Paladins of Shannara: Allanon's Quest by Terry Brooks

  “No luck at all,” he answered. “Every single source has yielded only the dead. We are running out of time.”

  “And out of names. I have exhausted my sources here. Are the Druid Histories and your personal records of no further help?”

  Allanon was an historian of some note and a meticulous keeper of records. He had made a concerted effort to write down the names of Shannara heirs over the years, recording deaths, births, and marriages. But even he had not been able to follow every thread in the line, and so the possibility existed that a man or woman possessing Shannara blood could still be found.

  “I am out of ideas. I have nowhere else to look.”

  “I thought as much. But there is one other possibility we have overlooked.”

  Allanon had been surprised. He had thought their search had ended with the deaths of the entire Waylandring family in Emberen a week earlier. He had thought there was no one left. “Who have we missed?”

  “Not a descendant of Jerle Shannara, but a man who might know of one that we do not. His name is Eldra Derrivanian. He was the keeper of the genealogical records for the members of the royal families and the Elven High Council for many years. He was there even before my father. His knowledge was phenomenal, even for a keeper of records. He could trace almost any branch of their lineage from memory. He kept his own set of records in addition to ours, and he took those records with him when he was dismissed from service just before my father died.”

  “Dismissed? I sense a problem.”

  “You are not mistaken. Derrivanian left under very unfortunate circumstances. His son was killed while serving in the Elven Home Guard. The killer was never found, and the reason for his death remained a mystery. The circumstances surrounding the event were suspicious, and Derrivanian could not let the matter drop. He demanded that my father do more. But my father was old and dying by that time, and failed in his efforts. Derrivanian was so distraught he began to ignore his work. In some cases, he deliberately sabotaged it—in small ways at first, and later in much more extensive ones. When my father found out what he was doing, he dismissed him. Derrivanian appealed to the High Council for help but was rebuffed. In the end, he left Arborlon in disgrace.”

  “So he has no reason to want to help us.”

  “You will have to discover that for yourself.”

  “You know where he is now?”

  “He was seen in the village of Archer Trace only a week ago, discovered by a member of my Elven Guard during our searches for the descendants of Jerle Shannara. Finding him was a complete accident. He is living there with his wife. Both are quite elderly. If he still hates the Elessedils as much as he did in the time of my father and remains resentful of his dismissal, it may be difficult to persuade him to help. But he might have his private records with him, or some memory of a member of the Shannara family that could lead us to an heir.”

  “And you believe that if he understands the magnitude of the danger to the Elven people—to his people—he might be persuaded to put aside his anger?”

  Eventine had shrugged. “You are the best one to find this out, Allanon. You are, in all likelihood, the only one who can persuade him.”

  So here he was, off on another fool’s errand, searching out an Elf who had no love for the Elessedils and a lasting bitterness toward his own people for their failure to support him in his complaints against the Elven throne. But it was the best chance left to him. Better yet, he might, for once, be one step ahead of his enemy. Derrivanian was not a member of the Shannara family, and so the Warlock Lord and his minions had no reason to seek him out. This time, Allanon believed, he might find the object of his search alive. This time, he might have a chance to discover information that was unknown to the Warlock Lord.

  And if so, maybe all was not yet lost.

  He was almost completely beyond the limits of Archer Trace when he passed the fence with the rooster carved into its gate. He paused to study the house it warded. Lights burned in the interior—enough to indicate that someone inside was still awake. He watched the windows for movement but saw none. He cast a net of seeking magic to spy out hidden dangers and found none of those, either.

  Satisfied, he opened the gate, went up the path to the heavy wooden door, and knocked.

  Immediately, he heard movement within. “Who’s there?” a man called out.

  “A stranger to you,” Allanon answered. “But I bring news from Arborlon that you will want to hear.”

  There was a long pause. “There is nothing I wish to hear from Arborlon and its Elves. Go away.”

  Allanon sighed, his dark face implacable. “The barkeep at The Drunken Fool seemed to think it was important enough to send me this way. Why not hear me out?”

  Another pause. Then the locks released, the door swung open, and weak candlelight spilled out into the rain.

  The man who stood there was bent with more than just the weight of years and the infirmities of age. Reflected in his eyes were anger and frustration, which spoke of injustices suffered and endured. Bitterness was there, and an expectation of further damage, waiting just around the corner and still out of sight but there nevertheless. There was weariness and a deep sense of resignation.

  There was something else, too, but it took a moment for Allanon to sort it out from the rest of the burden this man bore.

  There was fear.

  “What do you want?” Eldra Derrivanian snapped at him. Then he paused. “Wait. I know you. You’re the Druid Allanon.”

  “We’ve never met.”

  “No, but you were at the King’s court and before the High Council often enough. I know you, even if you paid no attention to me. Now get out of here.”

  Allanon moved his foot swiftly to block the door. “First, you will hear me out. Once you’ve done that, I’ll go my way. But not before.”

  Derrivanian stared at him balefully, then turned his back. “Do what you like. It means nothing to me.”

  Allanon entered the room and closed the door behind him. He glanced around quickly. The room was small, sparsely furnished, and unkempt, and smelled unpleasant. Dishes were piled in a washbasin, and clothes were strewn about. He felt right away that something was wrong, but other than the obvious, he couldn’t decide what.

  “Where is Collice?” he asked.

  Derrivanian’s wife. The old man hesitated, then nodded toward a door at the back of the room. “Asleep. Sick. She tires easily these days. She goes to bed early. What is it that you want with me?”

  Allanon moved over to the tiny kitchen table and sat, waiting. After a moment, Derrivanian sat down across from him. “I require your help,” the Druid said, leaning forward, elbows propped on the table, chin resting atop his folded hands, eyes fixed on the old man. “And I hope you will agree to give it after you’ve heard what I have to say.”

  “My help to do what?”

  “To think back in time and try to remember something for me. To use your exceptional mind to call up something that perhaps no one else can. And if that fails, to peruse your private records to jolt that memory.”

  The old man rubbed at his face. He was unshaven, and his cheeks and forehead were deeply lined. His ears drooped with age, and his slanted brows were shaggy and gray. His salt-and-pepper hair was wild and stiff as he ran his fingers through it. “Whom do you seek?”

  “Anyone who is an heir to the Elven house of Shannara.”

  The other was silent for a long moment. “The Warlock Lord has returned, hasn’t he? The rumors are true.”

  Allanon nodded. “He has returned, and he has brought his Skull Bearers with him. He is hunting down and killing all of the Shannara kin so that the Sword cannot be used against him again.”

  “How many are dead so far? Wait. Don’t tell me. All of them, right? All that you can find, in any case. If you need my help, it must be as a last resort. How did you even find me?”

  “An Elven Hunter searching for news of an heir saw you.”

  Derrivanian shook his h
ead. “I was hidden here for three years. No one knew. I found some small measure of peace. And now this.” He sighed. “I don’t have any love for the Elessedils. I don’t even have much love for the Elves, no matter if they’re my own people. None of them did anything for me when I needed their help. They let my son’s death go unpunished. They let his murderer go free. They tossed it all aside like it didn’t much matter.”

  Allanon held his gaze. “This involves more than just Arborlon and the Elessedils. The survival of an entire world is at stake. I need you to put your anger aside.”

  “Do you? Too bad. Why should I bother? Why should I care about the world or anything else?”

  “Because you don’t want it on your conscience if everything goes wrong, and you could have done something to prevent it. Come, Derrivanian. You’re been a good and faithful steward for too many years to throw it all aside when it could mean so much to so many if you could help. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.”

  The old man rose and walked away, stopping to look out a window—perhaps contemplating what he saw, perhaps only gathering his thoughts. He was silent for a long time. Allanon let him be. Too many words of persuasion would have the wrong impact on this man. It would be better to let him come to the right decision on his own.

  “You seem a strong man, Allanon,” he said finally. “Is that so? Are you as strong as they say?”

  Allanon kept quiet, waiting.

  “Because I’m not a strong man. I am a weakling and a coward. I’ve lost a son, and I don’t—” He stopped suddenly, shaking his head. “You don’t know what you will do until you are faced with a situation that tests you. You think you know, but you don’t.”

  Still, the Druid waited. But he couldn’t help wondering as he did so what it was the man was trying to say.

  Eldra Derrivanian turned back to him. “There is one last possibility, one last man who may have been overlooked by the Dark Lord. He is a distant relative, born to the son of a son of a cousin once removed from the direct line. His bloodline is true, though. He would have enough of the Shannara in him to serve your purpose. His name is Weir. Shall I tell you where he can be found?”

  Allanon nodded slowly. “Tell me everything.”

  Allanon departed the cottage shortly afterward, pulling his hood over his head and his cloak tightly about his shoulders, hunching down against the onslaught of rain. He had what he needed to find the man Derrivanian had named, including the location of the place where he could be found. Weir lived on a farm well outside any town or village, north of Emberen, close to the southwestern edge of the Kierlak Desert in country that was just barely Elven and in no way friendly. It was a day’s journey in good weather and more in bad. It was better traveled by horse than afoot, and so the Druid went back into Emberen to find a room in which to spend the night before seeking a mount for the morrow’s journey.

  He was still troubled by his visit to Eldra Derrivanian. Something about it didn’t feel right. The man himself, the words he spoke, his actions—none of it. He realized suddenly that there had been a mattress in one corner of the front room, shoved off in a corner. Why was Derrivanian sleeping there when his wife slept in the back room? Or was the bedding for someone else? His wife’s sickness could account for the state of the cottage, but there was a furtiveness to him that was troubling.

  On the other hand, this was a man whose life had been a shambles for many years, a man who had exiled himself from his people and his previous life and gone into the outback of Elven civilization. He had lost his son and his position and the respect of his King. He had become an object of scorn and pity and outright suspicion. Everything he had built his life around was gone. Perhaps it wasn’t so strange that there seemed to be no substance to him.

  Allanon spent the night at a rooming house set apart from the taverns, and in the morning he procured a horse and set out. He rode north at a steady pace, through the forests, following a series of trails and paths toward the Streleheim. At midday, he passed onto the plains. The terrain changed abruptly, trees giving way to empty space and shade to heat. The rains had moved on, but the earth was left sodden and muddy, and the sun turned the standing pools to steam.

  He let his horse meander across the uneven ground so that it could find decent footing, his thoughts straying to the task ahead. He was already thinking about what he would say to this man Weir to persuade him to take up the Sword in defense of his people. Over the past few weeks, he had composed dozens of arguments and hundreds of reasons for all those he had thought he would encounter in his long, fruitless search. In the end, he had needed none of them because there had been no one alive to persuade. If the same was true this time as well, he wasn’t certain where he would go next. Back to Derrivanian, perhaps. He wasn’t entirely satisfied that he had been given the truth.

  But the hard fact remained that he still hadn’t found the man or woman he needed, and the time left to do so was growing short. If Weir refused him, what would he do then? There was nothing to say the man wouldn’t say no. Most would decline any sort of involvement in this business, no matter its importance and urgency. The danger was enormous, the risks terrifying. Jerle Shannara had been unable to kill the Warlock Lord, and he had been a king and a warrior. How could anyone expect an ordinary man to do better?

  And, yet, that was what would be required. That was what would need to happen to end what had begun all those centuries ago.

  He should have planned better, he chided himself. He should have known this time would come sooner rather than later, and he should have found the ones he needed and prepared them. He should have kept better records and spent more time sizing up the heirs who remained. He should have protected them all from what had happened.

  He should have done so much more.

  The day wore on, and the sun moved westward across the sky toward the horizon. As he neared his destination—a place called Rabbit Ridge—a man herding sheep passed into view. Allanon rode over and hailed him.

  “Well met,” he told the man.

  The man just stared at him, saying nothing. Allanon could read what was on his mind. He wanted nothing to do with this huge, black-cloaked rider with the grim countenance and imposing presence.

  “I’m looking for a man named Weir. He lives on Rabbit Ridge. Do you know of him?”

  The herder spit. He pointed left, made a warding sign, then turned away abruptly and hurried on, clucking to his sheep to move them along faster. Allanon watched him go, but he did not wonder at the man’s reaction. In his place, he would have done the same.

  He rode on, watching the shadows cast by his horse and himself lengthen in front of him, noting the twilight’s approach. Not much farther, he thought. Then he would have his chance to persuade a man with no desire to place himself in harm’s way that this was exactly what he must do. He wondered if he would find in this man the strength of character and courage and decency to invoke the magic of the Sword. He wondered how the man would react when he heard what the Druid had to say. He had rehearsed the moment so often without ever having come this close to experiencing it. He had prepared himself repeatedly, and all for nothing.

  Would it be for nothing again?

  He found Rabbit Ridge, a thickly wooded and rough piece of ground, and rode his horse up its slopes. Poor land for farming, he saw, mostly scrub and sparse stands of timber and rocky ground. Sheep might do well here. Was that what the man farmed? He hadn’t asked Derrivanian. It hadn’t seemed important then and probably wasn’t now. Still … He was going to ask a farmer to come with him to stand against a monster. It was insane.

  He reached the apex of the ridge and urged his horse along its length toward a broad stretch of grasslands that ran like a ragged carpet to the door of a house and barn. There were sheep in a fenced pasture, milling about, moving first in one direction, then in another, looking stupid and lost. He felt a sudden kinship. His eyes shifted to the buildings. There was smoke coming from a chimney attached to th
e house but no sign of occupants. The barn was big and empty-looking; the hinged doors facing him stood open to the darkness within.

  The last of the daylight was fading as he walked his mount to the porch that fronted the house and climbed down.

  “Hello the house!” he called out. “Anyone?”

  No answer. He didn’t care one bit for what that suggested. Draping the reins of his mount over the porch railing, he climbed the steps to the door and knocked.

  Still no answer.

  “Hello! Anyone?” he repeated.

  He walked the length of the porch to peer through the windows. The house looked inhabited. It was well kept, with furniture intact, dishes set on a table, and ashes banked against a stack of wood burning in the hearth. It looked as if the owner had just momentarily stepped away.

  Not that there was much of anywhere to step away to.

  Except the barn.

  Allanon left the horse where it was and walked toward the open doors, keeping a careful eye out for trouble. He had survived enough attempted ambushes and traps to be mindful, and he was not about to fall victim now. He glanced around the farmyard, but other than the sheep in the pasture, there didn’t seem to be anyone or anything about. Even so, he fully expected to find Weir in the barn since he wasn’t in the house and didn’t appear to be anywhere else close at hand.

  But when he got there, the building was empty. He walked far enough into the shadows for his eyes to adjust. The stalls were empty, the floor bare, and the interior of the barn silent. He glanced up at the hayloft, but there didn’t seem to be a ladder at hand that would allow him to climb up.

  He decided to make a more complete search of the level he was on. He walked into every stall, examined every corner, poked through the hay mound, and looked inside the tack room. There was a toolshed attached to the barn, but the door that led into it was outside. So he exited the barn and walked around to where he could have a look. The shed was filled with hand tools, a workbench, and scrap metal. Nothing there, either.

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