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

was growing worse, spreading to other parts of his

body. The Smith did not care in the least for the

sensation of being without strength. It was becoming

really alarming. Not only a stone wall, a wooden door,

but even flesh was able to resist him now.

While all the time, in his right hand which felt

stronger than ever, the limitless power of

Shieldbreaker tapped out its readiness to be used.

“. . . we can fix that like this. . .”

And Vulcan, reaching behind himself somewhat

awkwardly with the Sword, moved it to cut loose the

clinging human flesh. Awkward, yes. His hands that

had worked with divine skill to forge this weapon and

its peers felt clumsy now when he tried to use it

behind his back.

“Aaahrr!” All he had accomplished was to wound

himself slightly in the neck.

He aimed his next blind cut more cautiously


That time, Vulcan assured himself, the Sword had,

it must have, passed right through the body of the

clinging man. The trouble was that the man still clung

on as tight as ever, giving no indication of being killed.

The muscles of those human arms even tightened a

little more. Their force should have been

inconsequential in terms of what was needed to choke

a god, but Vulcan imagined that his own breathing had

become a shade more difficult, enough to be annoying,


Why was he, a god, worrying about breathing? But

suddenly it seemed to matter.

The human’s mortal breath, gasping with exertion

but still full of life, sawed in Vulcan’s ear. “I was

there with you when you forged this weapon, God of

Fire. My blood is in it, and part of my life. I know it-”

Standing in the middle of a large room, beside a

fireless forge, Vulcan braced himself and strained

with his left hand again. But still he could not break

the other’s grip.

“-know it as well as you do, Firegod. Better, maybe.

I can feel the truth of Shieldbreaker, now that it has

touched me again. You cannot hurt me with it, as long

as I have no weapon of my own.”

By now Vulcan’s search for other Swords had

been forgotten. This foolish business of letting a

human being attack him had gone too far, he had to

end it. He had to rid himself of this clinging thing, and

do it swiftly.

But even as he strove to do so, another human,

approaching unnoticed by the god in his distraction,

leaped upon him. This one was a tiny female with

dark hair. Vulcan moved just as she jumped at him, so

that she almost missed. But still she had him by one

ankle now, and she was trying-who would have

believed such a thing?-to tip him over.

Vulcan used the Sword on her. Or tried to use it

rather. He saw with his own eyes how the blade of

Shieldbreaker passed through her body, or gave the

illusion of dong so, again and again, without leaving the

.least trace of damage after it.

With his Sword perversely useless now, against this

fragile flesh that grappled with him, the Smith let out a

great roar, of mental pain and choking rage. He would

have thrown the Sword away now, but it refused to

separate from his hand. His fingers would not release

their grip upon the hilt.

All right then, he’d use it, in the only way it would

still work. He laid about him with the Sword, knocking

down furniture and walls, sending bricks and timber

and plaster flying. Dragging his two human tormentors

helplessly with him, he chewed a passage through the

ground floor of their house. He’d bring it all down on

their heads, these useless human vermin.

A new idea came to him, and he tried to increase

his stature, to swell himself once more to true godsize.

Appallingly, he found that he could not. All the powers

that had once been his were shrinking, concentrating,

being driven minute by minute into

the one focus of his perfect Sword, the blade of

Shieldbreaker itself and his right arm and hand that

held it.

Now, other humans, emboldened by the survival of

the first two, were coming to join in the attack.

Human hands fastened on Vulcan’s left arm, more

human hands on his other leg. Someone’s hand

snatched Farslayer from its sheath at his belt; not that

he’d really dreamed of wasting it on any of these puny

. . .

More people were coming at him, a grappling

swarm of them. Now they were strong and numerous

enough to drag him against his will. They were forcing

him a step at a time out of the house, going through

some of the very openings he’d just created. He

lashed out wildly with the Sword, and more wood and

dust and tile came crashing down, on Vulcan’s head

and all around him, not bothering him much but laying

one or two of his assailants low. Through the

chokehold on his neck he gurgled minor triumph.

Still more and more of the vermin came pouring out

of their holes, now daring to attack him. Jord cried a

warning to one of these, but too late. The man had

leaped at Vulcan, swinging an axe at the Smith’s head.

Shieldbreaker tapped once and brushed the weapon

away, along with the arms of the man who had been

holding it.

Another man tried to grab Vulcan by the

Swordarm. Still too much power there, too much by

far, perhaps more power than ever. The man was

flung off like mud from a wheel, to break his body on

the wall.

But still the other people held on. Half a dozen of

them were gripping the god now, each of the ver-

min seeming to gain determination from the

others, each of them sapping some minute portion of

his strength.

Vulcan roared out threats, though he knew that it

was now too late for threatening. Words and yells did

him no good. He fell, and. rolled upon the floor,

brushing off some of his assailants, crushing others,

damaging them all, savaging those who persisted in

clinging on. Yet persist they did, and still more came,

out of the wreckage of their house. As soon as he rid

himself of one, one or two more jumped on him,

coming at him endlessly out of the rooms and ruins.

A crossbow bolt came streaking at him, launched

by some concealed and unwise hand. Shieldbreaker

tapped once again, unhurriedly, and shattered the

missile in midair. Fragments of the bolt drew blood

from the people who were wrestling with the god.

Jord, in a weakening voice, cried warning once

again: “No weapons! No weapons, and we can win!”

Concentrated now in the one Sword was all of

Vulcan’s power, and all his hope. He knew that he

must win with it, or die. Once more, then, behind his

back, carefully and hard-there, that must have cut the

pestiferous human leader clean in two!

But it had not. Or if it had, the man had been able

to survive such treatment handily. The human’s legs

and feet still behaved as if they were connected to his

brain, and he rode the god as if Vulcan were no more

than a riding beast.

And Vulcan could feel a new pain in his back, and

more of his own blood; once more he’d done himself

some damage with the Sword.

Still he fought on, straining to stab, slice up,

destroy, the desperately wrestling human horde. They

clung to him and submitted to being battered when he

rolled on the ground again. When he was back on his

feet, they dragged him about, and would not be

shaken off. He slipped and fell, in a patch of his own


And now they picked him up.

Now in their score of hands they bore him, raving,

thrashing, screaming, outside the building, and he

could no longer try to bring it down upon them. The

arc of the Sword of Force flashed at them, passed

through their bodies as through phantoms, leaving

them unharmed.

The original grip on Vulcan’s neck was really

choking now. Every muscle of his body was growing

weaker and weaker-except those in his right arm.

That limb felt more and more powerful, but all that it

could do was wield the Sword, and in combat against

unarmed flesh the Sword was useless. Meanwhile,

Vulcan’s blood drained from his self-inflicted wounds.

He relaxed suddenly, playing dead.

In a moment, stunned and battered themselves, the

people had all let go of him.

He leaped up, raging, wise enough now to use his

first free effort to throw the Sword away from him.

But in the presence of his enemies it would not let him


A moment later, a huge man, who had just come

stumbling out of the half-ruined house, had hurled

himself alone at Vulcan, and brought the god down

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred