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When the stars were brighter and the stones were blacker than they are today, when fire was more hot and water was more wet, there lived a little girl named Kaadh who was the swiftest and cleverest of her tribe, just as Kaadh is the swiftest and cleverest of all the stars and you are swiftest and cleverest among the I-Many, O my darling. Her hair was the colour of amber, and her eyes were as red as jasper. Her teeth were straight and strong, and so were her limbs, above and below, but there would be nothing to tell you about her if she had not once suffered a misfortune, and begun to have adventures.

One day, the amulet of Kaadh’s grandmother was stolen by an old witch-woman. And the cruel thing of it was that this witch-woman could change herself into any shape she chose, and to steal this amulet she had chosen to change herself into the shape of Kaadh.

‘O my grandmother,’ said the witch-woman, in the amber hair and jasper eyes of Kaadh. ‘May I borrow your amulet of red stone and keruganth bone until the dawn, for one of the stars of the sky is looking greedily at me, and I wish it to look at someone else.’

‘What star is it that looks at you greedily?’ said Kaadh’s grandmother. ‘O my grandmother,’ said the witch woman, ‘it is the bright yellow one which sits near to Raaght, eldest daughter of the mother of all the stars. Then the wise old woman said, ‘O my child, that star is named Hadar, and it is good that you have come to me, for its ways are crooked. Take my amulet of red stone and keruganth bone, but be sure to bring it back by dawn, for it holds all the magic of our people, and if it is too long away from me the magic will fade away, like colours fade in the sun.’ Then Kaadh’s grandmother handed her amulet to the witch woman in the shape of Kaadh, her magic amulet of red stone and keruganth bone.

As soon as she had left the tent of Kaadh’s grandmother the old witch-woman took herself back to the place where she dwelt, in the midst of the great sand, with twelve or fourteen giant steps, hup, hup, hup. When she got there, she changed herself into the shape of a thaigar and buried herself in the sand, and congratulated herself on the fine trick she had played.

Of course, when it became dawn, and Kaadh came back to her mother’s tent with the roots that she had gathered that night, she did not know what had happened.

‘Before you cook the roots, my daughter,’ said Kaadh’s mother. ‘Remmeber to take grandmother’s amulet back to her.’

‘O my mother,’ said Kaadh. ‘Why should I need grandmother’s amulet, for I am only a little girl? I don’t have it.’

‘Do not play silly games,’ said Kaadh’s mother. ‘Run quickly to your grandmother and give it back at once, or I will beat you.’

So Kaadh went to her grandmother’s tent, troubled by the anger of her mother. ‘You are a little late, my Kaadh,’ said Kaadh’s grandmother. ‘For the sun is already shining on the face of the mountains. But it does not matter, it is only a little beyond dawn. Hand back the amulet of red stone and keruganth bone, and if the bright yellow star ever troubles you again, I will gladly lend it to you.’

Then Kaadh said, ‘O my grandmother, my mother told me to give you your amulet back, and you have told me to give you your amulet back, but I have never had it, as Tshuraq-the-Keeper-of-Secrets knows.’

Then the face of Kaadh’s grandmother grew very dark, and she said, ‘Do not play silly games. You are very clever, but not as clever as you think. The amulet is a thing of power, and I am your grandmother, and neither of us are wise to trifle with. Now give it to me!

And again Kaadh said, ‘O my grandmother, I do not know what you are talking about. I have never had the amulet, as Eru-above-All-Things knows.’ Then Kaadh’s grandmother was full of wrath and asked her a third time to give back the amulet. Kaadh said again that she had never had the amulet, and the old woman said to her: “I am filled with shame to be the grandmother of a liar and thief. You will be cast out in the desert, not to return until you have brought back the amulet.’ And she put her curse upon Kaadh, until she should bring back the amulet.

‘O my grandmother,’ said Kaadh. ‘I have never had the amulet, but I will accept your judgement, for it is the judgement of Tyche. Now I will go quickly, before my mother finds me and beats me.’ And Kaadh kissed her grandmother goodbye and walked off into the desert.

After Kaadh had left, and her grandmother’s wrath had ebbed away, the thought came to her grandmother that the eyes of Kaadh who she had seen in the morning looked far more the colour of jasper than the eyes of Kaadh she had seen in the evening. Then she knew that she had been fooled by a witch, and had sent an innocent girl out alone into the desert. But by then Kaadh was already far away.

‘I know I did not take grandmother’s amulet,’ said Kaadh to herself, ‘but someone who looked like me must have taken it, to fool both my mother and my grandmother. So as I go I will ask anyone I see if they saw me passing  last night, and soon I will catch up with this face stealer – if I have as good luck during the day as I have had bad luck during the night.’ After a time, when the sun was high overhead, Kaadh cam across a rugged Gort squatting by the side of the road, warming her scaly skin in the sun. Her lizards, who were resting in her shade, looked up suspiciously at Kaadh as she came near, their eyes shining like polished garnets.’

‘Pardon me, O Mother of All Lizards, said Kaadh. ‘Have you seen someone who looks like me before, during the night that has just passed?’ The Gort looked down on Kaadh with her great broad face, as far across as the face of a ghraik, and blinked one, twice, thrice; for she had been half asleep. Then she spoke with her great deep voice, as deep and rough as the voice of a ghraik. ‘I have not seen you in the sunlight before,’ she said. ‘But last night you came by, hup, hup, hup, two-thousand paces at a stride and very rudely, without anything like a good evening.  If you have dropped anything out of your satchel that you want help finding, then I have very little sympathy for you, since Ruhurdhlings ought to move about at a reasonable speed, and not dizzy their elders by flying by like nahalassa birds.’

‘Thank you,’ said Kaadh. ‘I am sorry to have been rude, but the me you saw last evening was not really me. Do you remember where I was going, O Daughter of the Sun and Sky?’

‘You went towards the Great Sand, Daughter of the Stars, as fast as anything can move. There is nothing to find there but sand, so I am not surprised that you have come back, whether you were yourself or not.’ Kaadh thanked the Gort again, and walked on into the desert. Although she was tired, she walked all through the day, for she remembered the saying of her grandmother,’a trail must be followed while it is still fresh,’ At the end of the day she could see the Great Sand stretching away far before her, glowing red in the light of the sunset. All about her on the darkening plain were the tracks of many gimblebeasts, crossing and recrossing one another, and she knew that she had come to a dangerous part of the desert. So she picked up some stones, each a bit smaller than her head, and carried them inside her shirt, so that she had to walk very slowly, and bent over. She walked on through the night until she heard the stealthy footsteps of a gimblebeast behind her, cruel, horrible and grim; and then she began to run as fast as she could. Then she dropped a stone behind her and cried out. ‘Ai! Ai! Ai! My sister, my sister!’ she cried. ‘What will my mother say, when she hears I have dropped her new litterling to be eaten by a gimblebeast?’ So when the gimblebeast came to something small lying on the ground that smelled of Ruhurdh, it gobbled it up without pausing to think. While it was gobbling up the stone, Kaadh gained a little distance, and it went a little slower after her, since it had a stone in its belly. But a gimblebeast is swift, and soon it had again drawn near to Kaadh. Once again Kaadh dropped a stone and cried out. ‘Ai! Ai! Ai! My sister, my sister!’ she cried. ‘What will my mother say, when she hears I have dropped her little one to be eaten by a gimblebeast?’ Once again, the gimblebeast stopped to eat the stone, thinking it was a Ruhurdh litterling, and followed after Kaadh a little more slowly. Three more times this happened, until the belly of the gimblebeast was full of stones, and Kaadh heard its footsteps dying away behind her.

‘Well, that is over,’ said Kaad, who was by now very tired indeed. ‘Soon the bowels of the gimblebeast will burst, if they have not done so already, and it will hunt Ruhurdh no more forever. And here I am at the edge of the Great Sand itself. I will sit down here for a moment, and rest my legs, and then I will go on, to find this face stealer who has taken grandmother’s amulet.’ Kaadh sat down for a moment with her back to  a stone, and before the moment was half begun she was deep asleep.  The next thing that she knew it was sunset again, and she had slept almost a night and a day. Standing before her, no further than I am from you, O my darling, was a gimblebeast. Cruel, horrible and grim, and foul with carrion, and its eyes were narrowed,  just as my eyes are narrowed now.  After Kaadh opened her eyes and saw the gimblebeast, she closed them again, waiting for it to leap on her; but it did not leap on her. Then she opened her eyes again, and the gimblebeast was still watching her, just as I am watching you.

‘O Taloned and Befanged Horror,’ said Kaadh, ‘Scourge of All-that-Lives, why do you sit and watch me, who am numbered among the smallest and boniest of all Ruhurdhlings?’

‘I am full at the moment,’ replied the Gimblebeast. ‘But I will not be presently, and then I will eat you. I was following your spoor this morning and I found the body of my aunt, who had also been following you, but had fallen dead. So I ate her, and am hungry no longer.’

‘Oh.’ said Kaadh. ‘Is there anything that I can do for you, while we are waiting here together?’

‘No.’ said the Gimblebeast, and settled back on its haunches to wait. Its tail flicked back and forth behind it with excitement, for it was looking forward to the sweet taste of Ruhurdh-flesh. For gimblebeast flesh, though filling, is as tough and as foul as a living gimblebeast. Kaadh watched its tail for a long time, having little else to do.

After a while, Kaadh spoke to the Gimblebeast again. ‘O Mother of Nightmares, I know you have said that you needed no help from me, but swift and certain I see another gimblebeast coming up behind you to steal your prey. See, there is its tail.’ When the Gimblebeast looked, and saw the tail lashing back and forth, it was moved to anger, and leapt upon it with its teeth like knives, and tore it out root and stem. Then it realised its mistake. But by then it was too late.

‘You are very clever, Daughter of Wall-Rats,’ growled the Gimblebeast. ‘But where you are going you will not be clever enough. The Great Sand is the lurking place of an evil old witch woman, older and viler than the pits of Qroth. Her powers are such that she can change herself into anything at all – from a grain of sand to a Thaigar. When she knows that you are near, she will crack you between her fingernails like a louse. Then you will repent of the tricks that you have played upon gimblebeast-kind.’

Kaadh stood well clear of the Gimblebeast – for though it had  a mortal wound, it was still very dangerous – and spoke. ‘I do not need to fear the witch woman, Daughter of Malevolence, since I have the one thing that can penetrate the defenses of a witchnd slay her, whatever form she has changed herself into.’ In this she sought only to deny the Gimblebeast the pleasure of gloating over her.

Then the eyes of the Gimblebeast reddened, and it quivered where it lay like a lizard that is caught in the hand. ‘You are a remarkable Ruhurdhling indeed, Sister to Vermin, if you carry upon you the Weapon of Kharabdash.’ Then it quivered once more and died.

‘No doubt, if I knew where such a weapon could be found, your words would have been of use to me, Eater of Friends and Kindred,’ said Kaadh, looking upon the corpse of her enemy. She made some good use of the Gimblebeast, for she took the sharpest of her teeth, and the sharpest of her talons, and set them aside in her satchel to use as weapons. And on she went, toward the very heart of the Great sand, where the witch-Thaigar lay at the bottom of her deep pit.

‘Grant me a quick wit’, she prayed, looking up to the bright star that was her name. ‘For that is all the weapon I need to overcome even the greatest foe. And maybe it was that  Tshuraq, Granter of Secrets, or Xashai who dwells in the roots of the mountains, or Eru who is over all and in all, heard her prayer: or maybe Tyche herself.

After a night and a day, Kaadh came to a great pit in the sand, with treacherous edges, at which a passer-by might slip and slide down to the waiting jaws of the Thaigar that lay at the bottom. When she was still a good way from the edge – for if she did not know much of the ways of witches, like all good children of the I-Many she knew well the dangers of Thaigar – Kaadh said in a loud voice. ‘O My Sister Witch! Hear me! I have come to you in the form I saw you three days before, loping across the sand as a mere pebble of a Ruhurdhling, so that you will know me as a witch. Hear me, O My Sister Witch!’

After a moment there was a great stirring of the sand, like it was water boiling in a pot, and Kaadh drew further back from the edge of the pit. Then the head of a Thaigar rose out from the pit, larger than a gimblebeast, more hideous than a Kraan, with black jaws that dripped poison more deadly than jhailakha root, and covered with moving hairs like numberless stone knives.

‘Tell me what you want, or I will eat you’ said the Thaigar, and its voice was as boulders rolling down the sides of a gully of bare stone. ‘Sister-witch or no.’ The witch-woman did not consider that Kaadh could really be Kaadh, for never had she known a little girl to cross by herself so many leagues of burning sand and gimblebeast-infested waste.

‘A sorceress of the cities of men is riding this way, O My Sister Witch’ said Kaadh. ‘For the hunting of witches. And Ai! She carried with her the Weapon of Kharabdash.’

This gave the witch-thaigar cause to wonder, and she bent nearer to Kaadh, so that the stink of her breath was greater than any stink Kaadh had ever known, and drops of black poison like earth’s blood fell sizzling to the sand. ‘Can this be true?’ said the witch-Thaigar.

‘Truly indeed, a great hunter of witches comes this way, as sure as ghraiks are ghraiks,’ said Kaadh, and the witch-thaigar looked into her eyes and knew that she spoke the truth.

‘I thank you then, Sister Witch’ said the witch-thaigar. ‘I will leave ahead of the her, and the two of us can match our power another time, to see which of us is the stronger.’ Then the Thaigar climbed out of the pit, and shrank as she climbed, until she was a hideous old witch-woman, with her six teats hanging down dry and withered, and hair worn down to baldness except for long strands of a foul grey colour that grew where the men of the cities grow hair. And around her neck she wore the amulet of Kaadh’s grandmother, the amulet of red stone and keruganth bone.

‘Aah, you admire my amulet’ said the witch, for indeed Kaadh could not keep her eyes from looking at it. ‘Perhaps if we meet again I will tell you how I came by it. Now, I leave you to face this Sorceress on your own, and may the Black Gods of the North smile upon you. I am not fool enough to face the Weapon of Kharabdash.’

Then Kaadh shook her head, and said. ‘It is no use. You will be too slow.’

‘Too slow?’ said the witch. ‘Too slow? Why, in fourteen steps I covered the distances between this place and the camp where I came by this amulet.

‘It took me four’ said Kaadh, again shaking her head. ‘I may be fast enough to outrun the flying steed of the sorceress who comes, but the rumour of her fleetness is such that you would certainly not be able to. My thought was that, if we were to join our powers together, we might have some chance of success against her.’

Then the witch looked long and shrewd at Kaadh, thinking her a young and a girl-like witch sister, one who might be thrown to a pursuer much as Kaadh had thrown her stones at the gimblebeast. But Kaadh’s eyes were turned aside.

‘I agree’ the witch-woman said. ‘It is wise, that we travel together. I will change myself into something small and strong, that you may carry with ease, and we shall be off.’ Then the witch dropped to her hands and knees and changed herself into the shape of a sand-tortoise, thinking herself safe, for nothing save starmetal or the tooth of a gimblebeast may pierce the shell of a sand-tortoise. Then Kaadh picked up the sand-tortoise, and put it into her satchel, pushing it down upon the gimblebeast tooth that was in it so that it was pierced through from front to back. Then the witch-woman realised her mistake, for her vitals were spitted on the gimblebeast tooth like a piece of flesh on a thorn. But by then it was too late.

Kaadh tipped the sand-tortoise out of her bag onto the sand, and as she died the witch-woman returned to her own form, pierced through the heart by a gimblebeast tooth, and around her neck the amulet of Kaadh’s grandmother.

Kaadjh returned the amulet with her to the tents of her people, where she was reconciled with her grandmother, and all that had been unmade was remade. From that day onward no witch ever again troubled Kaadh or the people of Kaadjh, and she had no more dealings with her grandmother’s amulet until she was herself a grandmother, and saw one day Hadar twinkling in a wicked way at her grand-daughter. But that it is the end of this story.