The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks


  Shea smiled broadly and placed a hand on the other’s shoulder, thinking to himself that this was exactly what he had predicted Flick would say. It was a small gesture perhaps, but one that meant more to him than any other could have. He was aware of the sudden approach of Menion from the other side and turned to face the highlander.

  “I suppose you think me some sort of fool after what happened in there tonight,” Menion stated abruptly. “But this fool stands along with old Flick. Whatever happens, we’ll face it together, be it mortal or spirit.”

  “You caused that scene in there to get Shea to agree to go, didn’t you?” an irate Flick demanded. “That’s the lowest trick I have ever witnessed!”

  “Never mind, Flick,” Shea cut him short. “Menion knew what he was doing, and he did the right thing. I would have decided to go anyway—at least I’d like to believe I would. Now we’ve got to forget the past, forget our differences, and stand together for our own preservation.”

  “As long as I stand where I can see him,” retorted his brother bitterly.

  The door to the conference room opened suddenly and the broad figure of Balinor was silhouetted in the torchlight from within. He surveyed the three men standing just beyond him in the darkness, then closed the door and walked over to them, smiling slightly as he approached.

  “I’m glad you decided to come with us, all of you,” he stated simply. “I must add, Shea, that without you, the trip would have been pointless. Without the heir of Jerle Shannara, the Sword is only so much metal.”

  “What can you tell us about this magic weapon?” Menion asked quickly.

  “I’ll leave that to Allanon,” replied Balinor. “He plans to speak with you here in just a few minutes.”

  Menion nodded, inwardly disturbed at the prospect of encountering the tall man again that evening, but curious to hear more about the power of the Sword. Shea and Flick exchanged quick glances. At last they would learn the full story behind what was happening in the Northland.

  “Why are you here, Balinor?” Flick asked cautiously, not wishing to pry into the borderman’s personal affairs.

  “It’s a rather long story—you would not be interested,” replied the other almost sharply, immediately causing Flick to believe he had overstepped his bounds. Balinor saw his chagrined look, and smiled reassuringly. “My family and I have not been on very good terms lately. My younger brother and I had a… disagreement, and I wanted to leave the city for a while. Allanon asked me to accompany him to the Anar. Hendel and others were old friends, so I agreed.”

  “Sounds like a familiar tale,” commented Menion dryly. “I’ve had some problems like that myself from time to time.”

  Balinor nodded and managed a half smile, but Shea could tell from his eyes that he did not consider this a laughing matter. Whatever had caused him to leave Callahorn was more serious than anything Menion had ever encountered in Leah. Shea quickly changed the subject.

  “What can you tell us about Allanon? We seem to be placing an unusual amount of trust in him, and we still know absolutely nothing about the man. Who is he?”

  Balinor arched his eyebrows and smiled, amused by the question and at the same time uncertain as to how it should be answered. He walked away from them a little, thinking to himself, and then turned back abruptly and motioned vaguely toward the assembly hall.

  “I really don’t know much about Allanon myself,” he admitted frankly. “He travels a great deal, exploring the country, recording in his notes the changes and growth of the land and its people. He’s well known in all the nations—I think he has been everywhere. The extent of his knowledge of this world is extraordinary—most of it isn’t in any book. He is very remarkable….”

  “But who is he?” Shea persisted eagerly, feeling that he must learn the true origin of the historian.

  “I can’t say for certain, because he has never confided completely even in me, and I am almost like a son to him,” Balinor stated very quietly, so softly in fact that they all moved a bit closer to be certain they missed nothing of what was to follow. “The elders of the Dwarfs and of my own kingdom say that he is the greatest of the Druids, that almost forgotten Council that governed men over a thousand years ago. They say that he is a direct descendant of the Druid Bremen—perhaps even of Galaphile himself. I think there is more than a little truth in that statement, because he went to Paranor often and stayed for long periods, recording his findings in the great record books stored there.”

  He paused for a moment and his three listeners glanced at one another, wondering if the grim historian could actually be a direct descendant of the Druids, thinking in awe of the centuries of history behind the man. Shea had suspected before that Allanon was one of the ancient philosopher-teachers known as Druids, and it seemed apparent that the man possessed a greater knowledge of the races and the origins of the threat facing them than did anyone else. He turned back to Balinor, who was speaking again.

  “I can’t explain it, but I don’t believe we could be in better company for any peril, even were we to come face-to-face with the Warlock Lord himself. Though I haven’t one shred of concrete evidence nor even an example to cite you, I’m certain that Allanon’s power is beyond anything we have ever seen. He would be a very, very dangerous enemy.”

  “Of that, I haven’t the slightest doubt,” Flick muttered dryly.

  Only minutes later, the door of the conference room opened and Allanon stepped quietly into view. In the half-light of the moon, he was huge and forbidding, almost a replica of the dreaded Skull Bearers they feared so much, the dark cape billowing slightly as he moved toward them, his lean face hidden in the depths of the long cowl about his head. They were silent as he approached, wondering what he would tell them, what it would mean for them in the days ahead. Perhaps he knew their thoughts instinctively as he walked up to them, but their eyes could not pierce the mask of inscrutability that cloaked his grim features and sheltered the man buried within. They could only see the sudden glint of his eyes as he stopped before them and looked slowly from one face to the next. A deep silence settled ominously over the little group.

  “The time has come for you to learn the full story behind the Sword of Shannara, to learn the history of the races as only I know it to be.” His voice reached out and drew them commandingly to him. “It is essential that Shea should understand, and since the rest of you share the risks involved, you should also know the truth. What you will learn tonight must be kept in confidence until I tell you it no longer matters. This will be hard, but you must do it.”

  He motioned for them to follow him and moved away from the clearing, drawing them deeper into the darkness of the trees beyond. When they were several hundred feet into the forest, he turned into a small, almost hidden clearing. He seated himself on the worn stub of an ancient trunk and motioned the others to find a place. They did so quickly and waited in silence as the famous historian gathered his thoughts and prepared to speak.

  “A very long time ago,” he began finally, still considering his explanation as he spoke, “before the Great Wars, before the existence of the races as we know them today, the land was—or was thought to be—populated only by Man. Civilization had developed even before then for many thousands of years—years of hard toil and learning that brought Man to a point where he was on the verge of mastering the secrets of life itself. It was a fabulous, exciting time to live in, so expansive that much of it would be totally beyond your comprehension were I empowered to draw you the most perfect picture. But while Man worked all those years to discover the secrets of life, he never managed to escape his overpowering fascination for death. It was a constant alternative, even in the most civilized of the nations. Strangely enough, the catalyst of each new discovery was the same endless pursuit—the study of science. Not the science the races know today—not the study of animal life, plant life, the earth, and the simple arts. This was a science of machines and power, one that divided itself into infinite fields of exploration, a
ll of which worked toward the same two ends—discovering better ways to live or quicker ways to kill.”

  He paused and laughed grimly to himself, cocking his head in the direction of the attentive Balinor.

  “Very strange indeed, when you think about it—that Man should spend so much time working toward two such obviously different goals. Even now nothing has changed—even after all these years….”

  His voice trailed off for a moment and Shea risked a brief look at the others, but their eyes were fixed on the speaker.

  “Sciences of physical power!” Allanon’s sudden exclamation brought Shea’s head around with a snap. “These were the means to all the ends of that era. Two thousand years ago the achievements of the human race were unparalleled in earth’s history. Man’s age-old enemy, Death, could now claim only those who had lived out their natural lifetime. Sickness was virtually eliminated and, given a bit more time, Man would even have found a way to prolong life. Some philosophers claimed that the secrets of life were forbidden to mortals. No one had ever proved otherwise. They might have done so, but their time ran out and the same elements of power that had made life free from sickness and infirmity nearly destroyed it altogether. The Great Wars began, building gradually from smaller disputes between a few peoples and spreading steadily, despite the realization of what was happening—spreading from little matters into basic hatreds: race, nationality, boundaries, creeds … in the end, everything. Then suddenly, so suddenly that few knew what happened, the entire world was enveloped in a series of retaliatory attacks by the different countries, all very scientifically planned and executed. In a matter of minutes, the science of thousands of years, the learning of centuries, culminated in an almost total destruction of life.

  “The Great Wars.” The deep voice was grim, the glint of the dark eyes watching carefully the faces of his listeners. “Very apt name. The power expended in those few minutes of battle not only succeeded in wiping out those thousands of years of human growth, but it also began a series of explosions and upheavals that completely altered the surface of the land. The initial force did most of the damage, killing every living thing over ninety percent of the face of the earth, but the aftereffects carried on the alteration and extinction, breaking the continents apart, drying up oceans, making lands and seas uninhabitable for several hundred years. It should have been the end of all life, perhaps the end of the world itself. Only a miracle prevented that end.”

  “I can’t believe it.” The words slipped out before Shea could catch himself, and Allanon looked toward him, the familiar mocking smile spreading over his lips.

  “That’s your history of civilized man, Shea,” he murmured darkly. “But what happened thereafter concerns us more directly. Remnants of the race of Man managed to survive during the terrible period following the holocaust, living in isolated sectors of the globe, fighting the elements for survival. This was the beginning of the development of the races as they are today—Men, Dwarfs, Gnomes, Trolls, and some say the Elves—but they were always there and that’s another story for another time.”

  Allanon had made exactly the same comment concerning the Elven people to the Ohmsford brothers in Shady Vale. Shea wanted badly to stop the narration at that point to ask about the race of Elves and about his own origin. But he knew better than to irritate the tall historian by breaking in as he had several times during their first meeting.

  “A few men remembered the secrets of the sciences that had shaped their way of life prior to the destruction of the old world. Only a few remembered. Most were little more than primitive creatures, and the few could recollect only bits and pieces of knowledge. But they had kept their books of learning intact and these could tell them most of the secrets of the old sciences. They kept them hidden and secure during that first several hundred years, unable to put the words to practical use, waiting for the time when they might. They read their precious texts instead and then, as the books themselves began to crumble with age and there was no way to preserve them or copy them, those few men who possessed the books began to memorize the information. The years passed and the knowledge was passed down carefully from father to son, each generation keeping the knowledge safely within the family, guarding it from those who didn’t use it wisely, who might create a world in which the Great Wars could happen a second time. In the end, even after it once again became possible to record the information in those irreplaceable books, the men who had memorized them declined to do so. They were still afraid of the consequences, afraid of one another and even themselves. So they decided, individually for the most part, to wait for the right time to offer their knowledge to the growing new races.

  “The years passed in this way as the new races slowly began to develop beyond the stage of primitive life. They began to unify into communities, trying to build a new life out of the dust of the old—but as you have already been told, they did not prove equal to the task. They quarreled violently over land, petty disputes which soon turned to armed conflict between the races. It was then, when the sons of those who had first kept the secrets of the old life, the old sciences, saw that matters were steadily regressing toward the very thing that had destroyed the old world, that they decided to act. The man called Galaphile saw what was happening and realized that if nothing were done, the races would surely be at war. So he called together a select group of men, all he could find who possessed any knowledge of the old books, to a council at Paranor.”

  “So that was the first Druid Council,” murmured Menion Leah in wonder. “A council of all the knowledgeable men of that era, pooling their learning to save the races.”

  “A very praiseworthy effort at explaining a desperate attempt to prevent extermination of life,” laughed Allanon shortly. “The Druid Council was formed with the best intentions on the part of most, perhaps all at first. They exerted a tremendous influence over the races because they were capable of offering so much to make life considerably better for everyone. They operated strictly as a group, each man contributing his knowledge for the benefit of all. Although they succeeded in preventing an outbreak of total war, and kept peace between the races at first, they encountered unexpected problems. The knowledge that each possessed had become unavoidably altered in small ways in the telling from generation to generation, so that many of the key understandings were different than they had been.

  “Complicating the situation was an understandable inability to coordinate the different materials, the knowledge of the different sciences. For many of the council members, the learning passed down to them by their ancestors lacked meaning in practical terms and much of it appeared to be so many jumbled words. So while the Druids, as they called themselves after an ancient group who sought understanding, were able to aid the races in many ways, they found themselves unable to piece together enough out of the texts they had memorized to master readily any of the important concepts of the great sciences, the concepts they felt certain would help the country to grow and prosper.”

  “Then the Druids wanted the old world rebuilt on their terms,” spoke up Shea quickly. “They wanted to prevent the wars that had destroyed them the first time, yet re-create the benefits of all the old sciences.”

  Flick shook his head in bewilderment, unable to see what all this had to do with the Warlock Lord and the Sword.

  “Correct,” Allanon noted. “But the Druid Council, for all its vast knowledge and good intentions, overlooked a basic concept of human existence. Whenever an intelligent creature possesses an innate desire to improve its conditions, to unlock the secrets of progress, it will find the means to do so—if not by one method, then by another. The Druids secluded themselves at Paranor, away from the races of the land, while they worked alone or in small groups to master the secrets of the old sciences. Most relied on the material at hand, the knowledge of individual members related to that of the entire Council to try to rebuild and reconstruct the old means of harnessing power. But some were not content with this approach. A few felt th
at, instead of trying to understand the words and thoughts of the ancient recollections better, such knowledge as could be immediately grasped should be acted upon and developed in connection with new ideas, new rationalizations.

  “So it was that a few members of the council, acting under the leadership of one called Brona, began to delve into the ancient mysteries without waiting for a full understanding of the old sciences. They had phenomenal minds, genius in a few instances, and they were eager to succeed, impatient to master the power that would be so useful to the races. But by a strange quirk of fate, their discoveries and their developments led them further and further from the studies of the Council. The old sciences were puzzles without answers for them, and so they deviated into other fields of thought, slowly and relentlessly intertwining themselves in a realm of study that none had ever mastered and none called science. What they began to unveil was the infinite power of the mystic—sorcery! They mastered a few of the secrets of the mystic before they were discovered by the Council and commanded to abandon their work. There was a violent disagreement and the followers of Brona left the Council in anger, determined to continue their own approach. They disappeared and were not seen again.”

  He paused for a moment, considering his explanation. His listeners waited impatiently.

  “We know now what happened in the years that followed. During his prolonged studies, Brona uncovered the deepest secrets of sorcery and mastered them. But in the process he lost his own identity, eventually even his own soul to the powers he had sought so eagerly. Forgotten were the old sciences and their purpose in the world of man. Forgotten was the Druid Council and its goal of a better world. Forgotten was everything but the driving urge to learn more of the mystic arts, the secrets of the mind’s power to reach into other worlds. Brona was obsessed with the need to extend his power—to dominate men and the world they inhabited through mastery of this terrible force. The result of this ambition was the infamous First War of the Races, when he gained domination over the weak and confused minds of the race of Man, causing that hapless people to make war on the other races, subjecting them to the will of the man who was no longer a man, who was no longer even the master of himself.”

 
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