Nor would the statues have been of ordinary appearance, even in ordinary light. Two of the strangest among them, standing about a meter apart from each other at the lower end of the garden, were of stone carved into the shapes of squat and ugly men. This pair of grotesque carvings had been standing here before Wood built his fortress, and evidently represented a remnant of some ancient and evil shrine that had occupied these lonely heights long before he, or any other man now living, had ever seen them.
The night by now was far advanced, and overhead the sky was strange with shapes that were not ordinary clouds. An observer familiar with the City of Wizards might have been deceived into thinking that this garden and its immediate surroundings belonged to it-indeed, that this represented one of the City’s more dangerous neighborhoods, remote from the much less perilous, relatively prosaic region that Trilby and Adrian had entered. But in fact this mountaintop formed no part of the City at all, though at times the magical intensity within this domain was equally great.
Wood had put down Shieldbreaker-he felt secure enough to do that here, in the middle of his own stronghold -and was now pacing about his garden with the Sword of Chance, swinging and twirling the blade in a physically inexpert way, occasionally hacking down some exotic plant. He cursed the weapon, almost steadily, because of the problem that it posed him. But yet he hesitated, not quite able to make up his mind to smite it into fragments with the overwhelming power of the Sword of Force.
At last the magician ceased to pace. Throwing back his head, he shouted at the sky: “No, I must use it once more!”
And once more, gripping the Sword of Chance in both hands, Wood hurled his trapping spells against the small and distant figure of Prince Adrian.
Tigris, who had followed her master on his rambling course across the garden, was perching now upon a comparatively new stone statue that bore the shape of some grotesque and probably imaginary beast. She shivered on the chill stone of her new seat, and felt a pang of anxiety as she listened to his voice call out the spells and sensed their potency. Skilled enchantress that she was, Wood’s powers awed her. This man, the Ancient One, this Dark Master she now served, simply knew too much, and was more powerful than any human being ought to be. If for any reason he should ever tire of her, or decide that she was dangerous-
His new ordering of spells complete at last, Wood hastened to carry Coinspinner down to the far end of the garden where the light of the flaming fountains was dimmest, and the ugly twin statues stood. He had reason to believe those images might have a helpful influence in what he was about to do. Balancing the bare blade carefully, he set it in place with his own hands, so that Coinspinner, catching one spark of light, formed a straight and slender bridge of steel between the pair of stone grotesqueries, running from the left shoulder of one across the right shoulder of the other.
Silently, Tigris had followed her master. She was frowning worriedly, like a small girl, scuffling her bare feet in the damp, cold grass. She noted that the wind was rising. In the distance, but swiftly blowing closer, rainstorms threatened.
Having set the Sword of Chance very carefully in place, the wizard spun around, urgently commanding any of his servants who might hear him: “Now, quickly, put Shieldbreaker into my hands!”
Tigris, hopping down instantly from her latest perch, the statue of some bull-like beast, was about to run to obey. But invisible forces had heard the command also, and were ahead of her. Enslaved powers had already taken up the Sword of Force, and were now pressing the ultimate power into the hands of the magician.
Accepting the blade, Wood heard and felt the thud of energy in Shieldbreaker’s black hilt. And then that energy cut off abruptly. Wood did not understand until he had turned back to the twin statues, with Sword uplifted to deliver a shattering blow.
The space between the stones, where he had placed the Sword of Chance, was empty.
The ugly, lifeless statues mocked him with their eyes, hollow sockets with stone depths illumined suddenly by distant lightning. Coinspinner had taken itself away. His luck was gone, and the gods alone, if any gods still lived, knew where.
Rain drenched him suddenly. As far as Wood could tell, the rain and lightning were completely natural.
SHORTLY after dawn, Talgai the Woodcutter, as was his daily custom, said good-bye to his small family, turned his back on their little riverside hut in its forest clearing, and with his load beast and his tools headed off into the deep woods to see what he could find there of value.
It was a fine morning. The woodcutter, a wiry, somewhat undersized man approaching middle age, hummed as he hiked along. Now and then he amused himself by whistling bird imitations, and sometimes he was pleased to hear an answer from the forest canopy.
For the first few hundred meters the trail he had chosen ran beside a stream, but at the first branching he turned away from the water, tugging at the little load beast’s reins to lead it uphill.
Two hours and numerous trail branchings later, Talgai had ceased to whistle. For some time now he had been struggling along a small side trail, so little-traveled and overgrown that the intruder was forced to hack with his long brush knife at encroaching small limbs and undergrowth to force a passage. Trees in uncountable numbers, live and dead, surrounded him now, and had done so since he left home, but he only glanced at their trunks in passing and then ignored them. To earn a reasonable livelihood with the small loads that his single beast could carry, he had to, sometimes at least, find wood that was good for more than burning; and today he was determined to do just that.
Having made half a kilometer’s progress along the overgrown trail, he happened to glance upward through the canopy, trying to fix the sun’s height in the sky. Just as he did so his eye was caught by the gleam of something mysteriously, piercingly bright amid the greenery.
Sidestepping carefully, squinting upward for a better look, Talgai soon discovered that the bright gleam emanated from the blade of a sword, which was stuck through a tree trunk. It was a miraculously beautiful sword, looking as out of place here as something in a dream.
To the woodcutter it seemed for a moment or two as if the spectacular weapon must have been planted here just for him to find. Who else was going to be coming through here, after all?
But that, of course, was nonsense.
Now Talgai had halted, standing almost directly below this metallic apparition and staring up at it. It was certainly a glorious weapon to say the least, quite out of the class of any kind of tool that Talgai had ever seen before. And as marvelous as the presence of the thing itself were the circumstances of its presence. The bright blade was embedded in the tall tree as if perhaps some giant’s arm had forced it there, so deeply that half its length came out the other side.
Talgai had never been a fighter, and was basically uninterested in weapons. Nor was he, in the ordinary sense, a treasure hunter. But the finish of that steel, even seen at a distance of several meters, and the bright straight-ness of that blade were far too impressive for him to simply pass it by.
There was a problem, in that the sword was well above his reach as he stood on the trail, and the tree that it transfixed was somewhat too thorny for an easy climb. The woodcutter had to remove his bundle of tools from the back of his little load beast, and then stand precariously balanced on the animal’s back himself, to bring his right hand within reach of the black hilt.
He thought he felt a faint vibration in the Sword when he first touched it, but in a moment the sensation vanished.
Getting the Sword out of the green, tough trunk took even more wrenching and tugging than the man had expected. But eventually, with Talgai’s strong grip on the black hilt, the keen blade cut itself loose.
After hopping down from the load beast’s back, the woodcutter inspected his find with wonder. The black hilt, he now discovered, was marked with a small white symbol, depicting two dice. Talgai, who seriously disapproved of gambling, frowned. And the symbol explained nothing to him. He thought of himself as a practical man, one who stayed close to home in mind as well as in body. He had barely heard of the gods, whose disappearance a few years ago had caused much excitement in the world’s more sophisticated circles. And Talgai had never heard at all of the gods’ twelve magic Swords.