The Furlano Longsword

∴ A Problem Halved∴

The salle is silent but for the sound of clashing blades. Students line the long, high-ceilinged room like empty suits of armour, rigid and wordless, their eyes fixed on the fight.

The duel was not your decision. You can say that at least, though you might admit to goading your master into it. The fellow was never fond of you, from the first time you corrected his footwork. All it took was a little critique, an impertinent question or two, and a certain wrinkling of your nose when he held forth on measure. Eventually he was bound to crack.

And today he did, the words like music to your ears: “well if you’re such an expert, Mister Furlano, why don’t you prove yourself in a fight?”

You let the pause sound long, until all the students around you had pricked up their ears and strayed from their pairs to see the drama unfold. Then you gazed up with innocent eyes.

“Was that a challenge, Maestro?” you asked quietly.

And so the duel began: longswords, gloves and gambesons. A fight to first blood.

Your master fences much as you expected: at first flashy and uneconomical, keen to embarrass you in some splendid fashion. Then, as his tricks sputter out, he becomes coiled and defensive, stepping back from the engagement when he might press his suit. Finally, as he starts to tire and sees that you do not, he resorts to desperate swinging cuts that create great gaping voids.

You select one of these and step daintily into it, one hand sliding from the oxblood grip of your longsword to the thick forte of the blade, while the other remains cupped about the steely wheel pommel. You glance up just in time to see the panic in your master’s eyes before you jab both arms outward, the fangs of your crossguard flashing as the sword sinks between his ribs.

He stumbles back, clutching at his wound. You watch idly as students clamour around him, some casting wary glances in your direction, others staring openly with something like awe. The master’s wound will heal well. You chose your target carefully. His reputation will take a little longer to repair.

A flower of battle you may be, but that doesn’t make you any less of a thorn in the side.

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The Hidden Wonders of the Royal Armouries


∴ A Long-Awaited Trip ∴

It was becoming an increasingly guilty secret that Chris and I had never visited the Royal Armouries. As the UK’s national collection of arms and armour, it is the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of a sword-based research trip. Not only that, but many of the museum’s contents have directly inspired our creations.

20230123_121921So when our dear friend Dan Smith at Swordpunk offered to put us in touch with the curators, we were all too glad to rectify our past negligence and start planning a trip to Leeds.

Needless to say, we were not disappointed. Not only were we treated to an exceptional level of hospitality, with Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons Iason Tzouriadis taking time out of his schedule to show us around. We were also able to delve into the fabled Store 3, where the non-display edged weapons are kept.

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The Gratia Sword and Dagger

∴ A Gratuitous Art∴

Your feet fly over the wooden floorboards of the salle, and you hear them creaking in protest as you leap and lunge. You pay the sound no mind, consumed by the wooden waster dancing before you as you slip into a stoccata against your shadow partner.

As you drill you imagine the clash of steel against steel, the purity of that ring, the gasps of ghostly spectators as you cede away from a thrust in perfect time. You picture the long lines that you draw with your body as you pass and parry, the kaleidoscopic shapes you leave in your wake.

At last, out of breath, you land in a low lunge with a flourish. Your already pounding heart quickens as you hear slow, singular applause from the doorway of the salle.

Turning, flushed, with no hint of your practiced elegance, you see your master leaning languidly against the doorframe. In one hand he holds a single-edge sidesword, its grip a fluted column of brass and copper wire, its black guard curving in an S-shape around his bony fingers. In the other hand is a dagger, the sword’s unmistakable partner, alike in all ways but size and complexity of its guard.

“Apologies Master,” you pant, hurrying to replace the waster in the rack you took it from. “I got here early, and I wanted to warm up.”

“Why do practice?” the old man asks, toying with the dagger as he speaks. “Is there some dispute you wish to settle? Some competition you seek to win? Some woman you hope to impress?”

You have no answer that makes any sense, so you simply shake your head, staring down at your feet.

At this the master chuckles, stepping into the room with a catlike ease that belies his years.

“I’ve made a living out of teaching fighters. Hot-headed young men – they train to win. But it’s been a long time since I’ve taught an artist. Someone who trains simply to fight.”

You snap your gaze up to meet his, unsure whether or not he means this as a compliment. With a wink he tosses the elegant dagger to you, and out of surprise more than dexterity, your hand shoots out to catch that glittering grip.

“Let us begin,” the master says.

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The Linnmistar Viking Sword

∴ A Warrior’s Rite∴

Light kisses morning mist
Miring the fighting field,
A silver, silken veil
Swathing a stubbled plain.
Half-drunk on distant drums
That punctuate the day,
You shrug your aching shape
Into shimmering maille.

Its weight hangs, heavy fate,
On shoulders hurt and cold,
Familiar and fain,
The form you now assume:
A serpent in reverse,
Not sloughing off dead skin,
But slipping into scales
Steadfast against the blade.

Half-laughing you heft
The handle of your sword,
Wrought by a fiery forge,
Flat-bladed, made for war.
Three-lobed, the pommel’s press,
Calming against your palm,
The sword extends the self:
The snake of battle wakes.

This poem is written in an approximation of the Skaldic metre used by the warrior poets of Medieval Scandinavia. This highly restrictive form calls for 8 lines of six syllables per verse, with verses in alliterative pairs, the first line of which contains two alliterative syllables. All lines must contain an instance of assonance.

Skaldic metre often acted as a form of encryption within its oral tradition, helping poets to recall the right words, and making it next to impossible for the text to be altered.

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The Nidaros Arming Sword

∴ A Holy Call∴

Grey stone vaults gape over you like the belly of an upturned ship as you pace the polished flagstones of the transept. You fight to turn your eyes from the spectacle and your thoughts from the sea, bowing your head instead in contrition.

Pausing at the altar’s great carved cross and mirroring its shape with your hands, you pass at last into the silent sanctuary of the eight-sided shrine. It is here that you come to be alone, with only the remains of the Saint present to pass judgment.

Kneeling before the altar, you wince as your sword clatters against the cold stone steps, the sound ricocheting back and forth across the octagonal space. You fumble with the scabbard, drawing the sword and laying it between you and the sepulchre. 

Your eyes play over its broad, tapering blade and long, straight quillons. Truly, it has been the cross of your order all these years. You had always imagined that its place – your place – would be here, at the side of the archbishop. A symbol of strength and safety, rather than a machine of war.

You sigh as you look beyond the sword and take in the coffin itself, its wooden lid carved in the likeness of a longhall’s roof, beaten silver plates like shields lining its walls. The Saint was certainly never a man of peace. His sword flashed on fields from Wessex to the Kyivan Rus.

Here you stand, on the cusp of your journey, in the place where your martyr ended his. If God wills it, so too might you. Rising to your feet, you lift the sword from the stone, the shrine’s soft candlelight reflected against its harsh and glittering edge.

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