Authors: William Nicholson
Orlando Austin New York San Diego London
Copyright © 2007 William Nicholson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the
work should be submitted online at
or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
First published in Great Britain in 2007 by Egmont Books Ltd.
First U.S. edition 2008
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
p. cm.—(The noble warriors; bk. 3)
Summary: Seeker, who is obsessed with his increasingly perilous
quest to kill the last of the old ones, finds that his mission has placed
him at odds with a new leader who preaches peace and joy.
[1. Self-realization—Fiction. 2. Conduct of life—Fiction.
3. Faith—Fiction. 4. Fantasy.] I. Title.
Text set in Bembo
U.S. edition designed by Cathy Riggs
First U.S. Edition
A C E G H F D B
Printed in the United States of America
THE FIRST STAGE:
1 The Hunter
2 A Kiss at Last
3 Lost Children
4 Death on Horseback
5 There Has to Be More
6 Welcome to the Haven
7 Share the Joy
8 A Blue Flower
THE SECOND STAGE:
9 Yes, Beloved
10 The Old Man in the Mirror
11 The Wildman Dances
12 Fear Makes Us Cruel
13 At the Old Fort
14 Floggers and Stabbers
15 The Waterfall
THE THIRD STAGE:
17 Love Him Enough to Save Him
18 The Great Embrace
19 Go to the True Nom
20 People Need Gods
21 A Bell Rings
THE FOURTH STAGE:
22 Act As If You Believe
23 The Return of the Lost Child
24 Look with Your Own Eyes
25 The Assassin
27 Something Good and Strong
28 Rain Falls on the Garden
1 The Hunter
As I slept, I dreamed that all men and women long to live in peace; but when I woke I saw that the world is ruled by fear. Fear makes men cruel. Cruelty breeds hatred. Anger feeds on anger, and misery gives birth to misery down the generations.
I saw how men and women turn to their gods for protection. I saw their hunger to believe their gods are strong, and their dread of the gods of others. I saw how gods drive men into wars, and the wars of the believers are the most merciless conflicts of all.
Then I asked myself: must it always be so?
IS PREY WOULD NOT ESCAPE HIM NOW.
Seeker climbed the narrow mountain track at a steady pace, following in the agile footsteps of his guide. Ahead and above them loomed the steep face of the mountainside, a fractured wall of rock that rose and broke and rose again—like a giant's staircase.
"There," said his guide, pointing, breathing hard with the exertion of the climb. "You see where the track comes to an end?"
Seeker looked, and saw that the rock face above was scored by regular lines.
"Is it a wall?"
"That's the way into the cave."
They continued up the zigzag track, and as they came closer, he saw it clearly. The wall was made of blocks of the same stone that formed the mountain, laid flush with the mountain's side—but this was the work of men.
"They're in there?"
"That they are," said his guide. "But once the mountain men close the door, there's no one can breach it." He spoke in the peevish tones of one who suspects he is not believed. "I told you you'd have a wasted journey."
"I see no door."
"No one sees it. But it's there."
They climbed on, and so at last reached the shelf of rock where the track ended. Here rose the wall, each block as high as a man and as wide as a man's arms can reach. They were set tight, one against the next, and cut clean into the mountainside. High above, in the third row of blocks, a horizontal line of small circular holes had been drilled through the stone to admit light and air.
Seeker studied the fortification. He felt the cracks between the blocks with his fingers, and pushed with his hands against each block in turn. It seemed impossible that one of these massive stones could swing open.
"Now you see for yourself," said the guide. "You wouldn't believe me. But you asked me to lead you to the cave, and I've done as you asked."
He rubbed his hands together, anxious to receive his payment and go.
"Can they hear us?" said Seeker. "Do they know we're here?"
"Oh, they know. They'll have been watching us since we left the valley."
"If I call to them, would they hear me?"
The guide became agitated.
"Best not to anger them. We should go back now."
"I'm not going back."
"But there's no use in it," whined the guide. "These old ones you seek, they'll have paid well. The mountain men keep their bargains."
"And so do I," said Seeker.
He stood back from the high wall, as far as the narrow shelf allowed, and called in a loud voice.
"Mountain men! Open your doors! I mean you no harm!"
"No!" cried the guide, frantically waving his arms. "No! They'll stone us! Leave them be! We must go!"
Seeker turned to the guide and spoke to him quietly.
"You go, my friend. My business is here."
The guide shuffled his feet and rubbed his hands together and looked at the ground.
"And my payment?"
"I have no money."
"No money? But you promised me payment! Am I to be cheated?"
Seeker touched his cheeks.
"I will pay you as I promised."
He held the guide's face lightly between his palms.
"I give you peace."
The guide became very still. Then he gave a small shudder and looked up at Seeker with shy, uncertain eyes.
In place of the shrill whine, there came a soft whisper. "Thank you," he said.
Seeker withdrew his hands. The guide looked round him, blinking, as if he had just woken from sleep. Then he stretched all his body, reaching his arms out wide, and sighed deeply. Then he smiled.
"Thank you," he said again.
With that, he set off back down the track. Seeker watched him on his way. Then he turned back to the high rock wall.
"Open your doors!" he cried. "Or I'll break them down!"
From deep within the rock he heard the sound of mocking laughter.
"So be it."
He let his arms fall to his sides, and he closed his eyes. He felt his own weight on the warm ground. He felt the pressure of his bare feet on the mountain rock. Deep below he felt the slow stirring of the mountain's lir. He drew two long steady breaths and drove down and down until he touched the heart of that great slumbering power. Then steadily, surely, irresistibly, he drew it up into himself, making of himself a channel for the force of the mountain range.
All things are connected. All power is one power.
He opened his eyes and raised both arms. He stretched his arms out before him and summoned the lir to flow down his arms to his fingertips. He touched his two forefingers together.
A bolt of pure force struck the rock wall. The wall shuddered under the impact. Dust rose from the lines of mortar. The shuddering intensified, and the great stone blocks began to part. Seeker held his ground, arms outreached, streaming power into the shivering wall. Now the stones were rattling against each other like teeth. One high block cracked with a sound like a hammer blow, then fell crashing and tumbling down the mountainside. There followed a deep grinding roar. The lower blocks began to bulge outwards as if pushed from within, opening up gaping cracks. The tall square-cut stones were rocking, moving, advancing like limbless giants. One block in the lower line staggered and fell. With a rending crash the rest came toppling down, one on another, amid a gush of debris and stone dust.
Seeker lowered his arms and waited for the dust to settle.
"Send out the old ones!" he cried. "I have no quarrel with anyone else."
There was no answer. From far below came the rattle of falling fragments, bouncing down the mountainside to the valley floor.
The broken outline of the cave mouth now became visible. Seeker stepped into the shadowy space. The walls and roof were those of a natural cave, which narrowed as it penetrated deeper into the mountain. The only light came from the opening. Within, all was darkness.
Seeker felt no fear, and no weariness. The destruction of the last two savanters was his mission and his obsession. Until it was accomplished, he had no other life. But now he had hunted them to the end. There would be a kill, and a kill.
And afterwards? Peace, if allowed. Rest, if deserved. Love, if given. And a home on the quiet side of the world.
He strode into the dark tunnel. As he went, the light behind him grew fainter and the only sounds he could hear were his own footsteps. The tunnel narrowed and twisted and turned. He began to feel his way with outstretched hands. The light dwindled, then was gone. He advanced in utter blackness. No longer guided by sight, he concentrated his attention on the sounds round him.
Nothing moved, but the sounds were changing. The passage was becoming wider. He sensed space opening up on either side of him. He came to a stop.
Now, his footfalls silent, he heard the faint sound of men breathing.
"You can't hurt me." He spoke his warning into the blackness. "Don't make me hurt you."
There came a soft stirring in the still air. Seeker's hyperacute senses traced the source: invisible arms reaching up, preparing to strike. Then came the rush of sudden motion, the hiss of hurled missiles. Too turbulent for spikes. They were throwing stones.
He stood still and flooded his body with force. The stones struck him and fell harmlessly to the ground. When the last missile had rattled into silence, he spoke to his attackers, saying again, "You can't hurt me."
There came a cry of fury, and the unseen mountain men fell on him from all sides. Seeker stood rooted as the mountain itself while his attackers dashed themselves against him like waves against a cliff. Every blow they struck made him stronger and left them weaker.
"What sort of devil is this?" they cried in terror.
A spark flickered. A candle flame swelled into brightness. An older man held the candle high. By its light Seeker saw the mountain men who had attacked him, lying groaning and helpless on the ground.
A rapid scan of the cave told him that the ones he hunted were not here.
"Where are the old ones?" he said.
"We promised them protection." The man with the candle spoke in a voice full of bitterness. "They paid well."
"Did they pay a price worth dying for?"
The mountain man broke into a harsh laugh.
"They offered us eternal life," he said. "And now you come to kill us."
"I've no quarrel with you," said Seeker. "Just tell me where they are."
"Deeper in," said the mountain man, handing Seeker the candle. "Follow the cave."
Seeker set off, holding the candle before him. The tunnel narrowed once more as it cut deeper and deeper into the mountain. In one place it opened out into a larger chamber, where there were signs of the life lived here—clay pots of water, rolls of bedding—but Seeker saw no other people. Evidently the savanters had retreated to the innermost reaches of the great cave.
The candle flame began to flicker. A little farther down the twisting tunnel, and it flickered more violently. Then came a rush of air and the candle went out. In the sudden darkness, Seeker felt wind on his face. Ahead, he caught a glimpse of a faint light.
Filled now with fear, he hurried forward. As he went, the light grew. He rounded a bend in the tunnel, and there before him was the bright glare of a disc of sky. He raced down the last stretch of tunnel and found himself emerging into open air.