Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

“And then,” the Emperor went on, “Draffut ran into a problem. He killed a man, and in his case that was especially damaging . . . but in time I think his problem can be solved.” Once more he thumped the ribs, and the shaggy tail waved somewhat faster. The Emperor looked at his grandson, smiling. Subject closed, for the time being at least.

“Oh,” said Adrian, at last.

“You had some other question?” his grandfather asked unhurriedly.

“Yes. Yes sir, I do. What am I going to do about-?” With head and shoulder the Prince gestured toward the ruined abutment, where his canoe and his passengers waited, one of them keeping a tight grip on a Sword.

The Emperor said: “That’s going to be up to you.”


“Don’t sound so disappointed. You’re doing all right so far. In fact you’re doing very well. And you’re not as much alone as you may think. I had the canoe there for you when it was needed, didn’t I?”

“Oh. Oh!” The second monosyllable was a little brighter. “The man has a Sword, Coinspinner. I expect you know that. I’m going to try to get it away from him.”

“I’d be very wary about trying that. But, Adrian, son, I expect you can handle the situation, and I’m not going to take it over for you. Believe me, I have my reasons.”

“Yes, sir. If you say so.”

“I do say so. Now, I take it that gathering food was one of the reasons that brought you out for a walk in the rain. Have some snake, it’s quite good.” The point of a small dagger, whose handle had suddenly appeared in the Emperor’s hand, came out to probe at the roasting meat, and with swift delicacy separated a sizable chunk from the remainder hanging on the spit.

Adrian accepted the hot gift in callused fingers, and a moment later he was chewing. “This’s good. Mmm. Thanks.”

“You’re quite welcome. Here, have some more. I’d send you back to your-can I call them companions?-with some more of this, but I fear they might be overly curious as to where you got it. But let me show you a little trick, and you can catch another snake. All you need is a forked stick, and it’s easy to avoid the fangs.”

Less than half an hour later, Adrian returned to the shelter. He noticed that his small fire had been allowed to go out, but a good supply of wood remained, and with a little fakery it ought to be easy to pretend to be rekindling a surviving spark.

At Adrian’s entrance, carrying a live snake, Amelia recoiled. Still lying in the dust, she stirred and pulled her dress straight, checking to see that all the fastenings were in place. But Marland, who had been squatting near her, jumped up and came forward rubbing his hands together, his eyes alight, when he saw the fat snake coiled around Adrian’s arm, the fanged jaws rendered helpless by the boy’s grip just below the head.

Marland got the idea at once. “Hey, Mudrat, you’re a great provider!”

Coinspinner was produced, and in Marland’s jealous grip did excellent mundane work in severing the serpent’s head, then quickly skinning and cleaning what remained. By that time Adrian had a spit ready, and the fire going again.

Before dark their downstream journey was resumed. Marland said he wanted to travel as far as possible before camping for the night.


IN an effort to save time, and feeling confident in his own skills, Karel had elected to guide this small party into the City through one of its more dangerous entrances. Several times in the course of the journey, serious-looking obstacles had loomed, physical barriers or virtual walls of magic. But so far the old wizard had led them through the difficulties safely.

Karel and Rostov, their semi paroled prisoners Murat and Kebbi, and the half-dozen Tasavaltan troopers with them had now reached the area within the City of Wizards that was their goal. All of them were now contemplating their strange surroundings, made all the stranger by the devastation wrought by an earth-elemental. That at least was the agency assigned by Karel.

Whatever the cause of it might have been, Murat observed privately, it was obvious at first glance that some violence on a large scale had occurred here, not long ago. Some mighty force had smitten the surface of the earth at this point, whether from above or below he could not say, and the land was still scarred with radii of cracks that looked as if they might be healing. The land was still up thrust slightly here and there. Walls had fallen down, and trees. Many of the latter had been uprooted and their foliage was dead or dying now.

The little river that followed a crooked trench through the middle of this scene of devastation was now running calmly enough, but it was easy to see that its previous course had been somewhat disrupted. A low place, that might once have formed an extensive pond, was now a small sea of mud, drying and cracking around the edges under the pressure of the City’s peculiar and sometimes multiple sun.

As the Tasavaltan wizard had several times assured his companions, time flow in the City was apt to be different from outside, so it was very difficult to judge how long they had been here already, or how long their mission was going to take. In any case, their efforts in getting here had already used up more time than the wizard had hoped they were going to have to spend.

Again, now that they were in the City, Murat and Kebbi each had a trooper assigned to him as guard. It was not, Rostov assured Karel, that the General did not trust the strength of the wizard’s guardian spells. Rather it was that the Tasavaltan cavalrymen had little else to do anyway.

As for the two Culmians themselves, so far they were coexisting in an uneasy truce. They eyed each other with suspicion and spoke to each other only when absolutely necessary.

“Are we to set up a camp, then?” Rostov demanded of Karel, who sat his mount beside him. “Or can you tell at once which way we ought to go from here?”

The old wizard appeared to ignore the question. “The Emperor’s Park,” he muttered, as if to himself, as he looked out over the bit of pleasant greenery adjoining the distorted Red Temple.

“Why do you call it that?” asked Murat, riding a little closer. He found his question ignored, as he had more than half expected.

Rostov could doubtless have found out if he had asked, but he was not that much interested in names. “Are you sure this is the place where the Prince dropped from sight?”

“Quite sure. The remnants of Wood’s magic are very strong. And there are some of Adrian’s as well.”

Karel now turned his attention from the tortured landscape, and focused on what looked like a most peculiar Red Temple, standing just next door. This structure was still in one piece following the recent upheaval. But still its shape was so distorted that Murat assumed it had been seriously affected.

“I have been here before,” the apple-cheeked wizard was now muttering to himself. He nodded. “Yes. Several times, though my last visit was many years ago. Much has changed.”

“I should think it has,” said Rostov practically. “Now how do you propose that we begin our search for the Prince? Or do you wish to leave that detail to me?”

The wizard was not really ready for that question yet. Shaking his head vaguely to indicate this, he dismounted and strolled about a bit on foot. Then he paused, turning away from the Temple again to point in the general direction of the muddy depression. “There used to be a pond here. A dam, a small dock, and pleasure boats- there’s what’s left of the dock, at least.” He indicated some planks and timbers lying forlornly in the mud.

“And this bit of land belongs to the Emperor, you say?” Murat persisted.

This time he got an answer. “Yes. Or it used to, when it occupied some portion of the mundane world. I don’t know how it got to be here in the City. None of his doing, I suppose. More likely some spiteful prank by one of his enemies.”

“I suppose he has many of those,” offered the Crown Prince, who was not at all sure that any such being as the Emperor really existed.

Once again he got no answer. Karel, getting down to business now, called for such help as some of the others could give him, in holding certain charms and mumbling words. He was soon able to ascertain that some very powerful trapping spells had recently been used at this location-and he was pretty sure that Wood was their author.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred