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

A chunk of stone as big as his fist had been blasted

out of the wall before his eyes. Of the human being

who had been standing on the wall, holding the

opposing Sword, there was almost nothing left.

Although Shieldbreaker appeared the same as ever,

there appeared to be no trace of Doomgiver.

“Doomgiver, gone? Just like that? No, there must

be some pieces here; I’ll find them, and carry them

back to my forge, and make it new!”

But that proved to be impossible. Though Vulcan

diminished himself to half his previous height, the

better to search for tiny scattered objects, he could

not turn up even the smallest fragment of the

shattered blade. He found only the black hilt, bearing

the simple white circle, a line returning on itself. The

Sword of Justice was no more.

He told himself that he might still try to recast it,

some day, beginning the job from the beginning

again; but he was not sure now that he remembered

how he had accomplished it the first time. And

anyway, what need had he of a Sword of Justice

now? Just twenty years ago, things had been simpler;

all the gods knew what they were doing then, and

what they were supposed to do; and no human being

had yet thought of challenging their rule.

Vulcan was angry, as he went limping on toward

the House of Courtenay.

Over rooftops he saw the heads of Apollo, Zeus,

and Diana, come to chide and challenge him again.

Diana demanded: “Why did you strike down


He snarled at them all: “Because he insulted me,

and bothered me! Who needed Mars, anyway? What

was he good for? And as for the Great Dog, I’m not

even sure he’s dead. I wasted no time on him, one

way or the other.”

As soon as Vulcan swelled himself back to his

usual height, and waved Shieldbreaker at them, the

protestors fell back out of his way, as he had known

they would.

“By my forge, I think that this must be the house.”

The four-story building, standing close by one of the

branches of the river, had already been attacked by

someone else, and was still smoking. On the flat roof

of the house, amid vines and flowers and garden

paths, a human stood. The little creature was strong

and bulky for a mere man, and held another Sword in


Shiva pounced forward, meaning to take that

weapon for his own. He ignored Vulcan’s rumbled


The Sword in the man’s hand screamed with its

own power. By the shrill note Vulcan recognized it, at

once and with satisfaction. Townsaver!

The god of the four arms screamed too, in pain, not

triumph, and pulled back a badly mangled hand. The

injured god ran reeling, devastating small buildings as

he crashed into them. His screams continued without

pause, as his bounding, bouncing flight took him away

to the city walls again, and over the walls and out of


“Hah, the fool!” Vulcan grumbled to himself in

satisfaction. “Now I’ll take that Sword too. Or else

see it destroyed, like the other.”

He stepped close to the man on the roof, and

slashed quickly with the Sword of Force; right to left

and back again. With the motion of his arm his right

fist struck a corner of the building, close to the part of

the roof where the man was standing. As the two

Swords came in contact, and the Sword of Fury

disappeared in another explosive flash, the building

opened up under the impact of Vulcan’s fist, and the

man who had been holding Townsaver dropped down

inside the walls, disappearing in a cloud of dust and a

small landslide of debris.

“That must have been Townsaver, by its voice . . .

but, by the Spear of Mars, it’s gone now too!

Damnation to all human vermin who destroy my

property! But there may be other Swords in this nest.

He who told me said more than one.”

Vulcan considered the battered structure, its roof

terrace gaping at the corner where his fist had struck,

its lower floors blackened on the outside and still

smoldering where someone had earlier tried an assault

by fire. It would be easy enough to pull the house

down, but it would be awkward to

sift the whole pile of wreckage for his Swords

afterward. No.

After taking thought for a few more moments, the

Smith shrank himself once more, this time to little

more than human size. Now he ought to be able to

enter most of their rooms and passages. The

shrinkage of course left his strength undiminished, and

had the extra advantage of making it easier for him to

grip Shieldbreaker’s merely man-sized hilt.

He kept the Sword of Force in hand and ready, just

in case the building when entered might contain


There was no need to kick the front door in;

someone had already taken care of that. Inside, he

encountered first a pile of ugly human dead; nothing

that he wanted there. He could tell now that there

were some live ones also present in the building, but

so far they were all trying to hide from him. It didn’t

matter what they did. He’d seek out what he wanted.

This was some kind of human workshop here. It

was well stocked with weapons, but none of divine


The Smith shouted: “You might as well bring them

out to me! I forged them, all of them, and they are


Next he kicked open a wall, behind which, his

senses told him, there was some kind of a hidden door-

but all he uncovered, all that had been hidden here for

safety, were a plump human girl and the small child

she was trying to shelter.

“Hah! This is their treasure?” The ways and

thoughts of humankind were sometimes small beneath

all Vulcan’s comprehension.

Now a light weight of some kind fell from some

where to land on Vulcan’s neck, and it took him a

moment to realize that it was in fact a living human

body. A man had just jumped deliberately upon him,

from above and behind. A lone man, whose

weaponless arms, looked around Vulcan’s mighty

neck, were straining in an evident effort to strangle


The god laughed at this puny assault; laughed at it,

when he got around to noticing it for what it was. At

first it did not even distract him fully from his search.

The Swords, the Swords . . . there ought to be at least

one more of them around here somewhere . . . .

He would have them all, or he would destroy them

all, to perfect and insure his ultimate power over the

other gods and goddesses. So, they thought the Game

had been abandoned, did they? Well, it was over now,

or very nearly over. But not abandoned. No. He, the

Smith, the cripple, was winning it, he had almost won .

. . . and, just to be sure of course, he needed the

Swords to perfect his power over men and women

too. He wanted at some time to be able to put

Shieldbreaker down and rest; but he thought that time

would not come while even one of the other eleven

remained in other hands than his, or unaccounted for.

He had turned away from the girl and the baby,

ignoring them even as he forgot the rag of living

human flesh that was a large, strong man still hanging

on his neck. He would brush that away the next time

that he thought of it.

Now Vulcan’s progress was blocked by a strong,

closed door, and he grabbed with his free hand at a

projecting corner of the doorframe, intending to tear

the whole framework loose.

But he met startling resistance. Here was mere

wood and stone, and of no heroic dimensions, refusing

to yield to him.

Still, such was the Smith’s impatience that his first

concern was still getting through the door, and not

wondering why he could not. Instinctively he used

Shieldbreaker on the door, which now gave way quite


Irritated by the delay, and more so by the fact that

the room uncovered this time was empty, Vulcan

became more fully aware of another irritation, the

man who was still hanging on his back. The god,

reaching back with his free hand to peel the

annoyance off, achieved a belated recognition.

“What’s this, human? Grown back your right arm,

have you, since last we met? Well, we can fix that . .

. .”

But for some reason the puny human body would

not peel free. Applying the best grip that he could one-

handed, without setting Shieldbreaker down, Vulcan

again had the curious sensation of being almost

powerless. The link of those two human arms that

held him would not part.

It was almost as if the chronic lameness in his leg

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred