The Jack of Diamonds Dagger

∴ A Diamond in the Rough ∴

The auburn-haired rogue sways out of the inn, a smile twisting his handsome face and a heavy velvet pouch in his hand. The game was good tonight; the players gullible. There’s still money to be made from that thick-headed sellsword, he reckons. Might be time for a new locale though. The inn keeper’s daughter is onto him.

He presses the pouch into a pocket and pulls on perfumed gloves. The jasmine scent still lingers on the kidskin, a welcome respite from the stink of the stables.

You boy,” he calls to the youth skulking in the stalls. “Bring my grey gelding.”

The surly lad glances up, and the gambler’s surprised to see it’s not a lad after all. The tousle-haired girl shrugs and unhitches the horse from its post. A fine mount, the rogue thinks to himself. He won it in the capital. Diced a guard down to his last penny, and took the horse as a mercy. 

The stable girl hands him the reins, eyes glittering as she takes in his fine clothes, the jasmine scent. She hovers until he flicks a coin from his pocket. After all, he’s feeling generous. 

I’ll be wanting more than that, I reckon.” Her tone is even, undaunted.

The rogue is surprised by her insolence. The boy who used to tend the horses here couldn’t thank him enough for a tip.

“How’s this for more?” he asks, making to cuff the urchin around the ear. “Go on, away with you.”

But the perfumed glove never connects with the dirt-rimed ear. Instead the girl slips neatly to one side, and draws a dagger from her back.

The rogue steps back, a sinking feeling in his stomach. He recognises the weapon instantly, for its sister hangs at his side. Like his own knife, it has an ovoid pommel and a copper-braided grip gleaming beneath the black bars of its sail. But where his guard takes the shape of a heart, the girl’s bears a single black diamond.

Where in seven hells did you get that?” he growls, low, dangerous.

The girl only laughs before cutting the reins of the horse and vaulting onto its back.

The auburn-haired rogue watches, dumbfounded, as his prize gelding diminishes into dark distance. Suddenly clasping at his pocket, he is ashamed but not at all surprised to find the velvet pouch missing.

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The Jack of Hearts Dagger

∴ A Jack or Better ∴

For all the bustle of the alehouse, a silence opresses the low table by the back door. There two men sit across from each other unspeaking, barely moving, cold stares trained on one another as they finger dog-eared cards.

Their tankards are long past empty, but the tavern keeper’s daughter knows better than to bring them more. She knows their kind – shrewd men, hard men, consumed by their dice and their cards. The trick is to slake their thirst early, when the game is still fun and the coin flows freely, and to steer well clear in the later rounds.

Instead she hovers behind the makeshift bar, idly rubbing a rag over copper mugs as she keeps an unassuming eye on them.

The larger man with his back to the wall; she’s seen him here before. A mercenary if there ever was one, all boiled leather and riveted rings, jaw sinking into broad shoulders with little sign of a neck. A man of few words, but liable to rage if the odds aren’t in his favour.

The smaller man, now he’s a new one. Younger than the other, with auburn hair tucked into a neat queue at the nape of his neck. He is dressed in fine clothes – not the ostentatious sort that would get him mugged here, but sombre and well-cut with slight flashes of lace at the cuffs and collar. A dandy, the tavern keeper’s daughter thinks with a smile.

Her close attention has drawn that of others, so it is with a collective intake of breath that the drinkers watch the mercenary lay his cards down. Crimson diamonds grace the gnarled wood. A strong hand.

Eyes now turn to the dandy, with all pretence of indolence gone. This next hand could be the difference between a round of drinks and an all-out brawl. Already some are sliding their hands to their belts, patting reassuringly at the knives hanging there.

With a shrug and a wry grin, the younger man slaps his cards onto the table. Four aces. And a jack of hearts.

“Cheat!” the mercenary cries, rising to his feet and pushing the table hard into his opponent. “Villain! Knave!”

The drinkers slide down from their stools, assuming a rough formation between the bar and the would-be brawlers. Tankards are emptied, all the better to be weaponised. The tavern keeper’s daughter sighs as she reaches for the rolling pin.

But quick as a wink, the auburn-haired rogue is on his feet, reaching for the dagger at his back. The tavern keeper’s daughter catches just a glimpse of a red-gloved hand encased in black heart-shaped bars before the blade is thrust point-down into the table, scattering coins and yellowed cards.

The larger man looks down, eyes wide and mouth agape. The blade is sunk deep between his middle and index fingers. A hair to the left or right, and his days with a bow would be over. Shaking slightly, he turns his gaze back to his opponent.

“Another round,” the Jack of Hearts says. “I’m feeling generous.”

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The Dokkalfar Set

∴ An Unusual Customer∴

You turn the rapier over in your hand, marvelling at how the light plays off the serpentine blade like a cold steel flame. Steadying it on one white-gloved finger, you check its balance, sucking breath through your teeth in surprised admiration. It is a beautiful piece: the gem-like pommel and quillons, the almost aggressive elegance of its curves, the glimmering facets of its onyx-black guard. And a dagger to match!

As you go to pick up the main gauche, you are interrupted by a gentle cough. You turn to find the smith’s apprentice hovering behind you, a look of consternation lingering behind his polite facade.

“I am afraid that this set was made on special commission, your Honour. Made for a rather… particular client.”

“Come now,” you smile, turning the rapier in your hand. “How many years have I been your master’s patron now? He knows I take a special interest in his more unusual pieces. Surely we can work out an arrangement. Go on – name a price.”

“I can assure you it’s more than my master’s job is worth to cross this customer,” the apprentice responds.

“Alright then,” you laugh, “who do I have to fight for them?

You are surprised to see something like fear flashing behind the young man’s eyes. Annoyance you might expect. Temptation, certainly, or at least a battle between conscience and commerce. But this is something else – as if his own blood were on the line.

You are about to speak again when the door behind the apprentice opens with a jarring jingle of bells. You fight to retain composure as you take in the figure who enters – and yet your face must betray some of your shock. Fine of figure and dusky-grey of complexion, the newcomer moves toward you with discomforting grace. Her coat and breeches are unadorned, yet perfectly fitted, as fine as any courtly garb.

She eyes the extravagant rapier in your hand, the decadent dagger on the counter beside you. A dangerous smile spreads from her wine-red lips up the length of her knife-edge cheekbones, to the tips of her pointed ears.

“Good,” the elf murmurs, “good. You know I hate to be kept waiting.”

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The Darkheart Dagger

∴ A Dalliance with the Dark∴

You don’t know why you keep coming here – though the Lord knows it’s not for the food. You glance down at the greying globules, more fat than meat, suspended in a dishwater broth, and grimace. No, it’s certainly not the food. Nor the warm, flat ale, nor the sticky floorboards, nor the company of bandits and thieves.

It is – if you are honest – a woman. The Woman, as you’ve come to think of her, for you do not know her name. And not even her, but merely the hope of her. Hope that the heavy door will fly open as it did that first night, admitting a figure swathed in black skirts, black curls spilling from a black wool hood, red lips carving a cruel smile across a swarthy face. You recall how she stalked, catlike across the room, undaunted by the sudden silence or the brigands’ eyes boring into her. How amidst the rustle of skirts cold steel flashed: a dagger, dark and lovely, the great curling bars of its basket kissing in the semblance of a heart.

“Danger,” the dagger whispered.

You don’t know what she said to the brute in the back-most booth, or what he hissed in reply, but you saw his great ham of a hand sweep outward to grasp her wrist and, faster, her own hand slip into that black sweetheart basket and bring it up, hard and blunt, against the blaggard’s face. As he slumped to the bench with a groan she turned to take in the room, the dagger’s blade extended, issuing a silent dare.

And just like that she was gone, a flurry of skirts and steel, leaving the dank hall in disarming quiet – and you well and truly stricken.

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The Elytra Sword and Dagger

∴ A Solid Defense ∴

Late summer. Long grass waving, dried and waxen in the sun; downy heads tickling the backs of your legs as you run across the meadow; a stream of seeds taking flight in your wake. It’s days like these that make you never want to return to the city – to the vomit-splashed cobbles and oppressive, leaning towers. To the purpose and the pressure to prove yourself, the constant critique of your master, the endless drills and duels. What wouldn’t you give, in this moment, to leave it all behind and stay here beside the jingling brook, trade your rapier for a sickle, and till the fields beside your brothers?

And yet, as you let your knees crumple beneath you, tumbling against the cushioning grass to watch the clouds above, a streak of red catches your eye against the flaxen gold. You raise your head, resting your elbows on the dry ground, and watch as a solitary ladybird makes its slow, solemn pilgrimage to the tip of a straw-hued stalk. You marvel at its graceless yet gravity-defying determination, tiny legs at work beneath the hard, polished shield of its wing cases.

As you watch, you cannot help but recall another gleaming shell: the steel dish of a rapier guard, steadfast about your hand, granting you assurance as you line up your opportunity. You recall how it flashed in the lamplight as you lunged, twisting your wrist just slightly, your opponent’s counterstrike slipping from the beetle-like shell as your blade found its mark.

With a wry chuckle, you pull yourself back to your feet. So this is love, you think. You can’t live with the sword, and you can’t live without it. There is truly no escape – nor, truly, do you want one. Winding your way back to the farm, you pause to cut a switch of ash from the bramble-bound hedgerow, brandishing it as a make-shift blade. Your master will be pleased to know you practiced.

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