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

It struck Gelimer as odd, though, that this visitor was carrying nothing at all besides the weapon, no pack or canteen.

“Good morning to you, Sir Hermit. Or do I read your white robes wrongly?” The young man’s voice was as cheerful and confident as were his face and bearing.

“No, you read them properly. I have lived here alone for some twenty years, trying to serve Ardneh as best I can. My name is Gelimer.” He stroked the watchbeast’s ears as it crouched beside him, trying to quell the excitement inevitably produced by any visitor.

“And I am Zoltan. I come from the land of Tasavalta, which as you must know lies far to the north and east of here. My companion and I find ourselves somewhat inconveniently stranded at the moment. There was a little wind and rain last night, which confused the captain of our riverboat completely, and he succeeded in running us aground on some of the many rocks below.” And the youth nodded carelessly toward the gorge, from which the faint voice of the Tungri could be heard as always.

“Ah, then no doubt you are embarked upon some pilgrimage downstream? But I am forgetting to be hospitable. You are doubtless hungry and thirsty. Come in, come in, and”

“Thank you no, Hermit Gelimer. So far we’ve not lacked for food or drink.”

“You mentioned a companion?”

“Yes, a lady. Being somewhat older than I am, she preferred to stay below with the boat rather than climb the cliff. But she too is well provisioned.”

Still Gelimer continued to press his offer of hospitality. Presently Zoltan, who seemed at least willing to continue the conversation, accepted.

No traces of last month’s visitor now remained inside the dwelling. Zoltan chose one of the two chairs and sat down, crossing his legs and making himself at ease.

“From Tasavalta, you say?” The hermit was heating water on the hearth now, starting to brew tea. Meanwhile Geelong had lain down with head on forepaws on his mat, still perturbed by the fact of another visitor in the house. The last one had not worked out at all to the watchbeast’s liking.

Gelimer continued: “That is the country, is it not, where the king has so many magic Swords stocked in his treasury?”

The visitor shook his head. “The rulers of my homeland are a prince and princess, rather than a king. Prince Mark and Princess Kristin. They do possess a few of the Twelve Swords so it is said. But I think they keep them in the armory.”

“Ah yes. Of course.” And Gelimer, carefully spooning out tea a treasured gift from another traveler took thought as to just how to proceed with his questioning. He wanted to gain knowledge without giving any of his own away.

He already knew what almost everyone else knew about the Twelve Swords, those mighty weapons that had been so mysteriously forged, more than thirty years ago, by some of the now vanished gods. And the hermit had heard some of the stories to the effect that the Swords themselves had had more than a little to do with the strange disappearance of their powerful creators.

Each of the Twelve Blades was burdened with its own distinctive power, and according to all the testimony of witnesses there was no other force anywhere under the sun capable of standing against the power of any one of them.

“I know that there are twelve of them, or were,” Gelimer went on, talking to his newest guest. “But I forget what their names are.” He blinked, trying to look as holy and unworldly as he could. Sometimes he could be successful at it.

His young guest, thus encouraged and apparently finding no reason to be suspicious, was soon rattling off the names and attributes of the various magic weapons, as if he indeed might be something of an expert on the subject. From the few blades that were generally admitted to be kept in the Tasavaltan vaults, his cataloguing soon moved on to others. Presently it arrived at the one in which Gelimer had reason to be particularly interested.

“-and then there’s Farslayer, which is sometimes also called the Sword of Vengeance. Though of course it can be more than that.”

Gelimer blinked. “It sounds truly terrible.”

“Oh, it is, believe me. You whirl it around your head, and chant I forget just what words you’re supposed to use, though my uncle did tell me once.”

“Your uncle is a magician, perhaps?”

“No.” Then young Zoltan for just a moment put on a look of wary intelligence, like one who realizes that he has almost said too much. Gelimer pricked up his ears. Then the youth went smoothly on: “Anyway, I’m not really sure that any of those trimmings, the whirling and chanting and so on, are really necessary. The point is, when you throw Farslayer with deadly intent, it will go on to bury itself in the heart of your chosen target, whether man, god, or demon. Even if that target is halfway around the world and you don’t know where, surrounded by defenses.”

“Magical or material? I mean, what if your target was enclosed by material walls?”

“Walls of stone or wood or magic, it would make no difference. Farslayer would come through ’em like so much smoke.”

“Oh.” And perhaps Gelimer’s expression of careful vacuity changed now; but if so, the change was quickly smoothed back into blankness.

“Oh yes. There’s no defense, of steel armor or of sorcery, that can save the intended victim, once Farslayer is thrown against him or her. Two of the gods, Mars and Hermes, have died of that very blade.”

“Now that I find hard to believe.” The hermit was trying to provoke more details.

Young Zoltan was quite ready for a little good-humored argument. “I know someone who with his own eyes saw Hermes lying dead, with the wound made by Farslayer still in his back.”

“That someone must have led a very adventurous life.”

The young man glanced up when he heard the deliberate tone of disbelief, then calmly disregarded it. Suddenly Gelimer found the youth’s implied claim of expertise considerably more convincing.

The hermit asked innocently: “And is there no possibility of defense at all?”

“None at all, I should say, apart from the other Swords. If you had Shieldbreaker in your possession, for example, you’d be able to laugh at anyone who threw Farslayer against you. Shieldbreaker’s already destroyed two other Swords, Doomgiver and Townsaver, when people were foolish enough to bring them into combat directly against it.”

“I see. I suppose your adventurous friend saw them destroyed also?”


The hermit saw that now he had gone too far. “Please, I did not mean to imply that I doubted your word. I only thought that perhaps some friend of yours had somewhat embellished his stories. There are many good folk who like to do that from time to time.”

“But that’s not what happened in this case.”

“I believe you, and I am sorry. Please, go on. I find the subject of the Swords intensely interesting.”

“Well where was I?”

“You mentioned Shieldbreaker.”

“Yes. Then there’s Woundhealer, which can cure any wound, even a thrust of magic through the heart, if it’s brought into play promptly enough. And then, maybe, Sightblinder I don’t know if Sightblinder would offer any protection against Farslayer or not. It’s an interesting thought, though.”

And with that the youth, his good humor apparently restored, suddenly threw back his head and began to recite:

Farslayer howls across the world

For thy heart, for thy heart, who hast wronged me!

Vengeance is his who casts the blade

Yet he will in the end no triumph see.

The youth made a good job of the recitation, putting a fair amount of feeling into it. Gelimer made himself smile in appreciation. He had heard some of the old verses about Swords before, decades ago, and over the past days those rhymes had been slowly coming back into his memory, as he continued to think and fret about the subject.

Young Zoltan cheerfully continued his cataloguing of the remaining Swords. The hermit made sure to seem to be paying equal attention to the verses and anecdotes about Coinspinner and Soulcutter and the other Swords that followed, that his interest in the subject might not seem too particular. Meanwhile, in his concealed thoughts, he was increasingly aghast. His worst fears about the treasure he had hidden had now been confirmed, and he still had no hint as to who ought now to be considered its rightful owner.

The hermit had not been keeping count of verses, but he was just thinking that the catalogue of Swords must be nearing its end, when it was interrupted. Geelong the watchbeast sprang up suddenly on all four legs and whined loudly, facing the door. Someone else must be approaching the house.

When Gelimer went out into the front yard this time he stopped short, blinking in mild surprise.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred