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 Ferrara Broadsword

∴ A Contested Name ∴

You push through the marketplace briskly, ignoring the calls of the merchants and the chatter of the women-folk. A high, thin sound rises above the hubbub and draws you to the place of its origin. It is the ring of hammer against steel, and a sure sign that the blacksmith is back at work.

“Where’s my sword then, you gillie-wet-foot?” you bellow as you push through the low wooden doorway. You rub your eyes against the thick, dirty smoke that fills the room, then stop in your tracks. The fellow at the anvil is not the barrel-chested blacksmith you left your blade with a month ago.

Swarthy and wiry, with curling black hair pulled back in a queue, the man is clearly no Scot. Nor does he seem interested in your sudden appearance and demand, still consumed by his work with chisel and burin.

“Where’s the smith?” you demand.

At this he glances up.

“I am he,” he replies, with a hint of an accent. Italian, you wager, or Spanish.

“What happened to the other fellow? Old Watt? I left my sword with him for fettling and he shut up shop with not so much as a word!”

The foreigner only shrugs before turning his attention back to the piece on the anvil.

“Look now you scurrilous beggar,” you cry, “I’m in this town on King James’s business, and I can’t very well complete that business without my sword.”

At this the man gives you a curious look.

“I sympathise,” he pronounces, definitely Italian, “for I too was sent here by the King. However, you have twice insulted my good name, and honour demands a duel.”

He takes the broadsword from the anvil and holds it out to you. It is a thing of beauty, its basket hand-carved with lace-like piercings and scalloped edges. Dumbfounded, you can only wrap your hand around the spiralling brown grip as the slighted metalworker moves round to engage you, deftly drawing a second sword from the rack beside him.

He falls into measure, and with a stiff bow you begin to fence. He is good, light on his feet yet authoritative in his cuts and blows. You flit back and forth across the smoke-black smithy, the sword light and reactive in your hand. You find it able to parry cut after forceful horizontal cut, but the Italian shows no sign of tiring, and you fear that your resolve will falter first.

The foreigner bears in hard, and you move to grab his basket with your off hand. However as you do so, he steps lightly to the side, voiding your grapple and taking advantage of your outreached arm to land a light, stinging cut across it. Red blossoms across the linen of your sleeve.

Your opponent steps back with another bow, satisfied by first blood. Relief floods your senses, mingling with a slight nausea.

“Good God man,” you say with a shake of your head, “If you forge anywhere near as well as you fight, then your presence here is a blessing. What was your name?”

The Italian only smiles, taking the sword from your hand and tilting the blade so that its inscription flashes red in the light of the forge. Continue reading

The Wyntuna Longsword

∴ A Murderous Chase ∴

The valley winds winter-stark and lovely below you: a maze of dry-stone walls, rough with lichen. Wind-bleached grasses lap at them like waves against harbour walls. The glowering slate sky is mirrored in the winding River Eden, a steely horseshoe meander amidst the green-grey grass.

Were you to pause, you could take the familiar view in from your precarious precipice path. But all you can do now is run. Breathless and red-faced, you run with your pulse outpacing your steps, hands full of bundled-up skirts to speed your way.

The bandit lopes after you with a stream of stumbling curses. It is clear he doesn’t know this land, and you use the fact to your advantage, leap-frogging styles and loping over hidden ditches. Still, his pace is longer, and you can feel him gaining ground.

Scrambling over a low stone wall, you note some slabs displaced – a crumbling concave in an otherwise uniform crest. A glint catches your eye between the loose stones. Something buried. Or something half dug-up.

Letting impulse guide you, you throw yourself down behind the wall, scrabbling between fallen stones with chapped, raw hands. Your fingers brush cold steel, and your heart thrills to think you’ve found a spade or a bill – something you might use as a weapon.

Desperately you claw at the stones still holding your treasure fast. Fingernails tear and knuckles split, worn through by the rough rocks, but you manage to get a hand around the strange metal bar and pull.

Suddenly the bandit is upon you, leering down from the other side of the wall. Your heart sinks as he reaches for the sword at his hip, yet you can’t give up now. With all your remaining strength, you heave.

With a sound like a giant’s sigh, the wall gives way, stones shifting over stones to land at your feet. You stand taken aback amidst the tumult with a longsword in your bloodied hands. To your surprise and confusion, you are holding it by the broad triangular blade, its dark green handle and gleaming orb of a pommel extended skywards.

The bandit is surprised too, reeling back in a moment of uncertainty. Unthinking, unable to wait, you raise the sword up by the blade with both hands, bringing the smooth-polished pommel down with a crack against the brigand’s skull.

He slumps over the wall, a look of sheer bewilderment frozen across his craggy features. Taking only a moment to reposition your hands around the sword’s emerald grip, you turn away and run. Continue reading

The Search For Excalibur: Chapter I

∴ The Borderline of History ∴

The Balefire was always fuelled by stories. Stories of knights-errant and wily rogues; the kinds of stories that filled our shelves and hearts as children, and which inspire us still as we forge and fence. The great swords of legend are never far from our minds when we design bespoke weapons – and in our flights of fancy, we suppose our own work to be a link in the centuries-spanning chain of tales upon sword-wielding tales.

Ask anyone with a passing interest in history to name a famous sword, and one name will find its way forth: Excalibur. The legend of King Arthur has seen a constant cycle of rebirth since it was first recorded in the 11th Century – from Monmouth’s pseudohistories, to Tennyson’s poetic epic, to a stream of star-studded film adaptations. This ancient tale of a great leader and defender, replete with mysterious wizards, dangerous lovers, and magical swords, is often considered the rosetta stone of all English fantasy, drawing older traditions together into one cohesive thread, which has been woven into almost every sword-and-sorcery tale since.

Continue reading