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
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
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
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
“In what direction do your orders take you?”
Mark’s voice, to his own ears, sounded no different
“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