The Ninth Talisman

The Ninth Talisman by Lawrence Watt-Evans Read Free Book Online

Book: The Ninth Talisman by Lawrence Watt-Evans Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lawrence Watt-Evans
to the borders; enjoying the weather and thinking about his future, not watching what might be a change in the very nature of the town’s existence. The crowd had been up here gathered around Brewer that night, drinking up the summer beer to make room for fresh wort, not down by the boundary shrine marveling at a new road.
    Surely, he thought, he must have stood out here since then, but he could not think of a time when he had. His training in swordsmanship, his daily practice, the unhappy year he had spent traveling, his sour disposition upon his return—he had not spent much time in the pavilion at all, really. He recalled a few gatherings and meetings inside, including the conversation with Younger Priestess three years before that had led to his odd experience with the memories trapped in the village shrine, but he could not remember a single occasion when he took a moment to come out on the terrace and simply look down at the valley.
    Seven and a half years ago he had agreed to become the Chosen Swordsman, and that had led in not much more than a year to his meetingwith the Dark Lord of the Galbek Hills, atop that crude tower outside Split Reed. He had slain the Wizard Lord, avenging the murdered innocents of Stoneslope, and then he had come home to Mad Oak, hoping to never again have reason to leave.
    And until now, he hadn’t. The new Wizard Lord had done nothing to attract his attention or cause him concern, nor had any of the other Chosen visited to discuss anything. There was absolutely no evidence that the present Wizard Lord had murdered anyone or otherwise broken the strictures that he was expected to obey. The few reports that had reached Mad Oak had all seemed quite favorable.
    But building roads, disturbing countless
ler
—while hardly a crime, that was not what was expected of the Wizard Lord. It was completely unanticipated, a thing that had never happened before. It
might
even be a sign of madness.
    If the present Wizard Lord had gone mad, like the last, then he, like the last, must be removed. There had never been two Dark Lords so close together, Sword was fairly sure, but that did not mean it could never happen.
    But building roads—if that was mad, could there be such a thing as beneficial madness? Those cheering townspeople down there clearly didn’t see anything wrong with new roads, no matter what the wild
ler
might think. It wasn’t as if anyone
liked
wild
ler,
they were a dangerous nuisance, something to be respected, but never loved. The loss of any link with Willowbank when the old guide retired had been an annoyance to many of the town’s inhabitants, and they seemed delighted to have a new connection.
    The two miserable priestesses, on the other hand, whatever they might think of the road itself, were suffering from its effects on the natural spirits of the land. Both seemed very ill, though they were somewhat vague about the exact nature of the illness. Younger Priestess had said the pain was in her soul, not her body.
    If Elder Priestess was right about the road’s creation releasing malignant ghosts into the community, then Sword thought others might also come to regret the road’s arrival, as well.
    But those effects would be temporary, wouldn’t they? And when theghosts were laid and the disturbed
ler
scattered and harmony restored, the road would still be there. Anyone who wanted to would be able to walk to Willowbank in half a day.
    And the road crew had told him that similar roads already stretched the length of Longvale, and all the way to Winterhome, under the cliffs east of the Midlands. Other roads were being built out to the coastal towns to the west, and into the southern hills. These projects had been under way for years. Surely, building any of those would have cast out
ler
just as much as this one had, yet road construction had continued. The aftereffects could not be so very dreadful, then.
    The crowd of villagers and laborers was

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