastening the catch and pushing back the pane. â€Å"Either the whole company does, or the whole company does not.† Dedham laughed. â€Å"Poor Melly! She would spoil many a party, I fear. Have you ever smoked a cigar?† She smiled, with a glint in her pale eyes, and he reflected that some of the young men had labeled her cold and humorless. â€Å"Yes, I have: that is how I know. My father was used to giving dinners for his hunting friends, and I would be the only woman there. I was not going to eat in my room, like a punished child, and I liked to stay and listen to the stories they told. They permitted themselves to become accustomed to my presence, because I could ride and shoot respectably. But the smoke, after a few hours, would become unbearable.† â€Å"So your father – ?† prompted Dedham. â€Å"No, not my father; he taught me to shoot, against his better judgment, but he drew the line at teaching me to smoke. It was one of his friends – Richard's godfather, in fact. He gave me a handful of cigars at the end of one of these very thick evenings and told me to smoke them, slowly and carefully, somewhere that I could be sick in private. And the next time the cigars went around the table, I was to take one for myself – and he'd help me stand up to my father. It was the only way to survive. He was right.† â€Å"I shall have to tell Charles,† said Dedham, grinning. â€Å"He is always delighted to find another cigar-lover.† Her gaze had wandered again to the moonlight, but now she turned back. â€Å"No, thank you, Colonel. I am not that. It was the stories that made it worth it. I only appreciate smoke when I'm seeing things in it.† â€Å"I know what you mean, but you must promise not to tell Charles that,† he replied. â€Å"And for heaven's sake call me Jack. Three months is quite long enough to be called Colonel more often than business demands.† â€Å"Mmm,† she said. â€Å"Cassie and Beth do it very nicely. Say ‘Jack.' â€Å" â€Å"Jack,† she said. â€Å"There, you see? And for your next lesson I will walk across the room and ask you to say it again, and you will see how quickly I turn around and say ‘Yes?' â€Å" She laughed. It was hard to remember that Dedham was a few years older than Sir Charles; the latter was portly and dignified and white-haired. Dedham was lean and brown, and what hair he had left was iron grey. Sir Charles was polite and kind; Dedham talked to one like a friend. â€Å"I see you staring out of the windows often, at our Darian wilds. Do you see yew hedges and ivy-grown oak and, um, cattle and sheep in green pastures?† She looked down at her lap, a little uneasily, because she had not thought she was noticed; but here was her chance. She looked up. â€Å"No. I see our Darian wilds.† He smiled a little at the â€Å"our.† â€Å"You're settling in, then? Resigned to too much sun all of the time – except for when there is too much rain? But you haven't seen our winter yet.† â€Å"No – no, I haven't. But I'm not resigned.† She paused, surprised at how hard it was to say aloud, and her club's first law floated across her mind. â€Å"I like it. I'm not sure why, but I like it here.† The smile disappeared and he looked at her thoughtfully. â€Å"Do you?† He turned and looked out of the window himself. â€Å"There aren't many of us who do. I'm one – you must have guessed that I love the desert. This desert. Even in winter, and the three weeks of jungle after the rain stops and before the sun gets a good hold again. Quite a lot of my griping about being the oldest colonel still active is noise only; I know that if they promoted me they'd almost certainly promote me away from here – to one of the more civilized parts of this uncivilized land. Most of Daria is not like this, you know.† He paused. â€Å"I don't suppose that means very much to you.† â€Å"But it does.† He frowned a little, studying her face. â€Å"I don't know whether to say you're very fortunate or very unfortunate. We're strangers here, you know – even I, who've been here forty years. This desert is a little piece of the old Damar. It's not even really under our jurisdiction.† He smiled wryly. â€Å"Not only can we not understand it, we are not able to administer it.† He nodded toward the window. â€Å"And the mountains beyond. They stand there, looking at you, and you know you'll never climb them. No Homelander ever has – at least to return to tell the tale.† She nodded. â€Å"It is not a comfortable passion.† He chuckled. â€Å"No; not a comfortable passion.† â€Å"Is that why no one ever mentions it? One hears enough for the other side.† â€Å"God! Don't I know it. ‘Only four hundred and ninety-six days till I get out of this sand pit.' Yes, I suppose so. It's a strange country, especially this corner of it, and if it gets too much in your blood it makes you strange too. And you don't really want to call attention to it.† She recalled that conversation as she rode; and now she saw Cassie and Beth jogging toward her. She was thinking again of Corlath, and trying to recall what little she knew of the Free Hillfolk. Jack had been reluctant to talk about them, and his evasiveness led her to believe that he knew quite a lot about them, because he was always open about saying he didn't know something. He was trying to spare her, perhaps, from her uncomfortable passion. Oh, glory, she thought, and with a quick leap her curiosity transformed itself into excitement: I do hope he's there when we get back. The question of what to tell her friends died painlessly. As soon as their ponies came abreast Beth said: â€Å"Is he here yet?† Harry was expecting a good-morning-and-how-are-you and for a moment didn't know who was meant. â€Å"Corlath,† said Cassie. â€Å"Jack came to our house to see Daddy before breakfast, told him to go up to the Residency, that they would need him there.† Mr. Peterson and Jack Dedham were the only people in the station who knew Hill-speech even passably fluently. Most Darians who had much contact with Homelanders learned Homelander. Harry had picked up a few Darian words, but only a few; no Homelander had thought to write a Darian grammar for general use, and when she inquired further was told that there was no need for her to learn it. The only person who encouraged her, and who had taught her the words she did know, was Jack Dedham, and he had not the time to spare for more. Sir Charles was reasonably articulate in Darian speech, but uncomfortable about it. He felt a responsible commissioner should know the language of those he oversees, but it made him no happier to fulfill his own expectations. He kept an interpreter near at hand. â€Å"Corlath,† breathed Beth, as if the name were a charm. â€Å"Daddy says that the Hillfolk have never liked us much – â€Å" â€Å"We've always known that,† put in Cassie. † – so he'll probably slip in and out again and we'll never even see him.† â€Å"I've permission to invite you to lunch,† said Harry. â€Å"If he's there at all, we'll see him.† â€Å"Oh, how wonderful!† said Beth. â€Å"Surely even he won't have finished his business before lunch. Let's not ride far; we should see something when he comes, and then we'll know when to ride back. It's very tiresome to have a real king come to visit and not even have an excuse to meet him.† â€Å"Do you know anything of the Free Hillfolk?† said Harry. They rode at an angle away from the Residency, where they could keep an eye on it over their shoulders. â€Å"I don't. No one will tell me anything.† They both laughed. â€Å"The Hillfolk are the best-kept secret in Daria,† said Cassie. â€Å"I mean, we know they exist. Some of them come here – to the station, I mean – for the spring Fair.† Harry looked at her. â€Å"Oh, surely Lady Amelia has told you about our pair,† Cassie said. â€Å"After three months of the rains we come out of hiding and work off our foul temper by holding a Fair – â€Å" † – where we sell to each other all the ridiculous little bags and bonnets and dolls and footstools that we've made during the rains to keep from going mad because we couldn't go out,† Beth continued. â€Å"Yes, most of it is nonsense. But everyone is very gay for the first two or three weeks after the rain stops. The weather is cool enough – the only time all year you can go out even at midday; and there're green things growing up from the ground, and everything you own is spread on the roofs and hanging from the windowsills, and they're green too,† Cassie added with a grimace. â€Å"We decorate the streets and the square with paper flowers and real flowers, and banners and ribbons, and the whole town looks like it's on holiday, with the dresses and blankets hanging out everywhere. We do have real flowers here – besides the eternal pimchie – although nothing like what you're used to at Home, I daresay. Everything grows tremendously for two weeks, so for the third week, Fair week, everything is green and blossoming – even the desert, if you can believe it.† â€Å"Then of course the sun kills everything again. That's the fourth week. And you know what it's like here the rest of the time.† â€Å"Yes, but the Fair – everyone comes to the Fair. The Hillfolk too, a few of them, although never anyone very special. Certainly never the king. And it's not all the bead purses that our sort has been making in despair. There are always some really lovely things, mostly that the Darians themselves have made. Even the servants aren't expected to do as much, you know, during the rains. After the first few weeks you're far too cross yourself to give many orders to anyone else.† â€Å"But mostly the best things come up from the south. It's only Way up here that the weather's so ridiculous, but the south knows about our Fair, and the merchants know that when we break out of winter prison we're so mad with our freedom that we're fit to buy anything, so they come up in force.† â€Å"There are Fairs, or celebrations of spring of one kind or another, all around here, but ours is the biggest.† â€Å"Well,† said Beth, â€Å"we've the biggest in things to buy and so forth; and we're the only Homelander station up here. But there're quite a number of Darian villages around here, and they take spring very seriously. Lots of singing and dancing, and that kind of thing. And they tell the most beautiful stories, if you can find someone to translate into Homelander. Which isn't often.† â€Å"We have singing and dancing too,† said Cassie. â€Å"Yes, I know,† said Beth slowly; â€Å"but it's not the same. Our dancing is just working it off, after being inside for so long. Theirs means something.† Harry looked at her curiously. â€Å"You mean asking the gods for a good year – that kind of thing?† â€Å"I suppose so,† said Beth. â€Å"I'm not quite sure.† â€Å"No one will talk about anything really Darian to Homelanders,† said Cassie. â€Å"You must have noticed it.† â€Å"Yes – but I'm new here.† â€Å"You're always new here if you're a Homelander,† said Cassie. â€Å"It's different in the south. But we're on the Border here, and everyone is very aware that Freemen live in those Hills you see out your windows every day. The Darians that do work for you, or with you, are very anxious to prove how Homelander they really are, and loyal to all things Homelander, so they won't talk; and the others won't for the opposite reasons.† â€Å"You're beginning to sound like Daddy,† said Beth. â€Å"We've heard him say it all often enough,† Cassie responded. â€Å"But the Hillfolk,† said Harry. â€Å"Yes. The one thing I suppose we all have in common is a joy in those three short weeks of spring. So a few Hillfolk come to our Fair.† â€Å"They don't act very happy, though,† said Beth. â€Å"They come in those long robes they always wear – over their faces too, so you can't see if they're smiling or frowning; and some of them with those funny patched sashes around their waists. But they do come, and they stay several days – they have the grandest horses you've ever seen. They pitch camp outside the station, and they always set guards, quite openly, as if we weren't to be trusted – â€Å" â€Å"Maybe we aren't,† murmured Cassie. † – but they never sell their horses. They bring the most gorgeous tapestries, though, and embroidered sashes – much nicer than the cut-up ones they wear themselves. These they sell. They stalk around the edge of the big central square, the old marketplace, carrying all this vivid stuff, while the rest of us are laughing and talking and running around. It's a bit eerie.† â€Å"No it's not,† said Cassie. â€Å"You listen to the stories too much.† Beth blushed. After a pause she said, â€Å"Do you see anything at the Residency?† â€Å"No,† said Harry. â€Å"What stories?† There was another pause while Cassie looked at Beth and Beth looked at her pony's mane. â€Å"My fault,† said Cassie presently. â€Å"We're not supposed to talk about them. Daddy gets really annoyed if he catches us. The stories are mostly about magic. Corlath and his people are supposed to be rotten with it, even in this day and age, and Corlath himself is supposed to be more than a little mad.† â€Å"Magic?† said Harry, remembering what Dedham had said earlier. â€Å"Mad?† He hadn't said anything about madness. â€Å"How?† They both shrugged. â€Å"We've never managed to find out,† said Cassie. â€Å"And we can usually wring what we want to know out of Daddy eventually,† said Beth, â€Å"so it must be something pretty dreadful.† Cassie laughed. â€Å"You read too many novels, Beth. It's just as likely that Daddy won't talk about it because he refuses to admit it might be real – the magic, I mean. Jack Dedham believes it – he and Daddy argue about it sometimes, when they don't think anyone else is around. The madness, if that's what it is, is tied up somehow in the king's strength – in return for having power beyond mortal men or some such, he has to pay a price of some kind of mad fits.† â€Å"Who reads too many novels?† said Beth, and Cassie grinned. â€Å"It does rather catch the imagination,† she said, and Beth nodded. â€Å"No wonder you're so eager to set eyes on him,† said Harry. â€Å"Yes. I know it's silly of me, but I feel maybe it'll show somehow. He'll be eight feet tall and have a third eye in the middle of his forehead,† said Beth. â€Å"Heavens,† said Harry. â€Å"I hope not,† said Cassie. â€Å"Well, you know how the legends go,† said Beth. â€Å"No, not really,† said her sister repressively. â€Å"Even when Daddy is willing to translate some, you can tell by the pauses that he's leaving a lot out.† â€Å"Yes, but even so,† persisted Beth. â€Å"The old kings and queens were supposed to be taller than mortal – â€Å" â€Å"The Darians are mostly shorter than we are, at least the ones we see,† interrupted Cassie. â€Å"A king could look quite ordinary to us and be very tall for them.† † – and you can tell the royal blood by something about the eyes.† There was another pause. Harry said, â€Å"Something?† Again they both shrugged. â€Å"Something,† said Beth. â€Å"That's one of the things Daddy always leaves out. Like the madness.† â€Å"You're hoping he'll froth at the mouth,† said Cassie. Beth threw a peevish look at her sister. â€Å"No. I'll settle for the third eye.† This conversation had taken them well away from the outlying houses of the station, and the dust kicked up by their ponies' feet was giving up even the pretense of being anything other than desert sand. A silence fell; Cassie suggested a canter, which was duly accomplished. The sun was hot enough that when they pulled up again, after only a few minutes, the ponies' shoulders were dark with sweat. Harry sent another of her long looks across the desert, and had to squint against the shivering light. â€Å"Do you think we might turn back now?† Beth asked wistfully, shading her eyes with an elegantly white-gloved hand. Harry grinned. â€Å"We can spend the rest of the morning in my sitting-room, if you like. It overlooks the front door, you know.† Beth gave her a grateful look, Cassie chuckled; but they all three turned their ponies' heads with dispatch and sent them jogging homeward as quickly as the heat would allow. By the time they reached the suggestion of shade offered by the thin determined trees marking the outskirts of the station proper, Harry was hot and slightly headachy, and cross with herself for rushing back for no reason. Nothing could have escaped their notice; the Residency stood a little apart from the rest of the station, in its own grounds, and the road that ended at its front door had been under their eyes for the entire ride. They had been gone only a little over an hour. Harry considered suggesting that they meet again after another hour, time enough to change and have a bath; in her present condition she didn't feel like meeting any kings, mad or otherwise. But she stole a glance at Beth and saw how anxious she was not to miss anything; and she thought, Oh well, I can wash my face at least, and we can all have some cold lemonade, and watch the front door in comfort. The horses walked slowly up the street to the Residency. Cassie pulled off her hat and fanned herself with it. Harry shut her eyes for a moment. An execrable habit, she told the insides of her eyelids. What if this fat sleepy fourposter with ears and a tail should bolt, or shy suddenly? What if the sky should fall? responded the insides of her eyelids. The fourposter stopped dead in the road and raised its head a few inches just as Beth said in a strangled whisper: â€Å"Look.† Harry and Cassie looked. They had come nearly to the end of the road; what was left was the broad circle in front of the Residency, suitable for turning carriages in, or forming up half a regiment. Off to one side, where the tall house cast a little shade, seven horses and one man stood. The horses stood in a little semicircle around the man, who sat cross-legged near the wall of the house. They stood quietly, stamping a foot now and then, and occasionally one would put out its nose to touch the man; and he would stroke its cheek a moment, and it would raise its head again. The first thing Harry noticed was the beauty of these animals; not a one was less than sixteen hands high, with long clean legs and tails that nearly touched the ground. Three were chestnuts, their coats shining even in the dusty shadow; one grey, one dark bay, one golden dun; but the finest horse stood farthest from three fat ponies standing foolishly in the carriage drive. He was a blood bay, red as fire, with b lack legs and tail; he stood aloof from the other horses and ignored the man at his feet. He stared back at the newcomers as if it were his land he stood on, and they intruders. As the other horses slowly swung their heads around to see what their leader was looking at, Harry noticed something else: they wore no bridles. â€Å"He's here,† said Cassie flatly. Beth drew a deep breath. â€Å"How?† she said. â€Å"Look at those horses,† said Harry, and the longing in her voice was so clear that even she heard it. Cassie looked away from the impossible sight of seven horses that had made their way invisibly across a bleak desert right in front of three people who were looking for them, and smiled with sympathy at her friend. â€Å"Haven't you ever seen a Hill horse before? They're supposed to be the finest in Daria.† â€Å"And they never sell them,† said Harry, remembering. Cassie nodded, although Harry's eyes never left the horses. â€Å"Jack Dedham would give an arm even to ride one once.† â€Å"No bridles,† said Harry. â€Å"No stirrups, either,† said Cassie, and Harry saw that this was true. They wore saddles that were little more than padded skins, cut and elegantly rolled; and she could see the gleam of embroidery on girths and pommels. Not a horse moved from its place in the semicircle, although all now, with the man, watched the three ponies and their riders. â€Å"Horses,† said Beth disgustedly. â€Å"Don't you understand what they mean? They mean that he's here already, and we never noticed a thing. If that's not magic, what is?† She prodded her pony forward again. Cassie and Harry followed slowly and stopped before the steps. Three stable boys appeared, ready to take the ponies back to the stable behind the house. Harry's feet had only just touched the ground – the boy hovering anxiously to one side, since he had learned through bitter experience that this Homelander did not wish to be assisted while dismounting – when there was a commotion at the entrance to the house. Harry turned around in time to see the heavy door thrown violently open, so that its hinges protested; and out strode a man dressed in loose white robes, with a scarlet sash around his waist. Several more figures darted out in his wake, and collected around him where he paused on the verandah. He was the axis of a nervous wheel, moving his head slowly to examine the lesser people who turned around him and squeaked at him without daring to come too near. With a shock Harry recognized four of these small mortals: Sir Charles and Mr. Peterson, Jack Dedham and her own brother, Richard. The man in white was tall, though no taller than Richard or Sir Charles. But there was a quivering in the air around him, like the hea t haze over the desert, shed from his white sleeves, cast off by the shadows of his scarlet sash. These who stood near him looked small and pale and vague, while this man was so bright he hurt the eyes. More men came quietly out behind the Homelanders and stood a little to one side, but they kept their eyes on their king. He could be no one else. This must be Corlath. Harry took a deep breath. He didn't look insane or inhuman. He did look uncooperative. He shook his head and frowned at something someone said, and Sir Charles looked very unhappy. Corlath shrugged, and made a sweeping movement with his arms, like a man coming out of a forest gratefully into the sunlight. He took a long step forward to the edge of the verandah. Then Dedham took two quick steps toward him and spoke to him, a few words only, urgently; and Corlath turned again, as it seemed unwillingly, and looked back. Dedham held out his hand, palm down and fingers spread; and so they stood for a long minute. Corlath dropped his eyes to the hand stretched toward him, then looked into the face of its owner. Harry, watching, held her breath without knowing why. With a nasty feeling in the pit of her stomach she saw a look of terrible strain cross Dedham's face as the Hill-king held his gaze; and the outstretched hand trembled very slightly. Corlath slowly reached out his own hand and touched the back of Dedham's wrist with two fingers; the hand dropped to Dedham's side once more, but as if it were heavy as stone, and the man slumped in relief like a murderer reprieved at the scaffold. The look of strain slid off his face to be replaced by one of great weariness. Corlath swung around again, and set his foot on the top stair, and no one moved to stop him. Five men in the loose robes of the Hillfolk separated themselves from the verandah shadows and made to follow. Harry found she could not take her eyes off the king, but from the corners of her eyes she noticed that the other men too wore vivid sashes: gold and orange and green and blue and purple. There was nothing to indicate the king but the glitter of his presence. Harry stood only a few feet from the bottom step, holding her pony's bridle. Cassie and Beth were somewhere behind her, and the stable boy stood frozen a few steps from her elbow. Corlath still had not noticed them, and Harry stared, fascinated, as he came nearer. There seemed a roaring in the air that beat on her eardrums and pressed against her eyeballs till she blinked. Then he looked up abruptly, as if from some unfathomable depth of thought, and saw her: their eyes met. The man's eyes were yellow as gold, the hot liquid gold in a smelter's furnace. Harry found it suddenly difficult to breathe, and understood the expression on Dedham's face; she almost staggered. Her hand tightened on the bridle, and the pony dropped its head and mouthed the bit uncomfortably. The heat was incredible. It was as though a thousand desert suns beat down on her. Magic? she thought from inside the thunder. Is this what magic is? I come from a cold country, where the witches live in cool green forests. What am I doing here? She saw the anger the man was holding in check; the anger stared at her through the yellow eyes, and swept through the glistening white robes. Then it was over. He looked away; he came down the last steps and past her as if she did not exist; and she cowered out of his way so that no corner of his white sleeve should touch her. The man with the horses emerged from the shade, riding one of the chestnuts; and the six others went up to their riders and nuz zled them. The blood bay reached the king first, and greeted him with a low whinny. Corlath mounted with an easy leap Harry could not even follow with her eyes, although she could see anger informing the set of his legs against the great stallion's sides. The horse felt it too; without moving, all its muscles were suddenly taut, and its stillness was the quiet before battle. The other men mounted. Corlath never looked at them, but the red stallion plunged forward at a gallop, and the other men followed; and the sound the horses' hooves made on the hard earth suddenly reminded Harry how unnaturally silent everyone had been since Dedham's last words. The inaudible thunder faded with the sight of the colored sashes and the bright flanks of the Hill horses. Harry woke up to who she was, and where; Sir Charles and Jack and Mr. Peterson looked their normal size again, and she had a raging headache.

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