my intentions. Still, the Sword I hold is mine now, and I do not propose to give it up for nothing.” “How much gold do you want for it?” Mark heard himself
“No, Prince. Not gold. I don’t think you can be carrying enough of that in your little train there. No, I have told you what I want, and I do not intend to bargain.”
“If Your Highness is minded to do business with that man,” said the disapproving voice of one of Mark’s magicians, “then let him come into our camp alone, with the Sword, under a flag of truce. And let him loan us its power, for as long as it will take to treat Prince Adrian. You might ask him what price he will accept for that.” Mark, shouting, put the proposition to the Baron. “Why I might do that,” the answer came booming back. “I might. I should warn you, though, that my price for such a loan will be exactly the same as for the Sword itself. And if I am there in your camp, alone, how is our trade to be carried out?” “How is it to be carried out in any case?” “I have some ideas on that subject,” yelled Amintor, “that I believe you will find satisfactory. And let me repeat, after the trade is made, I have no plans to do anything that will disturb you in any way. My modest ambitions will take me in another direction entirely.”
Mark and his aides now fell into a low-voiced conference. There was of course no reason to think that the rogue wouldn’t lie, and the Prince’s advisers were unanimous in rejecting the idea of trying to conclude such a trade as the Baron proposed. At the same time, they had to admit there was a certain plausibility in what Amintor said.
The vision of Adrian was in Mark’s mind when he turned back to face Amintor; but he could feel at his back the uneasiness of those who could not see that vision with the eyes of a father. He knew they were wondering why he
didn’t reject out of hand the idea that such a trade might be possible.
Yet still the Prince hung back from complete acceptance. At last he shouted back: “I must think about it!”
The Baron’s distant figure nodded, a generous gesture visible at long range.
“Think wisely, and well,” his return shout counseled, “but do not think too long. My business, such as it is, requires that I depart these regions as soon as possible. Let your shadow lengthen by only a hand, and I’ll expect an answer. Shout again when you are ready.”
With that, the figure on the cliff top turned round nimbly and disappeared. Mark supposed that a riding-beast might be waiting just over the crest.
The first move the Prince made was to redeploy his own troops so they should not be where Amintor had just seen them. Then Mark set out a double guard and again called all of his chosen advisers into a council. He was disregarding the deadline of a hand’s change in his shadow’s length; shadows were starting to disappear altogether as clouds gathered for what might well be another afternoon of rain and difficult aerial scouting. Anyway, Amintor was the one who had suggested a truce and proposed a trade. That meant the Baron was truly interested in such a deal and was not going to ride away while a chance of it still existed.
The people with Mark were still unanimous in their opposition to the idea.
His magicians, having now investigated the matter in their own way, advised him that the Sword the Baron offered was indeed Woundhealer-the conclusion made matters no easier for Mark in making up his mind.
The cavalry officer pressed him: “With neither side trusting the other, Highness, how could it be arranged, assuming you were willing to go through with it?”
“There’s probably some way to manage that.” “You will pardon me if I speak frankly, sir.”
“I think you cannot be serious about wanting to give away
such an advantage in war.”
Ben had perhaps the most powerful argument. “It may be true that our friend over there is only a brigand now. Probably he is. But if he had Shieldbreaker at his side, to go with his smooth tongue, who can say what he might become? I don’t believe for a moment all that about his ‘time of life.’ ”
A magician chimed in. “And, once he has the Sword of Force, he might be able to trade or sell it to someone else. Someone who does have an army, and ambitions.”
“What was that other sword that he was wearing, I wonder? An ordinary blade, maybe, or-?”
“You are the magicians, not I. Discover the answer if you can, and tell me. If you cannot, I must make up my mind
Mark had answered firmly, but he felt a chill. Complications, unpleasant possibilities, were piling up. Things he hadn’t thought of before, in his absorption with the problem of his son. Still, he remained stubbornly unwilling to give up
.the idea of the trade.
He could think of at least one argument to put in on the other side. “We know how to fight against Shieldbreaker.” Ben scowled. “Aye, and so must many others. Including Amintor himself, even if he hasn’t yet shared the secret with his followers. Are you trying to say the Sword of Force is of little value? Consider how well it served you yesterday.”
There was no arguing with that. But Mark would not let himself be argued out of trying to make the trade. He said: “It’s vital to the whole realm that Adrian should be healed. It’s not just that he’s my son.”
The others were silent. Put he could see in their faces the grudging admission that the point was valid.
Ben was not through arguing. “Is there any reason to think that Amintor does not know how to fight against the Sword as well as we do?”
“Those troops he left to ambush us-”
“When he set up the ambush I’ll bet he didn’t yet know who was following him, and he didn’t have any idea that he was up against the Sword of Force. You’ll find he deploys his people differently the next time he tries it. There’ll be two men, at least, unarmed so the Sword can’t hurt them, ready to jump on you and drag you from your mount. Others, well-armed, close around those two, to protect them from your armed friends.”
Mark forced himself to smile. “You make it sound easy.”
Ben shook his head stubbornly. “Not easy, but it would be possible. If Vulcan could be overcome that way, you’re not too tough.”
The Prince and his old adviser argued on while the rest of the council, though agreeing still with Ben, sat by in stubborn silence. The more the arguments went on, the more Mark favored trying to make the trade. None of those who objected to it were able to suggest another way in which he might obtain the Sword of Healing for his son.
Ben got up angrily at last, turned his back on the Prince, and walked away.
Mark glared after him in black anger. But he did nothing about the snub. Instead he mounted and rode back to the approach to the cliff where he had last communicated with Amintor. Reining in his mount, he called out in a great voice.
There was no answer. He called again, roaring in a voice even louder than before.
Stung by a sudden apprehension, he rallied his people to him and spurred up onto another rise of land nearby.
There, in the distance, through oncoming mist and rain, he could see a group of riders that must be Amintor’s band, traveling at good speed along a road.
Even as Mark was getting his column slowly into motion again, a flying scout came in to report that the enemy were making good time into the distance and gave no sign of wanting any more conferences.
But within the hour it became apparent that as long as Mark’s troops were hampered by the litter, he had no hope at all of overtaking the other party.
NEAR midnight in a high tower of the Palace at Sarykam, Karel, the chief wizard of the house of Tasavalta, dreamed.
Karel’s dreams were often very much stronger and stranger than those of other men, and the visions he endured this night were no exception.
He saw the small Prince Adrian lying as still and pale as death in his small bed inside a tent. He saw Prince Mark riding into battle, surrounded by a furiously spinning profusion of Swords, all the Swords there were in the universe and more. And in his dreams the wizard Karel heard the roaring of an unseen river in flood and saw young Prince Zoltan struggling against strange monsters.