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Joanne Harris

Runemarks

© 2007

To Anouchka

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My heartfelt thanks go to the faithful warriors who stood by my side throughout all the adventures and misadventures that have befallen this book. To Jennifer and Penny Luithlen; to Peter Robinson; to Christian, who read it first; to Philippa Dickinson; to my fantastic editors, Nancy Siscoe and Sue Cook; to Melissa Nelson for the jacket design; and to Judith Haut and Noreen Marchisi for publicity. To my P.A., Anne, who runs my life; to Mark, who runs the Web site; and to Kevin, who runs everything else. Most of all, I am grateful to my daughter, Anouchka, who pestered me constantly for four years until I finished this story to her complete satisfaction…

* * *

CHARACTERS

VILLAGERS

Maddy Smith, a village witch

Jed Smith, a smith

Mae Smith, a brainless beauty

Adam Scattergood, a bully

Mrs. Scattergood, an innkeeper

Dorian Scattergood, the black sheep of the family

Crazy Nan Fey, a midwife; reputed to be imaginative

Nat Parson, a parson

Ethelberta Parson, his wife

Torval Bishop, his immediate superior

Matt Law, a lawman

DEVOTEES OF THE ORDER

Examiner Number 4421974, Examiner of the Order

Magister Number 73838, Magister of the Order

Magister Number 369, Magister Emeritus of the Order

Magister Number 262, Magister of the Order

Magister Number 23, Magister of the Order

GODS (VANIR)

Skadi, of the Ice People, bride of Njörd, the Huntress; goddess of destruction; principal enemy of Loki

Bragi, god of poetry and song; has no reason to love Loki

Idun, his wife, goddess of youth and plenty; was once abducted by Loki and handed over to the Ice People

Freyja, goddess of desire; once mortally insulted by Loki

Frey, the Reaper, her brother; no friend to Loki

Heimdall, golden-toothed sentinel of the gods; hates Loki

Njörd, sea god, once married to Skadi but now separated due to irreconcilable differences; agrees with her on a single subject-dislike of Loki

GODS (ÆSIR – SEER-FOLK)

Odin, chief of the Æsir, blood brother of-and ultimately betrayed by-Loki

Frigg, his wife; lost her son because of Loki

Thor, the Thunderer, son of Odin; has more than one bone to pick with Loki

Sif, his wife; once went bald because of Loki

Týr, god of war; lost his hand because of Loki

Balder, son of Frigg; died because of Loki

Loki

OTHERS

Sugar-and-Sack, a goblin

Hel, Mistress of the Underworld

Surt, ruler of World Beyond, Guardian of the Black Fortress

Jormungand, the World Serpent

Fat Lizzy, a potbellied sow

The Nameless

RUNES OF THE ELDER SCRIPT

Fé: Wealth, cattle, property, success

Úr: Strength, the Mighty Ox

Thuris: Thor’s rune, the Thorny One, victory

Ós: the Seer-folk, the Æsir

Raedo: the Journeyman, the Outlands

Kaen: Wildfire, Chaos, World Beyond

Hagall: Hail, the Destroyer, Netherworld

Naudr: the Binder, the Underworld, distress, need, Death

Isa: Ice

Ár: Plenty, fruitfulness

ýr: the Protector, the Fundament

Sól: summer, the sun

Týr: the Warrior

Bjarkán: Vision, revelation, dream

Madr: Mankind, the Folk, the Middle Worlds

Logr: Water, the One Sea

Book One. World Above

*

1

Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again. Mrs. Scattergood-the landlady at the Seven Sleepers Inn-swore it was rats, but Maddy Smith knew better. Only goblins could have burrowed into the brick-lined floor, and besides, as far as she knew, rats didn’t drink ale.

But she also knew that in the village of Malbry -as in the whole of the Strond Valley -certain things were never discussed, and that included anything curious, uncanny, or unnatural in any way. To be imaginative was considered almost as bad as giving oneself airs, and even dreams were hated and feared, for it was through dreams (or so the Good Book said) that the Seer-folk had crossed over from Chaos, and it was in Dream that the power of the Faërie remained, awaiting its chance to re-enter the world.

And so the folk of Malbry made every effort never to dream. They slept on boards instead of mattresses, avoided heavy evening meals, and as for telling bedtime tales-well. The children of Malbry were far more likely to hear about the martyrdom of St. Sepulchre or the latest Cleansings from World’s End than tales of magic or of World Below. Which is not to say that magic didn’t happen. In fact, over the past fourteen years the village of Malbry had witnessed more magic in one way or another than anyplace in the Middle Worlds.

That was Maddy’s fault, of course. Maddy Smith was a dreamer, a teller of tales, and worse, and as such, she was used to being blamed for anything irregular that happened in the village. If a bottle of beer fell off a shelf, if the cat got into the creamery, if Adam Scattergood threw a stone at a stray dog and hit a window instead-ten to one Maddy would get the blame.

And if she protested, folk would say that she’d always had a troublesome nature, that their ill luck had begun the day she was born, and that no good would ever come of a child with a ruinmark-that rusty sign on the Smith girl’s hand-

– which some oldsters called the Witch’s Ruin and which no amount of scrubbing would remove.

It was either that or blame the goblins-otherwise known as Good Folk or Faërie-who this summer had upped their antics from raiding cellars and stealing sheep (or occasionally painting them blue) to playing the dirtiest kind of practical jokes, like leaving horse dung on the church steps, or putting soda in the communion wine to make it fizz, or turning the vinegar to piss in all the jars of pickled onions in Joe Grocer’s store.

And since hardly anyone dared to mention them, or even acknowledge that they existed at all, Maddy was left to deal with the vermin from under the Hill alone and in her own way.

No one asked her how she did it. No one watched the Smith girl at work. And no one ever called her witch-except for Adam Scattergood, her employer’s son, a fine boy in some ways but prone to foul language when the mood took him.

Besides, they said, why speak the word? That ruinmark surely spoke for itself.

Now Maddy considered the rust-colored mark. It looked like a letter or sigil of some kind, and sometimes it shone faintly in the dark or burned as if something hot had pressed there. It was burning now, she saw. It often did when the Good Folk were near, as if something inside her were restless and itched to be set free.

That summer, it had itched more often than ever, as the goblins swarmed in unheard-of numbers, and banishing them was one way of putting that itch to rest. Her other skills remained unused and, for the most part, untried, and though sometimes that was hard to bear-like having to pretend you’re not hungry when your favorite meal is on the table-Maddy understood why it had to be so.

Cantrips and runecharms were bad enough. But glamours, true glamours, were perilous business, and if rumor of these were to reach World’s End, where the servants of the Order worked day and night in study of the Word…

For Maddy’s deepest secret-known only to her closest friend, the man folk knew as One-Eye-was that she enjoyed working magic, however shameful that might be. More than that, she thought she might be good at it too and, like anyone with a talent, longed to make use of it and to show it off to other people.

But that was impossible. At best it counted as giving herself airs.

And at worst? Folk had been Cleansed for less.

Maddy turned her attention to the cellar floor and the wide-mouthed burrow that disfigured it. It was a goblin burrow, all right, bigger and rather messier than a foxhole and still bearing the marks of clawed, thick-soled feet where the spilled earth had been kicked over. Rubble and bricks

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