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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Berg Carol
 

«Guardians Of The Keep», Carol Berg

 

В 

 

Book Two of The Bridge of D’Arnath

 

ISBN 0-451-46000-6

For the boys. And you thought the garage was tough…

The builders did bow before the castle lord and say to him that his fortress was complete. But the lord declared the castle not yet strong enough, for his enemies were powerful and many. And so the lord commanded the builders to set an iron ring into the stone on the battlements at each compass point of the keep, and he chose his four strongest warriors to sanctify his fortress with their lives. One of the four was chained to each of the rings and charged to watch for marauders who might appear from any point along the sweeping horizon. At every hour the watch bells were rung to ensure the warriors did not sleep, and none were allowed to speak to them lest they be distracted from their duty. Through burning autumn and into bitter winter the four stood watch, allowed no shelter, no comfort, and no respite, believing that their faithfulness and honor would protect their lord’s stronghold long after their eyes and ears had failed. And when they died, they were left in place until their dust had filtered into the stones and mortar. They were called the Guardians of the Keep and are said to protect it still, and the symbol of the Four Guardian Rings is the shield of Comigor. Indeed, the four must have been potent warriors, for never in six hundred years has Comigor fallen to its enemies.

The History and Legends of Comigor Castle

CHAPTER 1

Seri

My driver rang the bell for the third time. No doubt the castle was in mourning. Black banners flew from the squat towers alongside the duke’s pennon. And the severe facade of the keep’s entry tower, broken only by the tall, narrow glass windows near its crown, was draped with myrtle branches, wound and tied with black crepe. But for all the activity I could see, one might think the entire household dead instead of just the lord.

At last, almost a quarter of an hour after we’d driven through the unguarded outer gates, one of the massive doors was dragged open. A red-faced under-housemaid carrying a water pitcher on her shoulder gestured frantically and disappeared into the house, leaving the door ajar.

Renald hurried back across the courtyard to the carriage, scratching his head. “The girl says you’re to go right up to her mistress’ rooms. She didn’t even wait to hear my introduction.”

“How could they know I was coming today?” Not waiting for Renald’s hand, I jumped from the carriage and directed him to the kitchen wing where he might get refreshment and perhaps a bit of gossip. I ran up the broad steps. Thirteen years since I’d been banished from this house-

A blood-chilling wail from the upper floor precluded reminiscing, as well as any puzzling over the lack of proper guards at the gates of a wealthy house with a newly dead lord. Hurrying across the tiled floor of the entry tower and up the grand staircase, I followed the commotion through a set of double doors at the end of the passage and into a grand bedchamber.

The chamber, larger and airier than most of the dark rooms in the old keep, had once been my mother’s. But only the location was recognizable. The graceful, Vallorean-style furnishings had been replaced by bulky, thick-topped tables of dark wood, ornate gilt chairs, and carved benches of a lumpish design with thin velvet cushions added for “comfort.” The bedstead sat on a raised platform, bedposts reaching all the way to the plastered ceiling. Heavy red draperies hung at the windows, blocking the bright sun and soft air of the autumn morning, and a fire roared in the hearth, making the room dim, stuffy, and nauseatingly hot.

The place was in chaos. A gray-haired woman in black satin hovered near the bed, waving ineffectually at a host of chambermaids in black dresses and winged white caps. The girls ran hither and yon with basins and towels, pillows and smelling salts, while from behind the gold-tasseled bed-curtains, the screams faded into whining complaints punctuated by great snuffles.

The gray-haired woman regarded me with dismay. “Well, where is the physician, then?”

“I know nothing of any physician. I’ve come to wait upon the duchess and the young duke. What’s the difficulty here?”

Another wail rose from the bed.

“You’re not with the physician?” The woman spoke as if she were sure I was mistaken or as if somehow it were my fault that I was not the person expected.

“No. But perhaps I could be of some help.”

“Has Ren Wesley come, Auntie?” came the voice from the bed. “Truly, I cannot get a breath.”

If breathing were the problem, I thought a clever application of the damper at the hearth and a brief wrestling match with the iron casements might improve the patient’s health considerably.

“It’s a stranger, my pet. Walked in bold as a thief. Says she’s here to see you and the young duke, but she’s not with the physician.” The black-clad woman wagged a bony finger at me. “You’ve no business here, young woman. Leave or I shall call the guards.”

“I’ll die before he comes, Auntie. I shall expire with only you and the servants and this thief to attend me. I shall die here in this wretched house and what will become of Gerick, then?”


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