Kneeling, you brush aside some fallen leaves. The tracks are barely visible in the still-damp earth, but they’re clear enough to confirm your fears.
The lines in your weather-beaten skin grow deeper as you grimly consider your quarry’s certain endpoint. No man would voluntarily go where you are headed. You find yourself reaching for the broad-bladed sword at your hip. Chances are you’ll need to rely on your oldest friend before this hunt meets its end.
The weather is unnaturally cold for early autumn, the chill already creeping under your clothes. You wrap your cloak tightly around you, hiding the ancient blade from unkind eyes, and turn to the North.
You know you are close now, but your instincts still urge you to hurry.
Brass and blue. The evening sun, brazen against the deepening Mediterranean. The treasures of ancient kings, their knowledge forever lost. An unforgiving flame rushing to meet shaded streets.
You stare for a long time at the sword in your hand, its seed-pod pommel glimmering golden in the dusk. When you stepped off the ship into this city of legend, the sword spoke of potential. Of promise. Now, mere days later as would-be knights flee burning streets with arms full of plunder, its beauty is a hollow reminder and its weight one burden too many.
You hear a shout and recognise your name. Your ship is departing. It’s over, then. With a roar of betrayal and bewilderment, you hurl the once-treasured weapon into indigo waters and turn to leave Alexandria.
You pray the next soul who finds it might put it to nobler use.
A hissing rush as chains sail past your face, locked in their ellipsis. You fight the urge to flinch – that way lies only the dreaded clatter of curiously carved weights breaking from their arc, lethal and uncontrolled.
You think you hear distant laughter amidst the rhythmic clink of links.
You cannot hope to command the flail’s trajectory through force, nor will fear make it an ally. Here at the weapon’s epicentre, you must play by its rules. You shift your body, aligning yourself in harmony with the thunderous momentum; learning its metre, its measure, its language. At the same time you devote the full force of your will to an inner stillness – the calm at the eye of the storm.
Unbidden, strange words fill the whispering air. From your chain-wreathed sanctum you are surprised to find the sound springing from your own lips.
Time slows. The circle widens. Chaos meets its match.
You stare again at the young woman on the other side of the courtyard. Her sharp features and dark, unruly hair are familiar, yet different. You could almost convince yourself it were wishful thinking, were it not for the flash of steel at her side.
Like the woman, the rapier is unassuming yet unmistakably elegant, a delicately carved knuckleguard emerging from its pierced cup. Your eyes do not dwell on this detail, however, but on the gently flaring quillons and neat onion-shaped pommel.
You should have guessed your father’s last gift would be a clue, for all the riddles the old adventurer spoke. A matched set. Brushing your hand across the identical pommel of the dagger in your belt, you swallow hard and cross the square.
The carriage clatters over cobbled streets, its clangour at odds with your hammering pulse. Drawing a silver watch from your pocket, you mark with distaste the tremor of your hand.
Were this any other duel, the blood would run hot in your veins. You would relish the rush of impending danger, and wear it proudly as you descended the carriage steps.
Tonight, however, is the night you hoped would never come – even as you knew it would. Even as you slipped into the sweet, forbidden embrace of the woman betrothed to your brother. The woman you’d loved since childhood.
As the hoofbeat staccato slows, you lift the black-hilted rapier from the seat beside you and brush the pommel to your lips.
“Forgive me, brother,” you whisper.
“The Countess will see you shortly,” says the footman, bowing curtly and turning on his heel. You exhale, and the empty room swallows the sound.
You’ve heard the stories about the crumbling schloss and its sole inhabitant – about how the Countess held her dead husband’s brother off at swordpoint when he challenged her right to the castle. You don’t suppose there’s much truth to the matter, nor do intend to find out. Yet your father insisted you present yourself to your evasive great aunt, and so you must.
Something catches your eye on the velvet-cushioned window seat. A slender rapier blade emerges from a pierced black hilt, its severe beauty strangely offset by the nonchalance of its placement.
Casting a quick glance around you, you pad across the polished floor and slip your hand into the hilt. The first thing that strikes you is its lightness. How effortlessly it cuts the air, leaving you uncertain as to whether you guide the blade or it guides you.
The second thing you notice – and all too late – is the black-silk-clad figure watching from the doorway.
When our client requested a distinctively coloured scabbard for his custom Warding Sword, my mind went straight to the pageantry of old.
Far from the gritty greys and browns of my favourite medieval fantasy films, knighthood was a gaudy affair. With tabards and pennants boasting bright family crests on and off the field, it wasn’t just jesters who got caught up in clashing colours.
With courtly technicolour in mind I set about creating a classic integral belt scabbard, with its functional interweaving straps displaying the rich goldenrod and plum hues to their fullest.
The needle rushes through stubborn cloth to pierce the pad of your thumb. You curse, then hold up your work for appraisal. The time-worn tabard is no regal regalia, but belted at the waist it might just do. You fold it neatly, then push it inside a battered bascinet.
Today you will at last enlist with the knights of your district. Yet much as you anticipated knighthood with fervour as a child, adulthood has raised new anxieties. It is not the enemy that you fear, but the judgment of your comrades. High born and high ranking, the knights of the rota are sure to scorn you. Your name is old, but it is not wealthy.
You sigh and lift your father’s longsword from your straw pallet bed.
There is comfort in its stately simplicity. Long, straight quillons meet a brown leather grip. Your palm curls around the strange yet familiar pommel. No jewels or engravings for this simple country knight. Only purpose. Dependability. A stalwart grace.
And in this, nobility.
Flickering shadows set the hairs on your bare arms on end. The torch in your hand sputters despite the still and stagnant air. For the briefest moment you consider turning back, but caution falls silent beside the thrill of the unknown.
You note what looks like a worn sarcophagus in the middle of the chamber. Carved from the same stone as the cavern itself, the casket is unremarkable – but for what lies on top of it. The sword seems hyper-real against its decrepit surroundings. Harshly downturned quillons gleam darkly against the broad steel blade.
Stepping toward the sarcophagus, you choke down a nervous laugh. You’ve heard enough folk tales to know how this ends: a shambling corpse emerging from the casket, hell-bent on restoring its treasure. Forcing back superstition, you grasp the green leather grip.
A moment’s suffocating silence. The sarcophagus remains undisturbed. Chiding yourself for your childishness, you exhale deeply and turn the blade in the torchlight. It’s so striking that for a moment you fail to notice the bleached bones of your own transfigured hand against the hilt. Read More
The marble is cold beneath bare feet as you step toward the small framed print at the end of the hall. Unwatched, you trace the outline of the knight on horseback – his stance and expression resolute as he passes monsters and demons.
Since moving to Munich a month ago, your world has become a whirlwind of cut-throat commerce under the appraising eye of your Master. His home is full of fineries you couldn’t have imagined a year ago – yet this unassuming woodcut is the one that keeps drawing you back.
Perhaps it reminds you of a simpler time, when morality seemed as black and white as the ink pressed onto the page. Your eyes come to rest on the lone knight’s longsword – slender yet striking with S-shaped quillons and a recessed disc pommel. A true cross. Your hand drops to the sword at your own side – almost the image’s twin.
In this world the weapon is a symbol of status. But you have demons of your own to fight, and you like to keep it near. Read More
The play is all politics and murder, but that’s not why you’re on the edge of your hard wooden seat.
You should have paid heed to the clawing feeling as you dressed for the theatre. It’s too soon to be seen, let alone to be seen enjoying such frivolity. Better to hide away until the taste for vengeance is dulled.
And yet here you are, penned in by gasping theatre-goers and pinned to your seat by the cold stare of Edward Heath from across the pit. As the son and heir of the man you killed in a duel, you’ve no doubt he’ll seek his satisfaction. Impulsively you reach for your rapier, running your fingers over the twisted filework.
A death cry goes up from onstage, spelling the impending end: “With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate of life at once untie!” You tighten your grip and grit your teeth.
The scene plays out like a horrific pastiche, scored by an arhythm of blades.
Strangely detached, you watch a British soldier sliced through by a French sword. The fatal blow’s deliverer gloats for a moment, before pride is shattered into stunned contortion. With all the force of his final fall, the dying man slices his sabre downward with such swift precision that the Frenchman’s skull is split in two.
An infantry officer finds you hours later, still rooted to the spot, staring at the two enemies slumped together. Following your haunted gaze, he walks over to the tangled corpses and slides the improbably bloodied sabre from between them.
“A good sword,” he says, casting it to the ground before you. “You do it proud, now, lad.” The glint in his eye looks nothing like kindness.