The former prisoner crouched beside his rescuer, who had now become a helpless victim. One look and Buvrai decided that there was nothing he could do.
Talgai’s face and hair were gray and featureless with settled dust, his countenance was twisted in pain.
And now, after being able to exchange a few words with his brother, the woodcutter slumped into unconsciousness. His brother couldn’t tell if he was alive or not.
The man who had been rescued began trying to use the Sword to pry away part of the wreckage. Luckily he inserted it into the pile of debris at a key point, and the beam pinning his brother swung and toppled away.
The great gray dog, come running up from somewhere, capered.
But the man Buvrai had managed to release still lay unconscious, and perhaps dead.
Thinking vaguely that there was nothing more that he could do for him, Buvrai stood up.
Gripping his Sword firmly, he took his woman by the arm, and started walking. Sooner or later the survivors here were going to recover from their shock, enough to remember that they still had a killing scheduled for tomorrow.
ADRIAN, recovering from his faintness, had left the scene of his last skirmish well behind him, and had the town docks of Smim in sight ahead. He was paddling strongly toward them when a sudden thunderous rumbling and a slowly rising column of dust turned his attention toward the center of town, which was somewhere inland, invisible behind buildings and trees. Listening as the distant screams began to arise, the Prince could only conclude that Smim was being devastated by an earthquake, or something very like one.
Waterborne as he was, Adrian could feel no vibration physically. Nor could he detect any magical disturbance. That the renewed violence in the earth might be an indirect result of his raising an elemental was a distinct possibility, but if it was so, there was nothing he could do about it.
Only somewhat later, when he had heard eyewitness reports of events in the center of Smim, did he begin to appreciate how intense, though narrowly confined, the earthquake’s destruction there had been. At the time, watching from the river, Adrian saw only the light shaking of trees and buildings close to the river, a faint indication of the rolling and staggering of the ground farther inland. He could hear, mingled with the cries of humans, a number of dogs, near the town and in it, howling wildly and painfully, and he wondered for a moment if one of those howling was the great gray beast for which he had never been able to find a name.
Within the next few moments the boy became aware, even with his mundane senses, of a great tremor that came running through the river bottom, kicking up brief, strangely shaped waves. And at the same time a renewed burst of human screams, frightening though faint with distance, yells of shock and terror and pain, came carrying to Adrian across the water.
Then, almost as abruptly as it had begun, the rolling and the shaking of the earth was over. From out near the middle of the river everything on shore looked just about as before, except that now Adrian could see the plume of smoke or dust, or perhaps a mixture of the two, rising bigger than ever from some unseen source a couple of hundred meters inland. He supposed that it must be coming from somewhere near the middle of town. He hoped that the kindly woodcutter had not been hurt.
Suddenly Adrian suspected that Wood might be responsible for what was now taking on the dimensions of a real disaster. He had no real evidence, but who was more likely to initiate something that did this kind of damage?
But in the next moment the young Prince forgot almost entirely about Wood. For now the Sword of Chance, whose image had never entirely left Adrian’s perception, was once more looming larger and larger in his field of mental vision.
Someone-a man-he could not tell if it was Talgai or not-was now carrying Coinspinner steadily from the interior of the town toward the waterfront. The bearer was not yet physically visible from Adrian’s position, but the boy was sure that he was approaching at the pace of a swift walk.
And would the great dog be coming back with Talgai? Adrian couldn’t tell. Driving hard with the paddle, he steered his small craft nearer to the docks, which were now practically deserted. Everyone at this end of town must have run to see what was happening just inland . . .
Wanting to get a better look, Adrian wished that he dared to stand up in his canoe . . . but no, there was no need. The Sword was now coming into view.
And here it came. The bright gleam of the long blade was unmistakable, borne in the right hand of a middle-sized man of about thirty years of age, who was headed toward the riverfront at a brisk walking pace. With his left hand this man clasped the arm of a young woman, and he was towing her along. She made no resistance.
From behind the couple, well inland, smoke and screams continued to go up. Adrian paddled closer.
As the couple grew nearer, the Prince could see that both of them were pale. The man, with shaggy brown hair, was roughly bearded. The woman, somewhat lighter in coloring, barefoot and wearing a cheap-looking dress, looked somewhat dazed.
The naked Sword and the figure who carried it would undoubtedly have drawn some attention in the street at any ordinary time. But just now, the one or two other folk who were visible near the docks were paying them no heed. All their attention was focused inland.
As the pale-skinned pair, still moving at a steady pace, drew still closer to the docks, Adrian could see that the woman was a few years younger than the man, and moderately attractive, though certainly no great beauty. The man’s clothing hung loosely on him, as if perhaps he had recently lost weight.
Having now come right down the waterfront, the man began to pull his passive companion along the modest row of docks. He was looking for something, all right, and what he sought could hardly be anything but some quick and convenient means of getting out onto the water. There were a few clumsy-looking rowboats available, and a couple of slightly bigger craft, all of them securely tied up but unwatched at the moment.
“Going downstream, sir?” Adrian called loudly, at the same time driving his canoe right up against the dock. “Quick transportation here!”
The man looked at him without surprise, as if he had been expecting Adrian’s offer, or some equivalent. He said shortly: “Don’t fear the Sword, lad-I’m just carrying it for good luck. All right, here we come!”
And it was fortunate that luck came with the two passengers, for they proved to be totally ignorant of the proper ways of getting into a canoe, or riding in one; and the man at least was in too much of a hurry to even try to be careful.
“Just sit down, sir, right in the middle! Keep low, ma’am, hold as still as you can. That’s it, that’s it, sit toward the middle.”
Then they were in, the woman forward, the man amidships. He put his heavy Sword down in the bottom of the canoe as soon as he was in-more to hide it, Adrian was sure, than to help achieve balance.
Once the load had been more or less stabilized, by means of luck and his shouted orders, the Prince, now seated in the stern, plied his paddle energetically. In silence, they headed steadily downstream. Adrian was already watching for a chance to grab the Sword, but he was determined to wait for a good chance, and so far there had been none at all.
And vaguely he continued to wonder what might have happened to Talgai, and to the great gray dog; and about what sort of disaster might have overtaken the center of the town of Smim.
Presently Adrian cleared his throat. “Something going on back there in town?” he asked at last.
A meter in front of Adrian, the man’s head turned a few centimeters. “Couple of buildings fell down. Am I going to tip this damned log over if I look back?”
“No, sir, you can turn your head. Just keep your weight in the middle as much as you can. And move slow.”
Shifting his body gingerly, the man turned partway around, showing Adrian his pallid face. A certain looseness of the skin around the jowls, visible through a scraggly beard, gave the impression that his face had once been plump.
The man’s eyes, full now of a towering relief, and perhaps other satisfactions, settled somewhere over Adrian’s shoulder, in the direction of the town they had just left. The sound of yells had faded. The Prince took a quick look back himself. Already some trees on the river bank were beginning to block the view effectively, with only the top of the drifting dust-or-smoke column visible above their crowns. Again Adrian wondered what might have happened to Talgai; of course the simple man was quite capable of handing the Sword over to someone else, to almost anyone, and getting into trouble that way.