The Chalice Rapier

∴ A Cup Overflowing ∴

You kneel before the altar, the rail before you smoothed by centuries of supplicant hands, the unforgiving flagstones pressing against your knees. Staring down at your own callused fingers, you try to clear your mind of earthly things – but to no avail.

You cannot help but replay the last duel over and over, analysing each feint and flurry, barely suppressing a smile as you recall the frantic dance, the playful balance of energies. The thing was, though, he almost had you. Were it not for a startled and scruffy parry, which sent your opponent’s blade plunging into the black dish of your guard rather than your chest, your duelling days would be over.

“The blood of Christ.”

You snap your eyes upward, reveries interrupted. The priest stands before you, patient and inscrutable, the chalice proffered in his vein-lined hand. With a nod of reverence you reach for the sacred vessel, noting the scalloped rim, the subtle petal-like segments. Confound it! Even this – the blood of Christ himself – cannot fail to remind you of the sword.

You choke back the thick, sweet wine, and pull yourself to your feet. It is not this cup that will bring you salvation. Not today. Turning on your heel, you half-run for the door, oblivious to the wide-eyed stares of queuing penitents.

You have drilling to do.

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The Agalia Sword

∴ A Splendid Sorority ∴

Pale moonlight is all that illuminates the crumbling mosaic beneath your bare feet, but you know its design by heart. The snaking black patterns around the folly floor, and the three figures entwined at its centre: the Graces. Thalia and Euphrosina lounging to each side of the circle, and within their embrace, Agalia. Three sister goddesses, bringers of beauty and joy.

You never had a sister. Not one who lived long, anyway. As a girl, you liked to make-believe – to lay an extra place at the table, and insist that your mother serve the invisible other. Agalia, you called her, bringing to mind the tumbling hair and gleaming eyes on the folly floor. Bright, beautiful Agalia. But as with all make-believe, you grew out of such things when the war came. You stood then beside your brothers, sword in hand, every inch a woman grown.

You’ve not turned your mind to the Graces for a long time now. Gods know, there’s so little grace about. Beauty? Splendour? Brightness? What use are they in times of war? Better to be hard; to stick to the shadows. Yet something called you here, to the remains of the folly where you used to play – and you cannot help but find comfort in the once-loved image. Something almost like sorority. The slender, brilliant hand of a sister, reaching for yours across the ether.

With a sigh you draw the sword from your side, its laurel adornments sparkling in the half-light. The long metallic fingers of the guard cup your own in their silvery grasp – comforting, or leading you on into the unknown? A sister would do both, you think.

Smiling you fall into guard, moving at first clumsily through the cuts your brothers taught you. Perhaps, you muse, as you focus on finding fluidity, a little elegance is due.

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The Ashvin Swords

∴ A Protective Pairing ∴

They were always a strange spectacle, those splendid youths fencing on the riverbank. They were there every week, like clockwork – truly, like clockwork – feinting and lunging in near-silence as fine ladies on their afternoon strolls ogled behind lace fans.

It was not so much the appearance of the young men which drew people’s stares, though that was remarkable in itself. The two were unmistakably twins – from their like height and willowy build, to the neat plumes of copper hair tied at the napes of their necks, to the identical smiles on their angular faces when they drew back their odd wire masks.

No, it was not their like appearance, so much the identical way in which they moved. Each was always a step ahead of the other, long blades a maelstrom of silvery movement between the two dancing figures, yet somehow never touching. So rare, in fact, was a clash of steel on steel, that heads would turn across the meadow, keen to see which stately brother had gained the advantage. Otherwise their fight was ever one of slipping and ceding, neither blade ever quite where it was expected to be.

And the blades! Those fine swords, as same and as slender as the twins themselves, bright copper gleaming at their grips beneath certain steely shells.

Nobody knew where they came from, those brothers, or where they went once their fight was done. But if any passerby had once been unnerved by their presence, their ceaseless play, then that feeling had given way through sheer familiarity to a strange sort of reassurance. They were a fixture of our little town, as much as the weeping willows where lovers met, or the austere steeples across the water. They had become emblems – and in some way protectors – of the stately strangeness which marked us.

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The Dokkalfar Set

∴ An Unusual Customer∴

You turn the rapier over in your hand, marvelling at how the light plays off the serpentine blade like a cold steel flame. Steadying it on one white-gloved finger, you check its balance, sucking breath through your teeth in surprised admiration. It is a beautiful piece: the gem-like pommel and quillons, the almost aggressive elegance of its curves, the glimmering facets of its onyx-black guard. And a dagger to match!

As you go to pick up the main gauche, you are interrupted by a gentle cough. You turn to find the smith’s apprentice hovering behind you, a look of consternation lingering behind his polite facade.

“I am afraid that this set was made on special commission, your Honour. Made for a rather… particular client.”

“Come now,” you smile, turning the rapier in your hand. “How many years have I been your master’s patron now? He knows I take a special interest in his more unusual pieces. Surely we can work out an arrangement. Go on – name a price.”

“I can assure you it’s more than my master’s job is worth to cross this customer,” the apprentice responds.

“Alright then,” you laugh, “who do I have to fight for them?

You are surprised to see something like fear flashing behind the young man’s eyes. Annoyance you might expect. Temptation, certainly, or at least a battle between conscience and commerce. But this is something else – as if his own blood were on the line.

You are about to speak again when the door behind the apprentice opens with a jarring jingle of bells. You fight to retain composure as you take in the figure who enters – and yet your face must betray some of your shock. Fine of figure and dusky-grey of complexion, the newcomer moves toward you with discomforting grace. Her coat and breeches are unadorned, yet perfectly fitted, as fine as any courtly garb.

She eyes the extravagant rapier in your hand, the decadent dagger on the counter beside you. A dangerous smile spreads from her wine-red lips up the length of her knife-edge cheekbones, to the tips of her pointed ears.

“Good,” the elf murmurs, “good. You know I hate to be kept waiting.”

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The Elytra Sword and Dagger

∴ A Solid Defense ∴

Late summer. Long grass waving, dried and waxen in the sun; downy heads tickling the backs of your legs as you run across the meadow; a stream of seeds taking flight in your wake. It’s days like these that make you never want to return to the city – to the vomit-splashed cobbles and oppressive, leaning towers. To the purpose and the pressure to prove yourself, the constant critique of your master, the endless drills and duels. What wouldn’t you give, in this moment, to leave it all behind and stay here beside the jingling brook, trade your rapier for a sickle, and till the fields beside your brothers?

And yet, as you let your knees crumple beneath you, tumbling against the cushioning grass to watch the clouds above, a streak of red catches your eye against the flaxen gold. You raise your head, resting your elbows on the dry ground, and watch as a solitary ladybird makes its slow, solemn pilgrimage to the tip of a straw-hued stalk. You marvel at its graceless yet gravity-defying determination, tiny legs at work beneath the hard, polished shield of its wing cases.

As you watch, you cannot help but recall another gleaming shell: the steel dish of a rapier guard, steadfast about your hand, granting you assurance as you line up your opportunity. You recall how it flashed in the lamplight as you lunged, twisting your wrist just slightly, your opponent’s counterstrike slipping from the beetle-like shell as your blade found its mark.

With a wry chuckle, you pull yourself back to your feet. So this is love, you think. You can’t live with the sword, and you can’t live without it. There is truly no escape – nor, truly, do you want one. Winding your way back to the farm, you pause to cut a switch of ash from the bramble-bound hedgerow, brandishing it as a make-shift blade. Your master will be pleased to know you practiced.

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