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Authors: Andre Norton

Three Hands for Scorpio

BOOK: Three Hands for Scorpio
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Table of Contents
The author is deeply indebted to Caroline Fike and Rose Wolf, whose twofold aid in preparing the saga of the Scorpys for publication was beyond all price. Additional thanks are due to Larry Kimbrough, Wizard of the Alabama Renaissance Faire, who lent his magely name and knowledge to the character of Zolan. Larry also served as scout on a fact-finding mission to the actual Dismals, a geological curiosity of Alabama possessing unusual plants and animals, though not—thankfully—spiders of Shelobian proportions.
T
his by the hand of Tamara, daughter to Earl Scorpy of Verset. Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Charlitta of Alsonia, commands us to chronicle our strange and remarkable adventure in Gurlyon, the North Land that has ever been to our nation as a thorn beneath the saddlecloth is to the rider of an ill-trained horse. Our sovereign believes that our story may aid and warn those who follow us. Thus we three have been supplied with quills, paper in plenty, and the carefully guarded palace library for a workplace.
We are the Scorpys, a name neither likely to set bards to plucking harpstrings in stirring song nor one honey-coated for general repeating. However, as Duty, our mother's trusted deputy, has always said, with a scornful sniff, a good name is worthy of honor.
We were three-in-one at our birthing—a cause, at that time (we have been told), for no small surprise and chatter. We were duly named Tamara, Sabina, and Drucilla, for two granddames and a great-aunt, forceful women in their day.
We were also born on the very day of the Battle of Erseway wherein our sire, Desmond Scorpy, the Earl of Verset, played a heroic role which all properly tutored Alsonian children can remember from their schooling.
That passage of arms was to have subdued the Gurlys of the North, and so it did for a short space—long enough, at least, for them to rearm and
prepare wood for watch-fires along the border. It goes without saying that our own borderers, long used to raiding and thereby tweaking Gurly tails, also laid plans.
A twisted kind of law served the debated boundary areas: Border Law. Its rules were to be enforced by Warders appointed by our ruler, Lybert the Second, as well as by the King of Gurlyon. These leaders were responsible for protecting their countrymen, as well as for preventing raids from either North or South.
However, such efforts were like attempting to hold back water's downhill rush with a dam of sand. Bribery was rife, and raids continued whenever a Gurlyon clan leader or greedy Alsonian baron spied a chance to snatch cattle, horses, or material goods from his cross-border neighbor. This piratical policy continued cheerfully for years, with neither side having a leader strong enough to curb it.
Then, some six years after the battle, King Lothar died suddenly, after a feast laid to entice foreign merchants for trade with Gurlyon. His heir apparent was Gerrit, a mere lad of seven. The king's untimely demise began a bloody battle over which clan would claim his son's guardianship—a minor war that ended with the disappearance of the child king. Many believed him to have been the prey of either the Mervens or the Raghnells, while others said he had been taken South and was held in secret by enemies there.
However, Summon Fires were not lit and, though the South gathered an army, they remained on our side of the border until their commander could no longer feed them and they must needs be dismissed without drawing their swords.
We three may seem to dwell overlong upon history which must be well-known to most who read this, but in this past lies the root of our own story.
We Scorpys are among the women who possess some form of the Talent. This name is as a large money-bag holding coins of various values, but it is applied to a group of gifts from the Lords of Light that require the channeling of Power through the wielder. We inherited our Gifts through our mother, who comes of a cadet branch of the Scorpy line. We were taught early, under the sharp eyes of Mother and Wise-wife Duty, who served as our nurse, the use of healing herbs and the development of our own special endowments. We sisters not only shared blood and appearance but also
thoughts, so that, when necessary, we could communicate silently, as if a single mind served the three of us. And now, in our eighteenth year, sometimes it seems we think and near act as one.
There is little of note to report from our early life. Though we suffered from enough of the physical ills of childhood to cause our elders the fidgets, our mother was well-learned in healcraft and dealt promptly with our ailments.
In conduct, we displayed the alternating arrogance, shyness, and rigid will of those of supposedly tender years. Of all behaviors, whining was regarded by Mother as the most unwelcome. She was strict but always just and loving—virtues that might be quickly sensed and appreciated by us even as tiny children.
In appearance, we are as like to one another as our birth would suggest. This likeness, we discovered very early, might profitably be used to manipulate other members of the household, save for Father, Mother, and Duty—we never tried any such trick with them. Despite the unpleasantness of this trait, we must chronicle it as part of our ability to blend personas when needed, for it figures importantly in our great adventure.
We possess our father's hair. In the normal light of the hall, it seems deeply black, but under strong sunlight, it appears burnished by threads of fiery red. This crowning glory frames ivory skin and the large green eyes we received from our mother.
In Grosper dwelt few of our rank; they were mostly visitors, and none lingered for long. Lacking much basis for comparison, we had, perhaps, too high an opinion of ourselves. However, that estimation came to be sorely tested ere our tale was complete.
Our father, in his uneasy appointment as High Warden dealing with unruly neighbors, maintained a tighter than customary hold, traveling from one fortress to another through the year, save in the months holding Year Turn and High Winter.
Having no son to “shield his back,” as the country saying goes, Father gave a new twist to our education from the very month we arrived at Grosper Castle in our tenth year. He rode well, and he taught us to do so, for horsemanship was a skill greatly needed in this land of few roads, and many of those hardly more than trails. In addition, we learned to use conventional weapons. We rebelled at the training from time to time—why, was our collective thought, should we exert ourselves unduly in
practicing with a sword or snaplock when our mental talents would serve nicely to bewilder any opponent? But Father lessoned us severely when we made too-easy recourse to our Gifts, on the grounds that the Gurlys held an ever-growing hatred for what they deemed the Black Arts, and it was best not to give any clansman cause to suspect we had been tutored in arcane lore. Southerners, in general, were rumored by the men of the North to be learned in dark practices; thus even a hint about the Earl of Verset and his family, kin to Her Gracious Majesty, could engender great trouble.
After the Gurly defeat at Erseway, where the Northerners had been forced to accept orders from the South, a strange and charismatic man had come forth whom the Gurlys believed to be a holy Man of Power. He descended from the Yakin Mountains, which were largely unknown territory to the nearby lowlanders. Into an ever-growing company of followers, this outland priest was able to draw commoners, clan lords, and court members alike to give ear to—and soon to enforce—his preaching.
The kidnapped king had been replaced by another child: Arvor of Clan Merven. Though now full-grown and a leader able to subdue overseas raiders, Arvor was obviously still under the orders of Yorath of Merven and appeared likely to always be so. However, the young king made the newcome religious leader welcome at court, and he himself appeared at all public services ordered by Chosen Forfind.
Thus affairs stood until the Tenth Day of Non in the year of Gorgast Six when our world began to be wrung, then wrung again as a goodwife twists new-laundered cloth in order to speed its drying. That afternoon, we sat midway between the cavernous fireplace with its still-glowing coals and a window unshuttered to freshen the room with spring breeze-breath now and again. We were working together on a new embroidery conceit that demanded great concentration.
Though deeply united, we each had individual talents. Bina's particular skill lay in working with herbal lore, and her knowledge surpassed many of greater age than hers. I liked nothing more than to ride in a stirring hunt with a fine mount beneath me, a sharp-nosed hound beside me, and a fine weapon to hand. Cilla could gaze intently at a weaving, such as the backing for embroidered tapestry and, simply by concentrating, produce markings for needlework of the most fascinating designs.
We now labored to fashion one of Cilla's creations. The cloth was tautly
stretched on a frame, and a cushion spiked with threaded needles stood ready for our selection.
“This design,” Bina commented as she searched for a needle with the proper-colored wool, “is quite different from any you have created before, Cilla.” She did not at once thrust her needle into the cloth, but studied that small portion she had already worked, a wrinkle deepening between her eyes.
“Is this truly Raft's Tower as Father described it? It has certain features that I find”—with her left forefinger, Bina traced an unfilled guideline—“somehow disturbing.”
Beside her, I poised my own needle but did not take another stitch. I, too, was studying the portion nearest my seat on the opposite side of the frame.
“Hmm—exactly what do we see?” I asked, using the point of her needle to trace a fraction of a curve.
Cilla had turned her head as if to examine the coals in the fireplace. “I dreamed,” she answered after a short pause, “and the pattern I saw within the dream did not fade with waking. I felt—compelled, as if I must form it here and now.”
Bina attempted to touch our minds but found the connection closed to her. She stared at her sister, as did I, tapping the edge of the frame.
“Have you shown this to anyone else?”
Cilla most often sketched a pattern to see it plainly before she readied the cloth and frame; then she would submit the motif for Mother's final approval.
“You feel it, too, Sister?” Cilla answered slowly. She turned her head again to look at the tracings.
The cluster of lights directly above us seemed to dim a little. Bina thrust her needle into the cloth and then placed fingertips on the small section I had earlier filled. She did not summon union, but our minds were now open as we faced each other across the frame. Cilla pushed away from the work.
“What—what is it?” she asked shakily as one who lifts a garden-pool stone and discovers something repugnant beneath.
I rose.
“I would say”
—my thought sped—
“that something is present here that we are unwise to meddle with further. The closer we look, the more clear that becomes.”
“A manifestation of Power? That is Mother's concern!”
declared Bina.
“No!”
Two of us linked to deny her statement.
“Or”
—Cilla modified that denial—
“perhaps, but not yet.”
She leaned forward to pull her needle from its thread, and we did likewise, returning our tools to the pillow. Taking care not to touch the pattern, we moved to loose the cloth from the frame; and, as the square came free, Cilla bundled it together. In the same moment, the chamber door opened suddenly.
The only one of the household empowered to enter any chamber without a knock, Mother entered, and we curtseyed as she faced us. She had taken only two steps into the room when she halted abruptly, head lifted and nostrils expanded, as if she caught a scent that was at once alien and threatening.
We knew that her Talent greatly overshadowed ours, and to see her respond thus made us uneasy. Her eyes narrowed as she came purposefully forward, and I was quick to push the frame out of her way. The closer our parent approached, the deeper grew the crease between her brows.
Mother pointed to the bundle Cilla had dropped. As she moved her long beringed fingers, the bundle lifted weightlessly, then wriggled and unfolded itself. We could clearly see the curious design as it remained aloft. Our mother studied the crumpled surface for a moment and turned her attention to us, though chiefly to Cilla.
“This pattern is one of yours, rash girl?”
Cilla faced her squarely, head high. “I dreamed it, nor would it go from my mind when I awoke.”
Our sorceress mother's hand shot forward and closed on the designer's shoulder. “You—dabble—in—fearsome—things!” She shook Cilla to emphasize each word, then paused.
“I know that now.” Our sister's voice was close to a whimper. We moved to flank her protectively, but Mother had already loosed her grip.
“You must repudiate it, Cilla, for, in a manner, you have tried to give a shadow birth.”
The trailing cloth still floated. Our sister stepped forward, lips working; then she spat a droplet of moisture that landed on one of the tufts already set in brilliant wool. We followed Cilla's example in making the formal denial of ill-work.
“Go hence,”
we declared in unison,
“our hands will not give you substance. In the name of the Great One, we dismiss you!”
“Shall we send it to the fire?” Cilla asked after we had spat and spoken.
Our mother once more considered the crumpled square. “What was your intention?” she asked slowly, as though she had been knotting several thoughts together. “What would you have done with it when it was finished and you had brought what it might carry to full life?”
BOOK: Three Hands for Scorpio
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