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

The blade passed straight through the demon’s image as through a mirage, seeming to do no harm. Then, like an intelligent arrow, Farslayer curved its own pathway in mid-flight. But not back toward the apparition. Instead the Sword went down on the north side of the river, somewhere over the Senones stronghold.

The figure of the demon had stopped in its tracks, and turned to watch that darting descent. Now it turned back to confront Gelimer. Rabisu’s assumed countenance, which had been recognizable as the semblance of a human face, was now chaotic, indescribable. The apparition stood as if paralyzed, and from its demonic throat there issued a last cry, a great howl that went on and on.

That outcry lingered in the air even after the image of the demon had disappeared.

The mermaid, Soft Ripple, had plunged into the river immediately after she threw the Sword. But she surfaced again very quickly, risking retaliation by the angry men around her, unable to resist the attraction of watching the weapon in flight. Not that there was much to see, a mere rainbow flicker toward the slope of the mountain to the south.

A moment of silence hung over the boats and the island. It was broken by another loud outcry, near at hand.

This scream had come from the throat of a woman Zoltan had never seen before. Her thin figure, wrapped in the robes of a sorceress, came tottering forward from a recess among the rocks of Magicians’ Island. Facing the mermaid, this apparition halted, and uttered another hoarse scream. “Not Cosmo! No! You shall not kill him!”

Bonar raised a hand and pointed. “That is the Lady Megara Senones, the bitch-sorceress. We must take her prisoner. Gesner, can you deal with her magic?”

Gesner opened his mouth and closed it again, making no promises, not even of effort.

But Prince Mark was paying little attention to his immediate companions. “My lady,” he called to the figure on the rock. “Are you in need of help?”

The woman Bonar had called Megara, the supposed sorceress, turned a distracted gaze in Mark’s direction. And Zoltan, as he got his first full look at her face, took her for an old woman, even older than Yambu perhaps. At a second look he was not so sure of her age, but certain that she had been through terrible things.

Soft Ripple, thrashing in the water nearby, shrilled at her “I know who you are, old woman. Your Cosmo is dead now! Even for you there can be no stopping that Sword. Not even you damned arrogant magicians can manage that!”

Slowly, in small jerky movements and little slumps, Megara standing on her rock relaxed from a posture of rage and anger into one of weariness and despair.

When she spoke again, she glanced toward the mermaid, and her voice was very tired. “I fear that you are right, fishgirl. If Cosmo was not dead before this …” Then she saw Bonar glaring at her in something like triumph. She cried to her hereditary enemy: “Will you kill me, then? Strike, if you will, there is nothing to prevent you now!”

Ben edged a little nearer Bonar, ready to restrain him from accepting this invitation.

Mark, still speaking calmly, told the lady: “We are going to the south shore, after the Sword. Come with us, if you will.”

“It no longer matters to me where I go,” the sorceress said after a pause. “What magic I can attempt no longer works. Except my little boat. . . yes. I accept. I’ll go with you. If I could even see his body there it would be better if I could know with certainty that he is dead.”

“Cosmo Malolo?”

“Of course. He and I are lovers.” The claim was made proudly but it seemed grotesque.

“Ah,” said Yambu, who until now had been attending silently. “And that night, on this island, where the killing started the two of you were discovered by your father?”

“Yes. That is what happened. And Cosmo killed him, with the Sword.”

Mark had by now gone to the lady’s side, and was offering her his arm, while Bonar seethed in not-quite-silent protest. His protests had no effect. Both boats were shortly under way again, Megara riding with Prince Mark aboard the one that did not hold the clan chief of the Malolo. Soft Ripple followed swimming, staying within easy earshot.

The young mermaid had more that she wanted to tell Megara about Cosmo.

“I knew what you were doing, the two of you, meeting on the island. I watched your two boats coming and going. And I knew what he did to my friend Black Pearl. Did you know that your marvelous Cosmo screwed around with mermaids?”

Megara was sitting straight in her seat, looking straight ahead, as if she could not hear.

“Tell us about it later,” Ben grumbled at the mermaid in a low voice.

“No,” said the prince. “No, I think that we should hear Soft Ripple’s story now.”

The oarsmen worked, the two boats moved steadily fired Saberhagen toward the south shore of the river. Soft Ripple kept on talking.

“I knew Black Pearl was up to something,” the mermaid said. “Finally I followed her, and I found out that she made many visits to Magicians’ Island. Eventually I found an underwater tunnel there.”

Soft Ripple went on to relate how she had discovered that a Malolo boat, the same one, was invariably tied up in one of the island’s concealed coves when Black Pearl paid her secret visits there. Later on she became aware of another boat, one that came out to Magicians’ Island from the Senones side of the river, propelled by sail and with a single occupant. It was a small craft, and Soft Ripple thought that perhaps it was partly propelled by magic. Certainly magic had somewhat protected it from observation. It had invariably come out to the island when Cosmo’s craft was also there. On the first occasion this might have happened by accident, but on later occasions their meetings had obviously been planned.

Soft Ripple had at length grown curious enough to risk the secret underwater passage for herself, choosing a time when the island was otherwise deserted. Overcome by curiosity, and perhaps by jealousy, she had forced herself to go on, despite the buzzing of minor powers that generally frightened away her mermaid sisters as well as the fisherfolk of both clans.

Later, her curiosity grew so great that she even dared the passage when she knew that Meg and Cosmo were in the grotto, and she had spied on them, unsuspected, as they lay together.

“We can sometimes see quite well from underwater, did you know that? And we can hear. I saw and heard the two of you, holding up the Sword and talking about it.”

Lady Megara turned finally. She changed her position so that she was looking down at the creature swimming in the water beside the boat.

Soft Ripple’s eyes were glittering as she spoke. “Then, later, I spied on Black Pearl and Cosmo. He was magician enough to fix it so she grew legs, if only for a little while. Did you know that? Legs, and what’s between them, too. That’s what he wanted from her. That’s what men always want. Yours wasn’t enough for him.”

“Fables and fairy stories,” said Lady Megara instantly. Her voice was as soft and certain as any that Zoltan had ever heard. “Cosmo told me about you. And about the other one, Black Pearl or whatever her name was. How he had been trying to help you, out of the goodness of his heart. How you became impatient and angry when he couldn’t cure you immediately, how you were starting to make up lies about him. Yes, yes indeed, he told me.” And the lady in the boat nodded and smiled, almost sweetly, at the accursed creature in the water.

“Oh no. Oh no. It’s you who lie.” The mermaid, swimming on her back, gazed up at the people in the boat, gazed at the Lady Megara in particular. It was as if the enormity of what the lady was saying held her hypnotized. “I talked to Cosmo, yes. Why shouldn’t I? I told him that I wanted legs, too. And he- he said he’d kill me if I tried to make trouble. But if I waited, and was patient, and said nothing to anyone, then maybe it would be my turn next. I knew what he meant, he meant after he was through with Black Pearl. Then he would see to it that I got legs. But I would only have had them for a few minutes at a time. Now I know he never really meant to help any of us …”

Lady Megara had long since ceased to listen. She said, to Mark and the others in the boats: “Cosmo showed me the Sword that he had hidden. He told me what it was going to mean for our future. Our families were both hopeless, lost in feuding. But that was not for us … the two of us were going to run away, taking the Sword with us. We would sell Farslayer in some great city, and that would give us the money we needed for the future.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred