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


  “I’ve got to know what’s happening in that camp.” Allanon’s voice cut into Flick’s thoughts with a sharp rasp of determination. He paused in thought a moment, staring at the little Valeman.

  “My young friend, Flick …” He smiled faintly in the darkness. “How would you like to be a Gnome for a little while?”

  NINE

  With Shea still missing somewhere north of the Dragon’s Teeth and Allanon, Flick, and Menion in search of some definite sign of his whereabouts, the remaining four members of the now divided company of friends drew within sight of the great towers of the fortress city of Tyrsis. It had taken them almost two days of constant travel, their hazardous journey through the lines of the Northland army further impeded by the formidable mountain barrier cutting off the Southland kingdom of Callahorn from the land of Paranor. The first day was long, but without incident, as the four wound southward through the forests adjoining the Gnome-patrolled Impregnable Forest to reach the lowlands beyond, which formed the doorstep to the awesome Dragon’s Teeth. The mountain passes were all carefully guarded by Gnome hunters, and it seemed it would prove to be impossible to get past them without a fight. But a simple ruse lured most of the guards away from the entrance to the high, winding Kennon Pass, allowing the four an opportunity to get into the mountains. The difficult task of getting out again at the southern end was accomplished only after several Gnomes were silently dispatched at a midpoint check camp and twenty more were frightened into believing the entire Border Legion of Callahorn had seized the pass and was descending on the luckless sentries with every intention of killing them all. Hendel was laughing so hard when they finally reached the safety of the forests south of the Kennon Pass that all four were forced to pause momentarily until he could recover his composure. Durin and Dayel looked doubtfully at one another, recalling the taciturn Dwarf’s grim attitude during the journey to Paranor. They had never seen him laugh at anything, and somehow it seemed out of character. They shook their lean faces in disbelief and glanced questioningly at Balinor. But the giant borderman only shrugged. He was an old friend to Hendel and the Dwarf’s changeable character was well known to him. It was good to hear his laughter again.

  Now in the twilight of the early evening, with the sun’s fading light a hazy purple and red in the vast horizon of the western plains, the four stood within sight of their destination. Their bodies were worn and sore, their normally keen minds numbed by lack of sleep and constant travel, but their spirits rose with unspoken excitement at the sight of the majestic city of Tyrsis. They paused for an instant at the edge of the forests that ran south from the Dragon’s Teeth through Callahorn. To the east was the city of Varfleet, which guarded the only sizable passage through the Mountains of Runne, a small range that lay above the fabled Rainbow Lake. The sluggish Mermidon River wound its way through the forest at their backs above Tyrsis. Westward lay the smaller island city of Kern, and the source of the river was farther west in the vast emptiness of the Streleheim Plains. The river was broad at all points, forming a natural barrier against any would-be enemy and offering reliable protection for the inhabitants on the island. While the river ran full, which it did almost the year round, the waters were deep and swift, and no enemy had ever taken the island city.

  Yet while both Kern, surrounded by the waters of the Mermidon, and Varfleet, nestled in the Mountains of Runne, seemed formidable and well defended, it was the ancient city of Tyrsis that harbored the Border Legion—the precision fighting machine that had for countless generations successfully guarded the borders of the Southland against invasion. It was the Border Legion that had always taken the brunt of any assault against the race of Man, offering the first line of defense against an enemy invader. Tyrsis had given birth to the Border Legion of Callahorn, and as a fortress it was without equal. The old city of Tyrsis had been destroyed in the First War of the Races, but had been rebuilt and then expanded over the years until now it was one of the largest cities in all the Southland and by far the strongest city standing in the northern regions. It had been designed as a fortress capable of withstanding any enemy attack—a bastion of towering walls and jagged ramparts set on a natural plateau against the face of an unscalable cliff. Each generation of its citizens had contributed in the construction of the city, each making it more formidable. Over seven hundred years ago, the great Outer Wall had been built on the edge of the plateau, extending the boundaries of Tyrsis as far as nature would permit on the bluff face. In the fertile plains below the fortress were the farms and croplands that fed the city, the dark earth nurtured and sustained by the life-giving waters of the great Mermidon which ran east and south. The people had their homes scattered throughout the surrounding countryside, relying on the city’s walled protection only in the event of invasion. For hundreds of years following the First War of the Races, the cities of Callahorn had successfully repelled assaults by unfriendly neighbors. None of the three had ever been seized by an enemy. The famed Border Legion had never been defeated in battle. But Callahorn had never faced an army the size of that sent by the Warlock Lord. The real test of strength and courage lay ahead.

  Balinor looked upon the distant towers of his city with mixed feelings. His father had been a great King and a good man, but he was growing old. For years he had commanded the Border Legion in its unceasing battle against persistent Gnome raiders from the Eastland. Several times he had been forced to wage long and costly campaigns against the great Northland Trolls, when scattered tribes had moved into his land, intent on seizing its cities and subjugating its people. Balinor was the elder son and the logical heir to the throne. He had studied hard under his father’s careful guidance, and he was well liked by the people—people whose friendship could be won only through respect and understanding. He had worked beside them, fought beside them, and learned from them, so that now he could feel what they felt and look through their eyes. He loved the land enough to fight to hold it, as he was doing now, as he had been doing for a number of years. He commanded a regiment of the Border Legion, and they wore his personal insignia—a crouched leopard. They were the key unit of the entire fighting force. For Balinor, holding their respect and devotion was more important than anything. He had been gone from them for months now—gone, by his own choosing, to a self-imposed exile of travel with the mysterious Allanon and the company from Culhaven. His father had asked him not to go, pleaded with him to reconsider his decision. But he had already decided; he was not to be swayed, even by his father. His brow furrowed and a strange feeling of gloom settled into his mind as he looked down on his homeland. Unconsciously, he raised one gloved hand to his face, the cold chain mail tracing the line of the scar that ran down the exposed right cheek to his chin.

  “Thinking about your brother again?” Hendel asked, although it was not so much a question as a statement of fact.

  Balinor looked over at him, momentarily startled, then nodded slowly.

  “You’ve got to stop thinking about that whole business, you know,” the Dwarf stated flatly. “He could be a real threat to you if you persist in thinking of him as a brother and not as a person.”

  “It is not so easy to forget that his blood and mine make us more than sons born to the same father,” the borderman declared gloomily. “I cannot ignore nor forget such strong ties.”

  Durin and Dayel looked at each other, unable to comprehend what the two were talking about. They knew that Balinor had a brother, but they had never seen him and had heard no mention of him since they had begun the long journey from Culhaven.

  Balinor noticed the baffled looks on the faces of the two Elven brothers and shot a quick smile in their direction.

  “It’s not as bad as it might seem,” he assured them calmly.

  Hendel shook his head hopelessly and lapsed into silence for the next few minutes.

  “My younger brother Palance and I are the only sons of Ruhl Buckhannah, the King of Callahorn,” Balinor volunteered, his eyes wandering back toward the distant city a
s if looking for another time. “We were very close while growing up—as close as you two. As we got older, we developed different ideas about life … different personalities, as all individuals must, brothers or not. I was the elder; I was next in line to the throne. Palance always realized this, of course, but it divided us as we grew older, mainly because his ideas of ruling the land were not always the same as mine.… It’s difficult to explain, you understand.”

  “It’s not so difficult,” Hendel snorted meaningfully.

  “All right, then, it’s not so difficult,” Balinor conceded wearily, to which Hendel responded with a knowing nod. “Palance believes Callahorn should cease to serve as a first line of defense in case of attack on the Southland people. He wants to disband the Border Legion and isolate Callahorn from the rest of the Southland. We cannot agree at all on this point.…”

  He trailed off in bitter silence for a moment.

  “Tell them the rest, Balinor.” Hendel again spoke icily.

  “My distrustful friend believes my brother is no longer his own master—that he says these things without meaning them. He keeps counsel with a mystic known as Stenmin, a man Allanon feels is without honor and will guide Palance to his own destruction. Stenmin has told my father and the people that my brother should rule and not I. He has turned him against me. When I left, even Palance seemed to believe that I was not fit to rule Callahorn.”

  “And that scar …?” Durin asked quietly.

  “An argument we had just before I left with Allanon,” Balinor replied, shaking his head as he thought back on the matter. “I can’t even remember how it started, but all at once Palance was in a rage—there was real hatred in his eyes. I turned to leave, and he grabbed a whip from the wall, striking out at me, cutting into my face with the tip. That was the reason I decided to get away from Tyrsis for a time, to give Palance a chance to regain his senses. If I had stayed after that incident, we might have …”

  Again he trailed off ominously, and Hendel shot the Elven brothers a glance that left no doubt in their minds what would have happened if the brothers had had another altercation. Durin frowned in disbelief, wondering what sort of person would take sides against a man like Balinor. The tall borderman had repeatedly proved his courage and strength of character during their dangerous journey to Paranor, and even Allanon had relied heavily on him. Yet his brother had deliberately and vindictively turned against him. The Elf felt a deep sadness for this brave warrior, returned to a homeland where peace even in his own family was denied him.

  “You must believe me when I tell you that my brother was not always like that—nor do I believe he is now a bad man,” Balinor continued, more as if he were explaining it to himself than to the others. “This mystic Stenmin has some kind of hold over Palance that provokes him into these rages, turning him against me and what he knows to be right.”

  “There is more to him than that,” Hendel interrupted sharply. “Palance is an idealistic fanatic—he seeks the throne and turns against you under pretext of upholding the interests of the people. He is choking on his own self-righteousness.”

  “Perhaps you are right, Hendel,” Balinor conceded quietly. “But he is still my brother, and I love him.”

  “That’s what makes him so dangerous,” the Dwarf declared, standing before the tall borderman, meeting his gaze squarely. “He no longer loves you.”

  Balinor did not reply, but stared into the plainlands to the west and toward the city of Tyrsis. The others remained silent for a few minutes, leaving the brooding Prince to his own thoughts. Finally he turned back to them, his face relaxed and calm, looking as if the whole matter had never come up.

  “Time to be moving on. We want to reach the walls of the city before nightfall.”

  “I’m going no farther with you, Balinor,” Hendel interjected quickly. “I must return to my own land and help prepare the Dwarf armies against an invasion of the Anar.”

  “Well, you can rest in Tyrsis for tonight and leave tomorrow,” Dayel replied quickly, knowing how tired they all were and anxious for the Dwarf’s safety.

  Hendel smiled patiently, then shook his head.

  “No, I must travel at night in these lands. If I stay the night in Tyrsis, I lose a whole day’s travel, and time is very precious to us all. The entire Southland stands or falls on how quickly we can assemble our armies into a combined fighting unit to strike back at the Warlock Lord. If Shea and the Sword of Shannara are lost to us, then our armies are all we have left. I will travel to Varfleet and rest there. Take care, my friends. Luck to you in the days ahead.”

  “And to you, brave Hendel.” Balinor extended a great hand. Hendel clasped it warmly, then those of the Elven brothers, and disappeared into the forests with a parting wave.

  Balinor and the Elven brothers waited until they could no longer see him moving through the trees and then began their walk across the plains toward Tyrsis. The sun had dropped behind the horizon, and the sky had turned from dusky red to a deep gray and blue that signaled the momentary approach of night. They were about halfway when the sky turned completely black, revealing the first of the night’s stars shining in a clear, cloudless sky. As they neared the fabled city, its vast bulk sprawling and dark against the night horizon, the Prince of Callahorn described in detail to the Elven brothers the history behind the building of Tyrsis.

  A series of natural defenses protected the man-made fortress. The city had been built on a high plateau which ran back against a line of small, but treacherous cliffs. The cliffs bounded the plateau entirely on the south and partially on the west and east. While they were not nearly so high or formidable in appearance as the Dragon’s Teeth or the Charnal Mountains of the far Northland, they were incredibly steep. That portion of the cliffs that faced north onto the plateau rose almost straight up, and no one had ever successfully scaled it. Thus, the city was well protected from the rear, and it had never been necessary to construct any defenses to the south. The plateau on which the city was built was a little over three miles across at its widest point, dropping off sharply onto the plainlands which ran unbroken and open all the way north and west to the Mermidon River and east to the forests of Callahorn. The swift Mermidon actually formed the first line of defense against invasion, and few armies had ever gotten beyond that point to reach the plateau and the city walls. The enemy who did manage to cross the Mermidon onto the plainlands immediately found itself confronted by the steep wall of the plateau, which could be defended from above. The main route of access to this bluff was a huge iron-and-stone rampway, which was rigged to collapse by knocking out pins in the major supports.

  But even if the enemy managed to reach the top of the plateau and thereby gain a foothold, the third defense waited—the defense that no army had ever broken through. Standing a scant two hundred yards from the edge of the plateau and ringing the entire city in a semicircle, the ends reaching back to the cliff sides protecting the southern approach, was the monstrous Outer Wall. Constructed from great blocks of stone welded together with mortar, the surface had been smoothed down to make scaling by hand virtually impossible. It rose nearly a hundred feet into the air, massive, towering, impregnable. At the top of the wall, ramparts had been built for the men fighting within the city, with sections cut away to allow concealed bowmen room to shoot down on the unprotected attackers. It was ancient in styling, crude and rough-hewn, but it had repelled invaders for almost a thousand years. No enemy army had penetrated into the inner city since its construction following the First War of the Races.

  Just within the great Outer Wall, the Border Legion was quartered in a series of long, sloping barracks interspersed by buildings used for storage of supplies and weapons. Approximately one-third of this great fighting force was kept on duty at any given time, while the other two-thirds remained at home with their families, pursuing their secondary occupations as laborers, craftsmen, or shopkeepers in the city. The barracks were equipped to house the entire army if the need should ever arise, as
indeed it had already done on more than one occasion, but at present they were only partially filled. Set back from the barracks, supply housing, and parade grounds was a second wall of stone blocks separating the soldiers’ quarters from the city proper. Within this second wall, lining the neat, winding city streets, were the homes and businesses of the urban population of Tyrsis, all carefully constructed and meticulously cared for buildings. The city sprawled over most of the plateau’s elevation, running from this second stone wall almost to the cliffs bordering the south approach. At this innermost point of the city, a low third wall had been built which marked the entrance to the government buildings and the royal palace of the King, complete with public forum and landscaped grounds. The tree-shaded parks surrounding the palace provided the only sylvan setting on the otherwise open and sparse flatland of the plateau. The third wall had not been built for defensive purposes, but as a line of demarcation, signifying government-owned property that had been reserved for the King’s use and, in the case of the parks, for all the people. Balinor deviated from his description of the city’s construction long enough to point out to the Elven brothers that the Kingdom of Callahorn was one of the few remaining enlightened monarchies in the world. While it was technically a monarchy ruled by a King, the government also consisted of a parliamentary body composed of representatives chosen by the people of Callahorn, who helped the ruler hammer out the laws that governed the land. The people took great pride in their government and in the Border Legion in which most either had served at one time or were serving now. It was a country in which they could be free men, and this was something worth fighting for.

 
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