Read The Last Guardian Online

Authors: David Gemmell

The Last Guardian

BOOK: The Last Guardian
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

S
hannow pulled the trigger. Webber’s brains mushroomed from his skull, and his body fell back to the earth with dark powder smoke streaming from the blackened mouth.

“Now you listen to me!” Shannow roared into the stunned silence that followed. “I know many of you brigands. If you are in Pilgrim’s Valley come morning, I will hunt you down and kill you on sight. You may be sitting breaking your fast, or sleeping snug in a warm bed, or quietly playing Carnat with friends. But I will fall upon you with the wrath of God.

“Those with ears to hear, let them understand. Tomorrow you die.…”

By David Gemmell
Published by Del Rey Books
:

LION OF MACEDON
DARK PRINCE
ECHOES OF THE GREAT SONG
KNIGHTS OF DARK RENOWN
MORNINGSTAR
DARK MOON
IRONHAND’S DAUGHTER
THE HAWK ETERNAL

THE DRENAI SAGA
LEGEND
THE KING BEYOND THE GATE
QUEST FOR LOST HEROES
WAYLANDER
IN THE REALM OF THE WOLF
THE FIRST CHRONICLES OF DRUSS THE LEGEND
THE LEGEND OF DEATHWALKER
HERO IN THE SHADOWS
WHITE WOLF
THE SWORDS OF NIGHT AND DAY

THE STONES OF POWER CIRCLE
GHOST KING
LAST SWORD OF POWER
WOLF IN SHADOW
THE LAST GUARDIAN
BLOODSTONE

THE RIGANTE
SWORD IN THE STORM
MIDNIGHT FALCON
RAVENHEART
STORMRIDER

TROY
LORD OF THE SILVER BOW
SHIELD OF THUNDER
FALL OF KINGS

A Del Rey
®
Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 1989 by David A. Gemmell

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Del Rey Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain in 1989 by Legend Books, Century Hutchinson Ltd.

D
EL
R
EY
is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

www.delreybooks.com

eISBN: 978-0-307-79743-8

v3.1

This novel is
dedicated with
love to my children,
Kathryn and Luke, who
thankfully are still
too young to know
what fine people
they are
.

Contents
1
SOUTH OF THE PLAGUE LANDS—
A.D.
2341

B
UT HE DID
not die. The flesh around the bullet wound over his hip froze as the temperature dropped to thirty below zero, and the distant spires of Jerusalem blurred and changed, becoming snow-shrouded pine. Ice had formed on his beard, and his heavy black double-shouldered topcoat glistened white in the moonlight. Shannow swayed in the saddle, trying to focus on the city he had sought for so long, but it was gone. As his horse stumbled, Shannow’s right hand gripped the saddle pommel and the wound in his side flared with fresh pain.

He turned the black stallion’s head, steering the beast downhill toward the valley.

Images rushed through his mind: Karitas, Ruth, Donna; the hazardous journey across the Plague Lands and the battles with the Hellborn; the monstrous ghost ship wrecked on a mountain. Guns and gunfire, war and death.

The blizzard found new life, and the wind whipped freezing snow into Shannow’s face. He could not see where he was heading, and his mind wandered. He knew that life was ebbing from his body with each passing second, but he had neither the strength nor the will to fight on.

He remembered the farm and his first sight of Donna, standing in the doorway with an ancient crossbow in her hands. She had mistaken Shannow for a brigand and had feared for her life and that of her son, Eric. Shannow had
never blamed her for that mistake. He knew what people saw when the Jerusalem Man came riding—a tall, gaunt figure in a flat-crowned leather hat, a man with cold, cold eyes that had seen too much of death and despair. Always it was the same. People would stand and stare at his expressionless face; then their eyes would be drawn down to his guns, the terrible weapons of the Thundermaker.

Yet Donna Taybard had been different. She had taken Shannow into her hearth and her home, and for the first time in two weary decades the Jerusalem Man had known happiness.

But then had come the brigands and the warmakers and finally the Hellborn. Shannow had gone against them all for the woman he loved, only to see her wed another.

Now he was alone again, dying on a frozen mountain in an uncharted wilderness. And strangely, he did not care. The wind howled about horse and man, and Shannow fell forward across the stallion’s neck, lost in the siren song of the blizzard. The horse was mountain-bred; he did not like the howling wind or the biting snow. Now he angled his way through the trees into the lee of a rock face and followed a deer trail down to the mouth of a high lava tunnel that stretched through the ancient volcanic range. It was warmer there, and the stallion plodded on, aware of the dead weight across his back. This disturbed him, for his rider was always in balance and could signal his commands with the slightest pressure or flick of the reins.

The stallion’s wide nostrils flared as the smell of smoke came to him. He halted and backed up, his iron hooves clattering on the rocky ground. A dark shadow moved in front of him … in panic he reared, and Shannow tumbled from the saddle. A huge taloned hand caught the reins, and the smell of lion filled the tunnel. The stallion tried to rear again, to lash out with iron-shod hooves, but he was held tight and a soft, deep voice whispered to him, a gentle hand stroking his neck. Calmed by
the voice, he allowed himself to be led into a deep cave, where a campfire had been set within a circle of round flat stones. He waited calmly as he was tethered to a jutting stone at the far wall; then the figure was gone.

Outside the cave Shannow groaned and tried to roll to his belly, but he was stricken by pain and deep cold. He opened his eyes to see a hideous face looming over him. Dark hair framed the head and face, and a pair of tawny eyes gazed down at him; the nose was wide and flat, the mouth a deep slash rimmed with sharp fangs. Shannow, unable to move, could only glare at the creature.

Taloned hands moved under his body, lifting him easily, and he was carried like a child into a cave and laid gently by the fire. The creature fumbled at the ties on Shannow’s coat, but the thick pawlike hands could not cope with the frozen knots. Talons hissed out to sever the leather thongs, and Shannow felt his coat being eased from him. Slowly but with great care the creature removed his frozen clothing and covered him with a warm blanket. The Jerusalem Man faded into sleep—and his dreams were pain-filled.

Once more he fought the Guardian lord, Sarento, while the
Titanic
sailed on a ghostly sea and the Devil walked in Babylon. But this time Shannow could not win, and he struggled to survive as the sea poured into the stricken ship, engulfing him. He could hear the cries of drowning men, women, and children but could not save them. He awoke sweating and tried to sit. Pain ripped at his wounded side, and he groaned and sank back into his fever dreams.

He was riding toward the mountains when he heard a shot; he rode to the crest of a hill and gazed down on a farmyard where three men were dragging two women from their home. Drawing a pistol, Shannow kicked his stallion into a run and thundered toward the scene. When the men saw him, they flung the women aside and two of
them drew flintlocks from their belts; the third ran at him with a knife. He dragged on the reins, and the stallion reared. Shannow timed his first shot well, and a brigand was punched from his feet. The knife man leapt, but Shannow swung in the saddle and fired point-blank, the bullet entering the man’s forehead and exiting from the neck in a bloody spray. The third man loosed a shot that ricocheted from the pommel of Shannow’s saddle to tear into his hip. Ignoring the sudden pain, the Jerusalem Man fired twice. The first shell took the brigand high in the shoulder, spinning him; the second hammered into his skull
.

In the sudden silence Shannow sat his stallion, gazing at the women. The elder of the two approached him, and he could see the fear in her eyes. Blood was seeping from his wound and dripping to the saddle, but he sat upright as she neared
.

“What do you want of us?” she asked
.

“Nothing, lady, save to help you.”

“Well,” she said, her eyes hard, “you have done that, and we thank you.” She backed away, still staring at him. He knew she could see the blood, but he could not—would not—beg for aid
.

“Good day to you,” he said, swinging the stallion and heading away
.

The younger girl ran after him. She was blond and pretty, and her face was leathered by the sunlight and the hardship of wilderness farming. She gazed up at him with large blue eyes
.

BOOK: The Last Guardian
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Faith of the Heart by Jewell Tweedt
Red Rag Blues by Derek Robinson
Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Pehov
The Wicked Wallflower by Maya Rodale
Remote Rescue by George Ivanoff
Bloodlines by Susan Conant
Finding Hope by Brenda Coulter
Fender Bender Blues by Niecey Roy