The Beastmarked Sword


∴ A Fateful Mark ∴

Blue and silver pennants whip in the wind as you process between gilded pavilions. You keep your eyes ahead, stepping to the beat of the drum, paying no heed to the calling and crowing of excited onlookers.

When you reach the carved wooden throne, you stop and take a deep breath, allowing your eyes to play for a moment over its writhen designs of serpents.

The silence is crisp and curious as the High Bard steps toward you, a smile in his creased and twinkling eyes, and an unsheathed sword in his veiny hands.

Solemnly you stare down at the weapon. You know it well from when it was your father’s. A broad triangular blade with two fullers merging into one, representing the twin rivers of your kingdom. The leather grip is the midnight blue of your house. And the pommel with its engraved serpent…

“Tell me, Highness, do you know the significance of the mark?” the High Bard asks.

“Of course I do,” you reply, surprised at the deviation from the words you have so often practiced. You reach out a finger to trace the chiselled beast, its jaws stretched open to bite at its own tail. “It is the mark of the dragon slayer. Whoever wields it is destined to kill a dragon. Just as my father did.”

“Dear child,” says the bard with a note of sadness, “it seems you were told only part of the prophecy. See how the serpent forms a circle, devouring itself?”

You nod with a gulp, your throat suddenly dry.

“It represents an eternal cycle of creation and destruction. Yes, your father slew the dragon. But you, my boy, are destined to bring it back.” Continue reading

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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