Saberhagen, Fred – Lost Swords 05 – Coinspinners Story

Then came an all-too-familiar twisting in his gut, alerting him that the demons were coming back.

He could even tell the direction now. That way, through the other tunnel.

Gripping Sightblinder and setting his jaw, the General waited for his foes to show themselves.

Kebbi, pushing on alone toward the light, knew such gratitude as he was capable of when he felt the presence of the demons fall farther and farther behind him.

At about the time that presence vanished from his perception entirely, he found himself dimly able to sense some kind of threshold of magic not far ahead. He could hope, at least, that this would offer him a way of emerging from the City.

Proceeding carefully, now standing erect, he became aware of strange presences around him at varying distances. Not that they frightened him, particularly; after the demons, these ghostly half shapes were as nothing.

One moment those distant figures were insubstantial ghosts, and the next they were real forms, mundane and solid humanity.

But who?

Kebbi flattened himself against a wall in fear. As the folk approached, a dim and bulky shape came with them, and strange noises issued from it. A horrible squeaking. He had heard that demons’ voices sounded like-

He could see the people clearly now. Four of them, two men, two women, in shabby garments, and they were armed with mops and brooms. The noise proceeded from the wheels of the refuse cart they pushed before them.

After that, Kebbi had little further trouble in getting out of the Temple-though on doing so he was somewhat amazed to find himself emerging from the basement door of a Red Temple quite different from the one that he had entered in the City. He was definitely not in the City of Wizards anymore.

He was certainly in some city, though. A warm and muggy place, large and heavily populated. He could see palm trees. Wherever this was, he was free.

The wizard had somehow struggled to his feet, but that was the most he could manage, and he was threatening to fall again. Supporting Karel with one arm, and with his soldiers, none more than half-conscious, huddling close to him, General Rostov waved Sightblinder at a veritable horde of hideous demonic creatures. They had come pouring in through the tunnel entrance like so many semitransparent puffs of steam or smoke. In the boldest voice that he could manage, he roared at them all to go to hell. In terms usually reserved for blundering colonels, he directed them to get their miserable, spavined, worthless carcasses out of his way, before he decided to unleash his wrath upon them.

There might have been a dozen or a score of the foul things before him, and all recoiled abjectly from his wrath. They seemed to be on the point of retreating.

From the way they were cowering now, and abasing themselves before him, Rostov was suddenly sure that they were convinced he was Wood himself.

The presence, just here and now, of their mighty human master sorely puzzled these foul creatures, and some of them raised hideous bone-rattle voices in an attempt to justify their presence; but none of them were about to dare to argue with the man they were convinced was Wood.

In another moment they were gone. And none too soon.

The General, gasping, drenched with cold sweat, sank to the floor and for the first time in forty years allowed himself the luxury of nearly fainting.

Murat lost his quarry in a maze of crawling passages, but like his quarry he eventually managed to achieve his freedom. Unknown to the Crown Prince, his experiences in finding his way out were very similar to those of Kebbi. Murat, too, emerged from a different Red Temple than the one he had so hurriedly entered.

One difference in the experience of the two men was that Murat immediately knew where he was when he came out. In his early youth he had several times visited the city of Bihari.

Within an hour after the demons had been routed, Rostov, Karel, and their surviving troopers were all more or less recovered from the encounter, at least sufficiently to travel. The wizard now resumed his role of guide, and led the party on.

Long before they found their way out of the Temple, the Tasavaltans realized that they had somehow passed into a different building from the one that they had entered in the City.

For the time being at least, Wood’s force of demons had been dispersed, or had lost the scent, or were reorganizing. Against the more common difficulties and snares that one Temple or another might present to a traveler in its protected regions, Karel’s own powers were more than adequate protection. He could defend his several companions too.

The searchers found to their chagrin that the trail of Prince Adrian had long since disappeared, or else it had been wiped out in the most recent skirmish. Karel doubted whether even Wood would be able to track the lad this way, if this was indeed the way the Prince had come.

Either Adrian had come this way, or more likely gone boating downstream from the Emperor’s Park … at some point on this difficult journey, the wizard realized that even if he and his companions failed to locate the Prince here, they might well be on the fastest possible track for a return to Tasavalta.


THIS was the second small suburb of Bihari that Adrian, Marland, and Amelia had entered. Walking down the first street they came to in the town, Marland made another happy discovery.

He was moving, as usual, a step or two ahead of his companions when he suddenly bent down with a little grunt of satisfaction. A moment later he had picked up a small purse that someone had dropped in the street. The color of the fine leather nearly matched that of the trodden earth, and however long the purse might have lain there, he was evidently the first to notice it.

After a reflexive look around to make sure that no one had taken any notice of his discovery, the man drew his two companions aside, under an overhanging roof, where he looked into the purse. It was just starting to rain, and the few people hurrying past on the wooden sidewalk nearby paid them no attention.

Abruptly the purse was empty, and Adrian could hear the coins jingling in Marland’s quick hands, though the transition had been so neatly swift that the boy never did really see anything of them.

“Well,” the man said, satisfied, not at all surprised, when his quick hidden count had been completed. “Plenty. For the time being, at least. I think I’m going to be Sir Marland from now on. A knight or baronet, from . . . well, I’ll decide later where I’m from. Probably no one’s going to worry about that, as long as they can see my money.”

Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he looked at Amelia. “You, of course, will be my mistress. And-”

She brushed irritably at a small stream that was trickling on her from the roof’s edge, and shifted her position to avoid it. “Oh. And not your wife?”

Warned perhaps by something in Amelia’s tone, Marland hesitated. Then he brightened, as if struck by a new thought. “Well, why not? It would add a touch of dull respectability to my character, and that’s all to the good. All right, you’ll be my wife.”

He switched his gaze to Adrian. “And you, muddy one, I can’t say I want to claim you as my son. Besides, as people of status we ought to have a servant. You’ll be my page.”

Adrian nodded agreeably. It made no difference to him. He could only hope in passing that the true owner of the purse was not going to be destroyed by its loss. The little leather bag looked to be of the finest quality, so he doubted that that would be the case.

Marland’s next move was to locate a clothing shop, where he and Amelia each purchased a new outfit of somewhat better quality than the clothing they had taken from the chest. That had been a vast improvement to begin with, but the garments were now showing the effects of several days of river travel. Adrian too was at last upgraded from his loincloth to a fairly shabby but hole-free jacket and trousers, in keeping with his newly official status as a respectable servant.

After that, all three enjoyed a good meal, sitting down, though Adrian had to eat in the rear of the food shop. Having observed the behavior of a good many servants in his time, the Prince had little trouble in playing the role successfully.

On emerging from the shop’s kitchen, Adrian passed a kind of notice board, contrived from the tall stump of a large tree. Among other signs tacked to the wood he saw a poster advertising a reward for a runaway twelve-year-old boy whose description matched his own appearance as it had been back in the City of Wizards.

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