The scent of the earth is dark, damp and fragrant with herbs and minerals. Dappled sunlight plays against closed eyelids as a symphony of dry beech leaves rises to answer the whispering breeze. You smile at the sound, but do not stir.
Sprawled on a moss-shrouded bank, you feel stones and roots pressing into your spine. Theirs is a welcome caress, as you stretch your road-weary limbs. Tomorrow you’ll reach the city, if all goes well. There will be tourneys, feasts and a warm bed to return to. But somehow, here, in your earth-rich bower, you cannot relish the thought.
Sighing, you press yourself up from the soil and take your longstick in your hands. Your fingers play over the knots and whorls in its dense bark. You wonder what the knights and ladies of the court will make of such a weapon. Crossguard it has not, nor jewel-encrusted pommel – but it is a good stick.
Yes. It is a good stick.
The Elbe is calm, broad and still, its green-grey surface broken only by the leaping of a lone fish – just as you remember from the long summer evenings of childhood. Your head is a tumult of spinning swords and eddying questions from which you can’t push free – but the Elbe is calm.
It will do you good, you think, to spend a little time away from the crowds, here in the quiet market town where you grew up, watching your father fish from the banks and hiding behind your mother’s skirts as she called her wares in the market. Perhaps here you can remember who you were before the war, before the battle, before the waters ran muddy-red.
You draw your sword from its sheath and smile. It is a sad smile, full of fond remembrance. This broad, tapering blade was the one companion you truly relied on throughout it all. The pommel is worn smooth where it pressed into your palm, the crossguard scarred from strikes that did not find their mark. It is a good sword – a great one, even – but it is not the sword of a titleless trader in a quiet market town.
With a hand as unsteady as the river is still, you raise the sword over the glassy depths and release its blood-red grip for the last time. The sword hits the water with a cacophonous splash, and then is gone. The Elbe is calm once more. Read More
Rough hemp cuts into your palms, but you bite your lip and continue to twist. The bitter sting is familiar now. Familiar as the dry, dusty stench of the ropewalk, and the weight of unwound material about your waist. You step methodically backwards, chapped fingers adding torsion to the expanse of rope before you.
You are roused from your work by the sound of footsteps, and a dark shadow crossing the gold thread of evening-lit rope. You glance up to see a figure, tall and wiry, leaning against the doorframe. You can tell he is a fencing master – not by his stance, or the scar across one eye, but by the montante which he holds like a pilgrim’s stave.
It is a streak of white steel, almost as long as its wielder is tall. The quillons and rings curl like ropework, threads of yellow metal braided with the white. Your fingers yearn to touch it, to release the rope into tangled chaos and instead take up the sword. To feel the tight coils of your trade rewritten in brass and steel.
The master makes a short bow, and showers you with questions about quality and quantity and price. You nod along but barely hear him as your stars shift their alignment, threads of fate unweaving and entwining into a new certainty:
You will learn to fence. Whatever it takes, you will learn. And one day, you will wield that sword.
To our customers and community,
We want to take a chance to update you on our situation during this period of general upheaval due to the Coronavirus.
The good news is that so far, we’re able to keep working. The forge is in a rural location, and significantly more isolated than our home is. We feel confident that we can continue to work there without incurring any risk.
We will continue to work through the waiting list as normal, and will be in contact with each client with photos and updates as swords take shape.
We may, however, choose to delay postage as the situation unfolds. Global supply lines are frantic during this time of uncertainty, and we would rather delay shipping than risk losing swords in the mail. We’ll email customers about this on an individual basis once swords are ready to ship.
In the event of a lockdown in the UK, we will make another public update, and prepare to start work again as soon as we’re able to return to the forge.
We can’t thank you enough for your support and enthusiasm. If you have any questions at this time, please don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com
Stay healthy, and look forward to much sparring on the other side!
Wrath was always going to be your downfall, from the heated debates with the masters to the vicious scuffles in the cloisters. Twice already the abbot has taken you aside to remind you that your tuition is a matter of charity, and that further outbursts will not be tolerated. He sent you away with a dose of Hail Marys and a look of disdain.
It’s that contemptuous look – and not the Latin prayer – that you dwell on now. Perched on your low wooden bed, muscles aching from the beating you took in sparring practice, you meticulously clean your sword and scowl. Your fist clenches around the feder’s blood-red grip as you let anger take over. Anger with the abbot for that superior sneer. Anger with your father for signing your life away to these warrior zealots. Anger with yourself for being so easily riled.
“I heard the abbot gave you hell today.” A familiar voice distracts you from your melancholy, heavy with good-natured gloating. Your cellmate scuffs over the reed-strewn floor toward you, a chicken leg in his hand and a grin on his face. “What was it this time, the belt or the switch?”
In a flash of fullered steel you’re on your feet, half-polished sword slicing the air between you and the intruder. In a strange moment of calm before momentum takes hold, you realise you’ll never forget the look of horror on his face.
Saltwater, milky with moonlight, laps at the marble steps where even now ladies in their finery descend into sleek black boats. You watch with a faint smile as each craft slips from its bounds and circles silently. It is all part of the dance, you muse. All part of the ritual.
As the last gondolier pushes away from the dock with a ripple, the heady haze of gold and noise that held the palace in its sway falls away. You are alone, but for your blade and the winged lion that guards the door.
“Just you and me then, old friend,” you murmur, casting your eye upward to where the stone beast grimaces above the portico. The lion says nothing.
You turn your attention instead to the sword. It was the sword, after all, that brought you here. Hard won, but worth it. The artefact alone speaks of a world you once failed to dream of. A complex web of dark bars, and a tasteful glimmer of copper. Three graceful ladders sweep around your fist – like Jacob’s ladder, you ponder. A stairway from the profane to the glorious. From the docks of Zara to the palace steps.
Your fingers sting with cold, despite thick leather gloves. You clamp your hands under your arms and kick at the snow-covered ground. You have no idea how many hours have passed, how many must still pass until daylight trickles through the dense tangle of branches, and you are relieved of your vigil.
Quite what this tradition is supposed to achieve, you don’t know. Surely a fight would be the better proof of your readiness. To first blood, blindfolded, four against one, you don’t care – anything would be better than the bone-deep cold and profound boredom of waiting unarmed under ice-encased boughs for some kind of sacred sign.
Just as you’re practicing the divine vision you’ll relate when they come for you, you catch sight of something you hadn’t seen before. There, in a strain of moonlight, a hoofprint marring even snow. And another. The marks look fresh, but how could they be? You have been here since nightfall.
Heart quickening, you decide to follow the prints. They could be part of your test, you think. You hope. Wishing more than ever for your training blade, you plunge into dense woodland, scanning the ground for signs. Branches snatch at your hair, the hood of your cloak, but you press on as if possessed.
Whether minutes or hours pass, you cannot say, but at last thick forest gives way to another snowlit glade, glittering with nearing dawn. The tracks you’ve been following loop around the flat, broad stone at the centre of the glade before seemingly disappearing.
But you are not looking at the tracks any more. Your eyes have been arrested by the sword that rests on the stone table: long, lined, a vision in dark, faceted steel and deep blue leather. You fall to your knees as sunlight floods the glade. You are ready.