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

Prince Mark only looked at him. But Zoltan was ready to argue the point, and at the same time he was curious.

“Sir-Chief Bonar-when your family had that Sword in their hands before, the result to them, I would say, could hardly be counted as a great benefit. What would you do with Farslayer if you had it in your hands at this moment?”

Bonar frowned at the question. Then his frown cleared up. “You mean what target would I choose? I’ve thought about that, this past month. I’d pick that cowardly skunk Hissarlik, beyond a doubt. We’ve heard that he survived the night of killing, and I have no doubt that he’s now become the clan chief of the Senones dogs. And I have no doubt that he’s killed several of our people. He’s probably killed more of us than anyone else who still survives over there.”

“How do you know how many of your people he may have killed, sir? Forgive me, but I’m curious. You mean you have some way of telling, somehow . . . ?”

Bonar was scowling at Zoltan petulantly. “Well, if Hissarlik hasn’t killed very many of us yet, he’s certainly getting ready to do so. He’s a Senones, isn’t he?”

Mark was shaking his head lightly at Zoltan, but Zoltan wasn’t ready to give up the argument. “All right. Say you did have Farslayer in your hands this very moment, and you killed Hissarlik with it. Zip. Like that. What’s the next thing that would happen?”

“The next thing?”

“Well. I mean, someone over there will see Hissarlik fall, or find him dead, and then immediately pick the Sword up and kill you with it. Isn’t that the way things went a month ago?”

Bonar’s eyes lighted up, the eyes of a man who at last understands a line of questioning, and has an answer ready. “Ah! Yes, you see, that’s where we made our mistake before. My sisters and I have talked about that. Next time we’ll manage things the clever way. First decide on a specific target, and then wait for that target to be in the proper position, or lure him into it if necessary. By proper position I mean somewhere where we can get the Sword back quickly after we use it. It means being patient. Perhaps it means setting ambushes, which is always difficult. But you’re perfectly right, there’s no use in making your enemy the gift of such a weapon to use against you. Not if you can help it.”

Mark smiled faintly. And now Zoltan did give up, at least for the time being.

But his questioning had prompted Bonar to ask a question of his own, addressed to Mark.

“Your Majesty uh, sir . . .”

“Just call me Mark. ‘Prince’ will do if you really want to use a title.”

“Ah, thank you, ah Mark. If you had the Sword in your hands at this moment, what target would you pick? This wizard Wood you keep warning us about, I suppose. But am I not correct? Wouldn’t you try to arrange some kind of ambush first, get the Sword back to use again?”

Mark, shaking his head again, took thought. Then he answered seriously and courteously. “I certainly wouldn’t hurl any weapon at Wood just now. He is still in possession of Shieldbreaker, so Farslayer would probably be destroyed. One way to get rid of the damned thing, I suppose. But certainly it would fail to kill him, as long as he holds the Sword of Force.”

“Is getting rid of Swords such a problem, then?” Now Bonar was enviously eyeing Stonecutter, which Mark wore at his side.

“Believe me, there are times when it seems like a good idea to destroy one, or all of them. Though it’s almost impossible. Perhaps that’s what your cousin Cosmo had in mind when he rode off with Farslayer.”

“Do you think so?” the Chief asked doubtfully. He appeared to be having a hard time digesting that idea.

Mark turned to Zoltan and said: “I mean to have a talk with that hermit you mentioned. We’ll take our search for your mermaid out to the islands first if necessary, and then-”

One of the fishermen, rowing industriously, muttered something. From under frowning, shaggy brows he looked up and around the sky.

“What did you say, man?” Mark asked him sharply. “Something about demons?”

The shaggy brows contracted further. “Aye, sir. I’m saying they have been seen in the valley. And that there’s a smell in the air just now, this moment, that I don’t like.”

Bonar started to ask: “Does the Sword you wear, Prince, give you some protection against-”

“Wait!” Mark gestured sharply for silence. Now he too was frowning up at the cloudless sky.

The other men in the boat looked at one another. To all of them, a pall of night and gloom and sickness seemed to be descending upon the sunlit water in the middle of the day.

None of the five men spoke. There was no need. Even those among them who had never before confronted a demon were in no doubt of what this was. One of the rowers, he who had just spoken, now dropped his oar. On trembling legs the man arose, meaning to cast himself overboard. But Zoltan’s hand went out and fastened on the fisherman’s wrist, and after a moment the terror-stricken one sank back onto his bench.

Zoltan knew something that none of the local people did.

The horror that had just arrived was now sitting, almost fully visible, upon the surface of the water nearby, confronting the five men huddled in the boat. As none of them were any longer using the oars, the boat had now begun to drift.

It was Mark who spoke first, addressing the silent thing that hovered on the water. The confidence in his voice astonished most of his companions.

“Who are you?” he asked boldly.

“I am Rabisu.” The voice was a watery gurgling, and somehow it impressed Zoltan’s hearing as slime held in his hand would have impressed his sense of touch. “Rabisu. And you must now hand over to me that weapon that hangs at your belt. It will make a good addition to my collection.”

“Rabisu.” Mark appeared to be meditating upon the name. “I’ve never heard of you before.” So far the prince’s hand had made no move toward his Sword. He was squinting into the full horror of the thing that hovered above the water, squinting as if loathsomeness could be as dazzling as brightness.

Meanwhile, in the background, the handful of other fishing boats that had been busy on the visible stretch of the river were all making as rapidly as possible for shore, some heading toward the north bank of the river and others toward the south. The thought crossed Zoltan’s mind that under ordinary conditions the fisherfolk of the two enemy camps could evidently share the river in peace.

The presence drifting above the water, just keeping up with the drifting boat, appeared to be hesitating, as if it might have been impressed by the bravery of the man who spoke to it. “You are no magician,” it said to Mark at last. The statement was not quite a question.

“That is correct, I am not. Tell me, foul one, which Sword is it that you are seeking?”

On hearing such an insolent response Bonar collapsed completely. He cowered abjectly in the bottom of the boat, as many a strong man might have done in his place. Zoltan was keeping his own head up bravely. It cost him a considerable effort, even though Zoltan knew something about his uncle that the head of the Clan Malolo did not.

“Unbuckle your swordbelt and hand it to me!” roared the demon.

“What if I draw my Sword instead?” And at last Mark’s hand went to the black hilt.

And still the demon hesitated to attack. “Before you can draw it, little man, you will be dead!”

“I think that I will not be dead as soon as that. In the Emperor’s name, forsake this game, and begone from our sight!”

There was a disturbance above the water, and in the air above the boat, an explosion like the breaking of a knot in which the winds of a hundred storms were all entangled. Such a blast must certainly have swamped the fishing craft, but the disturbance came and went with magical swiftness, before any movement of the water or the air immediately around the boat had time to be effective. This concussion was followed instantly by a roaring bellow, uttered in a voice too loud to be human. It was the voice of the demon, no doubt about that, but in another instant the bellowing had grown faint with distance, and in an instant more it had grown fainter still.

Higher above the world, and fainter.

Gradually, but soon, it was entirely gone.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred