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

His head was supported gently in the warmth of

Kristin’s lap, and. her warm magical fingers were

trying to soothe his head.

But he hardly noticed any of that. Something

that seemed more momentous was happening also.

The tall circle of the gods had formed around them

both. Once before, when he was a boy in danger of

freezing to death in the high Ludus Mountains, he

had seen the gods, or dreamt them, surrounding

him in such a way. He tried now to call Kristin’s

attention to the ring of observing deities, but she

was busy with her own efforts, her own spells. She

raised her head once to look, and murmured some

agreement, and then went back to trying to soothe

and,heal him.

He could tell she was not really aware of the sur-

rounding presences. But he knew that they were

there. And, just as on that other night when he had

seen them in a ring about his lonely fire, they were

arguing about him. Tonight what they were saying

was even less clear than it had been then, nor were

the faces of the gods as clearly visible tonight.

Eventually the vision passed.

Kristin’s voice had a different tone now, mur-

muring real words, not incantations. It sounded as

if she were angry with him. “I am not going to let

you die, do you hear me? I will not let you die.” She

raised her head. “This much I can do against you,

Dark One, for what you did to me. Damn you, I will

not let you have this man!”

And back to Mark: “You saved my life . . . saved

more than that . . . and I am not going to surrender

yours to them. Poisoned wound or not, you’ll live. I

promise you.

The night passed for him in periods of uncon-

sciousness, in visions and intervals of lucidity, in a

struggle to breathe that at last he seemed to have


In the morning they moved on. There was no

water where they had spent the night, and they

were still uncomfortably close to Vilkata’s army.

Mow it was Mark who needed help to get aboard his

riding beast, and Kristin who led his animal as they

traveled, and she who chose the route, and some-

times kept him from falling out of the saddle in his

weakness. He endured the day. He chewed on roots

and berries when she put them into his mouth.

Again he experienced difficulty in breathing. But he

stayed alive, supported by his own grim will and

Kristin’s magic.

Another night passed, much like the one before,

and another day of traveling much like the last.

After that day Mark lost count. His whole life had

vanished into this hideous trek, it seemed, and

often now he no longer cared whether he lived or


At night, every night, his fever rose, and some-

times the gods regathered round Kristin’s magical

little fire to taunt him and to argue among them-

selves. Each dawn Mark awoke to see them gone,

and Kristin slumped beside him in an exhausted


A night came when his chills were more violent

than ever. Kristin bundled herself with him inside

the cloak. She slept, he thought, while the usual

parade of deities walked through his fevered mind.

He awoke again at dawn, his mind feeling clearer,

and told himself he had survived another night.

And then he got a sharp shock, jolting his mind

into greater clarity. This morning not all the deities

were gone. A woman, statuesque, magnificent, as

real as any woman he had ever seen, stood across

the ashes of the fire, holding in her strong right arm

a Sword.

The goddess was looking down at Kristin, who

was asleep sitting beside Mark, the hunting shirt

half open at her breast.

“I am Aphrodite,” the goddess said to Mark. “I

was called; I had to come to you, and now I see I

must do something. How sweet, the mortal child, to

give you everything. She is restoring your life to

you, and giving you her entire life as well in the

process, and I hope you appreciate it. But men

never do, I suppose.”

Mark said, “I understand.”


“Do you? No, you don’t. You really don’t. But

perhaps one day you will.”

And the goddess approached the two of them

with long unhurried steps, meanwhile raising the

Sword in her right hand. Mark, alarmed, sat bolt

upright. Before he could do more, the Sword in

Aphrodite’s hand was thrusting straight for Kris-

tin’s sleeping back.

The Sword in its swift passage made a sound like

a gasp of human breath. Mark saw the wide, bright

steel vanish into Kristin’s back and emerge quite

bloodlessly between her breasts, to plunge straight

on into his own heart as he sat beside her. He cried

out once, with a pang more intense than that of any

wound that he had ever felt, and then he fell back


But then he realized that he was only dreaming

he was dead.

Actually, he thought now, he was waking up.

He was lying on his back, that much was real and

certain. And the endless pain in his head was gone

at last. It was too much trouble, his eyelids were

much too heavy, to try to open his eyes to discover if

he was asleep or dead.

With a sigh of contentment, knowing the inex-

pressible comfort of pain’s cessation, he shifted his

position slightly, and quickly fell into a natural


When Mark awoke again, he thought that day-

light was fading. Had it really been dawn before,

when the goddess and her Sword appeared? That

might have been a dream. But this, Kristin and

himself, was real. The hunting shirt was cast aside

now, but she was here, inside the cloak that

enfolded both of them.

It was as if her blood flowed now in his veins, giv-

ing healing, and his blood crossed into her body too,

giving and receiving life.

Into her body. His own life flowing ….

It was morning again when he awoke, gently but

at last completely, at first accepting without won-

der the pressure of the warm smooth body beside

his own. Then he began to remember things, and

wonder rapidly unfolded.

In an instant he was sitting upright, raising both

hands to his head. He was still caked with old, dried

blood and dirtier even than he remembered, and he

felt thirsty and ravenously hungry, but the pain and

fever were entirely gone. Kristin, as grimy and

worn-looking as he felt, but alive and safe and

warm, was snuggled naked beside him in an

exhausted sleep.

The sun was about an hour high. Nearby were the

ashes of a long-dead fire. They were camped in a

grove, with running water murmuring somewhere

just out of sight. Mark could not recognize the place

at all or remember their arriving at it.

A little distance away stood the two riding beasts,

looking lean and hard-used, but at the moment con-

tentedly munching grass. Someone had taken off

their saddles and tethered them for grazing.

Mark stood up, the cape of black and gold that

had been his only cover falling back. Again he

raised a hand to his forehead. He dared to probe

more firmly with a finger. There was no longer any

trace of a wound, except for the dried blood.

Kristin stirred at his feet, and he looked down

and saw that his movement had awakened her; her

eyes were open, marveling at him.

“You have been healed,” she said. It was as if she

had been half-expecting such an outcome, but still

it surprised and almost frightened her.

“Yes.” He was almost frightened himself, at his

own suddenly restored well-being. He was almost

reluctant to move, afraid to break the healing spell.

“You did it for me.”

“Mark.” It was as if she were trying out the

name, speaking it for the first time. Then she asked

a question that to Mark, at the moment, did not

seem in the least incongruous: “Do you love me?”

“Yes.” He gave his reply at once, gravely certain

without having to think about it. But then he seri-

ously considered the question and his answer. He

knelt beside Kristin, and looked at her and touched

her with awe, as if she herself were the great, true

question that required his best reply.

“Yes,” he repeated. “I love you more, I think,

than my own life-if this that has happened to us

comes from some enchantment, still it is so.”

“I love you more than life,” she said, and took his

hand and kissed it, then held it to her breast. “I



She shook her head, as if dismissing something, and

then sat up beside him. “I feared that my enchantment

would not save you-though it was the best that I could

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred