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

her eyes, flashing with mystery and fright, looked

directly into his. “My sister. . .”

She tried to add more words to those two. But

Mark heard hardly any of them. He retreated, one

backward step after another in the direction of the

inn, until directly behind him there was an old

bench, that stood close by the white-ribboned door-

way. He sat down on the bench, in the partial shade

of an old tree, leaning his back against the inn’s

whitewashed wall. Already half a dozen more

townspeople had appeared from somewhere, to

make a little knot around Kristin and the old

woman in the courtyard, and even as Mark watched

another half dozen came running. They were

kneeling to Kristin, seizing her hands and kissing

them, calling her Princess. Someone leaped on the

back of a fresh riding beast in the courtyard and

went pounding away down the street, hooves

echoing for what seemed like a long time on distant


Mark remained sitting where he was, on the

shaded bench near the worn doorway, while people

rushed in and out ignoring him. Now and again

through the press of bodies his eyes met Kristin’s

for a moment. The Sword of Love in its sheath

weighed heavily at his side.

Among the other things that people were shout-

ing at her were explanations: how Princess Rimac

had ridden out carelessly as was her habit; how

there had been a sudden, unexpected attack by one

of the Dark King’s raiding parties; how now there

was going to be war ….

The crowd grew rapidly, and Mark’s glimpses of

Kristin became less frequent. At one point dozens of

eyes suddenly turned his way, and there was a sud-

den, comparatively minor fuss that centered about

him-she must have said something that identified

him as her rescuer. People thronged about him.

Men with an attitude between timidity and bra-

vado beat him on the back in congratulation, and

tried to press filled beer mugs into his hand.

Women asked him if he were hungry, and would not

hear anything he answered them, and brought him

cake. Girls threw their tender arms about his neck

and kissed him, more girls and young women

kissing him now in a few moments than had even

looked at him for a long time. One girl, pressed

against him by the crowd, took his hand and

crushed it against her breast. By now he had lost

sight of Kristin entirely, and if it were not for the

continuing crowd he would have thought that she

had left the courtyard.

There was the sound of many riding beasts out in

the street. Now the crowd, filling the gateway,

blocking Mark’s view of the street, had a growing

new component. Soldiers, uniformed in green and

blue. Mark supposed that the heliograph had been


Someone near him said: “General.” Mark recog-

nized Rostov at once, having heard him described

so often, though he had never seen the man before.

Round one thick arm in its blue-green sleeve,

Rostov like the other soldiers was wearing a band of

mourning white. There was one decoration on his

barrel chest-Mark had no idea of what it repre-

sented. The General was as tall as Mark, and gave

Mark the impression of being stronger, though he

was twice Mark’s age. Rostov’s -curly black hair

was heavily seasoned with gray, and his black face

marked on the right cheek by an old sword-slash. A

gray beard that looked like steel fiber raggedly

trimmed sprouted from cheeks and chin. His facial

expression, thought Mark, would have been quite

hard enough even without a steel beard.

Kristin was now coming through the crowd, and

Mark from only two yards away saw how the Gen-

eral greeted her. He did not kneel-that appeared

to be quite optional for anyone-but his eyes lit up

with relief and joy, and he bowed and kissed her

hand fervently.

She clung to his hand with both of hers. “Rostov,

they tell me that Parliament has been divided over

the succession? That they have nearly come to


“They have come very nearly to civil war, High-

ness.” The General’s voice was suitably gravelly

and deep. “But, thank the gods, all that is over now.

All factions can agree on you. It was only the

thought that you were missing, too . . . thank all the

gods you’re here.”

“I am here. And well.” And at last her eyes

turned in Mark’s direction.

Now Mark and Rostov were being introduced.

The General glowered at him, Mark thought; that

was the way of generals everywhere, he had

observed, when looking at someone of insignifi-

cance who had got in the way. Still Rostov was

quick to express his own and his army’s formal


A hundred people were speaking now, but one

soft voice at Mark’s elbow caught his full attention.

It was a woman’s, and it said: “They told me that

your name was Mark. And so I hurried here to see.”

Mark recognized his mother’s voice, before he

turned to see her face.


The scar on Denis’s arm, the last trace of the

wound that had been healed by the Sword of Mercy,

looked faint and old already. He thought that the

second touch of Woundhealer in the hand of Aphro-

dite had reached his heart, for there were times

when he had the feeling of scar tissue forming there

as well. The vision of the goddess as she had;

appeared to him at night on the river-island was

with him still. He still felt pity for her whenever he

thought of what had happened; and then, each

time, fear at what might happen to a man who

dared feel pity for divinity.

His emotions whipsawn by his encounter with

Aphrodite, Denis sometimes felt as if years had

passed in the few days since his departure from

Tashigang. In the days that followed, he went on

paddling his canoe into the north and east. He

toyed no more with the idea of absconding with the

remaining Sword; he was still in awe and shock

from that demonstration of its powers, and he

wanted nothing but to be honorably and safely rid

of it.

With that objective in mind, he tried his best to

keep his attention concentrated upon practical

affairs. It was necessary now to watch for a second

set of landmarks, these to tell him where to leave

this river and make the small necessary portage.

The markers were specially blazed trees, in the

midst of a considerable forest through which the

little river now ran. Denis paddled upstream

through the forest for a full day, looking for them.

The stream he was now following grew ever

younger and smaller and more lively as he got fur-

ther from the Corgo, and was here overhung from

both banks by great branches.

On the night that Denis left Tashigang, Ben had

told him that if he saw any wild-looking people

after he had come this far, they were probably Sir

Andrew’s. The Kind Knight’s folk would escort a

courier the rest of the way, or at least put him on

the right track, once he had convinced them he was

bona fide .

. . . and the Goddess of Love had told him, Denis,

that she loved him. Even in the midst of trying to

make plans he kept coming back to that, coming

back to it in a glow of secret and guilty pride, guilty

because he knew that it was undeserved. Was ever

mortal man so blessed?

Much good had such a blessing done him. Pride

came only fitfully. In general he felt scarred and


He did manage to keep his mind on the job, and

spot his required landmarks. The blazed trees were

not very conspicuous, and it was a good thing that

he had been keeping an alert eye open. Once he had

found the proper place, he had to beach his canoe

on the right bank, then drag it through a trackless

thicket-this route was apparently not much

used-and next up a clear slope, over ground fortu-

nately too soft to damage the canoe. This brought

him into a low pass leading through a line of hills

that the stream had now been paralleling for some


After dragging his canoe for half a kilometer,

lifting and carrying it when absolutely necessary,

Denis reached the maximum slight elevation

afforded by the pass. From this vantage point he

could look ahead, over the treetops of another for-

est, and see in the distance the beginnings of the

Great Swamp, different kinds of trees rearing up

out of an ominous flatness. During the last four

years that largely uncharted morass had swallowed

up the larger portions of a couple of small armies,

to the great discomfiture of the Dark King and the

Silver Queen respectively. And neither monarch

was any closer now than four years ago to their goal

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