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

his vision. Those remaining should be only the ones

still able to play an active part in the day’s events,

enough to present some possible danger to the Dark

King’s person, or his cause. This might not always be

easy for a busy demon to judge; in doubtful cases the

filtering familiar was to let the wounded person

remain visible, even if esthetically offensive.

This morning, when Vilkata left his small tent and

mounted his war-steed, amid the usual thunderous

applause of his troops and officers, his army appeared

before him in his demon-sight as neat ranks of

polished weapons, the human form attached to each

blade or bow not much more than a mere uniformed


A look at the best maps he had available had

persuaded him that it ought to be possible to intercept

Sir Andrew’s force if he moved swiftly, staring at first

daylight. The morning’s march was hard and long.

Scouts, some of them human beings mounted or afoot,

some of them winged beasts, kept coming in with

reports of what appeared to be the rear guard of Sir

Andrew’s force not far ahead. They estimated that

the enemy army was even a little

smaller than earlier intelligence estimates had made it

out to be.

But Vilkata, still prudent despite the overwhelming

advantage that he thought he held, ordered his infantry

forward as against a foe possibly almost their equal in

numbers. He also ordered a swift cavalry movement,

a reconnaissance in force, to move around Sir

Andrew’s army, to try to engage the enemy front and

if possible prevent successful flight.- Meanwhile he

maneuvered the main body of his own troops into

battle array. Stationing himself just behind the front of

this force, near the center, he awaited more reports,

and remained ready to draw the Mindsword for what

he calculated would be maximum effect upon foe and

friend alike.

The first skirmishes broke out ahead. The Dark

King drew his weapon of great magic and advanced,

mounted, holding overhead what he himself perceived

as a spear of fiery glory. He saw the enemy

rearguard, in a view tailored by his familiar to his

wishes, as mobile though inanimate man-sized

obstacles. Still he could see their shapes and their

numbers perfectly well, and even note the fact that

many of them wore orange and black.

Vilkata saw also, and felt with joy, the terror that he

inspired in those men and women ahead when they

first saw him, and how swiftly that terror was altered

by his Sword’s magic into a mad devotion.

He saw with delight how Sir Andrew’s soldiers,

who at first glance would have formed a rank and

fought him, at sight of the Mindsword fell down and

worshipped him instead. And how, when he

presently roared orders at them, they rose and

turned, and went running like berserkers against their

former comrades, who must now be just out of sight

and trying to get away.

One of the last to bend to the Mindsword’s power

was a woman, a proud sorceress by the look of her,

no longer young and evidently of some considerable

rank. One counterspell after another this arrogant

female hurled back at the Dark King and his Sword;

but they had all failed her, as he knew they must, and

as she too must have known; and she too turned at

last,.snarling with mad joy, like the others, at being

able to serve the future ruler of all the Earth.

Denis the Quick had been offered the chance to

remain in the swamp, along with a handful of

wounded and others who could not travel quickly,

when Sir Andrew led his army out. Reports had come

in indicating that it would not be wise for Denis to

attempt to make his way home alone to Tashigang,

and Sir Andrew could afford no escort for him. The

situation around the city had deteriorated rapidly since

Denis’s departure. Strong patrols of the Dark King’s

forces were in the very suburbs now, challenging the

few troops that the Silver Queen had in the region.

The wealthy owners of suburban villas had fled, into

the city or far away from it. This news offered hope

of a kind to Sir Andrew and his people, as it was

evidence that the situation between King and Queen

was now moving rapidly toward open conflict.

But Denis had declined to stay in the swamp. There

was no telling how long he’d be stuck there if he did

so, or when a better chance of getting out would

come, if ever. He preferred to be out in the great

world, to know what great events were hap

pening. He was willing to take his chances on getting

back eventually to the city he loved, and to the two

women there whose images still stirred his dreams.

On the afternoon of the third day since the army

had left the swamp, Denis was walking with some

members of Sir Andrew’s staff. Sir Andrew himself

was on hand at the moment; the Knight had been

riding up and down the column of his army, trying to

preserve its organization-years of guerrilla tactics in a

swamp were not the best practice for a long overland

march-and had stopped to talk with Denis about

conditions among the people in Tashigang.

They talked of the White Temple, and its hospitals,

in some of which Denis had worked during his

apprenticeship as Ardneh’s acolyte. They began a

discussion on how to put Woundhealer to the best

possible use; this was of course purely theoretical, as

Denis had been unable to deliver it as charged. Sir

Andrew still did not appear to blame him, however.

Doomgiver was with the column, being carried by an

officer of the advance guard, who, as it had seemed

to Sir Andrew, had the greater likelihood of

encountering the enemy today.

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of

a small flying scout, with a message from the rear


The true bird, intelligent enough to manage

elementary speech, cackled at them: “Black and gold,

black and gold. Many many.”

“Then Ardneh be with my Dame,” Sir Andrew

muttered, reining in his mount, and looking behind him

fiercely. Dame Yoldi was in the rear. “And with us


He cried out then for swift messengers to go ahead,

to summon back with all speed the trusted friends

who were carrying Doomgiver in the van. Then the

Knight tried the movement of his helmet’s visor, and

with more shouted orders set about turning what few

units of his army were in direct range of his voice,

and heading them back to the relief of the rear guard.

These did not amount to much more than a handful of

his own bodyguard and friends.

And Denis heard, even as he saw, Shieldbreaker

come out of its sheath now. He heard the legendary

pounding sound, not fast or loud as yet but dull and

brutal: The matchless magic of the Sword of Force

beat out from it into the surrounding air, not with the

tone of a drum whose voice might stir the blood, but

rather with the sound of some relentless hammer,

nailing up an executioner’s scaffold.

Now the Knight himself and his close bodyguard, all

mounted, set out for the rear of their army, or what

had been its rear, at a pace that Denis on foot could

not hope to match.

But, as he would be otherwise left virtually alone, he

tried to keep up. He might have run in the other

direction instead, but he thought the rest of the army

would soon be pouring back from there, and he would

have to face round again and join them, or appear as a


Denis was about a hundred meters behind Sir

Andrew and his mounted companions, and losing

more ground rapidly, when to his surprise he saw at a.

little distance to his right what looked like the deserted

remnants of a carnival, set down for some reason

right out here in the middle of nowhere. The booths

and counters, the apparatus for the games of

skill and chance, were all broken and standing idle.

No one was in sight at the deserted amusement

place, as Denis halted nearby, panting. The people

belonging to the show-and who could blame

them?-appeared to have run off even before the

tramp of marching armies had drawn near.

Sir Andrew and his bodyguard had not yet got

out of Denis’s sight, when a cry went up from the

same direction and only a short distance ahead of

them. Denis, turning his head away from aban-

doned tents and wagons, saw what had to be Sir

Andrew’s rear guard, running toward Sir Andrew

and his immediate companions, who had just

halted on a little knoll. It appeared to be a desper-

ate retreat, though as far as Denis could see the

rearguard was not yet panicked totally. They had

not thrown their weapons away as yet . . . and then

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