Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

Probing the night as well as he was able, staring into a vague gap in a black shoreline, he decided that the river here was joined by some tributary stream almost as large as itself.

The psychic glare of the City at last began to fade noticeably behind him. Now Adrian, after a day’s journeying and the great exertions of trying to escape from the City’s dangers, found himself physically exhausted. The snug little boat, drifting in almost complete silence, provided the illusion at least of shelter and safety. Here the night air, still and damp, felt warmer than ever.

Deciding that he had better rest while he had the opportunity, he tied up his canoe to a snag, a half-sunken log protruding above the surface near midstream. Sleepily he murmured a minor spell he had found useful against marauding insects, and another intended to bring him wide awake at the approach of danger. Then he stretched himself out as comfortably as possible in the bottom of the boat and abandoned himself to slumber.

Stars and planets turned above his inert form, and gradually the sky in the east began to lighten. Once again before dawn the sound of howling came, still faint with distance, but possibly somewhat closer than before. The exhausted sleeper did not stir.

Full dawn with its bright light came at last, and with the light Adrian moved in the bottom of the boat. A moment later he sat up quickly, blinking at the day. Now, he thought, at least I know which way is east.

The morning sky, partly cloudy, looked reassuringly normal. The river here flowed chocolate brown in daylight, and was not quite as wide as he had judged it to be in darkness. The dark green jungle, shrouding each bank beyond a narrow strip of mud, still looked well-nigh impenetrable even in full daylight. Now, in the upstream direction, the extrasensory glow of the City was superimposed upon the sun in Adrian’s perception. To him that glow still formed a threatening pulse of danger, tending to dominate both land and sky.

He scooped up river water in his hands and recited a short testing spell, while watching the tiny, soft mud particles beginning to settle out. There was no reaction to the spell, indicating that the water was safe to swallow.

After drinking of the river deeply-and returning to it in exchange some water of his own-Adrian untied his craft and resumed his downstream progress. He used the paddle as before, keeping the canoe away from either shore.

He was hungry now, and providing himself food by magic alone would be an undertaking somewhat more difficult and complicated than merely testing the water. He decided to try to feed himself by mundane methods alone, if that proved possible. If, without a knife, he could somehow sharpen a wooden spear, he could try some spear fishing. Or he might put a hand in the water and try magicking a fish to come within his reach.

Before he could quite decide on either effort, some recognizable wild fruit trees appeared, and he put in to shore to gather breakfast. Hunger dulled for the time being, he pushed on.

As the sun rose higher, Adrian began to feel its full heat. Digging into his memory, and applying a little thought and effort, he managed after a couple of false starts to create a spell that tanned his pale skin immediately, in such a way as to preserve him from the worst effects of the solar fire.

Hours passed. The river wound on, kilometer after kilometer, with no change in itself or in its banks. This jungle country, damp and hot, was vastly different from anything to which the boy had been accustomed, either near his home or in the vicinity of the workshop of Trimbak Rao.

Shortly after resuming his journey, Adrian thought that he heard last night’s howling once again. Whether the source was closer or more distant now was hard to say.

Except for the occasional sites where fruit trees grew, he had yet to discover any place on either shore that tempted him to land. Some of the dangers were obvious, taking the shape of thorn trees and wasps’ nests. Other perils were not so obvious, but Adrian had noted them. Here and there along both banks he observed the spoor of large animals, and in one tall tree he spotted a nest or crude sleeping platform such as he had heard was sometimes made by the carnivorous apes.

Still keeping the canoe near midstream most of the time, Adrian drifted, paddling as necessary. Once more he landed to pick some fruit.

About an hour after that, he came to a small island that appeared to be a safe place, supporting a few trees tall enough to cast some shade upon the water. There, Adrian tied up. With his craft all but completely concealed by the bulk of the island on one side and some overhanging branches on the other, Adrian sat cross-legged for a while in the bottom of the boat, eyes closed, first meditating to calm his mind and then trying to see into the psychic distance.

The heat of the day increased, but as he sat motionless, engaged in mental activity, he was hardly aware of it. In less than an hour he came back to himself with a start, finding his body drenched in sweat. He slipped out of the boat into the water, which was now considerably cooler than the air.

Now, even floating in the cooling water, it was impossible to relax. His vision had made Adrian more frightened than he had been since making his escape from the City.

His psychic probing had shown him that the Sword Coinspinner had somehow been used against him at the Red Temple by his enemy, to augment by good luck the power of the spells employed. No wonder he had almost been trapped and crushed, despite his own struggles and his mentor’s precautions! It would be no surprise if Trilby had been caught. The real wonder was that he, Adrian, had somehow managed to escape.

After a brief active swim, during which he was careful never to get more than a few meters from the boat, he climbed back into the canoe again and sat on the middle seat, not meditating now but simply trying to think. He was determined not to panic, despite the forces he had glimpsed arrayed against him. On his side, he had his own considerable powers. He had strong friends, who would be trying to help him. And he had time now in which to think.

On Adrian’s emergence from the water, the air at first felt cool around his body, but as his skin dried it warmed again.

. . . and with the heat, fear came back with a rush, like a worried friend.

It was time now to think about Coinspinner.

Meditation and psychic probing were all very well, sometimes extremely valuable. But intelligent, reasoning thought was still more important.

The Prince in his period of silent concentration had been able to determine, at least in a very rough way, the location of the Sword of Chance-at the moment it was somewhere vaguely ahead of him, in the general direction of flow of this still-nameless river. And this discovery Adrian found puzzling.

In fact, he had just perceived several things that puzzled him; one of them was that the person who now possessed the Sword seemed to have no magic of his or her own. This person was therefore almost certainly not the mighty magician who had so powerfully attacked him.

Adrian’s education, intended to fit him to rule a nation someday, had included much information about the nature and history of the Swords. He was well aware that Coinspinner had the tendency to move itself about, and that it might well have taken itself away from his enemy soon after he or she had used it.

However his enemy had lost the Sword, that deprivation had not come a moment too soon for Adrian’s survival.

Now the boy pondered intently for a short time, wondering if a really powerful and learned wizard in his position would be able to make the Sword come to him, by the power of his own magic; certainly such a feat would be very difficult for anyone, if not totally impossible.

Once again sitting in a semi trance, the boy tried to send his mind, his presence, to the proper place, the present location of the Sword.

It was a daring move, and he was not entirely sure that it was the proper one to make, but he attempted it nevertheless.

In any case, the effort failed.

At the moment it seemed that neither logical thought nor psychic probing was going to get him any further. The young Prince untied his boat and let it drift downstream again. From time to time he used the paddle, mechanically, to keep the craft from drifting too near either of the shores.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred