Unfortunately for the men and the woman in the two large boats, they were unable to take wing. Their craft were capsized, spun and hurled in midair, and men who were weighted with weapons, some of them with armor, did not fare well upon being suddenly plunged into deep water. Clinging to his own canoe as it pitched and tossed, the Prince saw with horrified fascination, how the mud and water surged and raced and spun around their bodies, turning them over again and again, sucking them under when they might have fought back to the surface.
Rock and earth hurled toward the sky splashed back into the river. Unlike the eruption in the City, this one left few visible effects a few moments after it had occurred. The great waves raised locally were quickly dying as they spread. The mud spewed up fell into muddy water. Only the drifting shapes of the two capsized boats, and the bodies of the drowned or drowning, could be seen as its results. The two men who had been standing on shore were engulfed in a huge wave, and Adrian could see one of them, covered with mud, running in panic for some nearby trees.
Adrian’s canoe had not been damaged, though nearly swamped by water pouring in. Bailing frantically and not too effectively with his hands, he could not spare much attention for what was going on around him. He was aware of the flying reptile, still cawing in anguish, as it went laboring away on damaged wings.
The reaction of exhaustion came over the Prince, and he slumped in the canoe, on the point of losing consciousness. The body of a drowned man, bumping lightly against the side of the canoe, roused him to horrified new efforts.
At last, with most of the water bailed out of his craft, he was once more paddling downstream. Vaguely he had decided to go toward the docks of the town. As he paddled, he could still sense the aftershocks caused by the elemental’s violence rippling through the layers of rock deep beneath the river. He could hope that what he had done wasn’t going to set off a real earthquake-he continued to exert his best efforts to damp things down again.
Half dazed, the Prince found himself thinking of the great dog, and wondering what had happened to him. Well, he wasn’t going to hang around to look for him.
If I had taken Coinspinner when I had the chance, and held on to it, that couldn ‘t have happened.
Right now Adrian was obsessed with one thought only. He was grimly determined to regain his contact with the Sword.
TALGAI, as he trudged into the town of Smim with his lucky Sword still wrapped in canvas and still riding on his shoulder, reflected on the strange and frequently puzzling things that had happened to him in the course of his journey-and for most of which, he was sure, the Sword he carried was somehow responsible.
High on the list of oddities was the lucky meeting with the hungry lad who had happened to be paddling his canoe downstream, and who had offered him a ride. And there was the peculiar dog-peculiar to say the least-that even now was still following the woodcutter at a distance. Whenever he glanced back he could see it, coming along the path behind him, thirty or forty meters back. He didn’t want to call the dog to come to him, although he would have enjoyed its company, because it belonged to the boy, after all.
And then there was the incident, less than an hour ago, that had caused Talgai to leave his benefactor and proceed on foot, trying to catch up with a man he thought he knew.
While paddling the canoe, Talgai, glancing inland, had been convinced he’d spotted an old friend. But of course the fellow, when the woodcutter had finally overtaken him, had proved to be a total stranger, though the resemblance to his old friend was indeed remarkable. By the time Talgai had discovered his mistake, however, he could see the town quite close ahead of him and there was no point in turning back to the canoe. Gripping his bundled Sword now, he made a wish that young Cham should have a safe trip and meet his parents successfully-somehow Talgai had got the notion that that was what the boy was trying to do.
A moment later, Talgai’s mind was once more filled with his brother and his brother’s predicament. He hastened on.
At some point since he’d last left home, the woodcutter wasn’t sure just when, the idea had begun to grow in his mind that Coinspinner’s magic might even be able to rescue his brother from execution. Provided, of course, that he, Talgai, could somehow contrive to get the Sword into Buvrai’s possession.
Certainly Talgai could not ignore the possibility, if it offered any hope at all.
The path he had followed from the riverbank had soon joined with another, larger, one, and that in turn with a road that was considerably larger still. Traffic of all kinds came in to being and steadily increased. Presently Talgai found himself entering the busy city on the high road from the east, along with an assortment of carts, wagons, occasional mounted folk of the upper class, and other humble pedestrians like himself.
The town of Smim was busy though not particularly large, being otherwise unremarkable of its kind. But its size was great enough to be confusing to the woodsman, who tended to feel ill at ease in any settlement larger than a dozen houses.
Still he experienced no difficulty in locating the prison. Very near the center of town, this facility occupied the two upper levels of one of the largest and tallest buildings in sight. The windows of the building’s two lower levels displayed rooms full of clerks puttering about, doing incomprehensible things at desks and tables.
Fearful that he might, after all, have arrived too late to help his brother, Talgai began stopping people in the street and asking whether any execution had taken place in the past several days. The answers he obtained were mainly reassuring in that regard, though one man chose to try to plunge him into despair with a tale of horrible dismemberment on the scaffold, for no reason at all that Talgai could see. But the woodcutter did manage to learn, from several sources, that a public hanging was indeed scheduled for tomorrow at dawn.
Evidently he had not arrived too late-thank the Sword for that. But certainly there was no time to waste.
After quenching his thirst at a public watering trough- for some reason several well-dressed passersby favored him with amused glances as he did this-the woodcutter walked completely around the prison and the attached administrative complex, looking things over from every angle. It was of stone construction, and it was certainly a large building, he remarked to himself unnecessarily when he had observed all sides of it. Perhaps the largest he had ever seen. The trouble was that having inspected this large building thoroughly Talgai really had no better idea of how to proceed than he had had before.
Returning to the square in front of the prison, he rather timidly observed the grim-faced guards, armed and uniformed, who were stationed at the building’s doors and in its one visible courtyard. An even more disconcerting sight was the ominous-looking scaffold that had been erected twenty meters or so from the front of the prison, right in the public square. The scaffold was of logs, and it had a well-used look.
Despite their bright uniforms, the guards all looked as grim and sullen as the walls they guarded. As Talgai stared at them, and thought of the authority that they must represent, it seemed to him that any appeal for mercy was doomed to failure at the start. He might, of course, attempt to bribe someone, using the marvelous Sword he carried- he had no doubt that at least some of these people could be bribed. If only he knew better how to go about such things, or if he had more time in which to learn the proper ways-but in fact he had hardly any time at all.
Likely, the woodcutter thought, if he tried bribery he’d only approach the wrong person, or make some other mistake that he couldn’t foresee, and get himself arrested. He’d hand over the Sword, and that would be that. The Sword would protect him only as long as he actually had it with him, close enough to touch. He understood that now. And once he’d handed over his lucky tool to someone else-well, there’d be no protection for himself or his brother either against these scoundrels. Whatever his brother’s faults, he felt sure just from looking at the men who were about to hang him that they were scoundrels too.
Getting himself arrested wouldn’t be a good idea. It wouldn’t do his brother any good. And he, Talgai, had a wife and small children dependent on him.