The Man and the Sword

There once was a swordsman that loved battle.

From a young age, when he’d been squired to a great knight, he’d always loved to fight. The thrill of besting others, the joy of swinging his sword. Though he was apprenticed to a knightly order he didn’t take vows in the end. Not for him the humility of protection, of serving. He longed only to travel the land, finding others to beat, fighting for whoever would pay him. And so he did.

Fair he was, with flowing golden locks that cascaded down his back like a cloak. His eyes were a piercing blue and his cheeks were smooth as a maidens, no weapon having cut them. But though his looks were unsullied by pain his hands told a different story, with calluses built up from the many duels and fights he had been in, small nicks and imperfections telling a more interesting story than his bland, perfect face. To look at his red lips was to see a man like any other, handsome but still usual. To look at his grip around the hilt of his sword was to see a master.

It was this sword that was his true love. A gift from his old master it was long and shone in the sun when he swung it. The hilt was wrapped leather, worn soft in his hands. He clasped it in his arms when asleep by campfires and in tents and at all other times it hung on his waist. It was the first thing he checked on in the morning and he last thing his sleepy fingers found at night. His highest calling was its care and every day he oiled it, sharpened it and checked it for rust. And in return it never failed him. It swept light and easy in his hand, it cut through armour and the people beneath it. They were a partnership, one being in the moment of combat.

The man knew it as well. Whenever someone praised him on a spectacular win in a duel or cursed him with blood bubbling on their lips his reply was always the same. The same thing he whispered to the weapon every time he won. “Thank the sword.”

And yet, when one day the sword replied to him, he was surprised.

He had been ambushed by five men when walking the border between two kingdoms and surrounded by five corpses he wiped the last of the blood off his blade. “Thank you,” he said before sheathing it.

You’re welcome came the reply, then the hilt hit the scabbard.

The swordsman stopped and looked around, wondering if someone was playing a trick or if he had imagined it. But the words didn’t come again and he was not an imaginative man. Shaking his head he walked on.

The next time the sword spoke to him was after his next fight, in an arena surrounded by baying spectators, on blood soaked sand. He had just disarmed his opponent and was walking back to his corner. “Thank you,” he said to the sword as he slid it away.

You’re welcome.

The voice in his mind was a whisper in the wind, barely heard above the cheers and cries. He looked round briefly then discarded the thought. There was so much noise you could hear whatever you wanted in it.

The third time, however, was in the dead of night. An assassin, a dismissal from a noble that was disappointed there were some problems that a good sword hand couldn’t fix, came upon him as he was sleeping. He was barely able to snatch up the sword when the woman was upon him, blade flashing in the night. Even upon his back though the man was fast and soon his assailant was dead, a snarl forever etched upon her face. Shaking, the swordsman looked at his blade, stained with the reality that he’d survived yet again. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.

You’re welcome the sword replied and this time there could be no doubt that the words had come from the weapon.

Many would panic at this, some would question it. The man just accepted it. He talked to his sword, why shouldn’t it talk back? He continued on as he had been, finding fights and thanking his sword afterwards. And always the reply You’re welcome would come. Occasionally he would joke to others that he had the politest weapon in the realm.

But though outwardly nothing changed the connection between the man and the sword got stronger. He began to sense her when doing drills and practising moves, an awareness observing what he was doing and his surroundings. And eventually the sword began to say other things.

Behind you came in the middle of a fight and the swordsman was able to turn and deflect an attack coming at his back. Thrust it suggested to win a duel. His grip is weak and the opponent’s sword went flying.

And by the day the sword asked a question it wasn’t a surprise.

By this time the sword’s voice had become familiar, a woman’s voice, high and clear like a bell. It rang inside his head as he worked at his morning drills.

Why do you fight?

“I like to win,” he replied.

Why?

“I like the way it makes me feel. It proves that I’m stronger, faster, better than everyone else.” He grinned. “That I have the better sword.”

That seemed to satisfy the sword for she spoke no more that day. But the next time he drew her she asked more questions, about his form and the way that he swung her. Then the next and the next. The questions continued and began to gradually change, from fighting and winning, to about the world around them, to the swordsman himself. He always answered honestly and the questions began to change him. Did he need to have killed that person, when he could have spared them? Was this really what he wanted for the rest of his life? But no matter what he did or where he went, she was right there beside him, asking questions and making him laugh with her comments.

He began to love her, not only as a weapon but as a person. And she loved him back.

“Would that you were a woman,” the swordsman said to her as they lay beside each other one night. “Then we could truly be together.”

Are we not together now? asked the sword.

“Your edges are sharp and can cut me.”

I’m a sword. That’s what we do.

“But wouldn’t it be good to not be like that? If you were a woman I could hold you.”

You hold me now.

“Not in that way.”

There was silence for a moment. It might be nice to be a woman, the sword said at last. But then you wouldn’t have a sword.

“I’d have you. And that would be more than enough.”

And no more was said that night.

There lived in the west at that time a wizard who was said to be able to do many miraculous things. He lived in a lighthouse on a hill, surrounded by forest. The swordman heard of him and went to ask if he could build a body for his sword. The wizard listened, running a hand through his thinning brown hair. Eventually he admitted that it was possible.

“But this will not come cheaply,” the wizard told them.

“I will pay whatever price is necessary,” the swordsman said. “I have money, in gold and precious stones. Whatever you need, I will acquire it.”

“It’s not you who will pay, for it’s not you who has to change. I have to ask your sword. Please pass her to me.”

Slowly the swordman unbuckled his scabbard and handed it over. The wizard drew and addressed the blade.

“Are you sure you want me to make you a body, a different form to this one?”

I want my wielder to be happy, the sword replied. This is what he wants.

The wizard sighed, because that was not what he had asked but he had gotten his answer anyway.

“Very well, I will try making you a body. But you must understand, this is no small thing. It will take more than my magic. However word has reached me of a blacksmith in the east who makes things from copper that are filled with summer’s heat. I will write to him and ask him to make you a heart.”

“Thank you,” the swordsman said, taking back his sword. “Thank you for everything.”

The wizard sent out a raven with a diagram explaining what he needed and a bag of rubies and then he got to work.

He started with the sheath, for that was where the sword would be inserted to make the body her own. Most sheaths are wood but this one was metal, set with squares of copper. Around this he built the rest. With the scabbard as a backbone he curved ribs of ivory into a chest that he wrapped in steel. The sword would have no need of food so it was thin, more for form than function. The lungs were a pair of bellows, necessary only for the sword to talk, the airway the only tube that rose though the sweeping arch of her neck.

He added arms and legs, strong ones, and then began on the finer details. Her hair was soft threads of silk, her muscles stretched rubber. For the nerves he spun out gold into delicate wire and wove it through the body, a mesh that connected everything from the diamond eyes to the hinged toes.

Finally his raven came back baring the heart and he slotted it reverently in. It went in with a perfect click and life seemed to breath through the body as it started beating. The skin softened, the eyes flickered behind thin lids. It was a marvel, a dainty, sleeping, metal princess that just needed to kiss of steel to awaken it.

It was one of his finest creations but not one he felt good about.

The time came for the sword to gain her new body. The swordsman hung back nervously while the wizard stood over his creation, letting the sword feel it. He could feel her trepidation, her worries.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” the wizard asked her finally. “This is no small thing to change your mind over later, for once you go into this sheath you can never come out again.”

I’m sure, the sword whispered. I want to do this.

“Alright,” said the wizard and slotted her in.

For the first time in its existence the sword knew pain. It had nerves and those nerves were on fire, connections screaming down their lengths. Light, which had always played off her edges like water, was suddenly stabbing into her eyes. The drums in her head were reverberating with the screams that were coming out of her mouth as she drowned in sensations.

Then her hands, she had hands, were caught in a grip she recognised. Firm, careful, with calluses that they had made together. She clung to them and slowly the world around her began to make sense. And for the first time she really saw her wielder. The deep blue eyes that she now saw as beautiful. The soft mouth that seemed confident. And the hands, that anchored her to reality.

“Hello,” she said to him with a smile on her face. He grinned back. “I’m Serafina.”

“Hi Serafina. I’m Eric.”

Hand in hand they left the wizard’s tower, the dawn bronzing the leaves in the forest. A new day before them, a new future, for them to make of it what they wanted. Serafina was unsteady on her feet but Eric was careful, making sure she didn’t trip. He wouldn’t be her crutch for long. In time and distance she would dance.

They didn’t get far, however, when out of the trees stepped an ambush. Five men, all armed with clubs made of broken tree branches. Each had lost a relative or friend to the swordmen and they had banded together to seek revenge. It was just luck that they’d caught up with him here. Their good, his bad.

“I don’t want any trouble,” Eric said to them as they barred his path. “I have given up violence.”

“But that won’t bring back the ones that you killed,” they said to him.

“I have a new purpose in life, being in love.”

“But we loved the ones who died,” came the reply. “We are their retribution.”

It was clear that there would be no talking out of this and Eric had never been as good with his tongue as his weapon. Bravely he stepped forward.

But a swordsman without a sword is just a man and he was one man against five.

And there was nothing Serafina could do. This body was still strange to her and she could barely walk. For once in her life she wasn’t ready for a fight. Without Eric’s support all she could do was fall to her knees and watch.

When the wizard found her later she was knelt by the body of her fallen wielder, her copper heart full enough to burst. He brought her back to his tower, where it is said that that she lives still. And where else would she go? She had lost her only place in the world.