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

denying entrance to many of the outsiders. To gain

entrance to the city it was necessary to show pressing

business-other than that of one’s own survival, which

did not necessarily concern the Watch-or to bring in

some substantial material contribution to the city’s

ability to withstand a siege. Denis, on identifying

himself as an agent of the House of Courtenay, was

admitted with no fur

ther argument. And Mark, along with his escort, was

passed as a representative of Tasavalta, as his and his

soldiers’ blue-green clothing testified.

Mark thought that some of the Watch on duty at the

gate recognized Coinspinner at his side-it was not

mentioned, but he suspected that the fact of the

Sword’s presence was quickly communicated to the

Lord Mayor. Mark informed the officer who spoke to

him that he too could be reached at the House of

Courtenay, and alerted the guardians of the gate to

expect the survivors of Sir Andrew’s army. That

group, two or three hundred strong, was traveling a

few hours behind Mark and Denis; it would, they

agreed, make a welcome addition to the city’s

garrison, that Denis said was chronically


It was the first time Mark had ever entered a city as

large as this one-he had heard some say that there

were none larger-and he saw much to wonder at as

Denis conducted him and his handful of Tasavaltan

troopers through the broad avenues and streets. This

was also, of course, the first time that Mark had seen

the House of Courtenay, and he was duly impressed

by the wealth and luxury in which his old friends

Barbara and Ben were living. But he was given little

time today in which to be impressed by that. The

household, like the rest of the great city around it, was

in a state of turmoil and tension. Soon after entering

Mark got the impression that none of its members

knew as yet whether they were preparing for war and

siege, or for evacuation. Packing of certain valuables

as if for possible evacuation was being undertaken, by

a force of what Mark estimated as at least a dozen

servants and other workers, while simultaneously

another group barricaded all but a few of the doors

and windows as if in expectation that the House

must undergo a siege.

Almost immediately on entering the building’s

ground floor, coming into the clamorous confusion

of what must be a workshop, Denis immediately

became engaged in conversation with a man he

introduced to Mark as the steward of the house-

hold, named Tarim.

Denis was already aghast at some of the things

Tarim was telling him.

“Evacuation? Tashigang? Don’t tell me they’re

seriously considering such a thing.”

“We have heard something of the Mindsword’s

power,” said Tarim worriedly. He turned his aging,

troubled eyes toward Mark. “Perhaps you gentle-

men who travel out in the great world have heard

something of it too.”

Denis was impatient. “I think we’ve some idea

about it, yes. But we’re not helpless, there are other

weapons, other Swords. We’ve even brought one

with us . . . and if they evacuate this city, half a mil-

lion people or however many there are, where will

they all go?”

Tarim shrugged fatalistically. “Flee to the upper

hills, I suppose, or the Great Swamp. I didn’t say

that it made sense to evacuate.”

Someone else had just entered the ground floor

room. Turning, Mark saw the man who all his life

he had thought of as his father. Who was his father,

he told himself, in every sense that truly mattered.

And so Mark called him at first sight. For the time

being, the Emperor was forgotten.

Mark had been only twelve the last time he saw

Jord, then lying apparently dead in their village

street. But there was no mistaking Jord, for the

older man had changed very little. Except for being

dressed now in finer garments than Mark had ever

seen him wear before. And except for . . .

The really exceptional transformation was so

enormous, and at the same time appeared so right

and ordinary, that Mark at first glance came near

accepting it as natural, and not a change at all.

Then, after their first embrace, he wonderingly held

his father at arms’ length.

Jord now had two arms.

Mark’s father said to him, “What the Swords

took from me, they have given back. I’m told that

Woundhealer was used to heal me as I lay here

injured and unconscious. It did a better job even

than those who used it had hoped.”

“The Sword of Mercy has touched me too,” Mark

whispered. And then for a little time he could only

stand there marveling at his father’s new right arm.

Jord explained to Mark how the arm had begun as a

mere fleshy swelling, then a bud, and then in a mat-

ter of a few months had passed through the normal

stages of human growth, being first a limb of baby

size, then one to fit a child. It was as large and

strong as the left arm now, but the skin of the new

limb was still pink and almost unweathered even

on the hand, not scarred or worn by age like that on

Jord’s left fist, visible below the sleeve of his fine

new shirt.

Suddenly Mark said, “I’ve just come from seeing

Mother, and Marian. When they hear you have a

new arm… ”

The two of them, father and son, had many things

to talk about. Some things that were perhaps of

even greater importance than a new arm-and

Mark still had one problem to think about that he was

never going to mention to this man. But they were

allowed little time just now for talk. Ben and Barbara

were arriving from somewhere in the upper interior of

the house to give Mark a joyful welcome.

Barbara jumped at him, so that he had to catch and

swing her. She threw wiry arms around his neck and

kissed him powerfully, so that he held her, as he had

Jord, at arms’ length for a moment, wondering if in

her case too there had taken place some change so

great as to be invisible at first glance. But then he had

to drop her, for Ben, less demonstrative as a rule,

came to almost crush Mark in a great hug.

They were followed by a plump nursemaid,

introduced to Mark as Kuan-yin who was carrying

their small child Beth. The toddler was obviously

already a great friend of Jord’s, for she went to him at

once and asked him how his new arm was.

Kuan-yin, released from immediate duty, at once

went a little apart with Denis. Mark could see that the

two of them, standing face to face amid the confusion

of workers packing and barricading, had their own

private greetings to exchange.

“We’d like to get a welcoming party for you started

right away,” Ben was saying to Mark, “but we can’t.

It’ll have to wait at least until tomorrow. The Lord

Mayor has called a council of leading citizens, and

Barbara and I are invited. Substantial people now, you

know. Master and Lady Courtenay. And the Mayor

knows we have some kind of a hoard of weapons, to

help defend . . . what’s that at your side?”

Ben grabbed the sheath, and looked at the Sword’s

hilt. “Thank Ardneh, Coinspinner! We’ve

got to go to that meeting, and you’ve got to come too,

and bring this tool along, to see that they don’t decide

on some damned foolishness like surrendering. You’ll

be welcome, bringing word from outside as you do.

And also as a representative of Tasavalta. And

bringing another Sword . . . that’ll stiffen up their

spines. Townsaver is in town already.”

Mark grinned at him. “Doomgiver is on the way.”

“Thank all the gods!” Holding Mark by the arm, Ben

lowered his voice for a moment. “We can’t surrender,

and we certainly can’t evacuate. Imagine trying to

take a three-year-old on that . . . you and I know

what it would be like. But if the rest of the city goes,

we’ll have to try.”

The Lord Mayor’s palace, like every other part of

the city that Mark had seen so far, was a scene of

energetic, confused, and doubtfully productive activity.

Here as elsewhere the inhabitants appeared to be

striving to make ready for some allout effort, whose

nature they had not yet been able to decide upon.

Mark, Ben, and Barbara were admitted readily

enough at the main doorway of the Palace. This was

a building somewhat similar to the House of

Courtenay, though even larger and more sumptuous,

and with reception rooms and offices on the ground

floor instead of workshop space. Soon they were

conducted up a broad curving stair of marble, past

workmen descending with newly crated works of art.

On the way, Mark’s friends were trying to bring

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred