Read The Scions of Shannara Online
Authors: Terry Brooks
When Coll and he were finished, there was stunned silence, then a wild thumping of ale glasses and cheers and shouts of elation unmatched in any performance that had gone before. It seemed for a moment that those gathered might bring the rafters of the ale house down about their ears, so vehement were they in their appreciation. Par was damp with his own sweat, aware for the first time how much he had given to the telling. Yet his mind was curiously detached as they left the platform for the brief rest they were permitted between tellings, thinking still of the dreams.
Coll stopped for a glass of ale by an open storage room and Par continued down the hallway a short distance before coming to an empty barrel turned upright by the cellar doors. He slumped down wearily, his thoughts tight.
He had been having the dreams for almost a month now, and he still didn't know why.
The dreams occurred with a frequency that was unsettling. They always began with a black-cloaked figure that rose from a lake, a figure that might be Allanon, a lake that might be the Hadeshorn. There was a shimmering of images in his dreams, an ethereal quality to the visions that made them difficult to decipher. The figure always spoke to him, always with the same words. “Come to me; you are needed. The Four Lands are in gravest danger; the magic is almost lost. Come now, Shannara child.”
There was more, although the rest varied. Sometimes there were images of a world born of some unspeakable nightmare. Sometimes there were images of the lost talismansâthe Sword of Shannara and the Elfstones. Sometimes there was a call for Wren as well, little Wren, and sometimes a call for his uncle Walker Boh. They were to come as well. They were needed, too.
He had decided quite deliberately after the first night that the dreams were a side effect of his prolonged use of the wishsong. He sang the old stories of the Warlock Lord and the Skull Bearers, of Demons and Mord Wraiths, of Allanon and a world threatened by evil, and it was natural that something of those stories and their images would carry over into his sleep. He had tried to combat the effect by using the wishsong on lighter tellings, but it hadn't helped. The dreams persisted. He had refrained from telling Coll, who would have simply used that as a new excuse to advise him to stop invoking the magic of the wishsong and return to the Vale.
Then, three nights ago, the dreams had stopped coming as suddenly as they had started. Now he was wondering why. He was wondering if perhaps he had mistaken their origin. He was considering the possibility that instead of being self-induced, they might have been sent.
But who would have sent them?
Allanon? Truly Allanon, who was three hundred years dead?
else? Something that had a reason of its own and meant him no good?
He shivered at the prospect, brushed the matter from his mind, and went quickly back up the hallway to find Coll.
The crowd was even larger for the second telling, the walls lined with standing men who could not find chairs or benches to sit upon. The Blue Whisker was a large house, the front serving room over a hundred feet across and open to the rafters above a stringing of oil lamps and fish netting that lent a sort of veiled appearance that was apparently designed to suggest intimacy. Par couldn't have tolerated much more intimacy, so close were the patrons of the ale house as they pressed up against the platform, some actually sitting on it now as they drank. This was a different group than earlier, although the Valeman was hard-pressed to say why. It had a different feel to it, as if there was something foreign in its makeup. Coll must have felt it, too. He glanced over at Par several times as they prepared to perform, and there was uneasiness mirrored in his dark eyes.
A tall, black-bearded man wrapped in a dun-colored forest cloak waded through the crowd to the platform's edge and eased himself down between two other men. The two looked up as if they intended to say something, then caught a close glimpse of the other's face and apparently thought better of it. Par watched momentarily and looked away. Everything felt wrong.
Coll leaned over as a rhythmic clapping began. The crowd was growing restless. “Par, I don't like this. There's somethingÂ .Â .Â .”
He didn't finish. The owner of the ale house came up and told them in no uncertain terms to begin before the crowd got out of hand and started breaking things. Coll stepped away wordlessly. The lights dimmed, and Par started to sing. The story was the one about Allanon and the battle with the Jachyra. Coll began to speak, setting the stage, telling those gathered what sort of day it was, what the glen was like into which the Druid came with Brin Ohmsford and Rone Leah, how everything suddenly grew hushed. Par created the images in the minds of his listeners, instilling in them a sense of anxiety and expectation, trying unsuccessfully not to experience the same feelings himself.
At the rear of the room, men were moving to block the doors and windows, men suddenly shed of cloaks and dressed all in black. Weapons glittered. There were patches of white on sleeves and breasts, insignia of some sort. Par squinted, Elven vision sharp.
A wolf's head.
The men in black were Seekers.
Par's voice faltered and the images shimmered and lost their hold. Men began to grumble and look about. Coll stopped his narration. There was movement everywhere. There was someone in the darkness behind them. There was someone all about.
Coll edged closer protectively.
Then the lights rose again, and a wedge of the black-garbed Seekers pushed forward from the front door. There were shouts and groans of protest, but the men making them were quick to move out of the way. The owner of the Blue Whisker tried to intervene, but was shoved aside.
The wedge of men came to a stop directly in front of the platform. Another group blocked the exits. They wore black from head to toe, their faces covered above their mouths, their wolf-head insignia gleaming. They were armed with short swords, daggers, and truncheons, and their weapons were held ready. They were a mixed bunch, big and small, stiff and bent, but there was a feral look to all of them, as much in the way they held themselves as in their eyes.
Their leader was a huge, rangy man with tremendously long arms and a powerful frame. There was a craggy cast to his face where the mask ended, and a half-beard of coarse reddish hair covered his chin. His left arm was gloved to the elbow.
“Your names?” he asked. His voice was soft, almost a whisper.
Par hesitated. “What is it that we have done?”
“Is your name Ohmsford?” The speaker was studying him intently.
Par nodded. “Yes. But we haven'tÂ .Â .Â .”
“You are under arrest for violating Federation Supreme Law,” the soft voice announced. There was a grumbling sound from the patrons. “You have used magic in defiance ofÂ .Â .Â .”
“They was just telling stories!” a man called out from a few feet away. One of the Seekers lashed out swiftly with his truncheon and the man collapsed in a heap.
“You have used magic in defiance of Federation dictates and thereby endangered the public.” The speaker did not even bother to glance at the fallen man. “You will be takenÂ .Â .Â .”
He never finished. An oil lamp dropped suddenly from the center of the ceiling to the crowded ale house floor and exploded in a shower of flames. Men sprang to their feet, howling. The speaker and his companions turned in surprise. At the same moment the tall, bearded man who had taken a seat on the platform's edge earlier came to his feet with a lunge, vaulted several other astonished patrons, and slammed into the knot of Seekers, spilling them to the floor. The tall man leaped onto the stage in front of Par and Coll and threw off his shabby cloak to reveal a fully armed hunter dressed in forest green. One arm lifted, the hand clenched in a fist.
“Free-born!” he shouted into the confusion.
It seemed that everything happened at once after that. The decorative netting, somehow loosened, followed the oil lamp to the floor, and practically everyone gathered at the Blue Whisker was suddenly entangled. Yells and curses rose from those trapped. At the doors, green-clad men pounced on the bewildered Seekers and hammered them to the floor. Oil lamps were smashed, and the room was plunged into darkness.
The tall man moved past Par and Coll with a quickness they would not have believed possible. He caught the first of the Seekers blocking the back entrance with a sweep of one boot, snapping the man's head back. A short sword and dagger appeared, and the remaining two went down as well.
“This way, quick now!” he called back to Par and Coll.
They came at once. A dark shape clawed at them as they rushed past, but Coll knocked the man from his feet into the mass of struggling bodies. He reached back to be certain he had not lost his brother, his big hand closing on Par's slender shoulder. Par yelled in spite of himself. Coll always forgot how strong he was.
They cleared the stage and reached the back hallway, the tall stranger several paces ahead. Someone tried to stop them, but the stranger ran right over him. The din from the room behind them was deafening, and flames were scattered everywhere now, licking hungrily at the flooring and walls. The stranger led them quickly down the hall and through the rear door into the alleyway. Two more of the green-clad men waited. Wordlessly, they surrounded the brothers and rushed them clear of the ale house. Par glanced back. The flames were already leaping from the windows and crawling up toward the roof. The Blue Whisker had seen its last night.
They slipped down the alleyway past startled faces and wide eyes, turned into a passageway Par would have sworn he had never seen before despite his many excursions out that way, passed through a scattering of doors and anterooms and finally emerged into a new street entirely. No one spoke. When at last they were beyond the sound of the shouting and the glow of the fire, the stranger slowed, motioned his two companions to take up watch and pulled Par and Coll into a shadowed alcove.
All were breathing heavily from the run. The stranger looked at them in turn, grinning. “A little exercise is good for the digestion, they say. What do you think? Are you all right?”
The brothers both nodded. “Who are you?” asked Par.
The grin broadened. “Why, practically one of the family, lad. Don't you recognize me? Ah, you don't, do you? But, then, why should you? After all, you and I have never met. But the songs should remind you.” He closed his left hand into a fist, then thrust a single finger sharply at Par's nose. “Remember now?”
Mystified, Par looked at Coll, but his brother appeared as confused as he was. “I don't thinkÂ .Â .Â .” he started.
“Well, well, it doesn't matter just at the moment. All in good time.” He bent close. “This is no longer safe country for you, lad. Certainly not here in Varfleet and probably not in all of Callahorn. Maybe not anywhere. Do you know who that was back there? The ugly one with the whisper?”
Par tried to place the rangy speaker with the soft voice. He couldn't. He shook his head slowly.
“Rimmer Dall,” the stranger said, the smile gone now. “First Seeker, the high mucky-muck himself. Sits on the Coalition Council when he's not out swatting flies. But you, he's taken a special interest if he's come all the way to Varfleet to arrest you. That's not part of his ordinary fly-swatting. That's hunting bear. He thinks you are dangerous, ladâvery dangerous, indeed, or he wouldn't have bothered coming all the way here. Good thing I was looking out for you. I was, you know. Heard Rimmer Dall was going to come for you and came to make sure he didn't get the job done. Mind now, he won't give up. You slipped his grasp this time, but that will make him just that much more determined. He'll keep coming for you.”
He paused, gauging the effect of what he was saying. Par was staring at him speechlessly, so he went on. “That magic of yours, the singing, that's real magic, isn't it? I've seen enough of the other kind to know. You could put that magic to good use, lad, if you had a mind to. It's wasted in these ale houses and backstreets.”
“What do you mean?” Coll asked, suddenly suspicious.
The stranger smiled, charming and guileless. “The Movement has need of such magic,” he said softly.
Coll snorted. “You're one of the outlaws!”
The stranger executed a quick bow. “Yes, lad, I am proud to say I am. More important, I am free-born and I do not accept Federation rule. No right-thinking man does.” He bent close. “You don't accept it yourself now, do you? Admit it.”
“Hardly,” Coll answered defensively. “But I question whether the outlaws are any better.”
“Harsh words, lad!” the other exclaimed. “A good thing for you I do not take offense easily.” He grinned roguishly.
“What is it you want?” Par interrupted quickly, his mind clear again. He had been thinking of Rimmer Dall. He knew the man's reputation and he was frightened of the prospect of being hunted by him. “You want us to join you, is that it?”
The stranger nodded. “You would find it worth your time, I think.”
But Par shook his head. It was one thing to accept the stranger's help in fleeing the Seekers. It was another to join the Movement. The matter needed a great deal more thought. “I think we had better decline for now,” he said evenly. “That is, if we're being given a choice.”
“Of course you are being given a choice!” The stranger seemed offended.
“Then we have to say no. But we thank you for the offer and especially for your help back there.”
The stranger studied him a moment, solemn again. “You are quite welcome, believe me. I wish only the best for you, Par Ohmsford. Here, take this.” He removed from one hand a ring that was cast in silver and bore the insigne of a hawk. “My friends know me by this. If you need a favorâor if you change your mindâtake this to Kiltan Forge at Reaver's End at the north edge of the city and ask for the Archer. Can you remember that?”