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

know. He cooled himself with splashing. Then he

stretched himself out on a shady moss, with

Sightblinder tucked under his head, and slept

securely. Any enemy coming upon him now would

not see him, but instead some person or thing that

they loved or feared, or at any rate would not harm.

Of course there might come a sudden thunderstorm

upstream, a canyon flood, and he’d be drowned;

but he had lived much of his life with greater risks

than that.

Mark did not awake until the sun had dropped

behind the high stone western wall and it was

nearly dark. Before the light had faded entirely, he

managed to get a rabbit with one of his two

remaining arrows. He even managed to retrieve the

arrow undamaged, which convinced him that his

luck was definitely improving. After cooking his

rabbit on a small fire, he devoured most of it and

slept again.

It was deep night when he awoke the second time,

and he lay looking up at the stars and wondering

about Draffut. The Beastlord was a magnificent

and unique being, and it was small wonder that

most folk thought he was a god. His life had begun

so long ago that even Ardneh’s struggle with the

demon Orcus was recent by comparison. Mark,

holding the Sword of Stealth while he looked at

Draffut, had seen that that was true.

The Sword had allowed Mark to see something

more wonderful still.

He had seen, very plainly, though only for a

moment, and in a mode of seeing impossible to

explain, that the Beastlord had begun his long life as a

dog. A plain, four-footed dog, and nothing more.

That was a mystery beyond wondering about. Mark

slept yet again, and awoke beneath turned stars. Just

after his eyes opened he saw a brilliant meteor, as if

some power had awakened him to witness it.

He lay awake for some time, pondering.

Who, after all, was the Emperor? And why, and

how did the Emperor come to be aware of Mark, son

of Jord? Of course Mark’s late father was himself a

minor figure in legends, through his unwilling

conscription by Vulcan to help in the forging of the

Swords. And Mark had taken part in the celebrated

raid of four years ago on the Blue Temple treasury.

But why should either of those dubious claims to fame

have caused the Emperor to send him a Sword?

All the stories agreed that the Emperor liked jokes.

Mark was no closer to an answer when he once

more fell asleep.

In the morning he was up and moving early. Soon

he found a side canyon that appeared passable, and

led off to the east. He refilled his water bottle before

leaving the river, then followed the side canyon’s

gradually ascending way. When, after some

kilometers, the smaller canyon had shallowed enough

to let him climb out of it easily, he did so. Now eastern

mountains, blue as if with forests, were visible in the

distance. Tasavalta, he thought. Or somewhere near

to it.

He was a day closer to those mountains when he

saw the mounted patrol. He was sure even at a

considerable distance that these riders were the

Dark King’s soldiers. He had fought against such

often enough to be able to distinguish them, he

thought, by no more than the fold of a distant cloak,

the shape of a spearhead carried high. The patrol was

between him and his goal, and was heading almost

directly toward him, but he did not think that they had

seen him yet.

Mark had automatically taken concealment behind

a bush at his first sight of the riders, and he continued

watching them from hiding. He was planning, almost

unthinkingly, how best to remain out of their sight as

they passed, when he recalled what Sword it was that

now swung at his side. He had used Sightblinder once

before, and he trusted its powers fully.

Boldly he stood up. hand on the hilt of the Sword,

feeling a stirring of, its power as he approached his

enemies, he marched straight toward the oncoming

riders. But before the patrol saw him they altered

course slightly, perversely turned aside. Mark

muttered oaths. If he had been helpless and

endeavoring to hide, he thought, they would have

stumbled over him without trying.

They were completely out of sight when he

reached their trail, but he followed it into the setting

sun, blue mountains now at his back. His messages

for Princess Rimac were really routine. His soldier’s

instincts told him that here he might have an excellent

target of opportunity.

An hour or so later he found the patrol, a dozen

tough-looking men, gathered by their evening fire,

which was large enough to show that they had no

particular fear of night attack. The hilt of Sight

blinder was vibrating smoothly in Mark’s hand as

he strode into the firelight to stand before them.

They looked up at him, and they all sat still. Hard

warriors though they were, he could see that they

were instantly afraid. Of what, he did not know,

except that it was some image that they saw of him.

Looking down at his own body, he saw, as he had

known he would, himself unchanged.

Mark left it to them to break the silence. At last

one who was probably their sergeant stood up,

bowed, and asked him: “Lord, what will you have

of us?”

“In what direction do your orders take you?”

Mark’s voice, to his own ears, sounded no different

than before.

“Great Lord, we are bound for the encampment

of the Dark King himself. There we are to report to

our captain the results of our patrol.”

Mark drew in a deep breath. “Then you will take

me with you.”


Jord scratched delicately at his itching arm-

stump, then grimaced at the unaccustomed sore-

ness there. He rubbed at the place, more delicately

still, with a rough fingertip. There was some kind of

minor swelling, too.

Not that he was complaining. On the contrary.

He was lying on a soft couch covered with fine fab-

ric, in morning sunshine. Birds sang pleasantly

nearby. Otherwise he was alone on the elegant

rooftop terrace, largely a garden of plants and

birds, fresh from last night’s rain. The terrace cov-

ered most of the flat roof of the House of Courtenay.

A plate of food, second helpings that Jord had been

unable to finish, rested on a small table at his side.

He was wearing a fine white nightshirt, of a mate-

rial strange to him, that felt as what he supposed

silk must feel. Well, he’d obviously and very fortu-

nately reached wealthy and powerful friends, so

none of these details were really all that surprising.

What did surprise him-what left him in fact

almost numb with astonishment-was what had

happened to his wounds.

The husky men, obviously some kind of servants,

who had carried Jord up here to the terrace this

morning had told him that he’d arrived here at the

House of Courtenay only last night. Jord hadn’t

questioned the servants beyond that, because he

wasn’t sure how much they knew about their mas-

ter’s secret affairs, and about who he, Jord, really

was, in terms of his business here.

Jord’s last memories from last night were of

being afraid of bleeding to death, and of trying to

pound on the back door of his house, knowing that

if he fainted before he got help he’d likely never to

wake up. Well, he must have fainted. And he had

certainly awakened, feeling almost healthy, raven-

ously hungry-and with his wounds well on the

way to being completely healed.

The sun, rising higher now, would have begun to

grow uncomfortably hot, but at just. the proper

angle a leafy bower now began to shade the couch.

The noise of the city’s streets was increasing, but it

was comfortably far below. Jord had learned

enough about cities to live in them when he had to,

but he felt really at home only in a village or small


The trellises that shaded him, he noticed now,

also screened him well from observation from any

of the city’s other tall buildings nearby. Meanwhile

the interstices of latticework and leaves afforded

him a pretty good outward view. Slate rooftops,

like trees in a forest, stretched away to the uneven

horizon formed by the city’s formidable walls.

Tashigang was built upon a series of hills, with the

Corgo, here divided into several branches, flowing

between some of them. The House of Courtenay,

practically at riverside, was naturally in one of the

lowest areas. The effect was that some of the sec-

tions of wall, and the hilltop buildings in the dis-

tance, loomed to what seemed magical height,

becoming towers out of some story of the Old


“Good morning.” The words breaking in upon

Jord’s thoughts came in a female voice that he did

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred