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

do. I thought we were both lost.”

They stared at each other. Mark broke the short

silence. “I dreamed that Aphrodite was here with us.

Kristin for some reason thought it necessary to

consider this statement very solemnly. It struck Mark

that they were gazing at each other like two children,

just beginning to discover things about the world, and

both gravely shocked at what they learned. He had

thought he knew something of the world before now,

but evidently there was still much he did not know.

Then what Kristin was saying seized his full

attention. “I dreamed, too, that she was here. And

that she was about to kill both of us, with one of the


Mark stared at her. Then he jumped up out of the

nest again, naked in the morning’s chill, and went

scrambling about to find Sightblinder. The Sword lay

nearby, in plain view. In a moment he had it in his


And froze, staring at the hilt. The little white symbol

was not an eye. It was an open human hand.

Kristin was beside him, leaning on his shoulder-in a

certain way it was as trusting and intimate a contact

as any that had gone before. She whispered: “That’s

Woundhealer, isn’t it?”


“She’s left it with us.”

“And taken Sightblinder in exchange.” They stared

at each other in wonder, in something like panic. He

began a frantic search of the nearby area, but the

Sword of Stealth was gone. It was an alarming

thought that Woundhealer was going to be useless if

Vilkata’s troops encountered them.

Kristin was already pulling Mark’s deteriorated shirt

on over her head. The garment was dirtier than she

was, and beginning to show holes. “We’ve got to get

moving. All thanks to Aphrodite, but she’s taken our

protection with her.”

All the dressing and packing they could do took only

moments. And moments after that they had got the

animals ready and were on their way.

Kristin indicated a course. “Tasavalta lies in this

direction. We’ll keep our eyes open as we go, and find

some fruit. I’ve been able to gather enough food here

and there to keep us going so far.”

The country around them and its vegetation were

changing as they progressed. The season was

advancing too, more wild fruits coming into ripeness.

Kristin appeared expert on the subject of what parts

of what plants could be eaten; she had more lore in

that subject than Mark did, particularly here close to

her homeland. He commented on the fact, while

marveling silently to himself that it had taken him so

long to realize how beautiful she was.

“I have been trained in the white magic. Sorcery

and enchantment were to have been my life.”

“Were to have been?”

“I have made a different disposition of my life now.”

And suddenly she rode close beside him, very

close, and leaned sideways in her saddle to kiss him


He said, “You were a virgin, before last night-

yes, you were to have been consecrated to the white

magic, weren’t you? Or to Ardneh.”

Her expression told him that was so.

“I begin to understand. You have given me what

was to have gone to Ardneh.” Comprehension grew

in him slowly. “That was why, how, Aphrodite

came to heal me. You summoned her.”

“Goddesses go where they will. I could only try.

What else could I do? I discovered that I loved


Mark put his arm around her as they rode side by

side. The embrace at first was only tender. But soon

tenderness grew violent in its own way. They

stopped the animals beside a thicket and dis-


When, after some little time, they were riding on

again, solemnity had given way to silliness; again

and again they had to reprove themselves for not

watching what they were about, warn themselves

to stay alert. Love had granted a feeling of invulner-


At about midday they came to a decent stream.

By now they had got pretty well beyond the worst

damage done by Vilkata’s foragers, though the

countryside was still deserted, the visible houses

abandoned as far as could be seen in passing.

The stream, of clean, swift water, was a marvel,

and washing at this stage almost as great a relief as

being able to drink their fill. Kristin’s hair emerged

from the worst of its covering of grime to reveal

itself as naturally fair. Whatever color had

appeared would have been, in Mark’s eyes, the only

perfect one.

Bathing together soon led to other activities, self-

limiting in duration; there was presently a pause

for more varied conversation.

Mark asked her, “How did you come to be a pris-

oner there?”

Kristin’s blue-green eyes looked off into the dis-

tance. “A group of us were traveling, through

country we thought was reasonably safe.” She

shrugged. “We were attacked by a patrol of the

Dark King’s army. What happened to the others in

our party I do not know; I suppose they were all

killed. The enemy had a magician with them. We

had a contest, naturally, and he proved too strong

for me. Except that I was able to-to hide myself, in

a fashion. I knew little of what was happening to

me, and my captors were able to tell little about

me. They brought me back to their main encamp-

ment. What would have happened to me next-”

Mark put out a hand. “It won’t happen now.

You’re safe.”

“Thanks to you. But how did you come to be


He explained his mission in broad terms, first as

a diplomatic messenger for Sir Andrew, then on his

own after his strange encounter with Draffut. That

was a well-nigh incredible tale, he realized, but

Kristin watched him closely as he spoke and he

thought that she believed him. If she had ever heard

of Mark, the despoiler of the Blue Temple, she did

not appear to connect that person with the man

before her. He sometimes thought, hearing his own

name in. the song of some passing stranger, that he

was famous. But actually the name was common

enough. And fortunately for his chances of avoiding

the Blue Temple assassins, his face was not famous

at all.

Before they left the stream, he tried to study his

own face in the quietest available pool. “How do I

look?” His fingers searched his forehead.

“There’s a scar. No more than that. A simple

scar, you’ll still be handsome.” She kissed it for


He sat back. “So, as you see, I was on my way to

Tasavalta anyway. As a courier.”

“How convenient.” She kissed him again.

“Yes. What is the Princess like?”

“A few years, older than I am.” Kristin paused. “I

can hardly claim to know her.”

“I suppose not. We’d better get moving.”

They were dressed, in washed garments, and

packed and back on their animals heading east,

before Mark resumed the conversation. “I don’t

know Tasavaltan customs at all well. Should I be

asking you who your parents are? I mean, what is

the customary way of taking a wife in your land?

Who else must I talk to about it, if anyone?”

“My parents are both dead.”


“It was long ago. Yes, there will be people we

have to see. Old Karel first, I suppose. He’s my

uncle, and also my teacher in magic. A rather well-

known wizard. You may have heard of him?”

“No. But I’ve known other magicians, they don’t

frighten me especially. We’ll see your Uncle Karel

. . . by the way, will you marry me?”

Kristin appeared vaguely disappointed. “You

know I will. But I am glad you thought to ask.”

“Ah yes.” And again there was an interval in

which no thoughtful planning could be accom-


The interval over, Mark said, “I gather you’re not

exactly looking forward to seeing your old uncle.

He was intent on consecrating you as a sorceress, is

that it?”


He felt somewhat relieved; he could have imag-

ined worse. “Well, not all the women who are good

at magic are virgins, I can assure you of that.” He

paused. “I mean…”

They cautiously approached and entered a

deserted house, and then another, and helped them-

selves to a few items of clothing the inhabitants had

not bothered to take with them when they fled.

Mark wondered whether to leave payment, and

decided not-the arrival of Vilkata’s looters seemed

likely to occur before the return of the proper own-

ers. Feeling a shade more civilized, they rode on.

It struck Mark that Kristin was resisting making

plans for their own future. She loved him, they were

going to marry, that much was certain between

them. But she was reluctant to go into details at all.

A sense of mystery, of something withheld, per-

sisted. Mark put it down to exhaustion. Though

Woundhealer had restored them marvelously, still

the journey was hard and their food meagre.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred