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
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
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
“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
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
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
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