Paxon Leah paused in the midst of chopping wood to gaze out across the misty Highlands surrounding the city of Leah. The Highlands were called Leah, too, and the confusion sometimes caused outlanders to wonder if the inhabitants were limited to a single name for everything. It was worse in his case, since his surname was Leah, as well, passed down through countless generations from the rulers of old, for whom the city and the Highlands had been named when the Leahs were their Kings and Queens.
But all that was long ago and far away, and it had little to do with him. He might be the descendant of those Kings and Queens, but that and a few coins would buy you a tankard of ale at the Two Roosters tavern. There hadn’t been a monarchy in Leah for generations; the last members of the royal family had walked away from the responsibility not long after Menion Leah had helped dispatch the Warlock Lord by finding and employing the fabled Sword of Shannara. Vague history, long forgotten by many, it was a legacy he carried lightly and with little regard.
He chopped another dozen pieces of firewood for the winter stash before pausing again. The Leahs were commoners now, no different from anyone else. They hadn’t even served on the Highlands Council, the current governing body, for many years. His parents had inherited the shipping business that had been in the family for half a dozen generations—a once-thriving but now marginal source of income and sustenance, operated by his mother and himself, but mostly by himself. He ran shipments on the average of twice a month, making just enough money to feed and clothe the family—the family consisting of himself, his mother, and his little sister, Chrysallin. His father had been gone since he was ten, killed in an airship accident while flying freight into the Eastland.
He finished cutting up the firewood, stacking it by the storage shed next to their cottage, still pausing now and then to take in the view and dream of better times to come. Not that things were bad. He had time to hunt and fish, and he didn’t work all that hard—though he would have preferred the harder work if the business would improve. At twenty, he was tall and lean and broad-shouldered, his hair red in the tradition of his ancestors. There had been hundreds of redheaded Leahs over the years; he was just the latest. And he imagined there would be hundreds more before the line was played out.
With the wood neatly stacked, he carried his tools into the shed, cleaned and oiled the saws and ax heads, and went into the house to wash up. It was a small cottage with a kitchen, a central living space, and bedrooms for his mother, his sister, and himself. There was a fireplace, with windows to the west-facing front and to the south so there was always plenty of light—important in a climate where the days were frequently gray and hazy.
He glanced at the old sword his sister had hung over the mantel above the hearth, its metal blade, leather pommel, and strap-on sheath all as black as night. Chrys had found it in the attic and proclaimed it hers. The markings on the weapon indicated that the pommel leather and sheath had been replaced more than once, but the metal blade was the original. She said it had belonged to those Leahs of old who had gone on quests with the Ohmsfords and the Druids, all the way back to Menion Leah and forward to their great-grandmother Mirai. Paxon supposed it was so; he had been told the stories often enough as a boy by both his father and his mother. Even some of their friends knew the tales, which had taken on the trappings of legend over the years.
He washed his hands and face in the kitchen sink, pumping water from their well, dried himself, and walked back into the living area to stand before the fireplace. The tales about that black sword were cautionary, whispering of dark magic and great power. It was said the blade had been tempered in the waters of the Hadeshorn once, long ago, and thereby made strong enough that it could cut through magic. A handful of Leahs were said to have carried it into battle with the Druids. A handful were said to have evoked its power.
He had tried to join their ranks more than once when he was much smaller, intent on discovering if the stories were true. Apparently, they weren’t. All of his efforts to make the magic appear—to make the sword do anything, for that matter—had failed. There might have been more to the process, but the blade didn’t come with instructions, and so after numerous attempts he had given up. What need did he have of magic, in any case? It wasn’t as if he were going on a quest with Druids and Ohmsfords.
If there even were any Ohmsfords these days.
There was some doubt about this. All of the Ohmsfords had left Patch Run—their traditional home for hundreds of years—when his great-grandmother had married Railing Ohmsford and brought him to the Highlands to live. His brother, Redden, had come with them, and for a time had shared their home. But eventually he had found a girl to fall in love with and had married her and moved out. Both Redden and Railing had stayed in the Highlands until they died, twins closer than brothers to the end. Redden’s boys had moved away and no more had been heard of them. Railing’s granddaughter, always closer to her grandmother’s side of the family, had taken back the Leah name when she married and had eventually passed it down to her children.
Since then, there had been no Ohmsfords in the Highlands, only Leahs, and Paxon couldn’t say if there were Ohmsfords to be found anywhere in the Four Lands these days. Certainly, he hadn’t heard mention of any. Which was sad, considering that the families had been friends over many, many years, and the relationships had been close and personal, including most recently the marriage of his great-grandmother to Railing.
But everything comes to an end, even friendships, and families die out or move on, so you couldn’t expect that nothing would ever change.
The Ohmsfords had possessed real magic, inherited over the years as a part of their makeup—a power born of Elven magic that had come to be known as the wishsong. Redden and Railing Ohmsford had both had use of it—though it had skipped other generations previously, and every generation since Railing’s marriage to Mirai Leah. None of the offspring from that union and for the three generations following had possessed the wishsong magic, so for them—as for him—it was another slice of history that was interesting to talk about, but of little practical consequence.
Besides, he wasn’t so certain that having use of such magic wouldn’t be more of a burden than a gift. He had heard the stories of what using it had done to the twins, particularly Redden, who had been rendered catatonic after employing it in the terrible struggle against the creatures of the Forbidding. He had recovered, but his brother and Mirai had feared he wouldn’t. All magic was dangerous, and any use involved a certain amount of risk. It didn’t matter if it was something you were born with or not—it still posed a threat.
Which was in large part why magic was outlawed all through the Southland—everywhere the Federation was in control, which these days included everything south of the Rainbow Lake, including Leah. The northern territories didn’t feel the Federation presence as heavily as did the major Southland cities, and in truth Leah and the villages of the Duln were still disputed territories, with the Borderlands laying claim to them as well. But no one wanted to risk bringing the Federation authorities down on their heads by testing out their tolerance for those using magic in deliberate defiance of the edict—especially when the prevailing view in the Highlands was that magic was a source of power best left to the Druids, or left alone entirely.
Paxon studied the sword and scabbard a moment longer, then turned away. A relic, an artifact, or his sister’s momentary infatuation—what difference did it make? It was nothing to him.
He went back outside and glanced at the sky. A few clouds were moving in, but nothing threatening. Still time to work on those radian draws he had been mending for the transport. He had a run to make the following week, and he wanted the airship to be fully operational well before then. He was thinking Chrys should go with him. It was time she began taking an active interest in the business. Still only fifteen, she was wild and impetuous, just beginning to recognize her lack of interest in authority and fully engaged in finding out how much trouble she could get into. At least, that was what he perceived. His mother was more tolerant, seeing Chrys as a young girl growing up and still finding herself, while Paxon saw her as trouble on the prowl.
Like the time she found a way to haul the Radanians’ tractor onto their barn roof. Or the time she put twenty live pigs in the butcher’s bedroom. Or the time she and three others went down to a council meeting to protest involvement with an irrigation plan that potentially would have dammed up the Borgine River and killed thousands of fish, dumping vats full of dead fish on the chamber floor to emphasize their point.
Or all the times she stayed out all night with boys. Or the times she came home from the Two Roosters walking sideways and singing bawdy Highland drinking songs.
His sister needed something to focus on besides finding new and creative ways to entertain herself, and it was time she began contributing more than housecleaning and dishwashing to the family effort. She already knew a sufficient amount about flying airships to help him on his runs, and eventually she would be old enough and might become sufficiently dependable to make runs on her own. In the meantime, she could learn to fly the transport and lend a hand with crewing.
Maybe that would help keep her out of the Two Roosters and similar drinking holes, where she already spent far too much time.
He walked back into the kitchen and began looking through the cold box and pantry. His mother had gone to her sister’s house for a few days, helping with the new baby. So it would be up to him to make dinner for himself and Chrys—assuming his sister put in an appearance. These days, it was no sure thing. He worried for her, and it frustrated him that she paid him so little attention.
You aren’t my parent, she would say. You can’t tell me what to do. Aggravating.
Sometimes, he wished their father were still there. Chrys had grown up too fast and too independent without him there to help rein her in. Maybe he could have exercised better control over her than Paxon.
He shook his head doubtfully. As if anyone could control Chrysallin.
He left the kitchen with a glass of ale and went out to sit on the porch rocker. Maybe he would have to go looking for her, bring her back to share dinner. He didn’t like eating alone. He didn’t like eating while worrying about her. It was bad enough that he had to do everything when their mother was away. Chrys didn’t seem to think she had any responsibilities at all. She acted like she could do what she wanted and that ought to be the way of things.
She acted like a child, he thought, fuming. She acted like no one mattered but her.
But she was a child, of course. She was fifteen—and when you were a fifteen-year-old girl, no one else mattered but yourself.
She had a good heart; he would concede that. She was kind to others, especially to those in need of kindness and less fortunate than she was. She was quick to lend out or even give away what she had to those who didn’t. She could be your friend in a heartbeat, if she saw you wished it. She stood up for what she believed in. She would not back down or be intimidated. His memories of her growing up softened his momentary frustration. She would get back to who she had been; he was sure of it. She would be all right in the end.
He finished off the ale and took the empty tankard back into the kitchen. He should go down to the airfield and work on mending those radian draws, he thought for the second time in the last few minutes. He should forget about Chrys and dinner until the day was a little farther along. Worrying about the future seldom did anything to help improve it. If you wanted to do something about the future, you had to put some effort into it. That usually involved working on something that would make the future you sought more attainable.
As he was going out the door, he glanced once more at the ancient sword above the fireplace. It’d be nice if you could make things better just by using magic. If you could skip the work part. Even if you could only do it once.
Staring at the sword, he wondered suddenly if his life was going in the right direction. He was flying freight on airships because his father had. He was running the family business because he was the oldest, and if he didn’t do it no one would and his mother would have to sell. But was this what he really wanted to do? Or was he just marking time, doing what was easiest, taking on the familiar and not risking anything?
The front door flew open.
He turned around to find Jayet, one of the serving girls at the Two Roosters, standing in the entryway, looking distraught. “What’s wrong?” he asked quickly.
“Your sister!” she snapped. “That’s what’s wrong. You’d better come right away!”
Chrys. Of course it would be Chrys.
He didn’t argue with Jayet. He just did what she asked and went out the door behind her, working hard at keeping up because she was striding ahead so quickly.
“What’s she done now?”
“Gotten herself in trouble. What do you think?”
Jayet was small and tough, physically compact, emotionally cool, and a bulldog at everything she did, which made her perfect for working at the tavern. She was Chrys’s friend—or as much of a friend as anyone could be to his sister—always there when it mattered, ready to keep Chrys from getting in too deep with whatever mad scheme or stunt she had taken it into her head to try out.
Her mop of spiky white-blond hair bounced as she glanced over her shoulder at Paxon. “She got into a dice game. There were five of them, all locals except for this one man, who claims to have flown in on business from the Southland cities. Doesn’t look like a businessman, but who knows? Anyway, I’m not paying much attention to them. No one’s causing any trouble—Chrys included—when all of a sudden she leaps up and starts screaming at him. Just screaming like she can’t stand to be in the same room with him.”
Excerpted from The High Druid's Blade by Terry Brooks. Copyright © 2014 by Terry Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.