And so it was she who discovered Farslayer, one of the Twelve Swords of power and legend, lying undamaged and uncorroded on the river bottom, where the smashing of the boat had dropped it, among the deep cold boiling wells of current just below the cataract. Only a mermaid or a dolphin could have reached it swimming.
Whenever a wreck similar to this one occurred, which was not often, the mermaids as a rule came swarming round, trying to help the injured and save the drowning if they could, trying also to see what treasure and trinkets they might be able to salvage from the victims’ cargo.
But here were no survivors or victims, living or dead, immediately visible. When Black Pearl first saw the Sword lying in the twilight of the river bottom, her first thought was for almost-forgotten Zoltan, because this impressive weapon so closely resembled one she’d seen him wear. She’d seen him use it too in her defense.
Much additional memory that had been almost lost came rushing back. If Zoltan had indeed been in the wrecked boat, she’d save him if she could.
Swimming and looking amid the watery thunder at the bottom of the falls, Black Pearl searched as only a mermaid could. She did indeed find one dead body, caught on the rocks nearby, but to her relief it was not Zoltan’s. One other man, who was still breathing when she found him, died even as Black Pearl was trying to decide how best to carry him to shore, died without saying a word in answer to her questions.
No other survivors or casualties were discoverable at the site of the wreck. The mermaid thought to herself that there was no point in searching anymore, trying to look downriver for Zoltan; bodies and wreckage would be scattered for kilometers downstream already, and scattering farther every moment. Not even a mermaid would be able to find a single man, especially with nightfall coming on.
Black Pearl gave up thoughts of rescue, and dove back to the Sword, which lay just where she had seen it last. There was barely enough daylight still penetrating the depths to let her mermaid’s vision find it once again.
When she had brought the marvelous weapon to the surface, she could see that it was not, after all, the same Sword that Zoltan had carried. His, as she remembered, had borne the symbol of a small white dragon on its black hilt, where this one showed instead the concentric rings of a small white target.
The young mermaid knew only a few fragments of the history of the Twelve Swords of Power. But she could see that this Sword, whatever its true nature, must be quite valuable.
Zoltan dropped from her mind. Black Pearl’s next thought on having discovered this treasure was to take it straight to the man she loved.
Cosmo would know what to do with her find. And if there were any benefits to be had from it, Cosmo, her true love, would see that those benefits were shared with her.
Fortunately for her plan Cosmo had not yet left the grotto on Magicians’ Island; there was some magical tidying-up that had had to be attended to. He was surprised to see Black Pearl back so soon, and more than surprised to see what she was carrying.
Balancing the naked Sword thoughtfully and carefully in both his hands all magic aside, those edges, as he had already proved, were ready to cut tough leather as easily as water lilies he agreed with her that it was probably hopeless to seek any further for survivors of the wreck tonight; tomorrow he would see to it that a party of fishermen went out from the villages on the Malolo side, to see if any might have been washed ashore alive.
But his attention had never really left the Sword. “No, Pearl, I have never seen its like before.” He held the weapon in his hands up higher, the better to catch the light of his little lamp, and marveled at it. “But yes, I know what it is. Once there were eleven others like it in the world, and still there are probably nine.”
“But what is it? Magic, surely.”
“What is this one specifically? Magic such as you and I are never likely to see again. This one is Farslayer, as I can tell from the symbol on the hilt. Farslayer kills, at any distance and with absolute certainty. Hold it in your hands, and chant the name of your enemy, and swing the weapon round, and let it go and lo! The Sword is gone to find your enemy, and he is dead. Even that evil one who once held you bound would not be able to stand against one of these. No power on earth could save him, I think except perhaps one of the other Swords.”
Black Pearl’s eyes were wide with wonder. “What are you going to do with it, then?”
“Put it away in a place of safety, for now. Then I must think.” And the magician opened a small locker or safe, cut right into the stone beside their couch, a safe that Black Pearl had never known was there. And Cosmo put the Sword in there, and with a word of sealing magic closed it up.
He frowned down at her as she lay in the water. “Not a word to anyone else, of course. Now there are two secrets you must keep, and this one is every bit or almost as big as the first.”
“Of course. Not a word to anyone.” And joyously she saw in Cosmo’s eyes renewed evidence that she was trusted by him.
Then another thought occurred to the mermaid. “When I was swimming back here just now, I thought I saw another boat, smaller than yours, coming toward the island.”
“Oh? And from which shore?”
“That probably means Senones. Don’t worry. Even if they should dare to touch shore here, I’ve made this ground my home, and I can make myself invisible to enemies whilst I am on it.”
“Are you sure?” The Senones clan and that to which Cosmo belonged were ancient enemies.
“I’m sure. And now, besides, I have the Sword for my defense.” He smiled. “The wonderful Sword that you have brought me, and for which I am very grateful. And you must be very tired. Go and rest on the other island. Or back to the wreck and look for other trinkets if you like.” He seemed very loving and very confident. He added at last: “I love you, Pearl.”
Black Pearl, delighted to the depths of her heart that she had been able to bring her lover such a prize, plunged obediently into the narrow tunnel and swam away.
HEAVY wind filled the bleak and rugged gorge of the Tungri, dragging heavy clouds through dark night. The short winter of this land was not yet over, and the freezing rain that had been falling at sundown had turned to snow some hours ago. The hermit Gelimer was snug under blankets and skins in his lonely bed, and when the half-intelligent watchbeast came to wake him he turned over with a faint groan and tried to pull the furs up over his head. Even before the hermit was fully awake, he knew what an awakening at this hour of such a night implied.
But of course Gelimer’s conscience would not have allowed him to go back to sleep when he was needed on such a night, even had the anxious beast allowed it. Three breaths after he had tried to pull the covers up, the man was sitting on the edge of his simple cot, groping for the boots that ought to be just under the foot end.
He had both of his eyes open now. “All right, what is it, Geelong?”
The speechless animal, with melting sleet dripping from its fur, moved on four feet toward the single door of the one-room house, and back again. Its movement and the whole shape of its body suggested something between a large dog and a miniature bear. Geelong’s front paws, capable of clumsy gripping, came up in the air as the beast sat back on its haunches, and spread their digits as much as possible in the sign that the watchbeast usually employed to mean “man.”
“All right, all right. I’m coming. So be it. I’m on my way.”
The animal whined as if to urge the man to greater speed.
As soon as his boots were on, Gelimer rose from his cot, a strongly built man of middle size and middle age. Only a fringe of once-luxuriant dark hair remained around a pate of shiny baldness. His bearded face in the fading firelight of his hut was shedding the last traces of sleep, putting on a look of innocent determination. “Ardneh willing, I’m on my way.” Now the hermit was groping his way into his outer garments, and then his heavy coat.