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

not recognize. He quickly turned back from peering

through the trellis. She was young and small, really

tiny, and black-haired; dressed in white, she was

obviously a lady. A young nursemaid and a small

child were visible in the background, out of easy

earshot along a graveled path that helped make the

rooftop look like a country garden.

“Good morning, Lady.” In the past ten years or

so Jord had been often enough in cosmopolitan

society that now he could feel more or less at ease

with practically anyone. “The men who brought

me up here told me that I was in the house of Mis-

tress and Master Courtenay.”

“So you are; I am the mistress of this house. Gods

and demons, don’t try to get up. And you are Jord.”

Jord abandoned his token effort to rise. “I am

Jord, as you say. And I thank you for your help.”

“Is the food not to your taste?”

“It’s very good. Only they gave me more than


The lady was looking at him thoughtfully. There

were chairs nearby but just now she evidently

preferred standing. “So, the Princess Rimac sent

you to us. As courier, to carry two Swords back to


Jord tried to flex his wounded knee a little, and

grimaced at the sensation. “I seem to have failed in

that task before it was fairly started.” It was said

matter-of-factly. “Well, I’ll do as best I can with

whatever comes next. It seems I’ll need to heal

before I can do much at all.”

The lady continued to regard him. It appeared that

for some reason she was strongly interested.

Presently she said “The servants-all except Denis,

who’s really more than that-think that you are simply a

fellow merchant, who’s had an encounter with thieves

and is in need of help. Such things are all too common

in our business.”

“And in mine, unhappily. Again I thank you for

saving my life.” Jord paused. “But tell me something.

Those who carried me up here said that I arrived only

last night. But . . .” He gestured in perplexity toward

his wounds.

“One of the blades that you were going to take to

Princess Rimac is the Sword of Mercy.”

“Ah.” Jord, who had been supporting himself on his

elbow, lay back flat again. “That explains it.”

The lady had turned her head away. The little child

was babbling somewhere on the other side of the

roof. But someone else, a huge man of about the

lady’s own age, was approaching around a corner of

trellis. Birds flew out of his way. “My husband,” she


Again Jord raised himself on his elbow. “Master

Courtenay. Again my thanks.”

The big man smiled, an expression that made his

face much more pleasant in appearance. “And you

are welcome here, as I expect my wife has already

told you.”

Jord’s hosts seated themselves together on a bench

nearby, and asked to hear from him about

last night’s attack that had left him wounded. Both

appeared relieved when he told them he had

dispatched his lone assailant before he had collapsed


The master of the house informed him, “A few

more of those who were following you arrived a little

later. But we managed to dispose of them.”

“Following me? More of them?” Jord swore

earthily, calling upon various anatomical features of

several gods and demons. “I feared as much, but I

saw nothing of ’em.” He groaned his worry.

Master Courtenay’s thick hand made a gesture of

dismissal; there was nothing to be done about that

now. Then Coutenay glanced at his wife, a look

transmitting some kind of signal, and she faced their

guest with the air of someone opening a new subject.

“Jord,” she asked him, “what village do you come


It had been years since that question had surprised

him. “Why, you’re quite right, Ma’am, I’m a village

man, not of the cities. And I’ve lived in a good many


“But twenty years ago you were living in Arin-on-

Aldan, weren’t you? And still there, up to about-ten

years ago?”

Jord nodded, and sighed faintly. “Like a lot of other

villages, Lady, it’s not there any longer. Or so I’ve

heard. Your pardon, gentlefolk, but most who start

asking me about my village have an earlier one than

that in mind. Treefall, the place that Vulcan took me

from to help him forge the Swords. Yes, I’m that Jord.

Not too many Jords in the world with the right arm

missing. Often I use another name, and I put most

people off when they start

asking where I’m from. But you of course I’ll answer

gladly. Whatever you’d like to know.”

“We,” said the huge, broad man, “are no more

gentlefolk than you. The name I was born with is

nothing like Courtenay, but simply Ben. That was in a

poor village too, where one name was enough. Ben of

Purkinje, some call me now. You’ve heard that

somewhere, most .likely, within the past four years.

I’m the Ben who robbed the Blue Temple, and they’re

out to hunt me down. I’m pretty sure it was their

people who followed you here last night.”

“And my name is really Barbara,” the lady said

simply. She moved one small pale hand in a gesture

that took in the luxury of the terrace, her whole house.

“This is all Blue Temple wealth, or was. A single

handful of their chests and baskets full of jewels.”

“Ah.” Jord nodded. “I’ve heard of the man called

Ben who robbed those robbers. That story has gone

far and wide-”

The lady interrupted him, eagerly. “Since you’ve

heard the stories, you must have heard that a man

named Mark was in on the raid with Ben, here.” Here

Barbara really smiled at Jord for the first time. “And

you have a grown son named Mark, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said the man on the couch. “It’s a common

enough name. Why?”

“Because it is the same Mark,” the lady said. “And

we are his good friends, though we have not seen him

for a long time. He took no wealth for himself from

the Blue Temple. He’s still out there soldiering, in Sir

Andrew’s army. And I’m afraid he thinks that you are


“Ah,” said their visitor again. He lay back flat,

and closed his eyes, and clenched his fist. His lips

moved, as if he might be praying. Then he opened his

eyes and once more raised himself a little on his


He spoke to his hosts now almost as if he were

their prisoner and they his judges. “Mark had to run

away from the village, that day . . . is it ten years

now? Almost. He had to take Townsaver and get

away with it. Yes, he saw me struck down. He must

have been thinking ever since that I’d been killed. He

wasn’t able to come back, nor we to find out where

he was. So much happened, we had to leave the

village. We never had any news . . .”

Jord’s voice changed again, happily this time. “Tell

me about him. Still soldiering, you say? What-?” He

obviously had so many questions that he didn’t know

where to start.

Again someone was arriving on the rooftop. Jord

heard a door close, and footsteps came crunching

lightly along the graveled path. A pause, and a few

words in what sounded like the nursemaid’s voice.

Then the footsteps resumed. This time there appeared

a slender, dark-haired youth who was introduced to

Jord as Denis, nicknamed the Quick. He greeted the

older man courteously, and stood there rubbing his

forearm through its long sleeve as if it might be sore.

Jord rubbed his arm-stump again. Already it

seemed that the swelling, where the Sword had

touched him, was a little greater.

Ben asked the new arrival, “What news from the


“None of the local people on our payroll noticed

anything out of the way around midnight. It was a

good night to be staying in.”

“Denis,” said Ben, “sit down.” And he indicated an

unoccpuied chair nearby. Then he turned his head and

called: “Kuan-yin? Take the baby downstairs, would


Presently a door closed again. Four people looked

solemnly at one another. Ben said to his young

employee, “There’s one thing we’ve not told you about

Jord yet. His reason for coming here.” And at that

point Ben paused, seemingly not knowing quite what

to say next.

His wife put in, “You must know by now, Denis,

where our political sympathies lie.”

“The same as mine, Mistress,” the young man

murmured. “Or, indeed, I wouldn’t be here now.” But

he knew that was not- true; he would have stayed

anyway, to be near her. Might he have stayed to be

near Kuan-yin? That was more problematical.

Ben said to him, “You also know that our guest here

is a secret courier, if not the details. And, as you can

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