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

After that, trying to see his way through tears, he

made his legs carry him away. He was not sure

where he was going, nor even of where he ought to

go. He got no farther than the next small hillock of

the field, coming again within sight of the flimsy

ruins of the carnival, when the great pain struck him

inside his chest. It felt like a spearthrust to the heart.

He collapsed on his back. A fighter’s instincts made

him draw the great Sword again before he fell. But he

faced no weapons now, and the Sword of Force was


As Sir Andrew lay in the grass the sky above him

looked so peaceful that it surprised him. He

considered his pain. It feels, he thought, as if my heart

were bursting. As perhaps it is.

He took a look back, quickly and critically, at what

he could see at this moment of his own long life. He

found the prospect of death, at this moment, not


The pain came again, worse than before.

“Yoldi . . .”

But she did not answer. She was not going to

answer him ever again.

When it seemed that the pain was going to let him

live yet a little longer, Sir Andrew flung Shieldbreaker

away from him, using two hands and all of his

remaining strength. He had tried to throw the great

Sword away before, tried again and again when he

saw Yoldi running at him and realized what must have

happened to her, and what was going to happen. But

the Sword’s magic would not leave him then. This

time, now that it was too late, it left his hands as

obediently as any stick thrown for a dog. The blade

whined faintly, mournfully, turning through the air.

The Knight did not want to die alone. If only there

could be a friend nearby-someone.

He closed his eyes, and wondered if he would ever

open them on this world’s skies again. Would it be

Ardneh that he saw when he opened his eyes again,

as some folk thought? Or nothingness?

He opened them and saw that he was still in the

same world, under the same sky. Something

compelled him to make the effort to turn his head. A

single figure, that of a man in gray, was walking

toward him from the direction of the carnival, the

abandoned showplace that Sir Andrew had been

perfectly sure was quite deserted. A man, not armed

or armored, but . . . wearing a mask?

The gray-clad figure came close, and knelt down

beside him like a concerned comrade.

Sir Andrew asked: “Who’re you?”

The man raised a hand promptly and pulled off his


“Oh.” Sir Andrew’s voice was almost disappointed

in its reassurance. “You,” he said, relieved and calm.

“Yes . . . I know who you are.”

Denis, returning mounted and at full speed, leading

a small flying wedge of armed and armored folk who

were desperate to relieve their beloved lord, found the

battlefield deserted by the living. Sir Andrew lay dead,

at a little distance from the other dead. His body,

though covered with others’ gore, was unmarked by

any serious wound. The expression on the Kind

Knight’s face was peaceful.

Presently Denis and the others began to look for

Shieldbreaker. They looked everywhere among the

dead, and then in widening circles outward. But the

Sword of Force was gone..


The field cot was wide enough for two-for two, at

least, who were on terms of intimate friendship-but

tonight, as for many nights past, only one person had

slept in it.

Or tried to sleep.

The Silver Queen’s field tent was not large, not for

a shelter that had to serve sometimes as royal

conference room as well as dwelling. According to

certain stories she had heard, it would not have made

a room in the great pavilion that usually accompanied

the Dark King when he traveled with his army.

She felt great scorn for many of the Dark King’s

ways. But there were other things about him that

enforced respect, and-to herself, alone at night, she

could admit it-tended to induce fear as well.

The Queen of Yambu was sitting in near-midnight

darkness on the edge of her lonely field cot, wearing

the light drawers and shirt she usually slept in when in

the field with her troops. She could

hear rain dripping desultorily upon the tent, and an

occasional word or movement of one of the sentries

not far outside.

Her gaze was fixed on a dim, inanimate shape,

resting only an arm’s length away beside the cot. In

midnight darkness it was all but impossible to see the

thing that she was looking at, but that did not really

matter, for she knew the object as well as her own

hand. It rested there on a trestle as it always did,

beside her when she slept-or tried to sleep. It was a

Swordcase of carven wood, its huge wooden hilt

formed by chiseled dragons with their long necks

recurved, as if they meant to sink their fangs into each

other. Just where the case had originated, or when,

the queen of Yambu was not sure, but she thought it

beautiful; and after the best specialist magicians in her

pay had pronounced it innocent of any harm for her,

she had used it to encase her treasure, which she kept

near her almost alwaysher visit to Sir Andrew in the

swamp had been one notable exception-as her last

dark hope for victory.

A thousand times she had opened the wooden case,

but she had never yet drawn Soulcutter from its

sheath inside. Never yet had she seen the bare steel

of that Blade in what she was sure must be its

splendor. She was afraid to do so. But without it in

her possession she would not have dared to take her

army into the field now, risking combat with the

Mindsword and its mighty owner the Dark King.

Some hours ago, near sunset, a winged

halfintelligent messenger had brought her word of

Vilkata’s latest triumph. He had apparently crushed

what might have been Sir Andrew’s entire, army.

Then, instead of coming to attack her as she

kept expecting he would do, Vilkata had turned his

own vast forces in a move in the direction of


Maybe the Dark King’s scouts had lost track of

where her forces were. But for whatever reason, her

own certainty that she would be the first one attacked

by Vilkata was proven wrong, and that gave

cowardice a chance to whisper in her ear that it might

not be too late for her to patch up an alliance with the

King. Of course cowardice, as usual, was an idiot.

Her intelligence told her that her only real hope lay in

attacking the Dark King now, while she might still

hope for some real help. Sir Andrew was already

gone. When Tashigang too had fallen, then it would

certainly be too late.

When the news of Vilkata’s most recent triumph

had come in, Yambu had first conferred briefly with

her commanders, then dismissed them, telling them to

let the troops get some rest tonight. But she herself

had not been able to sleep since. Nor, though her own

necessary course of action was becoming plainer and

plainer, had she been able to muster the will to be

decisive, to give the orders to break camp and march.

Who, or what, could stand against the Mindsword?

Evidently only something that was just as terrible.

And Sir Andrew had been wearing Shieldbreaker,

ready at his side. With her own eyes, on her visit to

the swamp, she had seen the small white hammer on

the black hilt. Vilkata with his Mindsword had

evidently won, somehow, even against that weapon.

Did Vilkata now have possession of both those

Blades? But even if he did, each terrible aug

mentation of his power only made it all the more

essential to march against him without delay.

The Silver Queen stood up and moved forward one

short pace in midnight blackness, trusting that the tent

floor was there as usual, and no assassin’s knife. She

put out her hand and touched the wooden case, then

opened it.

She stroked .with one finger the black hilt of her

own Sword. This Sword alone among the Twelve

bore no white symbol on its hilt. No sense of power

came to her when she touched it. There was no sense

of anything, beyond the dull material hilt itself. Of all

the Twelve, this one alone had nothing to say to the

world about itself.

She glanced back at her solitary cot, barely visible

in the dulled sky-glow that fell in through the tent’s

screened window. She visualized Amintor’s scarred

shoulders as they sometimes appeared there, bulking

above the plain rumpled blanket. Amintor was wise,

sometimes. Or clever at least. She doubted now that

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