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

have been this faint robe-rustle sound of rising.

Mark held his breath as the blind face turned once

more toward him, and this time stayed turned in his

direction. Behind those eyelashes, white and

grotesquely long, the pale collapsed lids were as

magnetic as any stare. Something about them was

perversely beautiful.

There was a tiny almost inaudible humming, a

miniature disturbance in the air near the Dark King’s

head. Some demonic or familiar power was

communicating with him-so Mark perceived, watching

with Sightblinder’s handle in the grip of his hand.

The Dark King seemed about to speak, but

hesitated, as if he were magically aware that

something was wrong, that matters here in this

innermost seat of his power were not as they should

be. Still the blind face confronted Mark, and Vilkata

whispered a soft question into the air. A humming

answer came. Mark could feel the power of the

sheathed Sword at his own side suddenly thrum more


When Vilkata did speak aloud, Mark was surprised

at the sound of his voice, smooth, deep, and pleasant.

“Burslem, I am surprised to see you here. I take it

that the task I sent you on has been completed?”

Burslem. To Mark the name meant nothing. “It is

indeed, my lord. My head on it.”

“Indeed, as you say . . . now all of you, finish

quickly what you are about in here. I want you all

at the conference table as quickly as possible. The

generals are waiting.” And Vilkata and his halfvisible

familiar vanished, behind a sable swirl of draperies.

One wizard, a junior member of the group perhaps,

stayed behind briefly to settle whatever still remained

to be settled upon their ghastly altar. The others,

Mark among them, filed through the doorway where

Vilkata had disappeared. They passed through the

next chamber, which was filled with what looked like

draped furniture, and entered the next beyond that.

The room was larger, and somewhat better lighted.

It contained a conference table large enough to

accommodate in its surrounding chairs all of the

magicians and an approximately equal number of

military-looking men and women, who as Vilkata had

said were already seated and waiting. The military

people wore symbolic scraps of armor, though as

Mark noted none of them were visibly armed there in

the presence of their King. Vilkata himself,

predictably, was seated in a larger chair than the

others, at one end of the table. Behind him a map on a

large scale, supported on wooden poles, bore many

symbols, indicating among other things what appeared

to be the positions of several armies. There was

Tashigang, near the center of the map, there the

winding Corgo making its way northward to the sea.

There was the Great Swamp ….

Mark was making a hasty effort to memorize the

types and positions of the symbols on the map, but the

distractions at the moment were overpowering. The

magicians were taking their places at the table, and

fortunately there seemed to be little ceremony

about it. But again Mark had to delay marginally, to

be able to make a guess as to what place Burslem

ought to take. He was not sure whether to be relieved

or not, when he found himself pulling out the last

vacant chair, some distance down the table from the


As the faint noise of people seated themselves died

out, a silence hold upon the room, and stretched. As

Vilkata sat on his raised chair, the hilt of the

Mindsword at his side was plainly visible to the rest of

the assembly. And the humming presence above the

King’s head came and went, all but imperceptibly to

the others in the room.

“I see,” the Dark King said at last-and if there was

irony in those two words, Mark thought that it was

subtly measured-“that none of you are able to tear

your eyes away from my new toy here at my side.

Doubtless you are wondering where I got it, and how

I managed to so without your help. Well, I’ll give you

all a close look at it presently. But first there’s a

report or two I want to hear.”

Again the blind face turned back and forth, as if

Vilkata were seeking to make sure of something. A

faint frown creased the white brow, otherwise

youthfully unlined. “Burslem,” the Dark King added in

his pleasant voice, “I want to hear your report in

private, a little later. After you have seen my Sword.”

“As you will, Lord,” Mark said clearly. In his own

ears, his voice still sounded like his own. The others

all heard it without noticing anything amiss. But

whatever Vilkata heard did not erase his faint

suspicious frown.

Now some of the magicians and generals, following

an order of precedence that Mark could not

identify, began to make reports to the King and his

council, each speaker in turn standing up at his or her

own place at the table. The unsuspected spy was able

to listen, half-comprehending, to lists of military units,

to descriptions of problems in levying troops and

gathering supplies, to unexpected difficulties with the

constructions of a road that would be needed later to

facilitate the unexplained movement of some army. It

seemed to Mark that invaluable facts, information vital

for Sir Andrew and his allies, were marching at a fast

pace into his ears and out again. Listen! he demanded

of himself in silent anguish. Absorb this, retain it! Yet

it seemed that he could not. Then there came a

relieving thought. When he saw Dame Yoldi again,

she would be able to help him recapture anything that,

he heard now; he had seen her do as much for others

in the past.

If he ever got to see Dame Yoldi’s beautiful face

again. If he ever managed to leave this camp alive.

There was the monstrous Sword at Vilkata’s side,

and here was Vilkata himself, seated within what

looked like easy striking distance of Mark’s own

Sword, or of -his bow-Mark still had his two arrows

left. More important by far, thought Mark, than any

mere information that could be collected, would be to

deprive the Dark King of the Mindsword, and, if

possible, of his own evil life as well.

Mark knew of no way by which the Mindsword, or

any of its eleven peers, could be destroyed. The only

way he could deprive the enemy of its use would be

by capturing it himself, and getting away with it.

There was a chance, he told himself, maybe even a

good chance, that Sightblinder could disguise and

preserve him against demonic and

human fury while he did so. Against demons he had a

new hope now, hope in the inexplicable power of a

few simple words.

It seemed likely that he would have to kill Vilkata to

get the Mindsword from him. And that would be a

good deed in itself. Yes, he would kill Vilkata . . . if he

could. If the evil magicians in the outer chamber had

had magical defenses, how much stronger, if less

obvious, would be those of the Dark King himself?

To strike at Vilkata successfully, he would have to

choose his moment with great care. Bound into his

own thoughts by calculation and fear, Mark lost touch

with the discussion that was going on around the

table. Presently, with a small shock, he realized that

the Dark King was now addressing his assembled

aides, and had been speaking for some time. All of

them-including Mark himself, half consciously-were

answering from time to time with nods and murmurs

of agreement. Probably Mark had been roused to full

attention by the fact that the voice of the Dark King

was now rising to an oratorical conclusion:

“-our plan is war, and our plan goes forward


There was general applause, immediate and loud.

The first to respond in a more particular way was a

bluff, hearty-looking military man, who wore a scrap

or two of armor to indicate his status. This man

leaped to his feet with apparently spontaneous

enthusiasm, and with a kind of innocence in his face.

There was a tone of hearty virtue in his voice as

well. “Who are we going to hit first, sir?”

Vilkata paused before he turned his blind face

toward the questioner, as if perhaps the Dark King

had found, the question none too intelligent. “We are

going to hit Yambu. She is the strongest-next to me-

and therefore the most dangerous. Besides, I have

just received disturbing news about her . . . but of that

I will speak a little later.”

Here Vilkata paused again. The almost inaudible

humming, almost invisible vibration, continued to

perturb the air above his head. “I see that most of you

are still unable to keep from staring at my plaything

here,” he said, and put his pale right hand on his

Sword’s hilt. “Very well. Because I want you, later, to

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred