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

And quietly, sometime during an otherwise unremarkable winter night, Coinspinner had vanished from its triply guarded case. Where it might have gone, no one in the Palace could begin to guess.

The Palace authorities would have preferred to keep the disappearance of the Sword a secret. But word of it had got out, though in a somewhat garbled version. Now, years later, it was still widely whispered among the people that a gold coin bearing the likeness of the god Hermes had appeared in the place of the Sword of Chance, within its magically sealed case. Actually there had been no such coin on this occasion of the Sword’s vanishing, and efforts had been made to set the story straight, though to no avail. The people knew what they knew. Even some who lived in the Palace accepted what most of the populace outside still believed as a matter of course-that the god Hermes, along with the multitude of his vanished peers, was still alive somewhere and likely someday to return.

Ben knew better than that, or thought he did, in the case of the multitude of divinities. In the case of Hermes he was certain. With his own eyes, and with Mark standing beside him, he had seen the Messenger lying dead. In the god’s back had gaped a great mortal wound, a mighty stab that they thought could only have been the work of Farslayer.

With a shake of his head Ben put memories away. He closed up the carven case, which some wizards had hoped would be able to confine Coinspinner, and moved on.

Here, a little distance along the stone shelf, was a second protected case, in its construction and decoration similar to the first. And this one, when opened, showed itself occupied. Ben touched the Sword inside, but did not take it out. Stonecutter’s blade, identical in size and shape to those of its eleven mates, was a full meter long, and the mottled pattern of the bright steel seemed to extend far below the smoothly polished surface.

The Sword of Siege struck a hammer’s blow With a crash, and a smash, and a tumbled wall. Stonecutter laid a castle low With a groan, and a roar, and a tower’s fall.

Letting the case stay open, Ben rested his huge right hand affectionately for a moment upon the black hilt. His grip covered the symbol of a small white wedge splitting a white block. Ben could well remember how this Sword had saved him and Mark, upon one day of danger now long years ago. Stonecutter had not been much used since that day, but unlike Coinspinner it was still here, waiting faithfully until it should be needed by its owners.

There was, as Ben always took care to drill into the armory guards, one more advantage in having this or any other Sword of Power: As long as we have it, we can be sure that our enemies do not. So we must either keep safe the Swords we know about, or destroy them. And no human being had yet discovered a way of destroying one, other than by bringing it into violent opposition with Shieldbreaker.

Ben closed the second case. He walked on to the third, which for the last eight years had been the repository of the Sword of Force.

This case, when he opened it, showed him only its blue velvet lining, and Ben had a bad moment until he saw the little marker, dutifully placed there by the Prince himself and signed by him. It was meant to assure the people of the armory that he had taken Shieldbreaker out with his own I hands.

Ben hurried on to join the council.

Its members were already assembling, in a pleasant room high in one of the taller Palace towers. Most were in the room when Ben arrived, but were not yet seated. Ben’s first glance on entering the room had been directed at Mark, in an effort to make sure that the Prince did now indeed have Shieldbreaker in his personal possession. Mark did have on a sword belt, an item not usually worn by anyone inside the Palace. And there was the unmistakable hilt, its tiny white hammer-symbol visible to Ben’s eyes across the room. A faint suspicion died; being responsible for security meant that you became ever more imaginatively suspicious.

Standing at the middle of one side of the long table, Mark had Karel on one side of him and on the other, Jord, the man Mark had called father all through his childhood and youth. Mark continued to call Jord his father even now, and to respect him as such, even though the truth of a somewhat more exalted parenthood for the Prince had become known during the last war.

Ben was mildly surprised to see Jord here now. The older man was tall, and still strong, bearing a superficial resemblance to his adopted son. Jord was intelligent enough, and certainly trustworthy, but he was not usually called in to discuss affairs of state. Of course today’s affair was a family matter also. Not that Princess Kristin had ever been noticeably eager to emphasize the humble origins of her now-royal husband. Of course, if today’s discussion should turn out to be substantially about Swords, there would be another reason for Jord’s presence-no one else in the world could bring to it his fund of experience. Of the half dozen men recruited by Vulcan to help forge the Swords some thirty years ago, Jord was the only one to survive the process; and he was still the only human being who had ever touched all of the Twelve.

Next Ben looked around the table for General Rostov, commander of the Tasavaltan army. But the General’s burly frame and steel-gray beard were nowhere to be seen. Probably Rostov, as usual, had many other things to do, particularly in the light of recent events. And probably, too, Mark did not count this meeting as having a great deal to do with military strategy.

Also in the group around the council table were several White Temple physicians, several of whom had been in attendance upon Prince Adrian since he was born. During that period a heavy turnover had taken place among Palace physicians; but everyone knew that there were none better anywhere than those of the White Temple.

Present also was the Royal Master of the Beasts, who was in charge of winged messengers, among other things, and therefore was likely to be called in on any council where quick communications or late news were of importance. Completing the assembly were two or three minor magicians, aides to Karel.

Mark had seen Ben come in, and beckoned him over for an almost-private word before the meeting started. “How’s Beth this morning?” the Prince asked.

“Sleeping like a small log when I left. And your boys?”

“As well as can be expected.”

“It’s great to be young, Your Highness.” Ben usually favored his old friend with one “Your Highness” every day. He liked to get the formality in early, and made sure to do so always when others were listening, so everyone would know that the Prince did not carry his familiarity with his old friends too far.

“I can remember that being young was pleasant,” said the man of thirty, smiling faintly. “And how is Barbara?”

“Fine,” said Ben promptly. “But she won’t admit it. Sometimes I think I’m married to the Blue Temple.” And he made a little money-rubbing gesture with his massive thumb and forefinger.

The faint smile got a little wider. Even that much was good to see on Mark’s worn face. He said: “I feel a little better myself. Some hopeful news has just come in-you’ll hear it in a minute. I’d better get this thing started now.” And he turned away, rapping the table with a hard knuckle.

Ben went to take his seat in the place assigned him by protocol.

As soon as the meeting was in order, Mark repeated to his assembled advisers his absolute determination to find a cure for Adrian’s blindness and his seizures-or at the very least, to prove beyond doubt, once and for all, that the illness they represented was incurable.

Having done that, he threw the meeting open to comments and suggestions.

The wizard Karel stroked his gray beard and his red cheeks and wondered aloud, tentatively, if the child’s condition might not be the result of some last stroke of vengeance on the part of the Dark King. King Vilkata was almost certainly dead now, but his whereabouts had never been learned with any certainty since he was seen to flee the battlefield where he had stood in opposition to the Silver Queen. The Dark King Vilkata had been Mark’s bitter enemy. And he had also been blind.

Karel’s suggestion was not a new one to the ears of anyone around the table. Mark had often pondered it. But no one had ever been able to come up with any means of confirming it, or disproving it absolutely. It was plain that Karel only raised it again now because the possibility still tormented him that he might have been so outmatched in magic.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred