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

Naturally this provoked a strong counterreaction

from others present. “What you mean is, you’ve

been against the Game ever since you started losing

in it! As long as you thought that you were winning,

it was a great idea!”

One of the graybeard elder gods, not Zeus, put in:

“Let’s get back to our immediate problem. You say

that the man they call the Dark King has the

Mindsword now. Well, that may be good or bad

news for some of us in terms of the Game, but does

it matter beyond that? The Game is only a game,

and what real difference does it make?”

“You fool! Are you incapable of understanding?

This Game, that you’re so proud of winning-it got

out of hand long ago. Haven’t you been listening?

Did you hear nothing that Apollo just said about the

death of Hermes?”

“All right. All right. Let’s talk about Hermes Mes-

senger. He had supposedly gone to collect all the

Swords again, to get them out of human hands,

because some of us were getting worried. But do

you think he would really have destroyed the

Swords, once he had them all collected? I don’t

think so.”

That suggestion was greeted by a thoughtful

pause, a general silence.

And that silence broken by a slow and thoughtful

voice: “Besides, are we really sure that Hermes is

dead? What solid evidence do we have?”

Now even Apollo the reasoner felt compelled to

howl his rage at such thickheadedness. “One of the

Swords killed Hermes! Farslayer, hurled from the

hands of a mere human!”

Apollo got a venomous retort. “How can we be

sure that that’s what really happened? Has anyone

seen the Sword Farslayer since then? Did any one of

us see Hermes fall?”

At this moment, Zeus once more stepped for-

ward. He conveyed the impression of one who had

been waiting for the exactly proper instant to take

action. And it seemed that he had at last timed an

attempt correctly, because for once he was not

howled down before he could begin to speak.

“Wisdom comes with experience,” Zeus intoned,

“and experience with age. To learn from the past is

the surest way to secure the future. In peace and

wisdom there is strength. In strength and wisdom

there is peace. In wisdom and-”

No one howled him down this time, but after the

first dozen words hardly any of his fellow deities

were still listening. Instead they resumed their

separate conversations around the circle, taking time

out from the general debate while they waited for

Zeus to be finished. This treatment was even deadlier

than the other. Zeus soon realized what was

happening. He retreated again to his own place in the

ring, and there withdrew into a total, sulky silence.

Now-at another place along the ring there was a

stirring and a swirling movement among the snow and

rocks. Attention became focused on this spot, just as a

new member joined the company there. Rather than

coming out of the sky as the others had, this god

emerged up out of the Earth. The form of Hades was

indistinct, all dimness and darkness, a difficult object

even for the faculties of another deity to comprehend.

Hades in his formless voice said that yes, Hermes

was certainly dead. No, he, Hades, hadn’t actually

seen the Messenger fall, or die. But he had been with

Hermes shortly before what must have been the

moment of that death, when Hermes was engaged in

taking some Swords away from some humans. It was

Hades’ opinion that Hermes had been acting in good

faith in his attempt to collect the Blades, though

unfortunately they had been lost again.

Now another side discussion was developing. What

about that offending human, the one that had

apparently thrown Farslayer at Hermes and brought

him down? The awful hubris that could strike a god,

any god, to earth cried out to heaven for vengeance.

What punishment had been dealt to

the culprit? Surely someone had already seen to it that

some special and eternal retaliation had been


The same thought had already occurred, long ago,

to certain other members of the group. Alas, they had

to report now that when they first heard of the

offending human he was already beyond the reach of

even divine revenge.

“Then we must exact some sort of retribution from

humanity in general.”

“Aha, now we come to it! Just which part of

humanity do you propose to strike at? Those who are

your pawns in the Game, or those I claim as mine?”

Apollo’s disgust at this argument was beyond all

measure. “How can you fools still talk of pawns, and

games? Do you not see-?” But words failed him for

the moment.

Hades spoke up again, this time with his own

suggestion for the permanent disposal of the Swords.

If all those god-forged weapons could somehow be

collected, and delivered to him, he would see to their

burial. All the other deities present could permanently

cease to worry.

“We might cease doing a lot of things permanently,

once you had all the Swords! Of course you’d be

willing to accept twelve for yourself-and incidentally

to win the Game by doing so! Where would that leave

us? What kind of fools do you take us for?”

Hades was, or at least pretended to be, affronted by

this attitude. “What do I care now about a game?

Now, when our very existence is at stake. Haven’t

you been listening to Apollo?”

“Our very existence, bah! Tell that stuff to some

one who’ll believe it. Gods are immortal. We all

know that. Hermes is playing dead, hiding out

somewhere. It’s part of a ploy to win the Game.

Well, I don’t intend to lose, whatever happens. Not

to Hermes, and not to Apollo, and particularly not

to you!”

Aphrodite, murmuring softly, announced to all

who would listen that she could think up her own

ideas for getting back the Swords. Those who had

the Swords, or most of them anyway, were only

mere men, were they not?

Apollo spoke again. This time he prefaced his

remarks by waving his bow, a gesture that gained

him notably greater attention. He said that if the

Swords could be regathered, they should then be

turned over to him, as the most logical and trust-

worthy of gods. He would then put an end to the

threat the weapons posed, by the simple expedient

of shooting them, like so many arrows, clean off the


Before Apollo had finished his short speech most

of his audience were ignoring him, bow and all,

even as they had ignored Zeus. Meanwhile in the

background Mars was rumbling threats against

unspecified enemies. Others were laughing,

secretly or openly, at Mars.

Vulcan was quietly passing the word around the

circle that if others were to gather up the Blades

and bring them back to him, and if a majority of his

peers were to assure him that that was what they

really wanted, he’d do his best to melt all of the

Twelve back into harmless iron again.

No one was paying the least attention to Zeus

mighty sulking, and he reverted to speech in a last

effort to establish some authority. “It seems to me

that the Smith here incorporated far too much of

humanity into the Swords. Why was it necessary to

quench -the Blades, when they came from the fire

and anvil, in living human blood? And why were so

much human sweat and human tears introduced

into the process?”

Vulcan bristled defensively at this. “Are you try-

ing to tell me my trade? What do you know about it,


Here Mars, gloating to see his rival stung, jumped

into the argument. “And then there was that last

little trick you played at the forging. Taking off the

right arm of the human smith who helped you-

what was that all about?”

The Smith’s answer-if indeed he gave one-was

lost in a new burst of noise. A dozen voices flared

up, arguing on several different subjects. The meet-

ing was giving every sign of breaking up, despite

Apollo’s best thundering efforts to hold it together a

little longer. As usual there had been no general

agreement on what their common problems were,

much less on any course of action. Already the cir-

cle of the gods was thinning as the figures that com-

posed it began to vanish into the air. The wind

hummed with their departing powers. Hades,

eschewing aerial flight as usual, vanished again

straight down into the Earth beneath his feet.

But one voice in the council was still roaring on,

bellowing with monotonous urgency. Against all

odds, its owner was at last able to achieve some-

thing like an attentive silence among the handful of

deities who remained.

“Look! Look!” was all that voice was saying. And

with one mighty arm the roaring god was pointing

steadily downslope, indicating a single, simple line

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred