The Fellowship of the Talisman

The Fellowship of the Talisman

by Clifford D. Simak

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Overview

A strange assortment of humans and otherworldly beings joins a young soldier of God on his perilous quest through an alternate, technology-free reality ruled by an all-powerful Evil

In an alternate world where the Dark Ages never ended, “the Evil” that arises every five hundred years has prevented all manner of technological advancement, even well into the twentieth century. The son of a powerful English noble, young Duncan Standish has always longed to be a soldier of the Lord, and now he’s been offered a rare opportunity to fulfill his dream. Entrusted with the delivery of an ancient manuscript—purported to be irrefutable evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ—to a noted Oxenford scholar, Duncan must journey many perilous miles in the company of a motley group of fellow travelers, including a goblin, a ghost, and other magical and non-magical companions. But the road they traverse together is fraught with terrible trials that would test even the most devout, for the Evil is strong in this place of dark wonders.
 
Multiple Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award–winner and SFWA Grand Master Clifford D. Simak moves easily from science fiction to quest fantasy in this enthralling tale of magic, peril, and discovery on an Earth that never was. Rich in color, thrills, and wild invention, and populated by a highly original and unforgettable cast of characters, Fellowship of the Talisman showcases the author’s peerless storytelling skills, demonstrating once again that the great Simak had few equals in the realm of twentieth-century speculative fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504024136
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 315,722
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

During his fifty-five-year career, Clifford D. Simak produced some of the most iconic science fiction stories ever written. Born in 1904 on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Simak got a job at a small-town newspaper in 1929 and eventually became news editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing fiction in his spare time.

Simak was best known for the book City, a reaction to the horrors of World War II, and for his novel Way Station. In 1953 City was awarded the International Fantasy Award, and in following years, Simak won three Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. In 1977 he became the third Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and before his death in 1988, he was named one of three inaugural winners of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.
During his fifty-five-year career, CLIFFORD D. SIMAK produced some of the most iconic science fiction stories ever written. Born in 1904 on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin, Simak got a job at a small-town newspaper in 1929 and eventually became news editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing fiction in his spare time.
Simak was best known for the book City, a reaction to the horrors of World War II, and for his novel Way Station. In 1953 City was awarded the International Fantasy Award, and in following years, Simak won three Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. In 1977 he became the third Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and before his death in 1988, he was named one of three inaugural winners of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Read an Excerpt

The Fellowship of the Talisman


By Clifford D. Simak

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1978 Clifford D. Simak
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2413-6


CHAPTER 1

The manor house was the first undamaged structure they had seen in two days of travel through an area that had been desolated with a thoroughness at once terrifying and unbelievable.

During those two days, furtive wolves had watched them from hilltops. Foxes, their brushes dragging, had skulked through underbrush. Buzzards, perched on dead trees or on the blackened timbers of burned homesteads, had looked upon them with speculative interest. They had met not a soul, but occasionally, in thickets, they had glimpsed human skeletons.

The weather had been fine until noon of the second day, when the soft sky of early autumn became overcast, and a chill wind sprang from the north. At times the sharp wind whipped icy rain against their backs, the rain sometimes mixed with snow.

Late in the afternoon, topping a low ridge, Duncan Standish sighted the manor, a rude set of buildings fortified by palisades and a narrow moat. Inside the palisades, fronting the drawbridge, lay a courtyard, within which were penned horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs. A few men moved about in the courtyard, and smoke streamed from several chimneys. A number of small buildings, some of which bore the signs of burning, lay outside the palisades. The entire place had a down-at-heels appearance.

Daniel, the great war-horse, who had been following Duncan like a dog, came up behind the man. Clopping behind Daniel came the little gray burro, Beauty, with packs lashed upon her back. Daniel lowered his head, nudged his master's back.

"It's all right, Daniel," Duncan told him. "We've found shelter for the night."

The horse blew softly through his nostrils.

Conrad came trudging up the slope and ranged himself alongside Duncan. Conrad was a massive man. Towering close to seven feet, he was heavy even for his height. A garment made of sheep pelts hung from his shoulders almost to his knees. In his right fist he carried a heavy club fashioned from an oak branch. He stood silently, staring at the manor house.

"What do you make of it?" asked Duncan.

"They have seen us," Conrad said. "Heads peeking out above the palisades."

"Your eyes are sharper than mine," said Duncan. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, m'lord."

"Quit calling me 'my lord.' I'm not a lord. My father is the lord."

"I think of you as such," said Conrad. "When your father dies, you will be a lord."

"No Harriers?"

"Only people," Conrad told him.

"It seems unlikely," said Duncan, "that the Harriers would have passed by such a place."

"Maybe fought them off. Maybe the Harriers were in a hurry."

"So far," said Duncan, "from our observations, they passed little by. The lowliest cottages, even huts, were burned."

"Here comes Tiny," said Conrad. "He's been down to look them over."

The mastiff came loping up the slope and they waited for him. He went over to stand close to Conrad. Conrad patted his head, and the great dog wagged his tail. Looking at them, Duncan noted once again how similar were the man and dog. Tiny reached almost to Conrad's waist. He was a splendid brute. He wore a wide leather collar in which were fastened metal studs. His ears tipped forward as he looked down at the manor. A faint growl rumbled in his throat.

"Tiny doesn't like it, either," Conrad said.

"It's the only place we've seen," said Duncan. "It's shelter. The night will be wet and cold."

"Bedbugs there will be. Lice as well."

The little burro sidled close to Daniel to get out of the cutting wind.

Duncan shucked up his sword belt. "I don't like it, Conrad, any better than you and Tiny do. But there is a bad night coming on."

"We'll stay close together," Conrad said. "We'll not let them separate us."

"That is right," said Duncan. "We might as well start down."

As they walked down the slope, Duncan unconsciously put his hand beneath his cloak to find the pouch dangling from his belt. His fingers located the bulk of the manuscript. He seemed to hear the crinkle of the parchment as his fingers touched it. He found himself suddenly enraged at his action. Time after time, during the last two days, he'd gone through the same silly procedure, making sure the manuscript was there. Like a country boy going to a fair, he told himself, with a penny tucked in his pocket, thrusting his hand again and again into the pocket to make sure he had not lost the penny.

Having touched the parchment, again he seemed to hear His Grace saying, "Upon those few pages may rest the future hope of mankind." Although, come to think of it, His Grace was given to overstatement and not to be taken as seriously as he sometimes tried to make a person think he should be. In this instance, however, Duncan told himself, the aged and portly churchman might very well be right. But that would not be known until they got to Oxenford.

And because of this, because of the tightly written script on a few sheets of parchment, he was here rather than back in the comfort and security of Standish House, trudging down a hill to seek shelter in a place where, as Conrad had pointed out, there probably would be bedbugs.

"One thing bothers me," said Conrad as he strode along with Duncan.

"I didn't know that anything ever bothered you."

"It's the Little Folk," said Conrad. "We have seen none of them. If anyone, they should be the ones to escape the Harriers. You can't tell me that goblins and gnomes and others of their kind could not escape the Harriers."

"Maybe they are frightened and hiding out," said Duncan. "If I am any judge of them, they'd know where to hide."

Conrad brightened visibly. "Yes, that must be it," he said.

As they drew closer to the manor, they saw their estimation of the place had not been wrong. It was far from prepossessing. Ramshackle was the word for it. Here and there heads appeared over the palisades, watching their approach.

The drawbridge was still up when they reached the moat, which was a noisome thing. The stench was overpowering, and in the greenish water floated hunks of corruption that could have been decaying human bodies.

Conrad bellowed at the heads protruding over the palisades. "Open up," he shouted. "Travelers claim shelter."

Nothing happened for a time, and Conrad bellowed once again. Finally, with much creaking of wood and squealing of chains, the bridge began a slow, jerky descent. As they crossed the bridge they saw that there stood inside a motley crowd with the look of vagabonds about them, but the vagabonds were armed with spears, and some carried makeshift swords in hand.

Conrad waved his club at them. "Stand back," he growled. "Make way for m'lord."

They backed off, but the spears were not grounded; the blades stayed naked. A crippled little man, one foot dragging, limped through the crowd and came up to them. "My master welcomes you," he whined. "He would have you at table."

"First," said Conrad, "shelter for the beasts."

"There is a shed," said the whining lame man. "It is open to the weather, but it has a roof and is placed against the wall. There'll be hay for the horse and burro. I'll bring the dog a bone."

"No bone," said Conrad. "Meat. Big meat. Meat to fit his size."

"I'll find some meat," said the lame man.

"Give him a penny," Duncan said to Conrad.

Conrad inserted his fingers into the purse at his belt, brought out a coin, and flipped it to the man, who caught it deftly and touched a finger to his forelock, but in a mocking manner.

The shed was shelter, barely, but at the worst it offered some protection from the wind and a cover against rain. Duncan unsaddled Daniel and placed the saddle against the wall of the palisade. Conrad unshipped the pack from the burro, piled it atop the saddle.

"Do you not wish to take the saddle and the pack inside with you?" the lame man asked. "They might be safer there."

"Safe here," insisted Conrad. "Should anyone touch them, he will get smashed ribs, perhaps his throat torn out."

The raffish crowd that had confronted them when they crossed the bridge had scattered now. The drawbridge, with shrill sounds of protest, was being drawn up.

"Now," said the lame man, "if you two will follow me. The master sits at meat."

The great hall of the manor was ill lighted and evil smelling. Smoky torches were ranged along the walls to provide illumination. The rushes on the floor had not been changed for months, possibly for years; they were littered with bones thrown to dogs or simply tossed upon the floor once the meat had been gnawed from them. Dog droppings lay underfoot, and the room stank of urine — dog, and, more than likely, human. At the far end of the room stood a fireplace with burning logs. The chimney did not draw well and poured smoke into the hall. A long trestle table ran down the center of the hall. Around it was seated an uncouth company. Half-grown boys ran about, serving platters of food and jugs of ale.

When Duncan and Conrad came into the hall, the talk quieted and the bleary white of the feasters' faces turned to stare at the new arrivals. Dogs rose from their bones and showed their teeth at them.

At the far end of the table a man rose from his seat. He roared at them in a joyous tone, "Welcome, travelers. Come and share the board of Harold, the Reaver."

He turned his head to a group of youths serving the table.

"Kick those mangy dogs out of the way to make way for our guests," he roared. "It would not be seemly for them to be set upon and bitten."

The youths set upon their task with a will. Boots thudded into dogs; the dogs snapped back, whimpering and snarling.

Duncan strode forward, followed by Conrad.

"I thank you, sir," said Duncan, "for your courtesy."

Harold, the Reaver, was raw-boned, hairy and unkempt. His hair and beard had the appearance of having housed rats. He wore a cloak that at one time may have been purple, but was now so besmirched by grease that it seemed more mud than purple. The fur that offset the collar and the sleeves was moth-eaten.

The Reaver waved at a place next to him. "Please be seated, sir," he said.

"My name," said Duncan, "is Duncan Standish, and the man with me is Conrad."

"Conrad is your man?"

"Not my man. My companion."

The Reaver mulled the answer for a moment, then said, "In that case, he must sit with you." He said to the man in the next place, "Einer, get the hell out of here. Find another place and take your trencher with you."

With ill grace, Einer picked up his trencher and his mug and went stalking down the table to find another place.

"Now since it all is settled," the Reaver said to Duncan, "will you not sit down. We have meat and ale. The ale is excellent; for the meat I'll not say as much. There also is bread of an indifferent sort, but we have a supply of the finest honey a bee has ever made. When the Harriers came down upon us, Old Cedric, our bee master, risked his very life to bring in the hives, thus saving it for us."

"How long ago was that?" asked Duncan. "When the Harriers came?"

"It was late in the spring. There were just a few of them at first, the forerunners of the Horde. It gave us a chance to bring in the livestock and the bees. When the real Horde finally came, we were ready for them. Have you, sir, ever seen any of the Harriers?"

"No. I've only heard of them."

"They are a vicious lot," the Reaver said. "All shapes and sizes of them. Imps, demons, devils, and many others that twist your gut with fear and turn your bowels to water, all with their own special kinds of nastiness. The worst of them are the hairless ones. Human, but they are not human. Like shambling idiots, strong, massive idiots that have no fear and an undying urge to kill. No hair upon them, not a single hair from top to toe. White — white like the slugs you find when you overturn a rotting log. Fat and heavy like the slugs. But no fat. Or I think no fat, but muscle. Muscle such as you have never seen. Strength such as no one has ever seen. Taken all together, the hairless ones and the others that run with them sweep everything before them. They kill, they burn, there is no mercy in them. Ferocity and magic. That is their stock in trade. We were hard put, I don't mind telling you, to hold them at arm's length. But we resisted the magic and matched the ferocity, although the very sight of them could scare a man to death."

"I take it you did not scare."

"We did not scare," the Reaver said. "My men, they are a hard lot. We gave them blow for blow. We were as mean as they were. We were not about to give up this place we had found."

"Found?"

"Yes, found. You can tell, of course, that we are not the sort of people you'd ordinarily find in a place like this. The Reaver in my name is just a sort of joke, you see. A joke among ourselves. We are a band of honest workmen, unable to find jobs. There are many such as we. So all of us, facing the same problems and knowing there was no work for us, banded together to seek out some quiet corner of the land where we might set up rude homesteads and wrest from the soil a living for our families and ourselves. But we found no such place until we came upon this place, abandoned."

"You mean it was empty. No one living here."

"Not a soul," the Reaver said sanctimoniously. "No one around. So we had a council and decided to move in — unless, of course, the rightful owners should show up."

"In which case you'd give it back to them?"

"Oh, most certainly," said the Reaver. "Give it back to them and set out again to find for ourselves that quiet corner we had sought."

"Most admirable of you," said Duncan.

"Why, thank you, sir. But enough of this. Tell me of yourselves. Travelers, you say. In these parts not many travelers are seen. It's far too dangerous for travelers."

"We are heading south," said Duncan. "To Oxenford. Perhaps then to London Town."

"And you do not fear?"

"Naturally we fear. But we are well armed and we shall be watchful."

"Watchful you'll need to be," the Reaver said. "You'll be traveling through the heart of the Desolated Land. You face many perils. Food will be hard to find. I tell you there's nothing left. Were a raven to fly across that country he'd need to carry his provisions with him."

"You get along all right."

"We were able to save our livestock. We planted late crops after the Harriers passed on. Because of the lateness of the planting, the harvest has been poor. Half a crop of wheat, less than half a crop of rye and barley. Only a small oat crop. The buckwheat was a total failure. We are much pushed for an adequate supply of hay. And that's not all. Our cattle suffer from the murrain. The wolves prey upon the sheep."

Trenchers were set down in front of Duncan and Conrad, then a huge platter with a haunch of beef on one end of it, a saddle of mutton on the other. Another youth brought a loaf of bread and a plate of honey in the comb.

As he ate, Duncan looked around the table. No matter what the Reaver may have said, he told himself, the men who sat there could not be honest workmen. They had the look of wolves. Perhaps a raiding party that, in the midst of raiding, had been surprised by the Harriers. Having fought off the Harriers and with nothing better to do, they had settled down, at least for the time. It would be a good hiding place. No one, not even a lawman, would come riding here.

"The Harriers?" he asked. "Where are they now?"

"No one knows," the Reaver told him. "They could be anywhere."

"But this is little more than the border of the Desolated Land. Word is that they struck deep into northern Britain."

"Ah, yes, perhaps. We have had no word. There are none to carry word. You are the only ones we've seen. You must have matters of great import to bring you to this place."

"We carry messages. Nothing more."

"You said Oxenford. And London Town."

"That is right."

"There is nothing at Oxenford."

"That may be," said Duncan. "I have never been there."

There were no women here, he noted. No ladies sitting at the table, as would have been the case in any well-regulated manor. If there were women here, they were shut away.

One of the youths brought a pitcher of ale, filled cups for the travelers. The ale, when Duncan tasted it, was of high quality. He said as much to the Reaver.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Fellowship of the Talisman by Clifford D. Simak. Copyright © 1978 Clifford D. Simak. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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