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

swiftness that might have been genuinely magical,

he plunged into a deep sleep.

Denis awoke suddenly, and feeling greatly

refreshed. He was surprised to see that the pattern

of tree shadows on the tent had shifted very little,

and no great length of time could have passed.

What had awakened him he did not know.

Listening to the silence outside the tent, he

thought that there was some unusual tension in it.

He got up and left the tent. Seeing that some peo-

ple were still gathered at the place where he had

left Sir Andrew and Dame Yoldi, he hurried in that

direction. Now, as he walked, Denis could see a few

more people in orange and black approaching

quickly on foot along the landward road. These

were turning and gesturing, as if to indicate that

someone or something of importance was coming

after them. Everyone nearby was looking in that


Denis halted in surprise at sight of the next two

figures that appeared down the road. Both were

wearing black and silver, the colors of Yambu. Both

were mounted, riding freely, not at all like prison-

ers. Still, neither was visibly armed. One was a

burly man, and the other-

With a silent gasp, Denis recognized the Silver

Queen herself. He had seen her twice before, both

times years ago, both times in the city of Tashigang.

She, as the city’s formal overlord, had been

appearing then in ceremonial processions. He, then

no more than a street urchin, had been clinging to

precarious perches above the crowds, eager to


In those processions the Queen had ridden her

virtually unique mount, a superbly trained and

deadly warbeast. Her steed today was less remarka-

ble, though still magnificent, a huge riding beast

matching that ridden by her companion. This burly

man, her escort, as they approached Sir Andrew

and the others waiting, dropped a deferential half-

length behind.

The two riders halted, calmly, at a little distance

from where the folk in orange and black were wait-

ing to receive them. They dismounted there and

approached Sir Andrew’s group on foot, the tall

Queen a pace ahead in her light silvery ceremonial

armor, taking long strides like a man. Denis calcu-

lated that she must be now well into her middle

thirties, though her tanned face looked younger.

Her whole body was strong and lithe, and despite

her stride the generously female shape of her body

left no doubt at all about her sex. The Queen’s nose,

Denis noted now in private impertinence, was too

big for her ever to be called pretty, by any reason-

able usage of the word. And yet, all in all-well, if

he were to meet some woman of attainable station

who looked just like her, he’d not refuse a chance to

know her better.

And have you forgotten me already? The voice of

Aphrodite came to Denis only in his imagination. It

shook him, though, in a resonance of conflicting


Sir Andrew was standing with folded arms, wait-

ing for his visitors, as if the last thing in the world

he might do would be to make any gesture acknow-

ledging his old enemy’s greater rank. But she,

approaching, as if she thought he might do so and

wished to forestall him, was quick to make the first

gesture of greeting, flinging up her right hand in the

universal gesture of peace.

“We meet again!” The Silver Queen’s. voice,

hearty and open, neither assumed a royal superior-

ity nor pretended a friendship that did not exist.

“My honored enemy! Would that my friends and

allies were half as dependable as you. So, will you

take my hand? And never mind the fripperies of


And when Dame Yoldi moved between them,

Queen Yambu added: “Aye, lady, you may look at

my hand first. I bring no poisoning, no tricks; which

is not to say that none such were suggested by my


Dame Yoldi did indeed make a brief inspection of

the Queen’s hand. Meanwhile Denis was having to

use his elbows to keep himself from being crowded

back by the small but growing throng of Sir

Andrew’s people who wanted to observe the meet-

ing closely. There had evidently been more than

twenty on the island after all. He managed to

remain close enough to see that the Queen’s hand

looked like a soldier’s, being short-nailed, spotted

with callouses-the sort that came from gripping

weapons-and strong. But, for all that, it was

shapely, and not very large.

The Queen’s offered hand was briefly engulfed in

Sir Andrew’s massive paw. And then the Knight

stood back again, grim-faced, arms folded, waiting

to hear more.

The Queen cast a look around her. Sir Andrew’s

friends and bodyguard, heavily armed, most of

them impressive warriors, were hovering suspi-

ciously close to her and her companion, and looking

as grim as Sir Andrew did himself.

She said to the Knight: “I do trust you, you see,

and your safe-conduct guarantee. In nine years of

fighting you, off and on, I’ve learned to know you

well enough for that.”

The Knight’ spoke to her for the first time. “And

we have learned something of your character as

well, Madam. And of yours, Baron Amintor. Now,

what will you have of me? Why this urgent call for a


The Baron was as big and solid as Sir Andrew, and

with much the same hearty and honest look, though

the Silver Queen’s companion was probably the

younger of the two men by some fifteen years. Both

were battle-scarred, Denis observed, evidently real

fighters. Amintor’s eyes were intelligent, and Denis

had heard that he was gifted with a diplomatic tongue

when he chose to use it.

And the Queen . . . this Queen had been no more

than a half-grown girl when she ascended to the

throne of Yambu. Her first act afterward, it was said,

had been to put to death the plotters who had

murdered both her parents in an abortive coup

attempt. Nor had the throne been easy for her to hold,

through the twenty years that followed. Many plotters

and intriguers during that time had gone the way of

that first set. Ever since its shaky beginning, her reign-

except in a few lucky places like Tashigang-had not

been gentle. It was said that she grew ever more

obsessed with the idea that there were plots against

her, and that about four years ago she had sold her

bastard adolescent daughter into slavery, because of

the girl’s supposed involvement in one. The girl,

Ariane, had been her only child; everyone knew that

the Silver Queen had never married formally.

Now the Queen said to Sir Andrew, “I like a man

who can come straight to the point. But just one

question first: are you aware that the Dark King now

has the Mindsword in his possession?”

The Knight answered calmly. “We have been so


Both the Queen and Baron Amintor appeared

somewhat taken aback by this calm response. Yambu

said, “And I thought that you were existing in a

backwater here! My compliments to your intelligence


And Amintor chimed in: “You’ll agree, I’m sure, Sir

Andrew, that the fact does change the strategic

situation for us all.”

Sir Andrew took just a moment to consider him in

silence, before facing back to the Queen. “And just

what, Madam, do you expect this change to mean?”

The Silver Queen laughed. It was a pleasant, rueful

sound. There was a fallen tree nearby, a twisted log

that rested at a convenient height on the stubs of its

own .branches, and she moved a couple of steps to it

and sat down.

“I foresee myself as Vilkata’s first victim, unless I

do something about it, quickly. I’ll speak plainly-if

you’ve begun to know me, as you say, you know that’s

how I prefer to speak. If Vilkata with the Mindsword

in his hand falls on my army now, then unless they can

withstand it somehow-and I’ve no reason to hope they

can-then my army will at best melt away. At worst it’ll

join Vilkata and augment his strength, which is already

greater than yours and mine combined.

“You, of course, will applaud my fall and my

destruction-but not for very long.”

The Knight, his aspect one of unaltered grimness,

nodded. “So, Queen of Yambu, what do you


“No more than what you must have already

guessed, Sir Andrew. An alliance, of course, between

us two.” Yambu turned her head slightly;

her noble bearing at the moment could almost turn the

fallen log into a throne. “Tell him, good Dame, if you

love him-an alliance with me now represents his only


Neither Sir Andrew nor his enchantress gave an

immediate answer. But the Knight looked so black

that, had he spoken, Denis thought the conference

would have ended on the instant.

Dame Voldi asked the Queen, “Suppose we should

join forces against Vilkata-what then? How do you

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