∴ A Meeting of Three∴
Scowling into your empty cup, you skip the pewter bit between your fingers and wait. A meeting of three, the note said, in its cryptic, spidery scrawl. Three for beginning, middle and end. Mind, body, spirit. Maiden, mother, crone. They would know you, the letter said, by the coin.
You toss the metal disc into the air and catch it, slamming it down on the rough wooden table. A cast image glares back at you: an equilateral triangle, bisected by a sword. A cult? A guild? A secret order?
The second was discovered soon enough – sitting up at the bar, coin peeping conspicuously from between scattered change – though she was none the wiser as to the meaning of the note. She sits across from you now, and you can tell your impatience irks her.
Just as you make up your mind to leave, the door opens. You freeze as a figure pushes through the portico and shakes the snow from his hood.
The man may be remarkable, but it’s his companion your eye is drawn to: a slender greatsword, almost as tall as its wielder, with three fullers lining its blade and, at its centre, two blackened bars reaching down from the cross to create a protective triangle.
And there is no doubt.
∴ A Royal Bearing∴
Your name sounds unfamiliar as it rings along the long, marble gallery, bedecked with gilt frames and austere painted eyes. How strange to hear it here, plain and pedestrian alongside ancient titles. A small cough from the footman prompts you to step through the crest-bedecked doors.
There is no end to the finery that greets you – polished plates and chandeliers, jade figurines from lands beyond your dreams. Dukes and generals commingling in their garb of gold and blue, upturned cuffs and sweeping plumes. And the swords! Swinging at their hips, all solid gold pommels and plaited wire grips.
Transfixed you gaze from blade to gilded blade – until your eyes come to rest on a peculiar incarnation: similar in its stately shape, this sword is blackened where others are polished, its long blade slender and more wieldy. You can’t shake the feeling that where other guests wear dress swords, this is a weapon worn with intent.
Suddenly aware that you’re being watched, you raise your eyes slowly to meet the steel grey glare of the sword’s owner.
∴ A Soldier’s Return∴
The parched grass is warm beneath your bare feet, just as you knew it would be. Leaving your leather boots by the roadside, you savour the sensation and venture deeper between the vines.
Each pleached row points toward the same horizon, a dozen dusty avenues reaching toward the declining sun and the dusk-drenched fortress. Low, square, yet somehow statuesque the structure stands semi-silhouetted, a smattering of almond trees tenaciously clinging to its sloping side.
On impulse you draw your sword. The wire-wrapped grip and faceted pommel slip into your palm like the hand of a lover, and the blackened bars provide as much protection as any fort. Its call has been the closest thing to home for all these years – and yet here you are. Back where you started.
With a bittersweet smile you raise the blade before you, and let it point your way home.
∴ A Kindred Calling ∴
“It’s time,” she says.
For years you’ve trained for this moment, but she’s been preparing far longer. For every kindness, a caution. For every peal of laughter, a pertinent lesson.
She is kneeling beside you now, placing the plain wooden casket on the silk-strewn divan. She gestures for you to open it, and you hesitate, willing the dawn dark longer.
She places her battle-lined hand over yours, and together you draw back the lid. The daggers lie like ivy and oak, distinct yet bound by their very nature. Enchanted, you trace the silvery spiralling grips, the blackened swooping guards.
“They’re beautiful,” you murmur.
“And fatal,” she replies.
∴ A Tongue of Flame ∴
Divorced from its source, the moonlight hangs heavy, yet somehow insubstantial. It is as if the entire cathedral is composed of blue-tinged light and shadow: the cool gloom of the pews, the patterns burned in brilliant white onto the tomb-strewn floor.
You glance up at the immense rose window filtering the light, all tapering triskeles in an endless round. Then your gaze is drawn downward, to the cloaked figure you knew would be waiting at the altar rail. You wonder what he prays for – victory? Or forgiveness?
The figure turns, heavy cowl falling away from his face, and you see that his hands were folded not in prayer, but around the hilt of a slender, serpentine sword.
In the dappled moonlight, the flamberge blade looks like a tongue of silver flame, alarming and otherworldly. Entranced, you move closer, hand fluttering toward your own hilt.
So consumed are you by the rapier’s cold fire, you don’t notice the dagger until it’s too late.