Goldenhand

Goldenhand by Garth Nix

Book: Goldenhand by Garth Nix Read Free Book Online
Authors: Garth Nix
the Offering. The line had begun with the oldest, each person passing the Offering and taking her hands, just for a moment, to whisper their thanks for what she must do. Then the adults in their prime, the hunters, the warriors, the goat-herders, the spinners and dyers, the gatherers and others. Last came the children, those nearly full grown aloof and self-conscious; the middling ones tired and grumpy, and then the toddlers, last to come, for the babies were too small.
    The very little ones, though they could walk, could not reach Ferin’s hands, and she was not allowed to bend down to them, for the Offering must bow to no one on this night. So they touched her feet and mumbled the words and toddled away to waiting embraces and straight to bed.
    All save the last, who did not touch Ferin’s feet. Ferin looked down wonderingly, for this child did not look like the others. She felt a flash of fear as he . . . no, it . . . looked up, for instead of a face it had a mask of dull bronze, a half mask that did not cover its mouth, a mouth full of sharp teeth that it lowered upon her ankle and began to gnaw at Ferin’s flesh with horrible grunting noises, like a boar ripping with its tusks. Pain shot through Ferin and she choked trying not to scream, and then she kicked, trying to throw off this horrible thing that she knew was no child, but somehow the Witch With No Face herself, chewing on her leg—
    Ferin woke up, still choking. For a moment she thought she was in another dream, for the night sky above was strangely slanted, andshe smelled a scent she did not immediately know, until it came to her that it was salt, the salt of the sea, mixed with the reek of fish. She was on a boat, a fishing boat, and her ankle was not being chewed upon, but had been hit by a crossbow bolt.
    â€œDrink again, if you can,” said someone, and a face came into view, a blurry face that sharpened as Ferin blinked, once, twice, three times.
    â€œTolther,” said the young man. “Remember? Feeling better? Your fever’s broke. That’s a good . . . good-ish sign.”
    Ferin raised her head and tried to raise her injured leg at the same time. A stab of pain struck her in the head and she flopped back, gasping.
    â€œNo, best not move it,” said Tolther. He tucked the blanket back around her, careful not to touch her close. “You stay rested. We’ll be home safe at Yellowsands soon enough, get the healer to look at you . . .”
    Something in his voice, some uncertainty or doubt she could hear, made Ferin turn her head toward him.
    â€œThere is trouble?” she asked.
    â€œA raider follows us,” said Tolther. “Has been since before sunset. And they have a witch or shaman aboard, a wind-eater who keeps taking the breeze away from us, so they’re catching up.”
    â€œA raider? Another boat?” asked Ferin. She struggled to sit up, Tolther helping her after a momentary hesitation. Her bow and arrow case were by her side, she noted, but it wasn’t light enough to see much else, save the dim outline of sails and rigging above.
    â€œFrom one of the clans,” said Tolther. “Sky Horse. But that’s not what they call themselves. They come from the parts of the steppe nearest the shore north of here.”
    â€œAh,” said Ferin. “I know the clan. Sky Horse people . . . what they call themselves is Yrus, as we are Athask, though others call us Mountain Cat. I didn’t know the Yrus go to sea . . .”
    â€œThey don’t in spring, at least not normally,” said Tolther. “Only late in summer, into the autumn, and never in winter. At least I guess so; we lay up in winter as well, so maybe they’re out . . . but the storms are so bad I doubt it.”
    â€œI feel the breeze now,” said Ferin. She could feel it on her face, cool and strong. “This wind-eater is not so strong, perhaps?”
    Almost as she said the words, the breeze

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