“I am. What of it?”
“Nothing. Never mind. I thank you for whatever contribution you made to helping Honan-Fu and me out of the well.”
“That was you?”
Mark nodded. “Yes. I am glad you opened the trap… your twin upon the stair just now had Shield-breaker with him. I suppose you heard what it did to the one weapon we tried against it.”
“I heard the sound it made, whatever happened. And this Sword-”
“Performed an imitation, yes. We heard it. A word of advice, though, my friend. Don’t use the Sword you have there against Shieldbreaker. Can I trust you not to do so?”
“It would be better,” said the big man, “if one of us three had the Sword of Stealth instead.”
“I agree,” said Mark, his eyes not leaving Arnfinn. “But we should not be fighting this young man-we all have our real enemy to fight.”
Mark was thinking back to his own boyhood, when he had run away from a small village, to find himself alone and far from home, with only the terror and beauty of a Sword to keep him company.
“Hard to get rid of, isn’t it?” he went on, speaking to Arnfinn gently, indicating the Sword the other carried. “And hard to keep. I know something of how that goes.”
“You?” The youth was obviously suspicious of him. “How would you know?”
“I’ll tell you about it someday. So, if you refuse to give it up, then keep it. Perhaps you can do as much good with it as we three could. But mind what I have said about the Sword of Force. It’ll mow you down like a blade of grass if you go armed against it, whatever weapon you may have in hand.”
Ben grumbled privately, and would have tackled the youth again to reclaim Sightblinder, but Mark held his big friend back. The Prince was not going to have their two small groups fighting with deadly effect against each other, and it would be hard to fight against anyone who was using Sightblinder as a physical weapon because you would not be able to tell which way they were swinging or thrusting it.
“Lady Ninazu and I intend to remain in the apartment,” Arnfinn called up to them.
“All right. Just as well. We three will keep to the roof for a time; they already know we’re here and it lets us see what’s going on.” Mark hesitated, then called down. “What’re you going to do if the real Ancient One finds that tunnel and comes up after you?”
Arnfinn had no ready answer for that. At last he said: “Even if he is proof against the magic of this Sword, the men with him will not be. Am I right?”
“Then I will be able to confuse them at least.”
Mark added: “Let me say it again. One thing you’d better do if he comes against you with Shieldbreaker, and that’s disarm yourself. Your Sword won’t help you against that one-he’ll see you as you are anyway. But he won’t dare attack you if you’re disarmed.”
Arnfinn nodded, though in his heart he still half suspected this advice might be a trick.
The trapdoor to the roof was closed again, but left unblocked and unlocked. Before this closing, Mark and Ben came down to look the apartment over, and to their satisfaction they found a war club, hung up as a decoration, that would become an eminently practical weapon in Ben’s hands. And before retiring to the roof again, they blockaded the tunnel entrance with a wardrobe. The barrier thus formed would hardly be proof against a determined assault, but would at least serve to give warning that the entrance to the apartment had been discovered.
Left to themselves again, Arnfinn and Ninazu got through the remainder of the day in the hidden rooms of
the uppermost interior level of the tower. There was some dried food still in a cabinet, preserved with a touch of magic that left it reasonably flavorful; indeed, it was better than most of the food Arnfinn had eaten during his lifetime. And there was wine, of which he had but little experience, so that it went to his head and left him feeling giddy.
Now that she had come back to this apartment, Ninazu did not want to leave. And Arnfinn was in a way as subject to her enchantment as she was subject to the power of the Sword he carried. Whenever he looked at her, with Sightblinder held tightly in his own hand, he saw a mystery that seemed to him divine. This is, he thought, the mystery of courtly love that minstrels sing about. And I, though only a peasant…
When night fell, they quietly locked the trapdoor again, and then spent the night together in one of the beds in one of the highest rooms. Whether it had originally been Ninazu’s bed, or Kunderu’s, Arnfinn had no idea.
The two of them were roused roughly in the hours before dawn, when the racket of Draffut’s invasion awakened the entire castle. Jumping out of bed, the lady and Arnfinn moved from window to window, trying to see what was going on outside, where the sounds of battle were unmistakable.
Then there was a pounding on the locked trapdoor above.
On the morning the battle had started, on a lower level of the castle, Wood rejoiced to see the at-first-mysterious rout of Draffut. This eucatastrophe was closely followed by another stroke of good fortune for the Ancient Master, his griffin had returned, and could now be seen circling in the clear morning sky above the aerie tower.
Wood’s first elation at this sight was somewhat dampened by the fact that the beast was riderless.
Running out of his tower, across a first floor roof in the gray light of a clouded morning sky, Wood waved his arms in practiced gestures. The eagle-eyed creature saw him at once, and came gliding swiftly down to land on the low roof near him.
In a moment Wood had reached the griffin’s side, and was rifling its saddlebags, in search of a written message from Amintor, or at least some clue as to what might have happened to the general. But there was nothing in the containers, not even the small amounts of food and other supplies that Amintor had had with him on his departure. The general might, of course, have fallen to some kind of enemy action. Or deserted. Or he might have consumed his supplies, Wood supposed, and then fallen from the beast’s saddle at high altitude. If so, that was that. Such an accident would not have been impossible, though decidedly unlikely; the griffin knew that it was supposed to return with the man who had ridden it away.
The griffin now turned its fierce impassive gaze upon its master, who glared back at it in frustration. The beast was possessed of many valuable powers, but those of speech or any other intelligent communication were not among them. The poorest of the small flyers could do better in that regard. For Wood to try to question this mount now would be about as profitable as grilling a riding-beast on what had happened to its human rider.
But the discovery of Amintor’s fate, and even that of the expected army of reinforcements, would have to wait. Wood’s main consideration at the moment was that he now had the griffin back for his own use. Smiling grimly, he vaulted into the saddle.
By the time Wood got back his griffin, Mark, Ben, and Yambu had changed places with Arnfinn and Ninazu. Mark and his people had gone down from the roof through the trapdoor, meaning to take a more active part in the fighting for the castle, at least to divert part of the defenders’ strength.
Arnfinn, with Ninazu at his side, had gone out on the roof to see what was happening, with a vague plan of using the Sword to create a distraction of his own. He was ready to destroy Ninazu’s real lover if he could.
There seemed to be fighting everywhere on the walls and in the courtyards below, and as near as Arnfinn could tell, the invaders in green and gold were winning. Before Arnfinn could decide on what false orders he ought to shout, to do his rival the most harm, there was a rushing in the air above him, as of giant wings, and he looked up. He was just in time to see Wood on his griffin come swooping down with intent to destroy the impostor and, if at all possible, capture another extremely useful Sword for himself in the process.
In a moment the griffin had landed on the rooftop. But no sooner had its master leaped from its back, than it flew away again, to circle the tower at a little distance, ignoring his commands to attack the man who stood armed across the diameter of the roof from him. The creature was as confused as any of the humans by the powers of the Sword of Stealth-the beast did not know which of the two images of Wood it saw on the rooftop was the one it ought to obey. And as one of the two Woods it saw was ordering it to attack the other, it held back in confusion.