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

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-

givably different.

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

be wasted.

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

savage enthusiasm.

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

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred