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

lead them to us.”

“Too much of a coincidence otherwise.”

“Yes. And the alliance still holds, I suppose,

between Blue Temple and the Dark King.”

“Which means the Dark King’s people may know

about the courier too. And about what we have in our

possession here, that the courier was going to take

away, if the rest of the shipment ever arrives.” He

heaved another sigh.

“What do we do, Ben?” His wife spoke softly now,

standing close to him and looking up. At average

height he towered over her.

“At the moment, we try to keep the courier alive,

and see if he can tell us anything. About Deniswe’re

just going to have to trust him, as I say. He’s a good


He was about to open the bedroom door, but his

wife’s small hand on his arm delayed him. “Your

hands,” she reminded him. “Your robe.”

“Right.” He poured water into a basin and quickly

washed his hands, then changed his robe. Half his

mind was still down in . the workshop, reliving the

fight. Already in his memory the living bodies he had

just broken were taking on the aspects of creatures in

some awful dream. Te knew they were going to come

back later to assail him. Later perhaps his hands

would shake again. It was always like this for him

after a fight. He had to try to put it out of his mind for


While he was getting into his clean robe, Barbara

said, “Ben, as soon as I saw that the man had only

one arm, you know what I thought of.”

“Mark’s father. But Mark always told us that his

father was dead. He sounded quite sure of it.”

“Yes, I remember. That he’d seen his father struck

down in their village street. But just suppose-”

“Yes. Well, we’ve got enough to worry about as it


In another moment they were quietly making their

way downstairs together. The house around them

was as quiet now as if everyone were really sleeping.

Ben could picture most of his workers lying awake,

holding their breaths, waiting for the next crash.

In Denis’s room on the ground floor they found the

young man, his face pale under his dark hair, sitting

watch over a stranger who still breathed, but barely.

The mistress immediately went to work, improving on

her first effort at bandaging Denis’s arm. Ben thought

he could see a little more color coming slowly back

into the youth’s cheeks.

And now, for the third time since midnight, a noise

at the back door. This time a modest tapping.

Something in Ben wanted to react with laughter.

“Gods and demons, what a night. My house has

turned into the Hermes Gate to the High Road.”

And now, for the third time, after making sure that

his wife and his assistant were armed and as eady for

trouble as they could get, Ben maneuvered light and

lenses to look out into the narrow exterior passage.

This time, as he reported to the others in a whipser,

there were two human figures to be seen outside.

Both appeared to be men, and both were robed in


“It looks like two of Ardneh’s people. One’s

carrying a big staff that. . .” Ben didn’t finish. Barbara

caught his meaning.

Those outside, knowing from the light that they

were under observation from within, called loudly:

“Master Courtenay? We’ve brought the wooden

model that you’ve been waiting for.”

“Ah,” said Ben, hearing a code that gave him

reassurance. Still he signed to his companions to

remain on guard, before he cautiously opened the door

once more.

This time the opening admitted neither a toppling

body nor an armed rush. There was only the peaceful

entry of the two in white, who as Ardneh’s priests

saluted courteously first the master of the house and

then the people with him. Denis, this time holding his

hatchet left-handed, was glad to be able to lower it


White robes dripped water on a floor already

freshly marked by rain and mud and blood. If the

newcomers noticed these signs of preceding visitors,

they said nothing about them.

Instead, as soon as Ben had barred up the door

again, the older of the two whiteclad priests offered

him the heavy, ornate wooden staff. It was obviously

meant to be a ceremonial object of some kind, too

large and unwieldy to be anything but a burden on a

march or a hike. Tall as a man, cruciform in its upper

part, the staff was beautifully carved out of some light

wood that Denis could not identify. The uppermost

portion resembled the hilt of a gigantic wooden sword,

with the heads and necks of two carved dragons

recurving upon themselves to form the outsized


“Beautiful,” commented Denis, with a sudden dry

suspicion. “But I wonder which of Ardneh’s rites

requires such an object? I saw nothing at all like it in

the time I spent as acolyte.”

The two white-garbed men looked at Denis. Then

they turned in silent appeal to the man they knew as

Master Courtenay. He told them tiredly, “You may

show us the inside of the wooden model too. Denis

here is fully in my confidence, as of tonight. He’s

going to have to be.”

Denis stared for a moment at his master, who was

watching closely what the priests were doing. The

younger priest had the staff now, and was pressing

carefully with strong fingers on the fancy carving. In

a moment, the wood had opened like a shell, revealing

a velvet-lined cavity inside. Hidden there, straight iron

hilt within wooden crosspiece, was a great Sword.

The plain handle, of what Denis took to be some hard

black wood, was marked in white with a small symbol,

the outline of an open human hand. The Sword was in

a leather sheath, that left only a finger’s-breadth of the

blade visible, but that small portion of metal caught the

eye. It displayed a rich mottling, suggesting

centimeters of depth in the thin blade, beneath a

surface gleam of perfect smoothness. Only the Old

World, or a god, thought Denis, could have made a

blade like that, . . . and Denis had never heard of any

Old World swords.

“Behold,” the elder priest of Ardneh said, even as

the hand of the younger drew forth the blade out of its

sheath. “The Sword of Mercy!”

And still Denis needed another moment-but no

more than that-to understand fully what he was being

allowed to see. When understanding came; he first

caught his breath, and then released it in a long sigh.

By now almost everyone in the world had heard of

the Twelve Swords, though there were probably those

who still doubted their reality, and

most had never seen one. The Swords had been

forged some twenty years ago, the more reliable

stories had it; created, all the versions of the legend

agreed, to serve some mysterious role in a divine

Game that the gods and goddesses who ruled the

world were determined to enjoy among themselves.

And if this wonderous weapon were not one of

those twelve Swords, thought Denis_ . . well, it was

hard to imagine what else it could be. In his time at

the House of Courtenay he had seen some elegant

and valuable blades, but never before anything like


There were twelve of them, all of the stories agreed

on that much. Most of them had two names,

though some had more names than two, and a few

had only one. They were called Wayfinder, and

Farslayer, and the Tyrant’s Blade; there were the

Mindsword, and Townsaver, and Stonecutter,

called also the Sword of Siege. There were

Doomgiver, Sightblinder, Dragonslicer; Coin-

spinner and Shieldbreaker and the Sword o f Love,

that last thrice-named, also as Woundhealer and

the Sword of Mercy.

And, if any of the tales had truth in them at all,

each Sword had its own unique power, capable of

overwhelming all lesser magics, bestowing on its

owner some chance to rule the world, or at least to

speak on equal terms with those who died ….

The older priest had carefully accepted the naked

Sword from the hands of the younger, and now

Denis observed with a start that the old man was

now approaching him, Denis, with the heavy

weapon held out before him. Half-raised as if in

some clumsy system of attack, it wobbled slightly

in the elder’s hands.

Even in the mild lamplight the steel gleamed

breathtakingly. And Denis thought that a sound

was coming from it now, a sound like that of human


Whether he was commanded to hold out his

wounded arm, or did so automatically, Denis could

not afterwards remember. The room was very

quiet, except for the faint slow rhythmic hiss that

the Sword made, as if it breathed. The old man’s

thin arms, that looked as if they might never have

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred