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

held a weapon before in all his life, reached out. The

blade, looking keener than any razor that Denis had

ever seen, steadied itself suddenly. It moved now as

if under some finer control than the visibly tremu-

lous grip of the old priest.

And now the broad point had somehow, without

even nicking flesh, inserted itself snugly under-

neath the tight bandage binding Denis’s forearm.

The bloodstained white cloth, cut neatly, fell

away, and the Sword’s point touched the wound

directly. Denis, expecting pain, felt instead an

intense moment of-something else, a sensation

unique and indescribable. And then the Sword


Looking down at his arm, Denis saw dried blood,

but no fresh flow. The dried, brownish stuff

brushed away readily enough when he rubbed at it

with his fingers. Where the dried blood had been,

he saw now a small, fresh, pink scar. The wound

looked healthy, easily a week or ten days healed.

It was at this moment, for some reason, that

Denis suddenly remembered something about the

man who, the legends said, had been forced to assist

Vulcan in the forging of the Swords. The stories

said of that human smith that as soon as his work

was done he had been deprived of his right arm by

the god.

“It is shameful, of course,” the elder priest was

saying, “that we must keep it hidden so, and sneak

through the night with it like criminals with their

plunder. But if we did not take precautions, then

those who would put Woundhealer to an evil use

would soon have it in their possession.”

“We will do our best,” the lady of the house

assured him, “to keep it from them.”

“But at the moment,” said the master, “we have

a problem even more immediate than that. Sirs, if

you will, bring the Sword this way with you, and

quickly. A man lies dying.”

Denis led the way, and quickly opened the door to

his own room. The master stepped in past him, and

indicated the still figure on the bed. “He arrived

here not an hour ago, much as you see him. And I

fear he is the courier who was to have carried on

what you have brought.”

The two priests moved quickly to stand beside

the bed. The young one murmured a prayer to

Draffut, God of Healing. The first quick touch of the

Sword was directly on the wound still bleeding in

the side of the unconscious man. Denis, despite his

own experience of only moments ago, could not

keep from wincing involuntarily. It was hard to

imagine that that keen, hard point would not draw

more blood, do more harm to human flesh already

injured. But the slow red ooze from the wound,

instead of increasing, dried up immediately. As the

Sword moved away, the packing that Denis had put

into the wound pulled out with it. The cloth hung

there, stuck by dried blood to the skin.

Feeling a sense of unreality, Denis passed his

hand over his eyes.

Now the Sword, still in the hands of Ardneh’s

elder servant, moved down to touch the wound on

the exposed knee. This time when the bare metal

touched him, the man on the bed drew in his

breath sharply, as if with some extreme and

exquisite sensation; a moment later he let out a

long sigh, eloquent of relief. But his eyes did not


And now the tip of the Sword was being made to

pass back and forth over his whole body, not quite

touching him. It paused again, briefly, right above

the heart. Denis could see how the arms of the old

priest continued to tremble, as if it strained them to

hold this heavy weapon-not, Denis supposed, that

this Sword ought to be called a weapon. He won-

dered what would happen if you swung it against

an enemy.

The tip of the blade paused just once more, when

it reached the scarred stump of the long-lost arm.

There it touched, and there, to Denis’s fresh sur-

prise, it did draw blood at last, a thready red trickle

from the scarred flesh. Again a gasp came from the

unconscious man.

The bleeding stopped of itself, almost as quickly

as it had started. The old priest now slid the blade

back into its sheath, and handed it to his assistant,

who enclosed it once again within the staff of wood.

The elder’s face was pale now, as if the healing

might have taken something out of him. But he did

not pause to rest, bending instead to examine the

man he had been treating. Then he pulled a blanket

up to the patient’s chin and straightened.

“He will recover,” the elder priest announced,

“but he must rest for many days; he was nearly

dead before the Sword of Mercy reached him. Here

you can provide him with the good food he needs;

even so his recovery will take some time.”

Master Courtenay told the two priests of Ardneh

softly, “We thank you in his name-whatever that

may be. Now, will you have some food? And then

we’ll find you a place to sleep.”

The elder declined gravely. “Thank you, but we

cannot stay, even for food.” He shook his head. “If

this man was to be the next courier, as you say, I

fear you will have to find a replacement for him.”

“We will find a way,” the lady said.

“Good,” said the elder, and paused, frowning.

“There is one thing more that I must tell you before

we go.” He paused again, a longer time, as if what

he had to say now required some gathering of

forces. “The Mindsword has fallen into the hands of

the Dark King.”

An exhausted silence fell over the people in the

workshop. Denis was trying desperately to recall

what the various songs and stories had to say about

the weapon called the Mindsword.

There was, of course, the verse that everyone had


The Mindsword spun in the dawn’s gray light

And men and demons knelt down before

The Mindsword flashed in the midday bright

Gods joined the dance, and the march to war

It spun in the twilight dim as well

And gods and men marched off to-

“Gods and demons!” Master Courtenay swore

loudly. His face was grave and gray, with a look

that Denis had never seen on it before.

Moments later, having said their last farewells,

the two white-robed men were gone.

Denis closed and barred the door behind them,

and turned round. The master of the house was

standing in the middle of the workshop, with one

hand on the wooden Sword-case that stood leaning

there against the chimney. He was looking it over

carefully, as if it were something that he might

want to buy.

The lady was back in Denis’s room already,

looking down at the hurt man on the bed. Denis

when he came in saw that the man was now sleep-

ing peacefully and his color was a little better


Out in the main room of the shop again, Denis

approached his master-whose real name, Denis

was already certain, was unlikely to be Courtenay.

“What are we going to do with the Sword now,

sir? Of course it may be none of my business.” It

obviously had become his business now; his real

question was how they were going to deal with

that fact.

His master gave him a look that said this point

was appreciated. But all he said was: “Even

before we worry about the Sword, there’s another

little job that needs taking care of. How’s your


Denis fixed it. There was a faint residual sore-

ness. “Good enough.”

“Good.” And the big man walked around behind

the big toppled workbench, and lifted the tarpaulin

from that which had been concealed from Ardneh’s


It was going to be very convenient, Denis

thought, that the house was so near the river, and

that the night was dark and rainy.


The chase under the blistering sun had been a

long one, but the young man who was its quarry

foresaw that it was not going to go on much longer.

Since the ambush some twenty kilometers back

had killed his three companions and all their riding

beasts, he had been scrambling on foot across the

rough, barren country, pausing only at intervals to

set an ambush of his own, or when necessary to

gasp for breath.

The young man wore a light pack on his back,

along with his longbow and quiver. At his belt he

carried a small water bottle-it was nearly empty

now, one of the reasons why he thought that the

chase must soon end in one way or another. His age

would have been hard to judge because of his

weathered look, but it was actually much closer to

twenty than to thirty. His clothes were those of a

hunter, or perhaps a guerrilla soldier, and he wore

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred