Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

There had been several reasons, all of them seeming quite valid at the time, why Wood had chosen not to visit the site of the failure personally. For one thing, the powers that had brought him word of the failure had also assured him that Adrian was no longer in the City.

Not only had the whelp escaped, but in fact the best evidence seemed to indicate that he was still alive and free. Moreover, the elemental he had raised to break him out of the trap had, in the process, destroyed one or two of Wood’s more valuable nonhuman allies.

On receipt of this disconcerting news, Wood had promptly dispatched several demons that he considered relatively trustworthy, along with certain other powers, in an attempt to locate the missing Prince. Through these and other sources he had received conflicting indications as to Adrian’s probable location. But when the most likely of these several locations were checked out, the boy could be found at none of them.

The chief difficulty in pressing the search successfully was that a fugitive from the City might easily re-enter the mundane world in almost any portion of a large continent.

There was a further complication. Another victim, this one a female apprentice of Trimbak Rao, had almost been ensnared within the trap. But somehow she too was still at large.

Not that the girl Trilby had any particular importance in herself. But the wizard considered that it would be interesting as well as amusing to examine her, and gather clues as to the strength of her mentor, Trimbak Rao, who someday was almost certainly going to confront Wood in open combat.

But Trilby was only an interesting detail. Wood’s attention continued to be obstinately centered on Prince Adrian. The wizard was forced to admit that he himself had underestimated the youth’s own abilities, which were truly incredible for one so young and necessarily so inexperienced. Well, in retrospect Wood could see that he ought to have expected something of the kind from one whose mother’s family had produced the wizard Karel and a number of other adepts. And whose father’s father was the Emperor.

About five years ago Wood had lost a valued human assistant, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, in the course of an abortive attempt to kidnap this same child. That episode was suddenly becoming somewhat easier to understand.

Evidently the precocious whelp had formidable defenders and allies as well as strong powers of his own. That there had been resistance really came as no surprise; but still, that Wood’s best trapping spells, their effectiveness augmented by the power of Coinspinner, should have failed to snare this child was astounding.

Or else-

There was one point, however unlikely it might seem, that had to be considered. Was it remotely possible that the whelp’s escape would ultimately rebound to Wood’s advantage? Was it conceivable that the Sword of Chance, during the period when it was conscripted in Wood’s cause, had calculated his advantage more accurately than he could do himself, and manipulated events accordingly?

Wood found that subtlety hard to believe, but he could not say that it was impossible.

An alternative explanation-and this was now beginning to seem to Wood the most probable one-was that the Sword of Chance had removed itself from his possession just as his entrapment spells were reaching the most critical point in their development.

Standing now in full daylight in his walled garden, among the variously grotesque statues, he muttered to himself: “It might have happened that way, yes. But even so, the whelp must be protected by some substantial powers of his own-or someone else’s. Well, we’ll see. In any case he’s certainly not in the City now. And sooner or later I’ll find him, and I’ll have him.”

It was at this point that Tigris joined her master in the garden. Today she was once more garbed in businesslike clothing, and like the other inhabitants of the stronghold she had been working hard.

“Which of our problems do you intend to confront next, my lord? And is this escaping boy truly of such great importance?”

“He is of importance, or will be, as a means of getting at his father. And at his grandfather too, I expect… in addition, I am growing very curious to find out just how his escape was managed. What kind of help he may have had. No, we are certainly not going to give up on him.”

Here Wood turned to decisive action. Summoning another aide, he ordered the sending out of some twenty leather-winged messengers, carrying messages to certain allies of his in a number of places across the continent. The recipient of each message was near one of Adrian’s possible exits from the City, and Wood’s auxiliaries were bidden to seek hard for the young Prince and catch him if they could.

Then Wood and Tigris held a discussion on their best method of trying to recapture Coinspinner-and what they knew about who had it now. It was not yet possible to see this clearly; Wood thought the difficulty might be a corollary of the Sword’s having recently moved itself away from him.

At about the same time that Wood and Tigris were holding their conversation in the statue garden, Karel and Rostov, along with their escort, their self-proclaimed ally Kebbi, and their original prisoner Murat, having left the vicinity of the mountain inn, were well along on their way into the City. Karel was leading them along a strange and illogical-seeming path, along which, as he commented several times, no other wizard, not even Trimbak Rao, would have been capable of guiding them.

“What about the famous Emperor?” Rostov prodded, just to see what kind of a reaction he might get. “Is he involved in this?”

Karel only grunted.

Both of the Culmian prisoners-though Kebbi claimed a higher status by right, he had not been able to achieve it-were still free from physical bondage. Entering the City, and moving about in it, would have been virtually impossible for them otherwise. But Kebbi and Murat found themselves quite effectively restricted by the brief treatment Karel had accorded them. Kebbi had said nothing about it. But Murat, whenever he turned his mount away from the wizard’s, or turned his back on the old man while afoot, suddenly developed a strange leaden feeling in his soles and ankles. The sensation began to deepen into pain whenever he strayed more than a dozen paces or so from the leaders of the party. Very well, then, he was truly still bound. Later, he promised himself, he would experiment to see what the real limits were.

Rostov, his troopers, and the more-or-less willing Culmians, all under the guidance of the elderly wizard, had suddenly entered territory that was strange to them all except perhaps to Karel. Here they traversed several wildly divers kinds of landscape in rapid succession. Most members of the party found themselves seriously bewildered by sudden changes in weather, environment, and even alterations in the time of day.

The General grumbled whenever he felt like it. “Wizard, we’re all convinced by now that our destination is somewhere exceedingly strange. What I want to know is, when do we arrive?”

Karel explained that they were entering the City by stages, and that although it might seem they were spending a great deal of time, even days, on the road, he planned that they should reach their goal on the same day they had left the inn.

And it was, in fact, by the best reckoning, that very same day when they arrived in the vicinity of the Twisted Temple.

“This is the place, then?” asked Rostov, staring at the peculiar streets, and the strange buildings, some of them near the little river tottering, looking about to fall. The sergeant and his five men had all, as if unconsciously, pulled their mounts somewhat closer to that of the old magician.

Murat had done the same. Meanwhile the Crown Prince of Culm had begun to wonder privately if, back in Culm, the traitor Kebbi was even now being mourned as one of the heroes who had managed to steal Woundhealer for the Royal Consort, giving up his own life in the process.

Something sly Kebbi had told him had suggested this possibility. “We are probably both being mourned there, cousin. You more strenuously than I, of course, as befitting your higher station.”

Murat, though he had said nothing on the subject, was also wondering if, indeed, the Sword of Healing would ever get to Culm. By now he had been thoroughly convinced that the military and magical forces of Tasavalta were indeed capable; and the small Culmian force trying to get away no longer possessed any Sword of their own to give them an advantage.

The Crown Prince was even beginning to feel somehow responsible for the lovely Princess’s missing son, though he told himself repeatedly that there was no logical reason for him to do so.

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