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

while Denis maneuvered first the door to his room

and then the coverings on his bed.

The hurt man’s eyelids fluttered just as he was

being put down on the bed, and he muttered a few

words. Denis heard something like: “Ben of Purkinje,”

which certainly sounded like a name. That of the

victim himself? No use asking. He was out cold


Soon the mistress was back, with such useful items

as she had been able to lay her hands on quickly,

water and clean cloth. She had also brought along a

couple of medicine jars, but nothing that Denis thought

was likely to help. While Denis went to work washing

and bandaging, the master picked up the sodden

clothing that had been stripped away, and went

quickly through the pockets. But whatever Courtenay

was looking for, he apparently did not find it. With a

sigh he threw the garments back on the floor and

asked: “Well, Denis, what about him?”

“He’s lost a lot of blood, sir. And, where the

wounds are, the bleeding’s going to be hard to stop.

I’ve packed this hole in his side as best I can.”

As he spoke Denis was still pressing a bandage into

place. “We could use spider webs, but I don’t know

where to get a bunch of ’em quickly. His knee isn’t

bleeding so much now, but it looks nasty. If he lives,

he won’t be walking for a while.”

The Old World light had been replaced in its

customary wall niche, and the mistress had now

brought one of the better ordinary lamps into Denis’s

room. By the lamplight she and her husband were

staring at each other with what struck Denis as

curious expressions.

“Knife wounds, I think,” said Master Courtenay,

shifting his gaze at last back to Denis.

“Yes sir, I would say that’s what they are.”

“He couldn’t have come very far in that condition.”

“I’d have to agree with that, sir.”

The master nodded, and turned and walked out of

Denis’s room, leaving the door open behind him. He

didn’t say where he was going, and nobody asked.

The mistress lingered. Denis, observing the direction

of her gaze, wondered what it was about the patient’s

arm-stump that she found so fascinating.

Having been a member of the household for a year

and a half now, Denis was-sometimes, almost-treated

like one of the family. Now he made bold to ask, “Do

you recognize him, Mistress?”

“I’ve never seen him before,” the lady answered,

which to Denis sounded like the truth used as an

evasion. She added: “Will he live, do you think?”

Before Denis had to try to make a guess sound

like an expert opinion, there came again the sounds of

someone at the back door of the shop. The sounds

were different this time: demanding shouts,

accompanied by a strong and determined hammering.

Following his mistress out into the shop’s main

room, Denis shut the door of his own room behind

him. The master, Old World light in hand again, was

once more approaching the back door. Even as

Courtenay turned on the light and peered out through

the spy-lens, the pounding came again. This time it

was accompanied by a hoarse voice, somewhat

muffled by the door’s thickness: “Ho, in the house,

open for the Watch! In the Lord Mayor’s name,


The master of the house continued to peer out.

“Three of ’em,” he reported in a low voice. “No lights

of their own. Still, it’s the real Watch-I think.”

“Open!” the smothered roaring voice demanded.

“Open or we break it down!” And there came a

thump thump thump. But they were going to have to

thump harder than that before this door would take

them seriously.

Quietly the mistress said to her husband: “We don’t

want to . . .” She let the statement trail off there, but

Denis listening had the strong impression that her next

words would have been: arouse suspicion.

Whatever meaning the master read into her

halfvoiced thought, he nodded his agreement with it.

Looking at Denis, he ordered: “Say nothing to them

about our visitor. We’ve seen no one tonight.”

“If they want to search?”

“Leave that to me. But pick up your hatchet again,

just in case.”

When all three of the people inside were ready,

Courtenay undid the bars and opened the door again.

In the very next instant he had to demonstrate

extraordinary agility for a man of his weight, by

jumping back out of the way of a blow from a short


The three men who had come bursting in, dressed

though they were in the Lord Mayor’s livery of gray

and green, were plainly not the Watch. Denis with his

hatchet was able to stand off the first rush of one of

them, armed with a long knife in each hand. Another

of the intruders started toward Lady Sophie. But her

right arm rose from her side, drawing into a whirling

blur the sling’s long leather strands. Whatever missile

had been cradled in the leather cup now blasted stone

fragments out of the wall beside the man’s head,

giving him pause, giving her the necessary moment to

reload her weapon.

“Ben of Purkinje!” cried out the third invader,

hacking again at Master Courtenay with his sword.

“Greetings from the Blue Temple!” This attacker was

tall, and looked impressively strong.

Master Courtenay, after advising Denis to be armed,

had himself been caught embarrassingly unarmed on

the side of the room away from the rack of weapons.

He had to improvise, and out of the miscellany of tools

around the forge grabbed up a long, iron-handled

casting .ladle. It was a clumsy thing to try to swing

against a sword, but the master of the house had

awesome strength, and now demonstrated good

nerves as well. For the time being he was holding his

own, managing to protect himself.

The man who had started after the Lady Sophie

now turned back, indecisively, as if to give the

swordsman aid. It was an error. In the next instant the

second stone from the sling hit him in the back of the

head and knocked him down. The sound of the impact

and the way he fell showed that for him the fight was


Denis was distracted by the lady’s

achievementunwisely, for a moment later he felt the

point of one of his opponent’s long knives catch in the

flesh of his forearm. The hatchet fell from Denis’s

grip to the stone floor. Scrambling away from the

knives, clearing a low bench in a somersaulting dive,

Denis the Quick lived up to his nickname well enough

to keep himself alive.

He heard one of the bigger workbenches go over

with a crash, and now he saw that Master Courtenay

had somehow managed to catch his own attacker by

the swordarm-maybe the fellow had also been

distracted, dodging feints of a slung stone. Anyway it

was now going to be a wrestling match-but no, it

really wasn’t. In another instant the swordsman,

bellowing his surprise, had been lifted clean off his

feet, and in the instant after that Denis saw him

slaughtered like a rabbit, his back broken against the

angle of the heavy, tilted table.

The knife-wielder who had wounded Denis had

now changed his strategy and was scrambling after

the lady. Suddenly bereft of friends, he needed a

hostage. Denis, reckless of his own safety, and

wounded as he was, threw himself in the attacker’s

way before the man could come within a knifethrust

of the mistress. Denis had one quick glimpse of the

lady, her white robe half undone, scooting successfully

on hands and knees to get away.

And now Denis was on his back, and the knife was

coming down at him instead-but before it reached

him, the arm that held it was knocked aside by a

giant’s blow from the long ladle. The iron weight

brushed aside the barrier of an arm to mash into

the knifer’s cheekbone, delivering most of its

energy there with an effect of devastation. Denis

rolled aside, paused to look back, and allowed him-

self to slow to a panting halt. The fight was defi-

nitely over.

In the workshop, only three sets of lungs were

breathing still.

The lady, pulling her robe around her properly

once more (even amid surrounding blood, terror,

and danger, that momentary vision of her body was

still with Denis; he thought that it would always

be.) Now she let herself slide down slowly until she

was sitting on the floor with her back against one of

the upset benches. Evidently more angered then

terrified by the experience, she said to her husband

acidly, “You are quite, quite sure, are you, that they

represent the Watch?”

Coutenay, still on his feet, looking stupid, breath-

ing heavily, could only mumble something.

Once more there came the sound of pounding on

a door, accompanied by urgent voices. But this

time the noise was originating within the house.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred