The Sword of Shannara: The Druids' Keep: The Druids' Keep by Terry Brooks


  Then Shea saw it.

  “It’s not the same,” he announced slowly. “It’s gone. He’s taken it.”

  “What’s gone?” snapped Panamon irritably, kicking at the pile of junk. “What are you talking about?”

  “That old sword in the leather scabbard. The one with the arm and the torch.”

  Panamon looked quickly at the swords in the little heap, frowning curiously. Keltset straightened abruptly and looked at Shea with those deeply intelligent eyes fixed on the little Valeman. He realized the truth as well.

  “So he took one sword,” Panamon growled without stopping to think. “That doesn’t mean he …” He caught himself, his jaw dropping open in dismay, his eyes rolling back in disbelief. “Oh, no! That can’t be—it can’t. You mean he has …?”

  He couldn’t finish the thought, but choked on his words. Shea shook his head in quiet despair.

  “The Sword of Shannara!”

  EIGHT

  The same morning that found Shea and his new companions facing the awful truth about the fleeing Orl Fane and the Sword of Shannara also found Allanon and the remaining members of the company embroiled in difficulties of their own. They had escaped from the Druid’s Keep under the aged mystic’s sure guidance, winding downward through the maze of tunnels in the core of the mountain to the forest land below. They had encountered no initial resistance to their escape, finding only a few scattered Gnomes scurrying about the passages, remnants of the broken palace guard that had fled earlier. It was early evening by the time the little band was clear of the forbidding heights and moving northward through the forests. Allanon was certain that the Gnomes had removed the Sword of Shannara from the Keep sometime before the encounter with the Skull Bearer in the furnace room, but it was impossible to tell exactly when the removal had been accomplished. Eventine was patrolling the northern perimeter of Paranor and any attempt to move the Sword would be met with resistance from his soldiers. Perhaps the Elven king had already gained possession of the Sword. Perhaps he had even intercepted the missing Shea. Allanon was extremely worried about the little Valeman, whom he had expected to find at the Druid’s Keep. There had been no mistake when he had made his mental search for the youth back at the foot of the Dragon’s Teeth. Shea was in the company of others, and they were moving northward toward Paranor. Something had diverted them. Still, Shea was a resourceful fellow, and he had the power of the Elfstones to protect him from the Warlock Lord. The Druid could only hope that somehow they would find each other without further complications, and that when they did, Shea would be safe and unharmed.

  Allanon had other worries, however, which demanded his immediate attention. Gnome reinforcements began to arrive in large numbers, and it did not take them long to conclude that Allanon and his little band of invaders had fled the castle and were somewhere in the dangerous Impregnable Forest surrounding Paranor. In truth, the Gnomes had no idea for whom they were searching; they only knew that the castle had been invaded, and the intruders had to be captured or destroyed. The emissaries of the Warlock Lord had not arrived, and the Skull King himself did not yet realize his prey had escaped him once again. He rested contentedly in the dark recesses of his domain, assured that the troublesome Allanon had been destroyed in the furnaces of Paranor, that the heir of Shannara and the others with him were prisoners, and that the Sword of Shannara was safely on its way to the Northland, intercepted by this time by a Skull Bearer whom he had dispatched a day earlier to be certain the precious Sword was not retaken. So the newly arrived Gnomes began to comb the forests surrounding Paranor in an effort to find the unknown intruders, believing that they would flee south and sending the majority of their hunters in that direction.

  Allanon and his small band were moving steadily northward, but progress was slowed from time to time with the appearance of large Gnome search parties patrolling the woodlands. The little company would never have escaped undetected had they proceeded south, but the enemy numbers were reduced enough to the north that they managed to elude the hunting parties by hiding until they had passed and then pressing onward. It was light by the time they finally reached the fringes of the forest and could look northward over the awesome Plains of Streleheim, their pursuers momentarily behind them.

  Allanon turned to them, his dark countenance worn and grim, but the eyes still bright with determination. His companions waited as he studied them one by one as if he were seeing each for the first time. Finally he spoke, the words slow and reluctant.

  “We have reached the end of the road, my friends. The journey to Paranor is at an end, and it is time for the company to disband and each of us to go his own way. We have lost our chance to gain possession of the Sword—at least for the moment. Shea is still missing, and we cannot tell how long it may take to find him. But the greatest threat facing us is an invasion from the north. We must protect ourselves and the peoples of the lands south, east, and west of us from that. We have seen no sign of the Elven armies of Eventine, though they were supposed to be patrolling this region. It appears they have been withdrawn, and this would only be done if the Warlock Lord had begun to move his armies southward.”

  “Then the invasion has begun?” Balinor asked shortly.

  Allanon nodded solemnly, and the others exchanged startled looks.

  “Without the Sword we cannot defeat the Warlock Lord, so we must attempt to stop his armies. To do this, we must unite the free nations quickly. We may already be too late. Brona will use his armies to seize all of the central Southland. To do this he need only destroy the Border Legion of Callahorn. Balinor, the Legion must hold the cities of Callahorn to give the nations enough time to unite their armies and strike back at the invader. Durin and Dayel can accompany you to Tyrsis and from there travel westward to their own land. Eventine must bring his Elven armies across the Plains of Streleheim to reinforce Tyrsis. If we lose there, the Warlock Lord will have succeeded in driving a wedge between the armies, and there will be little chance of uniting them. Worse still, the entire Southland will lie open and unprotected. Men will never be able to form their armies in time. The Border Legion of Callahorn is the only chance they have.”

  Balinor nodded in agreement and turned to Hendel.

  “What support can the Dwarfs give us?”

  “The city of Varfleet is the key to the eastern sector of Callahorn.” Hendel pondered the situation carefully. “My people must protect against any assault through the Anar, but we can spare enough men to help defend Varfleet as well. But you must hold the cities of Kern and Tyrsis yourself.”

  “The Elven armies will help you on the west,” Durin promised quickly.

  “Wait a minute!” exclaimed Menion incredulously. “What about Shea? You’ve kind of forgotten about him, haven’t you?”

  “Still allowing your words to precede your thinking, I see,” Allanon said darkly. Menion turned scarlet with anger, but waited to see what the mystic had to say.

  “I’m not abandoning the search for my brother,” Flick announced quietly.

  “Nor am I suggesting you should, Flick.” Allanon smiled at the other’s concern. “You and Menion and I shall continue to search for our young friend and for the missing Sword. I suspect that where we find one, we shall find the other. Remember the words spoken to me by the Shade of Bremen. Shea shall be the first to lay hands on the Sword of Shannara. Perhaps he has already done so.”

  “Then let’s get on with the search,” suggested Menion irritably, avoiding the eyes of the Druid.

  “We shall leave now,” Allanon announced, adding pointedly, “but you must see that you keep a closer guard over your tongue. A Prince of Leah should speak with wisdom and foresight, with patience and understanding—not with foolish anger.”

  Menion nodded grudgingly. The seven said their farewells with mixed emotions and parted. Balinor, Hendel, and the Elven brothers turned westward past the forest in which Shea and his companions had spent the night, hoping to circle the Impregnable Forest and pass down t
hrough the hill country north of the Dragon’s Teeth and thereby reach Kern and Tyrsis within two days. Allanon and his two youthful companions moved eastward, searching for some sign of Shea. Allanon was convinced that the Valeman must have eventually come northward toward Paranor and perhaps was a prisoner in one of the Gnome camps in that region. Rescuing him would not be easy, but the Druid’s greatest fear was that the Warlock Lord would learn of his capture and find out who he was, then have him immediately executed. If that happened, the Sword of Shannara would be worthless to them anyway, and they would have no choice but to rely on the strength of the divided armies of the three besieged lands. It was not a promising thought, and Allanon quickly turned his attention to the land ahead. Menion walked slightly in front as they traveled, his keen eyes picking out the trails and studying the footprints of all who had passed. His concern was the weather. If it rained, they would never find the trail. Even if the weather stayed favorable for them, the sudden windstorms that blew across the Streleheim would have the same effect as a rainfall, erasing all traces of anyone’s passage. Flick, dutifully bringing up the rear, walked in abject silence, hoping against hope that they would find some sign of Shea, but fearful that he had seen the last of his brother.

  By noonday, the barren plains were shimmering with the blistering heat of the white-hot sun, and the three travelers walked as close to the forest edge as possible to take advantage of small patches of shade from the great trees. Allanon alone seemed unperturbed by the fearful heat, his dark face calm and relaxed in the scorching sunlight, free from even the slightest trace of perspiration. Flick felt ready to collapse at any moment, and even the durable Menion Leah was beginning to feel ill. His sharp eyes were dry and blurred, and his senses were starting to play tricks on him. He was seeing things that weren’t there, hearing and smelling images formed by his muddled brain in the seething flatlands ahead.

  At last the two Southlanders could go no farther, and their tall leader called a brief halt, leading them into the cooling shade of the forest. In silence they ate a small, tasteless meal of bread and dried meats. Flick wanted to ask the Druid more about Shea’s chances of surviving alone in that desolate land, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice the questions. The answers were all too apparent. He felt strangely alone now that the others were gone. He had never felt close to Allanon, always plagued by nagging doubts about the Druid’s strange powers. The mystic remained a giant shadowy figure, as mysterious and deadly as the Skull Bearers that pursued them so relentlessly. He remained a personification of the deathless spirit of Bremen that had risen from the netherworld in the Valley of Shale. He was power and wisdom of such magnitude that he didn’t seem a part of Flick’s mortal world; he was more a part of the Warlock Lord’s domain, that black, frightful corner of the mortal mind where fear is master and reason cannot penetrate. Flick could not forget the terrible battle between the great mystic and the treacherous Skull creature which had resulted in a fiery climax in the flames of the furnace beneath the Druid’s Keep. Yet Allanon had saved himself; he had survived what no other man could have survived. It was more than merely uncanny—it was terrifying. Balinor alone had seemed able to deal with the giant leader, but now he was gone, and Flick felt very alone and vulnerable.

  Menion Leah felt even less certain of himself. He was not really afraid of the powerful Druid, but he was aware that the giant did not think much of him and had brought him along primarily because Shea had wanted him. Shea had believed in the Prince of Leah when even Flick had doubted the adventurer’s motives. But Shea was gone now. Menion felt he had only to anger the Druid once more and the unpredictable mystic would dispose of him for good. So he ate quietly and said nothing, believing that for the moment discretion was the better part of valor.

  When the silent meal was concluded, the Druid motioned them to their feet. Again they marched eastward along the fringes of the forest, their faces bathed in the withering heat of the sun, their tired eyes scanning the barren plains for the missing Shea. This time they walked for only fifteen minutes before they found signs of something out of the ordinary. Menion spotted the tracks almost immediately. A large number of Gnomes had passed that way several days earlier, booted and undoubtedly armed. They followed the tracks northward for about half a mile. Upon topping a small rise of ground, they found the remains of the Gnomes and Elves who had died in battle. The decaying bodies lay where they had fallen, still untouched and unburied, less than a hundred yards from the rise. The three walked slowly down into the graveyard of bleached bones and rotting flesh, the terrible stench rising to their nostrils in sickening waves. Flick could go no farther, and stopped where he was to watch the other two walk into the midst of the dead bodies.

  Allanon wandered in silent contemplation through the fallen men, studying discarded weapons and standards, glancing only briefly at the dead. Menion discovered a fresh set of tracks almost immediately and began moving mechanically about the battlefield, his eyes fixed on the dusty earth. Flick could not tell exactly what was going on from his distant vantage point, but it appeared that the highlander retraced his own steps several times, casting about for traces of new trails, the thin hands shading his reddened eyes. Finally, he turned southward toward the forest and began strolling slowly back toward Flick, his head lowered thoughtfully. He stopped at a large clump of bushes and dropped to one knee, apparently observing something of interest. Momentarily forgetting his distaste for the battlefield and its corpses, the curious Valeman hastened forward. He had just reached the kneeling man’s side when Allanon, standing in the center of the battlefield, let out a shout of astonishment. The two men paused and watched silently while the tall black figure peered downward for a moment as if to be certain, then turned and moved toward them in long strides. The mystic’s dark face was flushed with excitement when he reached them, and they were relieved to see the familiar mocking smile slowly spread into a wide grin.

  “Amazing! It’s amazing indeed. Our young friend is more resourceful than I had imagined. Up there, I found a small pile of ashes—all that remains of one of the Skull Bearers. Nothing mortal destroyed that creature; it was the power of the Elfstones!”

  “Then Shea has been here ahead of us!” exclaimed Flick hopefully.

  “No other has the power to use the stones.” Allanon nodded assuringly. “There are signs of a terrific battle, tracks that show Shea was not alone. But I cannot tell whether those who were with him were friends or enemies. Nor can I tell if the creature of the north was destroyed during or after the battle between Gnome and Elf. What have you found, highlander?”

  “A lot of false trails left by a very intelligent Troll,” Menion responded wryly. “It’s impossible for me to tell much from all the footprints, but I am sure that a large Rock Troll was among the prior occupants of this field. He left his tracks all over it but none of them lead anywhere. There are indications that some sort of scuffle took place within these bushes, though. See the bent branches and newly fallen leaves? But more important, there are footprints of a small man. They could be Shea’s.”

  “Do you think he was captured by the Troll?” Flick queried fearfully.

  Menion smiled at his concern and shrugged.

  “If he could handle one of those Skull creatures, then I doubt he would have much trouble with an ordinary Troll.”

  “The Elfstones are no protection against mortal creatures,” Allanon pointed out chillingly. “Is there any clear indication which way this Troll went?”

  Menion shook his head negatively.

  “To be certain, we would have had to find the tracks right away. These tracks are at least a day old. The Troll knew what he was doing when he left. We could search forever and never be sure which way he went.”

  Flick felt his heart sink at this news. If Shea had been taken by this mysterious creature, then it appeared they had reached another dead end.

  “I found something else,” Allanon announced after a moment. “I found a broken standard from the
house of Elessedil—Eventine’s personal banner. He may have been present at the battle. He may have been taken prisoner or even killed. It seems possible that the slain Gnomes were attempting to escape from Paranor with the Sword and were intercepted by the Elf King and his warriors. If so, then Eventine, Shea, and the Sword may all be in the hands of the enemy.”

  “I’m sure of one thing,” Menion declared quickly. “Those Troll footprints and this battle in the bushes took place yesterday, while the battle between the Gnomes and Elves is several days old.”

  “Yes … yes, you’re right, of course,” the Druid agreed thoughtfully. “There has been a sequence of events taking place that we can’t piece together from the little we know. I’m afraid we won’t find all the answers here.”

  “What do we do now?” Flick asked anxiously.

  “There are tracks leading westward across the Streleheim,” Allanon mused thoughtfully, gazing in that direction as he spoke. “The tracks are blurred, but they may have been made by survivors of this battle.…”

  He looked questioningly at the silent Menion Leah for his opinion.

  “Our mysterious Troll did not go that way,” Menion stated worriedly. “He would not bother with a lot of false trails if he were going to leave a clear one when he left! I don’t like it.”

  “Do we have any choice?” Allanon persisted. “The only clear set of tracks leaving this battleground leads westward. We’ll have to follow them and hope for the best.”

  Flick thought that such optimism was unwarranted in view of the hard facts of the situation and found the comments out of character for the grim Druid. Still, it seemed they had little choice in the matter. Perhaps whoever had made those tracks could tell them something about Shea. The little Valeman turned to Menion and nodded his willingness to follow the Druid’s advice, noting the look of consternation clouding the highlander’s lean features. Clearly Menion was not happy with the decision, convinced that there was another trail to be found that would tell them more about the Troll and the slain Skull creature. Allanon beckoned to them, and retracing their steps they began the long march back across the Streleheim Plains to the lands west of Paranor. Flick cast one final look at the field of slain men, their carcasses rotting slowly in the boiling heat of the sun, shunned by man and nature in senseless death. He shook his broad head. Perhaps this was the way it would end for them all.

 
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