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
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
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-
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-
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
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?”
“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.