The Charon Rapier

∴ A Forward Payment ∴

The chanting deepens, a low murmur of mourning bouncing softly against the glassy black vaults. You scrunch your eyes shut, wishing you could clamp your black-gloved hands over your ears to block out the gentle insistence of sorrow. You daren’t, though. Your father would see, and would think you weak.

You dart a glance at the stately, somber man, and as if irritated by your very gaze, he flickers his hawkish features toward you. He inclines his head only slightly – first toward you, and then in the direction of the black stone dais. You know what he commands.

At once your legs become jelly, the little step up to the platform a suddenly insurmountable feat. The echoing chants of mourning surge nauseatingly in your skull, underscored by your racing pulse. Your grip tightens around the wreath you carry, and you wish you could crumble it to dust between your fingers and undo the death that it must mark.

On the dais lies your father’s personal guard. A great grinning hero of a man, with as many stories as he had scars. When your father admonished you it was Aster who would escort you from the hall, full of little jokes to ease the sting. When you struggled with swordcraft, he would practice with you in the orange gardens.

With swaying steps you cross the seeming chasm between the safety of the crowd and the strangeness of the funeral pyre. Aster lies atop it in his splendid black armour, no trace of his usual smile on the stillness of his face. His dark hair streams around his shoulders, dotted with little white blossoms, and atop him lies his sword.

You remember holding that slender rapier some years ago, curiously touching your fingertips to each of the four silver discs that marked the rings and quillons of its guard.

“Do you know what those are?” he asked.

You shook your head.

“Those are my coins for the ferryman.”

You scrunched your nose with confusion, peering again at the polished carvings.

“Where I come from, we cross a river when we die, to reach the Eternal Lands. There’s an old ferryman who’ll take you across if you can pay. I like to keep them on me, just in case.”

“Why are your coins on your sword, then, and not in your pocket?” you asked him, still staring wide-eyed at the flowing black bars of the guard.

“Why do you think, child?” Aster chuckled, tousling your hair. “I need to be sure I have them on me when I die. And I intend to go down with my sword in my hand.” Continue reading

The Bespangled Rapier

∴ A Glittering Guard ∴

It is a perfectly starry night, of the sort where the longer you look the more diamonds blossom against the darkness of your peripheral vision. You could stare into the sky’s stillness for hours, but for the fact that it is suddenly fractured by a burst of brilliant gold.

Gasps and nervous laughter ring around the garden as the guests turn their attention to the heavens. Another bejeweled explosion, and the firework display is begun, with stars of blue, red and green dancing to join their siblings in the sky.

You lift your glass of sweet madeira to toast the unexpected splendour. Your host has outdone himself tonight.

Your companion cannot help but laugh at your whimsical gesture, and you turn with a smile to take her in. She is stunning, still swathed in the dark silks of mourning, yet the sprays of small diamonds at her throat and ears catch the light like the stars themselves.

You are about to tell her as much, when a familiar and none-too-welcome face leers over her shoulder. 

Your face falls.

“Chauncey,” you intone, permitting a curt bob of your head.

The interloper looks you up and down as he might do horse or hunting hound.

“Well if it’s not the duellist that would be Duke,” he laughs. “Come now my lady, surely you can do better than this.”

“Chauncey, don’t,” your companion pronounces, her voice low and dangerous.

“I mean no offence,” he chuckles, “It’s just that I can’t help but wonder what your dear late father would think if he knew you’d turned down my fortunes for this threadbare fop?”

With a sudden rush of red madeira your hand is at your hip. With a snarl you draw your rapier, and its swirling grip is the black of the sky, bespangled with a thousand diamonds. Continue reading

The Serpenscor Rapier


∴ The Mouth of the Beast ∴

It is with some alarm that you watch the last crack of light on the valley floor give way to evening shadow. Though it is still daylight, the sun sinks early behind the imposing horseshoe mountains, their shadow closing over you like a titanic door.

You screw up your face and carry on picking through shale and scree like your father taught you long ago. The practicality fills your mind for a moment and you are glad, lifting your feet and setting them down again in such a way that the stones don’t start to slide.

Your eyes are fixed on your feet, and on the fragmented ground beneath them. You do not glance up at the narrowing neck of the valley before you, the gateway to the round arena where the dragon waits.

You shouldn’t be here. You know it in your twisting, heaving gut. You told the priest as much, when he came to your cottage with the sword. You are no dragon slayer. You have barely a year’s training, and that was only with your father and brothers. Why you instead of them?

You regret the thought as soon as it enters your mind. You would not wish this fate on anyone. Fate, that’s what they called it. They reminded you of the time when, as a girl, you rushed to the altar and gazed up at the long, lithe rapier placed upon it. How you announced before the congregation that when you grew up, you would wield that sword.

The overexcited chattering of a child, you argued. Not a divine augury. For what child doesn’t want a dragon-slaying sword? But the priest insisted – the sword had chosen you. And now that the dragon had returned, it was time to use it.

You pause now at the bottom of the scree slope, the backs of your thighs singing from hours of careful stance, and draw the sword. It is nothing like the one you practiced with. Where that one was heavy, pulling you off balance with the blade, this one is fleet, rotating around its centre, responding to your wishes before they’re fully formed.

Where that one was raw and rustic, befitting your father’s station, this one is princely, masterfully forged. A whirlpool spiral graces the guard, while the grip takes the form of a carved spiral, wrapped in gleaming wire.

Lastly, and with some hesitance, you trace the curve of the knuckle guard all the way to the carving at its tip. The sweep of the guard becomes the graceful throat of a dragon, its maw gaping wide. You gulp. Yet spilling from the dragon’s open mouth is not flame, but a carved steel heart. 

“The heart of a dragon,” you whisper, as if wishing its properties upon yourself. Brushing your fingers over the motif, you sheathe the sword and look up at the narrowing path before you.

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The Rubaurum Rapier

∴ A Lordling’s Ransom ∴

The floor of the stable is hard, cold and dirty. You know you must look absurd here in your armour of red and gold, a gem amidst the dung. That’s what the man must be thinking as he watches you struggle, a half-smile toying at the hard edges of his mouth.

Again you pull against the splintering beam with your bounds, hoping to fray the rope that holds your hands, or better yet, break the beam and watch the whole rotting roof fall in around you. In the ensuing commotion, you could probably make a break for it.

Your uncle said you oughtn’t go. He said you were too young and too untested to see battle at the bridge. But your noble notions got the better of you: you could hardly let men serve under your banner without being willing to bleed yourself.

And bleed you did: great spatters of crimson against the golden stubble of the cornfields. It was not the blow that unhorsed you, but the dead swoon you fell into at the sight of the damage.

When you came to, you were here. Gagged and bound. Desperate. Defiant. Doomed. Your life in the hands of some lowborn traitor, no doubt imagining the tales to be told of him as he turns your rapier in his rough hands.

You clench you teeth about the foul-tasting gag to see the sword handled so. It was a gift from your father, its elegant grip in the colours of your crest. The colour of blood against shorn stalks of corn. Your captor smiles – for real this time – as the golden inner of the cup glints in the evening sun. Then, as if arriving at a decision, he crosses the space between you.

With a surprisingly deft cut, he severs your bindings with the blade, and you immediately wrench the rough, dirty cloth from your mouth.

“What is it you want?” you demand, only a slight tremor to your voice. “Return me to my men, and I will see you paid handsomely. Gold. Land. Hell, a title. I have an estate in the Fenlands…”

The peasant waits patiently until you run out of offers.

“I’ll take the sword,” he says, flicking it through the air with a whistle.

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The Wayfarer Rapier

∴ A Minor Inconvenience ∴

With the carefully conditioned shuffle of the pious, you hobble over the cobbles toward the city gate. You can smell the capital’s telltale mix of piss and entrails from here – and you have never been so glad to breathe it in. It’s been a long journey and an unpleasant one, mired in rain and mud and ill-spilled blood, and now it is at an end.

“Name?” the guard asks indolently as you find shelter from the drizzle beneath the gate’s stone arch.

“Brother Placido,” you respond, allowing a beneficent smile to crease the corners of your eyes.  In the last town you were Brother Symeon. The one before that, Brother Donizo.

The guard barely glances at you. “What’s your business?” he drawls by rote.

“I come to complete my pilgrimage,” you reply, holding out your hands at your side to display a road-worn cloak and knotted rope belt.

The guard sweeps his stupefied gaze over your humble visage and waves you through the gate, making a mark on a piece of parchment. You sweep a low bow and continue your steady progress into the capital.

“‘Ere!” a cry comes from behind you. You wince. “What’s that under your cloak then?”

You paste a smile to your face and turn back to the guard, pulling aside your cloak to reveal the rapier.

“Only my faithful companion,” you explain, patting the black scallop hilt. “For personal protection, you see. The road can be unkind to wayfarers like myself – and the Lord helps those who help themselves.”

“I don’t much like the look of that,” the guard grumbles. “How long’s the blade on it?”

“As long as it needs to be,” you reply through your teeth, patience wearing thin.

Only it says ‘ere you’re not supposed to carry a blade longer than a yard and ‘alf a quarter.”

“Is that so?” you ask, drawing the sword from its sheath with a flourish. “And are you going to come over here and measure it?” You fall easily into a defensive stance, facing the paling guard.

“What kind of Christian are you anyway, threatening folks like that?” he mutters, hand sliding to hilt of his own sword.

“Oh you mistake me,” you laugh. “I said I was on a pilgrimage. I never mentioned Christ.”

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