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

with a tackle.

And then they were all on him again.

Now another group of people, these in white robes,

recognizable to the struggling Smith as ser-

vants of the Dead God, Ardneh, were running into

the street before the house. These, coming late to

the scene, were clamoring in protest. From their

words Vulcan could tell that they thought they

were witnessing a lynching, a mob attack upon

some poor helpless man..

The people who were grappling the Smith down

tried to explain. “Completely mad, he thinks he’s

Vulcan.” And a kind of exhausted laugh went round

among them.

An aged priestess of Ardneh, looking wise and

kind, came to take the useless Sword out of the

madman’s grasp. It came to her easily out of his

cramped grip.

“To keep you from hurting yourself, poor fellow,

or anyone else… my, what a weapon.” The priest-

ess blinked at the Sword. “This must be put away,

in safety somewhere.”

“I’ll take it,” said Ben.

The old woman looked into the huge man’s eyes,

and sighed. “Yes, you take it. There is no one better

here, I think. Now we must bind this poor fellow for

a while, so he does no more harm. How strong he

is!-ah, such a waste. But these cords will hold him;

carefully, for we must do it out of love.”


In all of his fifty thousand and more years of life,

the creature named Draffut, the Lord of Beasts, had

never been closer to death than he was now. Yet

life, his almost inextinguishable life, remained in

him. He clung to it, if for no other reason than

because there was an injured human being nearby,

who cried out from time to time in his own pain.

Draffut, still true to his own nature, felt compelled

to find a way to help that man.

But he was unable to do anything to help the

man, unable even to move enough to help himself.

The very stream that laved his wounds seemed to

be slowly drawing his life away instead of assisting

him to heal.

It was daylight-whether of the last day of the

fight, or some day after that, he was not sure-when

he became aware that another presence, intelligent

but not human, was approaching him.

The Beastlord opened his eyes slowly. A goddess,

recognizable to him as Aphrodite, was standing

above him at a little distance, looking down at him

where he still lay in the mud at the water’s edge.

Aphrodite was standing just where Vulcan had

stood, and there was a Sword in her hands too. But

Draffut knew at once that this was different than

Vulcan’s approach, and he felt no fear as she drew

near him, and raised the Sword.

It struck at him, and he cried out with a pang of

new life, as sharp as pain. “Woundhealer,” he said,

suddenly strong enough to talk again. “And you are


“And you are the Healer,” she said. “Therefore I

think it right that you should have this Sword. Humans

quarrel and fight over this one, even as they do with

all the others. So I took it back from them. And I am

weary of trying to decide what to do with it next-so

much love allows but little time for pleasure.”

With a motion marked by a slight endearing

awkwardness, she dropped the Sword of Mercy on

the surface of the mud beside him.

Draffut, able to move again, put out his huge hand,

weakly and slowly, and touched the blade. “I thank

you, goddess, for your gift of life.”

“There are many who have life because of me . . .

ah, already I feel better too, to be rid of it. But that

Sword suits you, I think. You are not much like me.”

“Except in one way. We are both of us creations of

humanity. But I only in part. And out of their science,

not their dreams. I will still exist, if-when–humanity

changes its collective mind about me.”

The goddess tossed her perfect hair-and was it

pure gold, or raven black? “You say that about us, but

I don’t believe it. If humanity created us, the

gods and goddesses, then who could possibly

have created them? But never mind, I am tired of

all this philosophy and argument. There seems to be

no end to it of late. I think the world is changing.”

“Again. It always does.” And now Draffut was

dragging himself to his feet. The mud that had caked

upon his fur when he was dying was falling off now,

crumbling and twisting even as it fell, moving in the

glow of the renewed life within him.

Painfully, a stopped, slow giant carrying the Sword

of Mercy, he began to make his way across the

muddy ground toward the injured man.

Rostov listened long and intently to what his latest

and best source of information had to tell him about

what was going on inside the walls of Tashigang, and

what had happened last night during the outrageous,

heroic sally against the Dark King’s camp.

One of Rostov’s patrols had luckily picked up the

young man, who was carrying Coinspinner in his right

hand, in the garden of one of the abandoned suburban

villas along the Corgo.

“Trust a bad copper to turn up,” the General had

growled at first sight of him; then he had allowed his

steel-bearded face to split in a tight grin. “The

Princess will be anxious to see you, Mark. No, I

shouldn’t call you that, should I? What’s the proper

term of address for an Emperor’s son?”

“For . . . who? The Princess, you say?” the

wounded youth had answered weakly. “Where is


“Not far away. Not far:” Rostov still grinned. He

could begin to see now what the Princess had seen all

along in this tough young man. Who, as it now

turned out, not only had good stuff in him, but

Imperial blood. That was evidently, in the rarefied

realm of magic and politics where these things

were decided, something of acceptable importance.

Rostov was glad-it was time that Tasavalta had

some sturdy warrior monarchs on the throne again.

On a field not many kilometers from Tashigang,

the armies of Yambu and Vilkata confronted each

other, in a dawn dimmed almost to midnight by an

impending thunderstorm. The Silver Queen was

preparing herself to draw Soulcutter. She knew

that she would have to do so before the Dark King

brought the Mindsword into range; if not, her army

would be lost to her, and she herself perhaps mad-

dened into becoming Vilkata’s slave.

She had recently received a strange report: first

the god Vulcan had been seen inside the city, bound

helplessly by the gentle hands of white-robed

priestesses and priests; and then he was gone again.

Some said that an angry unarmed mob had seized

the Smith, and the wooden frame he had been

bound to, and had thrown him in the river, and he

had floated out of the city through the lower gates.

Queen Yambu thought: and is the world now to

belong to us humans, after all? If we can overthrow

the gods, and kill them-possibly. Not that they

had ever bothered to rule the world when it was

theirs. Perhaps it has been ours all along.

Without really being startled, she became aware

that a man was standing in the doorway of her tent,

and gazing in at her impertinently. She assumed he

was one of her officers, and was about to speak

sharply to him for staring at her thus, when she

realized that he was not one of her own men at all.

The words died on her lips.

His face was in shadow, and not until she shifted

her own position did she see the mask. “You,” she


He came in uninvited, pulled the mask off and

helped himself to a seat, grinning at her lightly. He

had not changed at all. Outside she could still hear

the sentries walking their rounds, unaware that

anyone had passed them.

The Emperor said to her: “I still have not had my


It took the Queen a moment to understand what

he was talking about. “You once asked me to marry

you. Can that be what you mean?”

“It can. Didn’t you realize that I was going to

insist on an answer, sooner or later?”

“No, I really didn’t. Not after . . . what happened

to our daughter. Have you forgotten about her? Or

is this visit just another of your insane jokes?”

“I have not forgotten her. She has been living

with me.” When Queen Yambu stared at him, he

went on calmly: “Ariane was badly hurt, about four

years ago, as you know. But she’s much better now.

She and I have not talked about you much, but I

think that she might want to meet you again some

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred