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 Hiberi Sword

∴ An Enlightening Entanglement ∴

With a sigh you sink down on the bank of the Ebro. It is late in the day, and shadows are settling in the green-velvet folds of the hills across the water. The air is sweet with fermenting reeds, seasoned with dust from the packed dirt road. Before you the river is wide and unwavering, its glassy green surface broken only by the occasional writhing carp.

This is where you come to consider the truth of the “true art”, once the clamour and clash of blades is over. You replay each bout in your mind, drawing across the floor, toying over the geometries of your play.

The fight must rise from reason, you remind yourself. It does not do to act out of passion or pride on the piste. Not in front of your master, at least – poised and pursed-lipped, the first to notice when a skillful dance gives way to irrational danger.

A susurrus of undergrowth rouses you from recollection, and you turn with a start to see the rangy form of your fencing partner emerge from the dry brush, a sword over each shoulder. In his right hand is his own weapon, slender and satin-polished. The other is yours, all spiralling steel wire and swelling black bars, which only minutes ago you threw onto the floor in frustration.

This the young man holds out to you with a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes, a silent invitation. In a moment you quell the shame the arises at the memory of your outburst, and accept the proffered sword. With a curt bow, the other falls into measure – and the dance begins again.

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The Drakamor Sidesword

∴ A Draconic Manoeuvre ∴

“Repel boarders,” you bellow, the command almost lost in the spume. Those men nearest you catch the message above the din of cannon and crashing waves, and relay it down the length of the deck.

By this point, there is barely any need: it is painfully obvious what must be done. The improbable black-painted galleon is swinging round, already drawing level with your deck. Its jeering crew grasp at brightly-painted rails, swords in hand, ready for attack.

And in the midst of them, their captain. He wears a dented breastplate over billowing silk sleeves, a knotted cloth about his neck. His beard and moustache, neatly trimmed, only serve to enhance the smugness of his expression. You know this man, at least by reputation. He is the Dragon, heralded a hero in his own country, yet reviled as a pirate on this coast.

You watch with a detached horror as the man vaults the narrowing strait between ships and draws his broad-bladed sword, cutting through midshipmen as if reaping the fields. He does not heed the men he fells, making straight for you, as you knew he would: the Dragon is known for a methodical man. He boards by the book.

Seeing the length of his flashing, fullered blade you sense an advantage, and draw your nimbler weapon from its sheath. You back away slowly between the mainmast and the mizzen, drawing him into closer quarters amongst the shroud of rigging, where the wheeling of that mighty blade might be encumbered.

And yet the dragon only smiles, raising the sword to the centre line as he continues his slow, almost leisurely march. With a shout you bring your own weapon against his, and at once realise your error: the pirate has no need of space for swinging cuts.

He has already taken the line, leaving you to dance desperately about it.

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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 Brachitella Rapier

∴ A Crossed Purpose ∴

The sounds of the house are different tonight. As you lay awake in your single bed, you tease out each quiet strand in your mind: the rhythmic drip from the gutter by the window. The scuffling of mice beneath the floorboards. Your mother’s muffled snore. And now, strange and familiar at once, a crescendo of rustling sheets as your brother turns in his sleep.

It has been months, almost a year, since you last shared this too-small room with him. He left in March with the promise of glory and a little pay put by, and returned this morning with hollow eyes. It’s only for a few days, he said. They’ll be marching again come Monday. He didn’t want to talk about the war. He didn’t want to talk about much. He retired early to bed.

Now he mutters as he rolls over, urgent nonsense and panicked whimpers. You pull the rough blanket over your head in an ill attempt to block out the sound, to block out the truth that all is not well, to block out the wild idea that already gathers pace within you.

At last with a sigh you stand, slip on your coat and breeches and – careful not to step on the creaking floorboard – make your way to the end of his bed. The sword is hanging from the footboard by a leather belt, subtle and simple and deadly. You slide your hand over its rough wire-wrapped grip and curl a finger around the thick, grooved ricasso. The black X of the guard glides forbiddingly over your fist as if in warning.

Rapier in hand, you cross the room in three tip-toed steps before sense has time to catch up with you. Your brother has seen enough of battle – now it’s your turn.

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