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

he saw that what he had first taken for a retreat was

in fact a charge. The rearguard, running from

downhill, and already swinging their weapons like

madmen, collided full tilt with Sir Andrew and his

little group who had been riding to their rescue.

The cry and noise of battle went up at once, and the

would-be rescuers, taken by surprise, were many of

them already down in their own blood.

“A trick! An enchantment!” Despairing cries

went up from those riding with Sir Andrew.

It was no trick as simple as switched uniforms.

Denis, dazedly continuing to move nearer, was now

close enough to recognize Dame Yoldi’s face among

those who charged uphill, swinging their weapons,

and shrieking mad battlecries. She was headed

directly toward the little knoll where Sir Andrew

and the surviving handful of his bodyguard and

officers were now surrounded and under heavy


Sir Andrew might have tried to turn his mount,

break free of his assailants who were on foot, and

get away. But he could not or would not try to flee.

Instead he kept shouting to his traitorous assail-

ants, calling them by name, trying to command

them. He stood his ground, and his bodyguard

would not make an effort to break away if he did


The hammering sound of Shieldbreaker went up

and up, louder and faster now, syncopated into an

irregular rhythm. Already it had drawn around its

master an arc of gleaming steel and fresh blood. Sir

Andrew’s mount stumbled and went down, hacked

and stabbed by half a dozen weapons, but no

attacking point or blade could come far enough

within the arc of the Sword of Force to reach his


The Knight, tumbled from the saddle of his dying

mount, rolled over on the ground, never losing his

two-handed grip on the great Sword. Even when

Sir Andrew lay on his back it never faltered in its

action. And when he stood upright again, it was as

if the Sword itself had pulled him up to fight.

Shieldbreaker seemed to drag him after it, spinning

his heavy body with its violence, right to left and

back again, pulling him forward to the attack when

one of his attackers would have faltered and pulled


Still, those who an hour ago had been his loyal

friends came on against him by the score, shrieking

their new hatred, calling on their new god, the Dark

King, to strengthen them. Shieldbreaker fought

them all. It smashed their weapons and their bones

impartially, carved up their armor and their flesh


Denis, hypnotized by what he saw, no longer fully

in control of his own actions, crept a little closer

still. He had a long knife at his own belt but he did

not draw it. It was as if the thought never occured

to him that he might possibly make any difference

in the fight that he was watching.

Sir Andrew’s bodyguard, greatly outnumbered

by berserk fanatics, were all down now, their’ dead

or dying bodies being hacked to pieces by their mad

attackers. But Shieldbreaker protected the man

who held it. It continued to make its sound, yet

faster now and louder. It worked on, its voice still

dull despite its blinding speed, its dazzling arc. It

worked efficiently, indifferent as to whom or what

it struck, indifferent to whatever screams or words

went up from those it disarmed or cut apart, indif-

ferent equally to whatever weapons might be plied

against it. Denis saw axeheads, knives, sword-

blades, shafts of spears and arrows, flying every-

where, whole and in a hail of fragments. Human

limbs and armor danced bloodily within the hail,

and surely that bouncing, rolling object had once

been a head.

The mouth of the Kind Knight opened and he

screamed, surely a louder and more terrible roar

than any coming from the folk he struck. Denis,

creeping closer still as if he were unable to help

himself, saw that Sir Andrew was now covered with

blood from head to foot. It was impossible to tell if

any of it might be his own. But if he were wounded,

still the mad vigor of his movements, energized by

magic, continued unabated.

The Knight roared again, in greater agony than

before. Denis saw that Dame Yoldi, possessed, a

creature of evil hatred, her face hideously trans-

formed, was closing in on Sir Andrew. Her hands

were outspread like claws, as if to rend, and she

cried out desperate spells of magic. Even Denis the

unmagical could feel the backwash of their deadly,

immaterial power.

To the Sword of Force the tools of magic were no

more than any other weapons. They were dissolved

and broken against that gleaming curve almost

invisible with speed, that brutal thudding in the

air. Dame Yoldi’s hatred propelled her closer,

closer, to the man she would destroy, and closer

still, until the edge of the bright arc of force touched

her, hands first, body an eyeblink later, and wiped

her away.

Denis saw no more fox the next few seconds.

When he looked up again, there was a pause. Sir

Andrew stood alone now, knee-deep in a small

mound of corpses, all in his own colors of orange

and black. The Sword in his hands still thudded

dully; for those of his former friends who still sur-

vived as maddened enemies were not through with

him yet. A small knot of them, the wounded, those

who had been slow to charge, the calculating, were

gathering at a little distance, scheming some strat-

egy, hatred forced into patient planning.

Denis hurried to Sir Andrew’s side. The young

man thought, as he approached, that Sir Andrew

was trying to hurl Shieldbreaker from him; the

Sword was quieter now in the Knight’s hands, its

sound reduced to a muted tapping. But if he was

trying to be rid of it, it would not let him go. Both of

his hands still gripped it, fingers interlocked

around the hilt, white-knuckled where the knuckles

could be seen through blood.

Sir Andrew turned a hideous face to Denis. The

Knight’s voice was a ghastly whisper, almost inau-

dible. “Go, catch up with the advance guard. Find

the man who is carrying Doomgiver, and order him

in my name, and for the love of Ardneh, to return

here as fast as he can.”

Denis had hardly got out of sight in one direction

before Sir Andrew, looking the opposite way, was

able to see the main body of Vilkata’s troops in the

distance, a black-gold wave advancing toward him.

A trumpet sounded from that line. On hearing it,

such remnants of Sir Andrew’s corrupted troops as

were still on the field abandoned their hopeless

attack, turning in obedient retreat to join the forces

of their new master.

There, in the distance, that man, whitehaired and

mounted under a gold-black banner, must be

Vilkata himself. In those distant hands a weapon

that Sir Andrew knew must be the Mindsword

flamed, the sun awakening in it all the fires of glory.

To Sir Andrew’s eyes, it was not much more than a

glass mirror; Shieldbreaker in his own hands pro-

tected him from that weapon too. It negated all

weapons except itself.

And it was quite enough, he thought; it had quite

destroyed him already.

Again a horn sounded, somewhere over there in

the army of the Dark King. Next, to the Knight’s

numbed surprise, Vilkata’s hosts that had only just

appeared began a measured withdrawal, going

back over the rise of land whence they had come.

Sir Andrew tried to think that over, his mind work-

ing in a newly confused way. He supposed that to

Vilkata’s calculation the withdrawal was only

sense: why order an army to chew itself to tatters,

to no purpose, upon Shieldbreaker’s unbreakable


Sir Andrew might have pursued that army, he

might have run screaming at that central banner

bearing the black skull until everyone beneath it

had been turned to chopped meat at his hands. But

they would not wait for him. Vilkata was mounted

and would get away. And anyway he, Sir Andrew,

was too weak to run, to pursue and catch up with


Now that the immediate threat to Sir Andrew

himself was over, the strength of magic that had

been given him through the Sword was draining

rapidly away. The dread sound of Shieldbreaker’s

hammer thumped more softly, tapping slower, tap-

ping itself down into silence.

He saw himself as if from outside, an old man

standing alone on a hill, knee-deep in corpses of

those he once had loved. His arms ached, as if they

had been pounded by quarterstaffs, from the drill

that Shieldbreaker had dragged them through.

Careless of the blood, he put the Sword into its


It was all Sir Andrew could do now to remain on

his feet.

It was almost more than he could do, to go and

look at what was left of Yoldi.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred