Read The Scions of Shannara Online
Authors: Terry Brooks
“I will not!” the other cried furiously.
Cogline stared at the younger man for long minutes, then sighed. “As you will. But the book remains. Read it or not, the choice is yours. Destroy it even, if you wish.” He drained off the remainder of his ale, set the glass carefully on the table, and looked down at his gnarled hands. “I am finished here.”
He came around the table and stood before the other. “Goodbye, Walker. I would stay if it would help. I would give you whatever it is within my power to give you if you would take it. But you are not yet ready. Another day, perhaps.”
He turned then and disappeared into the night. He did not look back as he went. He did not deviate from his course. Walker Boh watched him fade away, a shadow gone back into the darkness that had made him.
The cottage, as if by his going, turned empty and still.
“It will be dangerous, Par,” Damson Rhee whispered. “If there were a safer way, I should snatch it up in an instant.”
Par Ohmsford said nothing. They were deep within the People's Park once more, crouched in the shadows of a grove of cedar just beyond the broad splash of light cast by the lamps of the Gatehouse. It was midway toward dawn, the deepest, fullest hours of sleep, when everything slowed to a crawl amid dreams and rememberings. The Gatehouse rose up against the moonlit darkness like massive blocks stacked one upon the other by a careless child. Barred windows and bolted doors were shallow indentations in a skin made rough and coarse by weather and time. The walls warding the ravine ran off to either side and the crossing bridge stretched away behind, a spider web connecting to the tumbledown ruin of the old palace. A watch had been stationed before the main entry where a pair of matched iron portals stood closed behind a hinged grate of bars. The watch dozed on its feet, barely awake in the enveloping stillness. No sound or movement from the Gatehouse disturbed their rest.
“Can you remember enough of him to conjure up a likeness?” Damson asked, her words a brush of softness against his ear. Par nodded. It was not likely he would ever forget the face of Rimmer Dall.
She was quiet a moment. “If we are stopped, keep their attention focused on yourself. I will deal with any threats.”
He nodded once more. They waited, motionless within their concealment, listening to the stillness, thinking their separate thoughts. Par was frightened and filled with doubts, but he was mostly determined. Damson and he were the only real chance Coll and the others had. They would succeed in this risky business because they must.
The Gate watch came awake as those patrolling the west wall of the park appeared out of the night. The guards greeted each other casually, spoke for a time, and then the watch from the east wall appeared as well. A flask was passed around, pipes were smoked, and then the guards dispersed. The patrols disappeared east and west. The Gate watch resumed their station.
“Not yet,” Damson whispered as Par shifted expectantly.
The minutes dragged by. The solitude that had shrouded the Gatehouse earlier returned anew. The guards yawned and shifted. One leaned wearily on the haft of his poleaxe.
“Now,” Damson Rhee said. She caught the Valeman by the shoulder and leaned into him. Her lips brushed his cheek. “Luck to us, Par Ohmsford.”
Then they were up and moving. They crossed into the circle of light boldly, striding out of the shadows as if they were at home in them, coming toward the Gatehouse from the direction of the city. Par was already singing, weaving the wishsong's spell through the night's stillness, filling the minds of the watch with the images he wished them to see.
What they saw were two Seekers cloaked in forbidding black, the taller of the two First Seeker Rimmer Dall.
They snapped to attention immediately, eyes forward, barely looking at the two who approached. Par kept his voice even, the magic weaving a constant spell of disguise in the minds of the willing men.
“Open!” Damson Rhee snapped perfunctorily as they reached the Gatehouse entry.
The guards could not comply quickly enough. They pulled back the hinged grate, released the outer locks, and hammered anxiously on the doors to alert the guards within. A tiny door opened and Par shifted the focus of his concentration slightly.
Bleary eyes peered out in grouchy curiosity, widened, and the locks released. The doors swung back, and Par and Damson pushed inside.
They stood in a wardroom filled with weapons stacked in wall racks and stunned Federation soldiers. The soldiers had been playing cards and drinking, clearly convinced the night's excitement was over. They were caught off guard by the appearance of the Seekers and it showed. Par filled the room with the faint hum of the wishsong, blanketing it momentarily with his magic.
It took everything he had.
Damson understood how tenuous was his hold. “Everyone out!” she ordered, her voice flinty with anger.
The room emptied instantly. The entire squad dispersed through adjoining doors and disappeared as if formed of smoke. One guard remained, apparently the senior watch officer. He stood uncertainly, stiffly, eyes averted, wishing he were anywhere else but where he was, yet unable to go.
“Take us to the prisoners,” Damson said softly, standing at the man's left shoulder.
The soldier cleared his throat after trying futilely to speak. “I'll need my commander's permission,” he ventured. Some small sense of responsibility for his assigned duty yet remained to him.
Damson kept her eyes fixed on the man's ear, forcing him thereby to look elsewhere. “Where is your commander?” she asked.
“Sleeping below,” the man answered. “I'll wake him.”
“No.” Damson stayed his effort to depart. “We'll wake him together.”
They went through a heavily bolted door directly across the room and started down a stairwell dimly lit by oil lamps. Par kept the wishsong's music lingering in the frightened guard's ears, teasing him with it, letting him see them as much bigger than life and much more threatening. It was all going as planned, the charade working exactly as Damson and he had hoped. Down the empty stairs they went, circling from landing to landing, the thudding of their boots the only sound in the hollow silence. At the bottom of the well there were two doors. The one on the left was open and led into a lighted corridor. The guard took them through that door to another, stopped and knocked. When there was no response, he knocked again, sharply.
“What is it, drat you?” a voice snapped.
“Open up at once, Commander!” Damson replied in a voice so cold it made even Par shiver.
There was a fumbling about and the door opened. The Federation commander with the short-cropped hair and the unpleasant eyes stood there, his tunic half buttoned. Shock registered on his face instantly as the wishsong's magic took hold. He saw the Seekers. Worse, he saw Rimmer Dall.
He gave up trying to button his clothing and came quickly into the hall. “I didn't expect anyone this soon. I'm sorry. Is there a problem?”
“We'll discuss it later, Commander,” Damson said severely. “For now, take us to the prisoners.”
For just an instant there was a flicker of doubt in the other man's eyes, a shading of worry that perhaps everything was not quite right. Par tightened the hold of the magic on the man's mind, giving him a glimpse of the terror that awaited him should he question the order. That glimpse was enough. The commander hastened back down the corridor to the stairwell, produced a key from a ring at his waist, and opened the second door.
They stepped into a passageway lit by a single lamp hung next to the door. The commander took the lamp in hand and led the way forward. Damson followed. Par motioned the watch officer ahead of him and brought up the rear. His voice was beginning to grow weary from the effort of maintaining the charade. It was more difficult to project to several different points. He should have sent the second man away.
The passageway was constructed of stone block and smelled of mold and decay. Par realized that they were underground, apparently beneath the ravine. Things of considerable size darted from the light, and there were streaks of phosphorescence and dampness in the stone.
They had only gone a short distance when they came to the cells, a collection of low-ceilinged cages, not high enough for a man to stand in, dusty and cobwebbed, the doors constructed of rusted iron bars. The entire company was crammed into the first of these, crouched or sitting on a stone slab floor. Eyes blinked in disbelief, widened as the lie of the magic played hide-and-seek with the truth. Coll knew what was going on. He was already on his feet, pushing to the door, motioning the others up with him. Even Padishar obeyed the gesture, realizing what was about to happen.
“Open the door,” Damson ordered.
Again, the eyes of the Federation commander registered his misgivings.
“Open the door, Commander,” Damson repeated impatiently. “Now!”
The commander fumbled for a second key within the cluster at his belt, inserted it into the lock and turned. The cell door swung open. Instantly, Padishar Creel had the astonished man's neck in his hands, tightening his grip until the other could scarcely breathe. The watch officer stumbled back, turned, tried unsuccessfully to run over Par, was caught from behind by Morgan, and hammered into unconsciousness.
The prisoners crowded into the narrow passageway, greeting Par and Damson with handclasps and smiles. Padishar paid them no heed. His attention was focused entirely on the hapless Federation commander.
“Who betrayed us?” he said with an impatient hiss.
The commander struggled to free himself, his face turning bright red from the pressure on his throat.
“It was one of us, you said! Who?”
The commander choked. “Don'tÂ .Â .Â . know. Never sawÂ .Â .Â .”
Padishar shook him. “Don't lie to me!”
“NeverÂ .Â .Â . Just aÂ .Â .Â . message.”
“Who was it?” Padishar insisted, the cords on the back of his hands gone white and hard.
The terrified man kicked out violently, and Padishar slammed his head sharply against the stone wall. The commander went limp, sagging like a rag doll.
Damson pulled Padishar about. “Enough of this,” she said evenly, ignoring the fury that still burned in the other's eyes. “We're wasting time. He clearly doesn't know. Let's get out of here. There's been enough risk-taking for one day.”
The outlaw chief studied her wordlessly for a moment, then let the unconscious man drop. “I'll find out anyway, I promise you,” he swore.
Par had never seen anyone so angry. But Damson ignored it. She turned and motioned for Par to get moving. The Valeman led the way back up the stairwell, the others trailing behind him in a staggered line. They had devised no plan for getting out again when they had made the decision to come after their friends. They had decided that it would be best simply to take what opportunity offered and make do.
Opportunity gave them everything they needed this night. The wardroom was empty when they reached it, and they moved swiftly to pass through. Only Morgan paused, rummaging through the weapons racks until he had located the confiscated Sword of Leah. Smiling grimly, he strapped it across his back and went after the others.
Their luck held. The guards outside were overpowered before they knew what was happening. All about, the night was silent, the park empty, the patrols still completing their rounds, the city asleep. The members of the little band melted into the shadows and vanished.
As they hurried away, Damson swung Par around and gave him a brilliant smile and a kiss full on the mouth. The kiss was hungry and filled with promise.
Later, when there was time to reflect, Par Ohmsford savored that moment. Yet it was not Damson's kiss that he remembered most from the events of that night. It was the fact that the magic of the wishsong had proved useful at last.
he druid history became for Walker Boh a challenge that he was determined to win.
For three days after Cogline's departure, Walker ignored the book. He left it on the dining table, still settled amid its oilcloth wrappings and broken binding cord, its burnished leather cover collecting motes of dust and gleaming faintly in sunshine and lamplight. He disdained it, going about his business as if it weren't there, pretending it was a part of his surroundings that he could not remove, testing himself against its temptation. He had thought at first to rid himself of it immediately, then decided against it. That would be too easy and too quickly second-guessed later on. If he could withstand its lure for a time, if he could live in its presence without giving in to his understandable desire to uncover its secrets, then he could dispose of it with a clean conscience. Cogline expected him either to open it or dispose of it at once. He would do neither. The old man would get no satisfaction in his efforts to manipulate Walker Boh.
The only one who paid any attention to the parcel was Rumor, who sniffed at it from time to time but otherwise ignored it. The three days passed and the book sat unopened.
But then something odd happened. On the fourth day of this strange contest, Walker began to question his reasoning. Did it really make any better sense to dispose of the book after a week or even a month than it did to dispose of it immediately? Would it matter either way? What did it demonstrate other than a sort of perverse hardheadedness on his part? What sort of game was he playing and for whose benefit was he playing it?
Walker mulled the matter over as the daylight hours waned and darkness closed about, then sat staring at the book from across the room while the fire in the hearth burned slowly to ash and the midnight hour neared.
“I am not being strong,” he whispered to himself. “I am being frightened.”
He considered the possibility in the silence of his thoughts. Finally he stood up, crossed the room to the dining table and stopped. For a moment, he hesitated. Then he reached down and picked up the Druid History. He hefted it experimentally.
Better to know the Demon that pursues you than to continue to imagine him.
He crossed back to his reading chair and seated himself once more, the book settled on his lap. Rumor lifted his massive head from where he slept in front of the fire, and his luminous eyes fixed on Walker. Walker stared back. The cat blinked and went back to sleep.
Walker Boh opened the book.
He read it slowly, working his way through its thick parchment pages with deliberate pacing, letting his eyes linger on the gold edges and ornate calligraphy, determined that now that the book was opened nothing should be missed. The silence after midnight deepened, broken only by an occasional throaty sound from the sleeping moor cat and the snapping of embers in the fire. Only once he thought to wonder how Cogline had really come by the bookâsurely not out of Paranor!âand then the matter was forgotten as the recorded history caught him up and swept him away as surely as if he were a leaf upon a windswept ocean.
The time chronicled was that of Bremen when he was among the last of the Druids, when the Warlock Lord and his minions had destroyed nearly all of the members of the Council. There were stories of the dark magic that had changed the rebel Druids into the horrors they had become. There were accounts of its varied uses, conjurings, and incantations that Bremen had uncovered but had been smart enough to fear. All of the frightening secrets of what the magic could do were touched upon, interspersed with the cautions that so many who tried to master the power would ignore. It was a time of upheaval and frightening change in the Four Lands, and Bremen alone had understood what was at stake.
Walker paged ahead, growing anxious now. Cogline had meant for him to read something particular within this history. Whatever it was, he had not yet come upon it.
The Skull Bearers had seized Paranor for themselves, the chronicles related. Paranor, they had thought, would now be their home. But the Warlock Lord had felt threatened there, wary of latent magic within the stones of the Keep, within the depths of the earth where the furnaces beneath the castle fortress burned. So he had called the Skull Bearers to him and gone north...
Walker frowned. He had forgotten that part. For a time Paranor had been abandoned completely when it could have belonged to the rebels. After all, the Second War of the Races had dragged on for years.
He paged ahead once more, skimming the words, searching without knowing exactly what it was he was searching for. He had forgotten his resolve of earlier, his promise to himself that he was not to be caught up in Cogline's snare. His curiosity and intellect were too demanding to be stayed by caution. There were secrets here that no man had set eyes upon for hundreds of years, knowledge that only the Druids had enjoyed, dispensing it to the Races as they perceived necessary and never otherwise. Such power! How long had it been hidden from everyone but Allanon, and before him Bremen, and before him Galaphile and the first Druids, and before them...?
He stopped reading, aware suddenly that the flow of the narrative had changed. The script had turned smaller, more precise. There were odd markings amid the words, runes that symbolized gestures.
Walker Boh went cold to his bones. The silence that enveloped the room became enormous, an unending, suffocating ocean.
he whispered in the darkest corner of his mind.
It is the invocation for the magic that sealed away Paranor!
His breathing sounded harsh in his own ears as he forced his eyes away from the book. His pale face was taut. This was what Cogline had meant for him to findâwhy, he didn't knowâbut this was it. Now that he had found it, he wondered if he might not be better off closing the book at once.
But that was the fear whispering in his ear again, he knew.
He lowered his eyes once more and began to read. The spell was there, the invocation of magic that Allanon had used three hundred years ago to close away Paranor from the world of men. He found to his surprise that he understood it. His training with Cogline was more complete than he would have imagined. He finished the narrative of the spell and turned the page.
There was a single paragraph. It read:
Once removed, Paranor shall remain lost to the world of men for the whole of time, sealed away and invisible within its casting. One magic alone has the power to return itâthat singular Elfstone that is colored Black and was conceived by the faerie people of the old world in the manner and form of all Elfstones, combining nevertheless in one stone alone the necessary properties of heart, mind, and body. Whosoever shall have cause and right shall wield it to its proper end.
That was all it said. Walker read on, found that the subject matter abruptly changed and skipped back. He read the paragraph again, slowly, searching for anything he might haveâmissed. There was no question in his mind that this was what Cogline had meant for him to find. A Black Elfstone. A magic that could retrieve lost Paranor. The means to the end of the charge that the shade of Allanon had given him.
Bring back Paranor and restore the Druids.
He could hear again the words of the charge in his mind.
Of course, there were no longer any Druids. But maybe Allanon intended that Cogline should take up the cause, once Paranor was restored. It seemed logical despite the old man's protestations that his time was pastâbut Walker was astute enough to recognize that where Druids and their magics were concerned logic often traveled a tortuous path.
He was two-thirds of the way through the history. He spent another hour finishing it, found nothing further that he believed was intended for him, and turned back again to the paragraph on the Black Elfstone. Dawn was creeping out of the east, a faint golden light in the dark horizon. Walker rubbed his eyes and tried to think. Why was there so little digression on the purpose and properties of this magic? What did it look like and what could it do? It was a single stone instead of threeâwhy? How was it that no one had ever heard of it before?
The questions buzzed around inside his head like trapped flies, annoying and at the same time intriguing him. He read the paragraph several times moreâread it, in fact, until he could recite it from memoryâand closed the book. Rumor stretched and yawned on the floor in front of him, lifted his head and blinked.
Talk to me, cat,
There are always secrets that only a cat knows. Maybe this is one of them.
But Rumor only got up and went outside, disappearing into the fading shadows.
Walker fell asleep then and did not come awake again until midday. He rose, bathed and dressed anew, ate a slow meal with the closed book in front of him, and went out for a long walk. He passed south through the valley to a favorite glade where a stream rippled noisily over a meandering rock bed and emptied into a pool that contained tiny fish colored brilliant red and blue. He lingered there for a time, thinking, then returned again to the cottage. He sat on the porch and watched the sun creep westward in a haze of purple and scarlet.
“I should never have opened the book,” he chided himself softly, for its mystery had proven irresistible after all. “I should have bound it back up and dropped it into the deepest hole I could find.”
But it was too late for that. He had read it and knowledge acquired could not be readily forgotten. A sense of futility mingled with anger. He had thought it impossible that Paranor could be restored. Now he knew that there was a magic that could do exactly that. Once again, there was that sense of the inevitability of things prophesied by the Druids.
Still, his life was his own, wasn't it? He needn't accept the charge of Allanon's shade, whatever its viability.
But his curiosity was relentless. He found himself thinking of the Black Elfstone, even when he tried not to. The Black Elfstone was out there, somewhere, a forgotten magic. Where? Where was it?
That and all the other questions pressed in about him as the evening passed. He ate his dinner, walked again for a time, read from the few precious books of his own library, wrote a bit in his journal, and mostly thought of that single, beguiling paragraph on the magic that would bring back Paranor.
He thought about it as he prepared for bed.
He was still thinking about it as midnight approached.
Teasingly, insinuatingly, it wormed about restlessly inside his mind, suggesting this possibility and that, opening doors just a crack into unlighted rooms, hinting at understandings and in-sights that would bring him the knowledge he could not help but crave.
And with it, perhaps, peace of mind.
His sleep was troubled and restless. The mystery of the Black Elfstone was an irritation that would not be dispelled.
By morning, he had decided that he must do something about it.
Par Ohmsford came awake that morning with a decision of his own to make. It had been five days since Damson and he had rescued Coll, Morgan, Padishar Creel, and the other two outlaws from the cells of the Federation Gatehouse, and the bunch of them had been on the run ever since. They had not attempted to leave the city, certain that the gates would be closely watched and the risk of discovery too great. They had not returned to the basement of the weapons-maker's shop either, feeling that it might have been compromised by their mysterious betrayer. Instead, they had skipped from one shelter to the next, never remaining more than one night, posting guards throughout their brief stay at each, jumping at every sound they heard and every shadow they saw.
Well, enough was enough. Par had decided that he was through running.
He rose from the makeshift bed he occupied in the attic of the grain house and glanced over at Coll next to him, who was still asleep. The others were already up and presumably downstairs in the main warehouse, which was closed until the beginning of the work week. Gingerly he crossed to the tiny, shuttered window that let in what small amount of light the room enjoyed and peered out. The street below was empty except for a stray dog sniffing at a refuse bin and a beggar sleeping in the door of the tin factory across the way. Clouds hung low and gray across the skies, threatening rain before the close of the day.
When he crossed back to pull on his boots, he found Coll awake and looking at him. His brother's coarse hair was ruffled and his eyes were clouded with sleep and disgruntlement.
“Ho-hum, another day,” Coll muttered and then yawned hugely. “What fascinating storage room will we be visiting today, do you suppose?”
“None, as far as I'm concerned.” Par dropped down beside him.
Coll's eyebrows arched. “That so? Have you told Padishar?”
“I'm on my way.”
“I suppose you have an alternative in mindâto hiding out, that is.” Coll pushed himself up on one elbow. “Because I don't think Padishar Creel is going to give you the time of day if you don't. He hasn't been in the best of moods since he found out he might not be as well-loved among his men as he thought he was.”
Par doubted that Padishar Creel ever had allowed himself to become deluded enough to believe that he was well-loved by his men, but Coll was certainly right enough about the outlaw chief's present temperament. His betrayal at the hands of one of his own men had left him taciturn and bitter. He had retreated somewhere deep inside himself these several days past, still clearly in command as he led them through the network of Federation patrols and checkpoints that had been thrown out across the city, still able to find them refuge when it seemed there could be none, but at the same time had become uncharacteristically withdrawn from everyone about him. Damson Rhee had come with them, whether by choice or not Par still wasn't sure, but even she could not penetrate the defenses the outlaw chief had thrown up around himself. Except for exercising his authority as leader, Padishar had removed himself from them as surely as if he were no longer physically present.