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

see, someone else is now going to have to do the job.

It can’t wait, and Jord can’t walk.”

Jord was listening silently, frowning but not


“I can’t leave town right now, nor can Barbara. It’ll

be a well-paid job, Denis, if you’ll do it.”

“Please do it,” the lady of the house urged softly.

Denis could feel his cheeks changing color a little.

He indicated agreement, almost violently. “I’ll need no

special pay, sir, mistress.”

Jord was still frowning at Denis intently.

Barbara, correctly interpreting this look, hasted to

reassure the older man. “Denis came to us a year and

a half ago, on the recommendation of the White

Temple. We had gone to them and told them we

were looking for a likely, honest prospect to be trained

to help us in our business. A lot of people recruit

workers there, you know.”

Jord asked Denis: “How long were you there, at the

White Temple?”

“Three years, a little more.”

“And why were you ready to leave?”

Denis shrugged. “They were good people, they

saved my life. And it was good to serve Ardneh for a

time. But then . . .” He made a gesture, of something

fading, falling away.

“You must have been only half grown when you

went to them.”

“And half dead also. They picked me up out of the

street after a gang fight, and brought me back to life. I

owed them .much, but I think I repaid their help in the

time that I was there. We parted on good terms.”

“Ah,” said Jord. He appeared to have relaxed a

little. He looked at Ben, and said, “Well sir, the

matter’s in your hands, not mine. Maybe sending this

lad is the best choice now.”

Ben cast a cautious look around, though he must

have been already certain that they were secure

against being overheard. Then he said quietly to

Denis, “You’ll be carrying two Swords.”

‘ “Two,” said Denis, almost inaudibly, and he


“Yes. They’re both here in the house now, and I

think we must get them away as quickly as we can,

since we must assume now that the enemy are

watching the house. The city authorities are disposed

to be friendly to me; but of course the Lord Mayor is

ultimately responsible to the Silver Queen as his

overlord. And she, as we all know, is at least

sometimes an ally of Vilkata, and of the Blue Temple

too. So we cannot depend with any certainty on the

Lord Mayor’s friendship, or even on his looking the

other way as we do certain things.”

“I’ll do my best. I’ll get them there safely,” said

Denis suddenly. He looked at Barbara as he said it.

And she, smiling her approval, could see a pulse

beating suddenly in his lean throat.

“Good,” said Ben. “You’re not going to take them to

the Princess, though. You’ll take them in the other

direction, to Sir Andrew. I fear someone’s already

waiting to waylay you on the road to Princess Rimac.

After what happened here last night I can almost feel


Jord nodded agreement, slowly and reluctantly. “We

must get the Swords into action somewhere. And Sir

Andrew’s a good man, by all I’ve heard about him.”

“And your son serves him,” Barbara reminded her


“Aye, Lady. Still . . . I know that Rostov was

counting on the Swords. Well, the responsibility’s

yours now. I failed early on.”

A little later, Denis and Jord were both watching

while Ben dug out from its hiding place the second of

the two Blades that Denis was to carry. The three

men were down on the ground floor of the house now,

in a little-traveled area behind the main shop, inside a

storeroom that was usually kept closed with a cheap

lock. None of the miscellaneous junk readily visible

inside the shed appeared to be worth anyone’s effort

to steal.

Ben was bent over, rummaging in a pile of what

looked like scrap metal, consisting mainly of

swordblades and knifeblades, bent or broken or

rusted, in all cases long disused. Denis could not

remember when he had seen any of the metalworkers

actually using this stuff.

From near the bottom of this pile of the

treacherously sharp edges, Ben carefully brought out,

one at a time, two weapons-the blades of both were

long, blackened, but unbent. And these two also had

hilts, which a majority of the others did not.

Before wiping the two blades clean, Ben held them

out to Jord. The older man put out his hand, hesitated,

and then touched a hilt, all of its details invisible under

carefully applied oil and grime.

“Doomgiver,” said the only human who had ever

handled all the Twelve. “There’s not one of them I’d

fail to recognize.”

The remainder of the day and much of the night had

passed before Denis was ready to depart. He was not

allowed one thing he asked for: a private good-bye

with young Kuan-yin, the nursemaidBen said they

would tell her that Denis had had to leave suddenly on

a business trip of an indefinite duration. That had

happened before, and Kuan-yin should not be too


Denis got in some sleep also. There were

instructions to be memorized, which took a little time:

He dressed in white, in imitation of a lone Ardneh-

pilgrim, for his departure. Ben gave him some money

and some equipment. And Denis also had a private

conference with Jord.

When it was time to go, in the hour before dawn,

Denis was surprised not to be conducted to the back

door, where Jord had come in. Instead the master,

Old World light in hand, led Denis down a flight of

stairs into a place that Denis knew as nothing more

than a cramped basement storeroom. The place

smelled thickly of damp. There were the scurrying

sounds of rats, evidence that the creatures somehow

defied the anti-rodent spells and poisons that were

both periodically renewed.

The master used his strength to shift a heavy bale

out of position. Then it turned out that one of the

massive stones that made up this chamber’s floor

could be tilted up. Looking down into the cavity thus

created, Denis was surprised when the light showed

him a steady current of water of unknown depth,

scarcely a meter below his feet. Even though he

knew how close the house was to the river, he had

never suspected.

The man who Denis was now beginning to know as

Ben bent down and caught hold of a thin chain within

the opening. Then he tugged until the white prow of a

well-kept canoe appeared, bobbing with the water’s


“I loaded her up this afternoon,” Ben grunted, “while

you were sleeping. Your cargo’s under this floorboard

here. The two Swords, wrapped in a blanket so they

won’t rattle. And sheathed, of course. They may get

wet but they won’t rust.” Ben spoke with the calm

authority of experience. “There’s a paddle, and I think

everything else that you’re going to need.”

Denis had used canoes a time or two before, on

trading missions for the House of Courtenay. He

could manage the craft well enough. But it wasn’t

obvious yet how he was going to get this one back to

the river.

Ben gave him directions. You had to crouch down

low in the boat at first, to keep from banging your

head on the low ceiling of the secret waterway. Then

you moved the craft forward through the narrow

channel by pushing and tugging on the stonework of

the sides. There was not far to go, obviously, to reach

the river.

There were no markings on the white canoe, Denis

observed as he lowered himself carefully aboard.

There was nothing in it, or on Denis, to connect the

canoe or him to the House of Courtenay. Once Denis

was on his way, the plan called for him to play the role

of a simple Ardneh-pilgrim; his White Temple

experience would fit him well for that. As a pilgrim, it

was relatively unlikely that he’d be bothered by

robbers. Everyone had some interest in the availability

of medical care, and therefore in the wellbeing of

those who could provide it. A second point was that

Ardneh’s people were less likely than most to be

carrying much of value. In the .third place, Ardneh

was still a respected god, even if the better-educated

insisted that he was dead, and a good many people still

feared what might happen to them if they offended


Last farewells were brief. Only the mistress of the

house, to Denis’s surprise, appeared at the last

moment, to press his hand at parting. The warmth of

her fingers stayed with his, like something sealed by

magic. He could not savor it now, nor get much of a

last look at her, because it was time to crouch down in

his canoe, to give his head the necessary clearance.

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