Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

He had paddled back to a place near the middle of the pond, and was wondering in confusion what to do next, when he had a strong sensation that he was no longer alone. Inhuman creatures that he took at first for incubi and succubi from the Temple were standing semi-transparent on the very edge of the pool, the females clutching their transparent garments coyly round them. There were six of them, eight, ten. No, more. Numbers beyond counting. Many of the shapes were strange and indecipherable, but all were evil. Now Adrian understood that some of them might have come out of the Red Temple, but most had issued from somewhere else, only the gods knew where.

Heart pounding, throat suddenly a dry knot, the prince realized that he was surrounded by ferociously antagonistic powers, forces of hostile magic. So subtle had been their approach, so arcane the spells that shielded them from his view, that he had never perceived them until now. For hours, for days perhaps, they had been closing in on him, walling him subtly but powerfully away from the outside world.

Now he could see, he could feel, that they were on the brink of some climactic action that might destroy him. He had no time or nerve for careful thought. Acting instinctively in self-defense, his mind and his perception reached deep beneath the surface of the earth. As a drowning boy might have clutched at a log, so Adrian reached for and seized the energies of earth, molding them, prodding them into detonation.

The result was an elemental.

This particular elemental, born among the strains and heat of rocks many meters below the surface of the earth, was very powerful even of its powerful kind.

Whirling and dancing in the circle of Adrian’s enemies, there were no demons, but a foul host of other hostile powers. These at first jeered at his efforts to create a counterforce, taunted him with what they supposed must be his feebleness.

It was not a matter of the Prince’s unleashing the elemental at them-for he had made no effort to restrain it in the first place. This was no comparatively gentle derivative of sky or water. Rather an earth-elemental, vast and imbued with the power of gravity. Suddenly granted sentience, this creature battled its way toward the surface, sending before it from the body of the planet a deafening eruption of shattered rock, geysering water, splattering fountains of mud.

Havoc resulted. All other forces of magic blurred, within the narrow locus of the elemental’s influence. This zone contained the enemy powers surrounding Adrian. Their ring was broken, the ground reshaped, and the local course of the small river temporarily disrupted.

The essence of its being invisible, having no form but that of the earth from which it had been born, the elemental reached the surface and there jerked to a stop. The canoe, with Adrian still in it, was hurled into the air, to splash back violently. Somehow, clutching hard at both gunwales, he avoided being thrown out into the water.

The small dam had already burst, or rather it had been obliterated. The water contained in the deep pool was hurled downstream, the flood carrying the boat with it.

Adrian in his canoe was carried away upon this miniature tidal wave of water, propelled by a buckling and heaving landscape. He was borne downstream, through the broken ring of the powers that would have confined and perhaps destroyed him.

The elemental, still full of life and ferocity, drove dumbly on behind its creator, and tumult swept along the riverbed. Behind its passage the crash of falling buildings partially blocked the stream, which fought a new channel through the wreckage almost at once.

Stretched out in the bottom of the canoe, clinging for his life as waves and mud poured in on him, the Prince could only close his eyes and wait. At last the thunder of the erupting earth was quiet. He could only keep clinging to the thwarts and gunwales, and allow himself to be borne along. Drained by the great effort he had made in raising the elemental, he drifted into a semiconscious state.

None of the creatures evoked by his enemy’s hostile magic pursued him; for one thing their formation had been shattered, and for another they had been given no such orders. They were constrained to soothing and trapping and holding.

Still the canoe continued to be borne forward, although now at a gradually diminishing speed. The elemental was following the craft downstream, but by slow degrees the creature was ceasing to propel it forward.

The dazed boy, being swept downstream, muttered the name of Trilby once or twice. But Adrian had no way of knowing what might have happened to her. Nor, if he had known, would he have had any means of turning back to try to help her.

Once raising his head, groggily, to look back, he saw shapes of blackness, as if the shadow of the whole earth, the City’s skyline visible in silhouette, were being cast upon clouds high in the sky by some great sun-light in the center of the planet. And then he slumped into unconsciousness.

On regaining full consciousness at last, and bringing his head up out of the bottom of the canoe, Adrian found that the elemental seemed to have completely dissipated. Natural darkness had overtaken him. And from the feel of his environment, he was sure that he was no longer in the City. The stream and the canoe had carried him along some natural escape route, doubtless perilous, that had brought him clean away from immediate danger.

“Trilby,” he groaned again. Wherever his partner had been when the disaster struck, when the trap had tried to close on them, he realized that they might now, for all he knew, be separated by hundreds of kilometers.

The paddle was still aboard, wedged under one end of a thwart. The boy couldn’t really recall putting it there. Taking up the implement again, Adrian shakily directed the craft to shore at the nearest level place. Then he got out and stood with his feet sinking into warm mud, trying to see back in the direction from which he had come. Vague, dark masses indicated heavy vegetation along both banks.

The heir to the throne of Tasavalta could be sure only that the City was now completely behind him, and that he was now standing, completely naked and utterly alone, on the bank of a strange river.


AS soon as Wood had completed the first phase of his magical attack upon Prince Mark’s son, a process that took only a few minutes, the blond and beautiful enchantress called Tigris leaped astride the griffin once again. She waited for her master to mount behind her, ready to snuggle herself provocatively against him. But this time the magician had elected to use a different means of transport. He remained at a little distance from the griffin, standing in an area shaded from the moonlight by the knotted branches of a dead tree; and by means of the flickering spots of silver light his assistant was able to observe swift changes in his physical shape. Among other alterations, Wood’s body as a whole grew smaller, and his own dark pinions came sprouting from his shoulders.

Tigris, seeing how things were, whispered a command into the griffin’s ear, and the great beast sprang upward, bearing her into the air. She saw her master’s shadowy form rise after her.

Their flight was not a long one, and it was conducted entirely through darkness and whistling wind. Tigris was aware when, at about the halfway point, the first other powers joined them in midair. Before they landed, several airborne demons, accompanied by other powers less susceptible to ready classification, had already met her master to fawn upon him. These immaterial creatures manned the outermost line of protection of Wood’s domain.

Now, as the two humans and their escort descended toward the earth again, the wind abated somewhat. Their landing was in a wild and lonely place, still well within the natural boundary of night. The griffin crouched meekly on the rocky soil, making it easy for Tigris to dismount.

She did so with a quick jump, then looked around her. By the time Wood had landed too and she had located her master on the ground, his appearance was once more that of a handsome and broad-shouldered young man.

Standing within an ancient circle of stones, evidently a place for which he felt some special preference, Wood was holding the naked Sword of Chance up in his right hand and gazing at the blade. Here, in this pool of relatively deep natural darkness, Coinspinner responded to his touch with sparks, some of which were momentarily dazzling in their brilliance.

Despite his triumph in obtaining the Sword of Chance, Wood’s thoughts at this moment were troubled. Having completed-satisfactorily, he thought-the first phase of his magical attack on the young Prince, he found it necessary to reach a decision: whether or not to go immediately into the City himself, to take possession of the trapped prey.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred