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

propose to fight the Mindsword, with our help or

without it?”

It was the Baron who replied. “To begin with, we

mean to avoid battle with Vilkata’s troops unless

we’re sure he’s not on the scene himself-he’ll never

turn the Mindsword over to a subordinate, you may be

sure of that. Your people and ours will exchange

intelligence regarding the Dark King’s movements.

Yes, it’ll still be damned difficult even if we’re allied-

but if we’re still fighting each other at the same time,

it’s going to be impossible.”

Yoldi had another question. “Supposing for a

moment that such an alliance could be made to work,

even temporarily-what do you intend doing with the

Mindsword, after the Dark King has somehow been


Yambu smiled with what looked like genuine

amusement. It made her face more attractive than

before. “Why, I would leave that up to you.”

“You’d turn the Mindsword over to us?” Yoldi

asked the question blankly.

The Queen paused very briefly. “Why not? I can

agree to that, because I think that your good Knight

there is one of the few men in the world who’d never

use it.”

“And what of my people who are now your slaves,

my lands that you have seized?” This was from Sir

Andrew. He had now mastered his obvious anger,

and was almost calm, as if he were only discussing

some theoretical possibility.

“Why, those are yours again, of course, as soon as

you and I can reach agreement. As soon after that as

I rejoin my own people, I’ll send word by flying beasts

to all my garrison commanders there, to begin an

evacuation at once.”

“And in return for that, what do you want of me?”

“First, of course, immediate cessation of hostilities

against my forces, everywhere. And then your full

support against the Dark King, until he is brought

down. Or until he crushes both of us.” The Queen

paused, giving an almost friendly look to Sir Andrew

and his surrounding bodyguard. She added: “You

really have no choice, you know.”

There was a long pause, during which Sir Andrew

studied the Queen even more carefully than before.

At last he said, “Tell me something.”

“If I can.”

“Did you in fact sell your own daughter into Red

Temple slavery?”

Denis saw a shadow, he thought of something more

complex than simple anger, cross the Queen’s face.

Her voice when she replied was much less hearty.

“Ah,” she said. “Ah, and if I tell you the truth of that,

will you believe me?”

“Why not? Apparently you expect us to believe

your proposal to give us the Mindsword-perhaps at

this moment you even believe that yourself. Still, I

would like to hear whatever you wish to say about

your daughter.”

This time the pause was short. Then, with a sudden

movement, the Silver Queen got up from her seat on

the dead tree.

“Amintor and I will walk apart a little now, while

you discuss my offer. Naturally you will want to talk

to your close advisers before giving me an answer. I

trust they are all here. Unfortunately-or perhaps

fortunately-there isn’t time for diplomacy as usually

conducted. But I’ll wait, while you have your


And the two visitors from Yambu did indeed walk

apart, Baron Amintor apparently pointing out some

curiosities of the swamp flora to the Queen, as if

neither of them had anything more important than wild

plants on mind.

Sir Andrew and several others were huddled

together, and Denis could imagine what they were

saying: About Vilkata and the Mindsword, it must be

true, for now we’ve heard it twice. But, an alliance?

With Yambu?

But, thought Denis, the Queen was right. He has no

real choice but to accept.


Kristin, crowned only hours ago in hurried but joyful

ceremony as Princess Regnant of the Lands of

Tasavalta, was alone in one of the royal palace’s

smaller semipublic rooms, sitting on one of her smaller

thrones. She had chosen to sit on this throne at this

moment because she was tiredexhausted might have

been putting it mildly-and the throne was the most

convenient place in the room to sit. There were no

other chairs. She could willingly have opted for the

floor, but the fit of her coronation gown, which had

been her sister’s, and today had been pressed into

service. hurriedly, argued against that.

She was waiting for her lover Mark to be brought

to her. There were certain things that had to be said

to him, and only she could say them, and only when

the two of them were alone. And her impending

collapse into exhaustion had to be postponed until

after they had been said.

The room was quiet now, except for the


continuing sounds of celebration from outside. But

if Kristin thought about it, she could remember

other days in this room. Bright days of loud voices

and free laughter, in the time when her older sister

had been alive and ruling Tasavalta. And days from

an earlier time still, when Kristin had been only a

small girl, and there were two girls in this room

with their father, a living King, who joked with

them about this throne ….

Across the room in present time a small door was

opening, quietly and discreetly. Her Uncle Karel,

master of magic and teacher of magicians, looked

in, saw she was alone, and gave her an almost

imperceptible nod of approval. Karel was enor-

mously fat and somewhat jolly in appearance, red

cheeks glowing as usual above gray whiskers, as if

he had just come in from an invigorating winter

walk. As far as Kristin could tell he had not changed

in the slightest from those bright days of her own

girlhood. Today of course he was decked out, like

herself, in full ceremonial garb, including a blue-

green garland on his brow.

He reached behind him now to pull someone for-

ward. It was Mark, dressed now in strange bor-

rowed finery, that he thrust gently into the room

where Kristin waited.

Karel said to her, in a voice that somewhat belied

his jolly face; “Highness, it will look bad for you to

be alone for very long with this-”

She stood up, snapped to her feet as if brought

there by a spring, weary muscles energized by out-

rage, by the tension of all that had happened to her

today. “Uncle Karel, I have been alone with him for

a month already. Thank the gods! For before that I

was alone with Vilkata’s torturers, and you were

not there to bring me out.”

That was unfair and Kristin knew it; her voice

softened a little. “There are important matters that

I must-convey to this man. Before I dispatch him

on a mission that will take him out of Tasavalta.”

Her uncle had winced at the jab about Vilkata’s

torturers, but his relief at her last words was evi-

dent. He bowed himself out silently, closing the

door behind him.

Mark heard the same words from Kristin with

muted shock, but no real surprise. It was hours now

since he had opened his mouth to say a word of his

own to anyone. Many had spoken to him, but for the

most part only to give him directions: Bathe here,

wait there, put this on and see if it fits. Here is food,

here is drink, here is a razor. Stand here, wait. Now

come this way. He had been fed, cleaned up, draped

with robes and what he supposed were honors, then

shunted aside and left to watch from an inconspicu-

ous place during the coronation ceremony.

Now he marveled to himself: it was less than a

day ago-hardly more than half a day-that this

girl and I were riding alone as lovers, on the edge of

the wilderness, both of us still in rags. I could have

stopped my mount then, and stopped hers-yes,

even in sight of that first flagpole bearing blue and

green-and got down from my saddle, and pulled

her down from hers, and lain with her on the

ground in our rags, or out of them, and she would

have loved it, welcomed it. And now….

This audience chamber, in which Mark now

found himself alone with Kristin, was, like the rest

of the palace-like the whole domain of Tasavalta,

perhaps-a larger and somehow more important place

than it had appeared at first impression. It was a

sunlit, cheerful room, beautiful in a high vertical way.

The air moving in through the open windows smelled

of flowers, of perpetual spring; drifting in with the

scents of spring came the music of the dance that

was still going on far below the windows, part of the

coronation celebration. The dance and the music, like

the rest of the day, had become to Mark something

like a show to which he need only listen, and watch.

As if none of it had anything, really, to do with him.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred