The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks


  Later that evening, Shea approached Balinor and asked him why Dayel had been allowed to come on such an expedition. The Prince of Callahorn smiled at the Valeman’s concern, thinking to himself that the difference in ages between the two was hardly noticeable to him. He told Shea that in a time when the homelands of so many people were threatened, no one stopped to question why another was there to aid them—it was merely accepted. Dayel had chosen to come because his King had asked it and because he would have felt less of a man in his own mind had he declined. Balinor explained that Hendel had been waging a constant battle with the Gnomes for years to protect his homeland. The responsibility was delegated to him because he was one of the most experienced and knowledgeable bordermen in the Eastland. He had a wife and family at home that he had seen once in the past eight weeks and could not expect to see again for many more. Everyone on the journey had a great deal to lose, he concluded, perhaps even more than Shea realized. Without explaining his final remark, the tall border-man moved off to speak with Allanon on other matters. Somewhat discontented by the abrupt finish to their conversation, Shea moved back to join Flick and the Elven brothers.

  “What kind of person is Eventine?” Flick was asking as Shea joined the group. “I’ve always heard that he is considered the greatest of the Elven kings, respected by everyone. What is he really like?”

  Durin smiled broadly and Dayel laughed merrily at the question, finding it somehow amusing and unexpected.

  “What can we say about our own cousin?”

  “He is a great King,” responded Durin seriously after a few moments. “Very young for a king, the other monarchs and leaders would say. But he has foresight, and most important of all, he gets things done before the time for doing them has passed. He holds the love and esteem of all the Elven people. They would follow him anywhere, do anything he asked, which is fortunate for all of us. The elders of our council would prefer to ignore the other lands, to try to remain isolated. Sheer foolishness, but they’re afraid of another war. Only Eventine stands against them and that policy. He knows that the only way to avoid the war they all fear is to strike first and cut off the head of the army which threatens. That is one reason why this mission is so important—to see that this invasion is checked before it has time to develop into a full-scale war.”

  Menion had sauntered over from the other side of the small campsite and seated himself with them just in time to hear the last comment.

  “What do you know of the Sword of Shannara?” he asked curiously.

  “Very little actually,” admitted Dayel, “although for us it’s a matter of history rather than legend. The Sword has always represented a promise to the Elven people that they need never again fear the creatures from the spirit world. It was always assumed that the threat was finished with the conclusion of the Second War of the Races, so no one really concerned himself with the fact that the entire House of Shannara died out over the years, except for a few such as Shea whom no one knew about. Eventine’s family, our family, became rulers almost a hundred years ago—the Elessedils. The Sword remained at Paranor, forgotten by nearly everyone until now.”

  “What is the power of the Sword?” persisted Menion, a little too eagerly to suit Flick, who shot Shea a warning glance.

  “I don’t know the answer to that question,” Dayel admitted and looked to Durin who shrugged in response and shook his head. “Only Allanon seems to know that.”

  They all looked momentarily toward the tall figure seated in earnest conversation with Balinor across the clearing. Then Durin turned to the others.

  “It is fortunate that we have Shea, a son of the House of Shannara. He will be able to unlock the secret of the Sword’s power once we have it in our possession, and with that power we can strike at the Dark Lord before he can create the war that would destroy us.”

  “If we get the Sword, you mean,” corrected Shea quickly. Durin acknowledged this comment with a short laugh of agreement and a reassuring nod.

  “There’s still something about all this that doesn’t set right,” Menion declared quietly, rising abruptly and moving off to find a place to sleep. Shea watched him go and found himself in agreement with the highlander, but was unable to see what they could hope to do about their dissatisfaction. Right now he felt that there was so little hope of their succeeding in their quest to regain the Sword that for the moment he would concentrate on simply completing the journey to Paranor. For now, he did not even want to think about what might happen after that.

  The company was awake and back on the winding path with the breaking of the dawn, led by a watchful Hendel. The Dwarf moved them along at a rapid pace through the mass of great trees and heavy foliage that had grown increasingly dense as they penetrated deeper into the Anar. The trail was beginning to slope upward, an indication that they were approaching the mountains that ran the length of the central Anar. At some point farther north they would be forced to cross these broad peaks in order to reach the plains to the west that lay between them and the halls of Paranor. Tension began to mount as they moved more deeply into the domain of the Gnome people. They began to experience the unpleasant sensation that someone was constantly watching them, hidden in the denseness of the forest, waiting for the right moment to strike. Only Hendel seemed unconcerned as he led them, his own fears apparently eased by his familiarity with the terrain. No one spoke as they marched, all eyes searching the silent forest about them.

  About midday, the path turned sharply upward and the company began to climb. The trees now grew farther apart and the scrub foliage was less congested. The sky became clearly visible through the trees, a deep blue unbroken by even the faintest trace of a cloud wisp. The sun was warm and bright, shining bravely through the scattered trees to light the whole of the forest. Rocks began to appear in small clusters and they could see the land ahead rise in tall peaks and jutting ridges that signaled the beginning of the southern sector of the mountains in the central Anar. The air became steadily cooler as they climbed and breathing became more difficult. After several hours, the company reached the edge of a very dense forest of dead pines, clustered so closely that it was impossible to see for more than twenty or thirty feet ahead at any one place. On both sides of their path, tall, slab-rock cliffs rose hundreds of feet into the air and peaked against the blueness of the afternoon sky. The forest stretched several hundred yards in either direction, ending at the cliff walls. At the edge of the pines, Hendel called a brief halt and spoke for several minutes with Menion, pointing to the forest and then the cliffs, apparently questioning something. Allanon joined them, then motioned the remainder of the company to gather around in a close circle.

  “The mountains we are about to cross into are the Wolfsktaag, a no-man’s-land for both Dwarf and Gnome,” Hendel explained quietly. “We chose this way because there was less chance of meeting up with a Gnome hunting patrol, something that would certainly result in a pitched battle. The Wolfsktaag Mountains are said to be inhabited by creatures from another world—a good joke, isn’t it?”

  “Get to the point,” Allanon broke in.

  “The point is,” Hendel continued, seemingly oblivious of the dark historian, “we were spotted about fifteen minutes back by one or possibly two Gnome scouts. There may be more around, we can’t be certain—the highlander says he saw signs of a large party. In any event, the scouts will report us and bring back help in a hurry, so we’ll have to move fast.”

  “Worse than that!” declared Menion quickly. “Those signs said there are Gnomes ahead of us somewhere—through those trees or in them.”

  “Maybe so, maybe not, highlander,” Hendel cut back in sharply. “These trees run like this for almost a mile and the cliffs continue on both sides, but narrow sharply beyond the forest to form the Pass of Noose, the entrance to the Wolfsktaag. That is the way we have to go. To try any other route would cost us two more days, and we would be risking an almost certain run-in with Gnomes.”

  “Enough debate,” All
anon said fiercely. “Let’s move out quickly. Once we reach the other side of the pass, we’ll be in the mountains. The Gnomes will not follow us there.”

  “Encouraging, I’m sure,” muttered Flick under his breath.

  The company moved into the thickly clustered trees of the pine forest, following one another in single file, weaving among the rough, disjointed trunks. Dead needles lay in heaps over the whole of the earthen forest floor, creating a soft matting on which the passing of feet made no sound. The white-bark trees rose tall and lean, touching near their skeletal tops like some intricate spider-web, lacing the blueness of the clear sky in fascinating designs. The party wound steadily forward through the maze of trunks and limbs behind Hendel, who chose their route quickly and without hesitation. They had not gone more than several hundred yards when Durin brought them up sharply and motioned for silence, looking questioningly about, apparently searching the air for something.

  “Smoke!” he exclaimed suddenly. “They’ve set fire to the forest!”

  “I don’t smell any smoke,” declared Menion, sniffing the air tentatively.

  “You don’t have the sharpened senses of an Elf either,” Allanon stated flatly. He turned to Durin. “Can you tell where they’ve fired it?”

  “I smell smoke, too,” declared Shea absently, amazed that his own senses were as sharp as those of the Elves.

  Durin cast about for a minute, trying to catch the scent of smoke from one particular direction.

  “Can’t tell, but it appears that they’ve fired it in more than one place. If they have, the forest will go up in a matter of minutes!”

  Allanon hesitated for one brief second, then motioned for them to continue toward the Pass of Noose. The pace picked up considerably as they hastened to reach the other side of the firetrap in which they were encased. A blaze in those dry woods would quickly cut off any chance of escape once it spread through the treetops. The long strides of Allanon and the borderman forced Shea and Flick to run to keep from falling behind. Allanon shouted something to Balinor at one point in the race, and the broad figure dropped back into the trees and was lost from sight. Ahead of them, Menion and Hendel had disappeared, and there were only fleeting glimpses of the Elven brothers dashing smoothly between the leaning pines. Only Allanon stayed clearly in view, a few paces behind, calling to them to run faster. Thick clouds of heavy white smoke were beginning to seep between the closely bunched trunks like a heavy fog, obscuring the path ahead and making it steadily more difficult to breathe. There was still no sign of the actual fire. It had not yet grown strong enough to spread through the intertwining boughs and cut them off. The smoke was everywhere in a matter of minutes, and both Shea and Flick coughed heavily with every breath, their eyes beginning to sting from the heat and irritation. Suddenly Allanon called to them to halt. Reluctantly they stopped and waited for the order to continue, but Allanon appeared to be looking back for something, his lean, dark face strangely ashen in the thick white smoke. Soon the broad figure of Balinor reappeared from the forest behind them, wrapped tightly in the long hunting cloak.

  “You were right, they’re behind us,” he informed the historian, gasping out the words as he fought for breath. “They’ve fired the forest all along our backs. It looks like a trap to drive us into the Pass of Noose.”

  “Stay with them,” Allanon ordered quickly, pointing to the frightened Valemen. “I’ve got to catch the others before they reach the pass!”

  With incredible speed for a man so big, the tall leader leaped away and dashed into the trees ahead, disappearing almost immediately. Balinor motioned for the Valemen to follow him, and they proceeded at a rapid pace in the same direction, fighting to see and to breathe in the choking smoke. Then, with frightening suddenness, they heard the sharp crackle of burning wood and the smoke began to billow past them in huge, blinding clouds of white heat. The fire was overtaking them. In a few minutes it would reach them and they would be burned alive! Coughing furiously, the three crashed heedlessly through the pines, desperate to escape the inferno in which they had been caught. Shea shot a quick glance skyward, and to his horror saw the flames leaping madly from the tops of the tall pines above and beyond them, burning their glowing way steadily down the long trunks.

  Then abruptly, the impenetrable stone wall of the cliffs appeared through the smoke and the trees, and Balinor motioned them in that direction. Minutes later, as they groped their way along the cliff face, they saw the remainder of the company crouched in a clearing beyond the fringe of the burning trees. Ahead lay an open trail that wound upward into the rocks between the cliffs and disappeared into the Pass of Noose. The three quickly joined the others as the entire forest was enveloped in flames.

  “They’re trying to force us to choose between roasting in that pine forest or trying to get through the pass,” shouted Allanon over the crackle of burning wood, looking anxiously toward the trail ahead. “They know we have only two ways to go, but they’re facing the same choice and that’s where they lose the advantage. Durin, go on ahead into the pass a little way and see if the Gnomes have set an ambush.”

  The Elf darted away without a sound, crouching low and keeping close to the cliff wall. They watched him until he had disappeared farther up the trail into the rocks. Shea huddled with the others, wishing that there was something he could do to help.

  “The Gnomes are not fools.” Allanon’s voice cut into his thoughts abruptly. “Those in the pass know that they are cut off from those who fired the forest unless they can get by us first. They wouldn’t risk having to retreat back through the Wolfsktaag Mountains for any reason. Either there is a large force of Gnomes in the pass ahead, which Durin should be able to tell us, or they’ve got something else in mind.”

  “Whatever it is, they’ll probably try it in the section called the Knot,” Hendel informed them. “At that point the trail narrows so that only one man at a time can get through the path formed by the converging cliff sides.” He paused and appeared to be considering something further.

  “I don’t understand how they plan to stop us,” Balinor cut in quickly. “These cliffs are almost vertical—no one could scale them without a long and hazardous climb. The Gnomes haven’t had time to get up there since they spotted us!”

  Allanon nodded thoughtfully, obviously in agreement with the borderman and unable to see what the Gnomes had in store for them. Menion Leah spoke quietly to Balinor, then abruptly left the group and moved ahead to the entrance of the pass where the cliff walls began to narrow sharply, scanning the ground intently. The heat of the burning woods had become so intense that they were forced to move farther into the mouth of the pass. Everything was still obscured by the clouds of white smoke which rolled out of the dying woods like a wall and dispersed sluggishly into the air. Long moments passed while the six awaited the return of Menion and Durin. They could still see the lean highlander studying the ground at the entrance to the pass, his tall form shadowy in the smoke-filled air. Finally, he stood up and moved back to them, joined almost immediately by the returning Elf.

  “There were footprints, but no other sign of life in the pass ahead,” Durin reported. “Everything is apparently undisturbed up to the narrowest point. I didn’t go beyond.”

  “There is something else,” Menion cut in quickly. “At the entrance to the pass, I found two clear sets of footprints leading in and two sets out—Gnome feet.”

  “They must have slipped in ahead of us and then out again by staying close to the cliff walls while we blundered up the middle,” Balinor said angrily. “But if they were in there ahead of us, what…?”

  “We won’t find out by sitting here and discussing it!” Allanon concluded in disgust. “We would only be guessing. Hendel, take the lead with the highlander and watch yourself. The rest stay in formation as before.”

  The stocky Dwarf moved out with Menion at his side, their sharp eyes keyed in on every boulder that lined the winding path as it narrowed into the Pass of Noose. The others
followed several paces back, casting apprehensive glances at the rugged terrain surrounding them. Shea risked one quick look behind him and noticed that, while Allanon was close on his heels, Balinor was nowhere in sight. Apparently, Allanon had again left the borderman to act as a rear guard at the edge of the burning pine forest, to watch for the inevitable approach of the Gnome hunters lurking somewhere beyond. Shea knew instinctively that they were caught in a trap carefully arranged for them by the furtive Gnomes, and all that remained was to discover what form it would take.

 
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