The Meander Backsword


∴ A Mulish Heroism ∴

It was St. Jacob’s Day when we took the town. That feast to venerate our patron of pharmacists and healers. Lord knows we could have done with one.

The heat was stifling – one of those close, grey midsummer days that had us sweating beneath our armour even before the battle broke out. By the time the cannon fire started men were swooning from the heat, let alone the fear.

Well they might have feared though: for twelve hours the cannon roared, pikemen and swordsmen pushing through clouds of acrid smoke across the rampier. When I had imagined the Inferno as a boy, fingers pressed together in fervent bedside prayer, was this not the image I had dwelt on? The heat, the dust, the unearthly thud of cannon fire? The screams of dying men?

And there, in the midst of this abyssmal pastiche, was the soldier in the red mandillion. He stood out like a banner against curls of obscuring grey smoke, the slashed sleeves of that crimson coat billowing as he raised his sword.

And what a sword it was, with a great curved turkey blade, wide of stature and thin of stock. It caught what little sun pierced through the low cloud and glinted like a distant beacon. 

To see that sword fall was like seeing our last glimmer of hope snuffed out. Before I knew what came over me, I had abandoned my post on the rampier, pushing forward into the breach, desperate to reach that wounded hero before the enemy did.

I was not the only one to notice. Another fellow and I snatched at his red-adorned shoulders, heaving his weight up between us and dragging his feet through the dust toward the town as the line closed back behind us.

“It’s nothing,” the man in the red coat roared as we pulled him into the relative shelter of the gate. “I’ve taken worse wounds in the alehouse! Let me be, man – let me back at them!”

The rich red of his coat belied the sticky wetness that marked my hand as I pulled it away from him. Blood. And more than a man ought to lose.

“Your wounds are too severe, my Lord,” I cried over the rumble of cannon. “We’ll find you shelter in one of these houses.”

At this he laughed, an ugly, mirthless laugh, punctuated with a cough of blood-speckled phlegm.

“Fool,” he retorted, wiping the blood from his mouth with a crimson sleeve. “I had rather be killed ten times in the breach than once in some damned house.” Continue reading

The Ingela Tessack

∴ A Sweeping Glance ∴

You’re woken by shouts from a sea-rocked slumber. Startled, you wrench back the draped curtain and clamber from your warm bed into still-damp boots. Haphazardly lacing your doublet, you steal a glance through the leaded glass of your cabin. Barely discernible through a thick stripe of fog, you glimpse the small yet unmistakable shadow of a ship.

Slinging a baldric over your shoulder, you throw open the small double doors and storm up the steps to the deck. Privateers, the mate says, he’s certain. You snatch the telescope from his hand to see the three-tailed flag for yourself. The crest is indistinct, but the colours unmistakable. You curse.

You swing the telescope downward, momentarily dizzied, to make out what you can of the crew. Gradually, the colours inhabiting the orb of your vision take form. The dark cylinders of guns, behind them a flurry of activity. One figure alone stands still, poised at the forecastle, a flash of slender steel to the right.

You can’t begin to make out the details, but somehow you know. Something in the posture, the intense unmoving brooding. You know, without waiting to see, that the blade held almost casually over the figure’s shoulder is long, curved and unforgiving, ending in a blackened scallop shell. You know that the hand beneath the shell is small, pale, adorned with a puckered scar and a garnet ring.

“It’s her,” you whisper.

Continue reading