The Griobhan Arming Sword

∴ A Perilous Pilgrimage∴

The chalk path is soft beneath your bare feet, and bright beneath the moon. A warm breeze lifts your robes, as if to gently urge you on, yet there is no hurry. You know this place, every curve and meander of the way before you. And you know there is no stopping. No turning back. No rushing on. Only the steady, mindful progress of time, and the faith to see it through.

This is the place that you go to when you trace your teacher’s labyrinth. She gave this path to you when she left, carved not into an amulet or a smooth river pebble, but into the bright brass pommel of her sword. As your fingers work the lines they know by heart, tracing the deep grooves over warm brass, your mind sojourns a familiar moonlit moor of your own creation. You are calm when you come here. You know you are safe. All you have to do is have faith.

A distant sound piques your attention. For a moment you think it is an interruption to your meditation, and you clasp the sword closer to you, but then you furrow your brow. No. The sound did not belong to the moss-deep churchyard where you sit cross-legged, but the moonlit labyrinth in your mind. It resonates again, and this time you focus in on it. An unearthly screech – not an eagle or a raven, but something different. And it is closer. Much closer.

Your finger falters on the lines of the labyrinth. But there is no pausing. No turning back. You must have faith. With a deep breath you round the corner of the maze, and nearly scream as something launches itself into the air before you, blotting out the moon for a moment with a gleaming mass of feathers.

Then it is gone. Were you imagining it, you wonder? You shake your head at the absurdity of the question. You are imagining all of this. It is nothing but a meditation. The question you should be asking is why: why have you populated your pilgrimage place with monsters?

Heart in your mouth, you press on, knowing from your oft-repeated round of the pommel’s map that you are close to the end of your journey. Then another noise in the darkness: this time a scratching, like great talons scraping through grit. A panting, like a mighty beast of the hunt. And this time it’s behind you.

Your finger stops dead at the labyrinth’s heart as you turn slowly on your heel. Your watering eyes widen as they meet two mighty amber ones, framing a great, tearing beak. The griffin opens its maw to let out a shriek, and you are screaming with it. Your eyes fly open.

You are sitting cross-legged on the cushioning moss, with your back against a weathered tombstone. The linen of your robes is drenched with cold sweat. Your right hand, white and shaking, is clenched around the green leather hilt of your sword. The pommel gleams up at you, and behind the graven labyrinth you see the hardened lines of your face.

You are ready.

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The Aldarembine Arming Sword

∴ A Living Vow∴

Meet me in the bower
Where May breeze lifts the blossoms
And scatters them like blessings
Over our inclined heads;
Orchestra anthophila
Tuning honeyed instruments,
A chaos of creation,
And stillness in its midst.
Meet me in the bower
Where willows glow green-golden
In subtle growing splendour
Of a sunset yet to come,
And ivy leaves caress them,
Fervent with devotion,
Creeping into every crack
In worn and weathered bark.
Meet me in the bower
Over the steadfast anvil,
Wreathed in summer’s garlands
And rooted in the earth,
And raise to me the weapon:
Its blade a beaten, brilliant leaf
Of Askr and of Embla,
Crowned with braided splendour,
Alive with writhen flame.

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The Tourney Longsword

∴ A Glorious Day∴

The chatter of the waiting crowd hits you like honeyed wine as you dance back and forth in the shade of the stable stall. It is a glorious day – bright with bunting, ripe with the scent of sweetmeats and the taste of dust churned up by horses’ hooves. And it is yours for the taking.

Brimming with nervous energy, you shrug your shoulders and shake out your hands, warming yourself up for the oncoming fight. It may well be your first tournament, but you intend to show like a veteran. For months you have been preparing for this moment, training for six hours every day, keenly practicing your cuts and parries, and your sweeping bow to the Lord and his Lady.

For this will be the day that they know your name, the day that they see you at last – not a second son of a parochial lordling, but a knight worthy of their retinue! Worthy, perhaps, of their daughter’s hand. You peep out over the stall door to see her sitting atop the podium in a gown of summer gold, her hands moving excitedly as she shares some story with her ladies.

A blast of trumpet fanfare brings you sharply to your senses, and a squire throws open the door, gesturing for you to step forward. Taking a deep breath, you draw your longsword and burst forth to rapturous applause. Your eyes scan the crowd, taking in the beaming faces, the fine garb, the flurry of clapping hands. Then they fly to the stall door on the other side of the ring, and your stomach churns.

Stepping through the swinging door is a giant of a man, fully armoured and bedecked in blue and yellow plumes. His sword is nearly the same height again, its particoloured grip bright between gauntleted hands. For a moment you dare to think that the weight of such a sword might stand in your favour, but as you watch it arc through the air in a graceful cut, your hopes are dashed.

You stare dumbfounded at the mighty apparition, your mind reeling, until a second trumpet sounds, and that great blade swings up once more to face you.

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The Hikariyami Rapier

∴ A Transient Peace∴

The garden is awash with moonlight, like a sea of silver mist, rushing over ornamental bridges before you, flooding every tangle of flowers and cluster of blossoms, casting a light that is both soft and stark on the small beauties that you might otherwise have missed.

This is a time outside of time, you think, pausing to admire a cluster of delicate bell flowers trembling beneath the moon’s benign indifferent gaze. It is not true night, when darkness serves only to obscure, nor does it hold the bold certainty of dawn. Rather, it is a liminal space that drifts between the two, perhaps lasting only seconds, perhaps lasting an eternity.

To your family, asleep in their beds, this time does not exist at all. It is only you, sleepless and driven by duty, drifting through the watercolour world that the moon has painted for you.

There is a peace in that, in the brief and brittle solitude that you share with the moon and the flowers. A silence broken only by the paper-thin whisper of warm breeze in the blossom-laden boughs as a confetti of petals crosses your path.

And then it is gone. That wordless, transient feeling that the moment was written for you. Another enters the garden as if summoned by the wind, striding purposively from behind the temple, silk robes flowing in the moonlight, slippered feet silent on the stone. They pause on the other side of the wooden bridge, waiting wordlessly.

With a deep sigh you turn on your heel to face them, giving a short, sharp bow before slipping your hand into the welcoming hold of your rapier hilt.

The time for peace is over.

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The Vicissitude Rapier

∴ A Wind of Change∴

A milky sunrise seeps over the grey-green hills, not proclaiming the new day so much as mumbling it. The first swifts flit to greet it from beneath the crenelations, streaks of sudden motion across the narrow window slit. From your perch on the deep stone sill you let out a long yawn. 

The gentle scuff of wool against steel has been the only thing keeping you awake, your leaden head bobbing toward your chest with each pass of the cloth.

“You’re going to wear that thing away if you keep polishing it,” your companion remarks from his post by the door.

“Gives me something to do,” you grunt, turning the gleaming rapier over in your hands. The sleepy morning light plays off the polished steel, picking out the engraved curls of the cup, the deep fuller of the blade. You smile, satisfied by this, at least.

“Light little thing, isn’t it?” your comrade goads. “You sure it’ll stand up to what’s coming?”

You slip from the sill in response, your legs protesting at their unexpected use. Flicking the sword out before you, you whip it through the air in a series of tight, precise cuts, recalling the darting swifts at the window.

“I reckon it’ll do,” you mutter, stepping out of stance and slumping against the wall.

Your companion gives a low whistle. “Wouldn’t like to be tickled by that feather, that’s for sure.”

The pair of you lapse back into an uneasy silence as the unwelcome day continues to brighten the stone chamber. Your vigil has been long, and the news you are awaiting rife with anxieties of its own. Better to be silent than to speculate, you reckon. There’ll be time enough for that on the other side.

Just as you are reaching for your cleaning cloth again, the studded door rattles, as if shaking off its slumber. Your comrade leaps nearly out of his skin, his hand flying to his hilt, and a squeak in his voice as he demands, “Who goes there?”

“I am come to summon you,” a voice replies. The door slides open to reveal a harried-looking guard bearing dark circles under his eyes and the crest of your lord on his breast. “It is time.”

“Then the king is dead?” you ask.

The messenger nods, and your stomach twists with thrill and fear at once.

You sheath your sword with a flick, and as if you have sliced the air itself, a cool breeze whispers through the window.

“Change is coming,” your companion murmurs with a hopeful smile.

“Change is here,” you reply.

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