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The Lost Gate

Orson Scott Card




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  To Phillip and Erin Absher

  After all we’ve shared over the years,

  From California to Kansas,

  From Provence to Myrtle Beach,

  With all the magics along the way:

  This book is for you.


  Title Page

  Copyright Notice



  1. Drekka

  2. The Greek Girl

  3. The Man in the Tree

  4. Shoplifter

  5. The Gate Thief

  6. Fistalk

  7. Stone’s House

  8. Safe Room

  9. Orphans

  10. Inside Man

  11. Servant of Spacetime

  12. The Queen’s Hero

  13. Veevee

  14. Public Gate

  15. The Queen’s Squirrel

  16. Warden

  17. Birthday Present

  18. The Father of Trick

  19. Rope Climb

  20. Locks

  21. Great Gate

  22. Justice

  23. Gatefather


  Tor Books by Orson Scott Card



  Danny North grew up surrounded by fairies, ghosts, talking animals, living stones, walking trees, and gods who called up wind and brought down rain, made fire from air and drew iron out of the depths of the earth as easily as ordinary people might draw up water from a well.

  The North family lived on a compound in a sheltered valley in western Virginia, and most of them never went to town, for it was a matter of some shame that gods should now be forced to buy supplies and sell crops just like common people. The Family had spliced and intertwined so often over the centuries that almost all adults except one’s own parents were called Aunt and Uncle, and all the children were lumped together as “the cousins.”

  To the dozens and dozens of North cousins, “town” was a distant thing, like “ocean” and “space” and “government.” What did they care about such things, except that during school hours, Auntie Tweng or Auntie Uck would rap them on the head with a thimbled finger if they didn’t come up with the right answers?

  School was something the children endured in the mornings, so they could spend the afternoons learning how to create the things that commoners called fairies, ghosts, golems, trolls, werewolves, and other such miracles that were the heritage of the North family.

  It was their heritage, but not every child inherited. Great-uncle Zog was notorious for muttering, “The blood’s too thin, the blood’s too thin,” because it was his considered opinion that the Norths had grown weak in the thirteen and a half centuries since the Evil One closed the gates. “Why else do we have so many weaklings who can’t send their outself more than a hundred yards?” he said once. “Why else do we have so few children who can raise a clant out of anything sturdier than pollen and dust, or heartbind with one of their clan? Why do we have these miserable drekkas like Danny in every generation? Putting them in Hammernip Hill hasn’t made us stronger. Nothing makes us stronger.”

  Danny heard this when he was eleven, when it wasn’t a sure thing yet that he was a drekka. Plenty of children didn’t show any talent till they were in their teens. Or so Mama said, reassuring him; but from Great-uncle Zog’s words Danny began to doubt her. How could it be “plenty” of children who showed no talent when Danny was now the only child in the Family over the age of nine who couldn’t even figure out whether he had an outself, let alone send it out to explore. When the other kids used their outselves to spy on Danny’s school papers and copy them, he couldn’t even detect that they were there, let alone stop them.

  “Drive them away, can’t you?” demanded Aunt Lummy. “You’re the only decent student in this school, but they’re all getting the same marks as you because you let them cheat!”

  “I know how they’re doing it,” said Danny, “but how can I drive them away when I can’t see them or feel them?”

  “Just make yourself big,” said Aunt Lummy. “Hold on to your own space. Don’t let them crowd you!”

  But these words meant nothing to Danny, no matter how he tried to act them out, and the cheating went on until Lummy and the other Aunts who taught the school were forced to make separate tests, one for Danny and one for all the others at his grade level. The instant result was that by age twelve, Danny was soon the only student in his grade level, the others having been put back where they belonged. In the outside world, Danny would have been doing ninth grade work, two years ahead of his age.

  The other kids resented him more than ever, and therefore taunted him or froze him out as a drekka. “You’re not one of us,” they said—often in those exact words. During free time they refused to let him come along on any of their escapades; he was never chosen for a team; he was never told when one of the Aunts was sharing out cookies or some other treat; and he always had to check his drawer for spiders, snakes, or dog poo. He got used to it quickly, and he knew better than to tell any of the adults. What good would it do him? How much fun would he have if some adult forced the others to take him along? What kinds of pranks would they do if they had been whipped for pooing his clean clothes?

  So in this idyllic world of fairies and ghosts, gods and talking animals, Danny was a profoundly solitary child.

  He knew everybody; everybody was kin to him. But he had been made ashamed of everything he did well, and even more ashamed of everything he could not do, and he regarded even those of the cousins who treated him kindly as if their kindness were pity. For who could genuinely like a boy so unworthy, whose existence meant no more than this: that the bloodlines of the North family were weak and getting weaker, with Danny the weakest of them all.

  The irony was that Danny had been kept as a child apart since he was born—but for the opposite reason. His father, Alf, a Rockbrother with an affinity for pure metals, had found a way to get inside the steel of machines and make them run almost without friction, and without lubrication. It was such a useful and unprecedented skill that he had been made ruler of the Family, and was therefore renamed as Odin; but Danny called him Baba.

  Danny’s mother, Gerd, was only slightly less remarkable, a lightmage who had learned to change the color of reflected light so that she could make things nearly invisible, or hide them in shadows, or make them glow as bright as the sun. For years Alf and Gerd had been forbidden to marry by old Gyish, who was then the Odin, for fear that the joining of two such potent bloodlines might create something awful—a gatemage, which the Norths were forbidden ever to have again, or a manmage, which all the Families were sworn to destroy.

  But when Gyish retired after losing the last war, and machine-mage Alf was made Odin in his place, the Family voted almost unanimously to allow the marriage. Danny’s birth was the result, as close to a royal child as the Norths had had in many generations.

  In his early childhood, Danny was pampered by all the adults. He was the golden boy, and great things were expected of him. He had been bright as a child—quick to
read, clever with all the family languages, dextrous with his fingers, an athletic runner and leaper, curious to a fault, and clever of tongue so he could make almost anyone laugh. But as he got older, these traits could not make up for his utter lack of harmony with any of the magics of the Family.

  Danny tried everything. He gardened alongside the cousins who had a way with herbs and trees and grasses—the ones who, as adult mages, would continue to make the North farms so astonishingly productive. But the seeds he planted grew weakly, and he could not feel the throbbing pulse of a tree.

  He roamed the woods with those who had a way with animals—the ones who, if they could only form a deep bond with wolf or bear or (failing everything grand) squirrel or snake, would become Eyefriend or Clawbrother and roam the world in animal shape whenever they wished. But the creatures ran from him, or snarled or snapped at him, and he made no friends among the beasts.

  He tried to understand what it meant to “serve” stone or water, wind or the electricity of lightning in the air. But the stones bruised his fingers and moved for him only if he threw them; the wind only blew his hair into a tangled mop; and storms and ponds left him wet, cold, and powerless. Far from being precocious, with magic he was slow. Worse than slow. He was inert, making no visible progress at all.

  Yet, except for the loneliness, he didn’t hate his life. His long rovings in the woods were a pleasure to him. Since neither tree nor animal was drawn to him, he simply ran, becoming swift and tireless, mile after mile. At first he ran only within the limits of the family compound, because the trees that guarded the perimeter would snatch at him and then give the alarm, bringing the adult Seedguards and even Uncle Poot, the only Sapkin in the Family right now, to warn him not to leave.

  But during this past winter—perhaps because the trees were dormant and less alert—he had found three different routes that allowed him to avoid the sentinel trees entirely. He knew that as a probable drekka he was being watched—Danny never knew when the outself of some adult might be following him. So he took different routes to these secret passageways each time. As far as he knew, he had never been seen leaving. No one had challenged him about it, at least.

  Liberated now, he would run and run, miles in whatever direction he chose. And he was fast! He could cover miles and still be home by suppertime. He would only stop when he came to a highway, a fence, a house, a factory, a town, and from the shelter of the woods or hedges or weeds he would watch the drowthers go about their lives and think: I am by nature one of them. Without affinities or powers. Living by the labor of their hands or the words of their mouth.

  With one slight difference: Drowthers didn’t know they were bereft of all that was noble in the world. They had no sense of lost heritage. The North family ignored them, cared nothing about them. But if Danny tried to leave, all the Family secrets would be at risk. The stories told on dark nights, of traitors, of wars between the Westilian families, all ended the same way: Anyone who defied the Family and fled the compound without permission would be hunted down and killed.

  In these twilight times Norths may not have all the power they used to have before Loki closed the gates, before the centuries of war with the other families. But they were superb hunters. Nobody evaded them. Danny knew he took his life in his hands every time he left. He was insane to do it. Yet he felt so free outside the compound. The world was so large, so full of people who did not despise him yet.

  They have no talents like ours, and yet they build these roads, these factories, these houses. We have to import their machines to air-condition our homes. We tie in to their internet to get our news and send emails to the trusted rovers the Family sends out into the world. We drive in cars and trucks we buy from them. How dare we feel superior? None of these things are in our power, and when the Westilian families ruled the world as gods of the Phrygians, the Hittites, the Greeks, the Celts, the Persians, the Hindi, the Slavs, and of course the Norse, the lives of common people were nasty, brutish, and short—nastier, shorter, and more brutal because of our demands on them.

  The world would be better if there had never been such gods as these. Taking whatever we wanted because we could, killing anyone who got in our way, deposing kings and setting up new ones, sending our disciples out a-conquering—who did we think we were? In the long-lost world of Westil, where everyone was talented, it might have been fair, for everyone might have had a chance. But here in Mittlegard—on Earth—where only the few Westilian families had such powers, it was unjust.

  These were the thoughts that Danny was free to think as he watched the teenagers come out of the high schools of Buena Vista and Lexington and ride off in buses or drive off in their cars. At home he never let himself think such things, because if he did his face might reveal his repugnance or dismay at something that a relative did or some old story of an ancestor’s adventures. His only hope of having any kind of useful life was to convince them that he could be trusted to be allowed out into the world, that his loyalty to the Family was unshakeable.

  Meanwhile, he pored over the books that children were allowed to read, especially the mythologies, trying to understand the real history of the Westilians from the tantalizing tales the drowthers had collected. He once asked Auntie Uck which of the tales from Bulfinch’s Mythology were true, and she just glared at him and said, “All of them,” which was just stupid.

  Somewhere there were books that told the true stories. He knew that family histories were kept—histories that went back thousands of years. How else could the adults make their cryptic references to this or that person or event in the distant past? All the adults knew these histories, and someday the other cousins would be given these secrets—but not Danny, the one best suited to read, understand, and remember. If he ever learned the truth about anything, he would have to find it out himself.

  Meanwhile, he had to stay alive. Which meant that as much as he loved to run outside the compound, he only did it now and then, when he couldn’t stand to be confined in his loneliness another day; when it began to seem that it might be better just to go up to Hammernip Hill, dig his own grave, lie down in it, and wait for someone to come up and finish the job.

  When he was analytical about it, he realized that running outside the compound was a kind of suicide. A game of Russian roulette, without any idea of how many chambers there were in the revolver, nor how many bullets there might be. Just run to a secret passageway and keep on running—that was how he pulled the trigger.

  His life was not unrelenting solitude and hostility, of course. There were aunts and uncles who had loved him from childhood on, and they seemed to love him still, though some were certainly more distant now. And since Baba and Mama themselves had never particularly doted on him, certainly he could detect no difference in their indifference now. In many ways his life at home was normal. Normalish, anyway.

  And maybe he would find a way to make himself useful to the Family so they would let him live.

  He had tried to get them to let him become the family computer expert. “Let me set up a local area network,” he said. “I’ve been reading about it online. We could have computers in every house, in every room, and they could share the same internet connection so we wouldn’t have to pay the cable company a dollar more.”

  But all they could think to say was, “How did you learn about these things?”

  “I googled them,” he said.

  The result was that the family made a new rule that kids could access computers only with an adult in the room, and you had to be able to demonstrate at any moment just how the stuff you had on the screen was related to the classroom assignment you were supposed to be doing.

  “Thanks a lot, drekka,” Lem and Stem said as they beat him up a little behind the haybarn the next day. They were particularly annoyed because Danny’s inquiry had led to Auntie Tweng finding their files of pornography, which got them a screaming tongue-lashing from their drekka mother, Miz Jane, and a whipping from one of Uncle Poot’s most savage hi

  So now Danny was trying to make himself useful by helping train the kids who were just learning to create clants with their outselves. Not that Danny knew anything about clanting, but since the kids couldn’t see their own clants, Danny watched how the clants took shape and then reported to them on their results. Pure observation, but because Danny was doing it, an adult was free to do something else.

  The trouble was that the three children whose clants he was supervising were Tina, Mona, and Crista, and instead of working on their assignment—to make their clant as close to lifesize as possible—they were remaining under a foot in height and trying to make themselves as voluptuous as they could. All three girls were just starting to develop as women in their real bodies, but the miniature female bodies they were forming out of fallen twigs, leaves, and nutshells were shaping up with huge breasts and exaggerated hips. Forest fairies, a drowther would have called them. Or sluts.

  “I’ll report this, you know,” said Danny. But it was wasted breath—none of them was good enough at clanting to be able to hear anything through their clants. They could see, however—the outself could see whether it was formed into a clant or not—and one of them noticed Danny’s lips moving.

  Almost at once, all three of the forest fairies turned to face him. Two of them flaunted their chests; the other turned around, thrust her buttocks toward him, and waggled it back and forth. They could not have made their contempt more clear.

  Danny didn’t care. It was better than getting beaten up by Lem and Stem. But it was his responsibility to make sure they worked on what they were supposed to work on. He had no authority himself, and even if he had, he couldn’t have done anything if they chose to defy him. Adults could use their own outselves to give the girls’ clants a shove, which they would feel in their own bodies as well. But Danny had no outself, or hadn’t found one, anyway. The only thing he could do was find an adult and report them—but by the time an adult arrived, they’d be working on what they were supposed to work on, and the adult would be annoyed at Danny.