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

The windows of this room were equipped with

heavy shutters, as was fitting in a castle constructed

to withstand assault. But on this upper level of the

castle, high above any possible assault by climbing

troops, the windows were large, and today all the

shutters had been thrown open. Framed in their

casement openings, the sea and the rocky hills and the

town below all appeared like fine tapestries of

afternoon sunlight, thrown by some Old World magic

on the walls.

Kristin had risen quickly from the throne when the

door opened, and when her uncle had closed it again

behind him she had moved a few paces forward,

toward Mark. But now the two of them, she and

Mark, were still standing a little apart, looking at each

other as if they had nothing to say-or perhaps as if

neither of them could manage to say anything.

But their eyes drew them together. Suddenly they

were embracing, still without a word of speech. Then

Kristin tore herself away.

“What is this they’ve given you to wear?” she

asked, as if the sight of the costume they had put on

him, some antique ceremonial thing, made her want to

laugh and cry at once.

But still he said nothing.

She tried again, not with laughter, but now with an

almost distant courtesy. How fine that he had already

been reunited with his family. She’d had no idea, of

course, that they’d been living here. In recent years a

lot of refugees, good people, had come in. Did Mark’s

mother and sister know him after so long a time?

How long had they been living here in Tasavalta? Did

he have any trouble recognizing them? It was too bad

his father was away.

“Kristin.” As he called her by her name, he

wondered if it was the last time he would ever be able

to do so. “Stop it. Have you nothing real to say to me?

Why didn’t you tell me?”

There was a pause, in which Kristin drew a deep

breath, like a woman who wondered if it might be her


“Yes,” she said then. “I must say something very

real to you, Mark. For the sister of a Princess

Regnant to have married a-commoner, and a foreigner

as well-that would have been very hard. Very nearly

impossible. But I would have done it. I wanted to

marry you. I wanted it so much I was afraid to. tell

you who I was. And I was going to marry you,

wherever that path led. I hope you will believe that.”

“Kristin, Princess . . .”

“Wait! Let me finish, please.” She needed another

pause to get herself together. “But my sister Rimac is

dead. She died childless and unmarried, and I am ruler

now. For a Princess Regnant to marry a commoner,

let alone a foreign soldier, is impossible. Impossible,

except-again I hope you

will believe me-I would have done it anyway. It

would have meant resigning the throne, probably

leaving the country; I would have done that for you.



“But you must have heard them! There isn’t anyone

else to rule! You heard Rostov. If I hadn’t come back

to take the throne, there would have been a civil war

over the succession. Even with attackers threatening

us from outside. I know my people. We probably

seem to you a happy, peaceful country, but you don’t

know . . .”

Again Mark was silent. ,

“I . . . Mark, our land and people . . . we owe you

more than we can ever repay. We can give you

almost anything. Except the one thing that you want.

And that I want . . . oh, darling.”

This time the embrace lasted longer. But as before,

the Princess broke it off.

Mark was conscious that he still had a duty to

perform, and drew himself up. “I am the bearer of

certain messages, that Sir Andrew, whom I serve, has

charged me to deliver to the ruler of the Lands of


Kristin, as never before conscious of duty, drew

herself up, too, and heard the messages. They were

more or less routine, diplomatic preliminaries looking

to the establishment of more regular contacts. Sir

Andrew had long resisted adopting the diplomatic

pretense that he was still actually governing the lands

and people that had been stolen from him; but he had

recently been persuaded of the value of taking such a

pose, even if the facts were otherwise.

Mark concluded the memorized messages. “And

now, I am ordered to place myself at Your Majesty’s

disposal.” Again, in the fog of his exhaustion, the

feeling came over him that none of this really had

anything to do with him; he had stumbled into the

middle of a play, there were certain lines that he was

required to read, and soon it would all be over.

Kristin said, “I am glad to hear it. You will need a

few days in which to rest, and recover from . . .” She

had to let that trail away. With a toss of her head she

made a new start. “You will be assignedmodest

quarters here in the palace.” Quarters far from my

own rooms. So Mark understood the phrase. “Then-

you heard what I told Karel. I mean to send you on a

special mission. This should not pose any conflict with

your orders from Sir Andrew, if they are to place

yourself at my disposal. I hope that you will accept the

assignment willingly.”

He could feel only numbness now. “I am at Your

Majesty’s disposal, as I said before.”

“Good.” Kristin heaved an unroyal sigh: part of an

ordeal had been passed. “The mission you are to

perform for Tasavalta is a result of some magical

business of Karel’s. In divination . . . you will be given

more details later. But according to him, the

indications are so urgent that he dared not wait even

until tomorrow to confront me with the results.

“You are to go and find the Emperor, and seek an

alliance with him for Tasavalta-and an alliance with

him for Sir Andrew too, if you feel you are

empowered by Sir Andrew to do that. I leave that to

your judgement.”

“The Emperor. An alliance with him?” Even in

Mark’s present state of embittered numbness, he

had to react somehow to the strangeness of that

proposal. An alliance, as if the Emperor were a

nation, or had an army? Of course the indications

were, Mark thought, that the Emperor was, or at

least could be when he chose, a wizard of immense


Curious in spite of everything, he asked, “Me,

negotiate for you in such a matter? I’m not even one

of your subjects. Or a diplomat. Why me?”

“Karel says it should be done that way. Though I

don’t think that he himself knows why. But I’ve

learned over the years that my uncle usually gives

his monarch good advice.”

“Karel wants to make sure I’m out of the way.”

“There is that. But sending you back to Sir

Andrew would do that just as well. No. There’s

something about the Emperor-and about you. I

don’t know what.”

The Emperor, thought Mark. The man that Draffut,

after fifty thousand years of knowing human beings,

trusted at first meeting. The man who had said that

he, Mark, should be given Sightblinder.

The man in whose name a simple incantation had

twice, in Mark’s experience, repelled demons ….

The sorcerer Karel-it was, Mark supposed, fool-

ish to think he had not been listening-was back in

the room now, as if on cue.

After all that had already happened today, Mark

had no real capacity left for surprise, so he felt no

more than dull curiosity when he observed that the

magician was carrying a sheathed Sword.

Karel in his soft, rich voice said to him: “It is

Coinspinner, and it has come to us in a mysterious

way. And you are going to take it with you to help

you find the Emperor.”

Mark’s dinner that evening was eaten not in the

palace, but in the vastly humbler home of his sister

Marian. It had turned out that she was now living

in the town, really a small city, not far below.

Mark had by now had a little time in which to

savor the great news that his father Jord, who he

had thought for ten years was dead, was alive after

all. And not only was Jord still alive but well and

active at last report, off now on some secret mission

for the Tasavaltan intelligence service. Neither

Mala nor Marian appeared to know where Jord had

been sent or when he might be back, and Mark,

with some experience in these matters himself, did

not press to find out. For now it was enough to

know that he at least had a good chance of someday

seeing his living father once again.

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