The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

“Now,” Shea’s determined voice whispered urgently in his brother’s ear, “while the creature can’t see us. Make for that line of brush ahead!”

  Flick did not need to be told twice. Once the black monster finished with the trees that now occupied its attention, the next stop would be their hiding place. The Valeman scampered fearfully from his place of concealment, half running, half crawling along the wet morning grass, his touseled head jerking in quick glimpses over his shoulder, expecting the Skull Bearer to rise any moment from the grove and spy him. Behind him ran Shea, his lithe body bent close to the ground as he darted across the open grassland, zigzagging his way silently behind his brother’s stocky figure. They reached the brush without mishap, and then Shea remembered they had forgotten their packs—the packs that now lay at the bottom of the vale they had just left. The creature could not miss seeing them and, when it did, the chase would be over and there would be no more guessing which way they had gone. Shea felt his stomach sink. How could they have been so stupid? He grabbed Flick’s shoulder in desperation, but his brother had also realized their error and slumped heavily to the ground. Shea knew he had to go back for the telltale packs, even if he were seen—there was no other choice. But even as he rose hesitantly, the black shape of the hunter appeared, hanging motionless in the brightening sky. The chance was gone.

  Once again they were saved by the coming of dawn. As the Skull Bearer poised silently above the grasslands, the golden rim of the morning sun broke from its resting place in the eastern hills and sent its first emissaries of the approaching day shooting forth to light the land and sky in their warm glow. The sunlight broke over the dark bulk of the night creature, and seeing that its time was gone, it rose abruptly into the sky, wheeling about the land in great, widening circles. It screamed its deathlike cry with chilling hatred, freezing for one quick moment all the gentle sounds of morning; then turning north, it flew swiftly from sight. A moment later it was gone, and two grateful, unbelieving Valemen were left staring mutely into the distant, empty morning sky.

  FIVE

  Y LATE AFTERNOON of that same day, the Valemen had reached the highland city of Leah. The stone-and-mortar walls that bounded the city were a welcome haven to the weary travelers, even though the bright afternoon sun made their hot, dull-gray mass appear as unfriendly as low-heated iron. The very size and bulk of the walls were repugnant to the Valemen, who preferred the freedom of the more pregnable forest lands surrounding their own home, but exhaustion quickly pushed any dislikes aside and they passed without hesitating through the west gates and into the narrow streets of the city. It was a busy hour, with people pushing and shoving their way past the small shops and markets that lined the entryway to the walled city and ran inward toward Menion’s home, a stately old mansion screened by trees and hedges that bordered carefully manicured lawns and fragrant garden Leah appeared to be a great metropolis to the men of Shady Vale, though it was in fact comparatively small when one considered the size of the great cities of the deep Southland or even the border city of Tyrsis. Leah was a city set apart from the rest of the world, and travelers passed through its gates only infrequently. It was self-contained, existing primarily to serve the needs of its own people. The monarchy that governed the land was the oldest in the Southland. It was the only law that its subjects knew—perhaps the only one they needed. Shea had never been convinced of this, though the highland people for the most part were content with the government and the way of life it provided.

  As the Valemen maneuvered their way through the crowds, Shea found himself reflecting on his improbable friendship with Menion Leah. It would have to be termed improbable, he mused, because on the surface they seemed to have so little in common. Valeman and highlander, with backgrounds so completely dissimilar as to defy any meaningful comparison. Shea, the adopted son of an innkeeper, hardheaded, pragmatic, and raised in the tradition of the working-man. Menion, the only son of the royal house of Leah and heir to the throne, born into a life filled with responsibilities he pointedly ignored, possessed of a brash self-confidence that he tried to conceal with only moderate success, and blessed with an uncanny hunter’s instinct that merited grudging respect even from so severe a critic as Flick. Their political philosophies were as unlike as their backgrounds. Shea was staunchly conservative, an advocate of the old ways, while Menion was convinced that the old ways had proved ineffective in dealing with the problems of the races.

  Yet for all their differences, they had formed a friendship that evidenced mutual respect. Menion found his small friend to be anachronistic in his thinking at times, but he admired his conviction and determination. The Valeman, contrary to Flick’s oft-expressed opinion, was not blinded to Menion’s shortcomings, but he saw in the Prince of Leah something others were inclined to overlook—a strong, compelling sense of right and wrong.

  At the present time, Menion Leah was pursuing life without any particular concern for the future. He traveled a good deal, he hunted the highland forests, but for the most part he seemed to spend his time finding new ways to get into trouble. His hard-earned expertise with the long bow and as a tracker achieved no useful purpose. On the contrary, it merely served to aggravate his father, who had repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to interest his son and only heir in the problems of governing his kingdom. One day, Menion would be a king, but Shea doubted that his lighthearted friend ever gave the possibility more than a passing thought. This was foolish, if somewhat expected. Menion’s mother had died several years ago, shortly after Shea had first visited the highlands. Menion’s father was not an old man, but the death of a king did not always come with age, and many former rulers of Leah had died suddenly and unexpectedly. If something unforeseen should befall his father, Menion would become king whether he was prepared or not. There would be some lessons learned then, Shea thought and smiled in spite of himself.

  The Leah ancestral home was a wide, two-story stone building nestled peacefully amid a cluster of spreading hickories and small gardens. The grounds were screened away from the surrounding city by high shrubbery. A broad park lay directly across from a small walkway fronting the home, and as the Valemen crossed wearily to the front gates, children splashed playfully through a small pond at the hub of the park’s several paths. The day was still warm, and people hurried past the travelers on their way to meet friends or to reach their homes and families. In the west, the late-afternoon sky was deepening into a soft golden haze.

  The tall iron gates were ajar, and the Valemen walked quickly toward the front door of the home, winding through the long stone walkway’s high shrubbery and garden borders. They were still approaching the stone threshold at the front of the home, when the heavy oak door opened from within, and there, unexpectedly, was Menion Leah. Dressed in a multicolored cloak and vest of green and pale yellow, his lean, whiplike frame moved with the graceful ease of a cat. He was not a big man, though several inches taller than the Valemen, but he was broad through the shoulders and his long arms gave him a rangy look. He was on his way down a side path, but when he caught sight of the two ragged, dusty figures approaching along the main walk, he stopped short. A moment later his eyes went wide with surprise.

  “Shea!” he exclaimed sharply. “What in the name of all… what happened to you?”

  He rushed over quickly to his friend and gripped the slim hand warmly.

  “Good to see you, Menion,” Shea said with a smile.

  The highlander stepped back a pace, and his gray eyes studied them shrewdly.

  “I never expected that my letter would get results this quickly….” He trailed off and studied the other’s weary face. “It hasn’t, has it? But don’t tell me—I don’t want to hear it. I’d rather assume for the sake of our friendship that you came just to visit me. And brought distrustful old Flick, too, I see. This is a surprise.”

  He grinned quickly past Shea at the scowling Flick, who nodded curtly.

  “This wasn’t my idea, you may be sure.”

 
; “I wish that our friendship alone were the reason for this visit.” Shea sighed heavily. “I wish I didn’t have to involve you in any of this, but I’m afraid that we’re in serious trouble and you are the one person who might be able to help us.”

  Menion started to smile, then changed his mind quickly as he caught the mood reflected in the other’s drawn face and nodded soberly.

  “Nothing funny about this, is there? Well, a hot bath and some dinner are the first order of business. We can discuss what brought you here later. Come on in. My father’s engaged on the border, but I’m at your disposal.”

  Once inside, Menion directed the servants to take charge of the Valemen, and they were led off to a welcome bath and a change of clothes. An hour later, the three friends gathered in the great hall for a dinner that would ordinarily have fed twice their number, but on this night barely satisfied them. As they ate, Shea related to Menion the strange tale behind their flight from Shady Vale. He described Flick’s meeting with the mysterious wanderer Allanon and the involved story behind the Sword of Shannara. It was necessary, despite Allanon’s order of secrecy, if he must ask Menion’s help. He told of the coming of Balinor with his terse warning, of their narrow escape from the black Skull creature, and finally of their flight to the highlands. Shea did all the talking. Flick was unwilling to enter into the conversation, resisting the temptation he felt to elaborate on his own part in the events of the past few weeks. He chose to keep quiet because he was determined not to trust Menion. He was convinced that it would be better for the Valemen if at least one of them kept his guard up and his mouth closed.

  Menion Leah listened quietly to the long tale, evincing no visible surprise until the part about Shea’s background, with which he appeared immeasurably pleased. His lean brown face remained for the most part an inscrutable mask, broken only by that perpetual half smile and the small wrinkles at the corners of the sharp gray eyes. He recognized quickly enough why the Valemen had come to him. They could never expect to make it from Leah through the lowlands of Clete and from there through the Black Oaks without assistance from someone who knew the country—someone they could trust. Correction, Menion thought, smiling inwardly—someone Shea could trust. He knew that Flick would never have agreed to come to Leah unless his brother had insisted. There had never been much of a friendship between Flick and himself. Still, they were both here, both willing to seek his help, whatever the reason, and he would never be able to refuse anything to Shea, even where there was risk to his own life.

  Shea finished his story and waited patiently for Menion’s response. The highlander seemed lost in thought, his eyes fixed on the half-filled glass of wine at his elbow. When he spoke, his voice was distant.

  “The Sword of Shannara. I haven’t heard that story in years—never really believed it was true. Now out of complete obscurity it reappears with my old friend Shea Ohmsford as the heir apparent. Or are you?” His eyes snapped up suddenly. “You could be a red herring, a decoy for these Northland creatures to chase and destroy. How can we be sure about Allanon? From the tale you’ve told me, he seems almost as dangerous as the things hunting you—perhaps even one of them.”

  Flick started noticeably at this suggestion, but Shea shook his head firmly.

  “I can’t bring myself to believe that. It doesn’t make any sense.”

  “Maybe not,” continued Menion slowly, inwardly musing over the prospect. “Could be I’m getting old and suspicious. Frankly, this whole story is pretty improbable. If it’s true, you are fortunate to have gotten this far on your own. There are a great many tales of the Northland, of the evil that dwells in the wilderness above the Streleheim Plains—power, they say, beyond the understanding of any mortal being….”

  He trailed off for a moment, then sipped gingerly at his wine.

  “The Sword of Shannara… just the possibility that the legend might be true is enough to …” He shook his head and grinned openly. “How can I deny myself the chance to find out? You’ll need a guide to get you to the Anar, and I’m your man.”

  “I knew you would be.” Shea reached over and gripped his hand in thanks. Flick groaned softly, but managed a feeble smile.

  “Now then, let’s see where we stand.” Menion took charge quickly, and Flick went back to drinking wine. “What about these Elfstones? Let’s have a look at them.”

  Shea quickly produced the small leather pouch and emptied the contents into his open palm. The three stones sparkled brightly in the torchlight, their blue glow deep and rich. Menion touched one gently and then picked it up.

  “They are indeed beautiful,” he acknowledged approvingly. “I don’t know when I’ve seen their like. But how can they help us?”

  “I don’t know that yet,” admitted the Valeman reluctantly. “I only know what Allanon told us—that the stones were only to be used in emergencies, and that they were very powerful.”

  “Well, I hope that he was right,” snorted the other. “I would hate to discover the hard way that he was mistaken. But I suppose we’ll have to live with that possibility.”

  He paused for a moment and watched as Shea placed the stones back in the pouch and tucked the leather container into his tunic front. When the Valeman looked up again, he was staring blankly into his wineglass.

  “I do know something of the man called Balinor, Shea. He is a fine soldier—I doubt we could find his equal in the whole of the Southland. We might be better off to seek the aid of his father. You would be better protected by the soldiers of Callahorn than by the forest-dwelling Dwarfs of the Anar. I know the roads to Tyrsis, all of them safe. But almost any path to the Anar will run directly through the Black Oaks—not the safest place in the Southland, as you know.”

  “Allanon told us to go to the Anar,” persisted Shea. “He must have had a reason, and until I find him again, I’m not taking any chances. Besides, Balinor himself advised us to follow his instructions.”

  Menion shrugged.

  “That’s unfortunate, because even if we manage to get through the Black Oaks, I really don’t know much about the land beyond. I’m told that it’s relatively unsettled country all the way to the Anar Forests. The inhabitants are mostly Southlanders and Dwarfs, who should not prove dangerous to us. Culhaven is a small Dwarf village on the Silver River in the lower Anar—I don’t think we’ll have much trouble finding it, if we get that far. First, we have to navigate the Lowlands of Clete, which will be especially bad with the spring thaws, and then the Black Oaks. That will be the most dangerous part of the trip.”

  “Can’t we find a way around …?” Shea asked hopefully.

  Menion poured himself another glass of wine and passed the decanter to Flick who accepted it without blinking.

  “It would take weeks. North of Leah is the Rainbow Lake. If we go that way, we have to circle the entire lake to the north through the Runne Mountains. The Black Oaks stretch south from the lake for a hundred miles. If we try to go south and come north again on the other side, it will take us at least two weeks—and that’s open country all the way. No cover at all. We have to go east through the lowlands, then cut through the oaks.”

  Flick frowned, recalling how on their last visit to Leah, Menion had succeeded in losing them for several days in the dreaded forest, where they were menaced by wolves and ravaged by hunger. They had barely escaped with their lives.

  “Old Flick remembers the Black Oaks,” laughed Menion as he caught the other’s dark expression. “Well, Flick, this time we shall be better prepared. It’s treacherous country, but no one knows it better than I do. And we aren’t likely to be followed there. Still, we’ll tell no one where we’re going. Simply say that we are off for an extended hunting trip. My father has his own problems anyway—he won’t even miss me. He’s used to having me gone, even for weeks at a time.”

  He paused for a moment and looked to Shea to see if he had forgotten anything. The Valeman grinned at the highlander’s undisguised enthusiasm.

  “Menion, I knew
we could count on you. It will be good to have you along.”

  Flick looked openly disgusted; and Menion, catching the look, could not allow the opportunity for a little fun at the other’s expense to pass.

  “I think we ought to talk for a minute about what’s in this for me,” he declared suddenly. “I mean, what do I get out of all this if I do guide you safely to Culhaven?”

  “What do you get?” exclaimed Flick without thinking. “Why should you …”

  “It’s all right,” the other interrupted quickly. “I had forgotten you, old Flick, but you don’t need to worry; I don’t intend to take anything from your share.”

  “What are you talking about, sly one?” raged Flick. “I did not mean ever to take anything …”

  “That’s enough!” Shea leaned forward, his face flushed. “This cannot continue if we are to travel together. Menion, you must cease your attempts to bait my brother into anger; and you, Flick, must put aside, once and for all, your pointless suspicions of Menion. We must have some faith in one another—and we must be friends!”

  Menion looked down sheepishly, and Flick was biting his lip in disgust. Shea sat back quietly as the anger drained out of him.

  “Well spoken,” acknowledged Menion after a moment. “Flick, here is my hand on it. Let us make a temporary truce, at least—for Shea.”

  Flick looked at the extended hand and then slowly accepted it.

  “Words come easily for you, Menion. I hope you mean them this time.”

  The highlander accepted the rebuke with a smile.

  “A truce, Flick.”

  He released the Valeman’s hand and drained his wineglass. He knew he had convinced Flick of nothing.

  It was growing late now, and all three were eager to complete their plans and retire for the night. They quickly decided that they would leave early the following morning. Menion arranged to have them outfitted with light camping gear, including backpacks, hunting cloaks, provisions, and weapons. He produced a map of the country east of Leah, but it was poorly detailed because the lands were so little known. The Lowlands of Clete, which spread from the highlands eastward to the Black Oaks, was a dismal, treacherous moor—yet on the map, it was no more than a blank white area with the name written in. The Black Oaks stood out prominently, a dense mass of forest land running from the Rainbow Lake southward, standing like a great wall between Leah and the Anar. Menion discussed briefly with the Valemen his knowledge of the terrain and weather conditions at this time of the year. But like the map, his information was sketchy. Most of what the travelers would find could not be accurately anticipated, and the unexpected could be most dangerous.

 
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