of slaughtering Sir Andrew and the impertinent
fugitives of his own small military force.
The stream that Denis had to find now was not
hard to locate. It was running in the only place
nearby that it very well could run, just beyond the
line of hills in the bottom of the adjoining gentle
valley. After resting a little while on its bank, he
launched his canoe again, and resumed paddling,
once more going upstream. In this waterway the
current was slower, and Denis made correspond-
ingly better time. But this was a more winding
stream, taking him back and forth on wide curves
through the forest; he was going to have to paddle
farther just to get from here to there.
Denis spent an entire day paddling up this
stream before he was challenged. This happened at
just about the point where he could see that he was
entering some portion of the Great Swamp itself.
His challengers were three in number, a man and
two women, one of them standing on each bank of
the narrow stream and one on an overhanging
bough. All three looked quite tough and capable.
Their weapons did not menace but they were cer-
tainly held ready. Against this display Denis lifted
his own hands, empty, in a sign of peace.
He said, “I need to see Sir Andrew, as quickly as I
can. I come from a man named Ben, and I have here
a cargo that Sir Andrew needs.”
The three who had stopped him spoke quickly
among themselves, and two of them promptly
became Denis’s escort. They made no comment on
the fact of his empty-looking boat, as contrasted
with his claim of valuable cargo.. They did take
from him his only visible weapon, a short knife.
Then the man got into the rear seat of Denis’s
canoe, and took over the paddling, while one of the
women oared another small craft along behind. As
they glided deeper into the swamp, under the
twisted limbs of giant trees festooned with exotic
parasite-plants, Denis saw a small arboreal crea-
ture, of a type strange to him, headed in the same
direction. It was brachiating itself along through
the upper branches at a pace that soon overtook
and passed the boats. He surmised it was some spe-
cies of half-intelligent messenger.
Presently, after about a kilometer of paddling,
Denis was delivered to a camouflaged command
post, a half-walled structure made of logs and shirt-
sized tree fronds, where he repeated his terse
message to an officer. Again he was sent on, deeper
into the swamp, this time with a different and
This leg of the escorted journey took longer. It
occupied a fair portion of the remaining daylight
hours, and ended with Denis’s canoe grounding on
the shore of what appeared to be a sizable island of
firm land that reared up out of the swamp. There
were people on this island already. He estimated a
score of them or more, many of them conspicuously
wearing Sir Andrew’s orange and black. A few tents
had been set up, but the place did not have the worn
look of a permanent encampment.
The people who were already gathered here
appeared to be waiting for something. They were
not, as it turned out, anticipating Denis’s arrival,
which in itself did not cause much of a stir. His
canoe was beached for him, and he was at once con-
ducted a short distance inland, toward one particu-
lar knot of people who were engaged in some
serious discussion. Taking the chance to look about
him from the slightly higher vantage point of this
firm ground, Denis realized that this was no true
island at all, or else it was a much larger island
than he had first assumed. From here he could see a
double track, what looked like a regular road,
though a poor one, approaching through the trees
to end in the small clearing where the knot of peo-
ple were conversing.
The focus of that group’s attention was one man,
heavily built, gray-haired, and wearing clothing
that might once have been fine. This man was
standing with his back to Denis, but the black hilt
of a Sword visible at his side convinced Denis that
this must be Sir Andrew himself, who was known to
Sir Andrew turned. The face of the man known as
the Kind Knight showed more age than his strong
body did. He was holding a book in his left hand,
and had been gesturing with it to make some point,
when Denis’s arrival interrupted the discussion.
Standing at Sir Andrew’s right hand was a
woman, not young but certainly still attractive.
There was much gray now in the lady’s black hair,
but Denis thought that in youth her face must have
been extremely beautiful. He had no idea what her
name might be, but at first glance he was certain
she was a sorceress. Certain details of her dress
gave that indication, but the impression was cre-
ated chiefly by an impalpable sense of magic that
hung about her. Denis could feel that magical aura,
and he did not consider himself a sensitive.
Two pairs of brown eyes, the lady’s younger and
quicker than Sir Andrew’s, studied the new arrival.
Names were formally exchanged.
“And where,” asked the Knight then, in his slow,
strong voice, “is this cargo that you say you have
“In the canoe, sir. There’s a false bottom.”
“And what is the cargo? Speak freely, I have no
secrets from any here.”
Denis glanced around. “A Sword, sir. One of the
famous Twelve, I mean. Sent from the man called
Ben, in Tashigang. There were two Swords, but-
something happened to me on the way.”
“I can see that,” the enchantress murmured. Her
eyes were narrowed as she studied Denis. “Show
me this remaining Sword.”
They moved quickly to the waiting beached
canoe. At Denis’s direction the concealing board
was pried up once more. Dame Yoldi, the graying
sorceress, supervised this operation carefully, and
gave the exposed cargo a close inspection before she
would allow Sir Andrew to approach it.
She also questioned Denis first. “You say that
two Swords were sent, and one lost on the way?”
“Yes Ma’am.” Denis related in barest outline,
and not dwelling on his own feelings, what had hap-
pened between him and the goddess. He heard a
snicker or two, and scoffing noises, in the back-
ground. But he thought the lady perhaps believed
him. At least she stepped back to let Sir Andrew
approach the canoe.
The Knight’s right hand plucked Doomgiver
from the secret compartment, and held it, still
sheathed, aloft. There was a general murmur, of
appreciation this time, not scoffing.
“Do you feel anything from the two Swords,
Andrew?” the sorceress asked gently. “You are
holding two at one time-you still wear Shield-
He huffed and gave her a look. “I’ve not forgotten
what I wear. No, I feel nothing in particular-you
once told me that even three Swords at once would
not be too many for some folk to handle.”
“And I tell you again that two, in certain combi-
nations, might do strange things to other folk. And
you are sensitive.”
“Sensitive! Me!” He huffed again.
Dame Yoldi smiled, and Denis could see how
much she loved him. Denis wondered suddenly if he
himself had actually handled the two Swords at the
same time at any point. If he had, he couldn’t
remember feeling anything strange.
Now Sir Andrew turned back to Denis. “We must
soon hear your story about the goddess, and
Woundhealer, in more detail. Meanwhile we are all
grateful to you for what you have brought to us. But
at the moment even such a gift as the Sword of Jus-
tice must wait to have my full attention, and you
must wait to get your proper thanks.”
“You’re quite welcome, sir.”
Already Dame Yoldi had Denis by the arm and
was turning him away. “At the moment you are in
need of food and rest.” She gestured, and a woman
came to take Denis in charge.
He resisted momentarily. “Thank you, Ma’am.
But there is one bit of news, bad news, that I must
tell you first.” That certainly got their full attention
back. Denis swallowed, then blurted out the words.
“The Dark King has the Mindsword in his hands.
So we were told in Tashigang, by some of Ardneh’s
people.” The source put a strong flavor of reliabil-
ity upon the news.
His hearers received his announcement with all
the shock that Denis had anticipated. He braced
himself for the inevitable burst of questions, which
he answered in the only way he could, pleading his
own lack of further knowledge.
At last he was dismissed. Led away, he was given
bread and wine, then shown to a tent where he
stretched out gratefully upon the single cot. His
eyes closed, their lids suddenly heavy, and with a