Authors: Diana Wynne Jones
Diana Wynne Jones
FOR KIT AND JANNIE
THIS IS THE STORY OF THE CHILDREN OF ADARA
âof Ayna and Ceri who both had Gifts, and of Gair, who thought he was ordinary. But, as all the things which later happened on the Moor go back to something Adara's brother Orban did one summer day when Adara herself was only seven years old, this is the first thing to be told.
The Moor was never quite free of mist. Even at bright noon that bright summer day there was a smokiness to the trees and the very corn, so that it could have been a green landscape reflected in one of its own sluggish, peaty dikes. The reason was that the Moor was a sunken plain, almost entirely surrounded by low green hills. Much of it was still marsh, and the Sun drew vapors from it constantly.
Orban was swaggering along a straight green track, away from Otmound, which stood low and turfy behind him, slightly in advance of the ring of hills round the Moor. Beyond it, away to his left, was its companion, the Haunted Mound, which had a huge boulder planted crookedly on top of it, no one knew why. Orban could see it when he turned to warn his sister, loftily over his shoulder, not to go near marsh or standing water. He was annoyed with her for following him, but he did not want to get into trouble for not taking care of her.
It was one of those times when the Giants were at war among themselves. From time to time, from beyond the mists at the edge of the Moor, came the blank thump and rumble of their weapons. Orban took no notice. Giants did not interest him. The track he was on was an old Giants' road. If he looked down through the turf, he could see the great stones of it, too heavy for men to lift, and he thought he might kill a few Giants some day. But his mind was mostly taken up with Orban, who was twelve years old and going to be Chief. Orban had a fine new sword. He swished it importantly and fingered the thick gold collar round his neck that marked him as the son of a Chief.
“Hurry up, or the Dorig will get you!” he called back to Adara.
Adara, being only seven, was nervous of the Giants and their noise. It was mixed up in her mind with the sound of thunder, when, it always seemed to her, even bigger Giants rolled wooden balls around in the sky. But she did not want Orban to think she was afraid, so she hurried beside him down the green track and pretended not to hear the noise.
Orban had come out to be alone with his new sword and his own glory, but, since Adara had followed him out, he decided to unveil his glory to her a little. “I know ten times as much as you do,” he told her.
“I know you do,” Adara answered humbly.
Orban scowled. One does not want glory accepted as a matter of course. One wants to shock and astonish people with it. “I bet you didn't know the Haunted Mound is stuffed with the ghosts of dead Dorig,” he said. “The Otmounders killed them all, hundreds of years ago. The only good Dorig is a dead Dorig.”
This was common knowledge. But, since Adara really thought Orban was the cleverest person she knew, she politely said nothing.
“Dorig are just vermin,” Orban continued, displeased by her silence. “Cold-blooded vermin. They can't sing, or weave, or fight, or work gold. They just lie underwater and wait to pull you under. Did you know half the hills round the Moor used to be full of people, until the Dorig killed them all off?”
“I thought that was the Plague,” Adara said timidly.
“You're stupid,” said Orban. Adara, seeing it had been a mistake to correct him, said humbly that she knew she was. This did not please Orban either. He sought about for some method of startling Adara into a true sense of his superiority.
The prospect was not promising. The track led among tufts of rushes, straight into misty distance. There was a hedge and a dike half a field away. A band of mist lay over a dip in the old road and a spindly blackbird was watching them from it. The blackbird would have to do. “You see that blackbird?” said Orban.
A blunt volley of noise from the Giants made Adara jump. She looked round and discovered that Otmound was already misty with distance. “Let's go home,” she said.
“This is one thing you don't know. Go home if you want,” said Orban. “But if that blackbird is really a Dorig, I can make it shift to its proper shape. I know the words. Shall I say them?”
“No. Let's go home,” Adara said, shivering.
“Baby!” said Orban. “You watch.” And he marched toward the bird, saying the words and swishing his sword in time to them.
Nothing happened, because Orban got the words wrong. Nothing whatsoever would have happened, had not Adara, who hated Orban to look a fool, obligingly said the words right for him.
A wave of cold air swept out of the hollow, making both children shiver. They were too horrified to move. The blackbird, after a frantic flutter of protest, dissolved into mist thicker and grayer than the haze around it. The mist swirled, and solidified into a shape much larger. It was the pale, scaly figure of a Dorig, right enough. It was crouched on one knee in the dip, staring toward them in horror, and holding in both hands a twisted green-gold collar not unlike Orban's or Adara's.
“Now look what you've done!” Orban snarled at Adara. But, as he said it, he realized that the Dorig was not really very large. He had been told that Dorig usually stood head and shoulders above a grown man, but this one was probably only as high as his chin. It had a weak and spindly look, too. It did not seem to have a weapon and, better still, Orban knew that those words, once spoken, would prevent the creature shifting shape until Sundown. There was no chance of it turning into an adder or a wolf.
Feeling very much better, Orban marched toward the dip, swinging his sword menacingly. The Dorig stood up, trembling, and backed away a few steps. It was rather smaller than Orban had thought. Orban began to feel brave. He scanned the thing contemptuously, and the collar flashing between its pale fingers caught his attention. It was a very fine one. Though it was the same horseshoe shape as Orban's and made of the same green gold, it was twice the width and woven into delicate filigree patterns. Orban glimpsed words, animals and flowers in the pattern. And the knobs at either end, which in Orban's collar were just plain bosses, seemed to be in the shape of owls' heads on this one. Now Orban, only the day before, had been severely slapped for fooling about with a collar rather less fine. He knew the art of making this kind had been lost long ago. No wonder the Dorig was so frightened. He had caught it red-handed with a valuable antique.
“What are you doing with that collar?” he demanded.
The Dorig looked tremulously up at Orban's face. Orban found its strange yellow eyes disgusting. “Only sunning it,” it said apologetically. “You have to sun gold, or it turns back to earth again.”