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

she herself knew what wisdom was, doubted she

would recognize wisdom if it came flying at her in the

night like some winged attacking reptile.

Quite possibly she had never been able to recognize

it, and only of late was she aware of this.

The one adviser whose word she would really have

valued now had been gone from her side for years,

and he was not coming back. She was never going to

see him again, except, possibly, one day across some

battlefield. But perhaps when they met in battle he

would be wearing a mask again (she had never

understood why he did that so often) and he would go


And now, at this point in what had become a

familiar cycle of thought, it was time for her to

think about Ariane. Ariane her daughter, her only

child, and of course his daughter too.

The Silver Queen’s intelligence sources had con-

firmed for her the stories, now four years old, that

Ariane was four years dead, had perished with

some band of robbers in an attempt to plunder the

main hoard of the Blue Temple. Well, the girl was

better off that way, most likely, than in Red Temple


Had that plot, to put Ariane on the throne of

Yambu, been a real one? Or had the real plot been

to force her, the Silver Queen, to get rid of her

daughter, her one potentially trustworthy ally?

Even when convinced of the danger, Queen Yambu

had been unable to give the orders for her daugh-

ter’s death. And besides, the auguries had threat-

ened the most horrible consequences for her royal

self if she should do so. In the end, as certain of the

auguries appeared to advise, she had sold Ariane

into Red Temple slavery.

Her own daughter, her only child. She, Queen

Yambu, had been lost in her own hate and fear ….

Would Amintor, she wondered, if he had been

with her then, have had the courage to advise her

firmly against destroying her own daughter? Not,

she thought, once he knew that she was determined

on it .

. . . and now, of course, in this pointless cycle of

thought, remembrance, and self-recrimination, it

was time for her to recall those days of her love

affair with the Emperor, before her triumphant

ascension to the throne. Only rarely since that tri-

umph had she felt as fully alive as she did then, in

that time of continuous, desperate effort and dan-

ger. Then her life had been in peril constantly. She

had been in flight day after day, never sleeping

twice in the same place, alert always to escape the

usurpers’ search parties that were frantically

scouring the country for her.

That was when she had met him, when the love

affair had started, and when it had run its course.

She had been an ignorant girl then, only guessing at

the Emperor’s real power; then, as now, he had had

no army of his own to send into the field. But he had

saved her more than once, fighting like a demon at

her side, inspiring her with predictions of victory,

outguessing the enemy on which direction their

search parties would take next.

There had been hints, she supposed, in those

early days of love, as to what he expected as his ulti-

mate reward. More than hints, if she had been will-

ing to see and hear them. Still she had begun, naive

girl as she then was, to think him selfless and

unselfish. And then-landless, armyless, brazen,

bold-faced opportunist after all!-he had proposed

marriage to her. On the very day of her stunning vic-

tory, when enough of the powerful folk of Yambu

had rallied to her cause to turn the tide. The very

day she had been able to ascend the throne, and to

order the chief plotters and their families put to a

horrible death.

The man who called himself the Emperor must

have read her instant refusal in her face. For when

she had turned back from giving some urgent order,

to deliver her answer to him plainly, he was already

gone. Perhaps he had put. on one of his damned

masks again; anyway he had vanished in that day’s

great confusion of unfamiliar figures, new body-

guard and new courtiers and foreign dignitaries

already on hand to congratulate the winner.

She had refused to order a search, or even to

allow one. Let him go. She was well rid of him.

From that day forward she would be Queen, and

her marriage, when she got around to thinking of

marriage, would have to be something planned as

carefully and coldly as an army’s march.

There had been, naturally enough, other lovers,

from that day almost twenty years ago till this.’

Amintor was, she supposed, the most durable of the

bunch. Lovers was not really the right word for

them though; useful bodies, sometimes entertain-

ing or even useful minds.

But the Emperor yes, he had been her lover.

That fact in some ways seemed to loom larger as it

became more distant down the lengthening avenue

of years.

But, she thought now (as she usually did when

the thought-cycle had reached this point), how

could any woman, let alone a Queen, have been

expected to live with, to seriously plan a life and a

career, with a man like that . . . ?

The Silver Queen’s thoughts and feelings, as

usual, became jumbled at this point. It was all done

with now. It had all been over and done with, a long

time ago. The Emperor might have made her

immortal, or at least virtually ageless, like himself.

Well, as a strong Queen she could hire or persuade

other powerful magicians to do the same for her, as

they did for themselves, when it began to seem


Only after she had refused the Emperor’s offer of

marriage, and after she had banned that impossible

pretender, that joker and seducer, from her

thoughts (the banning had been quite successful for

a time)-it was only then, of course, that she had

realized that she was pregnant.

Her first thought had been to rid herself of the

child before it was born. But her second thought-

already she was beginning to pick up more hints of

the Emperor’s latent power-was that the child

might possibly represent an asset later. As usual in

her new life as Queen, far-sighted caution had pre-

vailed. She had endured the pregnancy and birth.

There was no doubt of who the father was,

despite the baby’s fair skin and reddish hair, unlike

those of either parent. The Emperor had been her

only lover at the time. Besides, the Queen could find

redheads recorded on both sides of her own ances-

try. As for the Emperor’s family . . . who knew? Not

any of the wizards she had been able to consult.

One thing certain about him; he had been, still

was, a consummate magician. The Silver Queen

appreciated that more fully now. At the time, as a

girl, she had only begun to recognize the fact.

And even now-actually more often now than in

those early years of her reign-the idea kept coming

tantalizingly back: what if she actually had mar-

ried him?

That would have been impossible, of course.

Quite socially, politically impossible for a Queen to

.marry one that the world knew as a demented

clown. No matter that the wise and well-educated

at least suspected there was more to the Emperor

than that. But what if she had done it, used her new

royal power to make it work? There would of course

have had to have been a strong concurrent effort to

revive her husband’s title in its ancient sense, one of

well-nigh supreme power, of puissance beyond that of

mere Kings and Queens.

Would she have been acclaimed as a genius of

statecraft for marrying him and trying to do that?

Only, of course, if it had worked. More likely she

would have become a laughingstock.

In any case it was nonsense to think about it now.

She had been only a girl then, unwise in the ways of

ruling, and how could she ever have made such an

attempt succeed?

But he might have been able to make it work. What

if she had let him rule beside her, had let him try ..

Maybe, she thought, it was the memory of the

Emperor’s fierce masculinity that was really bothering

her tonight. On top of everything else. There had

been something stronger about him in that way than

any other man she had ever invited to her cot, though

physically he was not particularly big.

Enough. There in the dark privacy of her tent, not

giving herself time to think about it, she clasped her

right hand firmly on Soulcutter’s hilt and drew it

halfway from its sheath. Still there was no glow, and

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