The Sorcerer's Conspectus:

A comprehensive view of Andre Norton's Witch World

by Lotsawatts

Old Toad

A Novella in the [Witch World Saga] by Geary Gravel


See Also: [Martinez ~ Glossary] [Martinez ~ Races] [Schlobin ~ Survey] [Coulson's Index]

[Expanded Reading Order] [Bibliography Page] [Read it Here] [Return to Contents]


Edition Used for Analysis:
[Tales of the Witch World 2] (1989) Published by TOR, PB, 0-812-54757-8, 978-0-812-54757-3, $3.95, 343pg ~ cover by Victoria Poyser


Begins with part of Tale of the Mountain Boy and a description of the landscape around Mountain Gate, including nine plateaus, the last and smallest of which has a Gate in a half-broken circle of reddish stones. 

Ander and his sister Bereth are waiting for the arrival of a new Witch (along with everyone else in town). Their old Witch, Raven, is going back to Es City after 28 years 1, though other Witches have stayed their whole lives. This is due to the fighting on the border with Karsten and in preparation for the Second Turning (though they don't know this yet). It is mentioned that both Ander and his sister are half-Falconer and half-Old Race. While Bereth takes after her Old Race father, Ander looks like his falconer mother. 2 There is also a mention of Romsgarth.3

This switches to a conversation between the Witches. The new Witch mentions having been at Lormt4 and it taking a week to travel from Lormt to Mountain Gate. They discuss the plan and the war at the border. Raven then tells the tale of how Ander and Bereth's mother arrived twelve years ago5 and Ander and Bereth6. Things went well until two years ago when their mother vanished and their father was killed by a snow cat.

When Raven and the other leave the tower Ander, on seeing her, gives her the name Old Toad (which comes from the Tale of the Mountain Boy). Though he regrets saying it, it soon catches on since the older witch looks much like that. There is mention of the pact, Mountain Gate guards what's in the topmost meadow while a Witch guards Mountain Gate.

About a week after Raven departs, Old Toad asks Ander and Bereth to help her in the tower. Nothing much happens in the weeks that pass, except that she blesses a herd of goats Raven had already blessed but instead of creating a double blessing her benediction undoes the first and she warns them against bringing any other thing Raven used her craft on to her. Sometime later Old Toad meets Ander in the field where there's a shield-stone carved with ancient runes. She explains to Ander that much of the Old Race cannot think of the East, outside of Mountain Gate and mentions seeing Kemoc in Lormt.7 She does discuss the nature of the ban on East with them.8

The day of the Second Turning comes and Old Toad has sealed herself in the tower. There is a discussion among the villagers about what to do about her, since they note her magic tends to work backwards. They have also noted the withdraws and offers for them to leave, but their lives are in Mountain Gate and they cannot leave it. Ander, meanwhile, goes in search of Old Toad and finds her on the shield stone. At first he thinks she's using the storm to attack the village but she explains it is the work of the Council. Old Toad then senses Bereth is not at home where Ander left her and has Ander try to find her. He finds she's running to the Gate—which is beyond the area Old Toad can protect.9

Afterward Old Toad is slowly recovering and she tells both Ander and Bereth her True Name.

Timeline Points:

  1. p40. Ander & Bereth.
  2. p41. Romsgarth, a town in Estcarp.
  3. p41. The witch Raven guarded Mountain Gate for 28 years.
  4. p43. 'Ander had tried to accept long ago that Uncle's occasional coldness toward him was not the result of wrongdoing on his own part, but rather a reaction to his resemblance to his mother, the Falconer woman that his father had taken to wife against all customs of both races. Bereth suffered less in this reflected disapproval, in appearance a true child of the Old Race with her pale skin, black hair, and dark, storm-coloured eyes. Ander's ruddy face was framed by light brown curls and his own eyes held flecks of gold and amber in their brown depths.'
  5. p45. Old Toad: "Till a few weeks past I never thought to make the journey—nor to leave Lormt for any reason in the few left to me. I was well settled there."
  6. p48. Raven: "—but we were able to piece together that she'd come from a Falconers' village far to the west…"
  7. p49. Raven: "As for the girl, she's as curious as a flannan and I think she'll come into the talent in a year or two."
  8. p61-62. Old Toad: "Recently a young man came seeking knowledge at Lormt, a battle-wounded man searching the old records for something. About him I sensed what Raven felt when you and Berry were near: the presence of the Power! I kept watch over this young man when he did not know I was near, took out the records he chose after he departed and studied them myself. They spoke of the past, the past in the East! I showed the records to others and they could not understand what I was talking about. For only among the Guardians, the witches, is there knowledge of what occurred in the East ages ago, or why the Old Race fled from there."10
  9. p62. Old Toad: "They came to Estcarp fleeing something, a thing so terrible that when they arrived they turned behind them and raised up a barrier of mountains, churned and splintered the very land behind them to create a wall against that which they fled. Mountain Gate lies in the southernmost portion of that barrier, where the witch-made mountains join the natural ranges that separate us from Karsten. Then, having wrought their barrier, the wise of that time enspelled their own people, setting wards in the mind to prevent any of the Old blood from ever seeking the East again—or even thinking of it, so great did they fear what had driven them forth."11
  10. p67-71. The Turning.


10. This is a reference to Kemoc at Lormt. (see: Three Against the Witch World)
11. (see: Futures Yet Unseen)

The Sorcerer’s recommend that you read next: An Account of the Turning

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Formatted and Edited by Jay Watts ~ May, 2022

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