A Wizard Abroad

Diane Duane

Nita, a young American wizard, has been sent to stay in Ireland, where she finds herself caught up in the stirring of some ancient Irish legends. She has already won a favor- the name of the Amadàn, the Fool of the Sidhe, the Irish faery folk. Now she and her companions Kit and Ronan are faced by a pack of Fomori drows (legendary Irish troll-monsters) demolishing the Main Street.

They stopped. 'No good,' Nita said. 'We don't dare use wizardry in case it backfires. We've got to do something else.'

'Such as?' Ronan said, desperate. 'There's no river to throw them in!'

She smiled at him, rather crookedly. She was beginning to shake. 'Let's try this,' she said.

There was a format for these things. She called the name once; she called it twice. The second time, it made her throat hurt- more in warning, she thought, than because of the sound of it. Something was saying to her, Are you sure? Very sure? She gulped, and said the name the third time. It shook her, and flung her down.

She sat up on the pavement, slightly dazed. It took a swallow or two to get her throat working again. Then she shouted in the Speech, 'Pay me back what you owe me- and do it now!'

It being wizardry involved, she expected immediate results. It being wizardry involved... she got them.

Over the screams and the breaking glass, over the crashes of cars and the howling of the sirens of the Gardai, came another sound; bells. Not church bells. It was as if someone had taken the sound of hoofbeats, and tuned them; as if what came galloping did so on hooves of glass, or silver, a clangour of relentless and purposeful harmonies. Other bells were the sounds that bridles might make if each one were built like a musical instrument, made to be carried into battle and shaken to frighten the enemy- a sharp, chilly sound. The galloping and the sound of the bells came closer together, and were joined by a third sound, a high, eerie singing noise, the sound that metal might make if you woke it up and taught it how to kill. The faces of the buildings up near the heritage centre flushed bright, as if a light came near them.

And then the tide of colour poured itself down into Main Street from both sides of the Heritage Centre, and the first of the drows fell away from the gryphon fountain, screaming as a crystal sword pierced it. The horses shone, the riders shone; not with any kind of light. They were simply more *there* than the broken glass, and the crashed cars, and the grey things; more vivid, more real. Everything went pallid or dull that was seen in the same glance with them- the crimson of cloaks and banners that burned like coals, the blues and emerald greens like spring suddenly afire amid the concrete, the gold of torcs and arm-rings glowing as if they were molten, the silver of hair burning like the moon through cloud, the raven of hair burning like the cold between the stars. The riders poured down into Main Street, and the drows fled screaming before them- not that it helped. Two of them took refuge in the smoked-glass-and-aluminium phone booths down at that end of the street; the faery horses smashed them to splinters with their hooves, and the drows afterwards. Down past the Chinese restaurant, down past the estate agents and the electrical shops, the riders came storming down between the cars, or through them, as though the cars were not real to them: and perhaps they were not. The riders' hands were not empty. Their swords shone and sang where the sunlight fell on them, that high, inhumanly joyous keen of metal that will never know rust. The riders had spears like tongues of fire, and sickles like sharpened moons, and bows of glass which fired arrows that did not miss. The grey things went down like lumps of stone when the weapons struck them, and lay like stone, and didn't move again. The only screams left were those of the drows, now; everything mortal was hiding, or standing very still, hoping against hope it wouldn't be noticed by the terrible, deadly beauty raging down through the main street of Bray.

The riders swept down the street to where Nita and Ronan and Kit stood, backs against the wall next to the pub by the arcade; and swept on past them, towards the Dargle, driving a crowd of the drows before them. A Garda sergeant in his blue shirtsleeves stood astounded on the corner and watched them pass, too dumbfounded to do anything at the moment but cross himself; and several of the riders bowed to him as they passed, and smiled as they did it.

One of the riders turned aside from the bright tide, and paused by them, looking down at Nita. He said, 'Are you repaid, then?'

Nita looked up at him, the crimson and emerald and golden splendour of his clothing, the impossible handsomeness of his face, and she felt dingy and shopworn by comparison. Her heart ached in her with pity for the wretched ordinariness of life, seen next to this awful, assured beauty. But she said, 'Yes, thank you. Thank you very much.'

'I would have saved the favour, myself,' said the black-haired rider, 'for you'll need it more later. But what's done, is done. And now get up and ride, for the Queen desires to speak with you.'

Ronan put his eyebrows up at that. 'Which queen?'

'Not any mortal one,' said the young rider on the horse, looking at him with mild amusement. 'The Queen whom it is unwise to refuse... as it is unwise to refuse her Fool.'

'The Amadaun!' Ronan said, his eyes going wide. 'Do what he says,' he said to Nita. And she caught a flash of unnerved thought from him: *he can kill with a look or a touch, this one, if offended-*

(c) Diane Duane 1993

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