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 Schwabacher Sword

∴ A Font of Power ∴

From the moment you first wrapped you hand around that broad leather grip, in turn embraced by swooping whorls of black metal, you knew there was no turning back. The image of the thing was imprinted on your mind, and you would not rest until it was yours.

You remember kneeling that night at the foot of your bed, the leather bound Bible – your most prized possession – open on the blanket before you. Yet as your lips formed the words of familiar psalms, it was not the sounds you fixated on – no, it was the letters. The beautiful, printed letters, bold and black on the off-white page.

You traced them with careful fingertips as rote praise spilled from your mouth, noting how each oft-read symbol was an artwork in itself: the rising and falling curves, swelling then slipping just as swiftly into a whisper-thin line, the flares and flicks of terminals. How the proud, bisected round of the capital “G” in “God” was so very, very reminiscent of that dark, elegant hilt which had enclosed your fist only hours before. Was that a sign?  Did the book of Ephesians not bid you to “take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God?” You smiled and shook your head – the thought was close to blasphemy.

Nevertheless, the following morning found you guiltily leaving the bookseller’s shop with a heavier purse in hand, a prayer of repentance on your lips, and a lilt in your step as you made your way to the armourer’s.

Continue reading

The Conflagrare Dussack

∴ A Flickering Fury ∴

An ocean wave, or a tongue of flame? You never could make your mind up. You smile to yourself, turning the thick, wavering blade over in scarred hands, eying the twin fullers, the blackened rib cage of a basket, the copper strands that glimmer in the braided wire grip. The ceiling of your low, sparse cabin coughs dust as heavy footfall sounds above.

You pull an oil-slick rag from the box on the table, and run it over the rolling waves of the blade, humming an old shanty song to yourself. It is not one of your own crew’s – you must have picked it up in some port or another. A resounding cannon blast shatters the last bawdy chorus, but you do not look up from your task til the blade is bright and gleaming.

Only then do you rise to your feet, taking your time, relishing the feeling of the firestorm building within you. Sword in hand, you step without stumbling over the rough wooden boards, despite the alarming pitch of the ship. As you mount the steps to the deck, shouts and shots breathe a flurry of sparks into the very embers of you.

True, the waters ever did call you – but there’s always been fire in your heart.

Continue reading

The Ingela Tessack

∴ A Sweeping Glance ∴

You’re woken by shouts from a sea-rocked slumber. Startled, you wrench back the draped curtain and clamber from your warm bed into still-damp boots. Haphazardly lacing your doublet, you steal a glance through the leaded glass of your cabin. Barely discernible through a thick stripe of fog, you glimpse the small yet unmistakable shadow of a ship.

Slinging a baldric over your shoulder, you throw open the small double doors and storm up the steps to the deck. Privateers, the mate says, he’s certain. You snatch the telescope from his hand to see the three-tailed flag for yourself. The crest is indistinct, but the colours unmistakable. You curse.

You swing the telescope downward, momentarily dizzied, to make out what you can of the crew. Gradually, the colours inhabiting the orb of your vision take form. The dark cylinders of guns, behind them a flurry of activity. One figure alone stands still, poised at the forecastle, a flash of slender steel to the right.

You can’t begin to make out the details, but somehow you know. Something in the posture, the intense unmoving brooding. You know, without waiting to see, that the blade held almost casually over the figure’s shoulder is long, curved and unforgiving, ending in a blackened scallop shell. You know that the hand beneath the shell is small, pale, adorned with a puckered scar and a garnet ring.

“It’s her,” you whisper.

Continue reading

The Pandaemonia Dussack (Discordian Suite)

∴ A Darkling Voyage ∴

You thought nothing could be darker than the benighted vista before you – an infinity of ink-black sea and sky, unbounded by horizon, unpierced by stars. Then you saw the ship.

Its darkness is a corporeal kin to that of the sea, drifting silent over unseen eddies. At first it is only the slightest disturbance, a hint-of lack-of nothing. Then, as your eyes strain to focus, motion takes on form: black sails, a dark wooden hull, ropes silhouetted black-on-black.

You cannot say how long you stand, knee-deep in cold water, awaiting the craft’s approach. It strikes you as unusual that such a large vessel could come so close to shore without running aground, but you push the strangeness from your mind as lantern light flares against the deck.

There, in a muted amber aura, stands the strangest sailor you’ve ever seen. Fully armed in blackened steel, a helmet obscuring his face, he calls to you – though his words are lost on the wind. Somehow, despite the darkness, you know he sees you. He calls to you. Pinpricks brush your neck.

The sailor cries out again and, reaching to his belt, draws a weapon. The steel blade flashes, a momentary beacon against the night. The sailor holds it out – not as a threat, you realise, but… an offering? A blackened web of bars gives way to a broad, curved blade. Is it familiar, or is that just fancy upon fancy?

Without quite knowing why, you wade, entranced and weaponless, toward the waiting ship. Continue reading