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Authors: Marion Z. Bradley

The Spell Sword

BOOK: The Spell Sword
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The Spell Sword
[Darkover 08]
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Author's Note on Chronology

Spell-swords. The history of Darkover was full of such weapons. There was the
legendary Sword of Aldones in the chapel at Mali, a weapon so ancient-and so
fearful-that no one alive knew how to wield it. There was the Sword of Hastur,
in Castle Hastur, of which it was said that if any man drew it save in defense
of the honor of the Hasturs it would blast his hand as if with fire.

And there was the sword of Dom Esteban . a mighty swordsman now laid low, unable
to use it. But the sword's hilt bore a matrix stone by means of which the skill
of Esteban could reach across to the holder of the sword.

It was that sword that was to play the key role in the quest of the Earthman
Andrew Carr to restore light to the ever-darkening skies of a hostile world.

Chapter ONE

He had followed a dream, and it had brought him here to die.

Half conscious, he lay on the rocks and thin moss of the mountain crevasse, and
in his dazed state it seemed to him that the girl he had seen in that earlier
dream stood before him. You ought to be laughing, Andrew Carr said to her
imagined face. If it weren't for you I'd be halfway across the galaxy by now.

Not lying here half dead on a frozen lump of dust at the edge of nowhere.

But she was not laughing. It seemed that she was standing at the very edge of
the lip of rock, the bitter mountain wind blowing her thin blue draperies about
her slender body, her hair bright red and gleaming, long about her delicate
features. Just as he had seen her before, in the dream, but she was not
laughing. Her delicate face looked pale and stern.

And it seemed that she spoke, although the dying man knew-knew-that her voice
could not be anything but the echo of the wind in his fevered brain.

"Stranger, stranger, I did not mean you harm; it was none of my calling or my
doing that brought you to this pass! True, I called you-or rather I called to
anyone who could hear me, and it was you. But those above us both know that I
meant you no ill! The winds, the storms, these are not under my command. I will
do what I may to save you, but I have no power in these mountains."

It seemed to Andrew Carr that he flung angry words back at her. I'm mad, he
thought, or maybe already dead, lying here exchanging insults with a ghost-girl.

"You say you called me? But what of the others in my ship? You called them too,
perhaps? And brought them here to die in the crosswinds of the Hellers? Does
death by wholesale give you any pleasure, you ghoul-girl?"

"That isn't fair!" Her imagined words were like a cry of anguish and her
ghost-face on the wind twisted as if she were about to weep. "I did not call
them; they came in the path where their work and their destiny led. Only you had
the choice to come, or not to come, because of my call; you chose to come, and
to share whatever fate their destiny held for them. I will save you if I can;
for them, their time is ended and their destiny was never at my disposal. You I
can save, if you will hear me, but you must rouse yourself. Rouse yourself!" It
was like a wild cry of despair. "You will die if you lie here longer! Rouse
yourself and take shelter, for the winds and the storms are not mine to
command."

Andrew Carr opened his eyes and blinked. As he had known all along, he was
alone, lying battered on the mountain ledges in the wreckage of the mapping
plane. The girl-if she had ever been there at all-was gone.

Rouse yourself and take shelter, for the -winds and the storms are not mine to
command. That was, of course, a damn good idea, if he could manage it. Shelter.

Where he lay, under a fragment of the smashed cabin of the mapping plane, was no
place to meet the bitter night of this strange planet. He'd been warned about
the weather here when he first came to Cottman IV-only a lunatic would stay out
in the nights during the storm season.

He fought again, with a last desperate effort, to free the ankle which was
caught, like the leg of a trapped animal, in twisted metal. This time he felt
the metal crumple and give a little, and, although the ripping pain grew
greater, tearing skin and flesh, he wrenched grimly at the caught foot in the
darkness. Now he could move enough to bend over and move the leg with his hands.

Torn clothing and torn flesh were slippery with blood which was already
beginning to stiffen in the icy cold. When he touched the jagged metal his bare
hands burned like fire, but now he could guide the wounded leg upward, avoiding
the worst jagged edges of metal. Now, with a gasp of mingled agony and relief,
his foot was free; blood-covered, boot and clothing torn, cut to the bone, but
free; he was trapped no longer. He struggled to his feet, to be beaten again to
his knees by a gust of the icy, sleet-laden wind that whipped around a corner of
the rock-ledge.

Crawling, to present less body surface to the wind, he crept inside the cabin of
the mapping plane. It was swaying dangerously in the battering wind, and he
immediately abandoned any thought of taking shelter in here. If the wind got any
worse, the whole damn thing would catapult down at least a thousand feet into
the invisible valley below. Part of it, he thought, had already gone with the
first crash. But finding himself still alive, beyond all expectations, he had to
be sure there was no other survivor.

Stanforth was dead, of course. He must have been killed in the very first shock;
nothing could survive with that gaping hole in its forehead. Andrew shut his
eyes against the ghastly sight of the man's brains frozen and spilled all over
his face. The two mappers-one was called Mattingly; he had never known the
other's name-were twisted limp on the floor, and when he cautiously crawled
across the jiggling balance of the cabin to find if any spark of life remained
in either, it was only to feel the bodies already cold and stiffened in rigor.

There was no sign of the pilot. He must have gone down with the nose of the
plane, into that awful chasm below them.

So he was alone. Cautiously, Andrew backed out of the cabin; then, steeling
himself, reentered it again. There was food in the plane-not much, a day's
rations, lunches, Mattingly's hoard of sweets and candies, which he had so
generously passed around and which they had all laughingly refused; emergency
supplies in a marked panel behind the door. He dragged them all out, and,
shaking with terror, set himself to wrench Mattingly's huge topcoat off the
stiffening corpse. It made his stomach turn-robbing the dead!-but Mattingly's
topcoat, a great expensive fur thing, was of no use to its owner and it might
mean the difference between life and death in the terrible oncoming night.

When he edged out of the hideously shaking cabin for the last time, he was
trembling and sick, and his torn, cut leg, no longer mercifully numb, was
beginning to tear at him with claws of pain. He carefully backed away against
the inner edge of the cliff, piling his hard-won provisions close to the
rock-face.

It occurred to him that he should make one final essay inside the plane.

Stanforth, Mattingly, and the nameless other man had carried identification,
their disks from the Terran Empire Service. If he lived, if he came again to the
Port, this would serve as proof of their death and mean something to their
kinfolk. Wearily, he dragged himself forward.

And she was there again, the girl, the ghost, the ghoul who had brought him
here, white with terror, standing directly in his way. Her mouth seemed drawn
with screaming.

"No! No!"

Involuntarily he stepped back. He knew she was not there, he knew she was only
air, but he stepped back and his lamed foot crumpled under him; he fell against
the rock-cliff as a gust of wind struck it, howling like a damned thing. The
girl was gone, was nowhere, but before he could drag himself to his feet again,
there was a great howling blast of wind and icy sleet, a sound like a
thunderclap. With a final rattling, rocking clash the cabin of the wrecked plane
slid free from its resting place and overbalanced, tipped, slid down the rocks,
and crashed into the chasm below. There was a great roar like an avalanche, like
the end of the world. Andrew clung, gasping, to the face of the cliff, his
fingers trying to freeze to the rocks.

Then it quieted and there was only the soft roaring of the storm and the
snow-spray, and Andrew huddled in Mattingly's fur topcoat, waiting for his heart
to quiet to normal.

The girl had saved him again. She had kept him from going into the cabin, that
last time.

Nonsense, he thought. Unconsciously I must have known it was ready to go.

He shelved the thought for later pondering. Just now he had escaped, by the
second in a series of miracles, but he was still very far from safe.

If that wind could blow a plane right off a cliff, it could blow him, too, he
reasoned. He had to find some safer place to rest, shelter.

Cautiously, clinging to the inner part of the ledge, he crept along the wall.

Ten feet beyond where he lay, in one direction, it narrowed to nothing and ended
in a dark rock-fall, slippery with the falling sleet. Painfully, his foot
clawing anguish, he retraced his steps. The darkness seemed to be thickening and
the sleet turning to white, soft thick snow. Aching and tired, Andrew wished he
could lie down, wrap himself in the fur coat, and sleep there. But to sleep was
death, his bones knew it, and he resisted the temptation, dragging himself along
the cliff-ledge in the opposite direction. He had to avoid the fragments of torn
metal which had held him trapped. Once he gave his good leg a painful shin-blow
on a concealed rock which bent him over, moaning in pain.

But at last he had traversed the full length of the ledge, and at the far end,
he found that it widened, sloping gently upward to a flat space on which thick
underbrush clung, root-fast to the mountainside. Looking up in the thickening
darkness, Andrew nodded. The clustered, thick foliage would resist the wind-it
had evidently been rooted there for years. Anything which could grow here would
have to be able to hang on hard against wind and storm, tempest and blizzard.

Now, if his lamed foot would let him haul himself up there.

It wasn't easy, burdened with coat and food supplies, his foot torn and
bleeding, but before the darkness closed in entirely, he had dragged himself and
his small stock of provision-crawling, at last, on both hands and one knee-up
beneath the trees, and collapsed in their shelter. At least here the maddening
wind blew a little less violently, its strength broken by the boughs. In the
emergency supplies there was a small battery-operated light, and by its pale
glimmer he found concentrated food, a thin blanket of the "space" kind, which
would insulate his body heat inside its shelter, and tablets of fuel.

He rigged the blanket and his own coat into a rough lean-to, using the thickest
crossed branches to support them, so that he lay in a tiny dugout scooped
beneath the tree-roots and boughs, where only occasional snow-spray reached him.

Now he wanted nothing more than to collapse and lie motionless, but before his
last strength left him, he grimly cut away the frozen trouser-leg and the
remnants of his boot from his damaged leg. It hurt more than he had ever dreamed
anything could hurt, to smear it with the antiseptic in the emergency kit and
bandage it tightly up again, but somehow he managed it, although he heard
himself moaning like a wild animal. He dropped at last, exhausted beyond
weariness, in his burrow, reaching out finally for one of Mattingly's candies.

He forced himself to chew it, knowing that the sugar would warm his shivering
body, but in the very act of swallowing, he fell into an exhausted, deathlike
sleep.

For a long time, his sleep was like that of the dead, dark and without dreams, a
total blotting-out of mind and will. And then for a long time he was dimly aware
of fever and pain, of the raging of the storm outside. After it diminished,
still in the darkening fever-drowse, he woke raging with thirst, and crawled
outside, breaking icicles from the edge of his shelter to suck them, staggering
away from the shelter to answer the needs of his body. Then he dropped exhausted
inside his hollowed-out shelter to swallow a little food and fell again into
deep pain-racked sleep.

When he woke again it was morning, and he was clearheaded, seeing clear light
and hearing only a faint murmur of wind on the heights. The storm was over; his
foot and leg still pained him, but endurably. When he sat up to change the
bandages, he saw the wound was clean and un-festered. Above him the great
blood-red sun of Cottman IV lay low in the sky, slowly climbing the heights. He
crept to the edge and looked down into the valley, which lay wrapped in mist
below. It was wild, lonesome country and seemed untouched by any human hands.

BOOK: The Spell Sword
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