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

The door that closed off the ascending stair was

being rattled and shaken, while from behind it a

man’s voice shouted: “Mistress! Master! Denis, are

you all right? What’s going on?”

The master of the house cast down his long iron

ladle. He stood for a moment contemplating his

own bloodied hands as if he wondered how they

might have- got that way. Denis saw an unprece-

dented tremor in those hands. Then Courtenay

drew a deep breath, raised his head, and called

back, almost calmly, “It’s all right, Tarim. A little

problem, but we’ve solved it. Be patient for a

moment and I’ll explain.”

In an aside he added: “Denis, help me get these

. . . no, you’re hurt yourself. Sit down first and bind

that up. Barb, you help me with these visitors. Drag

’em around behind that bench and we’ll throw a

tarp over ’em.”

Denis, in mild shock now with his wound, took a

moment to register the unfamiliar name. Barb?

Never before had he heard the master, or anyone

else, call the lady that . . . it wasn’t going to be easy,

he realized, to bind up his own arm unaided. Any-

way, the wound didn’t look like it was going to kill


Courtenay, while keeping busy himself, was still

giving orders. “Now close the street door.” He

dropped a dead man where he wanted him, and

pulled out a heavy tarpaulin from its storage. “No,

wait, let Tarim see it standing open. We’ll say some

brigands got in somehow, and…”

Tarim and the other awakened staff were pres-

ently allowed to come crowding in. Whether they

fully believed the vague story about brigands or

not, they took their cue from their master’s manner

and were too wise to question it. The outer door was

closed and barred. Tarim himself had to be dis-

suaded from standing watch in the workshop for

the rest of the night, and eventually he and all the

others were on their way back to bed.

Alone in the workshop again, the three who had

done the fighting exchanged looks. Then they got


Courtenay began a preliminary clean-up, while the

mistress applied a bandage to Denis’s forearm,

following his directions. Her small fingers, soft, white,

and pampered, did not shrink from bloody contact.

They managed the bandaging quite well, using some

of the cloth that had been brought for the first patient.

When the job was done, her fingers held his arm a

moment more. Her dark eyes, for the first time ever

(he thought) looked at him with something more than

the wish to be pleasant to a servant. She said, very

quietly but very seriously, “You saved my life, Denis.

Thank you.”

It was almost as if no woman had ever touched him

or spoken to him before. Denis muttered something.

He could feel the blood flowing back into his face.

What foolishness, he told himself. He and this lady

could never . . .

A quick look at the stranger now occupying Denis’s

bed showed that the fight in the next room had not

disturbed him. He was still unconscious, breathing

shallowly. Denis, looking at him, came round to the

opinion that nothing was likely to disturb this man

again. With two wounded men now on hand, the

mistress announced that she was going upstairs to

search more thoroughly for medical materials.

The master said to his lady, “I’ll come up with you,

we have to talk. Denis can manage here for a few


The two of them climbed in thoughtful silence, past

the level where Tarim and other workers slept, past

the next floor also. Reaching the topmost level of the

house, they passed through another door and entered

a domain of elegance. This began with a

wood-paneled hall, lit now by the flame of a single

candle in a wall sconce. Here the lady turned in one

direction, going to rummage in her private stocks for

medical materials. The master turned down the hall

the other way, heading for a closet where he

expected to find a fresh, unbloodied robe.

Before he reached the room that held the closet, he

was intercepted by the toddling figure of a kneehigh

child, an apparition followed almost immediately by

that of an apologetic nurse.

“Oh sir, you’re hurt,” the nurse protested. She was a

buxom girl, almost a grown woman now. And at the

same time the child demanded: “Daddy! Tell story

now!” At the age of two and a half, the little girl

fortunately already showed much more of her

mother’s than her father’s looks. Brazenly wide

awake, as if something about this particular night

delighted her, she waited in her silken nightdress,

small stuffed toy in hand.

The man spoke to the nursemaid first. “I’m all right,

Kuan-yin. The blood is nothing. I’ll put Beth back to

bed; you go see if you can help your mistress find

what she’s looking for.”

The nurse looked at him for a moment. Then, like

the other employees, wise enough to be incurious

tonight, she moved away.

The huge man, who for the past four years had

been trying to establish an identity as Master

Courtenay, wiped drying gore from his huge hands

onto a robe already stained. With hands now steady,

and almost clean, he bent to carefully pick up the

living morsel he had discovered he valued more than

his own life.

Carrying his daughter back to the nursery, he

passed a window. Through genuine glass and rainy

night he had a passing view of the high city walls

some hundreds of meters distant. The real watch

were keeping a fire burning atop the wall. Another

light, smaller and steadier, was visible in a slightly

different direction; one of the upper windows glowing

in the Lord Mayor’s palace. It looked as if someone

was having a busy night there too; the observer could

only hope that there was no connection.

Fortune was smiling on the huge man now, for he

was able to remember the particular story that his

daughter wanted, and to get through the telling of it

with reasonable speed. The child had just gone back

to sleep, and the father was just on his way out of the

nursery, shutting the door with infinite care behind

him, when his wife reappeared, still wearing her

stained white robe.

“We have a moment,” she whispered, and drew him

aside into their own bedroom. When that door too had

been softly closed, and they were securely alone, she

added: “I’ve already taken the medicine downstairs to

Denis. He thinks that the man is probably going to die

. . . there’s no doubt, is there, that he’s the courier

we’re expecting?”

“I don’t suppose there’s much doubt about that, no.”

The lady was slipping out of her bloodied robe now,

and throwing it aside. In the very dim light that came

in through the barred window from those distant

watchfires, her husband beheld her shapely body as a

curved warmed silver candlestick, a pale ghost hardly

thickened at all by having borne one child. Once he

had loved this woman hopelessly, and then another

love had come to him, and gone again, dissolved in

death. Sometimes he

still saw in dreams a cascade of bright red hair . . .

his love for his darkhaired wife still existed, but it was

very different now.

As she dug into a chest to get another robe, she told

him calmly, “One of those we killed tonight cried out,

something like: ‘Greetings to Ben of Purkinje, from the

Blue Temple.’ I’m sure that Denis heard it too.”

“We’re going to have to trust Denis. He’s proved

tonight he’s loyal. I think he saved your life.”

“Yes,” the lady agreed, in a remote voice. “Either

trust him-or else kill him too. Well.” She dismissed

that thought, though not before taking a moment in

which to examine it with deliberate care. Then she

looked hard at her husband. “And you called me

Barb, too, once, down there in his hearing.”

“Did I?” He’d thought he’d broken himself long ago

of calling her that. Ben-he never really thought of

himself as “of Purkinje”-heaved a great sigh. “So,

anyway, the Blue Temple has caught up with me. It

probably doesn’t matter what Denis overheard.”

“And they’ve caught up with me, too,” she reminded

him sharply. “And with your daughter, whether they

were looking for us or not. It looked like they were

ready to wipe out the household if they could.” She

paused. “I hope they haven’t located Mark.”

Ben thought that over. “There’s no way we can get

any word to him quickly. Is there? I’m not sure just

where he is.”

“No, I don’t suppose we can.” Barbara, tightening

the belt on her clean robe, shook her head

thoughtfully. “And they came here right on the

heels of the courier-did you notice that? They must

have been following him somehow, knowing that he’d

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred