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

answer, whatever it may be. I think I know already,

but I must be sure . . . who is Mark’s real father?”

Under the circumstances the story of more than

twenty years ago came out. Mala had thought at the

time that the man might be Duke Fraktin. Later she

had been convinced that it was not. And later still,

slowly and gradually, the truth had dawned.

“But sir, I beg you, my husband . . . Jord . . . he

mustn’t know. He’s never guessed. Mark is his only

living son. He. . .”

“Hmmm,” said Karel. And then he said: “Jord has

served us well. We will do all we can for him. The

Princess is waiting to see you. I told her that I wished

to speak to you first.”

The magician heaved himself up ponderously from

the bench, and guided Mala through an ornamental

gate, and into another, smaller garden, where there

were benches that looked like crystal instead of

marble, and paths of what looked like gravel but was

too soft for stone; and here the Princess was standing

waiting for her.

She looks like a nice girl, was one idea that stood out

clearly in the confusion of Mala’s thoughts.

Kristin had been hopelessly curious as to what

the mother of the man she loved was like; this was

largely because she was still curious as to what

Mark himself was like, having had little time in

which to get to know him. It was all very well to

order herself, with royal commands, to forget about

him. To insist that Mark was her lover no longer,

that if she ever saw him again it would only be in

passing, in some remote and official contact; but

somehow all these royal commands meant nothing,

when the chance arose to talk to Mark’s mother in

line of duty, in this matter of the Swords.

When the minimum necessary formalities had

been got through, the two women were left sitting

alone on one of the crystal benches, and Karel had

gracefully retired; not, Kristin was sure, that he

was not listening. She knew Karel of old, and the fat

wizard had more on his mind just now than

Swords, or a missing Sword, important though

those matters were.

Mala was saying to her: “I had hoped that one

day I would get the chance to talk to you, Highness.

But I did not want to seem to be a scheming

mother, trying to get advantage for her son.”

“You are not that, I am sure . . . unless you are

scheming for Mark’s safety only. Any mother would

do that.”

Kristin had questions to ask, about Mala, Jord,

their family; when she asked about Mark’s father,

she thought that his mother looked at her

strangely; but then how else would the woman

look, being brought here suddenly like this, to talk

‘to royalty?

And the questions kept coming back to Mark him-


More time had passed than Kristin had realized,

but sill not very much time, when there was an

interruption, a twittering from an observant small

beast high in a branch above them.

Kristin swore, softly and wearily. “There is now

a general who insists on seeing me, if I have learned

to interpret these jabbering signals correctly. I have

so much to do, and all at once.” She seized Mala by

the hands. “I want to talk to you again, and soon.”

A minute later, Mala was gone, and Kristin was

receiving General Rostov.

The General began by reporting, in his gravelly

voice, that the man Jord had a good reputation in

the Intelligence branch. There was no actual

Tasavaltan dossier on the son as yet-rather, one

had just been started-but he seemed to have a

good reputation with Sir Andrew’s people. And a

long and strange and intimate connection with the

Swords, as Jord did too, of course.

“Nothing to connect either of them, though,

Highness, with the disappearance of Wound-


“No, I should think not, General . . . now what

are your military plans?”

Rostov drew himself up. “It’s like this, Highness.

The best place to defend your house is not in your

front yard, but down the road as far as you can

manage it. If you can manage it that way.”

“If that is a final . . . what is it, Karel?”

The wizard had reappeared at the ornamental

gate. “A matter of state, Highness. You had better

hear it before completing any other plans, military

or otherwise.”

“One moment,” said the Princess, and faced back

to Rostov. “I believe you, General. And I have

decided to go with you. If you are saying that the

army must march to Tashigang, because that is where

the fate of our people is being decided, then that is the

place for me to be also.”

Choking in an effort to keep from swearing,

General Rostov disputed this idea as firmly as he was


“Both of you,” said Karel, “had better hear me first.

What I have to say is connected with the woman who

was just here.”


They were kilometers in length, and tall as palaces.

They wound uphill and down, in a great tailswallowing

circle, in curves like the back of the legendary Great

Worm Yilgarn. They were the walls of Tashigang,

and at long last they stood before him.

The taking of the city, even the planning of its

capture, were turning out to present considerably

greater problems than the Dark King had earlier

envisioned. He had once pictured himself simply riding

up to the main gate on the Hermes Road, and

brandishing the Mindsword in the faces of the

garrison, who had been conveniently assembled for

him on the battlements. Then, after a delay no longer

than the time required for his new slaves in the city to

open up the gate, he would enter in triumph, to see to

the disposal of his new treasure and the elimination of

some of his old enemies.

That last part of the vision had been the first part to

turn unreal and unconvincing, which it did

almost as soon as Vilkata began to think about it. The

Mindsword would seem to rob revenge almost entirely

of its satisfaction. If one’s old enemies had now

become one’s loyal slaves, about as faithful as human

beings could be, then what was the point of destroying

or damaging them?

In any case, Vilkata could see now that Tashigang

was not going to fall into his hands as neatly as all

that. On the last night of his march toward the city,

the night before he first faced the ancient serpentine

walls directly, the Dark King had received a warning

from his demonic counselors. They had determined,

they said, that the Sword Doomgiver had just been

carried inside the city’s walls, where it was now in the

possession of some of the most fanatical defenders.

Therefore he, the Dark King, stood in danger of

having his most powerful magic-aye, even the power

of the Mindsword-turned against him when he tried to

use it in an attack.

After receiving this grim caution, Vilkata sat in blind

silence for a time, dispensing with the demon’s vision

the better to concentrate on his own thoughts.

Meanwhile those of his human counselors who were

attending him waited in their own tremulous silence

around him, fearing his wrath, as they imagined that

he still listened to the demonic voices that only he

could hear.

The Dark King tried to imagine the direst warnings

of his inhuman magical counselors coming true. It

would mean the devotion of all his own troops would

turn to hatred. And also, perhaps, it would mean all of

the evil that he had ever worked on anyone now

within the walls of Tashigang coming back on himself,

suddenly, to strike him down.

And he was warned, too; that the Sword

Townsaver might also be within the city. The Sword

of Fury in itself ought not to blunt the Mindsword’s

power: But what Townsaver might do, to any portion

of an attacking army that came within a bladelength of

its wielder, was enough in itself to give a field

commander pause.

The Dark King shuddered, the fear that was never

far below the surface of his thoughts suddenly coming

near the surface. As he shuddered, the humans

watching him thought that he was still listening to the

demons’ speech.

And then, there was the matter of Farslayer, too.

Until he had that particular weapon safely in his

hands, he had to be concerned about it. Any monarch,

any man, who dealt consistently in such great affairs

as King Vilkata did, was bound to make enemies and

would have to be concerned. There were always

plenty of short-sighted, vengeful little folk about . . .

and neither the Dark King’s wizards nor his immaterial

demons could give him any idea of who possessed the

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