The First Book of Lost Swords - Woundhealer's Story

The First Book of Lost Swords - Woundhealer's Story by Fred Saberhagen

Book: The First Book of Lost Swords - Woundhealer's Story by Fred Saberhagen Read Free Book Online
Authors: Fred Saberhagen
Together, the large and the small, they made a winged form of shadows that was much larger than a man, but still hard to see against the stars. Soon the composite shape was out of sight altogether.
           Now, with that departure, it was as if some strain had been relieved, and Zoltan was free to become fully aware of his surroundings once again. He realized vaguely that at some point during the last few minutes the third figure, the silent onlooker, had disappeared.
           He and the man named Burslem, who still stood on the riverbank, were alone.
           Burslem was no longer bowing and scraping, but again standing arrogantly erect. Now he made a wizard’s gesture at the starry sky, then turned toward Zoltan and stepped into the shallow water. He was coming to look his prisoner over at close range. Even as he approached, there was a splashing in the water some meters behind him, a pale, leaping shape. And now the dark-haired girl, her misshapen body half silver and half shadow in the moonlight, was sitting on the bank behind the approaching magician.
           The man must have been aware of her arrival, but ignored her. He approached Zoltan closely and prodded his arms and ribs as if to see whether his paralysis had reached the proper stage. He looked into Zoltan’s eyes and ears. Then he moved around Zoltan’s immobile figure, his magician’s fingers busy, weaving some additional spell into the air around his captive.
           Then the wizard turned his head, suddenly taking notice of the girl on the far bank. He snapped his fingers at her, and she vanished, splashing into the water with a movement more fishlike than human.
           And then the wizard himself was gone, without a splash, without a sound of any kind. Zoltan was alone.
           He waited for one of the strange presences to return, but none of them did. It was as if they had all forgotten him. The moon looked down, the water gurgled endlessly around his ankles. He stood there like a statue and could not fall, but he could grow tired. His injured leg, with his weight steadily on it, hurt like a sore tooth. His ribs stabbed him with every shallow breath.
     
    * * *
     
           The moon was down, and dawn was approaching, and he had begun almost to hope that he had been forgotten, before the magician returned, as silently and inexplicably as he had gone.
           Burslem stood again on the riverbank, looking more ordinary now in the light of the new day, but not less terrible. Now for the first time the magician’s face was clearly visible to Zoltan, and it was startlingly human, only the face of a man.
           Zoltan tried to say something, but he could not speak. Now he thought it was magic that sealed his tongue, though by all the gods his fear was great enough.
           The other smiled at him. “Well. So, you must be kept in storage, somewhere, somehow. For some undetermined time. How shall it be done?”
           Still Zoltan could not answer. At some moment soon, surely, he would wake up. Suddenly tears were running down his cheeks.
           The wizard paid no attention to any of this, but stood back, making controlled, decisive gestures. Zoltan’s legs, abruptly moving again, though still under alien control, turned him around and marched him through the water to the high bank that ran along the other side of the river. Able to look at that bank for the first time in twelve hours, the boy could see that there was a deep hollow there, really a cave. The entrance to the recess was curtained naturally by a growth of vines that hung over it from above, and screened by tall reeds that grew from below.
           His own muscles moving him like alien hands, Zoltan was turned around, then cast down inside the muddy, shallow cave like a discarded doll. Then his position was rearranged, once, from the unbearable to the merely uncomfortable.
           “Might want those joints to

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