“It’s your right to choose”, the copper-haired man says, opening the case.
Loathe as you are to show admiration, you cannot repress a low whistle as he pulls back the ivory satin, revealing a pair of slender yet sturdy smallswords with blackened guards and gleaming wire grips. Half-reverently you lift one, then the other, keen to claim the better. At last you glance up, brow furrowed.
“What is there to choose?” you ask. “The swords are equal in every way.”
“I’ll choose then,” the challenger grins. He curls his hand round the copper-wrapped hilt, leaving you its steelier brother.
Shrugging, you take your weapon and step onto the field of honour. As you salute and fall into guard, your opponent effortlessly matches the the grace that you studied for years, mirror-like in his precision. As the bout begins, the similarities grow only more frustrating – every move reflected, every feint forewarned.
You cannot say when it is that frustration gives way to a flurry of excitement. The precise moment when a battle of wills becomes a meeting of minds. You dance with the copper-haired man, daring him to surprise you, even as he draws out moves you never knew you had. You are certain that, standing against one another, neither can be truly victorious.
You catch your opponent’s eye. His reckless grin is contagious.
And the leaves fall on indolently.
You wander between their disparate trails as if entranced, pausing only to pick up the occasional visceral red specimen, paper-thin and perfectly formed.
It has been seven years since the war. Since flames licked at the conjoining trunks of the maple trees, and blood ran as relentless as the acer’s crimson dance. Since the sword in your hand flashed quick and decisive, and wrote your family’s fate.
A cry splashes across your solitude. You know even before you turn that your son runs toward you, delighted by the colours of Autumn, unburdened as the leaves themselves. Again, you wonder when you will tell him – and how – how you could ever begin to explain.
But for now it is enough to feign surprise, and spin him around beneath the canopy of cardinal, only ever always aware of the sword that still swings at your side.
New Year always seems a poignant time at the forge, as this time two years ago we were setting up Balefire Blades with our fingers tightly crossed and no idea where it would take us. Two years later, we find ourselves at the helm of a thriving artisanal business, working with clients around the world on some incredible custom swords.
2019 was the year we truly started forging Balefire’s identity, making some key decisions as to the sort of work we wanted to be known for, and developing a distinct style. While our commissions ranged from the most complex of complex hilts to Middle Earth-inspired longswords, this was also the year that we created our first standard model: the Angelo broadsword.
By far this year’s biggest challenge has been working out how much time to dedicate to each weapon we craft. While Chris’s constant tinkering and improvements around the forge have sped up a number of processes, we realised that there are certain corners we don’t want to cut.
On the one hand, choosing attention to detail over faster production was a difficult one, as it meant delaying our waiting list and increasing our prices to account for more realistic production times. On the other hand, it was a no-brainer: Chris prides himself in creating functional artworks, both in terms of look and feel. If an extra day’s work can turn a good sword into something that gives the wielder shivers with every swing, we consider the extra time worthwhile – and we hope our customers do too.
Having set a standard for our work, all that remains is to thank our customers for their patience, and keep them as informed as possible while we catch up with the waiting list.
In order to focus as much time as possible on our waiting list, we made the decision not to sponsor tournaments this year. Our one exception was the wonderful women’s and non-binary fencers’ event By the Sword. We ran a stall across the weekend, selling gorgets and sword care kits as well as providing on-the-spot maintenance for attendees’ long-suffering swords.
We were also delighted to attend Swordpunk twice, showing off Chris’s blacksmithing skills in May, and returning to run a sharp cutting stand in September. It was wonderful to be able to offer a unique insight into what we do, while sharing skills with a wide range of martial and performance artists.
Our final weekend away from the forge was a trip to Malta for the MHFA International meeting, where we showed off the Angelo broadsword, piloted Alicia’s range of sword belts, baldrics and frogs, and visited the De Valette sword.
Back at the forge, Chris has been taking his craft in an ever-more traditional direction, honing his hot-forging skills, and using these techniques more and more frequently to create crossguards, pommels and complex hilts. Toward the end of the year, he began self-training in forge welding techniques, which he’s gearing up to use in future Balefire projects.
So what can we expect in 2020? Well, to a certain extent we know exactly what to look forward to, as our order books are already full up to summer. There are some amazing projects on the cards, from historical replicas to fantasy visions – as ever, it’s an honour to bring these sword-wielding dreams to life.
Throughout it all, we’re looking forward to keeping you all updated on each new creation and work in progress with photos, specs and fiction. It’s been a remarkable two years of gaining experience and defining goals, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.
I’ve been fortunate to create leather goods based on fantasy realms before, taking cues from Middle Earth and beyond. This challenge, however, was all the greater – making a scabbard based on a world of our client’s own creation.
A published writer, our client chose to celebrate the success of her novels by commissioning a sword and scabbard straight out of them. The resulting weapon was the acclaimed Accipiter Kriegmesser, and my task was to create a matching scabbard. Read More
The curve of the dragon’s head is familiar under your thumb, almost comforting. You follow the sinuous wave with your fingertips, into the vortex of the guard, and for a moment you’re transported.
Soft firelight and the scent of warm beeswax. Your father, stiff-backed in his high-armed chair, a wax-covered cloth in one hand and the sword in the other. You loll over one dark-stained wooden arm, marvelling at the thing. The way the dark bars of the swept join like the prow of a ship, a great dragon figurehead like the barbarian craft in stories. The spiralling form of the serpent, whispering “touch, touch me!” How the beast’s open jaws make the shape of a heart – love, and danger, as one.
You recall the sudden sting as inquisitive fingers met sharpened steel, and a duller pain as your father slapped your hand away. The blade was sheathed, the serpent sat smugly atop it, as your mother bustled you away to the bedchamber.
That was the last time you saw your father. The last night before he was consigned to the tales you told, first to your brothers, then when they slept to yourself. In the stories, your father sailed the high seas in a dragon-headed boat, serpent sword flashing in his hand, waylaid by danger after danger on his long journey home.
And now it is here, in your hand. The sword from your stories, recalled at times more closely than your father’s face itself. In your mind it had silenced sirens, slain beasts and tyrants, saved your father’s life. And in truth? You do not care to know.
You will let the serpent keep its secrets.
You close your eyes and focus on the threads of thought that are the goshawk’s. A momentary vertigo washes over you, as you accustom yourself to being in two places at once – standing on the solid stone of the balcony, and soaring thousands of metres above the earth.
The raptor’s nature tugs at your mind, and for just a moment you allow the rush of air and the lust for prey to take over entirely. Wingtips tingle with information from the air, and you answer automatically with a flap of your wings. You sense movement, some miles to the South, and hasten toward it, keening to plunge into the dense canopy that hides your quarry.
With regret you draw back in your mind, tugging the hawk’s attention away from its distant prey and toward the sand-strewn riverbanks. Irritated, the bird wheels round and begins to follow the meandering waterway West. A glimmer arrests its eye. Not the glint of sunlight on water, but something still. Something solid.
Folding your wings you drop from the high soar, your human side feeling a gut-deep lurch, and circle the sand-strewn bank. There, still half immersed in the river that bore it West, is the unmistakable curve of the sword, the copper eyes of its goshawk pommel meeting those of your avian host.
The fire leaps in its ornate grate, but a shiver struggles free regardless. You breathe on your hands and fold your arms for warmth, casting your eyes warily around you. You feel uncommonly small in the echoing hall, dwarfed by the heavy crimson curtains, drawn despite the early hour.
Comparatively, the vampire somehow fills the space. He rests one hand on the stone mantle, a vision in crumpled shirtsleeves, red wine staining the lace at his throat. There is a dominance to his easy stance – a clear message that he owns this place. Not just the bones of it, the red velvet and glossy stone, but the space itself. The vastness is his. The emptiness is his. And the silence is his to break.
“You have brought me the piece?”
You nod, words sticking in your throat, and open the case. The vampire’s eyes flash as they take in the silver flame of the blade, the blood red hide of the grip, the clawlike curl of the black crossguard.
“Yes,” he whispers, long fingers stroking the leather. “It has been too long… Much too long. You have done a good thing to return this sword to my care. You shall be amply… rewarded.”
You flinch and suddenly the sword is in the vampire’s hands, his pale lips parted in a peal of silent laughter.