The Pillars of the World
Roc Books, October 2001
For more information, check out www.penguin.com.
Copyright © 2001 Anne
Bishop. Used with permission.
Another road was closing. It would
take a little time, but not that long. For a few more days, that
road through the Veil that separated Tir Alainn from the human
world would shine, as it had for as long as the Fae could remember.
Then the Veil would thicken and the road would disappear, and
any of the Fae Lords or Ladies who tried to travel that road out
of Tir Alainn wouldn't come home again.
And once the road closed, the
part of Tir Alainn that was connected to that road would disappear
as well another piece of what had been the Fae's most glorious
act of magic mysteriously devoured.
We do not ask what becomes
of the Fae who lived in those lost pieces, Dianna
thought as she stared at the garden beyond the open window.
We do not ask if they are somehow surviving in their Clan houses,
cut off from the rest of us, or if they've become lost souls who
will never reach the Summerland when the flesh gives itself back
to the Mother.
Turning away from the window,
she faced the man and woman who had been patiently waiting for
They had the feral beauty that
was common to the Fae. The woman had dark red hair and woodland
eyes a brown-flecked green. Some of the Fae said eyes that
color harkened back to the House of Gaian, a Clan that had disappeared
so long ago it was barely even a legend anymore. Whether that
was truth or wishful thinking, no one could say any more than
they could remember why the House of Gaian had been special
or why it had disappeared.
The man had black hair and blue
eyes that were usually filled with sharp amusement. She saw storms
in his eyes now, and sadness in the woman's.
You found nothing,
she said, not bothering to make it a question since their eyes
had already answered.
We found nothing,
Lyrra replied. Inspira, Cariden, and I have asked every
storyteller and poet we could find. None remember anything that
would help us understand why the roads are closing or how to stop
it from happening. She hesitated. I don't know if
this is related to the information we've been seeking, but there
was an old poet from another Clan who remembered hearing a fragment
of an ancient poem that spoke of the Pillars of the World. But
he had been a child when he heard it and could recall nothing
else about it.
The Pillars of the World,
Dianna said, forcing herself to remain calm. Do you know
what it means?
Lyrra shook her head. It's
as if we had once known so well what they were, there was no need
to explain them, no need to hold onto them with words.
Dianna swallowed hope turned bitter.
Then it's unlikely they have anything to do with what's
happening to us now. She looked at the man.
I found nothing, Aiden
said flatly. The bards know songs enough about riding the
roads and the delights that might be encountered on the other
side of the Veil, but nothing that will help us.
If the Muse and the Bard can
find nothing, who else can we ask? Dianna
wondered. Where else can we look for the answers?
None of them mentioned what might
have been known to the Clans who had used the shining roads that
had connected to the Old Places in the human countries called
Arktos and Wolfram the Clans who had been disappearing,
one by one, since she was a little girl.
Now, the only roads through the
Veil were the ones connected to Sylvalan, and those, too, were
beginning to close.
Had warnings gone unheeded all
those years, or had they never been sent? Had the Fae whose territories
had been connected to the Old Places in those countries been willfully
blind to the danger, so sure that whatever had happened to another
Clan couldn't possibly happen to them or had they
kept to their own Clan houses and their own territories because
they'd been afraid that it would happen to them? Or had
it been that those Clans had always seemed so distant anyway that
no one in this part of their world had paid much attention?
Now the danger was no longer distant,
no longer happening to someone else. Now it was devouring their
Clans, and they hadn't been able to find out why and they
hadn't been able to stop it.
I am sorry, Dianna,
Lyrra said softly.
My thanks for trying,
Dianna said, turning back to the window.
A rustle of fabric. Quiet footsteps
Only one set of footsteps.
Looking over her shoulder, she
could almost see the swelling anger in Aiden. Something
He joined her at the window. Before
coming to the Clan house here, I went down one of the other roads.
His expression was bland, but his eyes... I traveled through
a couple of villages in the northeastern part of Sylvalan.
And no doubt stopped at
the taverns to hear a minstrel or two, she said, working
to give him an indulgent smile that might ease his mood.
He didn't smile back. I
listened, he said curtly.
And hadn't liked what he'd heard.
The minstrels are singing
songs about beings they call wiccanfae.
Dianna stiffened at the arrogance
of anything else referring to itself as Fae. And they are?
Wicked fairies. Witches.
Creatures who, out of spite, will make a cow dry or a woman barren,
who will creep into a house and devour a newborn's soul so that
the mother finds the babe dead in its cradle with no mark upon
it. They sometimes steal babes to sacrifice to their master, the
Evil One, so that he will come and indulge in carnal acts with
them. They use their love charms on chaste young women of good
name and family, causing them to become so overcome with lust
that they fornicate with men, without the honorable bond of marriage.
They are the vessels of dark magic. He paused. And
they control the Small Folk, who are soulless creatures full of
mischief magic. Creatures that must be cleansed from the land
so that honest men can take the land's bounty without coming to
harm. Do you want to hear more?
No, Dianna said, feeling
a winter wind brush past her face even though spring would soon
give way to summer. But what she wanted and what duty required
were two different things. Do you think these...wiccanfae...are
the reason the roads are closing? Could they be using their magic
to keep us out of the human world?
It is fact that the shining
roads close in the human world before we lose a piece of Tir Alainn.
Dianna saw something shift in
his eyes. What happened at those taverns?
Just as the Muse can still
a tongue or open an inner door inside a person that allows the
words to flow, so I can give the gift of music or take
Dianna hesitated. Even for the
Lady of the Moon a title that made her the most influential
female among the Fae it was the better part of wisdom not
to antagonize the Bard. Provoked, he wouldn't hesitate to shape
a song that would diminish a person into a fool. If the
witches are our enemies, why stop the minstrels' songs?
I cannot stop what already
exists, but I can stop any more from being created.
She place a hand on his arm, felt
the tight muscles. Why stop them? she asked, wondering
how much he hadn't told her.
One doesn't need to drink
from a cup to know that it contains poison, Aiden said harshly.
There's something wrong with those songs. Music that hasn't
flowed through the heart on its journey to the hands offers little
and can take much. He smiled bitterly. And those who
play those songs have sold their hearts for a bag of gold coins.
Minstrels have to eat,
Dianna said cautiously.
There is warm gold and cold
gold, and I know which has been taken by the end of the first
tune. These minstrels play songs that create an ugliness in the
hearts of those who hear them. And they've put new words to old
tunes tunes we created that once spoke gently
of magic and the gifts that magic gives. That is too deep an insult,
Dianna, because that is an offense against us. The decision
to take back the gift of music is mine, and only mine, to make.
Has Lyrra decided to take
back the Muse's gift as well?
His eyes darkened until they were
Dianna thought. The Bard heard far more than he has said.
I have asked her to take
back her gift from any minstrel who sings those songs, he
said quietly. But that is her choice.
Which meant that, unless she had
a strong reason to oppose him, the Muse would honor his
request. She and the Bard weren't exclusive lovers, but they were
lovers nonetheless and often gave or withheld their
gifts in tandem.
And there is another reason
to silence the music that would smear all magic with the offal
of the witches' deeds. Aiden crossed his arms, leaned against
the wall next to the window. We travel through the Veil
and use our gifts to hinder or help the humans.
We do that because it amuses
us, not because we need to, Dianna said impatiently.
We do that because it amuses
us, Aiden agreed, and because it's...invigorating.
Dianna let out a delicate snort.
She knew quite well what invigoration Fae men found
in the human world. Fae women seldom found a similar kind of invigoration.
Aiden's blue eyes twinkled, a
sure sign that he knew exactly what she was thinking. Then the
twinkle faded, leaving him serious again. That isn't exactly
what I meant. Living in Tir Alainn is like floating in the sun-warmed
water of a quiet pond. Dealing with humans and their world is
like riding the rapids of a fast river. One brings peace, the
other stirs the blood.
There's nothing wrong with
peace, Dianna insisted. Especially when it might be taken
away at any moment.
Tell me something, Dianna,;
Aiden said. When you ride with your shadow hounds for the
Wild Hunt, do you gallop over the perfect, rolling hills of Tir
Alainn or the rough imperfection of the human world?
She didn't want to answer that,
didn't want to acknowledge the truth in what he was saying
that the Fae traveled to the human world because the peace and
perfection of Tir Alainn became boring after a while so
she said nothing.
After a moment, Aiden said, I'll
see if I can find any other references to the Pillars of the World.
It may have been nothing more than a bard's way of referring to
the roads at one time or other, but even knowing that much is
more than we know now.
She nodded in agreement. Then
there was nothing more to say.
Dianna, Aiden said, bowing slightly.
Aiden, she replied.
After he left, she remained at
the window. If they didn't find the reason behind the roads closing,
the day would come when she would look out and see...what? What
had any of the lost Fae seen before their piece of Tir Alainn
Her mouth shaped the word without
giving it voice.
If they were the reason her beloved Tir Alainn was dying, they
would soon discover what it was like to have the Lady of the Moon,
who was also called the Huntress, for an enemy.