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


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

severe displeasure.

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

would be.

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

calculation mingled.


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

appear kind.

“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

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred