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
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