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

him up to date on the situation that they were about to


“We’re likely,” Ben warned, “to run into our old

friend Hyrcanus at this meeting.”

Mark almost missed his footing on the stair.

“Hyrcanus? Is he still Chief Priest at the Blue

Temple? But he-”

“He still is,” Barbara assured him. “And the Blue

Temple is an important faction here in Tashigang.”

“I suppose they must be. But I never thought about

it until now,” Mark murmured. “Hyrcanus. I

remember hearing somewhere that he was certain to

be deposed. I thought he was gone by now, it’s four

years since we robbed him. Plundered his deepest

rathole, as nobody else has ever done before or


“Thank all the gods for that rathole,” Barbara

murmured. “And send us another like it. A handful of

its contents has done well for Ben and me. I hear that

the Temple are now considering moving their main

hoard of treasure into Tashigang. We just wanted to

warn you, Hyrcanus will probably be here, and he

won’t be happy to see us.”

“He thinks I’m dead,” Mark murmured. But it was

too late now to try to preserve that happy state of


They had now reached the door of the conference

room, a large, well-appointed chamber on an upper

floor, and were ushered in without delay. Even after

being warned it was a shock for Mark to behold

Hyrcanus with his own eyes; it was the first time that

he had ever actually seen the man, but there was no

doubt in Mark’s mind who he was. The Blue

Temple’s Chairman and High Priest, having

survived the efforts that must certainly have been

made to depose him after the sacrilegious robbery of

the Temple .’s main hoard four years ago, was still in

charge, and had indeed come here today for the Lord

Mayor’s conference.

Hyrcanus, the High Priest, small, bald, and

rubicund, his face as usual jovial, looked up as the

three of them entered. His cheerful smile did not

exactly disappear, but froze. He must have

recognized Ben, at least, by description, at first sight.

The Chairman studied Mark too, and could hardly

fail to identify him also, especially as their escort

announced his name along with the others in a loud

voice. The others who were gathered round the table,

a dozen or so men and women, mostly the solid

citizens of Tashigang, rose to return greetings and

extend a welcome to the new arrivals. Their faces

were cheered, Mark thought, at the sight of the

Tasavaltan green and blue that he still wore. And their

expressions altered still more, with new hope and

calculation, at the sight of the black hilt at his side.

Mark let his left hand rest upon it, loosely, casually; he

did not want Hyrcanus, at least, to be able to read

which white symbol marked that hilt.

Mark supposed the fact that he was appearing in

Tasavaltan colors might at least give the

cheerylooking old bastard pause, and perhaps cause

him to at least delay the next assassination attempt.

The Lord Mayor, named Okada, was a clerkish-

looking man on whom the robes of his high office

looked faintly preposterous. Yet he presided firmly.

The arrival of Mark, Ben, and Barbara had

interrupted Hyrcanus in the midst of a speech, which

he now resumed, at the Mayor’s suggestion.

It was soon apparent as Hyrcanus spoke that the

Blue Temple Chairman’s thoughts were not now on

revenge and punishment of past transgressors, but, as

usual, were concentrated on how best he could

contrive to save the bulk of the Blue Temple’s

treasure. A siege of the city, a storming of the walls,

were to be avoided at all costs-at least at all costs to

others outside the Blue Temple. Mark, listening,

assumed that Hyrcanus had already made some

arrangement, or thought he had, with the Dark King,

by which the Blue Temple holdings in Tashigang

would be secure, in exchange for co-operation with

the conqueror.

Mark could recognize one other face at the council

table, though no reminiscences were exchanged in

this case either. Baron Amintor was here as the

personal representative of the Silver Queen. He

recognized Mark also, and gazed at him in a newly

friendly way, while Mark looked stonily at this old

enemy of Sir Andrew. The Baron, Mark was sure,

recognized Ben and Barbara as well.

Hyrcanus continued the speech he had begun,

urging that one of two courses be adopted: either

outright surrender to the Dark King, or else the

declaration of Tashigang as an open city. That last,

Mark thought, must amount, in practical terms, to the

same thing as surrender.

The speech of the High Priest did not evoke any

particular enthusiasm among the citizens of Tashigang

who made up the majority of his listeners. But neither

were they vocal in immediate objection; rather the

burghers seemed to be waiting to hear more. Now

and again their eyes strayed toward the black hilt at

Mark’s side.

Hyrcanus might have gone on and on indefi

nitely, but Mayor Okada at length firmly reclaimed

the floor. Who, he asked, wanted to speak next?

Baron Amintor had been impatiently waiting for his

chance. Now he arose, and as representative of the

Silver Queen, argued eloquently that the city must be

defended to the last fighter. Though he was careful,

Mark observed, not to put it in exactly those terms.

Rather the Baron was strongly reassuring about the

walls, the city’s history and tradition of successful

resistance to outside attack, and about the

commitment of the Silver Queen to their defense.

Hyrcanus interrupted him at one point to object.

“What about the Mindsword, though? What are any

walls against that?”

Amintor took the objection in stride, and assured the

others that Yambu was not without her own

supremely powerful weapon. “In her wisdom and

reluctance to do harm, she has not employed it as yet.

But, faced with the Mindsword . . . I am sure she will

do whatever she must do to assure the safety of


One of the burghers rose. “When you mention this

weapon that the Queen has, you are speaking of the

Sword called Soulcutter, or sometimes the Tyrant’s

Blade, are you not?”

“I am.” If Amintor was offended by the plain use of

that second name, he did not show it.

“I know little about it.” The questioner looked

around the table. “Nor, I suppose, do many of us here.

What can it do to protect Tashigang?”

Amintor glanced only for a moment at Hyrcanus. “I

would prefer not to go into tactical details regarding

any of the Swords just now,” the Baron answered

smoothly. He almost winked at Mark,

who carried Coinspinner, as if they had been old

comrades instead of enemies. “Later, under

conditions of greater security, if you like. I will say

now only that the Queen is wise and

compassionate”for some reason, no one in the room

laughed-“and that she will not use such a weapon as

Soulcutter carelessly. But neither will she allow this

city that she so loves to be taken by its enemies.”

Mark had to admit to himself that he had little or no

idea what Soulcutter might do. It was the one Sword

of the Twelve that he had never seen, let alone had in

his possession. Almost all he knew of it was

contained in the verse that everyone had heard:

The Tyrant’s Blade no blood hath spilled

But doth the spirit carve

Soulcutter hath no body killed

But many left to starve.

Glancing at Ben and Barbara, he read an equal lack

of knowledge in their faces.

The Lord Mayor now looked at Mark expectantly.

It was time that the meeting heard from the emissary

from Tasavalta.

Mark stood up from his chair and leaned his hands

on the table in front of him. With faith in what the

Emperor had told him, he was able to announce that

the Tasavaltan army was on the march, under the

direct command of General Rostov, coming to the

city’s relief. Rostov’s was an impressive name, one fit

to go with the reputation of the walls of Tashigang

itself, and once again most of the faces around the

table appeared somewhat cheered. That the

Tasavaltan army also was small

by comparison with the Dark King’s host was not

mentioned at the moment, though everybody knew

it. Even should the Silver Queen arrive with her

army at the same time, Vilkata would still have the

advantage of numbers. –

“Does anyone else have anything to say?” the Lord

Mayor asked. “Anyone else, who has not spoken


Ben spoke briefly, and Barbara after him. They

added nothing really new to the discussion, but

reminded everyone again of the city’s tradition and

promised to help arm the defense from their store of

weapons. Before she spoke, Barbara faced Mark

momentarily, and her lips formed the one word:

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