Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

And so he had got to see her that way after all.

She was unaware that he was looking, and indeed it didn’t seem of any great importance. Yet Adrian stood very still, continuing to watch the girl. He told himself that he had a good reason for watching, that he was carefully making sure that she was still all right.

Her figure poised for a dive, and then arced out of sight. The faint sound of the splash was swallowed by the steady heavy murmur of the stream falling over the barrier. The canoe, beside its dock, bobbed gently with the waves the dive had made.

Very soon, before Trilby had resurfaced, the prince walked on, conscious of a vague feeling of uneasiness.

The nearest of the Temple’s dim doorways widened around him, and he passed through it. Inside, once his eyes had adjusted from the direct glare of sun, he could see well enough. Entering the first hall he came to, Adrian discovered many empty tables and chairs, most of them tipped over now-once the instruments of gluttony, he supposed. He gave the place a perfunctory inspection upon entering, but all his senses assured him that these surroundings were perfectly safe. There was simply no danger here. Anyway, Trimbak Rao wouldn’t have sent two of his favorite tender young apprentices into a place where there was real danger, would he?

Would he?

No, of course not!

Coming aimlessly outdoors again, Adrian paused, squinting upward, to check the position of the sun. By leaving the pool he had certainly changed his own position relative to the neighboring building, but there was the sun, the same angular distance above its rooftop as before.

Something to think about. Well, all in good time. He moved back into the Temple’s dimness.

This time he took a different turning. Certain of the interior doorways were completely blocked, or their openings impossibly constricted, by tiers of masonry that seemed, through whim or ignorance, to have been built in the wrong place. Progress was difficult but not impossible.

The interior of this Temple was laid out according to a plan shared by a great many of its sister Temples around the world. Not that Adrian, at twelve, had ever been in any one of them before. Nor was he well acquainted with any cult of adult pleasures-but here and there he had heard stories.

This great chamber, containing a few large and strangely decorated tables, had to be the House of Luck. One wall was entirely dominated by a huge gaming wheel, wall-mounted so that the numbers as they came up could be seen clearly from any part of a large room. A number of gaming tables were in the room also.

The wheel, big enough if not sturdy enough to run a sawmill, for some reason started to turn by itself just as the boy entered the gambling hall. He paused, looking at it attentively. Music from invisible instruments, played by no human hands, was suddenly loud and clear. Adrian, turning his head in response to a different, half-heard sound, observed a pair of semi-transparent forms, of vaguely human shape, ascending a stairway. One form, now exaggeratedly female, seemed to turn back to glance at him before disappearing at the top of the stairs. Upstairs, if the stories he had heard were true, was where the House of Flesh would be.

The wheel ratcheted to a halt, at the number zero.

He continued his exploration of the ground floor. Along with the steadily increasing euphoric sense of confidence, tranquility, and well-being, though in definite contradiction to it, the undercurrent of anxiety now came back more strongly than before. It was an apparently baseless feeling that something was beginning to go wrong, something that seemed the result at least in part of sheer bad luck.

He was picking up plenty of things to think about. Yes. Well, all in good time.

But his vague uneasiness guided him outside again. As if reluctantly, shuffling on bare feet, he made his way back toward the parkland and its pool. Pausing halfway down the broad steps, at the place where he had taken a secret look at Trilby, he looked for her again. But the girl was out of sight. If she was in the pool he couldn’t hear her splashing, not above the steady background roar of falling water.

Adrian moved on, still walking deliberately, heading back into the park to rejoin his companion.

Arriving at the pool, he found nothing surprising. The canoe bobbed idly, its presence suggesting . . . something. But what? And Trilby, dressed once more in shirt and trousers, was sitting where she had sat before, again contemplating the water.

She raised her head almost languidly at Adrian’s arrival. “Where were you, in the Temple? Discover anything new?”

“No. Not really.” He sat down beside her, just where he had been before, dipping his feet in the water again. He wondered what to say. “How was your swim?”

“Fine. Cool. The water’s nice and deep, you can even dive.”

“My turn, then.”

“Sure.” Trilby got to her feet. “And my turn to take a walk around.”

“I looked inside the Red Temple, but there wasn’t much. A couple of spooky-looking figures, and a gaming wheel moved. No real interaction. Maybe you can find something interesting.”

Left alone, Adrian became interested in the canoe. Carved in one piece, very skillfully, from a single log of gray-brown wood, it was thin and light-looking and graceful.

But first, he felt hot and the water beckoned. In a moment, Adrian was standing, and in another he had stripped off his clothes.

The first plunge was a clean joy. Coming up from the surprising green depths, the prince drifted on his back, in water marvelously cool. Now, he thought, to see about the canoe. A few strong kicks brought him to its side.

Pulling on a gunwale to peer in, he observed a single wooden paddle, neatly carved, lying in the bottom. Yes, he was going to have to try the canoe out.

Small boats of every kind were common enough in Tasavalta, and Adrian considered himself something of an expert. Starting in deep water, you couldn’t simply scramble in over the side of a canoe. He climbed first to the pier, then got himself aboard the little craft and untied the cord that held it to the dock. As he did so, he abruptly realized what was so unusual about this boat-of all the objects in sight, here in the middle of Wizards’ City, it was the only one devoid of any magical aura at all.

That ought to mean something, but he wasn’t sure what.

For the time being he let the paddle stay where it was. The canoe, left to its own devices, showed no immediate tendency to be carried out of the pool and over the dam.

There had been a very little water, hardly more than damp spots, in the bottom of the canoe, before he climbed in dripping. He thought it might have trickled from Trilby’s naked body-she might have investigated the boat too, played around in it between swims. And when she sat in it, her bare bottom would have rested just about where his was now.

Adrian eased himself from the middle seat and lay back, stretching out as much as possible, raising his knees over the middle thwart. He let his eyes close. The sun-heated wood would have felt the same, almost too hot for comfort, on her body as on his.

… on her soft, smooth, brown skin. On her flesh that was so very different from his, rounded but firm with unobtrusive muscle underneath. Her big breasts, as he had seen them from a distance, bulging in the sun, their broad dark nipples seeming to turn up a little in its heat.

The canoe bobbed lightly, for no discernible reason. Adrian remembered the female figure he’d glimpsed in the Temple. With his eyes closed he could imagine he saw her walking toward him.

Opening his eyes, the boy looked down at his own bare body, wiry and immature. Most of his skin was pale, seldom touched by the sun. But his body wasn’t going to stay childish much longer. Soon, in a year or two, he’d be growing, developing real muscles. And something else too.

Like the male statues carved on the Temple wall. His body would be as much a man’s as any of them.

Time passed.

At last, driven by some subliminal warning, Adrian sat up abruptly. He could feel that his face was red, his ears burning, his body uncomfortable as if it had been used by alien powers. The canoe was drifting, bumping against a little bar that fortunately ran along the dam. Fortunately, because otherwise he and his boat would have gone right over. He still might, if the craft drifted only a little sideways. Grabbing up the wooden paddle, he backed water none too soon.

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