Callahorn was a land that reflected both the past and the future. On the one hand its cities had been built primarily as fortresses to withstand the frequent assaults by warlike neighbors. The Border Legion was a carry-over from earlier times when the newly formed nations were constantly at war, when an almost fanatical pride in national sovereignty resulted in a long struggle over jealously guarded land boundaries, when brotherhood between the peoples of the four lands was still only a distant possibility. The rustic, old-fashioned decor and architecture could be found nowhere else in the quickly growing cities of the deep Southland—cities where more enlightened cultures and less warlike policies were beginning to prevail. Yet it was Tyrsis, with her barbaric walls of stone and warrior men of iron, that had shielded the lower Southland and given it that chance to expand in new directions. There were signs of what was to come in this picturesque land as well, signs that told of another age and time not too far distant. There was a unity of expression in the people that spoke of tolerance and understanding of all races and peoples. In Callahorn, as in no other country in all the sheltered Southland, a man was accepted for what he was and treated accordingly.
Tyrsis was the crossroads of the four lands, and through its walls and lands passed members of all the nations, giving its people an opportunity to see and understand that the differences in face and body that distinguished the races outwardly were negligible. It was the inner person the people had learned to judge. A giant Rock Troll would not be stared at and shunned because of his grotesque appearance by the people of Callahorn; Trolls were common in that land. Gnomes, Elves, and Dwarfs of all types and species made regular passages through that country, and if they were friends, they were welcomed. Balinor smiled as he spoke of this new, growing phenomenon that had begun at last to spread to all the lands, and he felt proud that his people were among the first to turn from the old prejudices to look for common grounds of understanding and friendship. Durin and Dayel listened in silent agreement. The Elven people knew what it was like to be alone in a world of people who couldn’t see beyond their own limits.
Balinor had finished, and the three comrades swung from the tall grass of the plainland onto a broad roadway. The road wound ahead into the darkness toward the low, squat plateau looming blackly against the horizon. They were close enough now to make out the lights of the sprawling city and the movement of people on the stone ramp. The entrance through the towering Outer Wall was sharply outlined by torchlight, the giant gates standing open on oiled hinges, guarded by a number of dark-garbed sentries. From the courtyard within shone the lights of the barracks, but there was an absence of men’s laughter and joking that Balinor found peculiar. The voices that were audible were hushed, even muffled, as if no one wished to be heard. The tall borderman peered ahead watchfully, suddenly concerned that something was amiss, but he could detect nothing out of the ordinary, aside from the unusual silence. He dismissed the matter from his mind.
The Elven brothers followed wordlessly as the determined Balinor mounted the causeway leading to the darkened bluff. Several people passed them as they climbed, and those who looked carefully turned to stare in open shock at the Prince of Callahorn. Balinor failed to acknowledge these strange looks, intent upon the city ahead, but the brothers missed nothing and looked at each other in silent warning. Something was seriously wrong. Moments later, as the three reached the plateau, Balinor, too, stopped in sudden concern. He peered intently toward the gates of the city, then looked about him at the shadowed faces of the people passing, who scattered quickly and wordlessly into the night upon discovering his identity. For a moment the three stood rooted in silence, watching the few remaining passersby disappear into the darkness, leaving them alone.
“What is it, Balinor?” Durin asked at last.
“I’m not certain,” the Prince replied anxiously. “Look at the insignia of those guards at the gate. None of them bears the crest of the leopard—the standard of my Border Legion. Instead they wear the sign of a falcon, a mark I do not recognize. The people, too—did you notice their looks?”
The slim Elven faces nodded as one, the keen slanted eyes casting about in undisguised apprehension.
“No matter,” the borderman declared shortly. “This is still my father’s city, and these are my people. We’ll get to the bottom of this when we reach the palace.”
Again he started toward the mammoth gates of the Outer Wall, the Elves a step or two behind him. The tall Prince made no effort to hide his face as he approached the four armed guards, and their reaction was the same as that of the astonished passersby. They made no move to stop the Prince and no words passed between them, yet one hurriedly abandoned his post and disappeared quickly through the gates of the Inner Wall into the streets of the city beyond. Balinor and the Elves passed beneath the shadow of the giant gateway, which seemed to hang in the darkness above them like a monstrous stone arm. They moved past the open gates and the watchful guards into the courtyard beyond, where they could see the low, Spartan-like barracks that housed the famed Border Legion. There were few lights burning, and the barracks appeared to be nearly deserted. A few men scattered about the courtyard wore tunics bearing the insignia of the leopard, but they wore no armor and carried no weapons. One stared momentarily as the three paused in the center of the courtyard, then started in disbelief and cried out sharply to his fellow soldiers. A door burst open from one of the barracks and a grizzled veteran appeared, staring with the others at Balinor and the Elven brothers. He gave a short command, and the soldiers reluctantly turned back to whatever they had been doing, while he hastened over to the three newcomers.
“My Lord Balinor, you’ve come at last,” the soldier exclaimed in greeting, his head bowing briefly as he came to attention before his commander.
“Captain Sheelon, it’s good to see you.” Balinor clasped the veteran’s gnarled hand in his own. “What’s going on in the city? Why do the guards wear the sign of a falcon and not that of our fighting leopard?”
“My Lord, the Border Legion has been ordered to disband! Only a handful of us still remain on duty; the rest are returned to their homes!”
They stared at the man as if he were insane. The Border Legion had been disbanded in the midst of the greatest invasion ever to threaten the Southland? Almost as one they recalled the words of Allanon telling them that the Border Legion was the only hope left to the people of the threatened lands, that the Border Legion must at least temporarily delay the awesome force assembled by the Warlock Lord. Now the army of Callahorn had been mysteriously scattered …
“By whose order …?” Balinor asked in slow fury.
“It was your brother,” the grizzled Sheelon declared quickly. “He ordered his own guardsmen to assume our duties and commanded the Legion to disband until further notice. The Lords Acton and Messaline went to the palace to beg the King to reconsider, but they did not return. There was nothing more any of us could do but obey.…”
“Has everyone gone mad?” the infuriated borderman demanded, clasping the soldier’s tunic. “What of my father, the King? Does he not still rule this land and command the Border Legion? What does he say of this fool’s play?”
Sheelon looked away, groping for the words to the answer he was afraid to speak. Balinor jerked him around violently.
“I—I do not know, my Lord,” the man muttered, still trying to turn away. “We heard the King was ill, and then there was nothing more. Your brother declared himself temporary ruler in the King’s absence from the throne. That was three weeks ago.”
Balinor released the man in shocked silence and stared absently at the lights of the distant palace—the home he had come back to with such great hopes. He had left Callahorn because of an intolerable rift between his brother and himself, yet his going had only made matters worse. Now he must face the unpredictable Palance on terms not of his own choosing—face him and persuade him somehow of the folly of his action in disbanding the desperately needed Border Legion.
“We must go at once to the palace and speak with your brother.” The eager, impatient voice of Dayel cut into his thoughts. He looked at the youthful Elf for a moment, reminded suddenly of his own brother’s young age. It was going to be so hard to reason with Palance.
“Yes, you’re right, of course,” he agreed almost absently. “We must go to him.”
“No, you mustn’t go in there!” The sharp cry of Sheelon held them rooted in place. “The others who went did not come out again. There are rumors that your brother has declared you a traitor—found you to be in league with the evil Allanon, the black wanderer who serves the dark powers. It has been said that you shall be imprisoned and put to death!”
“That is ridiculous!” exclaimed the tall borderman quickly. “I am no traitor and even my brother knows this to be true. As for Allanon, he is the best friend and ally the Southland will ever find. I must go to Palance and speak with him. We may disagree, but he would not imprison his own brother. The power is not his!”
“Unless, perhaps, your father is dead, my friend,” Durin cautioned from one side. “The time to be prudent is now, before we have entered the palace grounds. Hendel believes your brother to be under the influence of the mystic Stenmin, and if he is, you may be in greater danger than you realize.”
Balinor paused, then nodded his agreement. Quickly he explained to Sheelon the threat to Callahorn of an impending Northland invasion, emphasizing his belief that the Border Legion would be vital to the defense of their homeland. Then he gripped the aged soldier’s shoulder tightly and bent close to him.
“You will wait four hours for my return or for my personal messenger. If I have not come out or sent word in that time, you will seek out the Lords Ginnisson and Fandwick; the Border Legion is to be reassembled immediately! Then go to the people and demand an open trial of our cause from my brother. He cannot refuse this. You will also send word west and east to the Elf and Dwarf nations, informing them that we are thus held, both I and the cousins of Eventine. Can you remember all I have said to you?”
“Yes, my Lord.” The soldier nodded eagerly. “It shall be done as you command. May fortune go with you, Prince of Callahorn.”
He turned and disappeared back into the barracks, while an impatient and angry Balinor moved toward the inner city. Once again, Durin whispered to his younger brother, urging him to remain outside the city walls until he knew what would happen to Balinor and himself, but Dayel stubbornly refused to be left behind. Durin knew it was pointless to argue the matter further, and at last conceded Dayel’s right to go along. The slim Elf had not yet reached his twentieth year, and for him life was just beginning. All of the members of the little company that had come from Culhaven had felt a special kind of affection for Dayel, the protective love that close friends always feel for the youngest. His fresh candor and ready friendship were rare qualities in a time when most men lived lives hemmed in by suspicion and distrust. Durin was afraid for him, for he had the most to look ahead to and the fewest years behind. If the boy were harmed in any way, he realized that an irreplaceable part of himself would be lost. Durin watched his brother in silence as the lights of Tyrsis burned through the darkness ahead.
In moments, the three crossed the courtyard and passed through the gates of the Inner Wall to the streets of the city beyond. Once more the guards stared in open amazement, but again they did not move to stop the travelers from entering. Balinor seemed to grow in size as the three proceeded down the Tyrsian Way, the main city thoroughfare, his dark form wrapped ominously in the hunting cloak, the chain mail glinting from exposed fists and neck. He stood taller than before, no longer the weary traveler at his journey’s end, but the Prince of Callahorn come home. The people knew him at once, at first stopping and staring like those at the outer gates, then gathering heart from his proud bearing and rushing after him, eager to welcome him home. The crowd swelled from a few dozen to several hundred as the favorite son of Callahorn strode boldly through the city, smiling to those who followed, but hastening to reach the palace. The shouts and cries of the people rose deafeningly, changing from scattered voices to a single rising chant calling the tall borderman’s name. A few of the crowd managed to get next to the determined man, whispering ominous warnings. But the Prince would not listen to cautious voices any longer; shaking his head after each warning, he continued on.
The growing crowd passed through the heart of Tyrsis, milling under the giant archways and crosswalks that ran overhead, pushing through the narrow portions of the Tyrsian Way past tall, white-walled buildings and smaller single-family residences to the Bridge of Sendic which spanned the lower levels of the people’s parks. At the other end stood the gates of the palace, darkened and closed. At the peak of the bridge’s wide arch, the Prince of Callahorn turned abruptly to face the throng still faithfully following him and threw up his hands in a command to halt. They came to an obedient stop, their voices lowering into silence as the tall figure addressed them.
“My friends—my countrymen.” The proud voice rang out in the near darkness, its thundering echoes rolling back. “I have missed this land and its brave citizens, but I have come home—and I will not leave again! There is no need for fear. This land shall stand eternal! If there be trouble within the monarchy, then it is for me to face it. You must go back now to your homes and wait for morning to show you in a better light that all is well. Please, go now to your homes and I shall go to mine!”
Without waiting to judge the crowd’s reaction, Balinor wheeled about and proceeded on across the bridge toward the gates of the palace, the Elven brothers still close at his heels. The voice of the people rose again to call after them, but the crowd did not follow, though many might have wished to do so. Obedient to his command, they turned slowly about, some still shouting his name in defiance at the silent, darkened castle, though others mumbled grim prophecies of what awaited the tall borderman and his two friends within the walls of the imperial home. The three travelers quickly lost sight of the people as they started down the slope of the bridge’s high arch in quick, determined strides. In minutes they reached the tall, metal-bound gates of the palace of the Buckhannahs. Balinor never paused, but reached for the huge iron ring fastened to the wood and brought it crashing down against the shuttered gate in thundering knocks. For a moment there was no other sound, as the men stood in the darkness without, listening with mixed feelings of anger and apprehension. Then a low voice from within called for identification. Balinor gave his name and a sharp command to those within to open the gates immediately. In an instant, the heavy bars were drawn back and the gates swung inward to admit the three. Balinor moved into the garden courtyard without a backward glance at the silent guards, his eyes on the magnificent columned building beyond. Its high windows were dark except for those on the ground floor in the left wing. Durin motioned Dayel ahead of him, taking the opportunity to peer into the shadows about them where he quickly discovered a dozen well-armed guards close at hand. All bore the insignia of the falcon.
The watchful Elf knew instantly that they were walking into a trap, just as he had silently anticipated when they had entered the city. His first inclination was to stop Balinor and warn him of what he had seen. But he instinctively knew that the borderman was far too seasoned a fighter not to know what he was getting into. Durin wished once more that his brother had stayed outside the palace walls, but it was too late now. The three crossed the garden walks to the doors of the palace. There were no guards and the doors opened without resistance to Balinor’s hurried shove. The halls of the aged building glowed brightly in the torchlight, the flames catching the splendor of the colorful wall murals and paintings that decorated the Buckhannah family home. The wood trimming was old and rich, polished with care and partially covered by fine tapestries and metal plaques of family crests from generations of the famed rulers of the land. As the Elven brothers followed the tall Prince down these silent halls, they recalled darkly another time and place in the recent past—the ancie
nt fortress of Paranor. There, too, a trap had awaited them amid the historic splendor of another age.
They turned left into another hallway, Balinor still in the lead by several strides, his big form filling the high corridor, the long hunting cloak billowing out behind him as he walked. For an instant, he reminded Durin of Allanon, huge, angered, dangerous when he moved catlike as the Prince of Callahorn did now. Durin glanced anxiously at Dayel, but the younger Elf did not seem to notice; his face was flushed with excitement. Durin felt for the handle of his dagger, the cold metal reassuring to his hot palm. If they were to be trapped again, it would not be without a fight.
Then the giant borderman stopped suddenly before an open doorway. The Elven brothers hastened to his side, peering past his broad frame into the lighted room beyond. There was a man standing near the back of the elegantly furnished chamber—a big man, blond and bearded, his broad figure cloaked in a long purple robe with a falcon marking. He was several years younger than Balinor, but held his tall frame erect in the same manner, the hands clasped loosely behind his back. The Elves knew immediately that he was Palance Buckhannah. Balinor moved several steps into the chamber, saying nothing, his eyes riveted on his brother’s face. The Elves followed the borderman, looking cautiously about. There were too many doors, too many heavy drapes that could be concealing armed guards. A moment later there was a movement in the hall behind them just out of sight. Dayel turned slightly to face the open doorway. Durin moved a little apart from the others, his long hunting knife drawn, his lean frame bent slightly in a half-crouch.
Balinor made no move, but stood silently before his brother, staring at the familiar face, amazed that the eyes were filled with a strange hatred. He had known it would be a trap, known that his brother would be prepared for them. Yet he had believed all along that they would at least be able to talk as brothers, converse with one another in a frank and reasonable manner despite their differences. But as he looked into those eyes and caught the undisguised glint of burning fury, he realized that his brother was beyond reason, perhaps beyond sanity.
The Sword of Shannara Part 2: The Druids Keep is the newest addition to the Del Rey Imagine program, which offers the best in classic fantasy and science fiction for readers 12 and up. About the Author.
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