Read a sample from THE DARKLING CHILD by Terry Brooks
*Set in the same world as The Shannara Chronicles – now a major fantasy TV series showing on 5Star in the UK and Syfy in Australia*
From New York Times bestselling fantasy author Terry Brooks comes the second stand-alone novel in his legendary Shannara series – a perfect place for new readers to begin.
Paxon Leah was sitting on a bench in the courtyard gardens of Paranor, paging through documents written more than five hundred years earlier that recorded the events in the life of the Elf King Eventine Elessedil, when Keratrix came for him. He could tell immediately from the scribe’s solemn face that something was wrong.
“She’s asking for you,” the other said without preamble. His eyes seemed tired and haunted. “She says it’s time.”
Paxon stared. On a beautiful, sunny day like this one? On a day when everything felt right, and it seemed that the world was at peace and life could go on indefinitely? How could this be?
That was what he thought as he measured the scribe’s words and let their meaning sink in. He didn’t have to ask what Keratrix meant. He knew. He had known this was coming. She had told him so herself.
Aphenglow Elessedil, Ard Rhys of the Fourth Druid Order, was dying.
He rose at once, wordless and shaken, and followed Keratrix from the gardens into the tower that housed her private chambers. The Ard Rhys kept to herself these days, weakened by age and worn down by both the demands of her office and the passage of time. She was housed on the lower floors, no longer able to handle the stairs and the climb that going to her former chambers and to the upper reaches of the main tower required. She had not been in the cold room in over a year. She had not used the scrye waters once in all that time, relying instead on her chosen successor, Isaturin, to carry out her duties. She was in stasis, waiting for the inevitable. If the truth were told, Paxon believed, she was anxious for it to arrive.
And now, apparently, it had.
“Is she sure?” he asked Keratrix as they walked. When he looked at the young Druid, he was reminded of Sebec. Five years earlier, Sebec—then scribe of the Druid order—had been his closest friend at Paranor, and the betrayal of that friendship was a wound that still burned in his memory.
Keratrix—slight and small, scarcely a presence as he wafted ahead of Paxon like a wraith in the shadowed hallways—barely turned. “She insists she is quite sure. I asked this, as well.”
Of course he would. Keratrix was efficient and thorough; he would not leave something like this undone.
“I can’t believe it,” Paxon whispered, almost to himself, though he knew Keratrix must have heard.
And he could not. Five years he had spent as the personal paladin of the Ard Rhys, as the High Druid’s Blade. She had brought him to Paranor at a time when he was drifting. She had offered him the position in large part because of his heritage as a bearer of the magical Sword of Leah. She had given him over to training and had kept watch from a distance as he struggled to find his place. When his sister Chrysallin had been taken by the sorcerer Arcannen, Aphenglow was the one who had helped him to get Chrys back and then found a home for her at Paranor—even though Chrysallin had been sent to kill her and had almost succeeded. And all the while, she had been beset by Sebec’s betrayal and Arcannen’s scheming to gain control of the order.
But perhaps even more important than that, she had taken Chrysallin into the order as a student in training, aware of the importance of the gift she possessed and the need to find a way to manage it. For like her brother, Chrysallin Leah bore a legacy of magic. Paxon’s was the ability to unlock the power of the Sword of Leah. Chrysallin’s was the presence of the wishsong, which she had inherited as a direct descendant of Railing Ohmsford. However, Chrys remained unaware of her powers. Arcannen had kidnapped her in an attempt to use her as a weapon against the Ard Rhys, but the subsequent trauma of the events that followed had wiped away any memory of those powers. Still, Aphenglow was convinced that her memory would eventually return.
So she had let Chrysallin remain at Paranor, keeping close watch over her and waiting for the moment when her magic would resurface and she could be given over to members of the order who would help her learn to master it—who would train her in its usage and teach her of the importance it held not only in her own life but in the lives of those around her.
So far, that moment had not arrived. To this day, Chrysallin remembered nothing, and no sign of the magic had reappeared. Now, as the Ard Rhys prepared for the end of her life, the task of watching over his sister would fall to Paxon. He was ready to accept this, he believed. More ready than he was for what waited just ahead.
As they neared the entry to Aphenglow Elessedil’s room, the door opened and Isaturin appeared. Tall, gaunt, strong-featured, and steady in his gaze, he seemed lessened in all aspects as he approached Paxon. Undoubtedly, he was coming to terms with what the Ard Rhys’s passing would mean for him. He was her designated successor, the next Ard Rhys, and the new High Druid of what would continue as the Fourth Druid Order. He had known of his future for many years; she had made certain of it. But it was one thing to know what lay ahead of you and another altogether to have it standing there at your doorstep.
“She is waiting for you, Paxon,” Isaturin said, slowing to meet him. “She doesn’t have much time, and the journey ahead of us is a long one.”
Paxon stared. “Journey? Do you mean her dying?”
Isaturin shook his head. “No, not that. She will explain. Hurry now. No lingering.”
He moved away, leaving the Highlander looking after him in confusion.
Keratrix touched his arm. “Go in, Paxon. I’ll wait out here.”
Paxon went to the door, knocked softly, and heard her voice in response. Though he could not understand her words, he took a deep breath and entered anyway.
“Paxon,” she greeted him.
That single word almost undid him. Everything she meant to him, everything she had done for him, all they had shared together seemed caught up in the moment. Memories flooded through him, some sad, some happy, all incredibly vivid—a jumble of connections realized in seconds. He stood where he was, weathering the onslaught, frozen in place.
Then he looked up from the spot on the floor to which his gaze had fastened and saw her. Whatever he had expected to find, it wasn’t this. She was sitting up in her favorite chair, a blanket spread across her knees and her hands in her lap, clasped together. She looked old, but not sick; worn, but not broken. Her face radiated strength and certainty, and she had about her an aura of invincibility that caused him to blink in disbelief.
“You thought perhaps to find me abed and failing?” she asked. “You thought I might be breathing my last?”
He nodded, unable to speak.
“It doesn’t work that way. High Druids go to their end with some measure of dignity and strength so they can face what awaits. Sit with me.”
He took the chair across from her. “You don’t look as if you are dying,” he admitted. “You look very well, Mistress.”
Her face was lined by her years and the stresses and struggles she had endured and survived. She was very thin, and her skin had the look of parchment wrapped about bones. He had seen pictures of her when she was young—portraits and sketches executed by Druids who possessed such skills as would allow them to capture her image accurately. It was said she had been beautiful—tall and strong, a warrior Elf and the descendant of Elven Kings and Queens. He could see traces of that in her even now—small indicators of what she had been years ago.
“Kind words, Paxon. But in spite of what you think you see, my passing is at hand. I must go to my rest in the way of all leaders of the order—and for that, I require your company. I wish you to make the journey with me to the Valley of Shale and the Hadeshorn, where I will be met and taken home. I would like to leave at once. Though I may look strong, I can feel myself failing. It is a scary thing to be strong one moment and know that in the next your life will be over. Will you accompany me?”
“Of course,” he said at once. “Should I arrange transport?” He paused. “What happens once we get there?”
She gave him that old, familiar smile. “Best wait and see for yourself. I am not as certain of it as I would like to be. And don’t give any further thought to arranging for an airship. Isaturin is taking care of that now. Just sit with me. Keep me company.”
Paxon sat back. “Do the others in the Druid order know this is happening?”
She shook her head. “Keratrix will tell them once I am gone. If he tells them now, there will be an unending line of mourners and well-wishers, and I don’t think I can bear that. I want to depart this world quietly. When my sister Arling left me all those years ago—when she embraced the fate decreed for her and transformed into the Ellcrys—well, that was quite enough trauma and emotional turmoil for several lifetimes. My departure will be considerably less dramatic.”
She gave a deep sigh and leaned back. “Ah, Arling, I wish I could come to you one last time.” She closed her eyes, and tears streaked her cheeks. Then she wiped them away unself-consciously and smiled at Paxon. “I have never gotten over losing her. Not even after all these years.”
Paxon shifted uneasily, not knowing what to say.
“I have revealed the situation with Chrysallin to Isaturin as the next head of the order,” she said. “I have told him of my fears and of my plans for her should her memory of the wishsong resurface. He will act in my place as her mentor and teacher when it becomes necessary. But I rely mostly on you to keep watch over her, Paxon. You are closest to her and likely to notice first if any changes occur. She will be safe at Paranor from everything save herself. You must help her with that.”
“I will,” he promised.
She straightened, and for a moment he thought she intended to rise. But she remained seated and added, “At some point, Chrysallin will discover the truth. I am convinced of it. I don’t know what effect it will have on her, but you need to be there to help her through it. So don’t fool yourself into thinking this will never happen. I worry that your decision not to tell her is more an avoidance than a kindness. You hope she will never remember what happened to her, what she had to do to save herself. But she will, Paxon. One day, she will. Don’t fail in this. Tell her soon. Chrysallin’s power is well documented in the records, and it is a powerful and sometimes unpredictable weapon.”
He leaned forward. “I have been considering it. I am aware of the arguments for why I should tell her now. But I cannot get past the danger it poses if I am wrong.”
She studied him a moment. “I know you would like this to simply go away, but I don’t think you can depend on that. So telling her in advance might be best. Use your good judgment on how to go about it if you decide to do so. She will listen to you. She adores you. Five years ago, it would have been hard to reveal the truth to her. But now she is grown; she is a woman, and her strength and maturity are much greater than when she first came to us.”
He found himself amazed that Aphenglow Elessedil would take the time and effort to try to help with his sister when there was so much else she might be doing. But she was still Ard Rhys of the Fourth Druid Order, and she would have her priorities firmly in hand even at the end of her life. She would not deviate from who she had been and what she had done for well over a hundred years. That was her nature, a direct result of the demands of her position. She would want to set her house in order.
“I owe you so much,” he said, the words escaping him before he could think better of them. “You’ve given me this life, and I will never forget that.”
“You earned what you have, Paxon,” she said quietly. “No need to thank me for that.”
He basked in her smile. “Can I bring you something to drink? Or eat? Before we set out?”
She shook her head. “We are not sitting here so that you can do something for me. We are here so that I can do something for you. Part of it is warning you of the risk to your sister. Another is warning you to beware of Arcannen. Do not think him gone for good—no more than Chrysallin’s wishsong. He is a dangerous man with a long memory. He will be back for you and for Chrys. He will not tolerate leaving what you cost him unavenged. He will not be able to live with the humiliation and regret. When you least expect it, he will surface again, and he will seek to exact a price for what he has suffered.”
“I am not afraid of him,” Paxon declared at once.
“You should be. He nearly undid the Druid order before you stopped him. He is capable of great evil. Watch out for him. Be careful of yourself and your sister.”
She paused. “One last thing. Isaturin will need time to learn his place as Ard Rhys. No one can prepare for this until they hold the office. It was so for me; it will be so for him. Help him adjust. Give him your support. Keep him safe. You are fully grown into your paladin shoes, a young man with great skill and the good sense to know how to use it. Make use of it for him. Be his right hand and protector in these early months of his service to the order. Now take my arm.”
She reached out, and he rose quickly to assist her. Her arm caught hold of his and she levered herself to her feet smoothly, suddenly seeming younger and stronger. She smiled at the look on his face.
“Now we can go,” she said.