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

party had been waiting for some time, was quietly

opened. Two by two, moving now as quickly and

silently as possible, the raiders launched themselves

out of the tunnel into shallow water, and up and out

into the open night.

Mark, with Coinspinner in his hands, was the

second or third fighter to emerge. Now there could be

no mistake about it. The Sword of Chance was

directing him, ordering the whole attack, straight to

Vilkata’s pavilion. The huge tent stood plain in the

light of several watchfires near it, its black-gold fabric

wrinkling in a chiaroscuro wrought by the night


The first few of the Dark King’s soldiers to blunder

innocently into the way of the advancing column were

cut down in savage silence. For those few endless-

seeming moments, the advantage of surprise held.

Then the alarm went up, in a dozen voices at once.

The thin column of raiders broke into a charge; still,

half or more of their total number had not yet come

out of the tunnel.

Now resistance began, weapon against weapon,

fierce and growing stronger. But it was still too

disorganized to stop the charge. Mark, near the front

of the attack, used Coinspinner as a physical weapon.

Troops were gathering to oppose the raiders; the

alarm was spreading. But now for a moment the

pavilion was within reach, the Sword of Chance could

touch its fabric. Fine cloth parted with a shriek before

its edge.

Men who had been inside burst out with weapons in

their hands to bar the way. Already a counterattack

was taking form, against both sides of the column and

its front. The formation shattered, with

its front forced back by opposing swords and shields;

the fight became a great melee, a free-for-all.

A different and even deadlier resistance was

gathering too. Above the watchfires, over the huge

tent itself, the air roiled now with more than rising

heat. The demonic guardians of the Dark King and of

his chief magicians were readying themselves to

pounce upon intruders.

The Lord Mayor’s best sorceress, stumbling near

Mark’s side in the darkness, :stopped suddenly and

seized Mark by the arm. He could feel the woman’s

whole body quivering.

“Do what you can,” she demanded of him. “And

quickly! Else we are all lost. I had hoped they would

not be this strong . . .”

Mark himself with his experience had been grimly

certain that they would. Still the Sword had brought

him here. And he had another power of his own,

already tested once.

His faith in it was tested now. Suddenly the

Emperor was only one more man, and far away,

while the ravening airborne presences that lowered

themselves now toward Mark were the most

overwhelmingly real things in all the universe.

Mark had rehearsed no incantations beforehand. If

he meant to trust the Emperor, he would trust him in

that as well, that no special words were needed. The

words that came to him now were those of Ariane,

uttered in the Blue Temple cave four years ago:

“In the Emperor’s name, forsake this game, and let

us pass!”

Vilkata, awakened by the sounds of the attack,

had just rolled groggily out of bed. The demon that

served as his eyes, recalled abruptly to duty, had just

begun to send sight-images to the Dark King’s brain.

Then in a moment the demon was catapulted into a

blank distance, and those images were blanked away


For a moment the Dark King did not grasp the full

import of his full and sudden blindness. Certainly some

emergency had arisen, and his first thought was for

the Mindsword. He groped for it, but his hands found

only a tangled fall of cloth; part of his pavilion was

collapsing around him. And the weapon was not

where he thought it ought to be. Could he possibly, in

last night’s drunkenness, have failed to keep the

Sword with him, beside his bed as always? He could

remember, at some time in the party, using it in sport,

trying to drive one of his women mad with devotion to

him. But after that…

Surrounded by the sounds of fighting, groans, oaths,

and the clash of arms, he groped frantically about him

on the floor, amid soft pillows and spilled wine.

Between the confusion of his awakening and his

sudden blindness he was disoriented. No, he had

brought the Mindsword with him to his bedchamber,

he remembered and was sure. But now he could not

find it. Where was it?

The clamor of the fighting continued very near him.

The fabric and the supports of the tent must have

been assaulted; the bodies of people running and

fighting had jostled into it, and more great sheets of

loosened cloth were falling, crumpling. They settled

and collapsed right on the groping blind man:

The Sword had to be right here, he knew that it

was here. But still he could not lay his hands on it.

Frantically, sightlessly, he burrowed into the heaps

of soft, fine fabric that were coming down and pil-

ing up like snow. But his searching fingers were baf-

fled by the cloth, as the eyes of a normally sighted

man would be in fog.

And Vilkata was aware by now that not only his

vision-demon but all the other demons as well were

gone, a great part of his defense dissolved. It was

unbelievable, but true. Somehow they had all been

hurled away. In-the middle distance he could hear

the voice of Burslem, screaming incantations, try-

ing to call other, non-demonic, forces of magic into

play. What success the magician might be having,

Vilkata could not tell. His ears assured him that the

physical fight still raged nearby, but the enemy

weapons had not yet found his skin. Perhaps, under

this baffling cloth, he was invisible as well as blind.

And still, in his confusion, he could not find the

Sword. He’d grope his way back to his bed, and

start over again from there. If only he knew which

way to crawl to find his bed.

Mark was wielding Coinspinner constantly now,

as a physical weapon in his own defense. The

demons had been satisfactorily expelled, at least for

the time being, but minute by minute the Dark

King’s other defenses were becoming better orga-

nized. Confusion still dominated, and because of

that fact the bulk of the attacking force still sur-

vived. Mark thought that, to the enemy, his

attacking force must have seemed to number in the

thousands; it would seem inconceivable to the Dark

King that any force much smaller than that would

dare to attack him in this fashion.

In the outer darkness around the periphery of the

struggle, the Dark King’s people must often have

been fighting one another. Closer to the pavilion, in

the light of the watchfires, they prospered better,

and began to assert some of the real advantage of

their numbers. Mark was wounded lightly in his

left arm, when even superb luck ran thin, by a blow

that doubtless would have killed him outright but

for his possession of the Sword of Chance.

He had lost sight of Ben, and of the sorceress. His

Tasavaltan guard were fighting near him. Coin-

spinner still pointed at the half-collapsed pavilion,

but Mark no longer saw how he could get there. The

whole invading party was being forced back now,

farther away from it.

Only Doomgiver, in the hands of one of Sir

Andrew’s officers, saved the attacking party from

complete annihilation at this point. It repelled

blows, missiles, and magic spells, making its holder

a center of invulnerable strength, turning each

weapon used against him back upon its user. Alone

it worked considerable destruction in the ranks of

the Dark King’s guardians. And, along with the

Sword of Chance that Mark still had in his grasp, it

allowed a tenacious survival for the attackers even

after their hopes of being able to seize the Mind-

sword had dwindled almost to the vanishing point.

“Back!” Whether Mark was the one who actually

voiced the word or not, it was in his throat. “We

must retreat. We can’t let our two Swords be cap-

tured here.”

So what had been a forced withdrawal became a

calculated one. Now Coinspinner, faithful as

always to its users’ wishes, also pointed the way

back. Mark fought, and moved, and fought again,

hampered by his wounded arm, swinging the

Sword of Chance as best he could. His Tasavaltan

bodyguard was trying to keep close around him,

and mbre than once they saved his life.

“By all the gods, what’s that?”

It was not all the gods, but only some of them. No

more than three or four, perhaps. They were out

near the horizon, kilometers from the walls of

Tashigang and the field of human combat. Several

large sparks, like burning brands, could be seen out

there in the distance, moving back and forth over

the earth erratically. Those sparks must be whole

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred