Authors: William Nicholson
Orlando Austin New York San Diego Toronto London
Copyright © 2005 William Nicholson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
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Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
First published in Great Britain in 2005 by Egmont Books Ltd.
First U.S. edition 2006
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
p. cm.—(The noble warriors; bk. 1)
Summary: Having been rejected by the Nomana—the revered
warrior-monk order they long to join—sixteen-year-olds Seeker
and Morning Star, along with a curious pirate named Wildman,
attempt to prove that they are worthy of joining the community, after all.
[1. Self-realization—Fiction. 2. Conduct of life—Fiction. 3. Faith—Fiction.
4. Fantasy.] I. Title. II. Series: Nicholson, William. Noble warriors; bk. 1.
ISBN-13: 978-0-15-205768-8 ISBN-10: 0-15-205768-4
Text set in Bembo
U.S. edition designed by Cathy Riggs
A C E G H F D B
Printed in the United States of America
The Legend of the Noble Warriors i
PART ONE ANACREA
1 Sunrise 7
2 The Harvest Time Approaches
3 A Small Rebellion
4 The Open Door
5 An Old Man's Tears
6 Submission, Submission
7 The Wildman 55
8 Morning Star
9 Parting Wisdom
10 The Axer Repaid
PART TWO THE SURROGATE
11 Hate Training
12 The Secret Weapon
13 A Scientific Success
15 The Casting Out
17 The Compact
PART THREE RADIANCE
18 Cheerful Giver
21 Seeker's Plan
22 Happy Workers
23 Tribute Traders
24 The Mother Bear
25 Ease and Solace
PART FOUR SACRIFICE
26 The Wildman's Bite
27 Schemes and Dreams
28 The Darkness
29 Seeker's Test
30 Name Day
33 The Beginning
After many wanderings, on the longest day of the year, the Brother came to the island where the world began; which was called Anacrea because it was the place of first creation. He made a house there, and he lived quietly by himself.
In that winter, when the days were short and the nights were bitter, the Brother was woken from sleep by a crying in the darkness. He rose and lit a lantern and went to the door. "Who's there?" he said. "Why do you cry?" A voice answered, "I am the Lost Child." So the Brother opened the door and saw by the light of his lantern a little child shivering with cold. He brought the child into his house and put fuel on the fire. He wrapped the child in a blanket and made broth for the child to eat and put the child to sleep in his own bed.
That night the Brother had a dream. In his dream the child spoke to him again, saying, "I am the All and Only. I am the Reason and the Goal." Then in his dream the child changed form and became a gentle lady. "I am the Loving Mother," she said. "I will comfort you." Then the form changed again and became a warrior in bloodstained armor. "I am the Wounded Warrior," he said. "I will make you strong." Then the form changed again and became a blind man. "I am the Wise Father," he said. "I will guide you until the day of the coming of the Assassin, who must find me at last."
The next day the Brother said to the child, "Stay with me. I will build you a Garden where you can live in peace."
So the child stayed.
Others came to live on the island, and they pledged themselves to protect the Lost Child, who they knew to be the one true god.
One day there came a great warlord called Noman, who was feared by all. He wanted to see the child god for himself. He entered the Garden and stayed there for a day and a night. When he came out, he knelt humbly before the brothers and sisters and offered them his warrior strength so that they could protect the Lost Child.
Noman built a great fortress round the Garden and called it the Nom. He learned the secret of true strength and passed it on to the brothers and sisters, and they became powerful. They made Noman their leader and called themselves Nomana. But Noman never forgot the warning revealed in the First Brother's dream.
"One day the Assassin will surely come. On that day, our god will die."
Before he left them for the last time, Noman addressed the brothers and sisters.
"Do not seek power. Our power is not given us for ourselves, but for others. Fight the cruelty and injustice of the world. This struggle will never end: but the little we can do, that we must do, so that others will know good men too can be strong."
So began the missions of the Nomana, in which the brothers and sisters travelled far and wide, asking nothing for themselves, bringing justice to the oppressed and freedom to the enslaved. For this they were loved, and became known as the Noble Warriors.
We face a grave and imminent danger.
Those who fear us seek to destroy us.
We do not know when the attack will come,
or from what quarter,
or what powers will be raised against us.
We know only that a new weapon
is being prepared for our destruction.
How are we to defend ourselves against unknown danger?
With vigilance. With wisdom. With sacrifice.
EEKER WOKE EARLIER THAN USUAL, LONG BEFORE DAWN,
and lay in the darkness thinking about the day ahead. It was high summer, with less than a week to go before the longest day of the year. In school it was the day of the monthly test.
And it was his sixteenth birthday.
Unable to sleep, he rose and dressed quietly so as not to wake his parents, and went out into the silent street. By the light of the stars, he made his way to the steps that zigzagged up the steep hillside, and began to climb. As he did so he watched the eastern sky, and saw there the first pale silver gleams on the horizon that heralded the coming dawn.
He had decided to watch the sun rise.
At the top of the steps the path flattened out and led into the stone-flagged Nom square. To his right rose the great dark mass of the Nom, the castle-monastery that dominated the island; to his left, the avenue of old storm-blasted pine trees that led to the overlook. He knew these trees well; they were his friends. He came to this place often, to be alone and to look out over the boundless ocean to the very farthest edges of the world.
There was a wooden railing at the far end of the avenue, to warn those who walked here to go no further. Beyond the railing the land fell away, at first at a steep slope, and then in a sheer vertical cliff. Hundreds of feet below, past nesting falcons and the circling flight of gulls, the waves broke against dark rocks. This was the most southerly face of the island. From here there was nothing but sea and sky.
Seeker stood by the railing and watched the light trickle into the sky and shivered. The band of gold now glowing on the horizon seemed to promise change: a future in which everything would be different. With this dawn he was sixteen years old, a child no longer. His real life, the life for which he had been waiting so long, was about to begin.
The gold light was now turning red. All across the eastern sky the stars were fading into the light, and the feathery bands of cloud were rimmed with scarlet. Any moment now the sun itself would break the line of the horizon.
How can a new day begin like this, he thought, and nothing change?
Then there it was, a blazing crimson ball bursting the band of sea and sky, hurling beams of brilliance across the water. He looked away, dazzled, and saw the red light on the trunks of the pine trees and on the high stone walls of the Nom. His own hand too, held up before him, was bathed in the rays of the rising sun, familiar but transformed. Moving slowly, he raised both his arms above his head and pointed his forefingers skyward, and touched them together. This was the Nomana salute.
Those who wished to become Noble Warriors entered the Nom at the age of sixteen.
He heard a soft sound behind him. Turning, startled, he saw a figure standing in the avenue. He flushed and lowered his arms. Then he gave a respectful bow of his head, because the watcher was a Noma.
"You're up early."
A woman. Her voice sounded warm and friendly.
"I wanted to see the dawn."
Seeker was embarrassed that she had seen him making the salute to which he was not entitled; but she did not reprimand him. He bowed again, and headed down the avenue, now flooded by the brilliant light of the rising sun. As he passed the Noma, she said, "It's not necessary to be unhappy."
He stopped and turned back to look at her. Like all the Nomana, she wore a badan over her head, which shadowed her face. But he sensed that she was half smiling as she met his gaze.
"I am unhappy."
The Noma went on gazing at him with her gentle smile.
"Who are you?"
He gave his full name, the name his father had chosen for him, the name he hated. "Seeker after Truth."
"Ah, yes. The schoolteacher's son."
His father was the headmaster of the island's only school. He was raising Seeker to be a teacher like him.
"Your life is your own," said the Noma. "If it's not the life you want, only you can change it."
Seeker made his way slowly back to the steps, and down the steps home, his mind filled by the Noma's words. All his life he had done what his father had asked of him. He had always been top of his class, and was now top of the school. He knew his father was proud of him. But he did not want to live his father's life.
Seeker wanted to be a Noble Warrior.
HE MORNING SUN HAD JUST CLIMBED OVER THE MOUN
tains, and its bright rays, slanting down the western slopes, washed the plains with golden light. The goats quietly grazing on the high pastureland cast elongated shadows on the dew-damp grass. The lanky goatboy felt the warmth of the sun on his back, and raised his stick high above his head, and his shadow reached all the way down to the glittering bends of the river far below. A road ran alongside the river, and on it he could make out a convoy of bullock carts, tiny as a child's toys but perfectly clear. There were three carts, each drawn by a pair of bullocks, crawling slowly westward. He could hear the clop of the hooves and the creak of the wheels in the clear air. Then a barge came into view alongside them, gliding down the river in the lazy breeze, its sails drooping, and he could hear the voices of the bargees calling out morning greetings to the carters. The goatboy moved his stick to make its distant shadow tickle the barge's sail. It was a game he played each morning, for these few minutes in which the angle of the light was just right. Soon the sun would be too high in the sky, and it would be too hot for games. Then he would find the shade of an umbrella pine, and like as not the goats would join him there.
"Come along, old lady. Shuffle along."
One of his goats was lame in a hind leg and lagged behind the others. She always looked round at him when he spoke, and seemed to understand his words. He passed the long summer days alone, and liked to hear a voice from time to time, even if it was only his own.
Then came another voice, which the goats could not hear.
He dropped his stick at once and sank to his knees. He touched his forehead to the ground.
"Here I am, mistress."
We have need of your eyes.
"Command me, mistress."
He trembled as he knelt, hearing the beloved voice within his head, and already anticipating his reward.