The Black Irix by Terry Brooks

“Back to where we came from,” Panamon answered. “Chule told us we could leave in the morning. Morning is here. We want to get an early start on the day. We have a long way to ride, and the hardest part is getting out of the Northland.”

  The guards exchanged an uneasy glance. “No one told us about this.”

  “No? Then maybe no one thought it was something you needed to be told. Maybe they thought you could figure out what needed doing on your own. But if that’s not so, why doesn’t one of you go back inside and wake Kestra Chule to ask him? Or you could just detain us for another four hours until he wakes up on his own. I will ask him then how you two happened to be chosen for this duty.”

  The guards shifted uneasily, hefting their pikes in a threatening way and still blocking the gates as they looked back and forth between Panamon and the Ohmsfords and each other. There was a long few moments as they silently debated their options. Finally, one stepped aside and signaled up to the walls to winch open the gates.

  Minutes later, Panamon was leading the Ohmsfords back through the ravines of the terrain that bordered the keep, moving slowly but steadily away from its imprisoning walls. They rode in silence, concentrating on finding a safe path through the treacherous landscape using what dim light the cloud-obscured quarter moon and scattered stars could provide. Shea kept looking back over his shoulder at Flick, who was bringing up the rear. Flick kept looking back at Kestra Chule’s black fortress.

  But there was no sign of activity on the walls and no sign of any pursuit. It seemed they had gotten away cleanly.

  And with the Elfstones safely back in hand! Shea kept reaching up to feel their bulk inside his tunic pocket, fingering their familiar outline, reassuring himself that they were really there.

  By sunrise, they had reached the banks of the River Lethe and were crossing the old wooden bridge to the northern fringes of the Streleheim and the promise of safety, and the Valeman could stand it no longer.

  He rode up next to Panamon and caught his eye. “What just happened back there? What was that all about?”

  Panamon looked over. Flick had ridden up to hear, as well. “A little sleight of hand,” the thief answered with a shrug. “I knew Kestra Chule from his time in Varfleet, in days now gone, when he was a buyer and seller of stolen goods. We were friendly enough; I was a thief, he was a buyer. Eventually, he became a collector. He found that fortress we just left—perhaps once occupied by Trolls or even Skull Bearers, but then abandoned—and he moved in.

  “A while back, while doing a bit of business with me, he mentioned that he was looking for someone to build him a vault to house some very valuable artifacts and precious metals from his collection. After a few drinks, he bragged about how he had recovered a Black Irix. He wouldn’t tell me how he came by it at first, but then he mentioned that he’d had to move half a mountain to reach it.

  “So I told him I’d heard a story about a Troll who had worn the Black Irix who’d died in the collapse of a mountain. He cocked an eyebrow at me in a way that told me we were talking about the same thing. So I mentioned the name of a vault builder I knew. Chule went to him, was shown the vault he wanted, was told how to set the locks to his own satisfaction, and the sale was made. Chule hauled the vault back to his fortress and installed it. He set the locks with his own set of numbers and twists of the dial, and put the Irix inside along with the rest of his treasure.”

  Panamon laughed. “He even bragged on it afterward. How clever he was! How foolproof his protections! But I knew something he didn’t. Vault makers always put in a backup set of numbers and twists in their locks so that if something goes awry with the code entered by the owner, there is another way of getting inside. I went to the vault maker who had sold his product to Chule and convinced him to give me that information. He was willing enough once I handed over a substantial sum of money. He was never going to attempt anything against a man like Chule. What did he care what my intentions were?

  “So now I had the means to steal the Irix. What I didn’t have was a means of finding out where inside the fortress Chule had installed his vault and whether or not the Irix was inside it. Before going in, I had to know both. And I couldn’t very well ask Chule.”

  “That’s why you came to Shady Vale,” Shea said. “You knew I could find out by using the Elfstones.”

  “Well, that was part of it,” Panamon acknowledged. “The other part involved persuading you to go with me into the keep. Because I needed something to convince Chule my intentions were good. He’d always kept me at arm’s length before, and I needed to get much closer than that. So I told him I would bring him the only Elfstones in existence. Of course, I demanded a huge fortune for this, all of which is now safely tucked away in my gear.”

  He patted the blanket and bags strapped across the rear of his horse. “Right inside there.

  “I gave you up to Chule so he would think well enough of me to engage in a little celebration afterward. That allowed me to slip a sleeping potion into his drink. After that, it was simply a matter of relieving him of the Elfstones, leaving him asleep on the couches to ostensibly retire to my bedchamber, but instead going to his, finding and opening the safe the Elfstones had revealed earlier, and taking out the Irix.

  “Once that was accomplished, I came to find you and get you out of there. My initial plan was to leave things as they were until this morning so we could simply ride out together and leave him none the wiser until he decided to have a look inside his safe. But I didn’t like what he had to say earlier about letting you go. I think maybe he intended to make sure you never told anyone he had the Stones. And since I had put you in harm’s way, I thought it my obligation to take you out again.”

  “You should have told me what you were intending,” Shea said. “That was a terrible thing you did.”

  Panamon gave one of his maddening shrugs. “But it was done for the right reason—to recover the Irix and return it to Keltset’s people. Exactly what I told you I intended from the first.” He sighed deeply. “I’m sorry, Shea. And Flick, too. But I couldn’t tell you ahead of time; you might have inadvertently given the game away if you had known. Worse, you might have refused me right out of hand. It was a huge gamble, but I had to take it.”

  His familiar grin reappeared. “Life is a gamble, isn’t it?”

  “It’s certainly a gamble where you’re concerned,” Flick snapped.

  “He’ll come after you, won’t he?” Shea asked suddenly. “He’ll know you stole the Irix and took back the Elfstones, and he’ll hunt you down.”

  Panamon nodded. “He’ll try. But I’m not so easy to catch.”

  “That won’t stop him. You know it won’t.”

  “Maybe not. But I might have mentioned something to the Trolls about his illicit acquisition. They didn’t seem too happy about it. I think they will be watching for him to emerge from behind his walls into the open. When he does …”

  They were passing through the area where they had encountered the Harrgs two nights earlier, and the sun was just cresting the horizon, sending its muted light through the cloud banks and mist, when Panamon reined in his horse.

  “I leave you here to continue on to the Vale. Ride straight through the rest of today and for as much of tonight as you can manage. Keep close watch. I don’t think they will catch up to you, but you want to be careful anyway.”

  “Where will you go?” Flick asked. He almost sounded sorry about it.

  The thief pointed west. “I have a delivery to make, and the sooner it’s done, the better. Temptation is a terrible thing, and I would hate to give in to it here.”

  “If you do, we will come looking for you,” Shea declared. “And we will find you, too.”

  Panamon Creel laughed. “I don’t for a moment doubt it. Good-bye, Shea. Good-bye, Flick. I hope you will find a way to forgive me for what I did. I hope that what I am about to do will put paid to my debt to you both and persuade you my intentions were always the best.”

  Off he rode, galloping
swiftly away. They watched him until he was only a speck on the distant horizon.

  As he disappeared from view, Shea heaved a sigh. He had never really believed that Panamon had decided to abandon them. He had never been convinced—even though the evidence suggested otherwise and Flick kept insisting he was wrong—that his friend intended to leave them in the hands of Kestra Chule. This wasn’t the Panamon Creel he knew. In spite of his other faults, it wasn’t the sort of man he was.

  Looking back on it now, he had never been so happy to be proven right.

  * * *

  Flick, on the other hand, was thinking of Audrana Coos, thinking of the very last words she had spoken to him after noticing the turbulence in the waters of the scrye bowl and advising him of his brother’s fate. He will go on a quest, and you cannot stop him from doing so. Nor should you.

  Indeed. Shea had needed to go. He needed to help Panamon retrieve the Black Irix, and he needed to know it would be returned to Keltset’s people. Flick had doubted the woodswoman and he had doubted Panamon Creel, and he should have managed to muster the faith that had sustained his brother. What was it his brother had said when they were locked in that cell? That it was better to think well of people than ill.

  Next time they encountered Panamon, he promised himself, he would to do the same.

  It would be almost three years before that happened, and when it did Flick would find himself struggling to keep this promise.

  But that’s a story for another time.

  Can’t wait for the thrilling conclusion to The Dark Legacy of Shannara?

  Well, fear not; salvation will be at hand! Look for:


  Book Three of The Dark Legacy of Shannara

  Coming in summer 2013.

  Here is a glimpse of what is still to come:

  Railing Ohmsford stood alone at the bow of the Quickening and looked out at the starlit darkness. They were anchored for the night, the airship nestled in a copse of fir and hemlock, the sway of the ship in the soft breezes barely noticeable. It was well after midnight, and he should have been sleeping with the others. But sleep did not come easily these days, and when it did come it was haunted and left him racked with a deep sense of unease. Better to stay awake where he could try to do something to control his thoughts, as dark as they were. Better to face his demons standing up, prepared to fight them off and hold them at bay.

  He could not banish them, of course. He could not send them back to the empty places where they sometimes went to hide, although increasingly less so these days.

  Not that it mattered. He knew their faces. He knew their names.

  Fear: that he might not be able to find Grianne Ohmsford and bring her back to face the Straken Lord because she was dead. Or because she was alive but could not be persuaded to leave the sanctuary in which she had placed herself, unwilling to risk a confrontation of the sort he was proposing. Or simply because she was Grianne and she had never been predictable.

  Doubt: that he was doing the right thing in making this journey into the back of beyond because of a hope that had so little chance of succeeding. He should have been seeking his brother in the Forbidding, hunting for him there and bringing him out again in spite of the odds. Time was running out with every passing hour, and his brother was alone and had no one to help him and no way of knowing if help would ever come. Redden depended on him, and it must seem to his brother as if Railing had abandoned him.

  Shame: that he was deceiving his companions on this quest, that he was keeping information from them that might dissuade them from continuing. The King of the Silver River had warned him that nothing would happen as he imagined, that there would be results he had not foreseen. The Faerie creature had told him he should turn back and travel instead into the Forbidding—the one place he knew he could never enter, so great was his terror at the prospect.

  He felt himself to be a coward and a deceiver. He was consumed by his doubts and his shame, and it was growing increasingly harder not to reveal this to the others. He tried to keep it hidden, masked by his false words and acts, but it was eating at him. Destroying him.

  He was crying again, silently and all at once, tears leaking from his eyes and despair filling his heart.

  He left the vessel’s bow and walked back toward the stern, moving quietly, trying not to disturb the sleepers. Some were on deck, wrapped in blankets; some were below, rolled into hammocks. All slept save two of the Rover crew, who kept watch fore and aft. He saw the one at the stern and turned aside before he reached the man to take up a position near the starboard railing. Small creaks sounded as ropes and lines pulled taut and released again, and snores rose out of the shadows. He liked this quiet time, this confluence of shadows and sleep. Everything was at peace.

  He wished he could be as well.

  It had only been two days now since they had set out from the Rainbow Lake, even though it felt more like twenty. They had debated among themselves that morning, on waking, as to the best route for their journey. The Charnals were unknown country to all but Skint. Even Farshawn and his Rovers had not come this way before. Railing and Mirai had traveled the Borderlands while conveying spare parts and salvage to customers, but had not gone farther north.

  Railing favored coming up from the Rainbow Lake, following the corridor that snaked between the Wolfsktaag and the Dragon’s Teeth to the Upper Anar, and then continuing on through Jannisson Pass east of the Skull Kingdom and its dangers and straight along the western edge of the Charnals to the Northland city of Anatcherae—much the same route his grandfather Penderrin had taken while searching for the tanequil all those years ago. From Anatcherae, once resupplied, they could continue on to their destination.

  But Skint had thought differently.

  What they needed most, he declared, was a guide, someone who was familiar with the Charnals and could help them find the ruins of Stridegate, where it was said the tanequil might be found. There were few who could do that, and he was not one. In point of fact, he knew of only one man who could help them with this, one whose loyalty and knowledge they could depend upon. And even he would need persuading.

  His name was Challa Nand, and he made his home in the Eastland town of Rampling Steep. But finding him would require that the company fly Quickening east of the Charnals and through the Upper Anar. It would necessitate abandoning the western approach to Stridegate and finding one that came in from the east. Challa could show them, if they were able to persuade him to their cause.

  Railing knew he could rely on the ring given to him by the King of the Silver River to show them the way, but using it would mean either telling them about his meeting with the Faerie creature or lying about where he had gotten the ring. The ring could always be a backup if the need arose; the better choice was to keep it a secret for now.

  So he agreed to Skint’s proposal, and the others went along, all of them keenly aware that they were in unfamiliar territory and needed to reduce the risks they would encounter.

  Now here they were, on their way to Rampling Steep, anchored at the northern edge of Darklin Reach not far from where the Rabb River branched east into the Upper Anar. If he listened closely, Railing could hear the murmur of the river’s waters as they churned their way out of the mountains on their journey west to the plains and from there to the Mermidon. It was a distance of hundreds of miles, and it made him wonder if anyone had ever followed the river all the way from end to end. He supposed Gnome or Dwarf trappers and traders might have done so at some point, but he doubted that any had ever made a record of it.

  “What are you doing?”

  Mirai Leah was standing next to him. He hadn’t heard her come up, hadn’t realized she was there. He shrugged. “Can’t sleep.”

  “Standing out here isn’t going to help. You need to get some rest. Are you all right?”

  He gave her a quick glance. Her hair was rumpled, and she was yawning. “You look like the one who ought to be sleeping.”

  “I would
be if I weren’t worried about you. What’s bothering you, Railing?”

  He could have given her a whole raft of answers, starting with how he felt about her and what it would mean to him if he caused her harm. But all he said was, “Nothing. I just couldn’t sleep.”

  She draped an arm over his shoulders. Her touch made him shiver. “How long have we known each other?”

  “Seems like forever. Since we were pretty small, anyway. I still remember when your parents brought you for your first visit. They came to see Mother. I didn’t like you then. You were kind of bossy.”

  “Not much has changed. I’m still kind of bossy. So when I ask you what’s bothering you, it’s because I know something is. So what’s up?”

  He brushed his red hair back and faced her. “Leaving Redden is eating at me. I can’t stand it that I’m not going after him.”

  “Then why aren’t you?”

  “Because I think this is the better choice.”

  “Because you believe Grianne Ohmsford is alive and will come to Redden’s aid?” She studied him a moment. “We’ve already discussed this, and I don’t think that’s what’s troubling you at all. I think there’s something else, something you are keeping to yourself. Redden’s not here to confide in, so maybe you ought to try telling me.”

  Here was his opportunity. She had called him out on what she clearly recognized, and he could unburden himself by telling her about his meeting with the King of the Silver River. He could admit what he was doing, how he was manipulating them. But that was something he would never do. He didn’t want her judging him. He wanted her to love him unconditionally and fully. He always had.

  He fingered the ring, tucked deep in his pant pocket. “I need to go back to sleep. I’m sorry I woke you.” He started to walk away, and then he stopped and turned around. “I want you to know that I’m doing the best I can. If anything happens to Redden because of me, I don’t think I could stand it. I need you to believe that. I need you to support me and to …”

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