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

“You did not create them.”

“Hah. That I can believe. What sort of god would

be bothered to do that?”

“They created you.”

Mars snorted with divine contempt. “How could

such vermin ever create anything?”

“Through their dreams. Their dreams are very


The two titans closed with each other again, and

fought, and again both of them were wounded. And

again they both were weakened.

The only human observer left to watch them now

was the man named Birch. He would certainly have

crept away by now, too, with his wife and children, if

he had been able to move. But he could not move.

And by now he was no longer even thinking

particularly of his own fate. He watched the fight until

he fainted, and when he recovered his senses he

watched again, for the fight was still in progress.

When his thirst became overpowering, he made a

great effort and managed to turn and twist himself

enough to get a drink from the muddied, bloodied

water of the small stream. Then he lay back and kept

his mind off his own pain and injury by watching the

fight some more.

The sun set on the struggle. It went on, with pauses-

Birch supposed that even gods in this kind of agony

must rest-through the night. The dark was filled with

titanic thrashings and groanings, and splashing in the

river where it gurgled gorily and patiently over and

around the new dam that had been made out of

human disaster.

At least, Birch told himself in his more lucid

moments, he was not going to have to worry about

predatory animals coming and trying to make a

meal of him as he lay wounded. What ordinary beast

would dare approach this scene?

When dawn came, Birch found himself still alive,

somewhat to his own surprise. In the new daylight he

beheld the ground, over the entire area around the

ford, littered with broken spearshafts and spearheads,

and with monstrous dead or lethargic serpents that

had once been spears, all relics of the fight that still

went on.

Or did it? This latest interval of silence seemed to

be lasting for a longer time than usual

There was a great, startling, earth-quivering crash,

somewhere nearby, just out of Birch’s sight, behind

some overturned and smashed-up wagons that

screened a large part of his field of vision. The ground

shook with the renewed fight, which once more

seemed to terminate in a final splash. In a moment the

watching human was able to see and feel the waves

indicating that the two combatants, still locked

together, had plunged into the partially dammed pool

of the river.

Now for a time Birch could no longer hear them

fighting, except for occasional splashes that gradually

decreased in violence. But now he could hear the two

gods breathing. Ought gods to have to breathe? Birch

wondered groggily. Maybe they only did it when they

chose, like eating and drinking. Maybe they only did it

when they needed extra strength.

Time passed in near silence. Then as the newly

risen sun crept higher in the sky, a shadow fell across

Birch where he lay. The man opened his eyes, to

behold the figure of yet another god. Thank Ardneh,

this one had not yet noticed the surviving human


Birch knew at once, by the leather-like smith’s

apron worn by the newcomer, and by the twisted leg,

that this was Vulcan. The lame god was wearing at

his side two great, blackhilted Swords, looking like

mere daggers against the gray bulk of his body. He

squatted on his haunches, looking down into the pool

where the two fighters had gone out of Birch’s field of

vision. Now there was a renewed stirring in the pool,

at last. A muttering, a splash. A great grin spread

across the face of the Smith as he stood up and

leisurely approached the combat a little more closely.

Before he sat down again, on a rock, he kicked a

broken cart out of his way. This incidentally cleared

the field of view for the injured man, of whose

existence none of the three giants had yet taken the

least notice.

“Hail, oh mighty Wargod!” The salutation came

from Vulcan in tones of gigantic mockery. “The world

awaits your conquering presence. Have you not

dallied here long enough? What are you doing down

there, exactly-bathing your pet dog in the mud?”

Birch could see now how red the mud and water

were around them both. Of the two combatants,

Draffut could no longer fight, could hardly move. The

God of War was little better off than his bedraggled

foe. But now, slowly, terribly, with great gasping

efforts, Mars dragged himself free of his opponent’s

biting, crushing grip, and stood erect, ankle-deep in


When the Wargod tried to speak his voice was half-

inaudible, failing altogether on some words. It seemed

that he could barely lift the arm that he stretched out

to Vulcan. “A spear-a weapon-I have no more

spears. Lend me your Sword, Smith.

One of them, I see that you have two. This business

must be finished.”

Vulcan sighed, producing a sound like that of

wind rushing through a smoldering forge. He

remained where he was, still some twenty meters

or so distant from the other two. “Give you a

weapon, hey? Well, I suppose I must, since you

appear to be the victor in this shabby business after

all. How tiresome.”

Mars, though tottering on his feet, managed to

draw himself a little more fully erect.

“How mannered you suddenly grow, Black-

smith. How fond you suddenly are of trying to

appear clever. Why should that be? But never

mind. Put steel here in my hand, and I’ll finish this

dirty job.”

“I grant you,” said Vulcan, “there is a need that

certain things be finished.” And the Smith stood up

from where he had been sitting, and his ornaments

of dragons’ scales tinkled as he -chose and drew one

of his Swords.

” ‘For thy heart’,” he quoted softly, clasping and

hiding the black hilt delicately in his great, gray,

hardened blaksmith’s hand. He held the Sword up

straight, looking at it almost lovingly. ”For thy

heart, who hast wronged me.'”

“Wait,” said Mars, staring at him with a sud-

denly new expression. “What Sword is-?”

His answer did not come in words. Vulcan was

moving into a strange revolving dance, his whole

body turning ponderously, great sandaled feet

stamping rock and mud along the wagon trail, flat-

tening earth that was already trodden and beaten

and bloody from the fight, squashing the already

dying serpents that had once been spears. The

Sword in the Smith’s extended arm was glowing

now, and it was howling like the bull-roarer of some

primitive magician.

Mars, half-dead or not, was suddenly galvanized.

He sprang into motion, fleeing, running away. Run-

ning as only a god can run, Mars went ducking and

twisting his way through the remnants of the hill-

side grove. He dodged among great splintered

treetrunks, and splintering further those trees that

got in his way.

Birch saw Vulcan throw the Sword, or rather let

it go. After the Smith released it, the power that

propelled it came only from within itself. The speed

of Mars’ flight was great, but the Sword was only a

white streak through the air. Virtually instanta-

neously it followed the curving track of the War-

god’s flight.

At the last moment, Mars turned to face doom

bravely, and somehow he was able to summon yet

one more spear into his hand. But even his magic

spear of war availed him nothing against the Sword

of Vengeance. The white streak ended abruptly,

with the sound of a sharp impact.

Even with Farslayer embedded in his heart, Mars

raised his spear, and took one stumbling step

toward the god who had destroyed him. But then he

could only cry a curse, and fall. He was dead before

he struck the earth, and he demolished one more

live tree in his falling. That last tree deflected the

Wargod’s toppling body, so that he turned before

his landing shook the earth, and ended sprawling

on his back. Only the black hilt and a handsbreadth

of Farslayer’s bright blade protruded from the

armored breastplate on his chest.


At the largest land gate in the walls of Tashigang,

which was the Hermes Gate giving onto the great

highway called the High Road, one thin stream of

worried citizens was trying to get out of the city when

Mark and Denis arrived, while another group, this one

of country refugees, worked and pleaded to get in.

There was obviously no general agreement on the

safest place to be during the war that everyone

thought was coming. The Watch on duty at the

Hermes Gate were implacably forbidding the removal

of foodstuffs, or anything that could be construed as

military or medical supplies, while at the same time

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred