The Tulak Saber

 

∴ A Wanderer’s Weapon ∴

The soft glow of lantern light through the trees is a welcome luxury after a hard week’s camping. You cram your hand into the pocket of your battered leather coat and grunt. Coin enough for a bed.

As you step across the splintered threshold, warm conversation fades into curious silence. You stride up to the bar, taking in the waif behind it – barely more than a child.

“A room please,” you say, your voice cracking with a week’s disuse, “and a bath if you’ve water.” 

The girl’s eyes widen as she searches for the right words. You are all too aware of the blood that still spatters your face and headscarf, the ill-fitting breeches beneath your embroidered bodice and the sheathed blade at your side.

A stout man emerges from a low door, and looms protectively behind the girl. The landlord, you presume. You half-smile hopefully, taking care not to tug at the healing claw marks on your cheek.

“That’s quite the sword you’ve got there, Wanderer,” he rumbles, his arms folded tightly across his barrel chest. “Tell me, whose banner do you swing it under?”

You relinquish your attempt at a smile, instead placing a handful of coins on the bar.

“None, sir, for my code forbids it. My sword keeps me safe in the wilderness.”

It keeps him and his little daughter safe as well, you think, for all the thanks you get. You could tell him about the beast that no longer prowls this wood, or the bandits hastily dispatched – but you want no quarrel. Only rest.

The innkeeper scowls, weighing up his options. Your kind means trouble more often than not, but he could do with the coin. Business has been scarce with bandits on the road.

At last he jerks his head toward the staircase.

“Bara,” he grunts at the girl, “draw our guest a bath.”

You slip up the stairs behind Bara, who directs you to a musty straw mattress under the window. The girl watches you unshoulder your baldric, shifting from foot to foot in awkward silence.

At last she asks, “can I see it?”

You smile and draw the curved blade carefully, holding it out to her with two flat hands. She gapes at the elegant ring quillons, her pale fingers hovering over the octagonal pommel that marks your order.

“Have you ever fought a vodnik?” she asks.

“Vodniks and worse,” you say, giving in to a wonky grin.

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The Nemain Longsword

∴ A Constant Frenzy ∴

There were those who considered it ill, naming the sword as you did. Better that such a thing should go nameless, they said, than to risk rousing one so willful. Your sister bade you leave the sword outside her hall, lest its namesake follow in its wake. She wrote the name rather than speak it, in sheer superstition, as if it were something wild and beyond. As if it could be left outside.

You did not seek to unweave her illusion, recalling that time when for you, too, gods dwelt beyond the veil. What wouldn’t you give to hide death behind names and runes and rites again? To count the magpies and score the loaves, and think your sins atoned?

But you have been beyond the black mountains, where the blood of battles long past still marks the soil. You have seen Nemain at work in the camps of friend and foe, so that brothers in arms turn on one another in despair, and brave soliders fall on their own swords. You have heard her frenzied cry, boundless and boar-like, sparing none from its madness, only to find it spilling from your own lips.

You know such discord cannot be turned aside with a word unspoken – for you feel it in you still. At your table and in your bed. The ever beckoning brink of battle frenzy.

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