The Crownless Longsword

 

∴ A Blade Renewed ∴

Always you dream in fragments. Glimmering white-blue splinters of steel against a field of dark cloth, a shattered pattern that your keen smith’s eye can tell was once a fuller. A blade, then. And a fine one, at that.

You wonder how it came to be so broken, shards fine enough to slip into a pocket. Surely the blow that rendered it so was not that of a mortal knight.

In your dream you peer closer at pieces as fine and as myriad as stained glass, and see fire reflected in them. Two flames writhe in the steel, one red and one white.

“Narsil,” you breathe, recalling the Quenya word for red and white flame. The sword of the Dúnedain. And as you speak, the fragments rise, moving before your eyes into a new form.

Ghostly threads of red and white knit the pieces together, the blade broad, straight and stately. A slender crossguard weaves itself into being, the ends flaring out into rounded segments. The handle is darkness and light, half of black leather and half of bright steel, and the pommel sits atop it like a crown, pierced with an upside-down tear.

You wake with a start in the soot-black forge. You need no wizard to interpret the dream. A new king is rising – and you have work to do.

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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 Drow Longsword

 

∴ A Nebulous Magic ∴

You choke back a cry as the pointed toe of your boot catches a piece of benighted debris, almost sending you to the ground. You don’t know why, but it seems wrong to curse here. Wrong to make any noise at all.

You’ll just have to let your eyes attune. You know the dangers of foraging on a moonless night, but when else would the ingredients you seek be so potent? And so you take it one step at a time, squinting at the faint lines of the path, willing them sharper.

In rebellion your eyes play tricks: a crumbled pillar looks for a moment like a looming figure. The swarming shadows at the corners of your vision send a shiver beneath your cloak, though you know that they’re not there.

Suddenly, a light appears before you – and this, you know, is real. A glowing orb of unnerving blood red, seemingly hovering some feet off the ground. Within its dull red glow, swirls twist and shift organically, like tendrils of mist in a crystal ball. You move toward the visage like a moth to a flame, knowing the danger even as you do so.

You see the figure then. Tall and angular, impassive and imperious in stance, skin somehow cold-hued even in the orb’s rosy light. You realise, then, that the sphere is not suspended in mid-air, but gracing the top of the dark elf’s staff. Beneath its glow you can make out a haft of twisted steel wire meeting dark-dyed leather.

A fellow mage, then. You sigh in slight relief, tracing the sign of your order in the air. The silvery marks are quickly subsumed by the moonless dark. The mage’s face does not move, but her pale hands do, quickly sweeping the staff up and outward into a combative stance.

It is then that you realise your second mistake: the beautiful blood-red orb was no jewel adorning a mage’s rod, but the pommel of a sword. A sword that’s now pointing directly at you.

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The Hessian Longsword

∴ A Listless Repose ∴

The trees whisper with raindrops, deluging the dark earth: that rich, reeking blackness that floods your senses as if you were already buried in it.

Water collects in the hem of your hood and trickles cold into your eyes. You stop for a second to rub at them, then hurry on. You do not know these woods well enough to travel them by night, but you have a feeling you will find your destination one way or another.

The clearing is still when you come to it. Even the raindrops, by now almost a comfort, seem muffled and muted. The tree is there at the centre, just as you dreamed it, like a body contorted in agony atop a mass of twisted roots.

And there, as you expected in your gut, is the sword. Its sinuous, writhing blade is half-plunged into the black soil, and from a distance it could be a simple grave marker, shaped like a cross. But you know better.

You know the leathern scales of the sword’s black grip, the talons that tease at its crossguard. You know the open maw of the serpent pommel, all fangs and brazen tongue. You know how it feels as it slices the air, unerringly meeting its mark.

As your palm brushes against the serpent’s head, a new sound fills the forest: a distant drumbeat, not of raindrops, but hooves.

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