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

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

larger escort.

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

hold Shieldbreaker.

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

for me?”

“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

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