Saberhagen, Fred 02 – Sightblinder’s Story

Dead and wounded lay everywhere, indoors and outdoors, but none of the other fallen were near Arnfinn where he lay dead on the tower roof. Or near Ninazu, who now, still breathing, lay on a setback only a few stories down.

The victorious Honan-Fu had reached his daughter’s side as soon as he was able to do so. Those who had been first to reach her had noted the twisted position in which her body lay, and no attempt had been made to move her.

Honan-Fu was squatting beside her broken body. Sadly, tenderly, fearfully, his hand was stroking his daughter’s hair. He had already sent orders to his best physician to come at once and attend Ninazu. But that man was undoubtedly very busy elsewhere, and even if he heard the order and obeyed, it seemed unlikely that human medical care of any kind could make a difference.

The wizard had already helped her as best he could with his own magic. It appeared that in this, as in so much, his magic was not going to be enough.

As time passed, a few other people gathered around the father and daughter, to watch and listen. Ninazu’s breathing was harsh and irregular, and her eyes were closed.

“If only,” someone inevitably said, “we had Woundhealer here…” But of course the Sword of Mercy was nowhere near.

“If only the lord Draffut-” said someone else. And that line of wishing had to be allowed to die also. Draffut had not been seen or heard of since he had fled out into the lake at the height of the battle.

Ninazu’s eyes remained closed, even when her father spoke to her. Her body had been covered with a blanket now, up to the chin, but the ominous lines and angles of her broken limbs and body showed through the covering.

Suddenly her father, in an awkward movement, sat back on the roof. He looked a totally exhausted old man, as if his physical energy and his magic had given out at the same time.

“Now my daughter is dying,” he announced in a harsh voice. “And I am childless.”

No one responded at first. Then Lady Yambu asked quietly: “What about Kunderu?”

Honan-Fu looked over at her as if he did not understand what she was talking about. Then comprehension seemed to dawn on him. He said: “Of course, you were with Ninazu, and listening to her. I suppose she talked about her brother Kunderu; she always did. But Kunderu died two years ago. It was at the same time that she-became ill.”

Yambu appeared to understand now. But Zoltan did not. “Became ill?” the young man repeated.

“For the past two years,” said the old man sitting on the roof, “her mind has been deranged.”

Prince Mark was nearby, resting on one knee. He had carefully moved Sightblinder to a place just in front of him, where he could keep an eye on it. Now the Prince asked Honan-Fu: “She knew that her brother was dead?”

“She knew it, but she could never accept the fact. And at the same time she blamed me. It was more than I could bear, to hear her speak of him as if he were still alive-worse, as if I were holding Kunderu prisoner and punishing him. My son and I had our disagreements, even quarrels, but I never did that. I never could have done that….

“And so, I had the manor on the mainland refurbished as her house. At first she seemed content to live there, or so it was reported to me, though she was always expecting Kunderu to come back to her.

“But it was someone else who came to her instead. The man who had been the real cause of her brother’s death-though Ninazu would never believe that. The man who became-no, I cannot call him her lover. He was never that. He used her, that was all. Trying to get at me, to overthrow me. And I was too busy with the academy, and other matters, to discover what was going on. Always, even after Kunderu was dead, I was too busy…”

And now at last the eyes of the young woman opened. She did not try to speak, and perhaps she could not move. When she saw whose hand it was that stroked her hair, she turned her gaze away, as if she were looking for someone else.

When Ninazu had finally drawn her last breath, and enough time had passed for all of the survivors to rest as well as they were able, Honan-Fu publicly renewed his offer to take on Mark’s son Adrian as an apprentice, when the academy was reopened. The student would of course be charged no fee, in gratitude for the help Prince Mark and his people had given Honan-Fu, and the sufferings they had undergone.

Mark had been expecting some such offer, and had had time in which to prepare a diplomatic answer. The truth was that he had already decided, in his own mind, against ever sending his child into the atmosphere of this place.

A few hours later Lady Yambu, thoughtfully walking in her pilgrim’s garb upon the docks at Triplicane, was pondering silently upon the fact that she had been unable to catch even a brief glimpse of the Emperor during his short stay in this locality. She wondered that she felt such real disappointment as she did at the implication that her former lover did not want to see her again.

She was beginning to wonder whether the great downriver journey she had been contemplating had ever really been more than a search for him.

Prince Mark sought out Lady Yambu on the docks and expressed his thanks for her help more fully than he had yet done. Then he asked her: “And do you think, my lady, that you have found here any portion of the truth you sought?”

She considered carefully. “Perhaps I have been able to recognize a bit or two of it. But in any case I plan to go on, down the Tungri.”

Mark nodded, unsurprised. “I have heard that the Show of Ensor was seen two days ago, loading itself aboard a couple of barges, to go down the river too. The man in the clown’s mask was still reportedly in charge.”

“Indeed. And have the flying scouts brought any word of Amintor?”

“No word as yet.”

Now Zoltan came to join his uncle and the lady on the docks. The young man said that Ben had told him about the mergirl in the Show of Ensor; and he, Zoltan, now asked permission of his Prince to accompany Lady Yambu upon her downstream pilgrimage, in the capacity of bodyguard, or any other way in which she would be pleased to have him. The lady herself, it appeared, had already indicated that he would be welcome.

After thinking the matter over briefly the Prince granted his permission. He said he hoped that Zoltan would return to Tasavalta within a year or two, and would bring with him some useful intelligence about what was going on in the southern regions of the continent. Draffut, before his abrupt departure, had dropped some disquieting hints about developments in that direction. As for Mark himself, though he felt now almost entirely restored to health, he was more than ready to hurry home for a rest in the company of his Princess and his children. He was going to take Sight-blinder with him, and he was going to see that suitable compensation for it should be sent to the village of Lunghai.

Ben of Purkinje meanwhile was preparing to return to his own wife and child, in the Tasavaltan capital of Sarykam. But in the course of his preparations Ben paused, more than once, to think over what the Emperor had said to him about Ariane.

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