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
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