High Druid Of Shannara: Jarka Ruus by Terry BrooksHigh Druid Of Shannara: Jarka Ruus by Terry Brooks

High Druid Of Shannara: Jarka Ruus

byTerry Brooks

Mass Market Paperback | August 31, 2004

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More than a quarter of a century after The Sword of Shannara carved out its place in the pantheon of great epic fantasy, the magic of Terry Brooks’s New York Times bestselling saga burns as brightly as ever. Three complete series have chronicled the ever-unfolding history of Shannara. But more stories are still to be told—and new adventures have yet to be undertaken. Book One of High Druid of Shannara invites both the faithful longtime reader and the curious newcomer to take the first step on the next extraordinary quest.

Twenty years have passed since Grianne Ohmsford denounced her former life as the dreaded Ilse Witch—saved by the love of her brother, the magic of the Sword of Shannara, and the destruction of her evil mentor, the Morgawr. Now, fulfilling the destiny predicted for her, she has established the Third Druid Council, and dedicated herself to its goals of peace, harmony among the races, and defense of the Four Lands. But the political intrigue, secret treachery, and sinister deeds that have haunted Druid history for generations continue to thrive. And despite her devotion to the greater good as Ard Rhys—the High Druid of Paranor, Grianne still has bitter enemies.

Among the highest ranks of the Council she leads lurk those who cannot forget her reign of terror as the Ilse Witch, who covet her seat of power, and who will stop at nothing to see her deposed . . . or destroyed. Even Grianne’s few allies—chief among them her trusted servant Tagwen—know of the plots against her. But they could never anticipate the sudden, ominous disappearance of the Ard Rhys, in the dead of night and without a trace. Now, barely a step ahead of the dark forces bent on stopping him, Tagwen joins Grianne’s brave young nephew, Pen Ohmsford, and the wise, powerful elf Ahren Elessedil on a desperate and dangerous mission of search and rescue—to deliver the High Druid of Shannara from an unspeakable fate.

Expect no end of wonders, no shortage of adventure, exhilaration, suspense, and enchantment, as Terry Brooks demonstrates, once again, that there is no end to his magic of invention and mastery of storytelling.

From the Hardcover edition.
Terry Brooks has thrilled readers for decades with his powers of imagination and storytelling. He is the author of more than thirty books, most of which have been New York Times bestsellers. He lives with his wife, Judine, in the Pacific Northwest.
Title:High Druid Of Shannara: Jarka RuusFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 6.9 × 4.2 × 1.1 inPublished:August 31, 2004Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345435761

ISBN - 13:9780345435767


Rated 5 out of 5 by from fave one of my fave favourite fantasy series!
Date published: 2017-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from awesome This is one of my favourite books so far.
Date published: 2017-01-25

Read from the Book

One She sat alone in her chambers, draped in twilight's shadows and evening's solitude, her thoughts darker than the night descending and heavier than the weight of all Paranor. She retired early these days, ostensibly to work but mostly to think, to ponder on the disappointment of today's failures and the bleakness of tomorrow's prospects. It was silent in the high tower, and the silence gave her a momentary respite from the struggle between herself and those she would lead. It lasted briefly, only so long as she remained secluded, but without its small daily comfort she sometimes thought she would have gone mad with despair.She was no longer a girl, no longer even young, though sheretained her youthful looks, her pale translucent skin still unblemishedand unlined, her startling blue eyes clear, and her movementssteady and certain. When she looked in the mirror, whichshe did infrequently now as then, she saw the girl she had beentwenty years earlier, as if aging had been miraculously stayed. Butwhile her body stayed young, her spirit grew old. Responsibilityaged her more quickly than time. Only the Druid Sleep, shouldshe avail herself of it, would stay the wearing of her heart, and shewould not choose that remedy anytime soon. She could not. Shewas the Ard Rhys of the Third Druid Council, the High Druid ofParanor, and while she remained in that office, sleep of any kindwas in short supply.Her gaze drifted to the windows of her chamber, looking westto where the sun was already gone behind the horizon, and thelight it cast skyward in the wake of its descent a dim glow beginningto fail. She thought her own star was setting, as well, itslight fading, its time passing, its chances slipping away. She wouldchange that if she could, but she no longer believed she knewthe way.She heard Tagwen before she saw him, his footfalls light andcautious in the hallway beyond her open door, his concern for herevident in the softness of his approach."Come, Tagwen," she called as he neared.He came through the door and stopped just inside, not presumingto venture farther, respecting this place that was hers andhers alone. He was growing old, as well, nearly twenty years ofservice behind him, the only assistant she had ever had, his time atParanor a mirror of her own. His stocky, gnarled body was stillstrong, but his movements were slowing and she could see the wayhe winced when his joints tightened and cramped after too muchuse. There was kindness in his eyes, and it had drawn her to himfrom the first, an indication of the nature of the man inside. Tagwenserved because he respected what she was doing, what shemeant to the Four Lands, and he never judged her by her successesor failures, even when there were so many more of the latter thanthe former."Mistress," he said in his rough, gravel-laced voice, his seamed,bearded face dipping momentarily into shadow as he bowed. Itwas an odd, stiff gesture he had affected from the beginning. Heleaned forward as if to share a confidence that others might try tooverhear. "Kermadec is here."She rose at once. "He will not come inside," she said, making ita statement of fact.Tagwen shook his head. "He waits at the north gate and asks ifyou will speak with him." The Dwarf's lips tightened in somber re-flection. "He says it is urgent."She reached for her cloak and threw it about her shoulders.She went by him, touching his shoulder reassuringly as shepassed. She went out the door and down the hallway to begin herdescent. Within the stairwell, beyond the sound of her own softfootfalls, she heard voices rise up from below, the sounds of conversationsadrift on the air. She tried to make out what they said,but could not. They would be speaking of her; they did so almostincessantly. They would be asking why she continued as theirleader, why she presumed that she could achieve anything after somany failures, why she could not recognize that her time was pastand another should take her place. Some would be whispering thatshe ought to be forced out, one way or another. Some would beadvocating stronger action.Druid intrigues. The halls of Paranor were rife with them, andshe could not put a stop to it. At Walker's command, she hadformed this Third Council on her return to the Four Lands fromParkasia. She had accepted her role as leader, her destiny as guideto those she had recruited, her responsibility for rebuilding thelegacy of the Druids as knowledge givers to the Races. She hadformed the heart of this new order with those few sent underduress by the Elven King Kylen Elessedil at his brother Ahren'sinsistence. Others had come from other lands and other Races,drawn by the prospect of exploring magic's uses. That had beentwenty years ago, when there was fresh hope and everythingseemed possible. Time and an inability to effect any measurablechange in the thinking and attitudes of the governing bodies ofthose lands and Races had leeched most of that away. What remainedwas a desperate insistence on clinging to her belief thatshe was not meant to give up.But that alone was not enough. It would never be enough. Notfor someone who had come out of darkness so complete thatany chance at redemption had seemed hopeless. Not for GrianneOhmsford, who had once been the Ilse Witch and had made herselfArd Rhys to atone for it.She reached the lower levels of the Keep, the great halls thatconnected the meeting rooms with the living quarters of those shehad brought to Paranor. A handful of these Druids came into view,shadows sliding along the walls like spilled oil in the light of theflameless lamps that lit the corridors. Some nodded to her; one ortwo spoke. Most simply cast hurried glances and passed on. Theyfeared and mistrusted her, these Druids she had accepted into herorder. They could not seem to help themselves, and she could notfind the heart to blame them.Terek Molt walked out of a room and grunted his unfriendlygreeting, outwardly bold and challenging. But she could sense hisreal feelings, and she knew he feared her. Hated her more thanfeared her, though. It was the same with Traunt Rowan and IridiaEleri and one or two more. Shadea a'Ru was beyond even that, hervenomous glances so openly hostile that there was no longer anycommunication between them, a situation that it seemed nothingcould help.Grianne closed her eyes against what she was feeling and wonderedwhat she was going to do about these vipers--what shecould do that would not have repercussions beyond anything shewas prepared to accept.Young Trefen Morys passed her with a wave and a smile, hisface guileless and welcoming, his enthusiasm evident. He was abright light in an otherwise darkened firmament, and she wasgrateful for his presence. Some within the order still believed in her.She had never expected friendship or even compassion from thosewho came to her, but she had hoped for loyalty and a sense of responsibilitytoward the office she held. She had been foolish to thinkthat way, and she no longer did so. Perhaps it was not inaccurate tosay that now she merely hoped that reason might prevail."Mistress," Gerand Cera greeted in his soft voice as he bowedher past him, his tall form lean and sinuous, his angular featuressleepy and dangerous.There were too many of them. She could not watch out for allof them adequately. She put herself at risk every time she walkedthese halls--here in the one place she should be safe, in the ordershe had founded. It was insane.She cleared the front hall and went out into the night, passedthrough a series of interconnected courtyards to the north gates,and ordered the guard to let her through. The Trolls on watch, impassiveand silent, did as they were told. She did not know theirnames, only that they were there at Kermadec's behest, which wasenough to keep her reassured of their loyalty. Whatever else happenedin this steadily eroding company of the once faithful, theTrolls would stand with her.Would that prove necessary? She would not have thought so amonth ago. That she asked the question now demonstrated howuncertain matters had become.She walked to the edge of the bluff, to the wall of trees thatmarked the beginning of the forest beyond, and stopped. An owlglided through the darkness, a silent hunter. She felt a sudden connectionwith him so strong that she could almost envision flyingaway as he did, leaving everything behind, returning to the darknessand its solitude.She brushed the thought aside, an indulgence she could notafford, and whistled softly. Moments later, a figure detached itselffrom the darkness almost in front of her and came forward."Mistress," the Maturen greeted, dropping to one knee andbowing deeply."Kermadec, you great bear," she replied, stepping forward toput her arms around him. "How good it is to see you."Of the few friends she possessed, Kermadec was perhaps thebest. She had known him since the founding of the order, whenshe had gone into the Northland to ask for the support of theTroll tribes. No one had ever thought to do that, and her requestwas cause enough for a convening of a council of the nations. Shedid not waste the opportunity she had been given. She told themof her mission, of her role as Ard Rhys of a new Druid Council, thethird since Galaphile's time. She declared that this new orderwould accept members from all nations, the Trolls included. Noprejudices would be allowed; the past would play no part in thepresent. The Druids were beginning anew, and for the order tosucceed, all the Races must participate.Kermadec had stepped forward almost at once, offering thesupport of his sizeable nation, of its people and resources. Promptedby her gesture and his understanding of its importance to theRaces, his decision was made even before the council of nationshad met. His Rock Trolls were not imbued with a strong belief inmagic, but it would be their honor to serve as her personal guard.Give them an opportunity to demonstrate their reliability and skill,and she would not regret it.Nor had she ever done so. Kermadec had stayed five years, andin that time became her close friend. More than once, he hadsolved a problem that might otherwise have troubled her. Evenafter he had left for home again, his service complete, he hadremained in charge of choosing the Trolls that followed in hisfootsteps. Some had doubted the wisdom of allowing Trolls insidethe walls at all, let alone as personal guards to the Ard Rhys. Butshe had walked in darker places than these and had allied herselfwith creatures far more dangerous. She did not think of any Raceas predisposed toward either good or evil; she saw them all only asbeing composed of creatures that might be persuaded to chooseone over the other.Just as she saw the members of her Druid order, she thought,though she might wish it otherwise."Kermadec," she said again, the relief in her voice clearlyevident."You should let me rid you of them all," he said softly, onegreat hand coming to rest on her slim shoulder. "You should washthem away like yesterday's sweat and start anew."She nodded. "If it were that easy, I should call on you to helpme. But I can't start over. It would be perceived as weakness by thegovernments of the nations I court. There can be no weakness inan Ard Rhys in these times." She patted his hand. "Rise and walkwith me."They left the bluff and moved back into the trees, perfectlycomfortable with each other and the night. The sights and soundsof Paranor disappeared, and the silence of the forest wrapped themclose. The air was cool and gentle, the wind a soft whisper in thenew spring leaves, bearing the scent of woods and water. It wouldbe summer before long, and the smells would change again."What brings you here?" she asked him finally, knowing hewould wait for her to ask before speaking of it.He shook his head. "Something troubling. Something you mayunderstand better than I do."Even for a Rock Troll, Kermadec was huge, towering over herat close to seven feet, his powerful body sheathed in a barklikeskin. He was all muscle and bone, strong enough to rip small treesout at the roots. She had never known a Troll to possess thestrength and quickness of Kermadec. But there was much more tohim. A Maturen of thirty years, he was the sort of person othersturned to instinctively in times of trouble. Solid and capable, hehad served his nation with a distinction and compassion that beliedthe ferocious history of his Race. In the not so distant past, theTrolls had marched against Men and Elves and Dwarves with thesingle-minded intent of smashing them back into the earth. Duringthe Wars of the Races, ruled by their feral and warlike nature,they had allied themselves with the darker forces in the world. Butthat was the past, and in the present, where it mattered most, theywere no longer so easily bent to service in a cause that reasonwould never embrace."You have come a long way to see me, Kermadec," she said. "Itmust be something important.""That remains for you to decide," he said softly. "I myselfhaven't seen what I am about to reveal, so it is hard for me tojudge. I think it will be equally hard for you.""Tell me."He slowed to a stop in the darkness and turned to face her."There is strange activity in the ruins of the Skull Kingdom, mistress.The reports come not from Rock Trolls, who will not go intothat forbidden place, but from other creatures, ones who will, oneswho make a living in part by telling of what they see. What theysee now is reminiscent of other, darker times.""The Warlock Lord's domain, once," she observed. "A badplace still, all broken walls and scattered bones. Traces of evillinger in the smells and taste of the land. What do these creaturestell you they see?""Smoke and mirrors, of a sort. Fires lit in darkness and turnedcold by daylight's arrival. Small explosions of light that suggestsomething besides wood might be burning. Acrid smells that haveno other source than the fires. Black smudges on flat stones thathave the look of altars. Markings on those stones that might besymbols. Such events were sporadic at first, but now occur almostnightly. Strange things that of themselves alone do not troubleme, but taken all together do."He breathed in and exhaled. "One thing more. Some amongthose who come to us say there are wraiths visible at the edges ofthe mist and smoke, things not of substance and not yet entirelyformed, but recognizable as something more than the imagination.They flutter like caged birds seeking to be free."Grianne went cold, aware of the possibilities that the sightingssuggested. Something was being conjured up by use of magic,something that wasn't natural to this world and that was beingsummoned to serve an unknown purpose."How reliable are these stories?"He shrugged. "They come from Gnomes for the most part, theonly ones who go into that part of the world. They do so becausethey are drawn to what they perceive in their superstitions as sacred.They perform their rituals in those places because they feel itwill lend them power. How reliable are they?" He paused. "I thinkthere is weight to what they say they see."She thought a moment. Another strangeness to add to an alreadyovercrowded agenda of strangenesses. She did not like thesound of this one, because if magic was at work, whatever its reason,its source might lie uncomfortably close to home. Druids hadthe use of magic and were the most likely suspects, but their use ofit in places beyond Paranor was forbidden. There were other possibilities,but this was the one she could not afford to ignore."Is there a pattern to these happenings?" she asked. "A timingto the fires and their leavings?"He shook his head. "None that anyone has discerned. Wecould ask the Gnomes to watch for it, to mark the intervals.""Which will take time," she pointed out. "Time best spentlooking into it myself." She pursed her lips. "That is what youcame to ask me to do, isn't it? Take a look for myself?"He nodded. "Yes, mistress. But I will go with you. Not aloneinto that country--ever--would I go. But with you beside me, Iwould brave the netherworld and its shades."Be careful of what you boast of doing, Kermadec, she thought. Boastshave a way of coming back to haunt you.She thought of what she had committed herself to do inthe days ahead. Meetings with various Druids to rework studiesthat members of the order would undertake. Those could wait.Overseeing the repairs to the library that concealed the DruidHistories--that one could not happen without her presence, butcould wait, as well. A delegation from the Federation was due to arrivein three days; the Prime Minister of the Coalition was reputedto lead it. But she could be back in time for that if she left at once.She must go, she knew. She could not afford to leave the matterunattended to. It was the sort of thing that could mushroom intotrouble on a much larger scale. Even by her appearance, she mightdissuade those involved from pursuing their conjuring. Once theyknew that she was aware of them, they might go to ground again.It was the best she could hope for. Besides, it gave her an opportunityto escape Paranor and its madness for a few days. In theinterval, perhaps a way to contend with the intrigues might occurto her. Time and distance often triggered fresh insights; perhapsthat would happen here."Let me tell Tagwen," she said to Kermadec, "and we'll be off."Chapter TwoThey departed Paranor at midnight, flying north out ofthe Druid forestlands with a full moon to light their way,riding the edge of their expectations just ahead of theirdoubts and fears. They chose to use Grianne's War Shrike, Chaser,to make the journey, rather than a Druid airship, thinking that theShrike would draw less attention and be less cumbersome. An airshiprequired a crew, and a crew required explanations. Griannepreferred to keep secret what she was investigating until she betterunderstood what it meant.Tagwen accepted the news of her sudden and mysterious departurestoically, but she read disapproval and concern in his eyes.He was desperate for her to tell him something more, a hint ofwhat she was about so that if the need arose, he might be able tohelp. But she thought it best he know only that she would be gonefor a few days and he must see to her affairs as best he could.There would be questions, demands perhaps, but he couldn't revealwhat he didn't know. She braced his shoulders firmly with herhands, smiled her approval and reassurance, and slipped away.It went without saying that Tagwen would make no mentionof Kermadec unless she failed to return; a visit from the RockTroll was always to be kept secret. There were too many who disapprovedof the relationship, and the Dwarf understood the importanceof not throwing fuel on a fire already dangerously hot.Grianne could depend on Tagwen to use good judgment in suchmatters. It was one of his strongest attributes; his exercise of discretionand common sense was easily the equal of her own. Hadhe the inclination or the talent, he would have made a good Druid.That accolade bestowed, she was just as happy to have him bewhat he was.The flight took the rest of the night and most of the followingday, a long, steady sweep out of Callahorn and across the Streleheimto the peaks of the Knife Edge and the Razors, where theruins of the Skull Kingdom lay scattered in the valley between. Asshe guided Chaser onward, the rush of air in her ears wrappingher in its mindless sound, she had plenty of time to think. Herthoughts were both of what lay ahead and behind. But while theformer merely intrigued, the latter haunted.Her efforts at this new life had started so promisingly. She hadreturned to the Four Lands with such confidence, her identity regained,her life remade, the lies that had misled her replaced bytruths. She had found her lost brother Bek, whom she had neverthought to see again. She had broken the chains that the Morgawrhad forged to hold her. She had fought and destroyed the warlockwith her brother at her side. She had done this so that she mightbe given a chance at the redemption she had never thought tofind. The dying touch of a Druid, his blood on her forehead markingher as his successor, had set her on her path. It was a destinyshe would never have chosen for herself but that she had come tobelieve was right and had therefore embraced.Walker, a shade with a shade's vision, had reappeared to her atthe Hadeshorn, and given her his blessing. Druids dead and gonepassed in review, their shades materializing from the ether, risingout of the roiling waters, infusing her with their knowledge and ashare of their collective power. She would rebuild their order, resumingthe task that Walker had undertaken for himself and failedto complete. She would summon members of all the Races to aThird Druid Council and from it found a new order, one in whichthe dictates of a single Druid would no longer be all that stoodbetween civilization and anarchy, between reason and madness.For too long, one Druid had been required to make the difference.Those few who had done so--Bremen, Allanon, and Walker--hadpersevered because there had been no one else and no other way.She would change that.Such dreams. Such hopes.Ahren Elessedil had talked his brother, the Elven King KylenElessedil, into supplying the first of the new order, two handfuls ofElves Ahren had led to Paranor personally. After Kylen discoveredhe had been tricked, that Walker was dead and the hated IlseWitch had replaced him, he had sought to recall those he hadsent. But it was too late; the Elves who had come were committedto her and beyond his reach. In retaliation he attempted to poisonthe minds of the leaders of the other Races against her at every opportunity.That did not prove to be too difficult with Sen Dunsidan,by then Prime Minister of the Federation, who already fearedand detested her. But the Dwarves and Trolls were less easily persuaded,especially after she made the effort to go directly to them,to speak in council, and to insist that she would place the order attheir disposal so far as it was possible to do so. Remember whatthe Druids were created to do, she kept reminding them. If youseek a source of strength in the cause of peace and goodwill amongall nations, the Druids are the ones to whom you should turn.For a time, they did so. Members of both Races came to her,and some from Callahorn, as well, for they had heard good thingsabout her from the Rover Captain Redden Alt Mer and from theHighlander Quentin Leah, men they respected. Besides, once theylearned that the Federation did not support her, they were inclinedto think that was reason enough for them to do so. The war betweenthe Federation and the Free-born was still being fought,mighty armies still locked in combat on the Prekkendorran, leadersstill waging a war that had been waged since the passing ofAllanon--a war pitting unification against independence, territorialrights against free will. The Free-born wanted Callahorn to be itsown country; the Federation wanted it to be a part of the Southland.At times it had been both, at times neither.There was more to it, of course, as there always is in the caseof wars between nations. But that was the justification most oftengiven by those involved, and into the breach left by the absence ofany sensible attempt to examine the matter stepped the Ard Rhys.It was a fateful decision, but one she did not see how she couldavoid. The Federation-Free-born war was a ragged wound thatwould not heal. If the Races were ever to be brought togetheragain, if the Druids were to be able to turn their attention to betteringthe lives of the people of the Four Lands, this war must firstbe ended.So, even as she struggled to strike a balance in the diversity oftemperaments and needs of those who came to Paranor to studythe Druid ways, she was attempting, as well, to find a way to resolvethe conflict between the Federation and the Free-born. It involveddealing with the two leaders who hated her most--KylenElessedil of the Elves and Sen Dunsidan of the Federation. It requiredthat she put aside her own prejudices and find a way to getpast theirs. She was able to do this in large part not through fear orintimidation but by making herself appear indispensable to them.After all, the Druids were still in possession of knowledge deniedcommon men, more so than ever since the events in Parkasia. Neitherman knew for certain what knowledge she had gained fromthe Old World that might prove invaluable. Neither understoodhow little of that knowledge she actually possessed. But perceptionis often more persuasive than truth. Without the Druids to offersupport, each worried that crucial ground would be lost to theother. Without her help, each believed he risked allowing theother a chance to grow more powerful at his expense. Sen Dunsidanhad always been a politician. Once he understood that she didnot intend to revert to her ways as the Ilse Witch or hold againsthim his temporary alliance with the Morgawr, he was more thanwilling to see what she had to offer. Kylen Elessedil followedalong for no better reason than to keep pace with his enemy.Grianne played at this game because it was the only choiceshe had. She was as good at it now as she had been when shewas the Ilse Witch and manipulation was second nature. It was aslow process. Mostly, she settled for crumbs in exchange for theprospect of a full loaf. At times, brought close by promises madeand fitfully kept, she thought she would succeed in her efforts,her goal no more than a meeting away. Just a truce between thetwo would have opened the door to a more permanent solution.Both were strong men, and a small concession by one might havebeen enough to encourage the other to grant the same. She maneuveredthem both toward making that concession, gaining timeand credibility as she did so, making herself the center of theirthinking as they edged toward a resolution to a war no one reallywanted.Then Kylen Elessedil was killed on the Prekkendorran, theblame for it was laid at her doorstep, and in an instant everythingshe had worked for nearly six years to achieve was lost.When they stopped at midmorning to rest Chaser, Kermadecreopened the wound."Has that boy King come to his senses yet, mistress?" he askedin a tone of voice that suggested he already knew the answer.She shook her head. Kellen Elessedil was his father's son and,if it was possible, liked her even less than his father had. Worse, heblamed her for his father's death, a mindset she seemed unable tochange."He's a fool. He'll die in the same way, fighting for somethingthat to right-thinking men makes no sense at all." Kermadec snortedsoftly. "They say Rock Trolls are warlike, but history suggests thatwe are no worse than Men and Elves and in these times perhapsbetter. At least we do not carry on wars for fifty years.""You could argue the Federation-Free-born war has been goingon for much longer than that," she said."However long, it is still too long." Kermadec stretched hismassive arms over his head and yawned. "What is the point?"It was a rhetorical question and she didn't bother to attempt ananswer. It had been a dozen years since her efforts at finding a solutionhad broken down, and since then she had been preoccupiedwith troubles much closer to home."You are due for a change of guards," Kermadec offered, handingher his aleskin. "Maybe you should think about a change ofDruids at the same time.""Dismiss them all and start over?" She had heard this argumentfrom him before. Kermadec saw things in simple terms; he thoughtshe would be better off if she did so, too. "I can't do that.""So you keep saying.""Dismissing the order now would be perceived as weakness onmy part. Even dismissing the handful of troublemakers who plagueme most would have that effect. The nations look for an excuse toproclaim the Druid Council a failure, especially Sen Dunsidan andKellen Elessedil. I cannot give them one. Besides, if I had to startover at this point, no one would come to Paranor to aid me. Allwould shun the Druids. I have to make do with things as they are."Kermadec took back the aleskin and looked out over thecountryside. They were just at the edge of the Streleheim, facingnorth toward the misty, rugged silhouette of the Knife Edge. Theday was bright and warm, and it promised another clear, moonlitnight in which to explore the ruins of the Skull Kingdom. "Youmight think about the impracticality of that before you give up onmy suggestion."She had thought about alternatives frequently of late, althoughher thinking was more along the lines of restructuring and reorderingso as to isolate those most troublesome. But even there she hadto be careful not to suggest an appearance of weakness to the othersor they would begin to shift allegiance in ways that wouldundo her entirely.At times, she thought it might be best if she simply gave themall what they wanted, if she resigned her position and departed forgood. Let another struggle with the problem. Let someone else takeon her responsibilities and her obligations as Ard Rhys. But sheknew she couldn't do that. No one else had been asked to shoulderthose responsibilities and obligations; they had been given to her,and nothing had happened to change that. She could not simplywalk away. She had no authority to do so. If Walker's shade shouldappear to tell her it was time, she would be gone in a heartbeat--though perhaps not without disappointment at having failed to accomplishher task. But neither Walker's nor the shade of any otherDruid had come to her. Until she was discharged, she could notgo. The dissatisfaction of others was not enough to set her free.Her solution to the problem would have been much easier ifshe were still the Ilse Witch. She would have made an example ofthe more troublesome members of her order and cowed the rest bydoing so. She would not have hesitated to eliminate her problemsin a way that would have appalled even Kermadec. But she hadlived enough of that life, and she would never go back to it. AnArd Rhys must find other, better ways to act.By late afternoon, they had crossed the Streleheim and flownthrough the lower wall of the Knife Edge into the jagged landscapeof the Skull Kingdom. She felt a change in the air long beforeshe saw one on the ground. Even aboard Chaser, severalhundred feet up, she could sense it. The air became dead andold, smelling and tasting of devastation and rot. There was no lifehere, not of a sort anyone could recognize. The mountain wasgone, brought down by cataclysmic forces on the heads of thosewho had worked their evil within it, reduced to a jumble of rockswithin which little grew and less found shelter or forage. It was aruined land, colorless and barren even now, a thousand years later,and it was likely to be a thousand more before that changed. Evenin the wake of a volcano's eruption, in the path of the resultantlava flow, life eventually returned, determined and resilient. Butnot here. Here, life was denied.Ignoring the look and feel of the place, even though it settledabout them with oppressive insistence, they circled the ruins insearch of the site where the fires and the flashes had been observed.After about an hour they found it at one end of a long shelfof rock balanced amid a cluster of spikes that jutted like bonesfrom the earth. A ring of stones encircled a fire pit left blackenedand slick from whatever had been burned. When Grianne first sawit from the air, she could not imagine how anyone could evenmanage to get to it, let alone make use of it. Rock barriers rose allabout, the crevices between them deep and wide, the edges sharpas glass. Then she amended her thinking. It would take a Shrike ora Roc or a small, highly maneuverable airship to gain access, butaccess could be gained. Which had been used in this instance? Shestored the question away to be pondered later.Guiding Chaser to one end of the shelf, they dismounted andwalked back for a closer look."Sacrifices of some sort," Kermadec observed, glancing arounduneasily, his big shoulders swinging left and right, as if he werecaged. He did not like being there, she knew, even with her. Theplace held bad memories for Trolls, even after so long. The WarlockLord might be dead and gone, but the feel of him lingered.In the history of the Trolls, no one had done more damage to thenation's psyche. Trolls were not superstitious in the manner ofGnomes, but they believed in the transference of evil from thedead to the living. They believed because they had experienced it,and they were wary of it happening again.She closed her eyes and cast about with her other senses for amoment, trying to read in the air what had happened here. Shetracked the leavings of a powerful magic, the workings of a sorcerythat was not meant to heal or succor. A summoning of some sort,she read in the bits and pieces that remained. To what end, though?She could not determine, though the smells told of something dying,and not quickly. She looked down at the fire pit and read in thegreasy smears dark purpose in the sacrifices clearly made."This isn't good," she said softly.He stepped close. "What do you find, mistress?""Nothing yet. Nothing certain." She looked up at him, into hisflat, expressionless features. "Perhaps tonight, when darkness cloaksthe thing that finds this dead place so attractive, we shall find out."

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