Arfinn’s attention was drawn to one window by the tiny movement of the flame inside it. The window was not many meters away, and despite the poor light, he at once recognized the gray-haired lady as one member of the infamous trio who had assaulted him and taken away the Sword. He was more than a little surprised to see her here. What she and her companions had said when they took his Sword away had made him think that they were not connected with the new lords of the lake and the islands.
But, who was she seeing when she looked at him? Obviously not someone she greatly feared.
Arfinn waved back, a slight, cautious gesture, and then began to work his way nearer to her apartment. Traveling through corridors that were almost completely dark, he found his vision somehow enhanced, he thought, by Sightblinder.
He soon found himself standing on a balcony near enough to the lady’s window to allow them to conduct a quiet conversation.
“Who is it?” she whispered out to him.
“What does it matter?” he whispered back. “I must know. Where are the important prisoners being held?”
He could see her shake her head impatiently and blink. “Prisoners? I know where the one of the most importance is, at least. If you can get me out of this comfortable cell, I’ll take you to him.”
Tor Books by Fred Saberhagen
BERSERKER BASE (with Anderson, Bryant,
Donaldson, Niven, Willis and Zelazny)
BERSERKER: BLUE DEATH
THE BERSERKER THRONE
THE BERSERKER WARS
THE FIRST BOOK OF SWORDS
THE SECOND BOOK OF SWORDS
THE THIRD BOOK OF SWORDS
THE FIRST BOOK OF LOST SWORDS:
THE SECOND BOOK OF LOST SWORDS:
THE MASK OF THE SUN
AN OLD FRIEND OF THE FAMILY
THE WATER OF THOUGHT
THE SECOND BOOK OF LOST SWORDS
ATOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
SECOND BOOK OF
THE sun was up at last, somewhere beyond the cliffs A that stood above the far end of the lake. While the bright disk itself remained invisible, it projected a diffuse radiance through morning mist and lake-born fog, making a pearl-gray world of land and air and water. It was a world in which no shape or color was able to remain quite what it ought to be. Small waves of soft pearl nibbled at the slaty rocks of the uneven shoreline. On the steep slopes rising just inland, pine trees with twisted trunks and branches grew thickly, their gray-green needles gathering pearls and diamonds of moisture out of the leaden shadows that surrounded them. Land and lake alike seemed to be giving birth to the billows of almost colorless vapor that moved softly over earth and water. Fog and light together worked a brief natural enchantment.
A man was standing alone on the very edge of the lake, leaning out into the mist. With one of his huge hands he gripped the twisted trunk of a stunted tree, while the other hand held a black wooden staff in a position that allowed him to brace part of his weight on its support. He was very nearly motionless, but still the attitude of his whole body showed the intensity of the effort he was making, trying to see something out over the water. He had a large, round, ugly, stupid-looking face, his forehead creased now with the effort of trying to see through the pearl-gray air. His mouth was muttering oaths, so softly as to leave them totally inaudible. Gray marked his dark hair and beard, and his age appeared to be closer to forty than to thirty.
Somewhere, only a matter of meters to the man’s right as he looked out over the water, a lake bird called, sounding a single, mocking, raucous note. Despite its nearness, the impertinent bird was quite invisible in mist. The watcher paid it no attention.
He was thinking that a clear midnight, even with no moon, would have made for better seeing than this hazed near-nothingness imbued with sunlight. At least at midnight you would not expect to be able to see anything. As matters stood now, the man could only suppose that there were still islands out there in the middle of the chill lake, the islands he had seen there yesterday, no more than a couple of kilometers away. He supposed he could take it for granted too that there was still a castle on one of those islands, the castle he had seen there yesterday. And maybe he could even be sure that-Nearby sounds, the scramble of feet in heavy gravel, the impact of a blow on flesh, jolted the watcher away from suppositions. The sources of these sounds were as invisible as the noisy bird, but he was sure they were no more than a stone’s throw away, along the shoreline to his right. After a momentary pause there followed more energetic scrambling and another blow, and then a cry for help in a familiar voice.
The watcher had already launched himself in the direction of the sounds, moving with surprising speed for someone of his great bulk, well past his early youth. And as he ran along the jagged shoreline, avoiding boulders and trampling bushes, new sounds came from behind him, those of another pair of running feet. Those pursuing feet sounded lighter and more agile than his own, but so far they had been unable to overtake him. He paid them no attention.
The big man’s wooden staff, a thick tool of black hardened wood somewhat longer than he was tall, was raised now in his right hand, balanced and ready to do the service of either spear or club.
And now, after only a couple of dozen strides, the younger feet behind him had begun to gain. But still the big man did not turn his head. The sounds of struggle ahead continued.
Both runners saw that, despite their quickness, they were too late.
Hounding a spur of the rugged shoreline, one after the other in rapid succession, they came in sight of the noisy struggle, in which three men had surrounded one. The three men, though wearing soldiers’ uniforms in gray trimmed with red, were all unarmed. The man surrounded had showing at his belt the black hilt of a great Sword, but he was not trying to draw the weapon. And now, an instant later, even if he had wanted to draw it, it was too late, because his arms were pinioned. He was a tall and powerful man, and still conscious, but he had lost the fight.
The huge man roared a challenge and ran on, doing his best to reach the fighters. But he and the runner who followed him were still too far away to have any influence upon the outcome. The three who had the one surrounded were now lifting him up between them, as if they meant to make of him an offering to some strange gods of mist or lake.
And now indeed, coming down out of the low, tree-grazing clouds, a winged shape appeared. Those descending wings surpassed in span and thickness those of almost any bird, reptile, or flying dragon that either of the would-be rescuers had ever seen before. But still those wings appeared inadequate to support this creature’s body, which was as big and solid as a riding-beast’s. The head and forelimbs of the quadruped were those of a giant eagle, covered with white feathers shading into gray. But the body and the rear legs resembled those of a lion, clad in short, tawny fur and thick with muscle. The thing appeared too bulky for its wings, despite their size, to get off the ground. And yet it flew with graceful power.
Whatever the nightmare creature was, it had already fastened the taloned grip of its forelimbs on the heavy body of the man who was being held up for them. Up he went again, right out of the hands of his human captors, the undrawn Sword still at his belt.
And now at last the huge man running came within reach of the victorious three, and sent them scattering with a swing of his black staff. They did not run far. Instead they were quick to seize up weapons of their own, swords and knives that had been lying concealed among the low bushes and the rocks.
The big man and his companion, who had arrived right at his heels, met their three opponents. The length of black wood, held now like a quarterstaff, knocked a long knife from one man’s hand, and then with a straight thrust doubled up the man who’d lost the blade.
Thus warned, the big man spun around quite gracefully, in time to catch a hurled rock on his left arm, which by now he had adroitly shielded in his rolled-up cloak. He advanced on the thrower. Off to his right he could hear, and see from the corner of his eye, young Zoltan and the third opponent sparring, a clash of sword blades and then another clash, with gasping pauses in between.