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Authors: Meredith Ann Pierce

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The Darkangel

BOOK: The Darkangel
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Contents

Copyright © 1982 by Meredith Ann Pierce

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address:

Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

First Magic Carpet Books edition 1998

First published by Atlantic Monthly Press Books and Little, Brown and Company 1982

Magic Carpet Books
is a registered trademark of Harcourt, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Pierce, Meredith Ann. The darkangel/by Meredith Ann Pierce. p. cm.—

(The darkangel trilogy; v. 1) Sequel: A gathering of gargoyles. "Magic Carpet Books."

Summary: The servant girl Aeriel must choose between destroying her vampire master for his evil deeds or saving him for the sake of his eauty and the spark of goodness she has seen in him.

[1. Vampires—Fiction. 2. Fantasy.] I. Title. II. Series:\Pierce, Meredith Ann. Darkangel trilogy; v. 1. PZ7.P6i453Dar 1998 [Fie]—dc2i 97-21253

ISBN 0-15-201768-2

Text set in Fournier

Designed by Kaelin Chappell

Printed in the United States of America

DEFGH1JK

To Joy, Camell, and Dr. Green, this dream of the Moon

1. 
The Steeps of Terrain

Aeriel rested the broad basket against her hip and adjusted her kirtle. The steep climb she and her companion had been taking the last six hundred paces or so had caused the loose, flowing garment to twist around at the neck and fall askew.

"I have to rest," she said faintly, and not waiting for her companion's reply, sank down on the hard, grey brittlerock of the mountainside and set the empty basket down beside her.

It was cold up on the steeps, the air too thin to hold any heat. But Solstar was warm, a bare six hours from setting. Its white light streamed back at her from the eastern horizon, warm on her bare arms and neck and face, warming the broken rock shelf on which she sat.

Aeriel gazed out over the wide plain of Avaric, fair as a pearl, bright as foxfire beneath the black, starry heavens. Oceanus hung, a swirl of blue and white, almost directly ahead of her. Below, she could see her village over to the right: tiny, far away, at the foot of the mountain and the edge of the plain.

"Come on," said Eoduin, digging her toe into Aeriel's backside. "We've still a way to go yet."

Aeriel sighed and got up, followed her companion. Eoduin was tall and slender, as befitted a person of lineage. After all, she was the daughter of the village syndic and her mother was half-sister to the satrap. She had a carriage about her, Aeriel observed wistfully, all self-sure and comely arrogance that came of living all her life in the largest house in the village, with sixteen different kirtles (think of it, sixteen! Aeriel had just two) and house servants.

Aeriel was one of these. She gazed longingly at her well-born mistress's hair, black as the heavens, with a blue sheen by earthlight. Eoduin's skin, pale and blue as breastmilk, had a subtle radiance that gleamed even in shadow. But Aeriel, slighter than her companion by a head, was boy-shaped still, her skin deeper-shaded: a wan rose-tan that even bleaching with lightning weed could not expunge. And her hair, thinner and finer than Eoduin's, was silvery yellow. Pretty enough by daylight, or lamplight—but it took on a hideous greenish cast, like unripe figs, by earthshine.

Aeriel sighed and scrambled up the slope after Eoduin, admiring the other's long-limbed stride, envying—but hopelessly—the unconscious ease with which the syndic's daughter held her basket slung over her back like a cloak. Aeriel knew that even when she herself began blooming into maidenhood (as Eoduin was blooming now), even then, she could never hope to match her mistress's proud grace.

After another hundred paces, Aeriel said, "We're getting awfully high."

Without turning around, her companion answered, "The summit's not much farther."

"I can't see the village anymore," said Aeriel. It was true. The turn they had just taken had led them around the mountain face a few degrees.

Eoduin laughed. "What are you afraid of?" she said, her sapphire eyes now mocking-merry. "Darkangels?" She stopped a moment to let Aeriel come up beside her. "You really do believe that old cradle tale Bomba was telling us," said Eoduin. "Don't you?"

Aeriel thought back on the strange, half-silly, half-deliciously exciting stories the bumbling old wife sometimes spun for her young charges at the distaff. She had told them one only a few hours before Aeriel and Eoduin had set out from the village to gather wedding flowers on the steeps— by way of a caution, Aeriel supposed, though this one had come out more muddled (and therefore ludicrous) than sobering.

Eoduin dropped her basket to the ground. Aeriel watched as she hunched her shoulders and screwed up her face in imitation of the old nurse's features. "The wraiths," she whispered, as if toothless. "The wraiths that roam the mountains, snatching bodies, causing landslides. Believe me...."

She wagged one claw-finger at Aeriel.

"Believe me, girl; I've seen them. Don't you go up high on those steeps, or you'll regret it— if you live to regret it." Aeriel bit her lip to suppress a smile. Eoduin always reduced her to helpless mirth. "And the vampyres!" Eoduin railed. "The icari: dozens of black wings and the faces of demons. One look'll turn you to stone, and then where'll you run, girl?"

The syndic's daughter began to stagger, worrying her hands and muttering.

"One'll swoop you away to his castle to make you his bride. And you know what the icari does with their brides, do you, girl?" Her voice had thinned from a low whisper to a faint, hysterical shriek. Aeriel wrapped her arms about her ribs and fought to hold back laughter. "They drinks up their souls!" Eoduin shrilled, then sank to her knees, gasping,

"Oh, my heart, my poor heart...," exactly as Aeriel had seen her half-senile old nurse doing numberless times.

Aeriel gave up, laughed until she felt breathless and giddy, though the air on the high steeps was too thin for laughing properly or long. She felt a little sick with the altitude and had to sit down again, rest her forehead on her knees. Sobering now, she kept her face hidden. She did not want Eoduin moving on before she could regain her breath.

Unsmiling now, Aeriel thought about Bomba's stories and shook her head. No, it was not the tales of Bomba that had worried her—fat, good-natured Bomba—but Dirna's. Gaunt, furtive Dirna, who used to sit at the loom in the workroom a little distance from the others, staring off at nothing, her spare, withered fingers weaving by touch.

Her tales were of a different sort from Bomba's. Dirna whispered of dracgs and witches, gargoyles and specters—horrifying tales of death by drowning. Eoduin always laughed at them as she did at Bomba's simpleminded fables, but they made Aeriel shudder. Dirna never got muddled in her tellings: she spoke as if she knew.

Aeriel raised her head from her knees. Eoduin had risen and shaken off her guise. Pulling a few black strands of hair from her large, clear-blue eyes, she kicked her basket deftly downhill toward Aeriel, then nodded for her bondservant to follow as she strode gracefully up the path. Aeriel sighed shortly, collecting her mistress's basket along with her own, wished
she
had a servant to caddy for her whenever she grew tired of carrying.

"Cheer up, worry-wrinkle," Eoduin cried over one shoulder. "What vampyre would want you?"

Aeriel shook the frown from her face. "No, it's just that...," she began, starting after her companion and tripping. Balancing on the steep slope while clutching a basket in each hand was proving difficult. She scrambled to her feet, snatched up Eoduin's basket before it could roll away down-slope like tumblebrush, and hurried up alongside her mistress again. "It's just that the sun will be down in a few hours, and..."

"Six!" cried Eoduin, laughing. "We've plenty of time before nightshade."

"Yes, but what if... ?" Aeriel almost lost her footing again on the smooth, crumbling rock, and Eoduin pulled her to her feet without so much as a glance or a pause in stride. Aeriel held to the baskets. "But what if one of us gets hurt," she continued, "or loses the way?"

"Don't you mean what if
you
get hurt?" asked Eoduin, without rancor. "After all, you seem to be the only one stumbling." She laughed and did not offer to help carry. "But by the Pendarlon, if I'd known you'd be so clumsy, I might have allowed more time."

Aeriel blushed and looked away. It was true: she was clumsy, and beside her mistress's deft grace, always felt doubly so. Her companion tilted one shoulder in a shrug and glanced at Aeriel.

"Don't fear, little lameling. If you should twist an ankle or knock yourself silly falling off a ledge, I'll carry you
and
the baskets back in less time than it's taken us getting this far."

Aeriel felt her color deepen, bit her lip against retort. She wasn't lame—just awkward and unsure. Eoduin knew that. Aeriel's knuckles on the basket whitened; she glanced at Eoduin. The syndic's daughter smiled at her carelessly. Aeriel's eyes stung. These were the only times she ever resented Eoduin, who used that hated name
lame-ling,
she realized, only to bait her. This time, though, she seemingly meant no teasing by it.

Perhaps she even intended it affectionately. Aeriel relaxed her hands and let her color fade.

"You needn't worry about the other, either," her companion was saying. Her tone was one of friendly tolerance. "I won't lose the way, and if you keep by me, you won't either."

Aeriel sighed and shoved her thoughts away, fell into step behind Eoduin again. The sun felt warm on Aeriel's back, and the shadows, whenever the path ducked behind boulder or ledge, were cold as well water. She dropped one basket from her hip as the trail grew narrower, let the light, bulky mesh of twined marshgrass bump along against her leg.

They climbed.

She fell to watching the landscape, the lie of the rocks. She listened to the bell-thorn, silvery thin briars that tinkled like glass in the rare mountain wind. She watched the small, rose-colored lizards sunning themselves in the last hours of Solstar before crawling into their crags again to sleep for another long nightshade. She looked at the petrified bones in the rocks, bones of fishes, eels, and water plants left over from the time when the steeps had been nothing but flat mud bottom, and all the world a sea.

"Here, here are some," said Eoduin, halting so abruptly Aeriel almost ran into her. Aeriel eyed the low-spread blossoming shrub at their feet. Eoduin gazed forward and gestured ahead. "And there are more up the slope."

They were near the pinnacle of the mountain. Aeriel could scarcely feel herself breathe.

The sky was blacker here, the sun whiter, the Earth bluer, the stars brighter. When Aeriel looked down, she could see the light, luminous haze of atmosphere lying on the foothills, on the plain.

"You pick these," Eoduin was telling her, taking her own basket back. "I'll get the ones farther up."

It was difficult for Aeriel to hear her, the air was so thin. She obviously was shouting, but Aeriel, only a pace away, had trouble making out the more faintly spoken words. She nodded her reply.

"You brought a flask, didn't you?" demanded Eoduin, taking hold of the empty one she herself wore on a thong hung from her neck. It was a simple waterskin for desert travel, a couple of handspans long, made of white kid with an ivory stopper and beads of tinted bone. Aeriel nodded and tapped her own smaller, undecorated flask hanging from her neck.

BOOK: The Darkangel
11.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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