The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

  Yet nowhere could he remember an encounter with Allanon. It was as if the event had never really occurred. Perhaps it never had. He shifted around in the chair and gazed absently into the fire. There was something about the grim wanderer that frightened him. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he could not shake off the feeling that the man could somehow read his thoughts, could see right through him whenever he chose to do so. It seemed ridiculous, but the thought had lingered with the Valeman since the meeting in the lobby of the inn. Flick had remarked on it too. And he had gone further than that, whispering in the darkness of their sleeping room to his brother, fearful that he might in some way be overheard, that he felt Allanon was dangerous.

  Shea stretched himself and sighed deeply. Already it was becoming light outside. He rose to add some more wood to the fire, and heard the sound of his father’s voice in the hallway, grumbling loudly about matters in general. Sighing in resignation, Shea put aside his thoughts and hastened to the kitchen to help with the morning preparations.

  It was almost noon before Shea saw any sign of Allanon, who had evidently kept to his room for the duration of the morning. He appeared quite suddenly from around one corner of the inn as Shea relaxed beneath a huge shade tree at the rear of the building, absently munching on a quick luncheon he had prepared for himself. His father was occupied within, and Flick was off somewhere on an errand. The dark stranger of the previous night seemed no less forbidding in the noon sun, still a shadowed figure of tremendous height, though he appeared to have changed his cloak from black to a light gray. The lean face was slightly bowed to the path before him as he walked toward Shea and seated himself on the grass next to the Valeman, gazing absently at the hilltops to the east which appeared above the trees of the hamlet. Both men were silent for several long minutes, until at last Shea could stand it no longer.

  “Why did you come to the vale, Allanon? Why were you looking for me?”

  The dark face turned toward him and a slight smile played across the lean features.

  “A question, my young friend, that cannot be as easily answered as you would like. Perhaps the best way in which to answer you is first to question you. Have you read anything of the history of the Northland?”

  He paused.

  “Do you know of the Skull Kingdom?”

  Shea stiffened at the mention of the name—a name that was synonymous with all the terrible things in life, real and imagined, a name used to frighten little children who had been bad or to send shivers down the spines of grown men when stories were told before the dying coals of a late-evening fire. It was a name that hinted of ghosts and goblins, of the sly forest Gnomes of the east and the great Rock Trolls of the far north. Shea looked at the grim visage before him and nodded slowly. Again Allanon paused before continuing.

  “I am a historian, Shea, among other things—perhaps the most widely traveled historian alive today, since few besides myself have entered the Northland in over five hundred years. I know much about the race of Man that none now suspect. The past has become a blurred memory, and just as well perhaps; for the history of Man has not been particularly glorious in the last two thousand years. Men today have forgotten the past; they know little of the present and less of the future. The race of Man lives almost solely in the confines of the Southland. It knows nothing at all of the Northland and its peoples, and little of the Eastland and Westland. A pity that Men have developed into such a shortsighted people, for once they were the most visionary of the races. But now they are quite content to live apart from the other races, isolated from the problems of the rest of the world. They remain content, mind you, because those problems have not as yet touched them and because a fear of the past has persuaded them not to look too closely at the future.”

  Shea felt slightly irritated by these sweeping accusations, and his reply was sharp.

  “You make it sound like a terrible thing to want to be left alone. I know enough history—no, I know enough life—to realize that Man’s only hope for survival is to remain apart from the races, to rebuild everything he has lost over the last two thousand years. Then perhaps he will be smart enough not to lose it a second time. He almost destroyed himself entirely in the Great Wars by his persistent intervention in the affairs of others and his ill-conceived rejection of an isolation policy.”

  Allanon’s dark face turned hard.

  “I am well aware of the catastrophic consequences brought about by those wars—the products of power and greed that the race of Man brought down on its own head through a combination of carelessness and remarkable shortsightedness. That was long ago—and what has changed? You think that Man can start again, do you, Shea? Well, you might be quite surprised to learn that some things never change, and the dangers of power are always present, even to a race that almost completely obliterated itself. The Great Wars of the past may be gone—the wars of the races, of politics and nationalism, and the final ones of sheer energy, of ultimate power. But we face new dangers today, and these are more of a threat to the existence of the races than were any of the old! If you think Man is free to build a new life while the rest of the world drifts by, then you do not know anything of history!”

  He paused suddenly, his grim features lined with anger. Shea stared back defiantly, though within he felt small and frightened.

  “Enough of this,” Allanon began again, his face softening as one strong hand reached up to grip Shea’s shoulder in friendship. “The past is behind us, and it is with the future that we must concern ourselves. Let me refresh your memory for a moment on the history of the Northland and the legend of the Skull Kingdom. As you know, I’m sure, the Great Wars brought an end to an age where Man alone was the dominant race. Man was almost completely destroyed and even the geography he had known was completely altered, completely restructured. Countries, nations, and governments all ceased to exist as the last members of the human race fled south to survive. It was nearly a thousand years before Man had once again raised himself above the standard of the animals he hunted for food and established a progressive civilization. It was primitive, to be sure, but there was order and a semblance of government. Then Man began to discover there were other races besides himself inhabiting the world—creatures who had survived the Great Wars and developed their own races. In the mountains were the huge Trolls, powerful and ferocious, but quite content with what they had. In the hills and forests were the small and cunning creatures we now call Gnomes. Many a battle was fought between Men and Gnomes for the rights to land during the years following the Great Wars, and the battles hurt both races. But they fought to survive, and reason has no place in the mind of a creature fighting for its life.

  “Man also discovered that there was another race—a race of men who had fled beneath the earth to survive the effects of the Great Wars. Years of living in the huge caverns beneath the earth’s crust away from the sunlight altered their appearance. They became short and stocky, powerful in the arms and chest, with strong, thick legs for climbing and scrambling underground. Their sight in the dark became superior to that of other creatures, yet in the sunlight they could see little. They lived beneath the earth for many hundreds of years, until at last they began to emerge to live again on the face of the land. Their eyes were very bad at first, and they made their homes in the darkest forests of the Eastland. They developed their own language, though they later reverted to the language of Man. When Man first discovered remnants of this lost race, they called them Dwarfs, after a fictional race of the old days.”

  His voice trailed off and he remained silent for a few minutes staring out at the tips of the hills showing brilliant green in the sunlight. Shea considered the historian’s comments. He had never seen a Troll, and only one or two Gnomes and Dwarfs, and those he did not remember very well.

  “What about the Elves?” he asked finally.

  Allanon looked back thoughtfully and bowed his head a little more.

  “Ah, yes, I had not forgotten. A remarkable race of crea
tures, the Elves. Perhaps the greatest people of all, though no one has ever fully realized it. But the tale of the Elven people must wait for another time; suffice to say that they were always there in the great forests of the Westland, though the other races seldom encountered them at this stage of history.

  “Now we shall see how much you know of the history of the Northland, my young friend. Today, it is a land inhabited by almost no one other than the Trolls, a barren and forbidding country where few people of any race care to travel, let alone settle. The Trolls, of course, are bred to survive there. Today, Men live in the warmth and comfort of the Southland’s mild climate and green lands. They have forgotten that once the Northland, too, was settled by creatures of all the races, not only the Trolls in the mountain regions, but Men, Dwarfs, and Gnomes in the lowlands and forests. This was in the years when all the races were just beginning to rebuild a new civilization with new ideas, new laws, and many new cultures. It was a very promising future, but Men today have forgotten that those times ever existed—forgotten that they are more than a beaten race trying to live apart from those who defeated them and crippled their pride. There was no division of countries then. It was an earth reborn, where each race was being given a second chance at building a world. Of course, they did not realize the significance of the opportunity. They were too concerned with holding what they considered theirs and building their own private little worlds. Each race was certain that it was destined to be the dominant power in the years ahead—gathered together like a pack of angry rats guarding a stale, sorry piece of cheese. And Man, oh, yes, in all his glory, was groveling and snapping at the chance just like the others. Did you know that, Shea?”

  The Valeman shook his head slowly, unable to believe that what he was hearing could be the truth. He had been told that Man had been a persecuted people ever since the Great Wars, fighting to keep alive his dignity and honor, to protect the little land that was his in the face of complete savagery on the part of the other races. Man had never been the oppressor in these battles; always he was the oppressed. Allanon smiled grimly, his lips curling with mocking satisfaction as he saw the effect of his words.

  “You didn’t realize that it was this way, I see. No matter—it will be the least of the surprises I have in store for you. Man has never been the great people he has fancied himself. In those days Men fought like the rest, although I will concede that perhaps they had a higher sense of honor and a clearer purpose to rebuild than some of the others, and they were slightly more civilized.” He twisted the word meaningfully as he spoke it, lacing it with undisguised sarcasm. “But all this commentary has little to do with the main point of our discussion, which I hope to make clear to you shortly.

  “It was about this same time, when the races had discovered one another and were fighting for dominance, that the Druid Council first opened the halls of Paranor in the lower Northland. History is rather vague about the origins and purposes of the Druids, though it is believed they were a group of highly knowledgeable men from all the races, skilled in many of the lost arts of the old world. They were philosophers and visionaries, students of the arts and science all at once, but more than this, they were the teachers of the races. They were the givers of power—the power of new knowledge in the ways of life. They were led by a man named Galaphile, a historian and philosopher like myself, who called the greatest men of the land together to form a council to establish peace and order. He relied on their learning to hold sway over the races, their ability to give knowledge to gain the people’s confidence.

  “The Druids were a very powerful force during those years and the plan of Galaphile seemed to be working as anticipated. But as time passed, it became apparent that some of the members of the Council had powers far surpassing those of the others, powers that had lain dormant and gathered strength in a few phenomenal, genius minds. It would be difficult to describe those powers to you without taking quite some time—more time than we have available to us. What is important for our purposes is to recognize that some among the Council who possessed the very greatest minds became convinced that they were destined to shape the future of the races. In the end, they broke from the Council to form their own group and for some time disappeared and were forgotten.

  “About one hundred and fifty years later, there occurred a terrible civil war within the race of Man, which eventually widened into the First War of the Races, as the historians named it. Its cause was uncertain even then, and has now almost been forgotten. In simple terms, a small sector of the race of Man revolted against the teachings of the Council and formed a very powerful and highly trained army. The proclaimed purpose of the uprising was the subjugation of the rest of Man under a central rule for the betterment of the race and the furthering of its pride as a people. Eventually, almost all segments of the race rallied to the new cause and war was begun upon the other races, ostensibly to accomplish this new goal. The central figure behind the war was a man called Brona—an archaic Gnome term for ‘Master.’ It was said that he was the leader of the Druids of the first Council who had broken away and disappeared into the Northland. No reliable source ever reported seeing him or talking with him, and in the end it was concluded that Brona was merely a name, a fictitious character. The revolt, if you care to call it such, was finally crushed by the combined power of the Druids and the other allied races. Did you know of this, Shea?”

  The Valeman nodded and smiled slightly.

  “I have heard of the Druid Council, of its purposes and work—all ancient history since the Council died out long ago. I have heard of the First War of the Races, though not in the same way as you tell it. Prejudiced, I believe you would call my version. The war was a bitter lesson for Man.”

  Allanon waited patiently and did not speak as Shea paused to reflect on his own knowledge of the past before continuing.

  “I know that the survivors of our race fled south after the war was over and have remained there ever since, rebuilding again the homes and cities lost, trying to create life rather than destroy it. You seem to think of it as an isolation born of fear. But I believe it was and still is the best way to live. Central governments have always been the greatest danger to mankind. Now there are none—small communities are the new rule of life. Some things are better left alone by everyone.”

  The tall man laughed, a deep mirthless chuckle that made Shea feel suddenly foolish.

  “You know so little, though what you say is true enough. Truisms, my young friend, are the useless children of hindsight. Well, I don’t propose to argue with you now on the fine points of social reform, let alone political activism. That will have to wait until another time. Tell me what you know of the creature called Brona. Perhaps … no, wait a moment. Someone is coming.”

  The words were scarcely out of his mouth before the stocky figure of Flick appeared around the corner of the inn. The Valeman stopped abruptly as he saw Allanon and hesitated until Shea waved to him. He came over slowly and remained standing, his eyes on the dark face as the big man smiled slowly down at him, the familiar enigmatic twist at the corners of his mouth.

  “I was just wondering where you had gone,” Flick began, speaking to his brother, “and didn’t mean to interrupt…”

  “You are not interrupting anything,” Shea replied quickly. But Allanon seemed to disagree.

  “This conversation was for your ears alone,” he declared flatly. “If your brother chooses to stay, he will have decided his own fate in the days to come. I would strongly suggest that he not remain to hear the rest of our discussion, but forget that we ever talked. Still, it is his own choice.”

  The brothers looked at each other, unable to believe that the tall man was serious. But his grim face indicated that he was not joking, and for a moment both men hesitated, reluctant to say anything. Finally Flick spoke.

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but Shea and I are brothers and what happens to one must happen to both. If he’s in any trouble, I should share it with h
im—it’s my own choice, I’m sure.”

  Shea stared at him in amazement. He had never heard Flick sound more positive about anything in his entire life. He felt proud of his brother and smiled up at him gratefully. Flick winked back quickly and sat down, not looking at Allanon. The tall traveler stroked his small, dark beard with a lean hand and smiled quite unexpectedly.

  “Indeed, the choice is your own, and you have proven yourself a brother by your words. But it is deeds that make the difference. You may regret the choice in the days to come….”

  He trailed off, lost in thought as he studied the bowed head of Flick for several long moments before turning to Shea.

  “Well, I cannot begin my story again just for your brother. He will have to follow as best he can. Now tell me what you know of Brona.”

  Shea thought silently for a few minutes and then shrugged.

  “I really don’t know much of anything about him. He was a myth, as you said, the fictional leader of the uprising in the First War of the Races. He was supposed to have been a Druid who left the Council and used his own evil power to master the minds of his followers. Historically, he was never seen, never captured, or killed in the final battle. He never existed.”

  “Historically accurate, I’m sure,” muttered Allanon. “What do you know of him in connection with the Second War of the Races?”

  Shea smiled briefly at the question.

  “Well, legend has it that he was the central force behind that war also, but it turned out to be just another myth. He was supposed to be the same creature who had organized the armies of Man in the first war, except in this one he was called the Warlock Lord—the evil counterpart to the Druid Bremen. I believe Bremen was supposed to have killed him in the second war, however. But all that was only fantasy.”

  Flick hastened to nod his agreement, but Allanon said nothing. Shea waited for some form of confirmation, openly amused by the whole subject.

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