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
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
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
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
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
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