Deltora Quest #1: The Forests of Silence

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Authors: Emily Rodda
This — this child he had to mind like a nurse! How he must have laughed at me!
    He became aware that Barda was speaking again, and forced himself to look up.
    “My beggar’s rags have been useful in other ways,” the man was saying, calmly fastening the rope to his belt. “Grey Guards talk freely to one another in front of me. Why should they care what a half-wit beggar hears?”
    “It is because of news Barda has gathered in the past year, Lief, that we know it is time to make our move,” Lief’s father added, eyeing his son’s grim face anxiously. “Hungry for further conquest, the Shadow Lord has at last turned his eyes away from us, to lands across the sea. Warships are being launched from our coast.”
    “There are still many Grey Guards in the city, but few now patrol the countryside, it seems,” Barda added. “They have left it to the bands of robbers and to the other horrors that now run wild there. There have always been terrors and evil beings in Deltora, but once they were balanced by the good. With the coming of the Shadow Lord, the balance ended. Evil has become much more powerful.”
    A chill ran through Lief, quenching his anger. But Barda’s eyes were upon him, and he would rather have died than show his fear. He snatched up the map. “Have you decided on our route?” he asked abruptly.
    His father seemed about to speak, but Barda answered first, pointing to a spot on the map with ablunt finger. “I believe we should move east, directly to the Forests of Silence.”
    Three gasps of shock sounded in the small room.
    Lief’s father cleared his throat. “We had decided that the Forests should be your final ordeal, not your first, Barda,” he said huskily.
    Barda shrugged. “I heard something today that changed my mind. The Grey Guards have always feared the Forests, as we have. But now, it seems, no Guard will even approach them, because of the losses they have suffered. The roads around them are completely clear — of Guards, at least.”
    Stiff with shock, Lief stared at the map with glazed eyes. To face the Forests of Silence, that place of childhood nightmare, at some time in the future was one thing. To face it so soon, in a matter of days, was another.
    “What think you, Lief?” he heard Barda say.
    His voice was casual, but Lief was sure that the question was a test. He wet his lips and looked up from the map, meeting the tall man’s gaze steadily. “Your plan seems to me a good one, Barda,” he said. “With no Guards to trouble us, we will make good time. And if we can find one gem quickly, it will give us good heart to go on.”
    Barda’s eyes flickered. I was right, thought Lief. He thought I would refuse to go with him. He thought to be rid of me. Well, he was wrong.
    “So, Jarred?” Barda asked gruffly.
    The blacksmith bowed his head. “It seems fate has taken a hand to alter my plans,” he murmured. “I must bow to it. Do as you will. Our thoughts and hopes go with you.”

M any hours later, feeling as though he were living in a dream, Lief was marching east along the road leading away from Del. Barda strode beside him, silent, upright, and strong — a completely different person from the shambling, mumbling wreck who had haunted the gates of the forge for as long as Lief could remember.
    They had left Del unnoticed by creeping through a hole in the wall that Lief had not known existed, so cleverly was it disguised. Now the city, his parents, and everything he knew were far behind him, and with every step he was moving towards a place whose very name made him sweat with fear.
    He told himself, The Forests of Silence strike a special terror in my heart, for they are near, and I have heard tales of them all my life. But it is certain that theother places on the map are just as deadly in their own way.
    This idea did not comfort him in the least.
    For the first hour after leaving the city he had walked with his hand on his sword, his heart thumping. But they met no

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