moment to moment all those things seemed to change,
with only the essence of her sex remaining constant.
Now she was standing at the rail of her craft. The
barge continued to drift minutely in toward shore,
ignoring the current even though the oars were raised
“Be quick, young man, be quick.” There was a hint
of impatience in her voice.
Denis, groping almost sightlessly for his treasure to
hand it over, felt his hand fall first upon Woundhealer.
Somehow he could identify the Sword from its first
touch. Humbly he brought it out, sheathed as it was,
and with a kind of genuflection handed it over, hilt-
first, to the goddess. She accepted it, with a sprightly
one-handed gesture that showed how strong her
smooth young-looking arm could be.
She held the Sword of Mercy sheathed, and said:
“The other one now. And then I believe thatperhaps-
you will have earned a kiss.”
He fumbled in the bottom of the canoe again, and
brought out Doomgiver.
This Sword he held with one hand supporting its
sheathed blade, and the other holding the hilt, and
through the hilt he felt a flow of strange and unfa
miliar power. It gave him a sense of steady certitude.
The sheath seemed to fall free of itself, the Sword
Denis straightened up, intending to present this
Sword as well to the goddess. But when his eyes fell
on her he was shocked to see that she was changed.
Or was the change in him-and not in her?
Aphrodite let fall her arm that had been extended to
receive the second Sword. She stepped back, her
other hand still holding the sheathed Sword of Mercy.
Again Denis pondered: What does she really look
like? But still the moonlight (he thought it was the
moonlight) made it quite impossible to tell.
Certainly more lovely than any mortal woman could
ever be. Yet now, since he had drawn the second
Sword, he thought she was in some way inferior to
even the least of human mortals. In some way she
He realized that he did not want her now.
Power was still flowing from the Swordhilt into his
hand. In sudden curiosity he looked at what his
fingers gripped. He saw in moonlight, without
understanding, the simple hollow white circle that
marked the black.
Wonder of wonders, the goddess appeared to be
fighting some inner struggle with herself.
“Give me-“she began to say, in a voice that still
fought to be commanding. But after those first two
words her voice faltered and her speech broke off.
She sagged back from the railing of her barge
(Denis was shocked to see how graceless the
movement was), and stopped half-kneeling on her
silken pillows once more. The cloud of her moonlit
hair concealed her face.
“No,” she contradicted herself, speaking now in
yet another voice, much softer. “No, do not give it
to me now. I am a goddess, and I could take it from
you. But I will not.”
Denis’s arm that held the Sword of Justice fal-
tered, and the blade sank down slowly at his side. It
hung in his hand like a dead weight, though still its
power flowed. He felt an overwhelming-pity-for
the goddess, mixed with a slight disgust.
“Do not give it to me,” repeated Aphrodite, in her
soft and newly thoughtful voice. “That would cause
harm to you.” After a pause she went on, marveling
to herself. “So, this is love. I have always wondered,
and never known what it was like. I see it can be ter-
She raised her head until her wide-spaced eyes
were visible under the cloud of moonlit hair. “I see
. . . that your name is Denis, my beloved. And you
have known a score of women before now, and
dreamed of a thousand more. Yet you have never
really known any of them. Nor will you, can you,
ever really know a goddess, I suppose.” And Aphro-
dite gave a sigh, her bosom heaving.
Denis could only stand there uncomfortably. He
felt more pity for this lovely woman than he could
bear, and he wished that she would go away. At the
same time he wanted to let go of the Sword in his
right hand; he wanted to throw it in the river. It
seemed to him that his life had been much more
intense and glorious just a few moments ago, before
he had drawn Doomgiver. But the Sword would not
let him throw it away just now, any more than it
would allow the goddess to take it from him.
“I love you, Denis,” the goddess Aphrodite said.
He made an incoherent noise of embarrassment,
low down in his throat. As speech, he thought, it
was inadequate, clumsy, mundane, and mean, like
everything else he did. He did not love her, or even
want her. He could not, and he wished that she
She said to him softly, “And the blade that you
hold there, my love, is truly called Doomgiver, for I
see now that it truly giveth me my doom.”
“No!” Denis protested, feeling so sorry for her
already, not knowing just what it was he feared.
“Ah yes. I, who have for ages amused myself with
the love of men, must now feel what they have felt.
And, as I love you now, I cannot take Doomgiver
from you. To rob you of the Sword of Justice now,
my little mortal darling, would do you much harm.
As a goddess I can foresee that. But Wound-
healer-it will be better if I take that with me
Denis wanted to tell her that he was sorry. The
words stuck in his throat.
“How sweet it would be if you could tell me
that you loved me too. But do not lie.” And here
the goddess extended her arm that still held the
Sword of Love, across the narrow strip of water
that still separated her from the island, and with
the sheathed tip of Woundhealer touched Denis
over his heart. “I could . . . but I will not. My full
embrace would not be good for you-not now, not
yet. Someday, perhaps. I love you, Denis, and for
your sake I must now say farewell.”
And the goddess leaned forward suddenly, and
kissed him on the cheek.
“No . . . no.” He stumbled forward, into mud.
Was it only pity that he felt now?
But the marvelous barge was already shimmer-
ing away into the moonlight.
The two riding beasts must have been well rested
when Mark seized them, for they bore their riders
willingly and swiftly on the first long stage of the
flight from Vilkata’s encampment. The young
woman stayed in her saddle firmly, like an experi-
enced rider, but instinctively, passively, and with
no apparent understanding of what was happening
to her now. Her blue-green eyes stared steadily out
at horror, some horror that was no longer visible to
Mark. Her body was thin, almost emaciated. Her
face was pale under its mask of grime; her hair, col-
orless with filth, hung long and matted over the
captured cloak that she clutched about her with
one hand. Since Mark had pulled her from the cage
she had not spoken a single word.
The two of them rode for a long time, side by side,
over roadless and gradually rising ground, before
Mark stopped the animals for a rest. He had at last
been able to convince himself that there was no
pursuit. Phantom echoes of Vilkata’s demonic cele-
bration had persisted in his exhausted mind and
senses long after the real sounds had faded.
He was living now with ceaseless pain, and with
the taste and sight and smell of his own blood, for
the oozing from his forehead wound would not
diminish. And Mark could not shake the feeling that
there was something wrong now with his own
blood, with the way it smelled and tasted, as if the
Mindsword had left a shard of poisoned sunlight
embedded in his brain.
Mark dismounted the first time he stopped the
animals. He spoke gently to the young woman, but
she only continued to sit her mount in silence, star-
ing straight ahead, not responding to him at all. He
decided not to press the matter of communication,
as long as she remained docile. The all-important
thing was to get farther from Vilkata.
Presently they were under way again. Now their
course, aimed directly away from Vilkata’s- camp,
took them into a range of low hills. Now the
encampment, which had still been intermittently
visible in the distance, dropped permanently from
sight. Here in the hills the land still showed devas-
tation wrought by the. Dark King’s foragers. Soon
the fugitives came to a stream, and a thicket that
offered shelter of a kind. Mark stopped again.
This time he employed gentle force to pry the