Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 04 – Farslayer’s Story

Refreshments were brought in after a while, and the talk went on. Chilperic, when he thought the proper moment had arrived, and without dropping his pretense of being an old friend of some deceased members of the family, revealed himself as an agent of the macrowizard Wood. He expected that these people, or at least their best surviving magician, would have heard of Wood, and he was not wrong.

That claim, as he had expected, somewhat perturbed and perhaps frightened his new acquaintances. Chilperic was ready to offer some kind of demonstration to back up his words. He reached inside his coat to touch the leather wallet at his belt; he was just magician enough himself to be able to detect the powerful demonic life that throbbed so vulnerably within.

As soon as he saw that Hissarlik was groping for some way of expressing polite doubt about his relationship with the famous Wood, Chilperic once more touched glossy but wrinkled leather. Muttering a few words he’d had from the Ancient One himself, he called up the demon.

This time the manifestation was much quicker, and distinctly visual. While the owners of the house shrank back, the demon appeared in their great hall in afternoon sunlight, blocking out some of the bright beams that came slanting in through the high windows. Rabisu, taking the image of a gigantic though transparent warrior a demon could look like almost anything it chose acquitted himself impressively, offering a demonstration of obedient power that would have gladdened the heart of any magician-master. He bent a steel bar into a loop, and caught a rat somewhere inside the wainscotting, and turned the little creature inside out, at the same time sucking it dry of life and blood, so deftly that there was hardly any mess.

It was about an hour after this demonstration when Chilperic, feeling that he had now established himself with the Senones leadership, decided to strike while the iron was hot, and began asking important questions.

Anselm, in response to a direct query, told him that the last person to be struck down by Farslayer on that night a month ago must have been some Malolo youth. Cosmo’s name did not come up here directly.

Hissarlik, Alicia, and Anselm each laid claim to having killed one of the Malolo on that night, but they could not agree exactly on each other’s claims. Chilperic soon lost interest in the details, and managed to switch the conversation.

An hour after that, Chilperic and his hosts were halfway through a banquet celebrating their new alliance.

Chilperic had seen to it that their talk never strayed far from the Sword for very long. Chewing thoughtfully on a tough piece of fowl, he remarked: “And it never came back into this house again.”

“No.” Anselm hissed a sigh of exasperation. “It appears that our enemies still have it.”

His sister murmured tensely: “They’re trying to break our nerves. Well, we won’t break.”

Their cousin Hissarlik, seated at the head of the table, shook his head slowly. “I think they may not have it after all. Their last man to be struck down may have been away from the others when it happened. It’s possible that they just have never found him, or the weapon, either.”

“Where else would he have been?” Alicia challenged him at once. “We searched the islands. We searched all over our side of the river, and they would have searched on theirs.”

The chief could only shake his head. And Chilperic had no intention of enlightening his hosts at the moment.

The story Chilperic had heard in the Malolo stronghold was of course not about their last man to be struck down, but rather about the misfit Cosmo. Cosmo Malolo, the mysterious one in that family, misfit and leading magician as well. Cosmo, who on that night of terror had simply grabbed up the Sword and ridden off with it, effectively putting an end to the cycle of revenge. It appeared that no one, except the hermit whom Chilperic had stopped to question, had seen Cosmo since that night.

Chilperic wondered now whether he should have questioned the hermit further.

In any event, it would seem that Cosmo had not been a simple defector, bound for enemy headquarters. Or, if so, he had never reached it. It would not have been reasonable for Cosmo to stop at the hermit’s at all if he intended to go no farther than the Senones manor. But then everyone agreed the weather on the night of the massacre had been terrible, the mountain trails deadly dangerous, and that might have been a factor in his whereabouts.

Chilperic was increasingly sure that the Sword had not been carried here by Cosmo, and that none of these frightened but still bitterly determined Senones fanatics had made any systematic attempt to locate Farslayer since that horrible night of slaughter. The shock had perhaps disabled them more severely than was at first apparent.

The more Chilperic talked to these people, the more their situation appeared to resemble that obtaining among the Malolo on the other side of the river. But of course Chilperic was not going to offer that comment aloud.

“But where is the Sword now?” young Hissarlik asked him, plaintively and suddenly. It sounded almost as if the question were now occurring to him for the first time, or perhaps it was that he now felt for the first time that there was some point in asking it.

“That question,” responded Chilperic with slow emphasis, “is also of great interest to my master, Wood.”

“I see,” said Hissarlik after a pause, not really sounding as if he saw. “But I was just thinking, suppose . . . suppose that one of those poor peasants or fishermen over on the other side of the river should happen to come across this lost Sword. What would someone like that be likely to do with such a weapon?”

Anselm tried for once to be reassuring. “The peasants? People like that wouldn’t know what to do with such a thing, cousin. Take my word, they’d be too frightened to do anything.”

“But just suppose …”

Chilperic, taking every opportunity to establish himself as a useful friend, concealed his contempt for this lack of fortitude and also did his best to be comforting. “Why, sire, there are every bit as many old enmities in villages as in castles. Farslayer would be used again, and soon, depend upon it. And then any magician worth his salt assuming of course that he was alert and looking for the Sword should be able to tell that it had been used again. Once that happened we’d be well on our way to getting our hands on it.”

The Tyrant cast a look, eloquent of hopelessness, toward his two surviving relatives, neither of whom had any magical ability at all, if Chilperic was any judge. Chilperic had already been told in further detail how the most competent magician in the clan, Hissarlik’s Aunt Megara, had been paralyzed, thrown into a trance on the night of terror, and her first replacement had been among those slain by the Sword. That junior sorcerer, according to Hissarlik’s description of events, had just finished casting a spell intended to stop the Sword moments before it struck him down. There had been no indication that the magician’s efforts had slowed his own doom in the slightest.

“But your most competent magician this sorceress, your aunt was thrown into a trance, you say? Not killed?”

“Yes. Our aunt Megara,” said Hissarlik with dignity. “She’s been confined to her room ever since. She still exists almost as in a trance, scarcely able to talk or move about.”

“Might I see her?” asked Chilperic, in his very most helpful and friendly voice. “I am of course no healer. But I have been present once or twice at similar cases, and . . .”

By now Chilperic had been accepted as an old friend of the family. Its three surviving members now conducted him upstairs. On the second floor they entered a room half-choked with incense. No doubt these fumes were somehow intended to be magically helpful, but if the air was always like this Chilperic was not surprised that the occupant of the room had remained practically comatose.

A woman lay in the single bed, between white sheets, being watched over by a faithful maid. Chilperic was surprised at first glance by the patient’s obvious youth. Her face was drawn and pale, but certainly not lined. It was not uncommon, of course, for a sorceress of skill to appear much younger than she really was. But such cheating of the calendar tended to fail in such a collapse as this.

The woman in the bed ignored her visitor, though at intervals while he was there she managed to rouse herself enough to murmur a few words, usually something that sounded as if it might express some magical intention.

These words never had any effect, as far as Chilperic could see.

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