The Beastmarked Sword

 

∴ A Fateful Mark ∴

Blue and silver pennants whip in the wind as you process between gilded pavilions. You keep your eyes ahead, stepping to the beat of the drum, paying no heed to the calling and crowing of excited onlookers.

When you reach the carved wooden throne, you stop and take a deep breath, allowing your eyes to play for a moment over its writhen designs of serpents.

The silence is crisp and curious as the High Bard steps toward you, a smile in his creased and twinkling eyes, and an unsheathed sword in his veiny hands.

Solemnly you stare down at the weapon. You know it well from when it was your father’s. A broad triangular blade with two fullers merging into one, representing the twin rivers of your kingdom. The leather grip is the midnight blue of your house. And the pommel with its engraved serpent…

“Tell me, Highness, do you know the significance of the mark?” the High Bard asks.

“Of course I do,” you reply, surprised at the deviation from the words you have so often practiced. You reach out a finger to trace the chiselled beast, its jaws stretched open to bite at its own tail. “It is the mark of the dragon slayer. Whoever wields it is destined to kill a dragon. Just as my father did.”

“Dear child,” says the bard with a note of sadness, “it seems you were told only part of the prophecy. See how the serpent forms a circle, devouring itself?”

You nod with a gulp, your throat suddenly dry.

“It represents an eternal cycle of creation and destruction. Yes, your father slew the dragon. But you, my boy, are destined to bring it back.” Continue reading

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 Tulak Saber

 

∴ A Wanderer’s Weapon ∴

The soft glow of lantern light through the trees is a welcome luxury after a hard week’s camping. You cram your hand into the pocket of your battered leather coat and grunt. Coin enough for a bed.

As you step across the splintered threshold, warm conversation fades into curious silence. You stride up to the bar, taking in the waif behind it – barely more than a child.

“A room please,” you say, your voice cracking with a week’s disuse, “and a bath if you’ve water.” 

The girl’s eyes widen as she searches for the right words. You are all too aware of the blood that still spatters your face and headscarf, the ill-fitting breeches beneath your embroidered bodice and the sheathed blade at your side.

A stout man emerges from a low door, and looms protectively behind the girl. The landlord, you presume. You half-smile hopefully, taking care not to tug at the healing claw marks on your cheek.

“That’s quite the sword you’ve got there, Wanderer,” he rumbles, his arms folded tightly across his barrel chest. “Tell me, whose banner do you swing it under?”

You relinquish your attempt at a smile, instead placing a handful of coins on the bar.

“None, sir, for my code forbids it. My sword keeps me safe in the wilderness.”

It keeps him and his little daughter safe as well, you think, for all the thanks you get. You could tell him about the beast that no longer prowls this wood, or the bandits hastily dispatched – but you want no quarrel. Only rest.

The innkeeper scowls, weighing up his options. Your kind means trouble more often than not, but he could do with the coin. Business has been scarce with bandits on the road.

At last he jerks his head toward the staircase.

“Bara,” he grunts at the girl, “draw our guest a bath.”

You slip up the stairs behind Bara, who directs you to a musty straw mattress under the window. The girl watches you unshoulder your baldric, shifting from foot to foot in awkward silence.

At last she asks, “can I see it?”

You smile and draw the curved blade carefully, holding it out to her with two flat hands. She gapes at the elegant ring quillons, her pale fingers hovering over the octagonal pommel that marks your order.

“Have you ever fought a vodnik?” she asks.

“Vodniks and worse,” you say, giving in to a wonky grin.

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The Fibula Messer

 

∴ An Unfortunate Rogue ∴

It’s not often that you pass through this part of town, and the smell hasn’t got any sweeter. Normally you’d send a boy on any errands requiring passage through the East quarter, but today’s is a matter of absolute urgency.

You keep your eyes on your shoes, all too aware of their incongruous finery. You do this for two reasons: to avoid treading in human muck, and to keep from making eye contact with anyone who might take offence at it. You press on with a pace a little faster than walking, wishing neither to linger nor draw attention.

You are grateful for the reassuring sway of your knife at your side. Short-bladed and devoid of decoration, it is an honest companion in this renowned pit of thieves. You should not like to use it, but you hope the look is enough to deter any would-be assailants.

Even as you think the words, your steady progress is stalled by a sharp shout before you. Wincing, you raise your head to see a burly fellow blocking your way.

“I beg your pardon?” you inquire of him, mentally sizing him up.

“I said you’re not from around here,” he drawls. “If fancy folk like you are gonna be using our roads, I reckon I might have to start start taking a toll.” He laughs at his own joke, tugging a crude knife from his belt.

You grit your teeth, your hand moving over the bone-shaped pommel at your hip. You see your would-be robber’s eyes widen as you draw it with an elegant sweep and fall effortlessly into stance.

Once, just once, you think, you’d like to complete a simple errand without it descending into a scrap. Still, if it’s a fight the fellow wants, you’d best make it a good one.

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The Crownless Longsword

 

∴ A Blade Renewed ∴

Always you dream in fragments. Glimmering white-blue splinters of steel against a field of dark cloth, a shattered pattern that your keen smith’s eye can tell was once a fuller. A blade, then. And a fine one, at that.

You wonder how it came to be so broken, shards fine enough to slip into a pocket. Surely the blow that rendered it so was not that of a mortal knight.

In your dream you peer closer at pieces as fine and as myriad as stained glass, and see fire reflected in them. Two flames writhe in the steel, one red and one white.

“Narsil,” you breathe, recalling the Quenya word for red and white flame. The sword of the Dúnedain. And as you speak, the fragments rise, moving before your eyes into a new form.

Ghostly threads of red and white knit the pieces together, the blade broad, straight and stately. A slender crossguard weaves itself into being, the ends flaring out into rounded segments. The handle is darkness and light, half of black leather and half of bright steel, and the pommel sits atop it like a crown, pierced with an upside-down tear.

You wake with a start in the soot-black forge. You need no wizard to interpret the dream. A new king is rising – and you have work to do.

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