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

What power had Vulcan called upon to forge them,

that was greater than the gods themselves?

And was he, Mark, the only being here still capable

of resistance?

With his pain, with the drip of his own blood that

seemed now to burn like poison, he could no longer

think. But maybe he could still act.

He gripped Sightblinder in his two hands, and

moved for the third time to try to kill Vilkata.

If the crowd on the ground was moving more wildly

now, it was thinner, and that helped. But when Mark

raised his eyes to the Dark King, who still stood on

the platform, the Mindsword dazzled him again, sent

splintering shafts of poisoned light into his brain. He

was stumbling toward the sun in glory, and it was

unthinkable for anyone to try to strike the sun.

Vilkata, the god! Holder of the Mindsword, he who

must be adored!

Mark lifted his own Sword in both arms. Then he

realized that he was not going to strike, he was going

to cast down Sightblinder as an offering. It was all he

could do to tear himself free. Still desperately holding

onto his own Sword, lurching and stumbling, he fled

the platform, his back to the glory that he dared no

longer face. It tugged him and tore at him and urged

him to turn back. He knew that if he turned for an

instant he was lost.

The prisoner’s cage loomed up ahead of him.

Someone in the crowd jostled Mark, turning him

slightly sideways so that he saw the cage and its

inmate quite clearly.

With no consciousness of making any plan, acting

on impulse, Mark raised the Sword of Stealth high in a

two-handed grip, and brought it smashing down

against the wooden door and its small lock. The

Sword’s magic did nothing to aid the blow, but its long

weight and keen edge were quite enough. The cage

had not been built to sustain any real assault. Mark

struck again and the door fell open. Amid the

pandemonium of jumping, screaming bodies and

brandished weapons, no one paid the least heed to

what he was doing. The earth still shook under the

tread of the bellowing, dancing gods.

He sheathed his weapon and reached in with both

hands to grasp the helpless prisoner. The body he

drew forth was that of a young woman, naked, bound

with both cords and magic. The cords fell free quickly,

at a touch of Sightblinder’s perfect edge. But the

magic was more durable.

One arm about the prisoner, half carrying and half

pulling her through the frenzied crowd, Mark headed

straight away from the reviewing stand, still not daring

to look back. Whatever the people around saw when

they looked at him now, it made them draw back even

in their frenzy, leaving his way clear.

There seemed no end to the parade ground, or to

Vilkata’s maddened army. With each retreating step

the pressure of the Mindsword eased, but only

infinitesimally. Steps added up, though. Now Mark

could begin to think again, enough to begin to plan.

There, ahead, a little distance in the crowd, were two

mounted men who looked like minor magi

cians of some kind. Mark set his course for them,

dragging the still stupefied young woman along.

The magicians, looking half stupefied themselves

with their participation in the Mindsword’s glamor,

paid no attention as Mark approached. These two,

Mark hoped, did not rate guardian demons. He

desperately needed transportation.

Sightblinder obtained it for him, quickly and bloodily,

working with no more magic than a meataxe. Again,

in the general surrounding madness, no one appeared

to notice what was happening.

Mark wrapped the girl in a cloak of black and gold

that one of the magicians had been wearing, and got

her aboard one of the riding beasts, and got himself

aboard the other. Once in the saddle, he could only sit

swaying for a moment, afraid that he was going to

faint, watching his own blood drip on his hands that

held the reins.

Somehow he got moving, leading the girl’s mount.

No one tried to interfere with them as they fled the

camp. No one, as far as Mark could tell, even took


The booming of the wardrum and the roaring of the

gods followed them for a long time, pursuing them for

kilometers of their flight across high barren lands.


A kilometer or two upstream from Tashigang,

before the Corgo split itself around the several islands

that made parts of the city, the current was slow

enough that Denis the Quick could make fairly good

time paddling his light canoe against it. Here it was

possible to seek out places in the broader stream

where the surface current was slower still, with local

eddies to make the paddler’s task less difficult. This

made it easy for Denis to stay clear of the other river

traffic, which in early morning was mostly barges of

foodstuffs and other commerce coming downstream.

There were also some small fishing craft out on the

river, and one or two light sailboats that appeared to

be out purely for pleasure. Here above the city there

were no ships of ocean-going size, such as plied the

reaches downstream from Tashigang to the sea.

Two kilometers upstream from the walls, Denis

reached the first sharp upstream bend of the Corgo

and looked back again, ceasing to paddle as he

sought a last glimpse of the high towers. Visible above

the morning mist that still rose from the river, the lofty

walls and battlements caught rays of the early

morning sun. Here and there upon the venerable

masses of brown or gray stone, glass or bright metal

sparkled, in windows, ornaments, or the weapons of

the Watch. On several high places the green and gray

of the city’s own colors were displayed. Upon the

highest pole, over the Lord Mayor’s palace, a single

pennant of black and silver acknowledged the ultimate

sovereignty of Yambu.

As he paddled farther upstream, Denis’s canoe

passed between shores lined with the villas of those

wealthy citizens who felt secure enough about the

prospects of long-term peace to choose to live outside

the city walls. These were impressive houses, each

fortified behind its own minor defenses, capable of

holding off an occasional brigands’ raid.

Independent villas soon gave way to suburbs of

somewhat less impressive houses, built together

behind modest walls; and these in turn to farms and

vineyards. These lands like Tashigang itself were

tributary to the Silver Queen, though enjoying a great

measure of independence. Yambu in her years of

domination had maintained general peace and order

here, and had wisely been content to levy no more

than moderate tribute and to allow the people to

manage their own affairs for the most part. Tribute

flowed in regularly under such a regime, and the

Queen built a fund of goodwill for herself. Meanwhile

she had been busy venting her aggressive energies


Pausing once to eat and reat, Denis made an

uneventful first day’s journey up the river. By evening

he was far enough from the city’s center of

population to have no trouble in locating a small island

that offered him a good spot to camp. He even

succeeded in catching a suitable fish for his dinner,

and was rather pleased with this success in outdoor


On the second day he got an early start again. He

had a worker’s calloused hands and did not mind

the constant paddling overmuch; the healed wound in

his forearm did not trouble him at all. This day he kept

a careful eye out for certain landmarks, as Ben had

instructed him. Around noon he was able to identify

without any trouble the tributary stream he wanted, a

small river that entered the Corgo on a winding course

from the northeast. This smaller river,. here called the

Spode, drained a portion of the Great Swamp-it did

not, unfortunately, lead directly to the part where Sir

Andrew and his army were likely to be found. To

reach that, Denis would have to make a portage later.

The voyager passed three or four more days in

similarly pleasant journeying. Each day he saw fewer

people; and those he did see usually greeted the

acolyte of Ardneh with friendly waves. Some offered

him food, some of which he graciously accepted.

Denis spent much of his mental time in wondering

about his hidden cargo. He knew something now at

first hand about the Sword of Mercy. But what

exactly did the Sword of Justice do? Denis had not

wanted to ask, lest they believe he was pondering

some scheme of running off with it. (The treacherous

thought had crossed his mind, in the guise of yet

another delicious daydream. So far-so far-his other,

fiercer feelings had kept him from being really

tempted by it.)

And Ben had not thought it necessary to discuss the

qualities of the Sword of Justice with Denis at any

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