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


The Silver Queen continued to stare at her former

lover. At last she said, “My reports, and I have rea-

son to trust them, said that Ariane was killed, in the

treasure-dungeon of the Blue Temple.”

The Emperor scowled his distaste for that organi-

zation. “Many have died, in that . . . place. But

Ariane did not die there. Even though the young

men with her at the time were also sure that she

was dead. One of those young men is my son, did

you know that? I like to take care of my children,

whenever I can. She is not dead.”

And still Queen Yambu stared at him. She could

not shake off her suspicion that this was all one of

his jokes, perhaps the prelude to a hideous

revenge-she had never been sure, even when they

had been lovers, whether he was a vengeful man or


At last her royal poise abandoned her for the

moment, and she stammered out: “I-I sold her to

the Red Temple.”

The frown was turned at her now, and briefly she

understood what ancient Imperial power must

have been, that Kings and Queens had quaked

before it.

“I might have killed you for that, if I had known

about it when it happened. But years have passed,

and you are sorry for that selling now. She has sur-

vived, and so have I. And so have you.”

In anger she regained her strength. “I have sur-

vived without you, you impossible . . . and you say

you want to marry me, still? How do I know you

mean what you are saying now?”

“How do you know when to trust anyone, my

dear? You’ll have to make a choice.”

She wanted to cry out that she did not know

when to trust anyone; that was her whole problem.

“You madman, suppose I were to answer you and

tell you yes. Could you defeat the Mindsword for me


“I’ll do all I can to help you, if you will be my

bride. We’ll see about the Mindsword when it


“It’s here now. Oh, you bastard. Impossible as

always. Leave now. Get out of here, or I’m going to

draw Soulcutter.” And she put her hand on the

unrelieved blackness of that hilt, that rested as

always within reach. “And I suppose you’ll go on

seducing brides, and fathering more bastards, after

we are married?”

He said, softly and soberly, “I will be more faith-

ful to you than you can well imagine. I love you; I

always have. Why do you think I fought for you,

beside you, when you were a girl?”

“I don’t believe it, I tell you. I don’t believe any of

it. Leave now, or I draw Soulcutter.”

“It’s your Sword, to do with as you will. But I

will leave when you decide to draw it.”

She started to draw the Sword, and-at the same

moment called out in a clear voice for her guards.

When they came pushing into the tent a moment

later, they found their Queen quite alone, and

Soulcutter safely in its sheath, though her hand on

the hilt was poised as if for action.

The soldiers found themselves staring half-

hypnotized at that hand, both of them hoping that

they would be out of the tent again before the

Sword was drawn; and already in the air around it,

around themselves, they thought they could feel the

backwash of a wave of emptiness.

Queen Yambu wasted no more time, but gave the

orders necessary to get her troops into the state of

final readiness for battle. That done, she ordered an


With Vilkata’s ranks still no more than barely in

sight, she waited in the middle of her own line,

mounted on her famous gray warbeast, ready to

draw the Sword of-of what? As far as she knew, this

one had only one name.

Now the enemy lines were creeping forward.

There, in their center, that would be Vilkata himself,

waiting for the perfect moment in which to draw the

weapon that he was gambling would be supreme.

The hand of Queen Yambu was on her own

Sword’s hilt. She urged her mount forward, a little.

Not yet.


The Mindsword and Soulcutter were drawn,

virtually simultaneously.

Her own first reaction, to the overwhelming psychic

impact of her own Sword, was that she wanted to

throw it away-but then she did not. Because she could

no longer see how throwing it away would make any

difference, would matter in the least.

Nor did anything else matter.

Nothing else in the whole universe.

The Mindsword was a distant, irrelevant twinkle,

far across the field, beneath the gloom of

thunderclouds. While near at hand, around Queen

Yambu herself . . .

Those of her own troops who were closest to her

had been looking at her when she drew. After that

they were indifferent as to where they looked.

Around her a wave of lethargy, of supreme

indifference, was spreading out, a slow splash in an

inkblack pool.

In the distance, but drawing rapidly nearer, a charge

was coming. Vilkata’s troops, with maddened yells,

the fresh inspiration of the Mindsword driving them.

Some of the Queen’s soldiers, more and more of

them with each passing second, were actually

slumping to the ground now, letting their weapons fall

from indifferent hands. It appeared that they would’be

able to put up no resistance, that the Dark King might

now be going to win easily.

But of course that did not matter either.

With berserker cries, the first of the Dark King’s

newly energized fanatics rushed upon them. The

defense put up by the soldiers in black and silver was

at best half-hearted, and it was weaker the closer they

were stationed to their Queen.

But the attackers, Vilkata’s men and women, were

now entering the region of Soulcutter’s dominance. It

was their screams of triumph that faltered first, and

then the energy with which they plied their weapons.

Next their ranks came to a jostling, stumbling halt.

The Queen of Yambu-not knowing, really, why she

bothered-slowly raised her eyes. The Sword she held

above her head was so dull that it almost hurt the eyes

to look at it.

The Sword of Despair-she had thought of the other

name for it now. Not that that mattered, either. Not

that or anything else.

Why was she bothering to hold the Sword so high?

She let her arms slump with its weight. When her

warbeast, puzzled and suffering, wanted to move, she

let it go, sliding from its back. She stood almost

leaning on the Sword now, its point cutting shallowly

into the earth.

Nor did any of that really mean anything, as far as

she could tell.

The fighting that had begun, sporadically, was dying

out. Soulcutter was winning, all across the

field. If neither victory nor survival mattered, to

anyone, there would be no battle.

Yambu was aware, though only dimly and indif-

ferently, that so far the Dark King’s weapon had

been able to shield him, and a small group of his fol-

lowers around him, from Soulcutter’s dark, subtle


That group began to charge toward her now,

yelling warcries. But its numbers shrank, and

shrank more rapidly the closer it came to Queen

Yambu. One by one the people in it turned aside

from the charge, to sit or kneel or slump to the

ground, giving up the effort in despiar.

King Vilkata’s demons were the last to desert

him. And even before that had happened, he him-

self had given up the attack and was in full flight

from the field.

Rostov, out having a personal look around,

turned his scouting squadron back when they came

to the edge of the field. Ahead of him the General

could see what looked to him like the worst slaugh-

ter he had ever beheld, in a lifetime spent largely

amid scenes of butchery. There were two armies on

the field, and as nearly as he could tell from this dis-

tance, both of them had been virtually wiped out.

But the General turned back, and ordered his sol-

diers back, not because of what he saw but because

of what he felt, what they had all felt when tres-

passing upon the fringes of that grim arena.

Another few steps in that direction, thought Rostov,

and he would have been ready to throw down his

weapons and his medals and abandon life.

He was wondering what orders to give next,

when he saw a giant figure appear in the distance.

With swift, powerful, two-legged strides it drew

closer, also approaching the field of despair. It was

Draffut, called a god by some; although General

Rostov had never seen the Lord of Beasts before,

who else could this be?

There was someone else; a man-shape, riding

familiarly on Draffut’s shoulders.

Draffut did not approach Rostov and his scouting

detachment, but instead halted at another point on

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred