Authors: Fred Saberhagen
The Seventh Book Of Lost Swords
The Seventh Book of Lost Swords :Wayfinder’s Story Copyright (c) 1992 by Fred Saberhagen
Cover Art : Harry O. Morris
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Please purchase only authorized electronic editions.
Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Tor paper edition: ISBN: 0-812-50575-1
JSS Literary Productions
The Ardneh Sequence
Empire of the East series
The Broken Lands
The Black Mountains
( three titles also published in a heavily-revised omnibus form as
Empire of the East)
The Book of Swords
The First Book of Swords
The Second Book of Swords
The Third Book of Swords
The Book of Lost Swords
The First Book of Lost Swords: Woundhealer’s Story
The Second Book of Lost Swords: Sightblinder’s Story
The Third Book of Lost Swords: Stonecutter’s Story
The Fourth Book of Lost Swords: Farslayer’s Story
The Fifth Book of Lost Swords: Coinspinner’s Story
The Sixth Book of Lost Swords:
The Seventh Book of Lost Swords: Wayfinder’s Story
The Last Book of Lost Swords: Shieldbreaker’s Story
(original invitational anthology edited by Fred Saberhagen)
An Armory of Swords
Blind Man’s Blade… . . Fred Saberhagen
… . .
Walter Jon Williams
… . .
… . .
Robert E. Vardeman
The Sword of Aren-Nath
… . .
… . .
Luck of the Draw
… . .
Michael A. Stackpole
Stealth and the Lady
… . .
His huge, work-roughened hands shaking with excitement, young Valdemar turned up the sleeves of his farmer’s shirt. Squatting on the earth floor of his solitary hut, peering intently by firelight and fading daylight, he reached for the long, heavy bundle that lay near the fire and began very gradually to undo its wrappings of gray cloth. The bundle was neatly made, tied with strong cord. As Valdemar worked to undo the knots, he did his best to keep himself from thinking of what he might expect to find within. He told himself he had no right to expect anything at all. But it was as if he wished to shield himself from an enormous disappointment…
The wrappings loosened and began to fall away. As soon as an area of unrelieved blackness came into view, unmistakably part of the hilt of an edged weapon, the young man’s fingers ceased to move. Like many other people, he had a sensitivity to the presence of powerful magic, and he was already beginning to realize just what kind of weapon he had been given.
Valdemar thought that he could feel the blood drain from his face. Leaning his enormous weight back on his heels, he did his unpracticed best to formulate a prayer to beneficent Ardneh.
Whatever prayer he at last managed to say went up in silence. Outside, spring wind howled fiercely, shoving against the rough stone walls of his lonely hut, rattling the crude, ill-fitting door, spattering rain through the hole in the roof that served as chimney, so that the small fire, fueled mostly by last year’s dried vines, hissed as if in pain.
He had a serious mystery to contemplate.
An unknown visitor, working alone in pursuit of some unguessable purpose, who had come and gone before Valdemar had been able to catch more than a glimpse of him—or her—had just made the young grape-grower a present of one of the Twelve Swords. The recipient felt overwhelmed by the discovery. And yet—even in this tremendous moment when Valdemar first glimpsed the ebon hilt, he found himself thinking that he ought to be more surprised at the nature of this gift than he really was.
He had the strange feeling that he had always known, had never doubted, that something like this—something truly great—was fated to happen to him sooner or later.
Well, here it was. And whatever unconscious anticipation might be keeping him from being properly astonished, he was certainly beginning to be afraid.
* * *
Scant minutes ago, the unexpected shadow and the silent form of the mysterious caller had moved almost simultaneously, and with a swiftness almost magical, past the door of Valdemar’s isolated dwelling, interrupting the young man in the midst of preparing his evening meal. The door had been left slightly ajar for more light, and to let the smoke-hole draw.
Until that moment, Valdemar had had no suspicion that any other human being was anywhere within a couple of kilometers. By the time he had jumped up and run outdoors, the figure of his anonymous visitor was already almost out of sight in mist and rain. Valdemar had caught only a single glimpse of a human shape, so muffled in gray garments that it might have been either man or woman.
The gigantic youth had started in pursuit, swiftly bounding up one, two, three of the narrow cultivated terraces that rose above his hut. But by the time he had reached the third terrace, his caller had already disappeared into the wet twilight shrouding the domesticated vines, the scant wild bushes, and the granite outcroppings of the lonely mountainside.
Shouting for his vanished visitor to stop, Valdemar had continued the chase a little farther, almost to the boundary of his cultivated land, but without success. Returning to his hut a couple of minutes later, the young man had picked up the bundle which had been so mysteriously deposited at his door. He had paused to reassure himself that at least it was not alive (he had heard stories of babies being left at the doors of lonely huts) and carried it in by the fire. After closing the ill-fitting door again, and shaking his garments dry as best he could, Valdemar had hesitantly begun to unwrap his present—a process which came, moments later, to a shocked halt.
Though he was scarcely past the age of twenty, and for most of the past year had dwelt in this lonely place, Valdemar could not claim complete innocence or ignorance regarding the affairs of the great world.
Like every other thinking person, he knew something of the history of the Twelve Swords, magical weapons created almost forty years ago by the gods themselves. Valdemar knew also that two of the Swords had been destroyed not long after they were made. This black hilt partially visible before him, if it were genuine, might belong to any of the remaining Ten. And though like most people he had never seen, much less handled, any of the Twelve, Valdemar could not doubt the authenticity of this one. A heavy elegance of magic flowed into his fingertips the instant they brushed against it; and to magic he was not a total stranger.
It was common knowledge in the world that four Swords—Shieldbreaker, Dragonslicer, Stonecutter, and Sightblinder—had for some years been gathered in the royal armory of Tasavalta, under control of that realm’s powerful and unfortunate Prince Mark. Among the six others now lost to public knowledge were the two Valdemar considered the most abominable of the god-forged weapons, Soulcutter and the Mindsword.
No one, as he understood the case, could ever be sure of the whereabouts of Coinspinner, a tricky blade given to randomly moving itself about. Nor was there any way to guess the whereabouts of Farslayer, Wayfinder, or Woundhealer. That last was the only one of the surviving ten that Valdemar would have rejoiced to find in his own possession.
* * *
Crouching near the fire, alone with his mysterious gift, the youth hesitated for a long time before continuing the process of unwrapping. His irresolution was grounded in the fact that he feared certain of the gods’ Swords more than others, and at this point it was still at least theoretically possible for him to refuse the knowledge of which one he had been given. At this point he would still be able, if he chose, to tie up the gray cloth again, carry the whole still-mysterious bundle back out into the rain, and drop it, lose it, deep in some rocky crevice among the nearby crags, hoping that no one else would ever discover the presence of the thing of power, or be able to come near it.
For what seemed to Valdemar a long time he sat there on his heels. The wind battering at his door seemed to mock his fearful hesitancy, while outside the clouded daylight slowly faded. Still, enough light remained inside the hut, around his dying fire, for him to see whatever white mark might be emblazoned on the Sword’s hilt, when his next tug at the gray cloth should reveal it.
Of course, one Sword had no white symbol at all. If that was what he found, it would mean fate had put into his hands Soulcutter, the Tyrant’s Blade.
The young giant’s eyes closed briefly. His strong, almost-handsome face was troubled. Awkwardly he uttered words aloud: “Ardneh, let it not be that one. I do not want the responsibility of trying to hide that demon’s Blade. Or of trying to destroy it.” He understood full well that breaking any Sword, or otherwise rendering it ineffective, would be far beyond his powers.
“Therefore let it be any of them, except Soulcutter, or…”
Valdemar’s prayer stumbled to a halt, as he realized that for him the second most fearful of the Blades would probably not, after all, be that called the Mindsword. Given that one, he could simply refrain from drawing it; for him, he thought, the power to bend others to his will would pose no great temptation. Farslayer would be far more likely to be his downfall. There were certain people in the world, oppressors of humanity, for whom—though he had never met them—the youth felt a dislike that threatened always to spill over into personal hatred; and if the life of one of those persons, wherever they might be, should be so helplessly delivered into his hands, Valdemar feared his own latent capacity for violence.
Yes, it would be better if he got rid of this unknown Sword at once, not tempting himself by looking for the symbol, which it must bear upon the hilt…
Valdemar’s hands quivered. Because he might, for all he knew, be holding Woundhealer, the Sword of Mercy. That glorious possibility was enough to eliminate any thought of plunging the mysterious gift into a crevasse before he had identified it.
After minutes of immobility, the youth with a sudden jerk stripped back the gray cloth completely from the black hilt.
A small white arrow-symbol, pointing upward to the pommel, leapt into view. Neither the best nor the worst of possibilities had been realized. The weapon in Valdemar’s hands was Wayfinder. The Sword of Wisdom, it was also called—Ardneh grant it bring him that!
Valdemar breathed somewhat more easily. Toward Wayfinder he felt timidity and awe, but no overwhelming fear. Gently he peeled away the remaining wrappings, exposing a plain leather sheath. Without pausing for further thought, he clasped the hilt and drew forth a full meter of incomparable double-edged Blade. The faint light of fading day and dying fire gleamed softly on steel smoother and sharper than any human armorer had ever crafted, at least since the lost civilization of the Old World. Beneath the surface of the metal a lovely mottled pattern was perceptible.
Valdemar ran a tremulous finger along the flat side of the tremendous Blade. No, despite his youth, he was no stranger to the touch of magic. But he had never in his life felt anything the like of this.
A happy thought struck suddenly. Some of the new strain and worry vanished from his youthful face.
“Powers who rule this Sword,” he said, self-consciously—then paused for a deep breath, and started over. “Powers of this Sword, whoever or whatever you may be—I understand that giving guidance is your function. Guide me, therefore—guide me to the person—to her—to the woman I have—I have almost despaired of ever finding. The one who is most fit, most suitable, to share my life.”
Though he was utterly alone, the young man could feel his cheeks warming. Frowning suddenly, he quickly amended: “Let all be done in accordance with the will of Ardneh.”
Having concluded this awkward speech, Valdemar arose, gripping the black hilt firmly in both of his great hands, fingers overlapping. Tentatively he moved the great Blade in a horizontal circle. One direction alone, almost straight east, set the Sword’s tip quivering. At the surge of magic he cried out, wordlessly. For just a moment the movement had become so violent that the weapon had almost leaped free of his grip.
* * *
On a warm spring afternoon, seven days after the day when Valdemar had unwrapped the Sword, and more than a hundred kilometers distant from his hut, two pilgrims were making their way across a heavily wooded hillside that formed one flank of a deep ravine.
The first of these gray-clad travelers was a woman, apparently about sixty years of age, but still vigorous and hearty. There was nothing feeble in the way she moved across the steep slope, among the thickly-spaced, narrow trunks. Her silver hair was long, but bound up closely. The strains of a long life showed in the woman’s face, but no burden that seemed too much for her present determination. Like many other female pilgrims or travelers, she wore boots, trousers and a loose jacket, and was armed for self-defense with a short sword.
The crowded tree trunks made it all but impossible for two to travel side by side. The woman’s companion, who walked three or four paces behind her and carried a similarly serviceable but somewhat more impressive weapon at his belt, was a man in his early twenties, sturdily built, of average size. The young man’s appearance, like the woman’s suggested both the weariness of long travel and a remaining capacity to deal with formidable difficulties.
The woman halted suddenly. She frowned and squinted at the sun, which shone brightly from beyond the canopy of the tall trees’ small spring leaves. Then she inspected the terrain, as well as she could in the midst of a forest.
“This hill curves round,” she announced to her fellow traveler at last. “And I see no end to the curve ahead. It carries us farther and farther to the east.”
“And that, my lady, is not the direction in which we want to go,” the young man responded. “Well, then. Shall we try climbing to the top of the ridge again? Or going down into the ravine?”
The lady sighed. “Zoltan, we are well and truly lost. No reason to think the bottom of this ravine will be more hospitable than any of the others we’ve struggled through during the past two days.” In those dark gorges, the ubiquitous thin-trunked trees had grown more closely and ever more closely together, until it became impossible for adult humans to force a passage anywhere between them. An army of men with axes would have earned their pay clearing a road.
“And no reason either,” replied Zoltan, “to suppose that the leather-wings are going to let us alone this time if we come out of the trees up on the hilltop.” He rubbed at his left arm, which was still bandaged—though fortunately not disabled—from their last encounter with flying reptiles, two days ago.
“I suppose we might risk trying the hilltop just before sunset,” the woman said thoughtfully. “If we were able to see far enough to get our bearing—” She broke off abruptly, holding herself motionless. Above the high canopy of leaves a silent, broad-winged form drifted; a half-intelligent enemy, cruel-clawed and implacably hostile.