Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
DIANA WYNNE JONES
The Dalemark Quartet
THE CROWN OF DALEMARK
An Imprint of
The Earl of Hannart arrived in Aberath two days before Midsummer. He was bringing the Countess of Aberath a portrait of the Adon to put in her collection. As this was a state visit, he brought his son as well and a string of his hearthmen, and his arrival caused a rare bustle.
A tall man dressed like a shepherd watched it all from high in the hills where the green roads ran. He had an excellent view from there, not only into the seething courts of the mansion but of the whole town, the cliffs, the bay, and the boat sheds. The Earl was easy to pick out among the hurrying figures, because he was with a servant carrying the picture. The man watched them go straight to the library, where he knew the Countess was waiting to receive the Earl. Almost immediately the servant was sent away to fetch someone else. The watcher could see him pushing his way, first to the stables, then to the dining hall, and finally to the hearthmen's quarters, where he fetched out a large gangly person and pointed to the library. The gangly one set off there at a run, on long, gawky legs.
The watcher turned away. “So they did send for this Mitt,” he said as if this had confirmed his worst suspicions. Then he looked up and round and over his shoulder, clearly thinking that someone else was standing nearby, watching, too. But the green road was empty. The man shrugged and set off walking swiftly inland.
About the same time as this man left, Mitt arrived at the top of the library steps, trying not to pant, and pushed open the creaky door.
“Oh, there you are,” said the Countess. “We want you to kill someone.”
She was never one to beat about the bush. It was almost the only thing Mitt liked about her. All the same, he wondered if he had heard her right. He stared at her long, bony face, which was set slightly crooked on her high shoulders, and then looked at Earl Keril of Hannart to make sure. Mitt had been ten months now in Aberath, but the North Dalemark accent there still sometimes made him hear things wrong. Earl Keril was dark, with a long nose. Everyone said what a likable man he was, but he was looking at Mitt as grimly as the Countess.
“Didn't you hear?” Earl Keril asked. “We want someone dead.”