Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

“Talgai, yes sir, that’s me.”

“What a very remarkable coincidence! Would you believe that when I passed through Smim, two days ago, I overheard someone shouting that he wanted to get word to Talgai the Woodcutter?”

“But how can that be? Who in that town would have any message for me? I’ve never even been there.”

“Well. It happened when I was in the town square. I heard a voice shouting, and looked up, and there was a man standing at one of the barred windows in the house of government-they have the jail cells up there, you know.” Here the speaker paused, almost apologetically.

“Go on!”

“Well, there was a man up there, shouting, just calling out to anyone who’d listen to him-there were quite a few people in the square. He kept pleading for someone to take a message to his brother, who he said was Talgai the Woodcutter. It seemed-well-a somewhat mad way to attempt to send a message. But it certainly caught my attention, and I remembered. And then I suppose the poor fellow probably had no better means at his disposal.”

“Did he say his name? Did he look anything like me? Was his hair the same color as mine?”

“I’m afraid I didn’t notice about his hair, or what he looked like in general. Yes, he did say his name-Booglay, Barclay, what was it now?”

“Buvrai,” said Talgai, in a small voice.

“That sounds like what he said. Yes, I’m sure that’s it.”

Everyone in the room was staring at Talgai now. He asked: “What was the message?”

“Only that he was imprisoned there-and under sentence of death.”

There was a pause in which no one said anything. Then Talgai’s informant went on: “In six days-I remember him calling that out into the square, over and over. In six days he was going to be hanged. There was a scaffold in the square . . .”

Talgai was standing utterly still, looking as if he had no trouble in believing any of this. He asked: “For what crime had this man been sentenced?”

The traveler, looking gloomy, said he didn’t know for sure, but he thought it might have had something to do with an offense committed in a Red Temple. He did know that major offenders from a wide district around were often brought to Smim for trial and execution.

Talgai nodded sadly. “My brother was always the wild one. I haven’t heard from him for many years, but . . .”

His informant, seeming embarrassed, muttered some- thing about how those places, Red Temples, of course had a reputation for wild behavior among their customers, but still. . . anyway, the execution was going to take place in a very few days. There would just about be time for Talgai to get there before it happened.

His old friends and his several new acquaintances were all looking at the woodcutter awkwardly, and some of them at least offered condolences.

Talgai was still holding the marvelous Sword, and now he gazed at it with a peculiarly mournful expression.

The innkeeper offered: “Maybe, were it not for the lucky Sword, you wouldn’t have known … I suppose that’s good luck in a way.”

Within a few minutes of having received the grim news, Talgai was moving briskly along the trail to home. Clucking to his load beast, he tapped its rump with a stick to make it hurry. The beast looked back at him once, in dignified and silent protest, then stepped up its pace just slightly.

Walking the trail with a good stride, Talgai brooded sadly about his brother’s wasted life, and the all-too-credible news that he had just received. He would have to make good time if he was going to reach the town where his brother was imprisoned before it was too late to see him alive. But before starting on such a journey, of course, Talgai would have to go home and at least tell his wife and children what he was doing.

Some of the cash the woodcutter had obtained for the rare wood would go with him in his journey, for he knew that in large towns cash had a way of being essential. But he would leave half the money with his wife, to make life a little easier for her should Talgai be somehow delayed in his return.

Talgai had taken the tale of Coinspinner’s powers with at least a grain of salt; he knew it was wise to take that attitude with travelers’ tales in general, and especially with regard to tales of magical achievement. Still, considering what had happened to him, Talgai, since finding the Sword, he had to believe that it was bringing him good luck. Yes, even in the case of the bad news. If his brother was now going to die, it would be good to have at least a chance to see him first.

Talgai had already decided, without having to give the matter much thought, that he must take the Sword with him on his journey to town. What little Talgai had ever seen of prisons inclined him to fear that it might be difficult for him to see his brother even when he reached the prison. To do so he would probably have to deal with officials who were likely to want money-officials anywhere always seemed to do that-and even when given money they were likely to be difficult to deal with.

Yes, Talgai was going to need all the luck that this strange tool called Coinspinner could bring him. And as for his brother . . . well, luck probably had little to do with the predicament in which Buvrai found himself, though that scapegrace would doubtless blame everything on his bad fortune, as usual.

Coinspinner. Talgai muttered the name to himself over and over again, trying it out. He certainly couldn’t say that he liked the sound of it, however lucky the Sword might be. A name like that certainly suggested gambling, and in gambling lay ruin for rich and poor alike.

An hour later, Talgai the Woodcutter had reached home, had conveyed the good news and the bad news to his wife as well as he was able, and was already saying farewell to his worried family and getting ready to start out again.

He might have chosen to travel to Smim by boat-that would have been easier than walking, and a little quicker- except that his wife might well have need of the boat while he was gone, and it was hard to say how long that was going to be.

The wizard Trimbak Rao in his studio had learned of the attempt to ensnare Adrian very shortly after it took place. Naturally the Teacher controlled powers of his own that were connected with the City. And these entities had been on the scene, in the Emperor’s old park by the Red Temple, almost at once-Trimbak Rao never allowed his apprentices to enter the City entirely unwatched and unprotected.

Within an hour after the eruption of Adrian’s elemental and its violent clash with the powers subservient to Wood, Trimbak Rao was on the scene himself-he had private means of getting there, much faster than any hiking apprentice. In fact, he had within his compound what amounted to a secret entrance to the City, though as part of his students’ training he preferred to let them seek out their own.

As befitted his status as teacher, Trimbak Rao was suitably elderly in appearance, and in his demeanor there was often an air of mystery. Just now this air had been replaced by frantic eagerness. On his arrival in the park adjoining the Twisted Temple, the magician winced at what he saw, and stood for a moment with his eyes closed, looking like nothing more or less than a tired old man.

The land in the immediate vicinity of the park had been thoroughly devastated, though the Temple and many of the other nearby buildings remained essentially undamaged. Not so the dam, which Trimbak Rao remembered well. It no longer existed now. Much altered was the river’s channel in the immediate area, particularly going downstream from this site, where a number of buildings had in fact toppled. Raw heaps of shattered rock, intermingled with soils of different colors, now covered most of the area that had been a park, and his precious square of paving tiles had been quite buried. An earth-elemental, and quite a strong one, had erupted here, no doubt of that. What else might have happened was going to take longer to determine.

Nodding to himself, the Teacher looked around. One thing at least was sure; the mighty adversary, Wood, had evidently determined not to come to the City himself just now. Or, if he had come, he was already gone again. Trimbak Rao, with a faint shudder of relief, relaxed his posture of defense, and dismissed certain powers he had brought with him. He had come ready, as ready as he could be, to fight for his apprentices, though knowing full well that such a direct encounter against Wood himself could hardly have been other than suicidal.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred