be able to concentrate upon our planning-I will
demonstrate it now!”
The last word burst in a great shout from the Dark
King’s throat, and in the same moment he sprang to
his feet. And Mark thought that the Mindsword itself,
as the King drew and brandished it aloft, made a faint
roaring noise, like that of many human voices cheering
at a distance.
Even here, in the dim smoky interior of this tent, the
flourished steel flashed gloriously, seeming to stab at
the eyes with light. Mark had never seen, nor ever
imagined that he would see, anything so beautiful.
Like all the others round the table he found himself on
his feet, and he was only dimly aware of his chair
toppling over behind him.
At that moment, Sightblinder, with Mark’s hand on
its hilt, came leaping by itself halfway out of its own
sheath, as if it were springing to accept the challenge
of its peer.
But Mark could not tear his eyes free of the
Mindsword. The terrible force of it was tugging at
him. Wordlessly it demanded that he throw his own
Sword down at Vilkata’s feet, and himself after it,
pledging eternal loyalty to the Dark King. And
already, only half realizing what he did, Mark had
gone down on his knees again, amid a small crowd of
wizards who were doing the same thing.
The cheering roar of the Mindsword drowned all
other sound, the glitter of its blade filled every eye.
Mark wondered why he had come here to this
camp, why he had entered this tent . . . but what-
ever the reason, it hardly mattered now. All that
mattered now was that instantly, instantly, he
should begin a new lifetime of service to Vilkata.
That flashing steel thing told him that he must, that
glorious Blade that was the most beautiful thing
under the heavens or in them. Nothing that it told
him could possibly be wrong.
He stood somehow in danger, danger of being left
behind, left out, if he did not swear his fealty at
once, as the other kneeling shapes around him were
doing now. Voices that in the outer chamber had
sounded cynical were now hoarse with fervor, gab-
bling the most extravagant oaths. What was it that
made him, Mark, delay? Something must be wrong
with him, something about him must be unfor-
He was groveling on the floor with the others,
mouthing words along with them, but he knew his
oaths meant nothing, they were not sincere. Why
was he hesitating? How could he? He must, at once,
consecrate himself body and soul to the Dark King.
How glorious it would be to fight and conquer in
that name! And how perfect would be a death, any
form of death, attained in such a cause! There was
nothing that a man need fear, as long as that glit-
tering Sword led him. Or, there was but one thing
fearful only-the chance that such a glorious oppor-
tunity might somehow be missed-that death
might come in some merely ordinary way, and so
So why, then, did he delay?
Mark’s mind swayed under the Mindsword’s
power, but did not yield to it entirely. A stubborn
core of resistance remained in place. He was not
tarried into action, beyond the meaningless imita-
tive oaths and grovelings. Part of his mind contin-
ued to understand that he must resist. His right
hand still clutched Sightblinder’s hilt, and he
thought that he still drew power from it. Inside the
core of his mind that was still sane, he could only
hope and trust in the existence of some power that
might save him-even though he could no longer
remember clearly just why he needed saving.
Cowering on his knees like those around him,
Mark watched the Mindsword flash on high. From
that beautiful arc emanated a droning roar, as of
many voices raised in praise, voices that never
stopped to breathe. Against the background of that
sound, the voice of the Dark King was rising and
falling theatrically, like that of some spellcaster in
a play. Vilkata was reciting and detailing now all of
the malignant and detestable qualities that marked
the Queen of Yambu as a creature of special evil.
One accusation in particular, that the voice empha-
sized, caught at and inflamed Mark’s imagination,
stinging him with the unimaginable foulness that it
represented. Even among her other shameless
deeds this one stood out: Not only did she possess
the Sword called Soulcutter, but she intended to
begin to use it soon. And to use it against the
blessed Dark King, the savior of the world!
In spite of himself, Mark groaned in rage. He
found himself imagining his hands locked on the throat
of the Silver Queen, and strangling her. Other
groaning, outraged voices joined around him, until the
pavilion sounded like the torture chamber that it truly
And when the Dark King paused, the voices rose
up even louder, crying aloud their heartfelt protest
against Yambu. That she should so plot to warp their
minds with Soulcutter’s foul magic, that she should
even for a moment contemplate such a thing, was a
sin crying to the gods for her to be wiped out,
expunged from the Earth’s face, at once and without
Vilkata had lowered the blade a little now, holding
the hilt no higher than his shoulders. But still the steel
kept twinkling above them like a star. As far as Mark
could tell, there was no resistance at all in any of the
audience except himself. And how much was left in
him, he did not know.
One of the wizards, he who had whispered
conspiratorially to Mark in the outer chamber, now
abandoned himself entirely. With a great frenzied
howl he sprang up on the conference table, his arms
outstretched to gather that glorious Blade to his own
bosom. But the Dark King withdrew the weapon out
of the wizard’s reach, and with a lunge the magician
fell on his face among the tipped and scattered chairs.
It seemed a signal for general pandemonium. Men
and women rolled back and forth on the tent floor.
They scrambled to stand on furniture, they danced
and sang in maddened cacophony. Cries and grunts
came jolting out of them, until the council chamber
looked and sounded like a small battlefield.
The sounds of a more familiar danger helped Mark
regain some small additional measure of control. He
huddled almost motionless on the floor, trying to
remember where he was, and who he had been
before that Sword appeared.
Now the Dark King flourished his Sword above his
head in a new gesture, like a field commander’s signal
to advance. And now Vilkata, guided by the humming
presence that hovered always near him, was moving
in long, sure strides around the conference table,
passing through the litter of chairs and humanity that
almost filled the room. He was heading for the front
entrance of the pavilion.
Mark, caught up in the rush of people following the
King, was jostled against the torture-altar when
passing through the outer chamber. He felt something
sticky on his hand, gazed at it dumbly and saw blood.
It was frightening, but he could not understand ….
Exiting from the pavilion’s front door, Vilkata strode
forth into the sun, whose light exploded from the
Sword he carried into a thousand piercing lances. His
little mob of followers, including Mark, accompanied
him out into the glare, leaping and chanting with a look
of ecstasy. At once their numbers were augmented
by those who happened to be near when the Dark
King emerged with glory in his hands. The air above
the swelling crowd was wavering, as if with the heat
of a great fire; familiar powers and small demons
were moving in concert with their magician masters,
and sharing their excitement, whether in joy or fear
Mark could not tell.
The Mindsword swung in Vilkata’s grip. It shattered
the bright sun into lightning, whose bolts
struck left and right. The hundreds who were near,
and then the thousands only a little farther off,
gaped in surprise, and then were caught up in the
Vilkata,marched on without hesitation, heading
for the reviewing stand. The crowd surging around
him was growing explosively, and already seemed
to number in the thousands. Men and women,
caught by curiosity, by the attraction of the grow-
ing crowd itself, came running through the camp
from all directions, to be captured at close range by
the sight of the blinding Blade. Again and again,
through the waves of merely human cheering, Mark
thought that he could hear the surf like oar of the
Sword itself, grown louder in proportion to the
crowd it led.
Now, somewhere out on the parade ground,
beyond the cages for prisoners and beasts, an enor-
mous drum began to bang. The growling and snarl-
ing of the caged warbeasts went up, to challenge in