The Cutwater Sidesword


∴ A Cutting Wind ∴

The wind tugs the galley door open even as your hand twists the knob, flinging it back on its hinges hard enough to smash the wooden shutters. You rub at your wrenched shoulder before gritting your teeth and stepping out into the squall.

No rain yet, no stinging sleet, but wind fierce enough to threaten your balance with every step, leaving you with little recourse but to creep along the railing like a ship’s rat, feeling your way.

As you reach the ship’s stately prow you fancy that the figurehead – a handsome wooden serpent – is likewise wincing against the high winds. Hand over hand you shift your weight closer toward it, til the safety of the ship is at your back, and all that fills your vision is the proud snake and the wide, wild sea.

At once you are overcome by  the perilous dance of cutting prow and crashing wave. A giggle rises unbidden in your throat. On impulse you reach for your sword, leaning low against the wooden bowsprit to steady yourself. As you draw the handsome weapon, you note the curve of its blackened knuckleguard, like the barrel-chest of a ship. You laugh out loud and brandish the broad blade at the screaming sky. You have never felt so small, or so free. 

“Your Honour?” a call comes from behind you, half silenced by the wind’s wailing rush. You frown, and focus on the last shreds of your euphoria before they, too, blow away. You want to remember this. Remember the feeling.

“Your Honour,” the voice is closer now, as concerned as it is commanding, “Come down from there at once!”

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The Fainne Longsword


∴ A Circle Unbroken ∴

Though it is just past noon the clouds are close and confounding, making you reach for a lantern to light the strange, somber hall. You paced it out once, your property, then knelt to untie the cramping leather shoes from your calloused feet before pacing it out again. Forty strides – a fine hall, for a fine gentleman.

This thought brings a scoff of laughter to your lips; you let it echo through the empty space. Aye, they call you a lord now, for your service. Through the small, square windows that line the West wall you can see fallow fields, and sheep – all yours. Ladies are obliged to bob their pretty heads when they pass you in the street, instead of muttering about your barbarism.

Had any survived, your fellows would hardly recognise you. Your tight-corded legs are bound now in silk breeches, your red-gold hair trimmed back from your eyes in the English style. The scar, you think, with an unexpected wave of relief. They would know you by the scar, sure as they remembered the battle you got it from. And the sword! Yes! The sword remains the same.

You draw it now, and take it in two hands, relishing the feel of that encircling wheel beneath battle-blistered palms. The length and breadth of the blade bely the speed with which the thing moves through a man. Aye, this is no landed lord’s sword. This is the sword of a fighting man. This is the sword of a Gael.

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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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