Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 01 – Woundhealer’s Story

“Haven’t heard much from that part of the family,” he grumbled mildly. “All busy over there wearing crowns and being royalty and such.”

“Never mind,” his spouse chided him. “It’s still family, and they have a lot of things to worry about.” The cat (who was really quite ordinary in appearance) now sprang right up into her lap. Rocking industriously, Mother Still added: “His grandfather on his father’s side is the Emperor himself, you know.”

“This lad? Oh yes, I know.” Not appearing overly impressed, Still was now jiggling the Princeling on his knee.

“When,” Adrian asked them all in a clear firm voice, “is Daddy going to get here? I want to see him. I know he’s on his way, but when?”

Ben had turned his head and was looking at the child again with profound amazement. The huge man had eaten well at dinner-it was hardly possible to do otherwise in this household-but had had little to say, before the meal or after. Continuing to wear his battle-harness, and still showing some of the marks of war, Ben sat in a chair and marveled silently.

“The Emperor himself,” Goodwife Still repeated with quiet emphasis.

“Yes, of course,” her husband agreed. Either he had remembered all along about the Emperor, or he was trying to sound as if he had. Now he went back to teaching Adrian the game.

No one had yet answered the Princeling’s question. “Your father,” Karel said to him, “is really safe, and he is really on his way here. The people who were trying to harm him are either dead now, or far away.”

“I know,” said Adrian.

“Good. Well, then, about your father. People, or certain people anyway, can find this farm whenever they really start to look for it. At least they can if it’s anywhere near them at all when they start. And you’re here, and I’m sure your father is really looking for you. So he’s going to be here very soon. If you’re impatient, you could look for him yourself.”

“I’ve walked so much today that my legs are tired,” the small boy said. And in truth he looked and sounded physically exhausted. “And I don’t want to do any looking with magic. I don’t want to do any magic at all for a while.”

“A wise decision,” Karel nodded.

“Then play the game with me,” Still encouraged the child. “It’ll help you keep awake until your daddy gets here.” Then, having caught yet another pointed glance from his wife, he protested: “I did remember about the Emperor.”

“And I, for a time,” said Karel, rubbing his eyes, “forgot about him, and that Adrian is his descendant. To my own peril, and that of others, I forgot.”

“Will someone tell me one thing, clearly?” Ben of Purkinje boomed out at last, startling everyone else. “Why couldn’t Woundhealer help the lad? And what’ve you done for him now that’s worked this cure?”

“The Sword of Healing could not restore his sight,” said Karel, “because he was never blind.”

Ben only looked at him. Ben’s mouth was working as if he were getting ready to shout again.

Karel sighed. “I did not express that well. Let me say it this way: Adrian’s eyes, and the nerves and brain behind his eyes, had nothing wrong with them. He simply had not learned to use them yet.”

Mother Still, busy with her knitting, smiled and nodded. The farmer frowned at his pegboard game. Adrian was looking from one of the adults to another, and his expression said that he was too tired to talk just now unless it became necessary, and at the moment they were doing well enough without his help.

Ben muttered exotic swearwords under his breath. “Then why, by all the gods and demons-?”

“He began to use his eyes to see with,” Karel went on, “as soon as a real need arose for him to do so. He was ready by then to use his eyes. When that time came, he turned away from the world of magic, for almost the first time in his short life, and he entered the world that is shared by all humanity.”

Ben was still staring-now, the wizard thought, with the first glimmerings of comprehension.

Karel pressed on. “Take Woundhealer’s blade and draw it through the legs of a day-old infant-the babe will not jump up and begin to walk. Its legs have not been healed, because they were not crippled to begin with. The child is simply not ready to walk yet.”

“Talk about children!” burst out Mother Still. Her fingers continued their tasks with yarn and needles, but she gave the impression of someone who was unable to keep silent when a favorite subject had come up. “If you’ve ever had little ones about and watched ’em closely, you’ll have noticed that they generally work at learning one thing at a time. The important things, I mean, like walking and talking.”

“And seeing?” Ben was trying to grasp it.

“There are different ways of seeing,” Karel continued. “To Adrian-who has, I think, the greatest natural gift for magic that I have ever encountered-the most natural way to see is not with the eyes at all.”

Mother Still impulsively threw her needlework aside and held out her arms. Adrian, faced with this silent summons, jumped down from her husband’s lap and came to her on tired legs.

She lifted the boy into her own lap and passed a hand across his forehead. “These little eyes are learning to see now. But for a long time there was no need-or so it seemed to the little mind behind them. Because there were so many other things for that mind to do. So much to be learned, to deal with the other kind of vision that he has. Things that vision brought him might have hurt him badly if he had not learned how to deal with them.”

“To my shame,” said Karel, “I never really looked at him until today.” Turning to Ben, the wizard added: “Until now, Adrian has seen every person and every object in the world almost exclusively by the auras of magical power and potential that they present. It took me decades to learn such seeing, and I have never learned to do it as well as he can now. It is of course a fascinating way in which to perceive the world- but for a human being it should never be the only way. And for a child of seven there are certainly dangers-you remember the seizures he was subject to.”

Ben said: “He’s not been troubled with those, I think, since the Sword touched him.”

“Nor will they bother him again, I trust. Now he should-I think he must-put away all the things of magic for a time. Let him look at the world by sunlight and moonlight and firelight. Let him see the faces of the people in it. Let the struggle that has separated him from them be at an end.”

“For a time,” said Adrian suddenly, and they all looked at him.

“For a time only,” the wizard confirmed, “let magic be put away.” He looked around at the other adults. “It is a shame,” he said again, “that I did not understand the problem. None of us understood it-but I might have. Only I did not take the trouble. When I considered the child at all, I wasted my time, looking into the air and space around him for evil influences, spells and demons that were not there.”

“Come along, boy,” said Father Still, getting up from his chair suddenly and holding out his hand. “Someone’s at our door.”

Adrian stared at him for a moment, then jumped up.

At the front door of the house the two of them, with the others crowding close behind, met Mark just as he was lifting a hand to knock.

Adrian stared for the first time at his father’s face. Then with a cry he jumped into his arms.

Dusk had deepened into moonlit night when Zoltan wandered out of the house, closing the door behind him on the firelight and laughter within. He paused, content for the moment to breathe the fresher, colder air outside. Then an impulse led him along the short wagon road, not the one leading to the gate but another track, which terminated at the edge of the cultivated land, just where a ditch fenced with a grillwork barrier let in water from the stream flowing just outside the farm.

Zoltan, standing just inside the fence and clinging to it, looked for a long time at the undiminished stream outside as it rushed down a hillside. At length he turned away, starting back to the house.

There was a splash behind him, and he turned back just in time to see a small log bob to the surface at the foot of the miniature waterfall. Then the piece of wood went dipping over the next brink down, moving along briskly on its journey to the distant sea.

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