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

Sword of Vengeance now.

If only he had been able to pick up Shieldbreaker

from the field of battle! But no, another distraction,

another threat, had intervened to prevent that. And

now no one could tell him where that trump of

weapons was located either.

Coinspinner was another potential problem. It, too,

was now thought by the Dark King’s magical advisers

to be present inside the walls of Tashigang. And he

was sure that the Sword of Chance would bring those

damned impertinent rascals good luck, good fortune of

some kind, even in the face of the Mindsword’s

influence. Vilkata kept trying to

imagine what kind of good luck that would be.

Whatever it was, it would not be good for him.

But despite all of the obstacles and objections, he

could be royally stubborn, and he was going forward.

None of his fears were great enough to prevent that.

In the end he decided to keep his own supernal

weapons under wraps for the time being, and to try

what he might to induce the city to surrender under


The afternoon he arrived before the walls, he had

his great pavilion erected within easy sight of them-

though not, of corse, within missile range. At the same

time Vilkata ordered a complete envelopment of the

city, and entrenchment by his troops, as if for a

lengthy siege, all along their encircling lines.

Even his great host was thinly spread by such a

maneuver, which necessitated occupying a line

several kilometers long; but Vilkata intended to

concentrate most of his troops in a few places later, if

and when it actually became necessary to assault the

walls. Meanwhile he wanted to give an impression not

only of overwhelming force but of unhurried

determination. And still he was not satisfied that things

were going well; he kept urging both his scouts and his

wizards to provide him with more information.

At dusk on the second day of the siege, the Dark

King’s vaguely growing sense of some impending

doom was suddenly relieved. The last flying

messenger to arrive during daylight hours brought in a

report saying that the troublesome Beastlord Draffut

was finally dead, and the god Mars-who was also

troublesome, because he had managed to remain free

of the Mindsword’s control-was dead

with him. And that Vulcan, triumphant over both of

them, was headed toward the city of Tashigang,

waving the Sword Shieldbreaker and crying his own

eternal loyalty to the Dark King.

When the half-intelligent courier was asked to

predict the time of the god’s arrival, it gave answers

interpreted to mean that the progress of the Smith

across the countryside was slow and erratic, because

he was stopping frequently to offer sacrifice to his god

Vilkata, and also because he walked a zig-zag course;

but Vulcan continually cried out that he was coming on

to Tashigang, where his other Swords were gathering,

and where he meant to do honor in person to the King.

His other Swords? Vilkata pondered to himself. Of

course the Smith had forged them all, and perhaps that

was all that he meant by the use of such an

expression. In any case, there was nothing Vilkata

could do about the Smith, or any other god, until they

came within the Mindsword’s range. And the Dark

King did not want to appear to be worried by what

sounded, on the surface, like very good news indeed.

Therefore he gave permission for a celebration of

Vulcan’s triumph to begin, and sent out trumpeters and

criers to make certain that the death of Draffut and

the advance of the victorious Vulcan were made

known within the walls of Tashigang as well.

Vilkata even took part in the revel himself, at least

as far as its middle stages. He retired comparatively

early, thinking that in any case he was giving himself

time to sleep and recover before Vulcan could

possibly arrive. He wearied himself with women, and

came near besotting himself with

wine, and then tumbled into his private bed to


His awakening was hours earlier than he had

expected, and it came not at the gentle call of his

valet, or some officer of his bodyguard. The sound

that tore Vilkata out of dreams of victory was the

ripping of his pavilion’s fabric, not far from his

head, by some enemy weapon’s edge.

No matter how mad the odds seemed against suc-

cess, when merely human calculation was applied,

Coinspinner had insisted that the defenders of the

city organize a sally against Vilkata’s camp; a mili-

tary maneuver involving the sending of what could

be at most a few hundred troops, to fight against

the Dark King’s many thousands. At least this was

the only interpretation that could finally be placed

on the way that the Sword of Chance, whenever it

was consulted, pointed insistently into the heart of

the enemy camp.

Mark, Ben, and Barbara, along with the other

members of the Lord Mayor’s council, discussed

the possibility of sending one or two agents or spies,

armed with Coinspinner, out into the camp, to try

to achieve whatever the Sword was telling them to

do there. But Mark had experience of the Dark

King’s security systems, and without Sightblinder

to help he could imagine no way of accomplishing


On the other hand, the more carefully the idea of

a surprise sally was considered, the less completely

mad it seemed. It could, of course, be launched by

night, and it certainly ought to take the enemy by

surprise. The Mayor drew out secret maps. It was

noted that one of the secret tunnels leading out of

the city-like most places so elaborately fortified,

Tashigang was equipped with several-emerged

from a concealed opening under the bank of the

Corgo, behind the enemy front line and only about a

hundred meters from where Vilkata’s pavilion had

been set up.

A plan was hastily worked out. Both Ben and

Mark would accompany the attack.ing force, Mark

with Coinspinner in his hands. Ben, after speaking

strongly against surrender of the city, could not

very well avoid the effort now; nor did he want his

old friend to go without him. The handful of

Tasavaltan troops who had escorted Mark to

Tashigang now volunteered, to a man, to go with

him again. He was somewhat surprised and grati-

fied by this; either his leadership or his Sword had

inspired more confidence than he knew.

The bulk of the raiding force, which was two hun-

dred strong in all, was made up from the survivors

of Sir Andrew’s slaughtered army. They proved to

be as eager for revenge as Mark had expected them

to be.

The deployment of the force into the secret,

stone-walled tunnel took place in the late hours of

the night. The city end of the tunnel was concealed

in the basement of an outbuilding of the Mayor’s


Waiting in the cramped, dark, and dripping tun-

nel for some final magical preparations to be made,

Mark had some time to talk with his old friend Ben.

He told Ben something of his meeting with the


When Mark first mentioned the name of Ariane,

Ben shook his head, not wanting to hear more; but

when he heard that the Emperor had claimed the

red-haired girl as his daughter, the huge man turned

hopeless eyes to Mark. “But what does it mean?

What does that matter now? She’s dead.”

“I don’t know what it means. I know you loved her.

I wanted you to hear what he told me.”

Ben nodded, slowly. “It’s strange . . . that he said


“What do you mean?”

“When we were leaving the treasure-dungeon–right

after she was killed-I looked up onto that headland,

the Emperor’s land they said it was, right across the

fjord. I thought for a moment I saw-red hair. It

doesn’t mean anything, I don’t suppose.”

And now, suddenly, there was no more time for


The Mayor’s most expert sorceress was squeezing

her way through the narrow tunnel, marking with a

sign each man and woman of the raiding party, as she

passed them. When he hand touched his own eyes

briefly, Mark found that now he could see a dim,

ghostly halo behind the head of everyone else in the

attacking force. When fighting started in the darkness,

they ought to be able to identify each other. At least

until the enemy magicians solved the spell, and were

able to turn it to their own advantage. Most likely they

were more skillful than this woman of the Mayor’s.

But it was necessary to take what seemed desperate

chances. That was what Coinspinner was for.

The party moved out. The tunnel extended for more

than a kilometer, and its lower sections were knee-

deep in water. An occasional loud splash or oath, the

shuffle of feet, the chink of weapons, were for some

time the only sounds.

The outer end of the tunnel, in which an advance

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred