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 Jack of Diamonds Dagger

∴ A Diamond in the Rough ∴

The auburn-haired rogue sways out of the inn, a smile twisting his handsome face and a heavy velvet pouch in his hand. The game was good tonight; the players gullible. There’s still money to be made from that thick-headed sellsword, he reckons. Might be time for a new locale though. The inn keeper’s daughter is onto him.

He presses the pouch into a pocket and pulls on perfumed gloves. The jasmine scent still lingers on the kidskin, a welcome respite from the stink of the stables.

You boy,” he calls to the youth skulking in the stalls. “Bring my grey gelding.”

The surly lad glances up, and the gambler’s surprised to see it’s not a lad after all. The tousle-haired girl shrugs and unhitches the horse from its post. A fine mount, the rogue thinks to himself. He won it in the capital. Diced a guard down to his last penny, and took the horse as a mercy. 

The stable girl hands him the reins, eyes glittering as she takes in his fine clothes, the jasmine scent. She hovers until he flicks a coin from his pocket. After all, he’s feeling generous. 

I’ll be wanting more than that, I reckon.” Her tone is even, undaunted.

The rogue is surprised by her insolence. The boy who used to tend the horses here couldn’t thank him enough for a tip.

“How’s this for more?” he asks, making to cuff the urchin around the ear. “Go on, away with you.”

But the perfumed glove never connects with the dirt-rimed ear. Instead the girl slips neatly to one side, and draws a dagger from her back.

The rogue steps back, a sinking feeling in his stomach. He recognises the weapon instantly, for its sister hangs at his side. Like his own knife, it has an ovoid pommel and a copper-braided grip gleaming beneath the black bars of its sail. But where his guard takes the shape of a heart, the girl’s bears a single black diamond.

Where in seven hells did you get that?” he growls, low, dangerous.

The girl only laughs before cutting the reins of the horse and vaulting onto its back.

The auburn-haired rogue watches, dumbfounded, as his prize gelding diminishes into dark distance. Suddenly clasping at his pocket, he is ashamed but not at all surprised to find the velvet pouch missing.

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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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The Wafian Longsword

∴ A Broken Dream ∴

A bowl of cold oats by the remnants of the fire, and birdsong in bare trees. You work at a bit of husk lodged between two teeth with your tongue, and squint into the ash and ember. You dreamed again, you think.

It was the same dream as before – the garden, all verdant trees and luscious blossom. Nothing like the war-torn tracks you’ve been travelling these past weeks. In the dream you walked amongst the orchard like you knew it. An unmarked path drawing you round and inward, spiralling slowly toward its centre. And at that centre, another tree: broader, older, its trunk gnarled and whorling, spirals reaching up into a tumbling mass of green.

As you stepped toward it, you glimpsed a single fruit hanging from a low-reaching bough as if offered: something like a pear, but its skin was a deep and shimmering blue, like a rippling sea at midnight. Despite all the tales you’d ever been told of trees and fruits and temptors, you found yourself reaching for it. 

But as your fingers brushed the skin, the fairy fruit began to twist and writhe, its shape at once laced with curling lines. You snatched your hand back, repulsed, and turned away from the tree – just in time to see the gleaming blade flying toward your throat.

You woke with a start, and a bad taste in your mouth.

Your scowling recollection is interrupted by someone entering the fire circle. You glance up to see a tall, bony man with a beard and shaven head, his face heavily marked with the lines of age and war. His left eye is covered with a strip of fraying fabric, and his shoulders wrapped in a roughspun cloak.

“Mind if I sit a while?” he asks.

You grunt your assent. The stranger takes a bench across from you, and begins to clean his sword. You barely spare him a glance, but a glance is enough. The sword is immediately familiar in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. A long, broad blade, tapering to a fierce point. An elaborately carved guard, gleaming blue in the early light. It’s that colour. Those chiselled waves. They remind you of something.

And then the scarred man moves his hand from the pommel to the brown leather grip, revealing a deep blue pear-shape, carved with writhing lines. The fairy fruit!

You fly to your feet, heart hammering, uncertain what it means. The scarred man swings his lonely eye slowly from the honed blade to your horrified reaction, and a terrible smile lights his lined face.

“So you’re the one who’s to wield her,” he says.

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The Lysander Arming Sword

∴ An Unsmooth Course ∴

In the silence of the glade the two men circle, broad-bladed swords in their right hands and round leather bucklers in their left.

You shrink away, vision obscured by disarrayed dark tresses. You cannot stand to look, cannot bear to see red blood shed in the same green woods where once you wooed Lysander. The birds sang then, as they dare not now.

And for what? So he could spurn your honest affection and dumbly duel for the love of another? A cat, he called you! A vile burr, and a serpent! With the same lips that only hours ago had sung your praises. You know not what sorcery solicited such a change, but you know you cannot stand to see him kill or be killed in its thrall.

Your legs move before the decision is firm in your mind. You feel Helena’s hand on your shoulder, eager to pull you back from the fray, but you are already away, striding with cold anger toward the fool who would fight in her name and not yours.

Both men stumble back as you stand between them, and Lysander makes to sheath his sword. Though he hates you, he says, he will not harm you so. You hand is quicker, though, twisting the leathern grip from his grasp. And all at once the sword is yours.

The round, black pommel sits snugly in your hand, subtle carvings writ against the curve of your palm. Surprised at its wieldiness, you hold the weapon out in front of you so that the angled blade offers some protection, and circle on your heel. Eyes widen in the faces of the men who so roundly mocked you only moments ago.

If none will fight for your honour, you will have to do it yourself.

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