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

hip, and a numbness that threatened to grow into a

greater pain still, and the awareness that he could not

move. Near him Micheline and the children lay

huddled. and jumbled in the midst of their spilled

belongings. Except for Birch himself they all appeared

to be unhurt, but Micheline was

gasping and the children whimpering softly in new

terror. Still connected to the wagon by the leather

straps of the harness, their only loadbeast lay

twitching, its whole body crumpled into an impos-

sible position. It had been slaughtered, butchered

by a mere gesture from the passing God of War.

Mars’ windstorm of a voice roared forth, above

the cowering humans’ heads: “What’s all this talk I

hear, these last few years, about twelve special

Swords? I’ve never seen them and I don’t want to.

What’s so great about them, really? Can anyone

here answer me that? My war-spear here does the

job as neatly as it ever did.”

If the god was really talking to the humans he had

just trampled, and whether he expected any of his

surviving victims to actually enter into a dialogue,

Birch never knew. The voice that did rumble an

answer back at Mars was deeper and louder by far

than any human tones could be. It came rolling

down at them from the hillside on the other side of

the ford, and it said: “Your spear has failed you

before, Wargod. It will again be insufficient.”

Birch did not recognize that voice. But Mars did,

for Birch saw him turn, with an expression sud-

denly and almost madly joyful, to face its owner.

The God of War cried out: “It is the dog! The great

son of a bitch that they call the Lord of Beasts. At

last! I have been looking for you for a long time.”

Birch was still lying on his back, aware that

Micheline and the children were still at his side,

and evidently still unhurt; but beyond that he could

not. think for the moment about himself or his fam-

ily, nor speak, though his dry lips formed words.

Even his own pain and injury were momentarily

forgotten. He could only watch. He had never seen a

single god in his whole life before, and now here

were two at one time.

Lord Draffut came walking downhill, toward the

ford and the few crouching, surviving humans, and

the poor wreckage that was all that was left of the

train of carts. Draffut’s towering man-shaped form

splashed knee-deep through the small river, now

partially dammed by the jumble of wrecked vehi-

cles, murdered loadbeasts and human bodies, all

intermingled with the poor useless things that the

humans had been trying to carry with them to

safety inside the walls of Tashigang. The bloodied

water splashed up around those knees of glowing

fur, and Birch saw marveling that the elements of

water and mud were touched with temporary life

wherever the body of Draffut came in contact with


“Down on four legs, beast!” the Wargod roared,

brandishing his spear at the other god who was as

tall as he.

Lord Draffut had nothing more to say to Mars

just now. The Beastlord only bared his fangs as he

crossed the stream and halted, slightly crouching,

almost within reach of the God of War.

The first thrust of the great spear came, too swift

and powerful for watching Birch to see it plainly, or

for Draffut to ward it in just the way he sought to

do. It pierced Draffut’s right forearm, but only

lightly, in and out near the surface, so that he was

still able to catch the spear’s shaft in both his

hands. A moment later he had wrenched the

weapon out of the grasp of Mars completely, and

reversed it in his own grip.

Mars had another spear, already magically in

hand. The two weapons clashed. Then Draffut

thrust again, with such violence that the shield of

Mars was transfixed by the blow, and knocked out of

the Wargod’s grasp, to go rolling away with the spear

like some great cartwheel on the end of a broken


Mars cried out, a bellow of rage and fear, thought

Birch, not of injury. Even to witness the fear of a god

was terrible. In the next moment Mars demonstrated

the ability to produce still more spears at will, and had

now armed himself with one in each hand.

Draffut lunged at him and closed with him, and

locked his massive arms around his great opponent,

clamping the arms of Mars against the cuirass

protecting the Wargod’s body. At the same time

Draffut sank his enormous fangs into god-flesh at the

base of the thick armored neck. At the touch of the

Lord of Beasts, even the magical armor of Mars

melted and flowed with life, treacherously exposing

the divine flesh that it was meant to guard.

The giants stamped and swayed, the earth quivering

beneath their feet; even though his upper arms were

pinioned, Mars tried stabbing at his attacker with the

spears he held in both his hands. Birch, beyond

marveling now, saw how one spearhead was

converted by Draffut’s life-powers to the giant head

of a living serpent, and how the serpent’s head struck

back at the arm and wrist of the god who held it.

Mars shrieked in deafening pain and rage.

Micheline, seeing the fight in her own terms, as an

opportunity for human action, demanded of her

husband whether he was hurt, whether he could

move. Birch, taking his eyes off the contending giants

only for a moment, told her that yes, he was

hurt, and no, he could not move, and that she should

take the children and get on away from here, and

come back later when it was safe.

She protested briefly; but when she saw that he

really could not move, she did as he had said. The

fighting gods were much too busy to notice their

departure, or that of any of the other people who

could still move.

The spearhead in the right hand of Mars had not

been changed by Draffut’s touch; it stubbornly

refused to flow with life. “You will not melt this

weapon down!” Mars cried, and with its bright point

and edge he tore open a wound along the shaggy ribs

of the Lord of Beasts. And meanwhile Mars had

managed to cast the treacherous biting serpent from


Now the God of Healing could no longer entirely

heal himself. He bled red sparkling blood, from his

side and from his wounded arm as well.

Yet he closed with Mars and disarmed him again of

his remaining spear. He seized Mars -in a wrestler’s

grip, and lifted him and threw him down on rocks, so

that the earth shook with the shock of impact, and the

water in the nearby stream leapt up in little spouts.

But as soon as he was free of Draffut’s grip, Mars

bounced up, a spear once more in each hand, just as

before. He was bleeding too, with blood as red as

Draffut’s, but thicker, and so hot it steamed, rushing

out from the place where Draffut’s fangs had torn his


Mars said: “You cannot kill a true god, dogbeing.

We are immortal.”

Draffut was approaching him again, closing in

slowly and methodically, looking for the best

chance to attack. “Hermes died. If I cannot kill you . .

. it is not because you are a god. It will be because…”

And now again-Birch did not understand, or hope

to understand, everything that he was seeing and

hearing-it seemed that Mars was capable of fear.

“Why?” the Wargod asked.

Draffut answered: “Because there is too much of

humanity in you. Human beings are not the gods’

creation. You are theirs. You and all your peers who

meet in the Ludus Mountains.”

This brought on a bluster of roaring, and insults

from Mars, to which Draffut did not bother to reply.

Meanwhile the two giants continued their steady,

stealthy circling and stalking of each other.

But, finally, it was as if Draffut’s calm statement

about humanity had struck deeper than any planned

insult. It must have struck so deep as to provoke even

the God of War to that ultimate reaction, thought.

Mars rumbled at the other, “What did you mean by

that foolishness? That we are their creation?”

“I mean to tell you what I saw, on that day when I

stood among you, on the cold mountaintop, with the

Sword of Stealth in my hand . . . Sightblinder let me

see into the inward nature of the gods, you and the

others there. And since then I have known . . . if I

could not kill you the last time we fought, and I cannot

kill you now, it is because there is in you too much of


“Bah. That I cannot believe.” Mars waved his


Stalking his enemy, bleeding, Draffut said it again.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred