Saberhagen, Fred 02 – Sightblinder’s Story

Draffut could take no direct part in the fighting, much as he might sympathize with those who were fighting to regain possession of the castle. And now another movement caught his eye-leaning over the parapet that guarded the flat top of the central tower of the castle, two or three human figures were gesturing to him. These were mere signals of encouragement, it seemed. One of the figures he thought was Prince Mark, but he had no time to make sure now, and in any case their identity was not of the first importance.

More wounds, from both javelins and arrows, were accumulating on the tough hide of the Lord of Beasts. The overall effect was increasing pain, though each hurt in itself was scarcely more than a pinprick to him. He paused now to brush from his body some of the hanging weapons whose points had snagged under his skin. At the same moment he saw by torchlight another javelin coming at him, and he blew his breath upon the weapon in mid-flight. In midair the spear was turned into a giant dragonfly. The creature veered away from Draffut and went darting innocently over the castle wall, going out above the lake. Before it had got so far as the shore, he thought, it would probably revert to inert matter and plunge into the water.

“I must get on with the job,” the Beastlord muttered to himself, tearing a moderate accumulation of barbs out of his hide, and wincing with the pain. Yet even as he removed the weapons, more darts assailed him.

Now he went scrambling over one of the comparatively low interior walls of the castle, reaching another courtyard. At the base of a wall there was another gate leading to the outside, this one the main entrance by the docks.

With one wave of his fist Draffut frightened away the knot of soldiers who were gathered just inside this gate. In another moment he had knelt in front of it and knocked it open.

He stopped, staring helplessly at what lay before him, just at the edge of the docks, beneath the fragments of the shattered gate. And suddenly it was as if the world had ended for him, the world in which he had been doing what he could, for many thousands of years, to serve humanity.

What is that I see? What is it? And yet the Lord of Beasts knew only too well what it was. It was just that for a moment he could retain the comfort of being able to refuse belief.

But only for a moment. The God of Healing stood up unsteadily, like a man dead on his feet, so horrified that for the moment he was unaware of what he was doing. More darts, unnoticed, pierced his skin.

There had been a human being, a soldier, standing just on the other side of the last gate when it went down, and the momentum of the bursting gate had spent itself upon him.

Draffut could do nothing but stand motionless, his eyes riveted upon that crumpled, mangled body in its uniform of red and gray. He had just killed a human being. That he had not suspected the presence of the man, had not intended to commit the slaughter, meant nothing to him now.

Then his paralysis broke and he lunged forward, reaching through the gate to seize the lifeless thing and bring it to him with urgent tenderness. Meanwhile a terrible whining howl escaped his lips.

He held the body up with both hands. With all his energy he willed his healing power into it. Meanwhile more arrows, unnoticed, struck him on his flanks and back.

Draffut willed to achieve healing, but this time his powers could not heal. The damage to the small body was too great, death was a finality.

He, Draffut, had killed a human being.

He let the limp and bloody body fall. Then, shrieking out one horrible doglike growl after another, Draffut dragged himself somehow over the castle wall, and fled into the darkness of the lake.


ARNFINN was the first to hear the thudding sound. About two hours had passed since he had entered the hidden rooms at the top of the tower, and an hour since Ninazu had joined him there. Full daylight had long since come outside. Their conversation had taken an increasingly tender turn, and they were in one of the upper rooms, making their way with many sweet pauses toward the bed, when the Sword Arnfinn was wearing began to make a muffled pounding noise. Listening carefully, he needed only a moment to determine that this sound was proceeding in sympathy with a similar pounding that seemed to be coming in through the high windows from outside.

Putting Ninazu gently aside, Arnfinn drew his weapon and stood looking at it in puzzlement. Ninazu’s surprise as she gazed at the Sword was even greater. It was as if she had not known until now that her companion was carrying anything like it, but now she was ready to accept the weapon’s presence as one more indication of his superlative wizardry.

Then suddenly a man’s voice, unnaturally loud, came blasting in through the high windows. “Ho, on the roof!”

“On the roof?” Arnfinn whispered, looking up.

“Ho, there!” The voice blasted in at them again. “This is the master of the castle speaking! Let your ladder down for us at once! You are trapped, and I will show you mercy if you come down now!”

Arnfinn felt himself able to make at least a fair guess as to who those people on the roof were.

“But who is that shouting?” he whispered to Ninazu, perturbed. “Where is he?”

“There is a stair outside, going up the outside of the tower to the roof. But no one out there can see in here.” Ninazu frowned. “It sounds like your voice, shouting.”

What further comment she might have had on that point Arnfinn never learned. There was a violent explosion somewhere very close outside the windows, followed by a muted outcry. Hardly had Arnfinn’s ears ceased ringing from that blast when he could hear whoever was on the stairs quietly retreating.

He went on listening, in fear and total bewilderment, without any idea of what was happening now. He could only hope that his fear was not evident to this lady he wanted to help and protect.

This time it was Lady Ninazu who asked the question. “What was that?”

“An event of magic,” said Arnfinn, swallowing. “Don’t worry, I will protect you. Are you all right now?”

“Yes, great lord.” She sounded confident in his protection.

“I have decided,” he said, and had to pause to swallow again, “decided that it would be well for us to make contact with those people on the roof, whoever they may be.”

“Do you think, lord, they will be ready to surrender to you now?”

“Actually it is not surrendering that I had in mind particularly. But I would like to talk to them at least.”

Standing on the foot of one of the beds, Arnfinn located the trapdoor in the roof-there was a false panel concealing it, as Ninazu showed him. Arnfinn unlocked the trap, and tried to raise it.

He strained, pushing upward with all his force, but nothing happened. Some weight above was holding the door immobile.

At last, determined to make contact now, he called out. “This is Arnfinn here! I have the Sword of Stealth!” And he hammered on the trapdoor with the pommel of his Sword.

“Arnfinn?” Lady Ninazu questioned gently. “If that is one of your names of power, lord, it will be safe with me.”

Arnfinn gave her a sickly smile, knowing that she doubtless saw the cowardly grimace as something else entirely.

Presently there were sounds from overhead as of heavy weights being moved.

At last, when he pushed on the trap again, it swung up.

Gray daylight flooded down into the bedroom. Arnfinn, looking up at three people who were standing on the roof, found himself, with some relief, confronting huge Ben and gray Lady Yambu. Zoltan, who had been with them in the grotto, was gone; Arnfinn remembered he had seen him getting ready to row the boat away. But Arnfinn could not recognize the tall, brown-haired man who was now with the familiar pair. Certainly he did not see in this tall man one of the victims who had been pulled nearly dead out of the well some hours ago.

It was plain, from the way the lady and the huge man deferred to this newcomer, that they recognized him as their leader.

Arnfinn glanced back at Ninazu, who was scowling to see Lady Yambu again.

“We heard someone shouting on the stair,” Arnfinn opened the conversation lamely.

“Your twin,” Mark informed him. The Prince, even familiar as he was with Sightblinder’s capabilities, was studying the shape that Arnfinn presented with fascination. “So, you are Arnfinn.”

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