length. The master of the House of Courtenay had
said only one thing on the subject.
“Denis, if it does come down to your having to fight
someone on the way, I’d recommend you get
Doomgiver out and use it, if you have the chance.
Don’t try to fight with Woundhealer, though. Not if
your idea is to carve up someone instead of making
him feel good.”
But so far there had not been the remotest danger
of a fight. So far the journey’s only physical
excitement had been provided by occasional
thunderstorms, threatening the traveler with lightning
and drenching white robes that had not been
On Denis’s fifth day out he passed through calm
farm country, in lovely weather. That night he again
made camp on a small island.
And dreamed, as he often did, of women. Kuanyin,
the governess he had embraced in real life, and
thought of marrying, beckoned to him. And tonight he
dreamed also of the mistress of the House of
Courtenay, who in real life had never touched him
except to bind his wounded arm. Denis dreamed that
she who he had known as the Lady Sophie had come
to visit him in his room beside the workshop. She sat
on his cot there and smiled, and held his hand, and
thanked him for something he had done, or was
perhaps about to do. Her white robe was in disarray,
hanging open, but incredibly she seemed not to notice.
The dream was just approaching its moment of
greatest tension, when Denis awoke. He lay in warm
moonlight, with the sense that the world to
which he had awakened was only a perfected dream.
There was a scent in the air–0f riverside flowers?-
incredibly sweet and beautiful, too subtle to be called
And there was in the air also-something else. A
fearless excitement. Denis’s blood throbbed with
oneiric anticipation, of he knew not what. Yet he
knew that he was wide awake.
He looked along the river, his gaze caught by the
path of reflected moonlight. He saw a shadow, as of
some drifting boat, enter upon that path. It was some
kind of craft-a barge, he thought-speckled with its
own small lights, and moving in perfect silence.
Almost perfect. A moment more, and Denis could
hear the gentle splash and drip of oars.
As the barge drew closer, he could see that it was
larger than he had thought at first, so large that he
wondered how it managed to navigate the narrower
places in this small river. The lights along its low sides
were softly glowing amber lamps, as steady as the
Old World light that Denis was familiar with, but
Denis was on his feet now. He still had no doubts
that he was awake, and he was conscious of
beingmore or less-his ordinary self. Whatever was
happening to him now was real, but he had no sense
of danger, only of thrilling promise. He moved a step
closer to the bank, the water murmuring like lovers’
laughter at his feet. He stood there leaning on the
upended bottom of the canoe that he had prudently
pulled out of the river before retiring.
As the barge drew closer still, Denis could see that
it bore amidships a small house or pavilion, covered by
an awning of some fine cloth. Just forward of this
there was a throne-like chair or lounge,
all centered between two rows of strangely silent and
briefly costumed young women rowers.
A woman was reclining upon the lounge, in the
middle of. a mass of pillows. With only the Moon
behind her, and the dim lamps on her boat, Denis
could see her at first only by hints and outlines. At
first his heated imagination assured him that she was
wearing nothing at all. But presently his eyes were
forced to admit the fact of a garment, more
shimmering mist and starlight, it seemed, than any kind
of cloth. Most of the woman’s body was enclosed by
this veil, though scarcely any of it was concealed.
Denis’s heart lurched within him, and he
understood. A name sprang into his mind, and he
might have spoken it aloud, but just at that moment he
lacked the breath to say anything at all. He had never
seen a god or goddess in his life before, and had
never really expected to see one before he died.
In response to some command unseen and unheard
by Denis, the inhumanly silent rowers stopped, in
unison. He was vaguely aware, even without looking
directly at them for a moment, of how comely they all
were, and how provocatively dressed. With the
Goddess of Love herself before his eyes, he could not
have looked at any of them if he had tried.
The barge, under a control that had to be more than
natural, came drifting very slowly and precisely
toward Denis on the island. From inside the cabin-he
thought-there came a strain of music, lovely as the
perfume, to waft across the small width of water that
remained. Every note was framed in perfect silence
now that the silvery trickle from the oars had stopped.
With an undulating movement Aphrodite rose
from her couch, to stand in a pose of unstrained
“Young man?” she called to Denis softly. The
voice of the goddess was everything that her
appearance had suggested it might be. “I must
speak with you.”
Denis started toward her and stumbled. He dis-
covered that it was necessary to make his way
around some large and unfamiliar object-oh yes,
it was his canoe-that somehow happened to be
right in his path.
“Lady,” he choked out, “I am yours to com-
mand. What would you have of me?” At this point
he became aware that he had just fallen on his
knees with a loud squelching sound, right in the riv-
erside mud. This would not have mattered in the
least, except that it might tend to make the goddess
think that he was clumsy; and when he got up, she
was sure to see how muddy his white robes had got,
and he feared that she might laugh.
So far, thank all the gods and goddesses, she was
not laughing at him.
“Young man,” said Aphrodite, “I know that you
are carrying two Swords with you. I understand
that one of them is the one that heals. And the other
. . . well, I forget at the moment what they told me
about the other. But that doesn’t matter just now. I
want you to hand both of them over to me at once. If
you are quick enough about it I will perhaps allow
you to kiss me.” The goddess paused for just a
moment, and gave Denis a tiny smile. “Who knows
what I might allow, on such a romantic night as
“Kiss me,” Denis echoed vacantly. Then, giving a
mad bound, he was up out of the mud and on his
feet, stumbling and splashing about. He had to find
the two Swords she was talking about-where were
they, anyway?-and give them to her. What else
was he going to do with them, anyway?
They were in the canoe . . . where was the canoe?
He tripped over it and almost tumbled himself
back into the mud before he really saw it. Then he
broke a fingernail getting the craft turned rightside
Aphrodite encouraged him in a friendly way.
“That’s it. They’re hidden right in the bottom of
your little boat or whatever it is there-but then I
suppose you know that.” The goddess sounded
mildly impatient with his clumsiness-how could
she not be? But she did not yet sound angry; Denis
silently offered thanks.
He thought he was going to lose another finger-
nail getting the trick board pried up. Then he real-
ized that he would do a lot better prying with a
Aphrodite slowly approached the near side rail of
her luxurious barge. Gracefully she knelt there
upon a small mound of silken cushions, between
two of her inhumanly beautiful rowers. They paid
her no attention.
“Be quick, young man! I need what you are going
to give me.” The goddess beckoned with one hand,
and her voice, melded with her laughter, stretched
out in silken double meaning. Her laughter, Denis
desperately assured himself, was not really meant
to be unkind. Yet still it somehow wounded him.
He pried with his knife, and the small nails hold-
ing the board came squeaking out. The hidden com-
partment lay open, its contents exposed to moonlight.
Aphrodite, to get a better look, gave a pert little
kneeling jump, a movement of impossible grace that
made the softer portions of her body bounce. What
color was her hair? Denis asked himself desperately.
And what about her skin? In the moonlight he could
not tell, and anyway it did not matter in the least. And
was she really tall or short, voluptuous or thin? From