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

them so each of them saw me as one of their own

number . . . and I saw that in them which surprised

me, as I stood there and listened to them argue.”

“Argue… about what?”

“In part, about the Swords. As usual they were able

to agree on nothing, which I count as good news for

humanity. But I heard other news also, that was not

good at all. The Dark King, Vilkata, has the

Mindsword now. How and when he got it, I do not


For a long moment Mark stood silent. Then he

muttered softly, “Ardneh’s bones! The gods were

saying that? Do you believe it?”

“I am glad,” said Draffut, “that you understand that

what the gods tell us is not always true. But in this

case I fear it is the truth. Remember that I held the

Sword of Stealth in my own hands then, and I looked

at the speakers carefully as they were speaking. They

were not telling deliberate lies; nor do I think they

were mistaken.”

“Then the human race is . . .” Mark made a gesture

of futility. “. . . in trouble.” Looking down at the blade he

was still holding, he swung it lightly, testing how it felt

in his grip. “If the question is not too impertinent, how

did you come to have this? The last time I saw it, it

was embedded in the body of a flying dragon.”

“It may have fallen from the creature in flight. I

found it in the Great Swamp.”

“And-again if you do not mind my asking-how did

you come to be spying on the gods?”

Draffut rested one of his enormous hands on a

treetrunk that stood beside him. Mark thought he saw

the bark change color around that grip. It even moved

a little, he thought, achieving a different

tempo in its life. Many were the marvelous tales told

of Draffut. Now the Beastlord was speaking.

“Once I had this Sword in my hand, I decided that I

would never have a better chance to do something

that I had long thought about-to find the Emperor, and

talk to him face to face.”

“You did not go first to find the gods?”

“I had met gods before;” Draffut ruminated. In a

moment he went on. “The Emperor is not an easy

man to locate. But I have some skill in discovering

that which is hidden, and I found him. I had been for a

long time curious.”

Mark had sometimes been curious on the same

subject, but only vaguely so. He had grown up

accepting the commonly held ideas about the

Emperor: a legendary trickster, perhaps invented and

unreal. A practical joker, a propounder of riddles, a

wearer of masks. A sometime seducer of brides and

maidens, and the proverbial father of the poor and the

unlucky. Only in recent years, as Mark began to meet

people who knew more about the world than the

name of the next village, had he come to understand

that the Emperor might have a real importance.

Not that his curiosity on the subject had ever

occupied much of his time or thought. Still, he now

asked Draffut, “What is he like?”

“He is a man,” said Draffut firmly, as if there had

been some doubt of that. But, having made that point,

the Beastlord paused, as if he were at a loss as to

what else to say.

At last he went on. “John Ominor, the enemy of

Ardneh, was called Emperor too.” At this offhand

recollection of the events of two thousand years past,

Mark could feel his scalp creep faintly. Draffut

continued. “And then, a little later, some called Prince

Duncan, a good man, by that title.”

Draffut fell silent. Mark waited briefly, then

pursued the subject. “Has this man now called the

Emperor some connection with the Swords? Can he

be of any help to us against Vilkata?”

Draffut made a curious two-handed gesture, that in

a lesser being would have suggested helplessness.

When he let go of the treetrunk its surface at once

reverted to ordinary bark. “I think that the Emperor

could be an enormous help to us. But how to obtain

his help . . . and as for the Swords, I can tell you this:

I think that Sightblinder did not deceive him for a

moment, though I had it in my hand as I approached.”

“It did not deceive him?”

“I think he never saw me as anything but what I

am.” The Beastlord thought for a moment, then

concluded: “Of course it was not my intention to

deceive him, unless he should mean me harm-and I do

not believe he did.”

The speaker’s intense, inhuman gaze held Mark’s

eyes. “It was the Emperor’s suggestion that I take this

Sword and use it to observe the councils of the gods.

And he told me something else: that after I had heard

the gods, I should bring Sightblinder on to you.”

Mark experienced an inward chill, a feeling like that

of sudden fear, but with a spark of exhilaration at the

core of it. To him both emotions were equally

inexplicable. “To me?” he echoed stupidly.

“To you. Even the Sword of Stealth cannot disguise

me well enough to let me pass for human, or for any

type of creature of merely human size. At a distance,

perhaps. But I cannot enter the dwellings

of humans secretly, to listen to their secret councils.”

“You say you’re able to spy on the gods, though.

Isn’t that even more important?”

The Beastlord was shaking his head. “The war that

is coming is going to jar the world, as it has not been

jarred since the time of Ardneh. And the war is

going to be won or lost by human beings, though the

gods will have a role to play.”

“How do you know these things?”

Draffut said nothing.

“What can we do?” Mark asked simply.

“I am going, in my own shape, to try to influence the

actions of the gods. As you may know, I am

incapable of hurting humans, whatever happens. But

against them I can fight when necessary. I have done

as much before, and won.”

Again Mark could feel his scalp creep. He

swallowed and nodded. Apparently there was some

basis of truth for those legends that told of Draffut’s

successful combat against the wargod Mars himself.

Draffut added: “I am going to leave the Sword with


Again to hear that brought Mark a swift surge of

elation, an emotion in this case swiftly dampened by a

few memories and a little calculation.

“Sir Andrew, whom I serve, has sent me on a

mission to Princess Rimac-or to her General Rostov,

if he proves easier to find. I am to tell them certain

things . . . of course, I can take the Sword of Stealth

along with me. And I suppose I could give it to them

when I get there . . . but what did the Emperor have

in mind for me to do with it? Do you trust him?”

Questions were piling up in his mind faster than he

could ask them.

“I have known and dealt with human beings for

more than fifty thousand years,” said Draffut, “and

I trust him. Though he would not explain. He said

only that he trusts you with the Sword.”

Mark frowned. To be told of such mysterious

trust by an apparently powerful figure was some-

how more irritating than pleasing. “But why me?

What does he know about me?”

“He knows of you,” said Draffut immediately, in

a tone of unhelpful certainty. “And now, I must be

on my way.” The giant turned away, then back

again to say, “The Princess’s land of Tasavalta lies

to the east of here, along the coast, as I suppose you

know. As to where Rostov and his army might be at

the moment, you can probably guess as well as L”

“I’ll take the Sword on with me, then, to the Prin-

cess.” Mark raised his voice, calling after the

Beastlord; Draffut, moving at a giant’s walk consid-

erably faster than a human run, was already

growing distant. Mark sighed, swallowing more

questions that were obviously not going to be

answered now.

Splashing through the shallow river, Draffut

turned once more, for just long enough to wave

farewell. Then he began to climb the far wall of the

great canyon. He climbed like a mountain goat,

going right up the steep rocks. Mark thought he

could see the rock itself undergoing temporary

change, wherever Draffut touched it, starting to

flow with the impulses of life.

Then Draffut was gone, up and over the canyon


Left alone, Mark was suddenly exhausted. He

stared for a long moment at the Sword left in his

hands. Then he bent to enjoy, at last, the drink he

needed from the river„ whose name he did not

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred