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.