Season’s End

There once was a girl who was born of the storm.

Her name was Cirrus and she was daughter to the King of Storms. But that isn’t important. It was where her story started but it didn’t define it. In truth she remembered little of that time, just rage and pain and fear. The important moment, the first one that she remembered clearly, was when something broke through all the bluster and rage of her father like the sun through the clouds. The first thing that she remembered was a face, peaking in at her through a window in the tower she lived in.

This was the boy who didn’t fear the Storm King. He would come to visit whenever he could sneak away from his parents’ chores and goats. To begin with she tried desperately to ignore him. Her father was always angry when she spoke to the villagers who came to give him offerings and she desperately tried not to make him angry for he would punish her for all her faults, real and imagined. But the boy was persistent.

He began to appear more and more, making funny faces and trying to get her to laugh or talk to him. Though Cirrus kept trying to ignore him she found herself watching for his brown hair or blue eyes at the window, listening for his whistle. Eventually she gave in and they would occasionally play together. Only in her room, for she wasn’t allowed to leave the tower and didn’t want to risk her father finding out that she had made a friend.

She tried to keep him calm and happy, coming when he called and performing any chore he had for her. But some things are inevitable and she could not calm the storm’s anger. He needed to do that himself and he found blaming Cirrus easier.

Then one day she was curled in her bed, tears falling like raindrops from her eyes, her cheeks smarting from her father’s latest remonstrations. She wasn’t aware that the boy had picked that day to visit until he was sitting next to her, an arm awkwardly outstretched in the half-formed promise of a hug he wasn’t sure he should deliver.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

Without knowing what else to say she told him, “Because my father is angry. And when he’s angry he hits me.”

His face grew dark and Cirrus shrank back from him, scared that she had made him, her one friend, angry and that he would hit her. But his fury was not directed at her.

“Pack your clothes and whatever you don’t want to leave behind. I’m getting you out of here and taking you where he can’t hurt you ever again.”

“But that will just make him more angry!”

The boy smiled at her a crooked, half formed grin. “Then let him be angry at me. I can take it.”

The girl of storms packed mechanically, not believing that escape was possible. The Storm King would track them down and then she’d be in even more trouble. But she didn’t have the energy to fight and so she gathered her things and followed the boy out of the window and to the village below.

First he led her to a blacksmiths but it was closed up and dark. So he took her to a house instead, banging on the door and demanding to be let in. Cirrus followed behind, not paying much attention to her surroundings, still just going through the motions. She listened vaguely until she heard the boy say, “I need you to take her and go far away, where he can never find her again. Please.”

Then the reality of the situation finally began to settle in and she peaked around her friend at the people who would save her.

There were two women standing there. These were the mothers that Cirrus would come to love. One was big and expressive. She wore her bronze hair short and was always ready with a hug and a kind word. She was the mother of metal, called Eos or sometimes Kaolinite. The other was the mother of ice, Uki. Her hair was dark and she wore thick gloves on her hands. She was often withdrawn and quiet but when Cirrus needed her she was there and held her hand so tight. They were both bearers of cursed blades, one a dagger, one a sword, that they didn’t let out of their sight.

They all looked at each other then Uki glanced at Eos for a quick moment.

“We’ll look after her,” said the shorter one as the other nodded.

And like that she had a real family.

The boy went running after that, back to his family and out of her life, though not out of her thoughts. Eos sent a quick glance skating over the building before turning to Uki.

“I need to get some things from the smithy. Can you stay here for a while?”

Uki smiled coldly and showed her the bronze dagger. “He wouldn’t be the first elemental I’ve killed and I’d mourn him a lot less.”

“Take care.” With that Eos left and Uki started rummaging around, finding some rucksacks and filling it with food and other things. Cirrus stayed crouched by the fire, staring into the flickering flames and wondering when this dream would end. She was startled to feel a quick touch on her shoulder, gentle as a snowflake, and turned to see Uki standing there.

“Don’t worry,” was all she said. “You’re safe with us.”

And then the blacksmith return, packed a few more things and they were gone.

Across the plains, over hills and through forests they travelled, Uki stalking ahead, cold eyes searching out the path while Eos helped Cirrus along. They would hide from storm clouds, flinch from investigating breezes. Every night they’d huddle together, sharing Uki’s furs and Eos’ cloak, not willing to risk a fire that might draw attention. Cirrus would stare up at the sky, waiting for the thunder of approaching footsteps or the crack of a slap. But each day they would get up and start moving again, getting further and further away, and she began to hope.

Safety was a hole in the ground, the entrance to a tunnel that Cirrus would never have found on her own. Stepping into it was like being smothered in wool. A connection to the sky and weather that she’d never been aware of was abruptly cut off. She collapsed, gasping, but Mothers Metal and Ice sat with her, comforting her and waiting until she was strong enough to continue.

Then it was through tunnels, along passages lit only by the occasional lantern and otherwise by the glowing blades of the mothers. Through the labyrinth they strode, Eos in the lead this time and Uki holding her hand, until they came to a little green door. Kaolinite dithered in front of it, suddenly nervous, before knocking.

A small man opened the door, squinting up at them. His eyes were green and his hair a muddy brown. He was the same size as Cirrus and Uki and Kaolinite towered over him. “Hi Dad,” Mother Metal said awkwardly. “We needed to go where the storm couldn’t find us. Can we stay here for a while?”

There was a pause and Cirrus was afraid that all the travel would have been for nought. Showing up unexpectedly like this? She knew fathers and knew that a beating was what was expected. She flinched back when the knocker yelled but it was in delight, not anger.

“Of course, of course, come in!” he cried, seizing his daughter and guiding them inside to the fire.

And her family got a little bigger.

Grampa Kernowite dotted on her. She learned that Kaolinite, his daughter, had come to him as a teenager and that he’d never seen a child as young as her before. He would bring her little presents, interesting rocks and a few sweet treats that he found somewhere. She’d play with them in the flickering light of the fire, the sparkles in the rocks combining with the sugar in her mouth while the adults worked on expanding the home for all of them. Soon she had a room all to her own, a place of safety where she could hide away. And at first she did, spending days cowering in the quiet. Her mothers would bring her food and sit with her. Kaolinite would tell jokes while she ate and Uki would just sit in comfortable reassuring silence.

But every so often she would creep into the main room, where Grampa Kernowite would tell her stories, sometimes about the great legends of the knockers and sometimes, lovingly, teasingly, about the embarrassing things Kaolinite had done when she first lived with him. Those were her favourites, Kaolinite would squawk in fake outrage and swat at her father. Cirrus would find herself laughing, bell-like chuckles that filled the room with the smell of fresh spring rain. Slowly, like a plant growing, she began to spend more time outside. Her bedroom was always there when she needed it but she needed it less and less.

They stayed underground for years, growing in the dark and quiet. Cirrus grew taller, both inside and out. She grew confident, able to have a discussion or an argument without flinching, able to look people directly in the eye without feeling like it was a sin.

The first time she lost her temper felt like a failure. She found herself yelling at her family, her eyes flicking, her voice cracking like thunder, her hair stained a dark black. In that moment she saw herself as her father and her rage left her. Fleeing to her room she locked herself away in the dark, surrounded by self-hatred and recrimination.

It was Uki that came to her then, not Kaolinite like she would have expected. The two sat quietly for a while, getting used to each others’ presence and feeling out the situation. Then she embraced the cloud child, holding her close while she flurried with sobs.

“It isn’t wrong feeling emotions,” her mother eventually said to her. “It’s what you do with them. And while you blew and stormed you didn’t lash out. You are nothing like The Storm King.”

It was also Uki that started taking her on trips to the surface, letting her feel the weather, the sky, the wind and her connections to them. At first Cirrus was reluctant, worried that her father would find her, worried that this was another way she could be like him, but Mother Ice refused to listen to her. “The sky is a part of you,” she told her daughter. “Don’t cut yourself off out of fear.”

Cirrus might have complained more but being outside felt so good. It was like part of her soul was stretching out and connecting. So she said nothing and they’d make the journey outside regularly. Slowly she mastered her abilities. Going back underground was a pain but her family waiting for her there made it worth it.

And so, together, they persevered.

Until one day they got a message.

Deep underground they had been protected but above ground a harsh and dark winter had been raging with no ending in sight. Somehow a messenger found out where they were and came seeking Uki. He was wrapped in furs like she was but shed them as soon as he could. He and Mother Ice talked together for a while and then he went away.

That night they all gathered in the livingroom and Uki told them what had been told to her. Years ago a threat had arisen in the north and she had stopped it. Now it had returned, long before it was expected and her village had sought her out

“It’s my responsibility,” she told them. “I have to go.”

Kaolinite got up and embraced her, kissing her. “You don’t have to do this by yourself,” she told the other woman. “We’ll all go.”

And so, together, they prepared, some gathering and organising provisions, Kaolinite working on tools they’d need in her smithy. Grampa Kernowite helped them pack, made sure that they were all well provisioned and gave them big hugs. He and Kaolinite embraced for the longest, for they had been parted before and knew the pain it would bring. But they also had been reunited and knew that they would be again.

“We’ll be back,” Kaolinite promised. And then they left.

The going wasn’t easy. Snow lay thick on the ground and more joined it every day. However Cirrus found that she had some control over the weather and was able to ease their way. Uki was used to walking through snow and instructed them in the best way to do it. Together they made good progress.

But the further they went the more withdrawn Eos became. Her happy words became infrequent and she would spend hours just walking, not communicating with anyone, just staring haunted into the distance.

“We’re close, aren’t we?” Uki asked her one night. Eos grunted non-committedly, so the other woman continued. “We should go and see them. We have time and it would be good for you.”

Mother Metal looked at her wife with fear in her eyes. “But what if they drive me out again?”

“Then we will leave and think of them no longer. But you owe it to yourself to see if they’ve changed.”

Eos didn’t say anything else that night but the next day she took the lead and they headed in a slightly different direction.

By and by they came to a village. To Cirrus it looked identical to the others they’d passed through but Eos looked at it as if it was a dangerous beast, waiting to devour them. But Uki took her hand and she took a deep breath and led them through the scattered buildings to where a blacksmiths’ bordered on a house. She knocked on the door and after a while it opened.

The man looking back at them was clearly the blacksmith. He had the same general physique as Eos, with broad shoulders and thick, muscular arms. Life had carved deep lines into his face, beneath his brown hair and around brown eyes so like Mother Metal. He stared at Eos with shock for a moment, as another woman, his wife, came to see who was at the door.

“Eos,” the blacksmith breathed and then he threw himself at her in a hug. His wife joined them a moment later.

And her family got a little bigger.

They stayed there for a few days, healing and learning about one another anew. The weaver and the blacksmith were full of tearful apologies for how they had behaved, devastated that they had lost their daughter. Eos listened to these words and embraced them afterwards. They didn’t fix the past but it made it easier to face the future.

Sadly the winter waited for no man and, freshly provisioned and with hearts now full of good cheer, they left once again, promising to return.

They travel for almost a week before a flash of light cut through the night in front of them and they found themselves before a curious sight. A lighthouse, in the middle of a forest, the beam of it’s light swinging carefully through the darkness. They climbed the hill to its base together and knocked on the door.

The man who answered the door was a wizard according to Eos but he didn’t look like one to Cirrus. He wore a belt of tools and a leather apron instead of the robes that she would have thought and he had thinning brown hair instead of a glorious white mane and beard. But his eyes were kind when he greeted the travellers, beckoned them inside and made them comfortable.

“How can I help?” he asked while they drank from warm mugs of soup.

“You might not remember,” Eos began. “But many years ago you asked me to make you a heart.”

“Ah, the bronze worker,” the wizard replied. “You did excellent work.”

“Thank you. But now I’m here to ask you a favour. We must get to the far north as quickly as possible, to help stop this winter. Can you help?”

The wizard thought about it for a moment then smiled. “You’re in luck,” he said. “And right on time.”

They spent the rest of the night and the following day resting, enjoying being inside where it was warm and comfortable. Then that night he took them up to the top of the tower, where the beckoning light turned and flashed. They stood there, staring out into the darkness while the snow fell around them, thick white flakes that flashed in the light and then were gone. After a while Cirrus felt something approach through the air, something that felt like no cloud she’d ever encountered, too thick and solid.

It wasn’t a cloud and suddenly a ship was there, balanced impossibly on thin air. Details came sparingly with every flash of the light. One flash showed the sky blue hull, another the green sails, a third the name, The Emerald Queen, and the last the crew, dressed in long, blue coats and running about, getting ready to dock.

“This should get you north,” the wizard told the family.

“No, we can’t,” the captain of the ship said a little later. They were sitting together in the wizard’s bedroom while the rest of the crew were running up and down the stairs outside. “The wind is blowing from the north and we can’t sail against it. In this weather we might not even be able to leave. I’m seriously considering staying here until the winter is past.”

“This winter will never pass,” Uki told him. “Unless we get north.”

“I’m sorry,” the captain replied. “But we can’t get you there.”

The two glared at each other until Cirrus spoke up.

“I can.”

They both turned to look at her, surprised for she was quiet and rarely spoke. She inwardly quailed under their stares but kept talking. “I am the daughter of The Storm King. I can feed the wind into your sails if you will take us there.”

“It seems the easiest way to solve this problem,” the wizard said from where he’d been sitting quietly, watching the discussion. The captain stared at Cirrus with calculating eyes.

“If you can do what you say then we have a deal,” he finally said. “This winter is bad for business and we’ll all be for the better if you can stop it.”

And so they join the crew. The next day they went to board and saw the wizard standing on board talking to a man in a wheelchair and a woman made of metal. The woman considered them as they came on deck, her hair dyed the green of the sails, a sword sheathed at her waist while the hilt of another poked over her shoulder. On her left breast Mother Metal’s maker mark stood out prominently.

“Did you make her?” Cirrus asked her mother but the blacksmith shook her head.

“She made the heart that powers that body,” the wizard said. “Serafina came to me a sword that slotted into what you see before you. The mark appeared on its own over time.”

Serafina glared at Mother Metal in such a way that Mother Ice edged in front of her wife, one hand on the cursed dagger. Then, without a word she turned and stalked off. The man, who was a mechanic called Malcolm apologised. “She’s had a hard time of it and is not fond of her body,” he explained. “Just leave her alone.”

The rest of the packing went fine and the wizard said his goodbyes and left, casting off the ropes that bound The Emerald Queen to the lighthouse. The captain made a tour to ensure everything was shipshape then turned to the Cloud girl. “Shall we be off?”

Cirrus grabbed at the wind and bent it to her will. The prow turned to the north and, with a gust, they were away!

It was slow going. Cirrus could feed the sails but only if she stayed on deck. When she was too tired or cold they had to drop anchor while she went below decks to recover. Her mothers would spend time with her when they could, or the mechanic in the wheelchair would carve her wooden figurines but her most consistent companion was Serafina, the metal woman. She was constantly on deck, keeping watch, helping to furl and reef the sails, practising with her sword. But most of the time she walked the railing, her eyes ever outward.

“What are you looking out for?” Cirrus asked her one time while she was carefully threading wind into the sails.

“Sky pirates,” the sword said to her. She wasn’t sure whether that was a joke or not but spent the rest of the trip sending fearful looks to at the abyss beyond the ships’ railings.

Eventually, slower than they’d have liked but far, far quicker than if they’d walked, they came to the far north and the village that waited for them. The village whose name meant First Warning.

The ship didn’t stay long after they disembarked, let down on bosuns seats to the ground below. Once it was unloaded it turned south and was snatched away by the wind. Cirrus, Eos and Uki turned to see the villagers who came to greet them.

Most of them were welcoming and happy to see them but not the elders. They began lambasting Uki, right there in the ice and snow.

“You shouldn’t have left,” they said.

“I needed to,” she replied.

“We needed you here for when this happened again. We needed our Hero.”

“I would have wasted away here, torn by inner turmoil. There was no place for me here, waiting for something that could never have come.”

“But come it did,” they told her.

“I’m here to set things right,” she finished and would say no more.

That evening the sun set but it didn’t rise the next morning.

They set out into the cold and darkness. Eos had prepared for this, in her forge, and they clutched handwarmers deep in their pockets, strapped snow shoes to their feet and walked across the frozen plains, tied together and heading ever northward. Days past without notice, the dark making them meaningless. At night they huddled together in their tent, the spark of the fire the only light they would see. Every day was just like the last and nothing was different.

Until one day it was.

The glaciers rose before them like a slow wave, cresting the horizon and threatening to bury everything they knew. The ice walls looked eternal and unbreachable but Uki had beaten them before. It hadn’t been without cost but she had grown in ability and experience. And this time she wasn’t alone.

And so Uki made the climb but she did it with bronze climbing spikes that Eos had specially made. Only the tip was her special bronze and would sink in easily before the water froze around it. She did it with a rope around her waist, fastened to each spike she drove in and with her wife and daughter holding the other end. So when she did fall, near the top with the end in sight, her family was there to catch her.

First Eos then Cirrus came after her, carefully tying the rope on and half climbing, half being pulled up. They rested at the top, on the frozen sea where curls of waves lurked under the blanket of snow. Then they set off again, to the castle of ice that appeared in the distance.

“Almost there,” Uki muttered, almost to herself. She said it to be reassuring but it came out like a dark promise.

They crossed the sea, tripped and sliding but not falling, with the mocking call of the wind swirling around them. They reached the castle, a beautiful building made of ice. Uki said there was marble bones supporting it but if there was Cirrus couldn’t see them, just flawless prisms of green, purple and blue. Up the stairs they went and through the doors, following the wind. Uki took the lead, knew the way and they passed the frozen wonders of architecture like they weren’t there. The voice on the wind changed, turning from mocking laughter to tears.

Then they were in the throne room and the source of the winter, of all the hardship was before them.

Not on the throne but beside it, curled in a ball of white fur, hair and sadness. A little girl, sobbing her heart out.

Cirrus stared at the girl and saw herself, who she had once been, lost and alone and scared.

Her mothers’ stepped forward, Metal and Ice, different but the same.

“You have been causing these storms, this winter.” One said. It didn’t matter which, for they were both united in this.

“You have hurt people. You are hurt yourself.”

“But that doesn’t matter. We are here now. We are here for you.”

They both smiled and warm that had nothing to do with the seasons and everything to do with love filled the room. “We will take care of you, our daughter will teach you to control your powers.”

“You are safe. You are loved.”

“You won’t be alone any more.”

Cirrus looked down at the girl who would become her sister.

“Don’t worry,” Cirrus said. “We’re here for you now.”

The girl of ice got up from where she was crying on the floor and embraced the girl of storms. They held each other close, sharing the pain and reassurance. Slowly the women of metal and cold joined them, enfolding them in protection and love.

And their family got a little bigger.

The Searching Sword

Who am I? Wish I knew. But for the moment I’m going by Serafina.

I started life not as the woman you see before you but as a sword, a consciousness gradually awakening over time. I don’t know how common that is, a sword awakening. We’re not a chatty lot, the only time we talk is when we meet in combat. But then we sing.

I had a wielder back then, a man named Eric. He would talk to me and appreciate me, even when I couldn’t talk back. I grew to love him, his firm hand on my hilt and the sure way he swung me. And once I could communicate with him, he came to love me back.

I think.

Because suddenly he started talking about me having a body. A human one, not my sword self. I thought what we had was personal, two being working on concert but it somehow wasn’t enough for him. He wanted me to give that up, to stop being a sword, to become something else.

I wasn’t sure. I was happy as I was. But I also loved him. If that was what he wanted maybe changing myself wouldn’t be so bad.

I didn’t even understand how it would be possible but Eric was always capable at getting his way. There was a wizard at that time in the west. Eric heard about him and took me to him, asking him to make a body for me. I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings when I was a sword. I could feel anything that touched me and I could talk to my holder but that was it. So when I was suddenly handed to someone else and another voice talked to me it was a shock.

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

And I replied I want my wielder to be happy. This is what he wants.

With those words I sealed my fate.

The work on my body went quickly. Barely a month later I was again in the wizard’s hands, passing over my new vessel. I didn’t really have much of an opinion on it, who was I to judge a body when I’d never had one? One final time he asked me, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I’m sure, I told him, like a fool. I want to do this.

Then I was inserted and there was pain.

I don’t think humans realise just how much the world is. I had senses now and they were bombarded, all of them. There was smell first of all, a completely alien sensation telling me all about what was around me whether I wanted it to or not. I had a mouth and it was filled with copper. Unfocused light blazed through my eyes and thunder pounded through my ears. The silk of my clothing grated upon my skin and the table was rough and solid beneath me, gravity pressing me down into it.

And then something I recognised. A hand in mine, one I knew intimately. Eric.

I focused on that, letting it be my anchor. Slowly the confusion of the universe died down, became manageable. I was able to focus on him and see his face for the first time. It was handsome, I suppose, symmetrical and all that. But it wasn’t as important as his hand in mine.

He helped me to my feet and we went outside, gods, the light inside had been dim, and started down the hill. I could see that we’d been inside a lighthouse in the middle of a forest but I didn’t think to question it. I was too busy taking it all in, the colours of the trees, the sounds of the wind through the leaves. The five men with clubs who suddenly blocked our path.

My wielder had been an amazing swordsman, killing many people in duels or less dignified fights. But now he was without a sword, I was trapped inside this useless body, and the loved ones of some that he had killed had caught up with him.

He tried to talk his way out of it. It didn’t work.

I don’t want to talk about what happened next. I can barely remember it, just a blur of emotions, fear, pain, sorrow.

I came back to myself kneeling beside Eric’s still body as the wizard found me. He didn’t say anything. Just helped me to my feet and back to the lighthouse.

The wizard buried Eric where he fell, sheathing him in the earth. He would take me out to see him once a day and I’d just sit numbly beside the grave for hours at a time. Everything was too much, the sensations without and the emotions within. I was a doll, not needing any sustenance. I would probably have just sat slumped by the grave for the rest of time if not for the wizard.

He encouraged me to get up each day, to practise moving, to practise being. I still found walking hard and sensations still overwhelmed me but he helped me work on it. Apart from the time I spent by the grave he would talk to me, in low murmurs to begin with so I wouldn’t get over stimulated. He set me at a table and had me chop vegetables and cut meat for meals while he sat across from me and worked on other tasks. It helped with my dexterity and slowly I got better. The textures of the food was harder to get used to in some way, the sliminess of the meat, the rigidness of the carrot that echoed with a crack when it was cut. And yet slowly I began to notice it less, to dial down the loudness of the world. But every day was hard.

“Can I go back?” I asked the wizard at one point. “I just want to be a sword again.”

He sat down with me and, very gently, explained that my soul was now split between the sword in the sheath in my back and the rest of my body. He talked about co-efficients and balanced harmonies and a lot of other things I didn’t understand. All I got out of it was that I was trapped. This was who I was now.

I had to find something to motivate me and I went traditional. Revenge.

The day I decided to hunt down those that had killed Eric stays sharp in my mind. It wasn’t anything personal, though I’m sure it felt that way. But it gave me a reason to pick myself up whenever I fell.

It was also the day that I changed out of my clothes for the first time. I’d been wearing the same silken dress since I’d got this body and it was beginning to get in the way. It tugged and slid over my skin in uncomfortable ways, binding my legs if I moved wrong. The wizard dragged out some simple homespun clothes and apologised that he didn’t have anything finer.

“I have some blue dye,” he said. “I could pretty them up a bit.”

I hesitated. I didn’t really care about the clothes but it had given me an idea.

“My hair is made of silk,” I said to him. “Could you dye that blue instead?”

He looked at me. I’m not very good at reading body language but I’m fairly sure he was thinking it was a terrible idea. But then he smiled.

“Of course. Just let me get it set up.”

I hadn’t chosen anything about my body, not really. Not what I looked like or even if I wanted to be a woman. But I chose this. And, standing in front of a mirror in my new clothes and my sky blue hair, I felt just a little bit more comfortable in myself.

I worked hard and soon I was able to focus through the distractions and toddle about the lighthouse. I no longer needed the wizard to take me out to the grave but I also didn’t spend as much time there. I had a purpose and would not be distracted.

I learned to walk and then I learned to run. It wasn’t easy, I fell a lot and acquired some dents in my face from hateful roots. But I did it.

It wasn’t enough.

The wizard looked at me strangely when I asked for a sword but he didn’t ask questions. By then I was able to move easily, steady on my feet. I could run, skip, climb the stairs and I’d taken over cooking. But that wouldn’t do me any good when I found those murders. I needed to fight.

The first thing I learned was that swords are not naturally graceful. I suppose I was lucky. Eric was a master and in his hands I swam through the air. With me, my sword flopped like a stranded fish. It was heavy and unbalanced, wavering where it should have been steady. It was like trying to learn to walk again.

And just like then persistence was the key. I practised day after day, how to stand, how to hold it, how to attack. I was lucky, I suppose I had learned something from being wielded by Eric because there was a feeling of rightness when I did something correctly. It came rarely at first but I focused on it and it started coming more and more often until I could move and it would seem like my sword and I were one.

And every time I sheathed it I thanked it for it’s work. I didn’t know if it was like me and conscious but it never hurt to be polite.

It took a year and a half before I was happy with my movements and that I could properly complete my mission. Well I was confident I could kill the men when I found them. Finding them might be a problem, I am face blind and find it hard to tell humans apart, but I was sure I’d be able to do it. I had all the time in the world.

I was just getting ready to leave when the boy came.

To be more exact I was in the middle of leaving. I had learned long ago why the wizard lived in a lighthouse. It was a port for sky ships, some far-flung outpost of a trading empire where they could refuel or repair. They came on schedule and one night, when the latest one was due, I slipped out and away. It slept wrong to sneak away like a thief, especially after all the wizard had done for me, but I didn’t like the idea of saying goodbye.

The trees were closing in around me when the sky ship floated by overhead. As usual it appeared with a suddenness that was disconcerting but I had gotten used to it. Not everyone got the chance.

I heard a harsh whinny and then the shattering of branches and something crashed away, followed by a final sounding thump. Curious despite myself I want to investigate.

There lay a boy, collapsed like a marionette with it’s strings cut. I thought for a moment he could see me but that must have been the moonlight glittering on his eyeballs. There was no sign of the horse, it must have bolted, throwing off its rider. I stared at him for a while, thinking. No one would know I had been there. I could go off on my quest and leave him here. The wizard might find him in the morning or he could regain consciousness and walk there himself. There was nothing tying me here.

Eric wouldn’t have hesitated but I am not my old wielder.

I gathered him up and brought him back to the tower. I could always leave later.

The wizard fussed around him, asking me to put him in the bed that was left on the ground floor for visitors. I carefully laid him down then stepped back. It was a few hours before the boy woke up and I learned that no, he wouldn’t have walked here in the morning. He couldn’t walk at all. That’s why he had come, seeking help from the wizard.

The wizard offered to let him stay here while he made the boy a wheelchair while I thought over this revelation. He would have died, alone and unnoticed in the forest if I had followed my impulse and left. Just like Eric.

Then the wizard said my name and I looked up to see him beckoning me over. As I walked to the bed he told the boy, “She was the one who found you.”

The boy gaped up at me, gratitude that I didn’t deserve on his face, I think. “Th..thank you,” he stammered.

It was too much. I left.

The wizard found me a bit later, kneeling by Eric’s grave. “I know you were planning on leaving,” he started in his no nonsense manner. “And obviously I can’t stop you. But I’d like to ask you to stay for a bit. I might need help with the boy and you’re stronger than I am. Please?”

I thought about it, remembering that moment when I was just going to leave him there. To die.

“I’ll stay if he needs me,” I told the wizard. “But I don’t know what help I’ll be.”

He nodded and went back inside. I stayed where I was until the sun rose. Then I got up and went back inside.

The boy’s name turned out to be Malcolm. He was good at whittling, attentive while the wizard showed him how he was putting together his wheelchair and terrible at cooking. The first time he tried he filled the room with smoke and started a fire that I had to put out. After that I agreed to teach him what I knew and, like when I started, I put him to preparing vegetables.

I would stand cooking, watching his nimble hands cutting carrots or lean against the wall while he talked to me and carved wooden figurines. His hands were fascinating to me, always moving or busy, always expressive. He would pause what he was doing to make a joke or start carving extra carefully when he was angry. I was able to read him much better than anyone else. He almost reminded me of Eric. Not that they were anything alike really but I’d connected with him through his hands as well.

After a month the chair was completed and I started getting ready to once again leave. I thought that Malcolm would go home and there’d be nothing tying me here anymore. I still had my mission. I was going to avenge my wielder.

Then the wizard said that Malcolm still had to learn how to use the chair and, though he didn’t say it, that I had to stay. And I did. I had vowed, after all, to say as long as he needed me.

And I tried to ignore the little voice in my head, calling me a traitor for being so happy about that.

Working with Malcolm was hard. I decided to help train him, after all I’d also had to learn a new way of moving, but I wasn’t a particularly good teacher and he wasn’t a good student. He fell to the floor and I’d pick him up, again and again and again, until he’d get angry.

But he always apologised, which I wasn’t expecting, and used that anger to work twice as hard. Soon he was able to get himself in and out of the chair with ease and glide across the floor smoothly and without hesitation. One night I was watching him wheel around and I don’t know what came over me. But I stepped forward and asked, “Want to dance?”

He looked surprised to be asked but I stretched out my hand to him and he took it. His fingers were sure and covered in calluses, though in different places to Eric’s. Slowly I led him around, then back again. I twirled away and he followed. Slowly, without talking, the dance evolved.

I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed dancing with another person, moving in harmony with them. It wasn’t perfect, there was stumbling and missed directions, but it didn’t have to be. I felt a part of my soul unclench and happiness spread through me. Only as long as the dance, but that was enough.

Once we’d finished I looked at him, my eyes beaming, and said, “You can move beautifully.” Then I remembered what the dance signified. “Will you be leaving now?”

I saw the confusion in his eyes, the uncertainty. But before he could answer the wizard spoke. I hadn’t even realised that he was watching.

“I’ve been thinking about it and I’d like to show you how to convert a dwelling, to make it easier for you to move about. We could do up this tower so you could get upstairs. I think a maybe a lift…”

Malcolm spun in place and then shot forward, enfolding the other man in a tight hug. Over Malcolm’s head I could see the question in the wizard’s eyes. Would I stay too?

And it was then that I put aside my revenge.

We all stayed together for another six weeks. The wizard had said that it was to convert the lighthouse and they did that. But it was just an excuse and we all knew. He began teaching the boy his trade and Malcolm took to it with ease and joy. I would still practise daily on my sword work but only to make sure I didn’t become rusty, not for any real purpose. The rest of the time I cooked and helped when needed.

Then came the storm.

A ship was due that night and the wizard was up on the roof getting the lamp set up when the lightning bolt hit. The lamp exploded and he was flung down the stairs. I managed to get to him, get him to bed and then get Malcolm. He regained consciousness once and begged us to fix the lamp. Then he sank back into a darkness I feared he would never rise from.

I thought that it was a lost cause but Malcolm wouldn’t hear of it. Even though I had to carry him up the stairs, away from his wheelchair and into the wildness of the night, he didn’t hesitate but got stuck in. We worked through the night, focused on the same task, two beings joined together through will alone. It was like being with Eric again, only constructing instead of destroying.

We managed to get it fixed just in time. The ship came safely into port and the day was saved.

A week later, a week filled with fixing and mending for all of us, and we were in the wizard’s quarters. The ship’s surgeon had nursed him back to health and, though he was still a little shaky, he was almost back to his old self.

He laid out his news quickly. The ship’s mechanic had been impressed with the work that Malcolm had done and offered him a job on the ship when it departed. Malcolm would be able to leave, to see the world in a way that he could never have dreamed off, to be free.

And yet, he hesitated. I don’t know what held him back but when he complained about not knowing anyone there I found myself talking.

“I could go with you,” I said. Then I realised what I’d said and added awkwardly, “If you want.”

He looked at me, broken in a way I didn’t understand. And then he spoke his true fear. That he wouldn’t be good enough.

We laughed at that, the wizard and I. What else could we do? He had been here mere months but I felt like I’d seen him grow up, and that I’d grown along with him. He’d accomplished so much. And he thought this was beyond him? After our laughter we kindly told him what we thought of that!

And so, together, the boy and I joined the crew of the sky ship The Emerald Queen.

She was beautiful. The bottom of her hull was painted sky blue, the same colour as my hair and the boy’s wheelchair cushion. The name was painted in golden cursive near her prow, where a figurehead nested in the shape of an eagle. The sails were as green as her name, stretching out above and to the side of the deck. She was graceful, despite her size. We gathered our luggage, what there was of it. I only had my sword, the clothes I wore and the wooden figurines Malcolm had carved for me. He had even less. We stood on the main deck, amid the bustle and shouting and, as we lifted off, I once again became disorientated.

I thought I’d gotten past this but everything was happening all at once and it was overwhelming and I just couldn’t, I couldn’t focus, I was being overwhelmed! I grasped for Malcolm’s hand and clutched it tight. I thought he looked at me, probably confused, but he didn’t pull away, only held on. I focused on that and a beat I drummed into my leg with my other hand and slowly I was able to clear the confusion. Together we stepped down into the cabin while the ship took flight, leaving our old life behind.

I hated the next few weeks. In the lighthouse I had understood my place in the world. I had a routine and a job. But on the ship I was surplus. There was nothing for me to do. I started with helping in the kitchen but they already had a cook and he had an assistant and there was no place for me. My sword was taken away from me when I tried to practise with it on the deck. They claimed it was something about regulations and that I wasn’t trained properly but when I asked to be trained they turned me away. I realised that they saw me as luggage, something that Malcolm had brought on board and not a person in my own right.

The boy kept me company, telling me about his day and occasionally I would help in the engine room. But I had neither his skill, nor his interest in the subject. I found myself spending more and more time in the hold by his hammock, turning my thoughts over and over in my mind

What was I? A emotional crutch for Malcolm? A doll that could sit in the corner and say things for someone else amusement? Just another object? Was that all I was destined to be? I refused. I would just have to get off at the next port. Maybe go back to hunting down the men that had killed Eric. Malcolm would be fine. He made friends quickly and he hadn’t needed me along in the first place. He was just scared.

I was brooding over these questions when the pirates attacked.

They came in the middle of the night, in balloons that swam up from the inky depths of the sky. The watch was cut down and then they swarmed down below decks.

They were all gathered up, the crew, and herded into the hold where I was sitting. We were surrounded by gold toothed grins and rusty swords. A part of me sniffed in derision at the state of them but most of me was concerned for Malcom, who was thrown to the ground from his hammock.

I was unarmed. That amused me a little, an unarmed sword. As the pirates advanced on us, clearly ready to start killing any dissenters I focused. My body was steel. I would be able to get through this.

Then Malcolm thrust himself in front of me.

“Get behind me, Serafina,” he shouted. “I’ll hold them off for as long as I can.”

I stared at the back of his head for a moment, marvelling at the ridiculousness of that statement. Hold them off? He’d barely last a second. A single cut from one of those substandard swords would end him. And yet he was still trying to protect me. Why?

Because, I realised, he valued me more than he valued himself. And he would defend what was important to him.

I finally understood my purpose.

I was a sword.

I drew myself.

It felt wrong, so terribly, terribly wrong. I was a sword and I was a body and being two things at the same time was painful! And yet still I attacked.

The years of practise came to my body, allowing it to move fluidly, to slice. And my sword knew exactly where it was supposed go. I shattered the weak blades before me, casting the pirates back. They swung at me and I dodged, more nimble than Eric had ever been, more direct in my thrusts.

Thirty pirates came down into the hold. Fifteen made it out and I was hot on their heels. But the longer I was drawn the higher rose the pain until I was acting more on instinct than anything else. My senses were beginning to go one by one, and I could feel my life force guttering.

I don’t know how many pirates escaped, scampering into their balloons and away into the night. But it wasn’t many.

And then I collapsed, sinking down into blackness in a mirror of those I’d just driven off.

I came back lying in a hammock. I never slept and so had no cause to lie in one before. It was a very strange sensation and I would probably have remarked more on it but Malcolm’s face swam into view. He was sat on a high stool where he could watch over me, whittling something while he waited. I must have made a sound or movement because he abandoned his work and grabbed my hand.

“Serafina,” he cried. “Are you ok?”

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. I’ve never known, not really. But right there, with his hand in mine, I thought I was.

No moment could last forever though and after some shouting and running out of sight another face appeared, supported by a magnificent uniform and topped with a ha.. It wasn’t the captain, he hadn’t survived the attack, but it was the first mate, now in command.

“I’m sorry, Serafina,” he said. “We misjudged you. We all thought that you were some project of the wizard’s and….”

He trailed off awkwardly and then held up a sword. It was mine, the one that they’d taken off me.

“You saved us,” he continued. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. I know that we have no right to ask this of you, considering how we discarded you up until now, but I’m asking if you will protect us again. Take up this sword and join this crew properly?”

I was tempted to say no, just to spite him. That I wasn’t just another tool. But everyone needs a purpose. And for the moment, this fitted me very well.

“I will,” I told him, Malcolm’s hand still in mine.

And so that was my job. I helped where needed and, when I wasn’t I walked the deck, practising with my sword, dancing with Malcolm and guarding the future. And usually I did nothing. But not always.

In a perfect world, a sword is very rarely drawn. But it always has the potential to be.

Who am I? I’m still not sure. But for the moment I’m happy going by Serafina.