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

young woman’s hands from the reins, and to get her

down from the saddle. Still half-supported by

Mark’s arm, she stood beside the animal waiting

for whatever might happen to her next. Her lips

were cracked, hideously dry. Mark had to lead her

to the stream, and get her to kneel beside it. Still

she did not appear to realize what was in front of

her. Only after he had given her the first drink from

his own cupped hands did she rouse from her trance

enough to bend to the water for herself.

“I can stand,” she announced suddenly, in a dis-

used croak of a voice. And stand she did, unaided, a

little taller than before. A moment later, her eyes

for the first time fastened on Mark with full atten-


In the next instant he was startled to see joyous

recognition surge up in her face. In a much clearer

voice, she murmured, “Rostov . . . how did you ever

manage . . . ?”

The instant after that, she fell unconscious in

Mark’s arms.

He caught her as well as he could, and stretched

her out on the grass. Then he sat down, and, holding

his own head, tried to think through his pain.

Rostov was a Tasavaltan name, borne by the famed

general, and, Mark supposed, by many others as

well. He was still wearing Sightblinder, and the

young woman had seen him as someone she knew

and trusted.

Mark lay down and tried to rest, but his wound

made that practically impossible. Presently he

decided that they might as well go on, if he could

get his companion back into the saddle. She roused

herself when he tugged at her, and with his help she

got mounted again. Though she appeared now to be

asleep, with closed eyes, she sat steadily astride the

riding beast, wrapped in the cloak of gold and

black. That hateful cloak might be a help, thought

Mark, if any of the enemy should see her from a dis-

tance. He himself was still protected by Sight-

blinder, but his companion would not be.

Still his wound throbbed mercilessly. He was

sure now that the Mindsword must have had some

poisonous effect, but unless he could find help

somewhere there was nothing he could do about it.

He rode on, side by side with his companion, Mark

now and then rousing himself enough to realize

that neither of them was more than half conscious.

Grimly he concentrated-whenever he was able to

concentrate-on maintaining a generally uphill

direction; that ought to at least prevent them from

riding in a circle right back to Vilkata and his cap-

tive gods.

They stopped again only when full night came,

and Mark could no longer see where they were

going. There was no food. Mark had lost his bow

somewhere, after his last arrows were lost, and any-

way he was in no condition to try to hunt. His limbs

felt weak and he was shaking with chill. When the

young woman had dismounted again and stood

beside him, he took the cloak off her and clothed her

in his own long hunter’s shirt; he could feel her

body shivering too, with the night’s approaching

cold. Then he lay down with her and huddled

against her, wrapping the cloak around them both.

He was too sick to think of wanting anything more

from her than warmth. Feverishly he kept thinking

that he ought to get up and do something to tend

the animals, but he could not.

In pain and blood, Mark did not so much fall

asleep as lapse into unconsciousness. He woke up,

half delirious, in the middle of the night. Someone’s

hand had shaken him awake.

The young woman, still wearing his shirt, was sit-

ting upright beside him. There was firelight, some-

how, on her face, and under the dirt he could see a

new look of alert intelligence.

“You are not Rostov. Where did he go?”

She had to repeat the question several times

before Mark was able to grasp the sense of it. Yes, of

course, she had seen him as someone else, when he

had been wearing the Sword. When he had been-

His hand groped at his side, to find that she had

disarmed him. Weakly he managed to raise his

head a little. There was Sightblinder, lying just out

of his reach. He could see it by the light of the small

fire that his companion had somehow managed to


“I took it away from you, you were raving and

thrashing about. Where is Rostov? Who are you?”

Mark had great difficulty in trying to talk. It

crossed his mind that he was probably dying. He

could only gesture toward the Sword.

She said, puzzled, “You killed him with-? But

no, you can’t mean that.”

“No. No.” He had to rest a little, to gather his

strength before he spoke again. Even so the words

wouldn’t come out clearly. “. . . was never here.”

The young woman stared at him. Her face was

still haggard and worn and filthy, but inner ener-

gies were making a powerful effort to revive it.

Now, as if struck by a sudden idea, she turned away

to where the Sword lay, and crouched looking at it

carefully. Then she extended one hand, with the

practiced gesture of a sorceress, to touch the hilt.

She froze there in that position, one finger touch-

ing black.

The grimy girl was gone, and in her place Mark

saw his mother, Mala, aged a decade since he had

seen her last, her dark lustrous hair now broadly

streaked with gray. It was Mala who knelt near the

little campfire holding one finger against Sight-

blinder’s hilt, wearing not Mark’s hunting shirt but

her own peasant’s trousers and a patterned blouse

that her son could still recognize.

Then the figure of Mark’s mother blurred and

shifted, became that of his sister Marian. Marian

was a woman of nearly thirty now, also altered by

the years that had passed since Mark had seen her

last, on the day that he fled their village.

Marian turned her face to look directly at him,

and now in her place Mark beheld a plump girl of

the Red Temple, a girl he had encountered once,

casually embraced, and then, somehow, never

afterward forgotten. The Red Temple girl turned

her body more fully toward Mark, letting go the


It was the young woman he had rescued from

Vilkata’s camp, her hair matted, her lean body clad

in his dirty, tattered hunting shirt, who approached

Mark and bent over him again. Above her head,

above the firelight, massed clouds of stars made a

great arc.

She drew a deep breath. “I should have realized

which Sword that was. Though I have never seen

one of them before . . . but now I am fully awake, I

hope. I begin to understand. My name is Kristin.

Who are you?”


“Well, Mark.” She touched his wounded head, so

gently that it barely added to the pain. When he

winced she quickly withdrew her hand again. “Was

it you who came into-that place-with Sight-

blinder, and got me out?”

He managed a nod.

“And did you come alone? Yes, you nod again.

Why? But never mind that now. I will never forget

what you have done for me. You saved my life, and

more . . . have we any water?”

Then she was quick to answer her own question,

looking and finding Mark’s water bottle. She gave

him a drink, first, then took a mouthful for herself.

“Ah,” she said, and relaxed.

But only for a moment. “Are you expecting to

meet help, here, anywhere nearby? . . . No.” Again

she stretched forth a gentle hand, that this time

touched him painlessly and soothed his face.

“Whom do you serve?”

“Sir Andrew.”

“Ah. A good man, from all I’ve ever heard about

him. We in Tasavalta honor him, though we don’t

know . . . but never mind. I must try to do some-

thing for that cut on your forehead.”

Kristin closed her eyes, and muttered spells, and

Mark could feel a shivery tugging at the wound, a

quasimaterial endeavor to pull out the knife of

pain. But then the knife came back, twisting more

fiercely than before, and he cried out.

“At least the bleeding has stopped,” Kristin mut-

tered, with heartlessly reassuring calm. “But

there’s more wrong. I can do little for you here.”

She glanced up for a moment at the stars, evidently

trying to judge her position or the time or both.

“Have we any food?”


She began to move around, looking for some-

thing. She was inspecting some of the nearby plants

when Mark lost consciousness again.

When he awoke again it was still night. He was

shivering violently, though he alone was now

wrapped twice round in the cloak of black and gold.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred