But his flesh was boiling with the awful power of Woundhealer, an energy that expunged shock and pain: As if he were cutting himself into pieces, Amintor drew the blade of the Sword of Healing, still plunged as it was into his chest, down through his torso to his crotch, then, still not withdrawing it completely from his body, into one leg after the other. The steel knit bones together as it passed through them, restored his flesh, renewed his nerves, set right the hopeless-looking havoc of the fall. Even his skin closed seamlessly behind the bright blade as it passed.
In moments the white of bone was gone. His legs were straight again. Inside Amintor’s leggings, which were soaked
with his red blood and still torn where his jagged bones had pierced them, he could feel that his bones and muscles already were whole and strong once more.
He sprang up on his feet and carried the Sword quickly to where his riding-beast lay broken, not even trying to get up. The animal was breathing with a hideous noise and endeavoring to raise its head. He pierced the heaving torso with the blade, making sure first of the heart and lungs. Then he sliced at the strangely angled limbs, beholding the miracle, feeling the smooth flow of power in his hands. He kept on using Woundhealer until the animal was standing, quivering and whinnying as he stroked it with his hand, its body whole and ready to run again.
Then Amintor turned at last and looked up at the cliff top above him. There was the silent line of his enemies, some of them dismounted now; all of them balked at that last jump. They were looking down at him with their weapons-even Shieldbreaker-hanging useless in their hands.
And now the Baron could see how the Prince was holding the small form of his son before him, just in front of his saddle. The cloak that had earlier concealed the child had now fallen back.
One good trick deserves another; the Baron saluted them all with the Sword of Healing.
“Now,” he shouted up to them, “are you ready to talk about a trade?”
Already, while they watched him heal himself and then his riding-beast, they had had a little time to think the situation over. Almost at once Prince Mark shouted back: “Suppose that I were minded to trade, Baron-how would we manage the exchange?”
“Why, easily enough. You climb down here-make sure you come alone. I’ll stand well back, never fear, and give you plenty of room.”
The Baron went on to describe how he thought the trade could be managed from that point.
Thinking over the proposed conditions, the Prince turned in his saddle and handed his son over to the senior physician in his train. It was obvious that the hard ride and the combat had been a bad experience for Adrian, and the boy was now in the earliest stages of what looked like a severe seizure. His face was paler than usual, and there were tremors in all his limbs.
Ben drew the Prince aside. “Are you really going on with this mad scheme of trading Swords?”
“I am. Unless you can think of some more certain way to get Woundhealer into my hands.”
Ben scowled at him ferociously. The effect would have intimidated almost anyone. “I could hardly think of a more certain path to trouble-but have it your way.”
“You’ll have it your way anyhow. And at least let us do something to help you. I’ll take one or two people over that way, along the cliff to where those trees hide part of the slope, and come down to the bottom on a long rope. He won’t be able to see us.”
Mark looked around, wondering if Amintor had any similar trickery in mind. But it was pretty plain that there was no point in worrying any longer about any part of Amintor’s force except the man himself. Those who had survived the skirmish around the litter had scattered in flight, and Mark was morally certain that they were fleeing still.
He said to Ben: “All right. I thank you. But once you and the two others are at the bottom, don’t do anything unless I signal you. His riding-beast is healed and ready to go, and he’ll be off like an arrow if he suspects there’s anything wrong.”
Ben nodded and moved away. He took the precaution of posting a few of the best archers along the edge of the cliff, though Amintor had already withdrawn to a distance that would make their best shots very chancy. True to his word, the Baron gave Mark plenty of room when the Prince, Shieldbreaker at his side, began to clamber down the cliff.
Since the baggage train, when reassembled, contained enough rope for two long lines, Mark used one to have himself lowered. The descent would have been possible without the security of a rope, but using one increased both speed and safety. Ben had Mark’s line secured at the top and took care to keep his own conspicuous figure in sight, in order that Amintor might not wonder what had become of him, Ben had had second thoughts about going down the other rope himself and had delegated that job to several lighter and more agile folk.
Partly through luck and partly by design, Amintor had now placed himself in an excellent position. There was an easy escape route at his rear, and his enemies were all in front of him, in such a position that it was going to be very difficult for them to get at him. From where the Baron was standing now, stroking the riding-beast beside him, it should be possible for him to see Tasavaltans approaching him from any direction when they were still a bowshot away. He would be able to jump on his mount and be gone before anyone coming down the cliff at any point could begin to get near him on foot.
Mark’s descent on the cliff, as he was lowered on the rope, could have been quite swift. But he deliberately created minor delays, fussing over knots and loops, wanting to give the people who were using the other, hidden rope plenty of time to get down. Still, he did not want to protract his delays to a suspicious length, and soon he was on the bottom,
standing ankle-deep in a small stream that flowed there along the foot of the precipice.
He disengaged himself from the rope and at once turned and began to walk toward the Baron, who stood waiting almost a hundred meters distant. Mark continued to advance until Amintor raised a hand.
Then the Prince halted. He was now about fifty meters from Amintor and approximately the same distance from the foot of the cliff he had just descended.
The voice of his enemy floated toward him. “Let me see if the sword you have brought me is indeed the Sword I want, Prince. If you don’t mind-ah.” Even at the distance, there was no mistaking what kind of blade it was that caught the light as Mark held it up.
As had been agreed, Mark, having resheathed the Sword of Force, now unbuckled the belt that held it, and cast belt, Sword and all on the ground in front of him.
Amintor in the same manner was unfastening one of the Swords he wore and putting it down on the ground. Mark was sure it was the one he wanted-his magician had already advised him that the other Sword carried by the Baron was Farslayer. If Amintor were to be given a choice between keeping the power of healing and that of vengeance, Mark had no doubt of which one the Baron would elect to keep.
Now, as had been agreed, both men began to walk. Amintor was leading his riding-beast close beside him as he moved. They walked two clockwise arcs of a great circle, keeping diametrically opposite each other. Each could see that another Sword was waiting for him, where his adversary had put it down.
Mark did not look back at the cliff, or at his friends on top of it. But he calculated that the people who were to have come down secretly must be at its foot by now, if all had gone well, and ought to be watching for his signal.
Amintor, as if he might suspect some such trickery, had chosen to walk his circle in the direction that took him farther from any possible ambushers, not closer, and kept them in front of him. If anyone were to try to rush out at the Baron from concealment near the foot of the cliff, the greater speed of his riding-beast would let him scoop up one Sword or the other from the ground and be gone before he could be
But so far no one was rushing out. Mark’s people were well-disciplined, waiting for his signal. The situation balanced on a knife-edge. Mark felt the time of the slow walk being counted out in heartbeats. His adversary was almost too far away for the expression on his face to be visible at all, but the Prince thought that the man was smiling.