Well, what ought he to do now? The woodcutter looked around him rather nervously. To him the presence of any sword, especially when unsheathed, suggested combat. And surely a weapon like this must belong to some wealthy owner, who, if he was not lying slaughtered in the bushes nearby, was bound to come looking for it eventually.
Talgai was too honest to even think of keeping the weapon if he could find its owner. But he could look forward hopefully to a substantial reward.
The fact that this precious length of steel had been stuck so forcefully in a tree created in Talgai’s mind the vague suggestion that other violent events might have occurred nearby. But his widening search, peering and hacking his way among the trunks and undergrowth, discovered no evidence to support this idea. His calls, first soft, then loud, all went unanswered. And no sign anywhere of recent travelers. There was in fact no indication that anyone except himself had passed this way in a long time.
Presently the woodcutter gave up the fruitless search and returned, Sword in hand, to his patient load beast. Standing in one of the rare beams of sunlight that reached the ground through the thick cover overhead, he fell to examining his find more closely.
The Sword’s supernaturally keen edge did not appear to have been damaged in the least by the rough treatment it had received, and Talgai could not resist trying it out on some nearby brush. The tough twigs fell off cleanly, mown as neatly as if they had been tender grass. He whistled to himself. This was a better tool than any brush knife or machete he had ever owned!
He reloaded his other implements upon his beast and began to move along the trail again in his original direction; he could usually think better when engaged in some kind of physical action. As he walked, he slashed with his new tool at obstructing twigs and branches. Long and heavy as it was, the bright blade balanced very neatly in his hand-
And then the handle seemed to twist. His foot slipped at the same instant, and he dropped the blade.
Bending to pick it up, he thought himself lucky that he had not gashed his leg or foot with it. While he was still bent over, he happened to glance under some nearby branches, through a gap in the greenery opened by his last random slash.
Thirty meters or so away, leaves of a unique coppery color shimmered, dancing lightly in a random breeze, glowing in one of the slender, random beams of sunlight that managed to find their way down through the high green canopy above.
The woodcutter made a sound like a long sigh. He did not straighten up, lest he lose sight of what he had discovered. Instead, stooping and crawling under other branches, he maneuvered his way closer to his find. It was, as he had known from his first look, a rare tree, one of the species Talgai was always looking for. Its heartwood, highly prized as incense, made this tree worth more than any other Talgai could have found.
After making his way back to his load beast and his tools, Talgai needed only a brief time to hack a good path through to the tree, and a little longer to fell it with his axe and then despoil it of its central treasure.
With such a small though worthwhile cargo packed in his load beast’s panniers, he needed work no more today-or indeed for several months. Not that he was really able to imagine such a period of inactivity, unless it should be enforced by illness or injury. But certainly he would range the forest no more today. Instead, he decided to set out at once for the nearest sizable village, where he would be able to convert his precious wood quickly to coins and food, and where he also might discover some indication of who might have lost such a valuable weapon.
Moving at an unhurried pace, Talgai did not reach the settlement until after midday. The small cluster of wooden buildings dozed as usual in the sun; a few of the inhabitants were at work in their gardens, while others rested in the shade of their verandas, or under the few ornamental trees that had survived the woodcutters’ onslaughts within the town itself.
There was a river, small and generally somnolent, passing along the edge of this town, the same stream on which Talgai had his hut. The river made it easy to ship logs downstream from here to the city markets, where they were used for construction as well as fuel.
The proprietor of the local wood yard was an old acquaintance of Talgai, and greeted him in a friendly way. He was also glad to buy Talgai’s cuttings of valuable heart-wood for a small handful of coins, paying a price rather higher than the woodsman had expected. The townsman also marveled at the marvelous weapon Talgai was carrying with him, and at the story of how it had been found. But neither the proprietor of the wood yard nor any of the hangers-on who gathered to hear Talgai’s story could offer any constructive suggestion as to who the true owner might be, or how the treasure had come to be embedded in a tree in the deep woods.
At last the businessman suggested: “If you can’t find the owner, Talgai, maybe you’ll be thinking of selling it?”
The woodcutter shook his head. “I’m a long way from that. I must try to find the owner first-and if I can’t, this makes a marvelous brush knife. And such steel, such an edge, I believe I could even cut a tree down with it if I had to!”
“There’s magic in it, then. Well, that’s easy to believe.”
“Yes, I suppose there is.” Talgai frowned. Nothing in his small experience of magic had led him to think that it was ever quite safe or trustworthy.
Talgai was just passing out of the wood yard into the street when he turned for one more word. “You know, I think this tool has brought me good luck. I mean, it led me to find that cinnamon-wood.” Then he walked on.
Not wanting to appear armed and threatening while he was in town, he had wrapped the sword in a piece of canvas, part of his usual equipment, and put it under his arm. Thus burdened, he now proceeded across the street to the single inn of the village.
The husband and wife who owned the inn were also old acquaintances of Talgai. They were glad to see him, simply as friends, and pleased to furnish him with a midday meal in return for one of the smaller of his newly acquired coins. As to the sword, they marveled at it even more than had the proprietor of the wood yard, but they could offer no more helpful comment.
A handful of other customers were at the inn, and a couple of these were travelers from afar. The first of these outlanders gazed at Talgai’s prize blankly when it was unwrapped and displayed. Nor could he tell the woodcutter anything of any passing strangers, at least not of anyone who had lost a treasure and was offering a reward for it.
But the second traveler from distant places froze, a spoonful of soup halfway to his mouth, at his first glimpse of the sword. As soon as this man was ready to resume normal motion and speech, and had examined the blade more closely, he swore that he knew what it was-quickly he outlined the story of the Twelve Swords, and claimed that he had been privileged to see one of the others, twenty years ago.
“What you have there, woodcutter, is the great Sword Coinspinner-the Sword of Chance, it’s also called, sometimes. By all the gods! And it was just stuck in a tree limb, in the forest? By all the gods, hard to believe, but there it is. I can believe it, though, of this one. They say Coinspinner is liable to just take itself away from anyone who has it, at any time, without rhyme or reason, and then show up where someone else can find it.” The traveler shook his head. “No point in looking for the owner, I’d say. It’s yours now.” His tone seemed to imply that he was glad, just out of a general sense of wariness, that the Sword was not his own.
“It does seem to have brought me good luck.” Talgai offered the idea cautiously.
His informant chuckled, shook his head, and chuckled again. “I should think it might do that,” he said.
“May it bring you good luck forever, Talgai,” the innkeeper’s wife cried spontaneously.
“Talgai? Is that your name?” This came from the first far-traveler, the outsider who had been of no help in identifying the Sword. “And you say you are a woodcutter?”