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

Nor did he move to unsling his bow. Even his best

shot, placed perfectly into the eye, the only even

semi-vulnerable target, might do no more than

madden a dragon of the size of this one before him.

His best hope of survival lay in standing still. If he

could manage to do that, there was a bare chance

that his earlier rapid movement would be forgotten

and he would be ignored.

Then something happened that surprised the

young men profoundly, so that now it was astonish-

ment more than either terror or conscious effort

that kept him standing like a statue.

The dragon’s vast mouth, scarred round the lips

with its own quondam flames, opened almost deli-

cately, revealing yellowed and blackened teeth the

size of human forearms. From that mouth emerged

a voice, a kind of cavernous whisper. It was per-

fectly intelligible,. though so soft that the motion-

less man could scarcely be sure that he was really

hearing it.

“Put down your little knife,” the dragon said to

him. “I will not hurt you.”

The man, who had thought he was remaining

perfectly motionless, looked down at his right

hand. Without realizing it he had drawn the dagger

from his belt. Mechanically he put the useless

weapon back into its sheath.

Even as the man did this, the dragon, perhaps

three times his height as it stood tall on its hind

legs, moved closer to him by one great stride. It

reached out for him with one enormous forelimb,

armed at the fingertips with what looked like pitch-

fork tines. But that frightening grip picked up the

man so gently that he felt no harm. In a moment he

had been lifted, tossed spinning in the air, and

softly, safely, caught again. At this moment, that

seemed to him certain to be the moment of his

death, he felt curiously free from fear.

Death did not come, nor even pain. He was being

tossed and mauled quite tenderly. Here we went up

again, propelled with a grim playfulness that

tended to jolt the breath out of his chest, but did

him no real damage. In one of these revolving

airborne jaunts, momentarily facing back up the

side canyon, he got his clearest look yet at the whole

small gang of his surviving human pursuers. They

had been even closer behind him than he had

thought, but now with every instant they were

meters farther away. The three of them, two look-

ing forward and away, one looking back in terror,

were astride their riding beasts again, and never

mind the chance that a mount might stumble here.

All three in panic were galloping at full stretch back

up the barren floor of the side canyon.

The dragon roared. The tossed man’s own whirl-

ing motion whirled the riders away, out of his field

of vision. He felt his flying body brush through a

fringe of greenery. His landing was almost gentle,

on shaded ground soft as a bed with moss and mois-

ture. He lay there on his back, beneath great danc-

ing fronds. This position afforded him a fine view of

the dragon’s scaly green back just as, roaring like

an avalanche, it launched a charge after the three


In another moment the riders were completely

out of sight around the first curve of the side can-

yon. The dragon at once aborted its charge and

ceased its noise. It turned, and with an undragonly

air of calm purpose came striding back to where the

man lay. He just lay there, watching its approach.

The creature hadn’t killed him yet, and anyway he

could never have outrun it even had his lungs been

full of breath.

Once more the huge dragon gently picked him

up. It carried him carefully for a little distance,

deeper into the heavy riverside growth of vegeta-

tion. Through the last layer of branches ahead the

man could plainly see the swift narrow stream that

threaded the canyon’s floor.

The dragon spoke above the endless frantic mur-

mur of the water. “They will never,” it told the

man in its sepulchral voice, “come back and follow

a dragon into this thicket. Instead they will return

to their masters and report that you are dead, that

with their own eyes they saw you crushed and

eaten.” Saying this, the dragon again deposited the

man on soft ground, this time very gently.

Then the dragon took a long step back. Its image

in the man’s eyes flickered, and for one moment he

had the definite impression that the huge creature

was wearing a broad leather belt around its scaly,

bulging midsection. And there was a second,

momentary impression, that from this belt there

hung a scabbard, and that the scabbard held a


The belt and Sword were no longer visible. Then

they reappeared. The man blinked, he shook his

head and rubbed his eyes and looked again. Some

kind of enchantment was in operation. It had to be

that. If it-

The Swordbelt, now unquestionably real, was

now hanging looped from a great furry hand-it

was undeniably a hand, and not a dragon’s forefoot.

The fur covering the hand, and covering the arm

and body attached, was basically a silver gray, but

it glowed remarkably with its own inner light. As

the man watched, the glow shifted, flirting with all

the colors of the rainbow.

The enormous hand let the belt drop.

Standing before the youth now was a furred beast

on two legs, as tall and large as the dragon had been,

but otherwise much transformed. Claws had been

replaced by fingers, on hands of human shape. There

were still great fangs, but they were bonewhite now,

and the head in which they were set no longer had

anything in the least reptilian about it. Although the

figure was standing like a man, the face was not

human. It was-unique.

The great dark eyes observed with intelligence the

man’s reaction to the transformation.

The young man’s first outward response was to get

back to his feet, slowly and shakily. Then he walked

slowly to where the belt and Sword were lying, on

shaded moss. Bending over, he observed that the jet-

black hilt of the Sword was marked with one small

white symbol; but, though the man dropped to his

knees to look more closely, he was unable to make out

what that symbol was. His eyes for some reason had

trouble getting it into clear focus. Then he reached out

and put his fingers on that hilt, and with that touch he

felt the power he had expected enter into him. Now he

was able to see the symbol plainly. It was the simple

outline of an observant human eye.

Turning his head to look up at the waiting giant, the

young man said: “I am Mark, son of Jord.” As he

spoke he got to his feet, and as he stood up he drew

the Sword. His right hand held up that bright

magnificence of steel in a salute.

The giant’s answer came in an inhumanly deep

bass, quite different from the dragon’s voice: “You are

Mark of Arin-on-Aldan.”

The youth regarded him steadily for a moment.

Then he nodded. “That also,” he agreed. Then,

lowering the Sword, he added, “I have held

Sightblinder here once before.”

“You have held others of the Swords as well. I

know something of you, Mark, though we have not

met. I am Draffut, as you must have realized by now.

The man called Nestor, who was your friend, was

also mine.”

Mark did not answer immediately. Now that he was

holding the Sword of Stealth, some inward things

about the being he was looking at had become

apparent to him. Just how they were apparent was

something he could not have explained had his life

depended on it; but across Draffut’s image in Mark’s

eyes some part of Draffut’s history was now written,

in symbols that Mark would not be able to see, much

less interpret, once he put down the Sword again.

Mark said, “You are the same Draffut who is

prayed to as the God of Healing. Who knew Ardneh

the Blessed, as your living friend two thousand years

ago . . . but still I will not call you a god. Lord of

Beasts, as others name you, yes. For certainly you

are that, and more.” And Mark bowed low. “I thank

you for my life.”

“You are welcome . . . and Beastlord is a title that I

can at least tolerate.” Actually the huge being seemed

to enjoy it to some extent. “With Sightblinder in your

hand I am sure you can see I am no god. But I have

just come from an assembly of them.”

Mark was startled. “What?”

“I say that I have just come from an assembly of

the gods,” Draffut repeated patiently. “And I had

Sightblinder in my own hand as I stood among

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred