Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

Of course the man the woodcutter would have really wanted to give the Sword to was his brother.

Studying the pallid face in front of him, the Prince thought that perhaps he could detect a faint resemblance. And the hair of this man was practically the same color as Talgai’s.

Turning forward again, the man spoke to his companion, and Adrian heard him call her Amy. Then he turned back, grinning at the Prince.

“Lad, my name’s, Marland. What’s yours? Never mind, I think I’ll call you Mudrat.”

“Whatever you like, sir,” agreed Adrian, still paddling. After so many days in an open boat, days of mud and sun and magic, the description was probably not far wrong.

“I’m Amelia,” said the young woman suddenly, from her place in the prow, leaning slightly sideways to look past the man at Adrian. Once more the canoe came close to tipping over. But Adrian did his best to counterbalance, Coin-spinner doubtless helped, and they kept gliding along.

Evidently Amelia was starting to come out of her fog. Now she lowered her eyes to something in the bottom of the boat, the Sword no doubt. It was as if she was becoming aware of it for the first time.

“Where’d you get that?” she demanded of the man, lowering her voice, as if she imagined that might keep Adrian from hearing.

“My brother gave it to me,” he answered shortly, not bothering to lower his.

Talgai had named his brother in Adrian’s hearing, but the name certainly hadn’t been Marland. Buvrai, that was it. Well, that hardly mattered. This man could only be the escaped convict-Talgai hadn’t said what his brother had been convicted of.

There was a good current, making downstream progress swift and steady. Already the town of Smim had disappeared, along with almost all of the dark aerial plume that rose above its rooftops. And now even the outlying portions of Smim were gone. An occasional shack or other building still appeared near the river, but the forest had come close to reasserting its monopoly over both banks.

Now the man who had called himself Marland turned his head to Adrian again. “How far downstream you going to take us, Mudrat?” The man didn’t sound threatening, or even as if he wanted to be nasty; the Prince told himself that the newly bestowed name was probably just Talgai’s brother’s idea of a little joke.

It seemed a safe assumption that the escapees would want to go as far as possible. “I’m going a long way, and I don’t much care if I go a little farther.”

“Aha. Running away?” The man could understand that, and smiled his approval. “That’s the idea-see something of the world.

“Kid, do you know anything about a big city called Bihari? This river runs into it eventually, a couple hundred kilometers from here.”

Anyone who knew geography at all had heard of Bihari, and certainly Adrian was familiar with the name, though he had never been anywhere near the place before. And if the man was right, the Prince now had, for the first time, a pretty good idea of where on the continent his emergence from the City of Wizards had brought him out.

“How’d you like to get a look at a real big city, kid? Yes, I can see you would. Don’t worry, you’ll love it. Much better than living in the jungle. Say, have we got anything to eat aboard?”

“Afraid not, sir.”

The woman murmured something in a querulous tone, as if she might be ready to give up now and go back to where she might be fed. Or maybe she was only wondering what was going to happen next.

“That’s all right, Amy, first things first. We’re out of the jug now, and we’re not going to starve. Are we, Mudrat?”

“No, sir.”

“Damn right we’re not. Not with”-and the man faced front again, and bent over what lay in the bottom of the canoe-“not with my little good-luck charm here.”

Throughout most of the day the weather had been fair. But by late afternoon, when the canoe had made two hours of steady progress downstream from the town of Smim, the sky had clouded over heavily. Shortly thereafter it began to rain. And shortly after that the rain began to turn to hail.

Adrian drove the canoe around a sharp bend, and there, just ahead, looming gray through the rain’s curtain, was a large ruin-a fragmentary bridge. An intricate stone abutment remained standing on each shore, and four evenly spaced stone piers made a staggering progress across the river’s width, but nothing remained of any of the spans between.

On the right shore, which was somewhat nearer, the broken abutment offered a sort of cavernous shelter under its thick arches.

Under a bombardment of hailstones suddenly grown painfully, dangerously large, Adrian turned the canoe’s prow sharply in to shore. The three people scrambled onto the muddy bank, and with the help of Marland, whom the larger hailstones were consistently avoiding, Adrian carried the canoe and paddle up into shelter with them.

Once having reached a refuge, they paused, gasping, surveying the overhanging mass of old masonry above them.

The air had turned chilly. The rain had begun abruptly, a cold, sudden drenching that would have been commonplace in summer in the high country, but was surprising here.

“Wish we could get a fire started,” muttered the man, swinging his Sword and glaring at the world.

“Maybe I can,” said Adrian shortly. He was growing tired of offering politeness, undeserved and unappreciated. “Help me find some wood.”

Both of his companions fell to eagerly enough, scrounging for dry chips and scraps under the arches of old stone. Neither of the adults seemed to find it surprising that their young guide thought he would be able to start a fire. Maybe they just assumed he had some ordinary means at hand. Perhaps, before they were imprisoned, they had been accustomed to having servants start fires for them. They were both certainly very impractical about boats.

Not about Swords, though. At least not the man. Of course he had no sheath for Coinspinner, no way to carry it except in his hand. But it was staying with him like an extension of his arm. Adrian, who had begun to hope that his chance to seize the Sword would come at any moment now, was forced to be patient once again. He built some of the gathered chips and twigs into a little pile.

And the man, looking in a pleased way at the freshly melted mud outside their refuge, murmured something about how any tracks they might have made were going to be washed out.

Adrian, sitting back on his heels after puffing a spark of wizard’s fire up into a hungry little flame, caught Amelia looking at him with a strange expression on her face. He wondered if she’d noticed how that spark had been born, without benefit of flint and steel, or any other common means of fire-starting.

But a moment later she resumed her task of gathering, calling the man to come back and help. Actually the dry earth floor of their refuge concealed a good supply of wood fragments; over the years a great many fires must have been kindled in this shelter.

Adrian continued to build and nurse his little flame. Until Marland, in the course of his search for wood, while prying up a suspicious lump with the indestructible sharp tip of the Sword of Chance, came upon something that he found considerably more interesting.

From under a thin layer of hardened earth, he pulled up a copper scabbard. To judge by its length, it must once have been used to hold a great two-handed sword, some weapon considerably longer than Coinspinner.

Marland promptly tried the fit of his bright Sword in the old scabbard, which proved to be broad enough and considerably more than long enough for its new burden. The Sword of Chance slid in with room to spare. He frowned at this thoughtfully, smiled, and set the scabbard carefully aside. Then unhurriedly he resumed his chores, chopping up some of the larger pieces of firewood with his Sword’s keen edge.

Taking note that Adrian was watching him, he misinterpreted the boy’s interest.

“Well, sprout, what d’ya think? Quite a big knife, hey?”

“Yes sir, it’s very impressive.”

“Yeah. Well, you be sure to keep your hands off it, hear me? There’s a magic spell on this Sword, a curse that’ll do terrible things to anyone who even touches it, except me. Unless I tell them to touch it, of course.”

“Yes, sir.” The warning had been spoken with impressive conviction, and the young Prince, knowing what he knew, found it not at all difficult to look suitably impressed.

A little later, when a suitable reserve of wood had been established, the man went back to pick up the scabbard again. The ancient copper was still intact, and looked quite serviceable. Of course the leather straps that had once supported it had long since deteriorated, and had crumbled away when Marland pried the thing up out of the dirt.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred