Saberhagen, Fred – The Swords 03 – The Third Book Of Swords


Up at the unpeopled borderland of cloudy

heaven, where unending wind drove eternal snow

between and over high gray rocks, the gods and

goddesses were gathering.

In the grayness just before dawn, their tall forms

came like smoke out of the gray and smoking wind,

to take on solidity and detail. Unperturbed by wind

or weather, their garments flapping in the shriek-

ing howl of air, they stood upon the rooftop of the

world and waited as their numbers grew. Steadily

more powers streaked across the sky, bringing rein-


The shortest of the standing figures was taller

than humanity, but from the shortest to tallest, all

were indisputably of human shape. The dress of

most members of the assembly displayed a more

than mortal elegance, running to crowns and jewels

and snow-white furs; the attire of a few was, by

human standards, almost ordinary; that of many

was bizarre.

By an unspoken agreement amounting to tradi-

tion the deities stood in a rough circle, symbol of a

rude equality. It was a mutually enforced equality,

meaning only that none of their number was will-

ing to concede pride of place to any other. When

graybearded Zeus, a laurel wreath embracing his

massive head, moved forward majestically as if

after all he intended to occupy the center of the cir-

cle, a muttering at once began around him. The

sound grew louder, and it did not subside until the

Graybearded One, with a frown, had converted his

forward movement into a mere circular pacing,

that soon brought him back to his old place in the

large circle. There lie stopped. And only when he

stopped did the muttering die down completely.

And still with each passing moment the shape of

another god or goddess materialized out of the rest-

less air. By now two dozen or more tall forms were

in place around the circle. They eyed one another

suspiciously, and exchanged cautious nods and

signs of greeting. Neighbor to neighbor they mut-

tered in near-whispers through the wind, trading

warily in warnings and backbitings about those

who were more distant in the circle, or still absent.

The more of them that gathered, the more their

diversity was evident. They were dark or fair, old-

looking or young-looking. Handsome-as gods-or

beautiful-as goddesses-or ugly, as only certain

gods and goddesses could be.

Twice more Zeus opened his mouth as if he

intended to address them all. Twice more he

seemed on the verge of stepping forward, taking the

center of the circle, and trying to command the

meeting. Each time he did so that warning murmur

swelled up into the frozen air, through the blasting

wind, giving notice that no such attempt was going

to be tolerated. Zeus remained silently at his own

station in the ring, stamping his feet now and then

and scowling his impatience.

At last the individual gossipings around the ring

began to fade toward quiet, give way to silent wait-

ing. There was some general agreement, tacitly

attained, that now a quorum had been reached.

There was no use trying to wait until all the gods

and goddesses were here, all of them never

attended a meeting at the same time. Never had

they been able to agree unanimously on anything at

all, not even on a place or an agenda for their argu-


But now the assembly was large enough.

It was Mars, spear-armed and helmeted, who

broke the silence; Mars speaking in a voice that

smoldered and rumbled with old anger. The tones

of it were like the sounds of displaced boulders roll-

ing down a glacier.

Mars banged his spear upon his shield to get the

attention of the assembly. Then he said to them:

“There is news now of the Mindsword. The man

that other humans call the Dark King has it. He is,

of course, going to use it to try to get the whole

world into his hands. What effect this will have on

our own Game is something that we must evaluate

for ourselves, each according to his or her own posi-


It was not this news he had just announced to the

assembly that was really angering Mars. Rather it

was something else, something that he wanted to

keep secret in his own thoughts, that made him

almost choke on rage. Mars did not conceal his feel-

ings well. As he finished speaking he used a savage

gesture, a blow that almost split the air, simply to

signify the fact that he was ready now to relinquish

the floor to someone else.

Next to speak was Vulcan-Vulcan the Smith with

the twisted leg, the armorer and Sword-forger to the


“I am sorry,” began Vulcan, slyly, “that my so-

worthy colleague is unable to continue at the moment.

Perhaps he is brooding too much about a certain

setback-one might even call it a defeatthat he suffered

at the hands–or should one say the paws-of a certain

mortal opponent, some eight or nine years past?”

The response of Mars to this was more sullen,

angry rumbling. There also was a murmuring around

the circle, some of it laughter at Mars, some a

denunciation of Vulcan for this obvious attempt to

start an argument.

Aphrodite asked softly, “Is this what we have come

here for, to have another quarrel?” Her tall body, all

curves, all essence of the female, was wrapped in

nothing but a diaphanous veil that seemed always on

the verge of blowing away in the fierce wind but

never did. She like the other deities was perfectly

indifferent to the arctic cold.

Near her, Apollo’s taller form appeared emphasized

for a moment in a lone ray of light from the newly

risen sun. The Sun’s bright lance steadily pierced the

scudding clouds for just as long as it took the god to

speak, and held his body in its light. Apollo demanded,

“I take it that we are all agreed upon one thing at


Someone else was cooperative enough to ask

Apollo: “What?”

The tall god replied, “That Hermes has not come

back from his mission to gather up the Swords again.

That he is never going to come back.”

“That’s two things,” another member of the group


Apollo took no notice of such carping. “That our

divine Messenger, who no doubt thought himself as

secure in his immortality as most of us still think we

are in ours, has now been for four years dead?`

That word, of all words, had power to jolt them all.

Many faced it bravely. Some tried to pretend that it

had not been spoken, or if spoken certainly not heard.

But there was a long moment in which even the wind

was voiceless. No other word, surely, could have

brought the same quality and duration of silence to this


It was the relentless voice of Apollo that entered

into this new silence and destroyed it, repeating: “For

four years dead.”

The repetition provoked not more silence, but the

beginning of an uproar of protest; still the voice of

Apollo overrode the tumult even as it swelled.

“Dead!” he roared. “And if Hermes Messenger can

be slain by one of the Swords, why so can we. And

what have we done about it, during these past four

years? Nothing! Nothing at all! Wrangled among

ourselves, as always-no more than that!”

When Apollo paused, Mars seized the chance to

speak. “And there is the one who forged those

Swords!” The God of War pointed with his long war-

spear, and aimed an angry stare at the crippled Smith.

“I tell you, we must make him melt them down again.

I’ve said all along that the Swords are going to destroy

us all, unless we are able to destroy them first!”

Leaning awkwardly on his lame leg, Vulcan

turned at bay. “Don’t blame. me!” Wind whipped

at his fur garments, his ornaments of dragon-scale

clashing and fluttering in the gale. But his words

ate through the windstorm plainly, suffering no

interference from mere physical air. “The blunder,

if there was one, was not mine. These very faces

that I see all about me now spoke urging me, com-

manding me, to forge the Swords.”

He turned accusingly from one to another of his

peers. “We needed the Swords, we had to have

them, you all told me, for the Game. The Game was

going to be a great delight, something we hadn’t

tried before. You said the Swords must be distrib-

uted among the humans, who in the Game would be

our pawns. Now what kind of pawns have they

turned into? But no, you all insisted on it, no matter

how I warned you-”

Again an uproar of protest was breaking out, and

this time it was too loud for any one voice to over-

come. Objectors were shouting that, on the con-

trary, they had been the ones against the whole idea

of the Swords and the Game from the very start.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred