Home > Stardust(12)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“Now. The matter of succession.” The lord’s voice wheezed out of him, like the wind being squeezed from a pair of rotten bellows. His living sons raised their heads: Primus, the oldest, with white hairs in his thick brown beard, his nose aquiline, his eyes grey, looked expectant; Tertius, his beard red-and-golden, his eyes a tawny brown, looked wary; Septimus, his black beard still coming in, tall and crowlike, looked blank, as he always looked blank.

“Primus. Go to the window.”Primus strode over to the opening in the rock wall and looked out.

“What do you see?”

“Nothing, sire. I see the evening sky above us, and clouds below us.”The old man shivered beneath the mountain-bear skin that covered him.

“Tertius. Go to the window.

What do you see?”

“Nothing, Father. It is as Primus told you. The evening sky hangs above us, the color of a bruise, and clouds carpet the world beneath us, all grey and writhing.”The old man’s eyes twisted in his face like the mad eyes of a bird of prey. “Septimus. You. Window.”Septimus strolled to the window and stood beside, although not too close to, his two elder brothers.

“And you? What do you see?”He looked out of the opening. The wind was bitter on his face, and it made his eyes sting and tear. One star glimmered, faintly, in the indigo heavens.

“I see a star, Father.”

“Ahh,” wheezed the eighty-first lord. “Bring me to the window.” His four dead sons looked at him sadly as his three living sons carried him to the window.

The old man stood, or almost stood, leaning heavily on the broad shoulders of his children, staring into the leaden sky.

His fingers, swollen-knuckled and twiglike, fumbled with the topaz that hung on a heavy silver chain about his neck.

The chain parted like a cobweb in the old man’s grip. He held the topaz out in his fist, the broken ends of silver chain dangling.

The dead lords of Stormhold whispered amongst themselves in the voices of the dead, which sound like snow falling: the topaz was the Power of Stormhold.

Who wore it would be Stormhold’s master, as long as he was of the blood of Stormhold. To which of the surviving sons would the eighty-first lord give the stone?The living sons said nothing, but looked, respectively, expectant, wary, and blank (but it was a deceptive blankness, the blankness of a rock face that one only realizes cannot be climbed when one is halfway up, and there is no longer any way down).

The old man pulled free of his sons, and stood straight and tall, then. He was, for a heartbeat, the lord of Stormhold who had defeated the Northern Goblins at the battle of Cragland’s Head; who had fathered eight children — seven of them boys — on three wives; who had killed each of his four brothers in combat, before he was twenty years old, although his oldest brother had been almost five times his age and a mighty warrior of great renown. It was this man who held up the topaz and said four words in a long-dead tongue, words which hung on the air like the strokes of a huge bronze gong.

Then he threw the stone into the air. The living brothers caught their breath, as the stone arced up over the clouds. It reached what they were certain must be the zenith of its curve, and then, defying all reason, it continued to rise into the air.

Other stars glittered in the night sky, now.

“To he who retrieves the stone, which is the Power of Stormhold, I leave my blessing, and the Mastership of Stormhold and all its dominions,” said the eighty-first lord, his voice losing power as he spoke, until once again it was the creak of an old, old man, like the wind blowing through an abandoned house.

The brothers, living and dead, stared at the stone. It fell upwards into the sky until it was lost to sight.

“And should we capture eagles, and harness them, to drag us into the heavens?” asked Tertius, puzzled and annoyed.

His father said nothing.

The last of the daylight faded, and the stars hung above them, uncountable in their glory.

One star fell.

Tertius thought, although he was not certain, that it was the first star of the evening, the one that his brother Septimus had remarked upon.

The star tumbled, a streak of light, through the night sky, and it tumbled down somewhere to the south and west of them.

“There,” whispered the eighty-first lord, and he fell to the stone floor of his chamber, and he breathed no more.

Primus scratched his beard, and looked down at the crumpled thing. “I’ve half a mind,” he said, “to push the old bastard’s corpse out of the window. What was all that idiocy about?”

“Better not,” said Tertius. “We don’t want to see Stormhold tumble and fall. Nor do we want a curse on our heads, for that matter. Better just place him in the Hall of Ancestors.”Primus picked his father’s body up, and carried him back to the furs of his bed. “We will tell the people he is dead,” he said.

The four dead brothers clustered with Septimus at the window.

“What do you think he’s thinking?” asked Quintus of Sextus.

“He’s wondering where the stone fell, and how to reach it first,” said Sextus, remembering his fall down the rocks and into eternity.

“I damned well hope so,” said the late eighty-first master of Stormhold to his four dead sons. But his three sons who were not yet dead heard nothing at all.

A question like “How big is Faerie?” does not admit of a simple answer.

Faerie, after all, is not one land, one principality or dominion. Maps of Faerie are unreliable, and may not be depended upon.

We talk of the kings and queens of Faerie as we would speak of the kings and queens of England. But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain). Here, truly, there be Dragons. Also gryphons, wyverns, hippogriffs, basilisks, and hydras.

There are all manner of more familiar animals as well, cats affectionate and aloof, dogs noble and cowardly, wolves and foxes, eagles and bears.

In the middle of a wood, so thick and so deep it was very nearly a forest, was a small house, built of thatch and wood and daubed grey clay, which had a most foreboding aspect. A small, yellow bird in a cage sat on its perch outside the house. It did not sing, but sat mournfully silent, its feathers ruffled and wan. There was a door to the cottage, from which the once-white paint was peeling away.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology