Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

The evening around the fire was drawing to a close when there came a snuffling and a rustling in the undergrowth nearby. Two greenish eyes set wide apart reflected flame, and Marland grabbed for his Sword.

After one or two preliminary howls issued out of the encircling darkness, causing Marland to jump up, a huge gray beast came bounding into the firelight to greet Adrian extravagantly. It was the great dog the Emperor had called Draffut.

Adrian, trying to fend off the creature’s demonstrations, and shield it from the Sword at the same time, at last managed to explain.

Marland sheathed his Sword again. “That beast isn’t going to ride in the canoe with us!”

“No, sir, he sure wouldn’t fit there. He can run along on shore, and keep up.”

“Well, as long as he keeps his distance most of the time.” The man considered. “Actually a beast like that might help me play the part.”

“What part?” asked Amelia, plainly mystified.

“That of a man who’s wealthy enough to keep a giant pet. Among other extravagances.”

“Then he can come with us? I promise he won’t be any trouble.”

“We’ll see.” Marland frowned. “Has he got a name?”

Adrian, with some thought in mind for the Emperor’s predilection for the truth, blurted out what he had been told: “Draffut.”

Marland, appreciative of irreverence, got a good laugh out of that.

“From here on, kid,” said Marland, next day, as they were pulling up to the docks of another town, “we’re not going to need the canoe any longer. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you for it.” It was never really money that concerned this man. “You’re still coming with us, though. I’m going to have a job for you.”

Draffut had disappeared, somewhere on shore. He had a tendency to do this, and Adrian felt reasonably confident that he was going to come back.

And he wasn’t really worried about losing the canoe, either, though it was his grandfather’s. Adrian expected that Grandfather could get it back if and when he really wanted it. With some vague idea, perhaps, of making such a recovery easier, the boy neglected to tie up the craft when they had got everything out of it. And there it went, riding the current on its own, turning freely with the breeze.

Having entered a sizable town, the three now began the process of rejoining civilization.

Looking for the best place to change his modest find of jewels to ready cash, Marland paced along the main street. Trivial incidents-a woman passing with a basket of laundry on her head, a baby crawling away from its mother-occurred to block him from the doorways of the first two stores he would have entered, but when he paused near the entrance of a third, a burdened load beast crowded him from behind, effectively nudging him inside.

Amelia and Adrian waited in the street. In what seemed like only a short time the man came out, smiling at them and jiggling a stack of coins in his fingers. “Just what the jeweler was looking for,” he informed them. “It seems he’s trying to construct a fancy brooch, and those little pebbles will just fit. How about something to eat?”

Having purchased sausages and pancakes from a street vendor, they stood on a corner munching.

“The more good things happen to us,” said Marland, looking at Amelia, “the more afraid you look.”

“I am afraid.”

He snorted something, and took another bite of sausage. “You afraid, Mudrat?”

Adrian wasn’t required to answer. Amelia was trying her best to argue with her man. “Look, Buve, we’ve got a good thing going now. A great thing. We’ve got some money, and-”

“Some money. Yeah. Hah!”

“You want more? We can get more, without-sticking our necks out again. We can go anywhere we want-”

“It’s not enough. Not after what those bastards did to me-and to you-and what they almost did. I can go anywhere I want, all right, and I know where I want to go. I’m going to take it out on them.”

Adrian watched as Amelia turned away. She was muttering something and he thought it might be prayers. Or maybe it was curses, or most likely some of each. She probably realized, thought the Prince, that her chances of talking Marland out of a scheme, once he’d made up his mind to it, were practically zero.

When they had finished their lunch, Marland walked ahead, strolling the street, doubtless trying to plan just what he ought to do next. Amelia and Adrian followed. They had the opportunity for another private talk, in which Amelia spelled out her fears in greater detail.

“Cham,” she suggested suddenly, “your canoe’s gone- he didn’t pay you for that yet, did he?”

“No, ma’am.”

“He will-he’s not a tightwad. Where’s your dog?”

“Around somewhere. He’ll show up.”

“Good. When he does, you might take your money and your dog and get on out of town. There’s safer people than us for you to hang around with.”

Adrian, wondering what to say, said nothing.

In a moment the woman continued: “Marland thinks you’re lucky for him, and no gambler ever has enough luck. But whatever happens is not going to be lucky for you, kid. Or for me either. I can feel it.”

“You’re not running away.”

“Me? No. He’d come after me, and with that lucky charm of his he’d find me. Besides, I-I had my chance a long time ago, and I didn’t take it then.” She seemed to feel trapped, compelled, in a way that young Adrian couldn’t understand. It was foreign to his whole way of thinking.

“But you can go, sonny. He won’t care about losing you that much. It’ll be easy for him to recruit another helper if he thinks he needs one.”

The Prince could not help feeling tempted. The overall geography was now definite enough in his mind that he felt fairly confident of being able to find his way home from here; he would have a little money, and of course his skills. But he interpreted what his grandfather had said to him as encouragement in his course of pursuing Coinspinner, though it had included a warning to be careful while he did so. And the Emperor trusted him, believed that he would be able to get the Sword, or at least do a good job of trying.

So the Prince was not going to turn his back on the Sword. Not now. “I guess I’ll stick around for a while yet.”

Amelia stared at him. The way she looked made him believe that she could be really nasty if she wanted to. “What do you think you’re going to get out of it? Do you think he’s really going to make you rich? He doesn’t care about that, not really. He’s going to get all three of us killed, most likely.”

“I’m staying. Marland’s got a lot of luck on his side.”

Amelia looked at him now as if she wondered who he really was. “All right, all right. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Adrian certainly would never be able to say that. And despite his brave words and his decision he was worried. Sometimes he had definite magical indications that Wood was coming after him again.

On their first night under a roof, in the first cheap suburban inn they came to, Adrian saw Marland sleeping with the sheathed Sword pinned beneath his head and body, making a hard pillow, no doubt, but the only one that could give this man rest.

Once more the Prince, for a moment at least, contemplated trying to grab the Sword away. Grab for the black hilt, tug it from the sheath. The trick seemed safe, and almost easy. But always, knowing the Sword’s power, Adrian held back. And in fact, when he looked closer, he saw that Marland had tied the hilt to the sheath with a thread or thong.

No, Adrian thought, the only way to get Coinspinner away from its owner was to have him give it freely. Of course in this case the chance of that happening was just no chance at all. Then why was he, Adrian, hanging around? Because, he supposed, he was too stubborn to give up.

As they hiked between towns next day, the gambler was ready to take his two confederates into his confidence regarding his plan to gain revenge on the Red Temple. Marland was going to have to tell both of them the plan in some detail, because he was going to need the help of both in carrying the plan out.

“The trouble is,” said Marland, “that Coinspinner here is never going to let me lose. Not ever. Not even once.”

“A lot of people,” said Amy, “would like to have that kind of trouble.”

“Shut up for a minute and let me finish. You see, the problem, my friends, is that the people who run the big casino are not idiots. They’re-“

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred