Mark shook hishead very slightly. He wanted to
keep that news in reserve, to stiffen the council’s
resolve if they should be swayed toward surrender
after all. Right now he judged that was unlikely.
Shortly after Barbara spoke, the Mayor called for a
show of hands. “How many are ready to fight for our
Only one hand was not raised. Hyrcanus sent black
looks at Ben, and Mark, and Amintor.
Before the Chairman of the Blue Temple could
make a final statement and a dramatic exit, an aide to
the Mayor entered to announce the arrival of a flying
courier with a message for the Lord Mayor. The
courier and message container were both marked
with the black and silver insignia of Queen Yambu
The beast-courier-Mark recognized it as one of a
hybrid species prevented, in the interests of secrecy,
from ever acquiring speech-was brought
into the room. The message capsule of light metal
was opened and the paper inside unfolded.
Okada read through the single sheet alone, in
anxious silence; then he raised his head.
“It is indeed from her most puissant Majesty, the
Silver Queen herself, and, as the marking on the
capsule indicated, addressed personally to me. I will
not read the entire message aloud just now; it contains
certain matters I do not need to proclaim in council.”
There followed a look at Hyrcanus, to say wordlessly
that important military secrets were not going to be
announced in front of him, not in view of the attitude
he had just taken. The Mayor continued: “But, there
are other parts that I think we all should hear at
The Silver Queen’s words that the Mayor read
were very firm, and could be called inspiring in terms
of fear if not otherwise: there was to be no talk of
surrendering the city, under penalty of incurring her
Her message also confirmed that she was already
on the march with her army, coming to the relief of
this her greatest city-as she put it, indeed the greatest
and proudest city in the world. And that she intended
to achieve victory by whatever means were
Hyrcanus walked out. He did it. unhurriedly, almost
courteously, with considerable dignity, Mark had to
admit. The High Priest did not waste time on threats,
now that it would have been obviously useless and
even dangerous to do so; a behavior somehow, at this
stage, thought Mark, more ominous than any threats
The Lord Mayor, looking thoughtfully after the
High Priest, was evidently of the same opinion.
Okada immediately called in an officer of the Watch
from just outside the conference room, and calmly
gave. the order to arrest the High Priest before he
could get out of the Palace; once out, he would easily
be able to give some signal to his troops. The Blue
Temple Guards in the city, Ben had said, were one of
the largest trained fighting forces within the wails.
Now it became at least possible for the council to
discuss the city’s means of defense in more detail,
without the virtual certainty that a potential enemy
was listening and taking part in the debate.
Amintor immediately put forward a plan to
neutralize the Blue Temple troops by meeting any
attempt on their part to rescue Hyrcanus with a
countermove against the local Temple and its vaults,
whipping up a street mob for the purpose if no regular
forces could be spared. Barbara whispered to Mark
that Denis would probably be a good man to see to
the organization of such an effort.
In succeeding discussion, it quickly became plain
that the key to the regular defense of the city’s walls
against attack from outside would be the Watch, a
small but well-trained body of regular troops loyal to
the Lord Mayor. They were only a few hundred
strong against Vilkata’s thousands, but their numbers
could be augmented by calling up the city’s militia.
Ben whispered to Mark that the quality of the militia
was, regrettably, not so high as it might be. But
certainly the city’s long tradition of defending itself
ought to help.
Then there were the fragments of Sir Andrew’s
army to be considered, the survivors who had
followed Denis and Mark to Tashigang, along with the
ten or a dozen at most of Mark’s surviving Tasaval-
tan escort. Mark could assure the Lord Mayor that
Sir Andrew’s people were all good, experienced
fighters, though at present somewhat demoralized
by the sad death of their noble leader. Given the
chance, they would be eager to exact revenge.
Mark revealed now that the Sword he wore at his
side was Coinspinner, and he proposed that they
consult the Sword of Chance at once to try to deter-
mine the best means of obtaining a successful
defense of the city. All were agreeable; and all, par-
ticularly those who had never seen a Sword before,
were impressed by the sight when Mark drew his.
“It points . . . that way. What’s there?”
They soon determined that something outside the
room was being indicated. They had to leave the
council room, and then go up on the roof of the Pal-
ace to make sure.
The Sword of Chance was pointing at someone or
something outside the city walls, in fact at the very
center of Vilkata’s advancing army. The Dark
King’s force had just now come barely into sight,
through distant summer haze. It was still, Mark
thought, well out of Mindsword range.
And Coinspinner pointed as if to Vilkata himself.
Mark looked at Ben, and got back a look of awe and
The delegation from the palace, two women and
one man, arrived at Mala’s door very quietly and
unexpectedly. It was the afternoon after she heard
of Mark’s departure from Tasavalta on a mission
for the Princess. Her first thought on seeing the
strangers at her door was that something terrible
had happened to her son or her husband, or to both;
but before she could even form the question, one of
the women was assuring her that as far as was
known, both were well. The three of them had come
to conduct Mala to the palace, because the Princess
herself wanted to see her.
The Palace was not far above the town, and less
than an hour later Mala was there, walking in an
elaborate flower garden, open within high walls.
The garden had tall flowering trees in it, and
strange animals to gape at, hybrid creatures such
as the highborn liked to amuse themselves with,
climbing and flying amid high branches.
Mala was left alone in the garden, but only for a
few moments. Then a certain fat man appeared, well
dressed and with an aura of magic about him. He
introduced himself as Karel, which name meant
nothing to Mala; and he, though obviously a person of
some importance, appeared quite content that it
should be so. He walked along the garden path with
Mala, and asked her about her family, and tried to put
her at her ease. That he succeeded as well as he did
was a tribute to his skill.
And then he asked her, in his rich, soft voice: “Do
you know the Sword of Mercy? Or Sword of Love,
as it is sometimes called?”
“I know of it, sir, of course; you must know who
my husband is. But if you mean have I ever seen it,
“Then have you any idea where it is, at this
moment? Hey?” Karel’s gaze at her was suddenly
much more intense, though he was still trying to
“When my son was here, there was a story going
about that he-and the Princess-had brought it with
them to Tasavalta. But he himself said nothing to me
of that, and I did not ask him. I knew better than to be
curious about state secrets. Nor could I guess where
it is now.”
Karel continued to gaze at her with a steady
intensity. “He did bring it, and it was here yesterday
after he left. That’s no state secret.” The magician
suddenly ceased to stare at her. Shaking his head, he
looked away. “And now it’s gone, and I don’t know
where it is either. And whether that ought to be a
secret or not . . .” He sighed, letting the words trail
Mala felt vaguely frightened. “I don’t know either,
“No, of course you don’t. I believe you, dear lady,
now that I have looked at you closely . . . and there is
one other matter that I want to ask you about.”
Her frightened look said that she could hardly stop
He sighed again. “Here, sit down.” And he led her
to a nearby marble bench, and sat on it beside her,
puffing with relief when his weight came off his feet.
“No harm will come to you or Mark for a truthful