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

Tashigang.” And Denis’s quick eyes flicked around

Mark’s escort. “I did not know that there were

Tasavaltan troops nearby.”

“There are not many. My name is Mark.”

Nor had Denis failed to notice the large black hilt at

Mark’s side. “There was a man of that name who had-

and still has, for all I know-much to do with the

Twelve Swords. Or so all the stories say. But I didn’t

know that he was Tasavaltan.”

“I am not Tasavaltan, really . . . and yes, I have had

much to do with them. Much more than I could wish.”

Mark sighed.

But even as he spoke, Mark was tiredly, dutifully

drawing Coinspinner again. While Denis and the

Tasavaltan soldiers watched in alert silence, he swept

it once more round the horizon. “That way,” Mark

muttered, as he resheathed the Blade. “And nearby,

now, I think. The feeling in the hilt is strong.”

The Sword has pointed in the direction of the

abandoned carnival, which was just visible over the

nearest gentle rise of ground.

Mark began to walk in the direction of the carnival,

leading his mount. His escort followed silently,

professionally alert for trouble. Denis hesitated for a

moment, then abandoned his gravedigging temporarily

and came with them too. The ruined show was only

about a hundred meters distant.

Standing on the edge of the area of dilapidated tents

and flimsy shelters, Mark looked about him with a

frown. “This is very much like…”


“Nothing.” But then Mark hesitated. His voice

when he replied again was strained. “Like one

carnival in particular that I remember seeing once . . .

long ago.”

It was of course impossible for him to be certain,

but he had a feeling that it was really the same one.

Something about the tents, or maybe the names of the

performers-though he could not remember any of

them consciously-on the few worn, faded signs that

were visible.

Yes. Nine years ago, or thereabouts, this very

carnival-he thought-had been encamped far from

here, in front of what had then been Sir Andrew’s

castle. That had been the night of Mark’s second

encounter with a Sword, the night on which someone

had thrust Sightblinder into his hands ….

One of the mounted Tasavaltan troopers sounded a

low whistle, a signal meaning that an enemy had been

sighted nearby. Mark forgot the past and sprang

alertly into his saddle.

There was barely time to grab for weapons before

a patrol of the Dark King’s cavalry was upon them.

Vilkata’s troops abandoned stealth when they saw

that they were seen, to come shouting and charging

between the tents and flimsy shacks.

Mark, with Coinspinner raised, met one mounted

attacker, a grizzled veteran who fell back wide-eyed

when he saw his opponent brandishing a Sword;

the magnificent blade made the god-forged weap-

ons unmistakable even when the black hilt with its

identifying symbol was hidden in a fist. Other fight-

ing swirled around them. Mark’s riding beast was

slightly wounded. He had to struggle to control it,

as it carried him some little distance where he

found himself almost alone. The Sword of Good

Luck could create certain difficulties for a leader,

even when it perhaps simultaneously saved his life.

He waved a signal to such of his Tasavaltan people

as he could see, then rode to lead them in a counter-

attack around a wooden structure a little larger

than the rest of the carnival’s components.

In a moment he discovered that his troops had

evidently missed or misread his hand signal, and he

was for the moment completely alone. Swearing by

the anatomies of several gods and goddesses, he

was wheeling his mount again, to get back to his

troops, when his eye fell on the faded legend over

the flimsy building’s doorway.

It read:


And just outside the House of Mirth, a man was

sitting, waiting for Mark. The man, garbed in dull

colors, sat there so quietly on a little bench that

Mark had ridden past him once without even

noticing his presence. Mark was sure at once that

the man was waiting for him, because he was look-

ing at Mark as if he had been expecting him and no

one else.

The man on the bench was compactly built, of

indeterminate age, and wrapped in a gray cloak of

quiet but now somewhat dusty elegance. His face,

Mark thought, was quite calm and also quite ordi-

nary, and he sat there almost meekly, unarmed but

with a long empty scabbard at his belt.

Coinspinner pointed straight at the man. Then

the Sword seemed to leap and twist in Mark’s hand,

and he could not retain his hold upon it. The man

on the bench had done nothing at all that Mark

could see, but the Sword of Chance was no longer in

Mark’s grip, and the scabbard at the Emperor’s

side was no longer empty.

Even apart from Coinspinner’s evidence, Mark

had not the least doubt of who he was facing. He

had heard descriptions. He had heard enough to

make him wonder if, in spite of himself, he might be

awed when this moment came. But in fact the first

emotion that Mark felt was anger, and his first

words expressed it. They came in ‘a voice that trem-

bled a little with his resentment, and it was not

even the taking of the Sword that made him angry.

“You are my father. So my mother has told me.”

The Emperor gave no sign of feeling any anger in

response to Mark’s. He only looked Mark up and

down and smiled a little, as if he were basically

pleased with what he saw. Then he said: “She told

you truly, Mark. You are my son.”

“Return my Sword. I need it, and my troops need


“Presently. They are managing without you at

the moment.”

Mark started to get down from his riding beast,

meaning to confront the other even more closely.

But at the last moment he decided to hold on to

whatever advantage remaining mounted might

afford him-even though he suspected that would

be none at all.

He accused the seated man again. “It was a long

time afterward, my mother said, before she realized

who you really were. Not until after I was born. You

were masked, when you took her. For a while she

thought you were Duke Fraktin, that bastard.

Playing tricks, like a . . . why did you do that to her?

And to my father?”

Mark heard his own voice quiver on the last

word. Somehow the accusation had ended more

weakly than it had begun.

The Emperor answered him steadily. “I did it, I

took her as you say, because I wanted to bring you

into being.”

“I . . .” It was difficult to find the right words,

properly angry and forceful, to answer that.

The man on the bench added: “You are one of my

many children, Mark. The Imperial blood flows in

your veins.”

Again Mark’s injured riding beast began to give

him trouble, turning restively this way and that. He

worked to control it, and told himself that if only he

had his Sword he would have turned his back on

this man and ridden away, gone back to join the

fight. But his Sword was gone. And now as soon as

the animal looked directly at the Emperor it qui-

eted. It stood still, facing the man on the bench and

trembling faintly.

And is it going to be the same with me? Will I be

pacified so easily? Mark wondered. Already his

intended fury at this man was weakening.

Mark said; “I have been thinking about that, too.

The Imperial blood. If I have it, what does that


The Emperor stood up slowly. There was still

nothing physically impressive or even distinctive

about him. He was neither remarkably tall nor

short, and, to Mark’s dull senses at least, he radi-

ated no aura of magic. As he walked the few paces

to stand beside Mark’s trembling mount, he drew

Coinspinner and casually handed it up to Mark, hilt

first. “You will need this, as you say,” he remarked,

as if in an aside.

And then, as Mark almost dazedly accepted the

Sword, the Emperor answered his question. “It

means, for one thing, that you have the ordering of

demons. More precisely, the ability to order them

away, to cast them out. What words, what particu-

lar incantation you employ to do so matters little.”

Mark slid Coinspinner back into the sheath at his

own side. Now he was free to turn and ride away.

But he did not. “The demons, yes . . . tell me. There

was a girl named Ariane, who was with me once in

the Blue Temple dungeon. Who saved me from a

demon there. Was she . . . ?”

“Another of my children. Yes. Did she not once

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred