FICTION / FANTASY /GODS
Available from Kindle, Nook and iBook
STONECUTTER'S STORY: THE THIRD BOOK OF LOST SWORDS
by Fred Saberhagen
Published by JSS Literary Productions
Copyright (c) 1988 by Fred Saberhagen
Cover art by Harry O. Morris
Long ago the gods forged Twelve Swords of Power and threw them on the gameboard of life to watch men scramble. But they had forged too well: the Swords could kill the gods themselves.
Now, the gods gone, the Swords are scattered across the land, some held by those of good heart, others by those whose purposes are evil.
The Sword Stonecutter -- which can hew mountains and diamonds with equal ease -- is missing. The Sword has been stolen from Prince al-Farabi's desert caravan, from the tent of young Kasimir, a physician en route to the city of Eylau in search of employment. Fortunately, at the next oasis Kasimir encounters the legendary Magistrate Wen Chang, whose black, glittering eyes (it is said) can see into the secret hearts of men and women.
It is even greater good fortune that Wen Chang undertakes the finding of Stonecutter, for his strength is more powerful than magic: it is intelligence.
As al-Farabi follows the thief's trail into the desert, Wen Chang and Kasimir make their way toward Eylau. Finding evidence of Stonecutter's passage -- an unmistakably smooth and easy roadway cut through a ridge -- Wen Chang quickly learns of a mysteriously missing man -- and three murders.
In the walled city of Eylau, where the Red Temple, devoted to sensual pleasures, has engaged the great sculptor Robert de Borron to create new statuary, Kasimir encounters embarrassment and Natalia, a young woman who is more beautiful unclothed than clothed.
Meanwhile, Wen Chang has learned of a certain fabulous diamond, and of Mistress Headmark, the lapidarist whose duty it will be to cleave it, perfectly.
Either a lapidarist or a sculptor would have great use for Stonecutter . . .
But so would the smoothest assassin Eylau has ever seen.
Wen Chang and Kasimir have only a slim chance to find Stonecutter -- if they can stay alive.
Told with Fred Saberhagen's zest and narrative skill, STONECUTTER'S STORY combines the pleasures of classic detection with the vibrant magical world of the Swords in an absorbing, many-layered tale. It will delight the readers who made THE SECOND BOOK OF LOST SWORDS: SIGHTBLINDER'S STORY a fantasy bestseller.
--From paper edition cover blurb.
Two hours before dawn the dreams of Kasimir were disturbed by a soft noise at the tent wall no more than a sword's length from his head. The noise was the distinctive purring, gently snarling sound made by a sharp blade slitting the tough fabric.
Once this sound had been identified somewhere inside the unsleeping portion of Kasimir's brain, the remnants of his dream--a strange adventure involving the gods of the desert, and enormous distances of space and time--went flying off in tatters. Still, complete wakefulness did not come at once. With his eyes open to the partial darkness inside the tent, he saw by the filtering moonlight a figure moving silently. This figure had come in through the tent wall and gone out again by the same route before he who observed it was fully awake. But Kasimir had no doubt that he had seen it, a man's form, looking as slender and dangerous as a scorpion, clad in dark, tight-fitting clothes, face wrapped for concealment. Nor had he any doubt, when this apparition went gliding smoothly out through the wall of the tent again, that it was carrying a long bundle wrapped in rough cloth, held tightly under its right arm.
Kasimir sat up straight. He was alone in the tent now. No one else was sleeping in it tonight. Though it was quite large, much of the space inside was taken up by the more valuable portions of the caravan's cargo.
The intruder certainly hadn't been Prince al-Farabi, leader of the caravan. Nor was Kasimir able to identify that mysterious form as any of the Prince's followers who had been traveling with him across the desert. Then who--?
Almost fully awake at last, Kasimir leaped to his feet. Just at that moment an outcry of alarm was sounded at no great distance outside the tent. He dashed for the door but it was tied loosely shut, as was usual at night, and undoing the knots delayed him briefly.
Hardly had he got out into the open air before he collided with a figure running toward the tent.
"Thieves!" the other man shouted, right in Kasimir's face. "Robbers! Awake! Arouse and arm yourselves!"
Judging by the growing uproar, the other thirty or forty occupants of the camp were already doing just that. Other voices were shouting alarm from the perimeter. Men poured out of the half-dozen sleeping tents, and weapons flashed in the light of rising flames. Smoldering cookfires and watchfires were being quickly rekindled. Lieutenant Komi, second-in-command to the Prince during this journey, trotted past Kasimir, barking orders to his men. And now, in the middle of all this half-controlled turmoil, strode the Prince himself with his robes flying behind him. Al-Farabi was tall and dark and at the moment a menacing figure with scimitar in hand. He was demanding to know where the alarm had started.
Kasimir confronted him. "Prince, an intruder was in the cargo tent, where I was sleeping! He came through the wall. I--I wasn't in time to stop him--"
"What?" In a moment Prince al-Farabi had sprung to the side of the tent where the cloth had been slit. This was on the side opposite from the normal entrance, whose flap was now hanging open after Kasimir's exit. In the fabric of the tent's rear wall, Kasimir saw now, were two vertical slits, one right beside the other, only a couple of handspans apart. Of course, it must have been their cutting that had awakened him.
The Prince stepped into the tent through the largest of these rents, which was a full meter long.
Peering in through the same aperture, Kasimir saw, by the torchlight that glowed in through the walls, the tall man bending over the heap of baggage that occupied the center of the tent's interior. For a few moments the Prince tossed things about, obviously in search of something. Then al-Farabi straightened up to his full height, giving a great wordless cry as of bereavement.
Kasimir followed the Prince into the tent through its new entrance. "Sir, what's wrong?"
"It is gone." The face al-Farabi turned to the younger man was ghastly in the muted glow of firelight entering the tent from outside. The Prince appeared to be swaying on his feet. Almost shouting, he repeated: "It is gone!"
"I saw a man inside the tent with me when I woke up," Kasimir stammered, repeating the little information he could give. "He went out carrying a long bundle under one arm. I started to give the alarm but by then he was already gone."
Groaning unintelligibly, the Prince stumbled past Kasimir and out of the tent through its normal doorway. Again Kasimir followed.
Shouts coming from guards at the perimeter of the camp now reassured everyone that the animals were well and none of them had been stolen. But a moment later a new alarm was sounded. One of the guards, who had been posted nearest to the tent where Kasimir slept, had just been discovered lying motionless in the sand.
"Bring him here beside the fire!" Kasimir ordered sharply. "And one of you fetch my kit from the tent." It was the automatic reaction of a trained physician to a medical emergency. In a moment three men came carrying the fallen one, and laid him down on clean sand in the firelight.
The physician went to work. He found that the victim was certainly alive, and a preliminary examination disclosed no sign of serious injury. Kasimir hardly had a chance to begin a more detailed investigation when the man began to stir and grimace, moaning and rubbing the back of his head.
"Someone must have struck me down from behind," the young tribesman murmured weakly, trying to sit up.
"Sit still." Kasimir's exploring fingers found no blood, or even any noticeable lump. "All right, I suppose you'll live. Doubtless the hood of your robe saved you from worse damage."
Aware that the Prince had approached again and was standing beside him, Kasimir turned to repeat this favorable report. But then the young physician let the words die on his lips. The tall figure of al-Farabi, wild-eyed, stood gesturing with both arms in the burgeoning firelight. "The Sword is gone!" the prince shouted in a despairing voice. It was as if the full enormity of his loss was still growing on him. "The treasure has disappeared!"
While others gathered around, Kasimir stood up from beside the fallen guard and moved still closer to the desert chieftain. In a voice that tried to be soothing he asked: "You mentioned a sword, sir. But how valuable was it? I had no idea that we were carrying any--"
"Of course you had no idea! Of course!" The tall man cast back his hood and pulled his hair. "The presence of Stonecutter was intended to be a secret."
"The presence of--"
"Of a Sword, the Sword of Siege itself! A priceless weapon! It was loaned to me by my trusting friend Prince Mark. And now it is gone. Argh! May all the gods and demons of the desert descend upon me and snuff out my worthless life!"
"The Sword of Siege," breathed Kasimir. "It is one of the Twelve, then." And suddenly the extreme dismay of the Prince was understandable.
Practically everyone in the world knew of the Twelve Swords, though comparatively few people had ever seen one of them. They were legendary weapons, for all that they were very real. They had been forged by the god Vulcan himself more than thirty years ago, in the days before the gods--or most of them at least--had disappeared.
Kasimir wanted to ask how the Sword of Siege had come to be traveling with them, in this rather ordinary little caravan--but that was not properly any of his business. Instead he asked: "Is it possible to overtake the thief?"
"Already I have sent some of my swiftest riders in pursuit," said al-Farabi, who was now standing with his face buried in his hands, while his own people gathered round him in dumb awe. "But to find and follow a trail at night . . . we will of course do all that we can, but I fear that the Sword is gone. Oh, woe is me!"
While Kasimir and others watched him helplessly, the desolation of the Prince became more intense and at the same time more theatrical. He tore at his hair and his garments, saying: "How will I ever be able to face Prince Mark again? What can I tell him? Even the worth of all my flocks and all my lands would scarcely afford him adequate compensation."
"Prince Mark?" Kasimir could think of nothing more intelligent to say at the moment; still he felt that it was up to him to reply. All of the Prince's own people who were watching looked sliently embarrassed, and he had the impression that that al-Farabi's outburst of grief was increasingly directed toward him.
The Prince had paused and was regaining a minimum of composure. In a milder voice he said: "Know then, my young friend, that my great friend Prince Mark of Tasavalta, despite many misgivings on his part, was generous enough to loan me secretly the Sword called Stonecutter. Why, you ask? I will tell you. In one far corner of my domain, hundreds of kilometers from here, there is a nest of robbers that has proven all but impossible to eradicate, because of the nature of the rocky fastness in which they hide. With the Sword of Siege in hand, to undermine a crag or two would be no great problem--but now the Sword is gone from out of my hands, and I am the most miserable of men!"
Kasimir felt moved to compassion. Ever since they had first encountered each other, a month ago, al-Farabi had been a most kindly and generous host, willing to provide an insignificant stranger with free passage across the desert.
"Is there anything that I can do to help you, Prince?" the physician asked. Though he had never visited Tasavalta, he knew it was a land far to the northeast, bordering on the Eastern Sea, and he had heard that its rulers were respected everywhere.
"I fear that there is nothing anyone can do to help me now. I fear that I will never see the Sword again." Al-Farabi turned away, seemingly inconsolable.
Gradually the excitement in the camp quieted. With a double guard now posted, the fires were allowed to die down once more. An hour before dawn the riders who had been sent in pursuit of the thieves came back, reporting in Kasimir's hearing that they had had no success. When daylight came they would of course try again.
Kasimir, lying awake in his blankets in the cargo tent, hearing the extra guards--now that it was too late--milling around outside, thought that few members of the caravan were likely to get any more sleep during the last hour of the night. But at last, after vexing his drowsy mind with the apparently minor, pointless, and insoluble problem of why the tent wall had been slit twice--one gash was only a minor one, not really big enough for anyone to crawl through--he dozed off himself.
His renewed sleep was naturally of short duration, for at first light the camp began to stir around him once again. As soon as full dawn came, al-Farabi sent out a different pair of trackers. Then he ordered camp broken, and with the remainder of his men, his passenger Kasimir, and the laden baggage animals, pushed on along the caravan's intended route toward the Abohar Oasis and, a day or two beyond that, the city of Eylau.
Choosing to ride side by side with the young physician, the Prince explained that his men as well as their animals needed to rest and replenish their supply of water at the oasis before undertaking what promised to be a lengthy pursuit into the wilderness. And al-Farabi himself appeared even more fatalistically certain than before that the Sword was permanently gone.
The conversation between the two men faded, and most of the day was spent in grim and silent journeying. The pace was steady and there were few pauses. In late afternoon tall palms came into view ahead, surrounded by a sprawling burst of lesser greenery. They had arrived at Abohar Oasis.
Several other groups of travelers, Kasimir observed, were here ahead of them; indeed he thought that there would probably be someone resting here almost continuously. He had already learned it was an unwritten rule that peace obtained in the oases, and that the rule was usually observed even when bitter enemies encountered one another. Water was shared, fighting re-scheduled for some other time and place.
On this occasion, there was certainly shade and water in plenty for all, and no question of fighting. The Prince gave no sign that he observed any enemies of his Firozpur tribe among the people who were already resting at the oasis--and as for Kasimir, he was not aware of having an enemy anywhere in the world.
As soon as the caravan had halted the Prince directed his people, working for once in shade, as they busied themselves seeing to the animals, and laying out their campsite for tonight. Meanwhile Kasimir, wanting to enjoy a walk in the grateful shade himself, left them temporarily and went exploring.
He moved along cool, well-worn footpaths bordered by grass and shrubs, between inviting pools. Eventually, having chosen the largest and deepest pool of the oasis to quench his thirst, he noticed as he approached it that on the far side of the pool, upon a little knoll of grass, there stood a richly furnished tent. Though it was no bigger than a small room, such a pavilion obviously belonged to someone of considerable social stature if not of great wealth.
Kasimir threw himself down upon a little ledge of rock at the near edge of the pool to drink. As he finished and arose, wiping his lips, there arrived near him at poolside a woman from some tribe whose dress Kasimir was unable to identify. As she was filling her water jar, he questioned her as to whether any single traveler, or pair of them perhaps, had arrived at the oasis since last night.
She answered in a melodious voice. "No, I am sure, sir, that your party is the first to arrive today."
"How do you know?"
"My family have been keeping watch on every side, for some kinfolk who are to meet us here."
"I see. By the way, whose tent is that across the pond? Have you any idea?"
"Certainly." The woman seemed surprised at Kasimir's ignorance. "That is the tent of the Magistrate Wen Chang. He has been here for several days."
Kasimir blinked at her. "The Wen Chang?"
The young woman laughed again. "There is only one Wen Chang that I know of. Only one that anyone knows of. From what remote land have you come that you do not know him?"
"I know of him, certainly." Now the conviction was growing in Kasimir's mind that it was, or ought to be, somewhat below the dignity of a physician to stand here debating with a girl who had been sent to fetch water. He turned and started round the pool, ignoring a smothered giggle behind him.
The tent ahead of him was silent as he approached it, the entrance flap of silken fabric left half open. If this pavilion were really occupied by the legendary Wen Chang, then it appeared that the gods might be favoring Prince al-Farabi and his friends with a matchless opportunity.
The Magistrate Wen Chang was a renowned judge, whose fame had spread far from his homeland, which lay well to the south of the desert. In the more fanciful (as Kasimir supposed) stories, Wen Chang was credited with the ability to see into the secret hearts of men and women. It was said that he knew, as soon as he laid eyes on any group of people, which of them were innocent and which were guilty. It was even alleged--Kasimir had heard this variation once--that the Magistrate could tell, just by staring at the thief, where stolen treasure had been hidden. But Kasimir had never heard that the famed Wen Chang was wont to travel as far as this from his usual base of operations.
When Kasimir was still a score of strides from the tent's doorway, the flap opened fully and a tall, imposing man emerged from the dim interior. He was dressed for desert traveling in a gray robe, almost plain enough to be that of a pilgrim.
If this was indeed Wen Chang, he was a younger-looking man than Kasimir had expected, with black hair and a proud narrow mustache still quite innocent of gray; but there was that in his bearing that convinced Kasimir he was indeed confronting the famed Magistrate. From his elevation upon the little knoll the tall man squinted through narrowed eyes in Kasimir's direction; then he ignored the approaching youth and went unhurriedly to the edge of the pool, where he knelt down and with a silver cup scooped up a drink.
Meanwhile Kasimir had come to a stop about ten strides away, where he stood waiting in an attitude of respect.
Presently the tall man rinsed his cup, hurling water from it in a little silver spray, and rose unhurriedly to his full height. His eyes, turned again on Kasimir, were remarkably black. It seemed to the young man that those eyes glittered whenever they were not squinted almost shut.
Kasimir cleared his throat. "Have I the honor of addressing the Magistrate Wen Chang?"
"It is my name. And that was formerly my office." The voice was precise, and spoke the common tongue with a slight accent of a kind Kasimir had seldom heard before. "Whether you are honored by the mere fact of talking to me is something you must decide for yourself."
"Honored sir, I am honored. And I really think that the kindly fates have sent you here. Or they have sent me here to meet you. There is a matter in which your help is greatly needed."
"So?" The tall man eyed the youth intently for a moment. Then he said: "I believe this grassy bank provides a finer seat than any of the pillows in my pavilion. And out here the view is finer too. Let us make ourselves comfortable and I will hear your story. Mind you, I promise nothing more than a hearing."
"Of course, sir, of course." Kasimir let the older man choose a spot to sit down first, then cast himself down on the grass nearby. "Let me think--where to begin? Of course, forgive me, my name is Kasimir."
"And you are on your way to Eylau, to seek employment through the White Temple there."
"Yes, I--" Kasimir forgot his hope of making a good impression so far as to let his jaw drop open. "How could you possibly know that?"
The other made a gesture of dismissal. "My dear young man, I did not know it, but the probabilities were with me. The size and arrangement of the pouches you wear at your belt--the cloth container for drugs, the lizard-skin for items thought to have some potency in magic--these identify you as a physician, or at least as one who has some pretensions of skill in the healing arts. Certain other details of your appearance indicate that you have already been more than a few days in the desert--therefore you are now traveling toward the city, which is only two days' march from here, and not away from it. And once an itinerant physician has arrived in Eylau, where would he most likely go, but to the White Temple of Ardneh, a clearing-house for jobs in his profession?"
"Ah. Well, of course, sir, when you put it that way, your deduction seems only reasonable."
"'Only', did you say?" The Magistrate sighed. "But never mind. What is this most disturbing problem?"
Listening to the hastily outlined story of the theft, Wen Chang allowed his epicanthic eyes to close almost as if in sleep. Only slight changes of expression, tensions playing about the thin-lipped mouth, indicated to Kasimir that his auditor was still awake and indeed listening intently.
Kasimir in his relation of the events of the previous night had just reached the point where he had begun his examination of the stunned guard, when the Magistrate's eyes opened, fixing themselves alertly at a point over Kasimir's left shoulder.
The young man turned to look behind him. Prince al-Farabi, walking alone, his eyes looking haunted and wary, was advancing toward them along the shaded path beside the pool.
Kasimir jumped to his feet and hastened to perform introductions. The two eminent men greeted each other with every indication of mutual interest and respect.
Then Kasimir announced: "I have taken it upon myself, Prince, to appeal to the Magistrate here for his help in recovering the missing Sword."
Once more al-Farabi demonstrated grief. "Alas! I fear the treasure has gone beyond even the power of Wen Chang to bring it back--but of course I would welcome any chance of help."
"Having just undertaken a long journey which came to naught," said Wen Chang, "and being in no particular hurry to return to my former place of service--there have been political changes there, which I find unwelcome--I have been waiting for two days at this oasis, in hopes of receiving some sign from the Fates to direct me. It appears to me that your problem may well be the sign I have been looking for. I have long been an admirer of Prince Mark of Tasavalta, though I have never met him; for that reason alone I would like to see that his property is recovered. Also, from what I have heard of this problem so far, there are certain aspects of it that are intrinsically interesting."
"Thank you, sir!" Kasimir cried.
"Almost," said al-Farabi, "you allow me to begin to hope again!" He wiped his forehead with the edge of his robe.
A few minutes later, the three men were seated more formally if no more comfortably inside the larger pavilion of the Prince, which by now had been erected in cool shade at the other side of the oasis from the pavilion of Wen Chang.
Here inside the Prince's tent, with a small cup of spiced wine in hand, Wen Chang began to ask questions, probing into one detail after another of the disappearance of the Sword.
"In what sort of container was the Sword carried? And why was it stored in that particular tent when the caravan stopped?"
"It was wrapped in blue silk, and that in turn in coarse gray woolen cloth, that it might seem an ordinary bundle and attract no special attention. And when we stopped for the night the Sword was always placed, in a pile with certain other pieces of baggage, in the same tent as my valued passenger here, who has been passing through my domain under my protection. I had no reason to believe that tent less safe than any other. Rather the contrary, as it was near the center of our small encampment."
"Nothing else was stolen last night? From that tent or any other?"
"And was the pile of baggage in the tent disturbed?"
"It was very little disarranged, or perhaps not at all; until I began to search through it in hopes that the Sword might still be there. Alas!"
Wen Chang sat back in his nest of pillows. "Then it would appear that the thief, or thieves, knew just what they wanted, and where to lay hands upon it."
"So it would appear, yes." And al-Farabi once more raised his hands to hide his face.
Kasimir tried to reassure him. "They might have been--I suppose it is likely that they were--helped by powerful magic. Perhaps even the magic of one of the other Twelve Swords. Wayfinder, say, or Coinspinner. I have never seen those Swords but either of them, as I understand the tales, may be an infallible guide to locating some desired object."
"Then would that we had them both in hand today!" the Prince cried out.
Wen Chang was nodding thoughtfully. "That the thieves had either of those Swords is a possibility, I suppose. Or some lesser magic might well have been strong enough to let the robbers find what they wanted. Was any wizard traveling with you?"
"None, Magistrate." Al-Farabi shook his head. "I am a simple man of the desert, who lives more by the sword than the spell. With such trivial magical powers as I myself possess, I have of course already tried to get Stonecutter back. But as I say, I am no wizard. I suppose you will be able to bring to bear much stronger spells and incantations?"
The Prince blinked at him. "Sir?"
"I prefer to rely upon a stronger tool even than magic."
"And what might that be, Magistrate?"
"Intelligence, my friend. Intelligence." The Magistrate drank spiced wine, and sighed, pleasurably. He moved a trifle on his pillows, like a man settling himself to play a round of some congenial game. "Now tell me. Who, before your caravan set out, knew that you were carrying Stonecutter with you?"
"Among my own people, only myself and Lieutenant Komi, the commander of the escort--and I would trust Komi as I trust myself. Our fathers were blood-brothers, and I have known him all his life."
"I certainly had no inkling of the Sword's presence with the caravan," Kasimir put in.
Wen Chang nodded slightly at him, prolonged the look appraisingly for a moment, then returned his narrow-eyed gaze to the Prince. "And who, not among your people, would have known that you were carrying Stonecutter with you?"
Al-Farabi took time to give the question serious thought. "Well--the only people I can think of would be the Tasavaltans who delivered the Sword to me at the other edge of my domain. They were three, including Prince Mark himself, and one of his chief wizards, and the strong man called Ben of Purkinje. It was plain to see that the Prince trusted his companions as thoroughly I trust Komi. And why would a man connive to steal his own Sword?"
The Magistrate was frowning. "There might be several answers to that question. If there is a good answer in this case, it is not immediately obvious. No doubt other people in Tasavalta might have known that the Sword was being loaned to you?"
"Then, for the moment at least, this line of inquiry seems unproductive. Let us try another."
Al-Farabi, sitting with his head bowed again, said through his hands: "As soon as we have replenished our supplies and rested, we will return to the desert and try again to track the thief--or thieves. But I fear that the Sword of Siege is lost."
Wen Chang nodded. "And I fear that you may well be right. Still, the situation is not utterly hopeless, even if your pursuit through the desert should fail."
"It is not?"
"No. Not utterly. Consider--what will a thief do with such a treasure when it falls into his hands?"
"He'll most likely want to sell it, I suppose," Kasimir put in.
The narrowed eyes of the magistrate turned on him again. "Almost certainly he will. And where would anyone go to sell an item of such value?"
Kasimir shrugged. "Why--he'll go to the metropolis, of course, to Eylau. There's no city of comparable size for a thousand kilometers in any direction."
"It would be more accurate to say for several thousand kilometers. Yes, I shall be surprised if our robber has not turned his steps toward Eylau already."
Al-Farabi was frowning. "But such traces of a trail as we were able to find by moonlight led out into the desert in the opposite direction from the city."
"That, I think, is hardly conclusive."
"I suppose not."
"Certainly not." Wen Chang drank spiced wine. He nodded. "If I am to continue my investigation I shall do so in Eylau."
"By all means--by all means." The Prince appeared to be doing his best to look politely hopeful. "Will you require money for expenses?--but yes, of course you will. And naturally I will provide it, in advance. And in addition a great reward, a thousand gold coins or the equivalent, if you are successful."
Wen Chang raised an eyebrow at the extravagant size of the reward. Then he bowed slightly in his seated position. "Both provisions will certainly be welcome. The expenses because I shall be proceeding as a private investigator, with no official status in this land, and the purchase of information--not to mention a bribe or two--may be essential. I presume that, although you will of course organize a pursuit, a part of your caravan will be going on into the city?"
"Yes. The remaining goods that my caravan is carrying must be delivered there, as well as our passenger. Meanwhile I, with some of my swifter riders, will endeavor to follow the thieves and overtake them--there is nothing else I can do."
"Of course not--how many men are you going to send into the city, then?"
Al-Farabi took thought. "Perhaps a dozen. That should be an adequate guard for my passenger and my cargo for the remainder of the journey."
"Good. When those dozen men have seen your remaining freight--and your passenger, of course--safely to their destination--by the way, I suppose there are no more Swords still with you? Or any comparable treasures?"
"No, nothing at all like that."
"I see. Then, when your dozen men who are going on to the city have seen to the safe disposal of your remaining goods, will you place those men at my disposal? Since I will be unable to call upon official force in Eylau, it may be necessary at some stage to use a substitute."
"Of course--I shall place a dozen men, with Lieutenant Komi at their head, at your command." The Prince paused delicately. "You realize I cannot be sure of the attitude of the Hetman, who rules the city, toward such a private army. I do not know him."
"Nor do I. But a dozen men are hardly an unusually large bodyguard for a rich merchant, and many such must pass in and out of Eylau. And even if my true mission should become known to the Hetman, well, thieftakers are welcome in most cities."
"Then of course you may have the guard. And for your expenses, all the proceeds for the merchandise when it is delivered--may all the gods help you to recover and retain the Sword!"