The Lysander Arming Sword

∴ An Unsmooth Course ∴

In the silence of the glade the two men circle, broad-bladed swords in their right hands and round leather bucklers in their left.

You shrink away, vision obscured by disarrayed dark tresses. You cannot stand to look, cannot bear to see red blood shed in the same green woods where once you wooed Lysander. The birds sang then, as they dare not now.

And for what? So he could spurn your honest affection and dumbly duel for the love of another? A cat, he called you! A vile burr, and a serpent! With the same lips that only hours ago had sung your praises. You know not what sorcery solicited such a change, but you know you cannot stand to see him kill or be killed in its thrall.

Your legs move before the decision is firm in your mind. You feel Helena’s hand on your shoulder, eager to pull you back from the fray, but you are already away, striding with cold anger toward the fool who would fight in her name and not yours.

Both men stumble back as you stand between them, and Lysander makes to sheath his sword. Though he hates you, he says, he will not harm you so. You hand is quicker, though, twisting the leathern grip from his grasp. And all at once the sword is yours.

The round, black pommel sits snugly in your hand, subtle carvings writ against the curve of your palm. Surprised at its wieldiness, you hold the weapon out in front of you so that the angled blade offers some protection, and circle on your heel. Eyes widen in the faces of the men who so roundly mocked you only moments ago.

If none will fight for your honour, you will have to do it yourself.

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The Iona Arming Sword

∴ A Sacred Awakening ∴

The steel is cold in your hands as you climb. Though it is dark you do not stumble, for you know this way by heart.

Behind you the village processes in pregnant silence. The able helping the old, children lagging at their heels. Last year you walked with the maidens, wide-eyed children in white. But this year you were chosen. This year you carry the sword of the saint.

The sword is the island’s truest treasure, broad-bladed and smoky-grey with age. The leather that folds around the guard bears half of a cross. The sign of the goddess. The sign of the saint. It’s all the same to the island folk.

As you reach the barrow’s crest, the chant begins. “Tha i beò. Tha i beò. She is alive.” For a moment the whole island opens around you in dusky lilac hue. You can see from the twinkling lights of the village, across the fields and the moors to the harbour. For a moment, it is yours.

Then the onlookers file in around you, a circle of white-clad watchers, keeping vigil over this rite. Uncertain, you look to the horizon, and then to your father. He gives a barely perceptible nod. As the voices rise to a clamor, you lift the sword to the sky, and with a cry, plunge it into the earth.

Then there is silence.

Over the sea the sun is rising, with springtime in its wake.

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The Granat Sword and Dagger

∴ A Fruit of Battle ∴

You press your palm against the familiar globe of the pommel, and try instead to recall the fruit. How you marvelled in the palace garden as the duke plucked a pomegranate from the Queen’s own tree, breaking apart the tough skin with his nails to reveal jewel-like innards. The pleasing tartness of those precious seeds, and the strange dryness to its juice – a nectar that would never sate your thirst.

You recall gasping in recognition the first time you glimpsed the same round, ribbed fancies adorning the halls of palace itself – emboidered, gilded and carved. It was the emblem of Granada, the duke explained, and a symbol of Queen Catherine. A symbol of the union between our kingdom and her father’s.

Those innocent days of bitter-sweet pips and perusing the royal halls are gone now, you remind yourself. Your hand tightens about the wire grip of your weapon, and you contemplate the cage of black crosses that protects your curled fist. Those seeds were not garnets after all, you think, but drops of ruby rich blood waiting to be spilled. Your queen is gone – banished – a new mistress, and a new faith found in her place.

The sword is all you have left of that simpler time – and the familiar weight of it brings the simplicity of your mission home. You once swore on this blade to protect your Queen – and heresy or not, you intend to do just that.

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The Sustantia Sword

∴ A Heavy Blow ∴

Your father had no love for war. He scolded you and your brothers for playing at knights, and clicked his tongue in disdain when armour-clad mercenaries sloped into the tavern. He once refused to serve a group of youths on their way North to enlist.

There were no brawls in his well-behaved wayhouse. The locals knew too well that a scuffle over cards or a pretty wench would have them barred for life. And much as they might have called any other man coward or traitor, a glance at the towering barman’s bulk and brawn quickly silenced such sentiments.

No, he never had any love for war. Which is why you can barely bring yourself to look at the slender, leather-wrapped object on the table before you. Your inheritance, your mother said. He wanted you to have it. With a heavy sigh and a sinking feeling, you begin to unwrap the winding sheet.

It is, as you knew it would be, a sword. Not a new sword either, but notched and tarnished with use. Broad-bladed and heavy of hilt, its substantial black bars swell into skeletal knuckles. It is as beautiful as it is unbearable. Where did your father come by such a thing? For how long has it been sat in the rafters while he preached peace and temperance? What deeds has it done, and did they die with the gentle giant who once wielded it?

You clench a fist about the battered brown leather grip, pressing the wide pommel against the crook of your palm. Of course it is a perfect fit. As you raise it from the its wrappings, a yellowed scrap of parchment slips from beneath the blade. Sword in hand, you stoop to read it.

“Finish what I could not,” is all it says.

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The Fleeting Sword

∴ A Fleeting Visit ∴

“Must you go?” you ask as she laces her riding boots.

Black ribbon pulls tight against calloused fingers as she shapes the graceful loops. Sunlight sits dappled on dark hair, cast in many hues by leaves about the latticed window. You feel the strange urge to reach out and brush the gleams from her tresses like so much detritus, casting sunlight to the floor so it might be night again.

“I said not to speak of it more,” she replies, a half smile at her lips. “I have my commands – and you your custom. The palace will not wait. But for the time we have shared, I thank you.”

A kiss – barely more than a courtesy – and then she is gone, in a wave of rose-scented leather.

Alone in the chamber you bite your lip and curse your foolish heart. You might have said farewell weeks ago – when first she received her summons – and already be near-done with mourning her. But her teasing trail intoxicated you: each forgotten fancy, each silk glove unsubtly dropped. How you leapt at the chance to return them, like a prince in a fairy tale, desperate to see her again.

With a moan you let your head sink into ink-stained hands. Between your fingers the sunlight sparkles indolently, still dancing on the steel of her sword. Your head snaps up with a start. Her sword. Sat bright on the windowsill where she’d lain it the night before.

Lurching to your feet you clasp the wine-red grip, feeling the pommel press snug against your palm. You recall her tales of its deeds, her yearning for battles to come. How could she simply forget such a thing?

And then like a hound you’re away, thundering down the wooden stairs with the sword still in your hand. 

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