Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

But he was going to have to do something. He was sure of that when he stood gazing at the gallows. Just thinking of watching any execution, let alone his own brother’s, made Talgai shiver. No, he wasn’t going to be able to stand here and watch anything like that happen to Buvrai.

So be it. Therefore he must try to get the Sword into his brother’s hands. The only question was, how to go about it?

One method of course would be to make his attempt at the last moment, when Buvrai was actually being led out to his death. But Buvrai’s hands might well be bound then, Talgai supposed. And if the condemned man was unable to reach for the Sword and grasp it, make it his own, how could it do him any good?

Deep in gloomy thought, Talgai strolled aimlessly about the square before the prison. He was bothered by growing worries about the impending fate of his wife and children. Suppose he got himself into trouble that would keep him from ever seeing them again.

Standing under the gallows, he resolutely put such fears behind him. His brother’s predicament was immediate and real, and therefore it had to come first.

Now, once Talgai had firmly made up his mind as to what he wanted to do, his good fortune took effect again and things began to fall his way at once.

Only moments after his decision at the scaffold, as Talgai stood looking up at the front of the prison again, he was able to identify the window of his brother’s cell without any trouble. This was possible only because, fortunately, his brother came to the window and looked out while Talgai happened to be watching.

The cell window-it was heavily barred, like all the windows near it, so Talgai assumed that it opened into a cell-directly overlooked the square, providing a good view of the gallows, which at the moment was claiming Buvrai’s thoughtful attention. Most of the windows in the wall were heavily barred with ironwork. Those on the ground floor opened into offices of some kind, shadowy tiled and paneled rooms where clerks and administrators sometimes appeared.

“Buvrai! It’s me! Down here!”

The prisoner saw and recognized his brother gazing up at him from the street below. He shouted something back, and the two exchanged waves.

Glancing at the guards, Talgai saw that they were watching with bored expressions and a minimum of interest.

The two brothers conversed some more. Buvrai, starting to rave now, shouted that he had been imprisoned unfairly, because he had incurred the enmity of the Red Temple, who had falsely accused him of cheating in a game of chance.

“Is that all?”

“They say I killed a man. But it’s all lies.”

“How can I help you?”

“If you want to help me, get me out!”

The building containing the prison was no more than four stories high, and the condemned man’s cell was not at the top. Still, Buvrai’s window was much too far above the ground for Talgai to be able to simply walk up to it and push the Sword in between the bars. Nor did there appear to be any feasible way to climb the wall and get within reach.

“You’ve got to do something to get me out of here. See the governor or something. They mean to hang me tomorrow!” Buvrai went on, shouting renewed complaints against the Red Temple.

Whatever the truth of Buvrai’s claims, his situation sounded bad. It sounded so bad that Talgai was beginning to have doubts again. How could good luck help against impossibility? What kind of a miracle could even Coinspinner possibly work in such a desperate case?

“Tomorrow, Talgai! Will you do something?”

“Yes, yes, I’ll try!” he shouted back.

The guards were still watching and listening impassively. Probably they heard similar shouted conversations all the time.

The woodcutter couldn’t imagine what good a lucky Sword was going to be in this case. But he tried as best he could to suppress his doubts. He clung as hard as possible to a simple faith that the weapon he had been carrying was going to do something effective.

Now Buvrai was shouting down more instructions for him, something about Talgai’s trying to see someone who was being held in the women’s cells on the ground floor. Maybe she could think of something, some way to get them both out. The woman’s name sounded like Amelia.

Presently, because his brother’s yelling, his concocting of desperate, half-witted schemes, was only confusing him now, and nothing was getting done, Talgai waved once more and hurried off to think, out of sight of the prisoner’s window.

At last, after some agonizing minutes of indecision, trusting in Coinspinner’s power but seeing no other way to harness it properly, Talgai decided that the only thing to do was to simply stand back and throw the Sword up at his brother’s window.

He wondered urgently whether he ought to yell up a warning to his brother just before he threw the Sword, so that his brother would come to the window and reach out between the bars and catch it.

If anyone could catch a blade like this one, spinning in midair, without cutting off his fingers.

Well, Talgai supposed, it might be just at that point, the Sword’s first contact with a new owner, where the miraculous good luck might be expected to come in. And if luck failed there-well, Buvrai, at least, had nothing to lose.

The woodcutter considered whether he ought to leave the Sword wrapped, but bind his canvas bundle tightly before he heaved it up, so it would be able to fit in between the bars when Buvrai caught it. Yes, Talgai supposed, that would be the way.

At last, with his bundle ready, and himself as ready as he could get for whatever might be going to happen, Talgai came out into the open square again, and walked steadily closer to the prison.

Buvrai was watching for him. “Well?” the prisoner shouted impatiently.

“Well,” Talgai called back. “Here’s all that I can do for you, brother. The best that I can do.”

“Here? Where?”

“Right here. Coming up.”

Talgai considered that he had a good eye for distances, and a good arm for throwing. When he threw the Sword up, with even a little luck it ought to go just about where he wanted to send it. It would almost certainly come within his brother’s reach, provided that his brother was standing at the window. Maybe it would even fly right in between the bars. So, if he acted now, while his brother was at the window and presumably ready to react. . .

But Buvrai, instead of paying heed when his brother, who had evidently taken leave of his senses, appeared to be ready to throw some kind of awkward bundle up to him, just turned away from the window at the crucial moment, expressing his disgust.

Muttering the closest thing to a prayer that he had mouthed in a long time, directed indiscriminately at any god who might be willing to listen, Talgai ran forward two long steps, and with both hands, using an awkward, almost unplanned sidearm motion, heaved the Sword.

Gazing upward, holding his breath, Talgai saw the canvas-bundled Sword of Chance, spinning in midair, align itself so precisely with the configuration of the barred window that when it reached those bars it went flying neatly in between them, the bundle lacking even a centimeter to spare on either side. In a year of trying he could never, without magic, have made the cast so neatly.

In the momentary quiet that held before the watchful guards began to shout at him, he could even hear the dull clang of the muffled steel as it landed on the cell floor.

After that there was another moment, there were even several moments, in which Talgai might have tried to run away, with some chance of success. But he could not move, because he was waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Before he had thrown away the Sword he had realized that in doing so he would divest himself of its protection. Still, it came as something of a shock when rough voices shouted accusations at him, and rough hands seized him by the arm and collar.

Talgai was surrounded by outraged prison guards, who were arguing over what to do with him. One of the guards struck him on the side of the head, and others, seizing him by the arms, started to drag him into the prison building.

Meanwhile the condemned man, who had just turned away from the window following a sharp verbal exchange with his brother, looked up sharply as there was a whisper of sound from that direction, a small sound caused by the dull cloth wrapping of a flying object grazing one or more of the window bars. There was a dark shape flying in the air within the cell, followed by a dull metallic thump on his stone floor.

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