Home > The Hero and the Crown (Damar #1)

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #1)
Author: Robin McKinley

Part One

Chapter 1

SHE COULD NOT REMEMBER a time when she had not known the story; she had grown up knowing it. She supposed someone must have told her it, sometime, but she could not remember the telling. She was beyond having to blink back tears when she thought of those things the story explained, but when she was feeling smaller and shabbier than usual in the large vivid City high in the Damarian Hills she still found herself brooding about them; and brooding sometimes brought on a tight headachy feeling around her temples, a feeling like suppressed tears.

She brooded, looking out over the wide low sill of the stone window-frame; she looked up, into the Hills, because the glassy surface of the courtyard was too bright at midday to stare at long. Her mind ran down an old familiar track: Who might have told her the story? It wouldn’t have been her father who told her, for he had rarely spoken more than a few words together to her when she was younger; his slow kind smiles and slightly preoccupied air had been the most she knew of him. She had always known that he was fond of her, which was something; but she had only recently begun to come into focus for him, and that, as he had told her himself, in an unexpected fashion. He had the best—the only—right to have told her the story of her birth, but he would not have done so.

Nor would it have been the hafor, the folk of the household; they were polite to her always, in their wary way, and reserved, and spoke to her only about household details. It surprised her that they still remembered to be wary, for she had long since proven that she possessed nothing to be wary about. Royal children were usually somewhat alarming to be in daily contact with, for their Gifts often erupted in abrupt and unexpected ways. It was a little surprising, even, that the hafor still bothered to treat her with respect, for the fact that she was her father’s daughter was supported by nothing but the fact that her father’s wife had borne her. But then, for all that was said about her mother, no one ever suggested that she was not an honest wife.

And she would not have run and told tales on any of the hafor who slighted her, as Galanna would—and regularly did, even though everyone treated her with the greatest deference humanly possible. Galanna’s Gift, it was dryly said, was to be impossible to please. But perhaps from the hafor’s viewpoint it was not worth the risk to discover any points of similarity or dissimilarity between herself and Galanna; and a life of service in a household that included Galanna doubtless rendered anyone who withstood it automatically wary and respectful of anything that moved. She smiled. She could see the wind stir the treetops, for the surface of the Hills seemed to ripple beneath the blue sky; the breeze, when it slid through her window, smelled of leaves.

It might very well have been Galanna who told her the story, come to that. It would be like her; and Galanna had always hated her—still did, for all that she was grown now, and married besides, to Perlith, who was a second sola of Damar. The only higher ranks were first sola and king; but Galanna had hoped to marry Tor, who was first sola and would someday be king. It was no matter that Tor would not have had Galanna if she had been the only royal maiden available—”I’d run off into the Hills and be a bandit first,” a much younger Tor had told his very young cousin, who had gone off in fits of giggles at the idea of Tor wearing rags and a blue headband and dancing for luck under each quarter of the moon. Tor, who at the time had been stiff with terror at Galanna’s very determined attempts to ensnare him, had relaxed enough to grin and tell her she had no proper respect and was a shameless hoyden. “Yes,” she said unrepentantly. Tor, for whatever reasons, was rather over-formal with everyone but her; but being first sola to a solemn, twice-widowed king of a land with a shadow over it might have had that effect on a far more frivolous young man than Tor. She suspected that he was as grateful for her existence as she was for his; one of her earliest memories was riding in a baby-sack over Tor’s shoulders while he galloped his horse over a series of hurdles; she had screamed with delight and wound her tiny hands in his thick black hair. Teka, later, had been furious; but Tor, who usually took any accusation of the slightest dereliction of duty with white lips and a set face, had only laughed.

But whenever she decided that it must have been Galanna who first told her the story, she found she couldn’t believe it of her after all. Having told it for spite and malice, yes; but the story itself had too much sad grandeur. But perhaps she only felt that way because it was about her mother; perhaps she had changed it in her own mind, made a tragedy of nothing but sour gossip. But that Galanna would deliberately spend enough time in her company to tell her the story was out of character; Galanna preferred whenever possible to look vaguely over the head of the least of her cousins, with an expression on her face indicating that there was a dead fly on the windowsill and why hadn’t the hafor swept it away? When Galanna was startled into speaking to her at all, it was usually from a motive of immediate vengeance. The tale of Arlbeth’s second wife would be too roundabout for her purposes. Still, that it had been one of the cousins was the best guess. Not Tor, of course. One of the others.

She leaned out of the window and looked down. It was hard to recognize people from the tops of their heads, several stories up. Except Tor; she always knew him, even if all she had to go on was an elbow extending an inch or two beyond a doorframe. This below her now was probably Perlith: that self-satisfied walk was distinctive even from above, and the way three of the hafor, dressed in fine livery, trailed behind him for no purpose but to lend to their master’s importance by their presence pretty well assured it. Tor went about alone, when he could; he told her, grimly, that he had enough of company during the course of his duties as first sola, and the last thing he wanted was an unofficial entourage for any gaps in the official ones. And she’d like to see her father pulling velvet-covered flunkeys in his wake, like a child with a toy on a string.

Perlith’s head spoke to another dark head, the hafor waiting respectfully several arms1 length distant; then someone on a horse—she could not distinguish voices but she heard the click of hoofs—emerged from around a corner. The rider wore the livery of a messenger, and the cut of his saddle said he came from the west. Both heads turned toward him and tipped up, so she could see the pale blur of their faces as they spoke to him. Then the horseman cantered off, the horse placing its feet very delicately, for it was dangerous to go too quickly across the courtyard; and Perlith and the other man, and Perlith’s entourage, disappeared from her view.

   
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