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

out from the shore. And now he had to slip out of his

partial armor, and drop his heavier weapons,

strong swimmer though he was, if he was going to

keep from drowning.

He swam downstream, missiles still pattering

like heavy hail upon the water’s surface round him.

He went under water for a while, still swimming,

and came up for air and swam again. The high

walls rose up before him swiftly; the river ran fast

here, and swept him down upon them. The gray-

brown of their hardened granite was brightening in

the new daylight. Now Ben could see that this

portion of the walls, along with the upstream

water-gates, was being manned in force by the

Watch in gray-green uniforms. More of the Watch

were down at water level, just inside the gate ahead

of him, admitting one at a time through a turnstile

arrangement the returning survivors of the sally.

There was already enough daylight to let them do

this with security.

Ben swam a few more strokes, and then could

pull himself up, first on rock and then on steel bars,

magically protected against rust. Around him a

steady trickle of other survivors were doing the

same thing; a bedraggled crew, he thought, but not

entirely defeated. He did not see Mark anywhere,

but that did not necessarily mean anything.

Once he had been let in through the turnstile,

Ben’s way led upward, into and behind the wall,

along a flight of narrow steps. His last glance at the

scene outside the city showed him that Vulcan and

some other god, a many-armed being Ben did not

recognize, were approaching, now no more than a

few hundred meters away.

Others soldiers were stopping on the stairs to

watch. Ben, for his part, had had more than enough

of confrontations and fighting for a time; he was

anxious to get home and see what was happening


Among the Watch officers who were seeing to the

admission of returning fighters, confusion reigned.

It was the situation more often than not in any mili-

tary, Ben had observed. Someone was announcing

that the survivors were to stand by for debriefing

and then reassignment on the walls. But someone

else, not an officer, passed on a rumor that the Blue

Temple was in revolt, and the House of Courtenay

under attack within the city. Ben on hearing this

ducked out and hurried through the streets toward

his home. In the confusion no one appeared to

notice his departure.

The streets of Tashigang were largely empty,

what stores and shops he passed were all of them

closed and shuttered. Once he observed, a few

streets away, a running group that looked like some

detached fragment of a mob. Ben stayed out of their

way, whatever they were about.

Tired and generally battered, though essentially

unhurt, he stumbled at last into the familiar street.

There was his house, at least it was still standing,

and his heart leaped up in preliminary joy; this was

followed in a moment by new anxiety, when he saw

how the building was scorched and still smoking

above ground level, and how the windows and

doors to the street were battered. Now he could see

part of what looked like a bucket brigade of his

faithful workers, stretching between the house and the

nearby river.

Ben ran panting through the broken front door, into –

the main room of the ground floor, and stopped.

Carnage was everywhere. Amid broken furniture and

weapons were piled hewed and mangled bodies, the

great majority of them wrapped in cloaks that had

once been blue and gold.

Barbara, elated, looking unhurt, came bounding

from somewhere to greet him.

“Townsaver,” she explained, succinctly, indicating

the condition and contents of the room. “They started

a fire, and broke in . . . but then some of them were

glad to get away.”

Then, in sudden new worry, she was looking behind

her husband, at the empty street. “Where’s Mark?”

“I don’t know. We were separated. He may be all

right.” And from the way the question had been

asked, Ben understood that she would have preferred

him to be the one still unaccounted for.

Vulcan, standing waist-deep in the swift Corgo, was

unhurriedly rending open one of the huge water-gates

of steel and iron bars. He might of course have

climbed the city wall, or flown over it somehow, but

this mode of entry struck him as more appropriate. He

had made the city his now, and he was going to enter

his city through a door.

Shiva, his recently acquired companion, was

squatting nearby on the riverbank and watching. The

rivets and other members of the gate were breaking

one at a time, parting with loud pops as Vulcan bent

his strength upon them, the fragments flying now and

then like crossbow bolts.

Vulcan was speaking, but, as often, his words were

addressed mainly to himself. “If I were capable of

mistakes, that would have been one . . . letting my

twelve Blades go so meekly, after I had them forged.

Giving them away to Hermes like that, to be dealt out

to the human vermin for the Game . . . a mistake, yes.

But now I’ll make no more.”

Now Shiva pitched into the river the smoldering

treetrunk that he had still been carrying. The huge

spar of wood went into the water with a steamy


As if in reply, there was a swirling in the water, and

the nebulous figure of Hades appeared just above its

surface. On the high city wall there were a few

human screams. The few human watchers who had

remained in the immediate area were quickly gone,

getting themselves out of sight of that god’s face, of

which it was said that no man or woman might look on

it, and live thereafter.

Hades said, in his formless voice, that he had come

to bring a warning to his old comrade Vulcan. It was

that anyone who used Farslayer could never triumph

thereby in the end.

Vulcan glared at him. “To a true god, there is no

end. Was that a warning, troglodyte, or a threat? If

you choose to deal in threats, Farslayer is here at my

side again, and as you say, I do not hesitate to use it.”

The almost shapeless words of Hades’ answer

came back to him: Death and darkness are no more than

portions of my domain, Fire-worker; such threats do not concern


And again there was a stirring of the river and the

earth, and Hades was gone.

Vulcan cast aside the remnants of the gate he had

now torn down, and waded through the stone arch it

had protected, and went on into the city. From the

inside, Tashigang looked about as he had expected; he

had heard that this was the largest city that the human

vermin had ever built. He noted with indifference that

the four-armed god Shiva was still following him.

There was a running human figure nearby, caped in

blue and gold, and Vulcan bent down and shot out a

hand and scooped the creature up, inflicting minimal

damage; he wanted some information from it.

“You, tell me-where is the place you call the House

of Courtenay? I hear that they are hiding some of my

Swords in there.”

He got his directions in a piping voice; the man

pointed with the arm that had not been broken by

Vulcan’s grab.

The Smith let the creature fall, and limped away

briskly through the streets. But now Apollo’s head

loomed over a nearby rooftop.

“Beware, Smith. We must meet and think and try to

talk about all this. I am calling a council-”

“Beware yourself. We’ve met and talked enough,

for ages, and got nowhere. And think? Who among us

can do that? Maybe you. Who else wants to? I don’t.

I just want what is mine.”

He marched on, moving quickly in his uneven gait.

A street or two later, there was another interruption.

Atop an indented curve of the great city wall, which

was here only about as high as Vulcan’s head, a

human in green and gray was brandishing some

unknown Sword, as if daring the gods to

attack him. It must be a Sword in which the man had


Vulcan detoured to confront this man. Shiva,

interested, was staying right with him.

The tiny teeth of the man on the wall were

chattering. But he got out the words he was trying to

say: “This is Doomgiver! Stay back!”

“Doomgiver, hey?” That particular Sword had been,

in the back of Vulcan’s thoughts, a lingering concern.

Wishing to take no chances, lie aimed a hard swing

with the Sword of Force. Its thudding sound built in a

moment to explosive volume. There was a dazzling

flash, a thunderclap of sound, as the two Blades came

in contact, opposing each other directly.

Vulcan stood there, blinking at ruin and destruction.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred