Thorn's Chronicle continues...
Silva, Ana and I raced back to the wall ahead of the dwarves and the wagons. Though I got thoroughly turned around in the streets, Silva seemed to know exactly where she was going, her pony stretching out to a full gallop across the now-abandoned market square. Bigger though Ana and my own horses were, Silva’s mount was quick, and surer of its footing across the cobblestones.
She staggered as she slid from her saddle, but motioned Ana and I both away, clutching her arm close to her as she made her way up the stairs.
Gilliam and Varis waved as we reached the top of the wall, one from each end of the line of men who stood, pale-faced, clutching their longbows with trembling hands. No doubt the knuckles beneath their gloves were just as white as their faces.
The girls stood spaced among the men, their hair and dresses tossing in the cold winds that gusted from the west. Frightened though they may have been, each stood straight-backed, lips pressed to grim lines, staring with wide, blue eyes over the crenelations in the wall.
The Black Woods, visible as a low smudge against the mountains along the horizon, seemed to be burning. But the flames that licked at the trees and cast the glaring light up against the darkening, lowering stormclouds was not red, or orange, or even yellow.
The trees were lit with silver-blue flames. Every now and then, a streak of deep crimson — so deep as to be nearly black — would streak from the treetops, up to the clouds, to be answered with a bolt of lightning seconds later.
I clenched my fists at the sight, for what it was became immediately apparent to me: a working of druidic magics, so great as to be ceremonial in scope. A working to alter the weather, but on a scale I’d only read of in the legends of the elves. Larger even than that used to raise up Canolbarth.
The workings until now had been very subtle, akin to a breath of a whisper amidst a crowded room. But what was being crafted now was as a mighty roar, its weight and fury washing against my senses.
As the grounds of Korizegy were tainted with the touch of a demon, so, too, was the fabric of this magic touched with a cold, rust-like rot of some greater demon’s influence. My stomach turned, and I tried to repress a shiver that had nothing to do with the weather.
Suddenly, Silva’s illness did not seem so mysterious.
Beside me, Ana had gone positively gray. She clutched at the arrowhead-shaped pendant of sliver that hung at her breast.
“How could this be let to fester, to grow so powerful?” she whispered. She tore her eyes away from the trees. “Thorn, we haven’t a chance against it. Not even Gilliam would gamble such odds.” She tried to smile.
“How can you be so calm?” she asked me.
“One cannot chronicle while running away,” I replied. “Are you ready?”
The girl licked pale lips. “As ready as I will ever be,” she said, stepping forward.
Silva looked up at her, the smaller girls’ posture one of complete attention.
Ana began to chant her prayer for protection, to call forth a warding curtain of silver light.
Two lines into the prayer, Silva began to chant a counterpoint, and the thin thread of Ana’s magic began to unravel.
Her voice caught, as she, too, felt it, but at Silva’s sharp glance my way, I set a reassuring hand on Ana’s shoulder. The young servant of the Flame lifted her voice, the uncertainty fading.
Without any signal, the other girls lifted their voices, each pitched slightly differently, their chant catching a filament of Ana’s unravelling spell, weaving it back among its sisters, as the girls voices blended into the most complex, haunting harmony I’d ever heard.
What should have been a shimmering curtain of light as wide as two or three men abreast blazed to life, lifted on the girls’ voices, and settled into a towering wall of light, shining silvery-white, stretching the length of the section of wall upon which we all stood, from the ground before the wall, and extending the height of a hill giant above the crenelations.
Gilliam’s whoop of elation punctuated the girls’ weaving, dancing chant.
“Archers, ready!” Varis barked.
The men shook themselves from amazed gawping at the shining wall of light, fumbling to right the grips on their bows. With clattering and muttering, a score of longbows snapped to the ready position.
Brittle, twig-like was the sound of the dozen and a half arrows sliding from quivers, and clacking against the haft of as many bows.
The sound was almost musical, the thrum of twenty bows drawn smoothly back, fletchings held to cheeks.
Per their instructions as they’d gathered and lined the wall, the archers shifted their footing, lifting their arrows to siege-height. The dwindling sunlight glinted off twenty silvered arrowheads.
Varis glanced back at me, and I listened intently to the tapestry of harmony, gauging the ebb and flow of the rhythm. Ana began the chant again, the fifth or sixth repetition, and Silva’s counterpoint changed to an even more complex cadence. The nine other girls followed suit, an the tightly-knit tapestry of voices scattered into a web of song and chant.
As the chant broke into waves of rondeau, one girl’s voice cascading into another, up and down the line, Varis didn’t seem to need my guidance any longer. He lifted his sword, and brought it down as the girl next to him sang out a high, mournful note.
As it fell, Varis dropped his sword, crying “Loose!”
Twenty silver-tipped shafts leapt from bowstrings, and it seemed that even the thrum of each of the strings was part of the magic Ana, Silva and her nine sisters were weaving.
The arrows sped up, pierced the wall of light, as the small choir of voices reached a crescendo.
The arrowheads burst into pure, bright silver flame, painfully bright to look at, and they arched up, up, canted as they were to soar over battlements. But instead, they sailed in bright arcs out over the farmsteads, hanging in the air an impossibly long stretch, before falling to the earth like stars, pinpoints of light shining out among the fields and farmsteads.
The storm, both above and among the trees, crept ever closer.
The archers shuffled their feet, fingers tapping on their bows to the rhythms of the girls’ chanting. It hadn’t ceased with the blazing display of silver across the sky, but their voices had dropped to mere whispers, each girl keeping her piece of the litany going just under her breath.
The resulting murmur sounded like wind through the old grove of oaks back on my father’s farmstead.
I wish I could have found some good nine-part harmony sung by girls and/or women. It was a bit of a challenge, finding nine-part harmony at all. Of the few examples I was able to scrape up, the Beatles' "Because" from the Abbey Road album, is sung in nine-part harmony.
Chant versions are evident in the overtonal 'drone' of Gyuto monks' "throat-singing." Chilling, if you're not expecting it, uplifting once you get used to it.