The Aegir Estoc

∴ A Stormy Sign∴

The small wooden dock groans under the weight of the crowd crammed closely upon it. It seems the entire village has come to witness the departure of the serpent-prowed ship that sits high in the water.

Broad-shouldered fighters in furs and leathers clap one another on the back in greeting and solidarity. Inky-robed mages lean casually against their staffs. Husbands and wives clamour around them, buckling breastplates and bidding them sail home safely before winter.

You wonder why it is that the raiders always set out to sea fully armed. They are unlikely to face any foes this close to the fjord, and even less likely to find new land within the next week. Perhaps it is a symbol of the battle they are due to fight with the sea itself – a fight for their lives against proud Aegir himself.

Fear and envy wrestle within you. Your mother forbade you join the raid this year – you are too young, she insisted. Besides, she would need your help with the harvest. You protested at the time, but now you come to look at the slender wooden boat and the churning, seething waves beyond the haven, a part of you is glad to stay on land.

The crowd parts suddenly, and you turn to see the Jarl himself striding toward the ship, his one-eyed soothsayer lingering in his wake. As the pair approach, you feel flutter of thrill in your stomach, not because of the Jarl’s own greatness, but because of the sword at his side:

Black-hilted, ring-pommeled, and lovingly carved with the Midgard Serpent itself, the thing is the subject of endless stories. Many times you have sat wide-eyed by the fire as the bard tells of the serpents it has slain, and the foes it has cast to Aegir’s storm-happy daughters.

As the Jarl draws level with you, the soothsayer places a hand on his shoulder, murmuring something into his ear. The Jarl stops, a look of confusion crossing his face, and turns to take you in. Your heart nearly stops as those solemn blue eyes sweep up and down your height.

“You are certain?” he asks.

“I have seen,” the old sage creaks in reply.

With a heavy sigh the Jarl unbuckles the belt that holds the legendary sword of his bloodline, and holds it out to you.

“Who am I to argue with auguries?” he grumbles.

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The Tregetour Sidesword

 

∴ A Trickster’s Accomplice∴

The cheerful tune of a tin pipe rises through the gentle chatter of the morning market crowd, and you find yourself whistling along. There is something about the thrill of the fair that never fails to affect you – the bright-coloured fabrics, the scent of candied fruits and nuts, the mountebanks crying our their miracle cures. It is the city at its bawdiest and best.

Charmed, you pause to watch a performer in harlequin silks atop a crate. You fancy he casts a wink your way as he whisks a stream of silk scarves from his sleeve. The tricks are the same simple fare you’ve seen countless times, but still you find yourself drawn in. There’s something about the conjuror himself, his easy patter, his command of the crowd.

As you watch, you have the nagging feeling that you recognise him: those dark, smiling eyes through the mask. The delicate tilt of his jaw, almost aristocratic. Yes, you know this face – and yet you cannot place it.

A shout from the crowd rouses you, and the performer glances up from his cards and cups. A young woman is pointing at the man on stage with one delicate gloved hand, while the other is clasped around the wrist of a palace guard.

Suddenly you remember where you’ve seen those smiling eyes before: the roughly drawn sketches found posted around the city’s taverns and docks. A handsome face, and an equally handsome figure cited underneath it. This is a wanted man.

As the guard pushes through the crowd toward the harlequin, the brightly-dressed figure steps into a low, swooping guard. As if by magic, there is a sword in his hand: slight and light, leaping like a dolphin in the morning sun. A nest of flat black bars encircles the trickster’s hand, and a rectangular pommel sits lightly in his grip.

It looks like he has one more trick up his sleeve.

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The Sigismund Sword

 

∴ A Champion’s Tool∴

Another explosion sounds from beyond the blasted temple, blood-curdling cries in its wake. You spit a mouthful of grit and blood into the carpet of white ash you are crouched in, and grimace as you rise to your feet.

Your helmet remains wedged under your arm, but even without its heightened senses, you can sense that you’re not alone. An armoured figure steps from behind a crumbling pillar, and with relief you spot the Imperial sigil emblazoned on his shoulder. He carries a caliver slung over one shoulder, and something swathed in black cloth held flat in both outstretched hands.

There is something about the carefully-wrapped object that holds your attention, even as you look the figure up and down. It is as if it speaks to you. The edge of a whisper, lost at once against the clamour of battle. You furrow your brow, at once enthralled and repelled.

The intruder speaks in a low rumble, half muffled by his helmet. 

“He says you are chosen to wield this weapon,” he begins, shaking the thing loose from its bindings.

It is a sword, you can tell that much. But where you expect the harsh reflection of honed steel, there is only shadow. A deep, mottled darkness that absorbs what little light makes it into the ruinous space.

“He?” you ask, confounded. The whispering grows more distinct as you step toward the figure. You think you can make out words, but they are lost again before you can settle on what they are.

The stranger tilts the sword toward you, and suddenly the screaming and explosions cease, all sound imploding into silence. You feel as if you have been plunged into cold, dark water: the ecstasy of anguish, infinitely removed from the world around you, the sword consuming your consciousness.

It is bleakness and beauty, a broad and dominating blade that drinks in light, beneath a grinning silver skull, splashed with gold. The hilt is half-wrapped in golden wire, and crowned with a cruel black diamond pommel.

Here in this world between worlds, the whispers take form – and in tongues you did not know you knew, they tell of the sword’s many centuries, of its first forging at the Emperor’s command, and of a new command: your name, again and again, growing louder and rhythmic like a heartbeat.

With the Emperor’s will surging through your blood, you push forward with a roar, clasping your metal-gloved hand around the wire-wrapped hilt, and snatching it away from its bearer.

At once you feel something blacken inside you. That same velvet-deep void that the blade beckons now fills your mind, and you know with appalling and pitch-black certainty what must be done.

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Of Measurements and Merriments: Malta 2022

Each November, we pack our bags full of swords, smile sheepishly as the friendly folk at Gatwick Airport put them through the X-Ray, and board a plane to Malta. Malta is the improbable rock in the middle of the Mediterranean that changed military history – and home to the unforgettable Malta Historical Fencing Association International Event.

∴ Home Away From Home ∴

This prestigious event is one we attend every year, rain or shine – or in this year’s case, in the middle of an unprecedented sea storm. Held on the majestic Fort St Angelo in Birgu, a key defence in the siege of 1565, it never fails to make us feel like we’re in the middle of a fantasy film.

From running up and down limestone steps with swords swinging at our sides, to duelling on the top tower with the Three Cities and Valletta spread out around us like a snapshot from a time long past, this is the stuff of dreams.

For us, after five (in my case) and seven (in Chris’s) years of attending, the first glimpse of the fort across the water as our taxi raced across the Valletta waterfront was no less breathtaking than the first time – yet this year it was countered with a swell of fond familiarity – a homecoming of sorts.

This feeling was only increased when we met our hosts and fellow attendees, many of whom have been attending as long as we have, if not longer. Reuniting with familiar faces from around the globe over a pint of Cisk and slipping straight back into conversation is a huge part of this event’s enduring appeal – as is bringing new wide-eyed enthusiasts into the fold.

∴ A Working Holiday ∴

Of course, it wasn’t all play. As with previous years, we were offered the opportunity to display some of our wares at the event, and set up a little stall in the fort bearing some striking smallswords, a rather splendid falchion, and a bevy of deluxe care kits.

We were pleasantly surprised to sell all our smallswords almost immediately, not to mention relieved that we’d brought care kits after a riotous rainy storm on Sunday afternoon! We also enjoyed letting attendees pick up the falchion and give it a swish, as we believe that feeling the balance of a Balefire blade can help our future clients understand what sort of weighting they’re looking for.

Our reputation has grown enormously since our first attendance as Balefire Blades in 2018. It was an unexpected wonder to see just how many attendees free-fencing on top of the fort were wielding Chris’s work, and to hear how many others had ideas for their first commissions.

We couldn’t have achieved all that we have without the support of this particular community, and so it was an emotional moment to look around and see how far we’ve come.

∴ Opportunities Galore ∴

The most wonderful benefit of the esteem and trust we’ve managed to build over the years came in the form of two very special experiences offered to us by our Maltese hosts.

Firstly, our friend Franco Davies, who has recently published a fantastic book on the Swords of the Religion, arranged for us to handle one of the most important artefacts in Malta’s history: the sidesword of Grand Master Jean de Vallette.

This sword was laid upon the altar at St Lawrence’s church by De Vallette on the night that the Knights of Malta gained victory over Suleiman the Magnificent’s forces – and it has been housed there ever since. We were excited enough to visit the sword last time we were in Malta, so seeing the curator open the case for us this time around was truly thrilling!

We spent a wonderful afternoon tracing the blade, taking key measurements, and photographing decorative details. We were particularly struck with how thin the distal taper of the blade was, and how light the overall sword felt in comparion to exisiting replicas.

Our plan is to make our measurements and photographs public, to help in the overall understanding of sideswords of this type and construction. We also intend to craft the most accurate fencing replica available of this very special sword – so watch this space!

Our second great honour was to visit the Grand Master’s Palace Armoury with assistant curator Raymond Howard. The palace is not currently open to the public, so it felt like something from a fairy tale stepping through the vast and heavily decorated corridors before sneaking down a hidden passage to where the curators work.

Raymond had a particular sidesword in the collection that he wanted us to photograph and measure for a fencing replica. We were able to really take our time, discussing each aspect of the design and feel, and how this can translate to a fencing tool. We’re really looking forward to working on this commission in the coming year!

∴ Fencing and Feasting ∴

When we weren’t getting starry-eyed over antique originals, we were attending lessons, lectures and demonstrations at the Fort, as well as free fencing with old friends and new. The latter is one of the great highlights of every year, as much for the top tier fencing as for the cinematic setting.

The event inspires a conversational, collegiate style of sparring, where both partners are keen to learn something from the other, rather than rushing to score points. Each bout ends with a hug or a handshake, and ear-to-ear grins all round.

Our hosts also organised some magnificent evenings o for us, from a trip to the hallowed grounds of the Cisk brewery, to a sneak preview of the Palace Armouries, to delicious dinners and countless drinks at The Pub. Memories were made to add to the annals and carry us through until next year’s Maltese International event!

∴ Hats off to the Hosts ∴

Photo credit to Brian Gatt of the MHFA

All that remains is to thank the team behind the MHFA International Meeting once again for giving us this little glimpse of story-book grandeur every year, and for their continued support and friendship.

If you’re curious about the event, we can’t recommend it enough! Keep an eye out on the Maltese Historical Fencing Association’s Facebook page for next year’s dates – and we’ll see you on the fort!

The Tusken Falchion

∴ A Story in Steel ∴

A blood-red gem dances across the knuckles of your right hand before disappearing into your palm. It is an old trick that the Castellan showed you when you were just a girl. With a smirk you open your left palm to reveal the jewel nestled there.

You can sense your father’s stormy look without looking, and with a sigh you relinquish your treasure to the growing heap of gems and casks and carved figures on the table before you. 

It has been a long evening at your father’s side, receiving the knights returned from their conquest in the Western Woods. One by one they kneel before you, offering stories and spoils by which to buy your father’s favour – his favour and your hand.

You have no need for jewels from the Western Woods. You had far rather explore the Great Forest yourself than wear someone else’s trophies. And yet true to your training you nod and smile graciously as each knight kneels before you.

You have almost expended your reserves of grace when a heavy, velvet-wrapped object is placed on the table before you with a thud. Startled, you glance up to meet the smiling eyes of your father’s bard.

“I too have a tale of the forest,” he begins, and the room falls silent. You, too, perk up and pay attention. You have missed the bard’s tales while he was away. His songs are dark and dangerous, unlike the honey-sweet ballads played for the ladies.

In low, lugubrious tones he describes a force riding gigantic boars which snarled and charged in the misty morning dark, tearing into horses with their great curving tusks. The riders’ armour was wrought of bone, he says, and their helms crowned with antlers. He is certain that they were not mortal men.

He gestures to the velvet-wrapped object in front of you.

“I had this sword forged from the tusk of one of those fell boars,” he announces, “to commemorate that terrible battle.”

At a nod from your father you fumble to pull back the cloth. A collective intake of breath greets the weapon within. It is a beautiful thing, unlike any knight’s sword you have seen. Indeed, its blade is shaped like some monster’s tusk, widening dramatically toward the curved and sharpened tip. 

Yet instead of bone or ivory, it is forged from steel, polished so bright you can see your own dark eyes reflected in it. You look up bewildered, unsure whether to be more disappointed by the bard’s pretence or delighted by the feel of sharp steel at your fingertips.

“It is yours, princess,” the bard says, favouring you with a wink. “A legend wrought real.”

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