The Lysander Arming Sword

∴ An Unsmooth Course ∴

In the silence of the glade the two men circle, broad-bladed swords in their right hands and round leather bucklers in their left.

You shrink away, vision obscured by disarrayed dark tresses. You cannot stand to look, cannot bear to see red blood shed in the same green woods where once you wooed Lysander. The birds sang then, as they dare not now.

And for what? So he could spurn your honest affection and dumbly duel for the love of another? A cat, he called you! A vile burr, and a serpent! With the same lips that only hours ago had sung your praises. You know not what sorcery solicited such a change, but you know you cannot stand to see him kill or be killed in its thrall.

Your legs move before the decision is firm in your mind. You feel Helena’s hand on your shoulder, eager to pull you back from the fray, but you are already away, striding with cold anger toward the fool who would fight in her name and not yours.

Both men stumble back as you stand between them, and Lysander makes to sheath his sword. Though he hates you, he says, he will not harm you so. You hand is quicker, though, twisting the leathern grip from his grasp. And all at once the sword is yours.

The round, black pommel sits snugly in your hand, subtle carvings writ against the curve of your palm. Surprised at its wieldiness, you hold the weapon out in front of you so that the angled blade offers some protection, and circle on your heel. Eyes widen in the faces of the men who so roundly mocked you only moments ago.

If none will fight for your honour, you will have to do it yourself.

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The Osmic Sword

∴ An Eightfold Force∴

The door falls closed behind you, not with the sepulchral thud you might expect from such a portal, but with barely a whisper. It is as if the empty, unfinished cathedral sucks the sound from everything – the door, your footsteps, the words you might have uttered before the sheer vastness of the space took them away.

From here, the unadorned altar could be miles away, all perspective lost in the face of the forest of arches in between. Moon-pale and massive, they reach their arms into the sky, drawing your eyes unerringly with them, into a canopy of vaults and voussoirs. Lost in the woods you stand, stunned by the miracle of the place, disquieted by its terrible greatness.

As you fail to take it in, your fingers play anxiously at the hilt of your sheathed sword, keen for something solid in this dreamlike space. You count in your head: the eight edges of the blackened pommel. The eight facets of the straight, stern guard. The eight corners of the mottled green grip. It is a habit you picked up on your pilgrimage, adrift in the unknown. It grounds you somehow – the repetition, perhaps – your litany of eight.

Emboldened, you step into the emptiness, still counting silently. And as you walk, you notice: eight sides to the fluted columns. Eight eight-faceted ribs forming a star on the ceiling. Eight eight-petalled rosettes in the round window’s tracery.

One, two, three, four. The numbers mark the rhythm of your steps; describe the world you walk though; bind you to it somehow. Five, six, seven, eight. They fall from your lips with barely an echo, a prayer in themselves, your scattered breadcrumb trail in this strange, stone forest.

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The Braznaz Sword

∴ A Brazen Treasure∴

As daylight gives way to echoing dark and the swaying glow of your head torch, you fill your lungs with familiar, dank, iron-rich air and smile. The tomb is becoming a second home to you. Tracing one hand along the slime-rimed wall of the corridor, you take in the once-delicate sconces, now rusted almost beyond recognition. A pity, you think. You should have loved to see their original splendour.

As the thought crosses your mind, your fingers slide suddenly from slick stone into empty air. You stand still for a moment, heart pounding, then reach out again, turning your head to cast light into the void that you swear wasn’t there before. Not a doorway, you realise with some disappointment, but an inset niche, housing a rough stone block. And there, propped against it, almost casually, is the sword.

You cannot help but gasp, the sound bouncing down the corridor. You hadn’t expected anything like this. It is a beautiful specimen, short and shapely with a broad, grooved blade, an emerald green grip, and the crowning glory – a gleaming brass pommel. It’s a miracle it’s survived this long.

The thought sticks in your mind uncomfortably. You recall the misshapen and rust-thick sconces, undone by centuries of damp. An unbidden shiver takes your neck as you stoop to gaze again at the brilliant brass pommel, almost untouched by time.

As you stare transfixed into the unlikely brazen facets, a flicker of movement is reflected in them. Someone – or something – is behind you.

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The Knave Arming Sword

∴ A Knave of Hearts ∴

The night air is honeysuckle-sweet as you lower yourself from the window. Your toes quickly find purchase in the wooden diamonds of the trellis, and with a last roguish smile, you begin your descent.

Summer is a time for lovers, you think to yourself as you find your balance, body pressed flat to the wall. The air is laden with heady scent, the very earth is ripe with pleasure – it would almost be a sin not to. And as to the order you’re sworn to? The holy purpose? The vows of chastity? Well, you’ve never heard your lady complaining about your little discrepancies.

The trick is, you muse, as you slip down a side street toward the barracks, not to get caught. To slip through the night unseen, with the subtlety of a…

You stop short. A tall, broad-shouldered man stands in your path. The gleam in his eye is matched by that of moonlight on drawn steel. And he is staring straight at you. Almost unthinking, your hand flies to your sword, the broad disc pommel pressing reassuringly into your palm as a broadly tapering blade sweeps free of its sheath.

“The things I do for honour,” you murmur, falling into stance.

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The Albis Arming Sword

∴ A Treasure Relinquished ∴

The Elbe is calm, broad and still, its green-grey surface broken only by the leaping of a lone fish – just as you remember from the long summer evenings of childhood. Your head is a tumult of spinning swords and eddying questions from which you can’t push free – but the Elbe is calm.

It will do you good, you think, to spend a little time away from the crowds, here in the quiet market town where you grew up, watching your father fish from the banks and hiding behind your mother’s skirts as she called her wares in the market. Perhaps here you can remember who you were before the war, before the battle, before the waters ran muddy-red.

You draw your sword from its sheath and smile. It is a sad smile, full of fond remembrance. This broad, tapering blade was the one companion you truly relied on throughout it all. The pommel is worn smooth where it pressed into your palm, the crossguard scarred from strikes that did not find their mark. It is a good sword – a great one, even – but it is not the sword of a titleless trader in a quiet market town.

With a hand as unsteady as the river is still, you raise the sword over the glassy depths and release its blood-red grip for the last time. The sword hits the water with a cacophonous splash, and then is gone. The Elbe is calm once more. Continue reading