The Meander Backsword

 

∴ A Mulish Heroism ∴

It was St. Jacob’s Day when we took the town. That feast to venerate our patron of pharmacists and healers. Lord knows we could have done with one.

The heat was stifling – one of those close, grey midsummer days that had us sweating beneath our armour even before the battle broke out. By the time the cannon fire started men were swooning from the heat, let alone the fear.

Well they might have feared though: for twelve hours the cannon roared, pikemen and swordsmen pushing through clouds of acrid smoke across the rampier. When I had imagined the Inferno as a boy, fingers pressed together in fervent bedside prayer, was this not the image I had dwelt on? The heat, the dust, the unearthly thud of cannon fire? The screams of dying men?

And there, in the midst of this abyssmal pastiche, was the soldier in the red mandillion. He stood out like a banner against curls of obscuring grey smoke, the slashed sleeves of that crimson coat billowing as he raised his sword.

And what a sword it was, with a great curved turkey blade, wide of stature and thin of stock. It caught what little sun pierced through the low cloud and glinted like a distant beacon. 

To see that sword fall was like seeing our last glimmer of hope snuffed out. Before I knew what came over me, I had abandoned my post on the rampier, pushing forward into the breach, desperate to reach that wounded hero before the enemy did.

I was not the only one to notice. Another fellow and I snatched at his red-adorned shoulders, heaving his weight up between us and dragging his feet through the dust toward the town as the line closed back behind us.

“It’s nothing,” the man in the red coat roared as we pulled him into the relative shelter of the gate. “I’ve taken worse wounds in the alehouse! Let me be, man – let me back at them!”

The rich red of his coat belied the sticky wetness that marked my hand as I pulled it away from him. Blood. And more than a man ought to lose.

“Your wounds are too severe, my Lord,” I cried over the rumble of cannon. “We’ll find you shelter in one of these houses.”

At this he laughed, an ugly, mirthless laugh, punctuated with a cough of blood-speckled phlegm.

“Fool,” he retorted, wiping the blood from his mouth with a crimson sleeve. “I had rather be killed ten times in the breach than once in some damned house.” Continue reading

The Strathyre Broadsword

 

∴ A Call to Arms ∴

You pull the rough blanket closer about your shoulders, scanning the horizon with sleep-fogged eyes. A pale sunrise is beginning to colour the clouds, like watered-down dye in roving.

This marks the eighth sunrise since he saddled his horse and rode for Stirling. He said he’d be home by the seventh.

You woke early this morning, before even the hens in the yard. You set a pot of water over the fire and cracked the door open as it boiled, leaning against the sturdy oak doorframe, watching for a white mare in the distance.

A sudden movement snatches your attention. Could it be? Your heart swells as you spy a distant horse and rider. You take a breath, ready to call for the children to come greet their father. But then you see a second rider. And a third. Blood runs cold. The blanket slides from your shoulders.

You slam the door behind you and rush for the bed, throwing yourself to your knees and scrambling beneath it. The sword is still there, wrapped in grey wool. Not his sword, but your own. The one your father left you. Pulling back the bindings, you take in the short, wide blade, the pierced black plates and the elaborate S-shapes of the guard.

You nod, satisfied. Then, lest you give fear time to supplant anger, you snatch at the steel-wire grip and rise to your feet.

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