After the wizard and the General had taken counsel again, they dispatched most of their force, under Rostov’s military second-in-command, armed with Stonecutter against further ambushes, in pursuit of the Culmians carrying Woundhealer. None of the Tasavaltans had much more to say to Murat for the time being. But he was not slow to realize that he was not being taken back to Sarykam, at least not immediately. Instead the two leaders, armed with Sightblinder, with himself as their prisoner, and no more than half a dozen troopers as escort, were setting out upon the trail of Lieutenant Kebbi and the other stolen Sword.
Who holds Coinspinner knows good odds Whichever move he make But the Sword of Chance, to please the gods Slips from him like a snake.
Kebbi was singing the words of the old song to himself, in a strong tenor voice, whose musicality would probably have surprised the majority of his former comrades of Culm. Meanwhile he was allowing his riding-beast, a fast and sturdy cavalry animal, to carry him along another mountain trail, under a cheerful morning sun.
Yesterday, upon taking his leave of the Crown Prince and his small doomed force, Kebbi had traveled on until well after dark, maintaining a moderate pace in a generally northwesterly direction. He had trusted to the godly magic that he carried to guarantee that his mount was not going to step over an invisible precipice, or halt on the brink of one so suddenly that it threw him from the saddle. But the animal, doubtless unaware that it had any magical assistance to depend on, had managed but slow progress. Nor was weariness in beast or man to be cured by good fortune. Eventually, when he had fortuitously happened upon a sheltered spot beside a small stream, Kebbi had decided to make camp for the night.
He had been up with the sun and on the road again. Now, today, everything was going well-of course. And naturally-as it now seemed to him-there were no signs of pursuit.
He’d hardly bothered to make any effort at covering his trail since acquiring the Sword, but an hour ago the unexpected minor thunder of a small avalanche behind him had confirmed his expectation that his tracks were somehow going to be effectively wiped out, without any effort on his part. Or, if they weren’t wiped out, it wouldn’t matter. Neither the Tasavaltans nor any outraged Culmian loyalists were going to be able to catch up with him-or if they did manage somehow to overtake him, they’d no doubt wish they hadn’t.
The morning was bright and promising. Kebbi rode on, singing, with one hand resting easily upon the black hilt at his waist. He owned no land and had no real family in Culm, and most of his worldly possessions were now tied up in a modest bundle behind his saddle. Having Coin-spinner, what else did he need to carry? Whenever he needed something, it would somehow be provided, he was confident.
The Sword of Fortune was now his. And unless he, like Murat, was fool enough to place it willingly in the hands of someone else, fortune was going to be his also, from now on-at least until such time as the Sword decided to take itself away.
He knew enough of Coinspinner to realize that it could be expected to do that sooner or later. Supposedly it had once rested for a few years in the Tasavaltan treasury-and then, without giving notice, the Sword had abruptly moved itself out. Simply, easily, and inexplicably it had passed through all the physical and magical barriers with which such a repository must be equipped. No one had even realized that it was gone until they came to look at it again.
So Kebbi couldn’t say with any assurance how long he was likely to have the Sword, but with any luck at all-he grinned a twisted grin as that phrase passed through his mind-with even a minimum of luck, he’d possess it long enough to establish his fortune in the world. Then someone else would be welcome to take a turn at a charmed life. Kebbi wouldn’t be so greedy as to object to that.
There crossed his mind the question of where he was going to rest tonight. Well, he would leave that to the currents of fortune also. Before he’d actually stolen the Sword, Kebbi had entertained, at least in passing, the idea of taking Coinspinner back to Tasavalta and thereby becoming a hero to the Princess and her people there. But when he had calculated all the possibilities as best he could, he doubted that such a double traitor could stay in very high regard elsewhere.
Oh, of course, the Sword would take care of him in Tasavalta, just as well as it would anywhere else. It was only that there were a great many other places where he would prefer to spend his future, rather than in that cool and unexciting land.
Besides, he thought, it would be harder for the Culmian folk to trace him if he took Coinspinner somewhere else, somewhere very far away most likely, for his reward. And sooner or later, whenever the Sword left him, he would become vulnerable to their revenge.
And now, even as Kebbi rode and grinned and sang, a nagging suspicion began to grow in him that he shouldn’t be relying totally on the Sword’s good fortune. It was never good to rely that heavily on anything outside yourself. He’d have to start using his brain again, at least. Kebbi ceased to sing, and gradually began to be more alert.
Thus most of the day passed uneventfully for the deserter. During its course he began, almost in spite of himself, to take serious thought on the subject of what his destination ought to be, if it was not to be Tasavalta again. Kebbi’s plan to steal the Sword of Chance had taken form quite suddenly, only after the expedition to Sarykam was under way, and until now it had seemed to him enough, once he had his prize, to travel to some great distance from the land of Culm.
Vaguely Kebbi came to have in mind two or three cities, only one of which he had ever visited, all distant places where he thought he would be able to sell his treasure at a great profit if he chose, or where he could use the Sword somehow to obtain some of the wealth with which he would there find himself surrounded. He supposed in an uncertain way that if the Sword, or the powers behind it, just knew what he wanted, he would somehow be provided with the necessary means to reach his goal.
He took thought on the subject now, as he rode steadily along, but no better plan presented itself. Well, there was no hurry.
Toward evening he came to a place where his trail intersected another one, the latter almost large enough to be called a road. Here the fortunate traveler spied an isolated building, big enough to be more than a simple house, in front of which a dozen or more people were gathered.
In the glow of the setting sun the place looked like the poorest kind of inn. If there had not been people to be seen in front of it, he would have doubted that the dilapidated structure was in regular use. Certainly it was badly in need of maintenance and probably not far from collapse. Kebbi’s first impression was that this place might well be a den of bandits. What might have been an inn’s sign had fallen into ruin some time ago, and there was no deciphering it now. A couple of large tables, and some chairs and benches, all badly weathered, stood in front of the place.
Ten or twelve thuggish-looking men were standing idly about in a few small groups. Kebbi’s imagination suggested that they might be only waiting for the fall of night before revealing their true identities as some breed of nocturnal monsters. As he drew nearer the men in turn looked him over quietly, for the moment having nothing to say.
In a place a little apart from the men, a few women were also waiting, for what it was hard to guess. By the look of them they might have been the dregs of Red Temple outcasts. One was lighting a fire in the open.
Kebbi, feeling the inevitable stiffness of a long day’s ride, and knowing that he must show it, stopped in front of the inn and dismounted-there was no way to disguise the fact that he was riding a good and valuable animal, and he would not have been surprised to be told that some of the loungers were already trying to guess what his riding-beast might be worth if they could get it away from him.
Well, let them try it. Somewhere he’d heard that Mark, before he became Prince of Tasavalta, had been wounded