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

still no power flowed from it. Rather the reverse. It

was as she had feared and expected it would be, but

worse; worse than she had thought or feared. Still she

could bear it if she must.

Queen Yambu slammed this most terrible of all

Swords back into its sheath, and sighed with relief as

the midnight around her appeared to brighten instantly.

Then she closed the ornate case around Soulcutter,

and got up and went to the tent door to cry orders to

break camp and march.


Of course the Dark King knew better, when he

stopped to think about it. But through the visualization

provided him by the demon he had been able to see

Shieldbreaker in Sir Andrew’s distant hands only as a

kind of war-hammer rather than a Sword, a picture

matching the sound that reached Vilkata’s ears from

that distant combat. Soulcutter Vilkata had not yet

seen at all, but he knew that it was there now,

somewhere behind him, in the hands of the Silver

Queen. He knew it by his magically assisted

perception of an emptiness, a presence there to which

he was truly blind. Any Sword that he did not own

could frighten him, and he owned only one out of the

Twelve. And now he found himself between two

enemies armed with two Swords that seemed to him

particularly powerful.

Between the Mindsword in the Dark King’s hands

behind them and the Dark King’s cavalry in front of

them, Sir Andrew’s little army had cer-

tainly been destroyed. That much had been accom-

plished. Under ordinary conditions a victory of

such magnitude would have been enough to make

the King feel truly optimistic. But conditions were

not ordinary, if they ever were. There were the two

Swords Shieldbreaker and Soulcutter, and himself

between them.

When the report came in that the Silver Queen

was advancing on his rear, Vilkata sent a flying

messenger to recall most of his advanced cavalry,

and set about turning his entire army to confront

her. It was a decision made with some reluctance,

because he longed to go instead to search person-

ally on the battlefield for Shieldbreaker. A flying

scout had reported seeing from a distance that Sir

Andrew hurled the Sword away from him, when

the fight at last was over. And what subordinate did

the Dark King dare to trust with succeeding in that

search?-but at the same time he dared not fail to

meet the Silver Queen’s advance with the Mind-

sword in his own hands. He could not be in two

places at once.

Anyway Vilkata did not really believe the report

about Sir Andrew throwing Shieldbreaker away.

Whether the Sword of Force would be dropped and

abandoned by any living person on any battlefield

was, in his mind, very doubtful to say the least. In

the end he ordered certain patrols to the place

where Sir Andrew was last seen, to search for the

Sword, or to make what other valuable discoveries

they could, while he himself turned back to meet

the advancing columns of Yambu.

As it turned out, Yambu’s main army was not

nearly as close as had been reported. The flying,

half-intelligent scouts often had trouble estimating

horizontal distances; but the King could not take

chances. He had not much more than got his army

into motion in that direction, when additional dis-

quieting reports came in. These told of gods and

goddesses seen in the vicinity of Tashigang, doing

extravagant things in the Dark King’s name, and

proclaiming him their lord and master, the new

ruler of the world. That in itself would have been

well enough, but the reports also told of the deities

offering him human sacrifice, and holocausts of

grain and cattle. Besides the waste of valuable

resources, it made Vilkata uneasy to realize that the

divinities who had pledged loyalty to him were not

really under his control. Should he send word to

them of his displeasure? But he did not even know

where they were right now. Or where they were

going to be next, or what they might be intending to


The trouble is, he thought, they worship me but I

am not a god. Having arrived at that thought„ he

felt as if he had made some great, vaguely alarming


Mark and his escort had not been many days out

from Tasavalta when they were forced into a skir-

mish with a strong patrol of the Dark King’s troops.

This fight had cost them some casualties. But

Coinspinner in Mark’s hands, altering the odds of

chance in his favor at every turn, saw him and most

of his small force through the fighting safely. He

had experienced the workings of the Sword of

Chance before, and he trusted it-to a degree; it was

really the least trustworthy of the Twelve-and felt

almost familiar with it. The soldiers of his escort

had done neither until now.

When the skirmish was over, the enemy

survivors driven into flight, Mark and his troops rested

briefly and moved on. He was confident, and the

soldiers, who earlier had only grimly obeyed orders,

now picked up that attitude from him. Since what he

truly wanted now was to locate the Emperor, then to

the Emperor Coinspinner’s luck would lead him, in

one way or another.

As they rode Mark paused periodically to sweep

the horizon with the naked tip of the Sword of

Chance. When he aimed it in a certain direction, and

in that direction only, a quivering seized the blade, and

Mark could feel a faint surge of power pass into his

hand through the hilt. In that direction was the

Emperor. Or, at least, that was the way to go to

ultimately reach him.

For several days Mark and his surviving Tasavaltan

escort journeyed in safety. Then they began to

observe the unmistakable signs of armies near. And

then at last there was the noise of a battle close


From a distance Mark watched an enemy force of

overwhelming strength, what he thought had to be the

main body of the Dark King’s troops, first advance in

one direction, then reverse themselvesthough not as in

defeat, he thought-and trudge in mass formation the

other way. The actual fighting had been somewhere

beyond them, where he could not see it.

When the enemy had moved out of the way, and

almost out of sight, Coinspinner still pointed him

toward the place where the battle had been.

When Mark with his small escort reached the

battlefield, they found it almost devoid of living things,

except for a few scavengers, gathering on wing and

afoot. There were a hundred human dead or more,

concentrated mostly in one place. Among the fallen

Mark could not see a single one in Vilkata’s colors.

The only livery visible was Sir Andrew’s orange and


On the field one human figure was still standing.

Slightly built, it was garbed in a robe that had once

been white, and looked like one of Ardneh’s servants

who had been through some arduous journey and

perhaps a battle or two as well. When Mark first saw

it, this figure was bending over one of the dead men

who lay a little apart from the others. Then, even as

Mark watched, the figure in white began to labor

awkwardly at digging-a grave, Mark supposed-using

the blade of a long knife.

As Mark and his troops, in the colors of Tasavalta,

rode nearer, the figure in white took note of them and

stopped what it was doing to await their approach.

But it did not try to run.

When Mark got closer, he recognized the isolated

dead man as Sir Andrew. In war it was no great

surprise, particularly on a field of slaughter like this

one, to find a comrade and a leader dead. But still the

discovery was no less a shock.

Mark jumped down from his mount and put his

hand on the gore-spattered head of the Kind Knight,

and remarked his peaceful face. “Ardneh greet you,”

he muttered, and for a moment at least could feel real

hope that it might be so.

Then Mark stood up. Taking Denis for a genuine

Ardneh-pilgrim who had probably just wandered onto

the scene, Mark asked, “But where are his own

people, all slaughtered?” He looked round him at the

few score dead. “This can’t be his entire army!”

Denis answered. “Many were slaurrhtered_ I Fear _

The Dark King’s cavalry attacked also, ahead, beyond

those hills. The officers remaining are trying to rally

whatever troops are left. Sir Andrew’s close friends

wanted to bury him-what I am trying to do-but they

decided Sir Andrew would have wanted them to see

to the living first. As I am sure he would.”

“You knew him, then?”

The youth in ragged white nodded assent. “I had

been with him for some days. I think I came to know

him, in a way. I am called Denis the Quick, of

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred