of markings in the snow, tracks that the mundane
wind was rapidly effacing.
There could be no doubt about those markings.
They were a line of departing footprints, heading
straight down the mountainside, disappearing behind
snow-buried rocks before they had gone more than a
few meters. Though they marked strides too long and
impressions too broad and deep to have been made by
any human being, there was no doubt that they had
been left by mortal feet.
The one-armed man came stumbling along through
midnight rain, following a twisted cobblestone alley
into the lightless heart of the great city of Tashigang.
He was suffering with fresh wounds now-one knife-
gash bleeding in his side and another one in his knee-
besides the old maiming loss of his right arm. Still he
was better off than the man who had just attacked
him. That blunderer was some meters back along the
twisted alley, face down in a puddle.
Now, just when the one-armed man was about on
the point of going down himself, he steered toward a
wall and leaned against it. Standing with his broad
back in its homespun shirt pressed to the stone wall of
somebody’s house, he squeezed himself in as far as
possible under the thin overhang of roof, until the
eaves blocked at least some of the steady rain from
hitting him in the face. The man felt frightened by
what had happened to his knee.
From the way the injured leg felt now when he tried
to put his weight on it, he wasn’t going to be able to
walk much farther.
He hadn’t had a chance yet to start worrying
about what might have happened when the knife
went into his side.
The one-armed man was tall, and strongly built.
Still, by definition, he was a cripple, and therefore
the robber-if that was all he had been-might
have taken it for granted that he’d be easy game.
Even had the attacker guessed that his intended
victim carried a good oaken cudgel tucked into his
belt under his loose shirt, he could hardly have pre-
dicted how quickly his quarry would be able to
draw that club and with what authority he’d use it.
Now, leaning against the building for support, he
had tucked his cudgel away in his belt again, and
was pressing his fingers to his side under his shirt.
He could feel the blood coming out, a frighteningly
Except for the rain, the city around him was
silent. And all the windows he could see through the
rain were dark, and most of them were shuttered.
No one else in the huge city appeared to have taken
the least notice of the brief clash he had just sur-
Or had he survived it, air all? Real walking, he
had to admit, was no longer possible on his dam-
aged knee. For the present, at least, he could still
stand upright. He thought he must be near his des-
tination now, and it was essential that he reach it.
Pushing himself along the wall that he was leaning
on, and then the next wall, one stone surface after
another, he stumbled on, hobbled on.
He remembered the directions he had been given,
and he made progress of a sort. Every time his
weight came on the knee at all he had to bite back
an outcry of pain. And now dizziness, lightheaded-
ness, came welling up inside his skull. He clenched
his will like a fist, gripping the treasure of con-
sciousness, knowing that if that slipped from him
now, life itself was likely to drain quickly after it.
His memorized directions told him that at this
point he had to cross the alley. Momentarily
forsaking the support of walls, divorcing his mind
from pain, he somehow managed it.
Leaning on another wall, he rested, and rebuilt
his courage. He’d crawl the rest of the way to get
there if he had to, or do what crawling he could on
one hand and one knee. But once he went down to
try crawling he didn’t know he’d ever get back up
on his feet again.
At last the building that had been described to
him as his goal, the House of Courtenay, came into
sight, limned by distant lightning. The description
had been accurate: four stories tall, flat-roofed,
half-timbered construction on the upper levels,
stone below. The house occupied its own small
block, with streets or alleys on every side. The seek-
er’s first view was of the front of the building, but
the back was where he was supposed to go in order
to get in. Gritting his teeth, not letting his imagina-
tion try to count up how many steps there might be
yet to take, he made the necessary detour. He
splashed through puddles, out of one alley and into
an even narrower one. From that he passed to one
so narrow it was a mere paved path, running beside
the softly gurgling, stone-channeled Corgo. The sur-
face of the river, innocent now of boats, hissed in
the heavier bursts of rain.
The man had almost reached the building he
wanted when his hurt knee gave way completely.
He broke his fall as best he could with his one
arm. Then, painfully, dizzily, he dragged himself
along on his one arm and his one functioning leg.
He could imagine the trail of blood he must be
leaving. No matter, the rain would wash it all
Presently his slow progress brought him in out of
the rain, under the roof of a short, narrow passage
that connected directly with the door he wanted.
He crawled on and reached the narrow door. It
was of course locked shut. He propped himself up
in a sitting position against it, and began to
pound on the door with the flat of his large hand.
The pounding of his calloused hand seemed to the
man to be making no noise at all. At first it felt
like he was beating uselessly, noiselessly, on some
thick solid treetrunk . . . and then it felt like noth-
ing at all. There was no longer any feeling in his
Maybe no one would hear him. Because he was no
longer able to hear anything himself. Not even the
rain beating on the flat passage roof. Nor could he
see anything through the gathering grayness. Not
even his hand before his face ….
At a little after midnight Denis the Quick was
lying awake, listening to the rain. That usually
made him sleepy, as long as he knew that he was
securely warm and dry indoors. But tonight he was
having trouble sleeping. The images of two attract-
ive women were coming and going like provocative
dancers in his imagination. If he tried to concen-
trate on one, then the other intruded as if jealous.
He knew both women in real life, but his real-life
problem was not that he had to choose between
them. No, he was not so fortunate, he told himself,
as to have problems of just that kind.
Denis was well accusomed to the normal night
sounds of the house. The sound he began to hear
now, distracting him from the pleasant torment of
waking dreams, was certainly not one of them.
Denis got up quickly, pulled on a pair of trousers,
and went out of his small bedchamber to investi-
His room on the ground floor of the house gave
almost directly on the main workshop, which was a
large chamber now illumined faintly by a sullen
smoldering of coals banked in the central forge.
Faint ghost-gleams of firelight touched tools
around the forge and weapons racked on the walls.
Most of the work down here was on some form of
Denis paused for a moment beside the fire,
intending to light a taper from its coals. But then
he changed his mind, and instead reached up to
the high wall niche where the Old World light was
The back door leading into the shop from outside
ground level was fitted with a special peephole.
This was a smooth little bulge of glass, cleverly
shaped so that anyone looking through it from
inside saw out at a wide angle. Another lens, set
into the door near its very top, was there to let the
precious flameless torch shine out. Denis now lifted
the antique instrument into position there and
turned it on; immediately the narrow passage just
outside the door was flooded with clear, brilliant
light. And even as Denis did this, the sound that had
caught his attention came again, a faint thumping
on the door itself. Now through the fish-eye lens he
could see the one who made the sound, as a
slumped figure somewhat blurred by the imperfect
lens. The shape of the fallen figure suggested the
absence of an arm.
With the flameless light still glowing in his hand,