The boy couldn't have been more than eleven, his hair rumpled by the warm fall breeze that blew outside. He'd been bored, as he marched the spotless parquet floors, drinking in the exhibits with empty eyes.
As each turn in the maze of history approached, he found himself drifting slowly farther and farther back from the group. The guide's sparkling voice seemed to float as he shuffled along, hands deep in the pockets of his battered jeans, hood pulled over his bright blond hair, one untied Nike whipwapping at the floor with each measured tread.
And then he saw it, the spotlight gleaming on the naked razor. The jagged stump looking fully as lethal as the man-forged killing edge.
He approached, slowly. Fascinated by the weapon shrouded on its king's bed of soft velvet. The pommel stone was gone; there was no way of knowing where it lay now. The twisted leather of the handle had rotted away, leaving mere scraps behind.
Hands came from pockets to grip the rope that held visitors at bay. The boy leaned forward, awake at last. No longer the ghost at the feast, his specter in the glass ignored him, enthralled by the broken steel laying before him.
And then it spoke.
I sang, once, you know. Oh yes. You wouldn't think it to see me now, but I sang, and I let, and I shrieked the battle shriek of steel-on-steel.
I was forged in 633, as you men reckon time, in Brightford-on-Avon. I was given to a warrior before his hand left his cradle's blanket. Before he knew touch of lover or enemy, he knew me. Our friendship was born that day, our bond forged as surely as my own steel.
He carried me for fifty years. My edge never dulled. We took such joy in the battle. We took such sadness in defeat, though the defeats were few. Many is the time my warrior parried the killing blow with my steel form. Many more is the time when I lunged, shattering shields and lesser blades, and my lunges were always true. He used to marvel, did my warrior, that my blade moved as if a hand unseen guided it. We gloried in the blood, the crack of parting sinews.
As he lay in death, I grieved, as only the steel can, for the loss of his calloused hand. I did not lay with him, however, for my warrior had a son, and to him I came by birthright.
My new warrior was not the man the first was. More cunning, truly. But I missed the ring of hard striking, the spray of a good blow ending the contest. My new warrior fought when he must, but did most of his slaughter at the bargaining table.
He lived just forty summers before his accords came home to root. I left him, though I did not fail him, as he lay staring beneath the winter snow. Mine was the last to feel his living touch. I mourned for him as I had for his father, but my sadness was tempered with joy.
For I had a new master now. Hard, lean. A man whose tempered body shaped my own. He used me as a whipcord, driving the fearful before him, and I exulted that my honor would be thus increased a thousandfold. The bell-like tones of each stroke seemed brighter, more musical.
I left him within the season. He died in rain, and mud, and storm's fury, and I shrieked my metal rage that my glory would be so cruelly stolen from me.
We lay side-by-side in the freezing mire until a new master discovered me. My edge was to his liking, and thus we began our journey together.
He called me Breashydair, and I did smash, and rend, and tear, and together we forged an empire. He spoke to me, did my master. Whispered his dreams. We would bend such peoples as were near to our will. We would have lordship and dominion, and we would never want for the glory of battle.
But alas! It was not to be. We blooded for some ten summers before my beloved fell to treachery. I lay forgotten where I'd struck last, my slashing edge buried 'neath an oaken cover. Around us lay the shattered carcasses of the hounds who had brought us low. Again I snarled my anger at lost glory.
I weathered. Uncounted springs passed, and the oak did try to take me further into its wooden embrace. My edge dulled, my skin pitted, but I hoped, as only a blade can, for the fury of battle, for a master's hand to restore my splendor.
And then one day, it came! As the heavy-eyed sun sought its western bed, a new hand touched me, tentatively, as if in fear. A small hand. The hand of a child, older by no more than half a score than the hand that had first touched my steel in loving bondage.
We strained. I could feel my master's heart as we battled together the wooden heart of the accursed coffin that held me so tightly. I fought, angered at my imprisonment. I lent my master such strength as he required, and with a tearing groan broke loose!
My youthful master gifted me with a new name, a fitting name, a princely name. I became Caelbuen, and we rode together.
For a time, I lay hidden, but my brightness did not dull. Wrapped in soft woolens, I did reach my former shine and edge by loving whet. My master had taken me from wood, and with stone did he reclaim me. The sun chased his daughter the moon 'round the skies at least ten more times as my master grew. Steel is patient, though, so patient, and so I abode, knowing that the time would arrive when I would feel the warmth of living sheath again.
We blooded many, but this master was unlike others I had seen. When my keeper was no longer a child, we rode alone. We did not seek out the battle, but never did we turn from the fray.
I chafed beneath my master's gentle yoke. I yearned to twist in his hand, to fail a parry, or be too slow on the thrust, but my steel would not fail.
We let, not in anger or in seeking of new lands, but to defend the weak and helpless. We rent and we tore, not for the pleasure of the battle, but to protect, my master asking nothing but a meal and a place to sleep as payment.
He sleeps now, but for eighty times did we ride together, and his arm kept many a cruelty at bay. When last he fell to the warrior my steel cannot touch, there was but one hand to take me up. Again and at last, I had passed from father to son, as a blade must. My heart is steel, but with each stroke I rang my exultation to the skies that my bondage to my hateful master had at last been broken.
His son, the greater fool. Where the father had been content to live a simple life protecting the weak, the son saw the wisdom in many. Many were the warriors who came to his banner, and many were the weak and fearful saved. Many more of the sick and hungry were protected beneath his lion's banner, and my own honor waved from cloth above. My steel and my master's lion arm kept the wolves at bay for more than thirty turnings. Slowly I began to glory not in the blooding spray or the howl of steel-on-steel, but in a restful sheath. Slowly I began to understand the ways of honor, and hope, and love.
It was he that I failed. For five hundred seasons and more my steel had triumphed. My edge remained undulled, my whispered strokes as keen as starshine. In my greatest battle, I failed, and with my failure came the sufferings of many. My pain at my cracking was as nothing. My agony at betraying my master tore my metal soul. I screamed, shattering my fury and grief at the uncaring sky, but father sun and daughter moon took no notice of my cries, nor of my begging, as my master's life slowly let away.
I lay in mud. When my master's kin came to sorrow at their loss, I cried my wretched penance to them, but few men can hear the whispered words of metal. I beseeched them to forgive me, but they did not heed, and so, in mud I remained. It was no more than I deserved.
Time passed, as time will do, and my metal heart stayed broken. The rains came, and the winds, and snows and woods and rains again, as if they were my tears of shame. The woods grew and I slid, deeper into the sludge of my grave.
In time, I felt a living touch again. Though there was no light, something grasped me, held me, wrapped me in a sturdy grip. I felt no master's soul, yet wondered.
It grew, from the earth, holding me tightly in its impassive embrace. With each turning did I slowly rise from grave to light.
At first I tried to plea. What was I to do? I was a weapon, not a plowshare. The hand wields the blade, and though I did suffer, I must obey.
And I remembered. I remembered my sins and my triumphs. I remembered my masters each, and I remembered my failure.
And I remembered that the greatest masters were those to whom the blooding had to be. The honors went not to the mightiest, but to the defenders. I remembered my edge, to strike, and my flat, to parry. I remembered the times when wrongs were righted and justice meted. Slowly did I come to understand my purpose.
I remembered my failure, and I remembered my task.
And when the light came again, I was ready.
The boy's hands were cramped upon the rope, his breathing harsh and quick. He swallowed, and brushed a rough hand across his eyes.
"Drew? Where are you?" The voice was light, friendly, yet slightly stern. He was supposed to be with the rest of the group, after all.
He turned, birdlike. "Right here," as she approached. He had never noticed the weariness in her eyes before, the slight defensiveness, the knowledge that he would disappoint her again soon.
"The tour's leaving, Drew. We need to catch back up. Why are you in here?"
He turned and looked again at the velvet-shrouded steel. "I…" he couldn't explain. "I heard something."
She frowned. "Heard something? You mean like me yelling your name for the last ten minutes?"
"No. It was like a story." But that wasn't right. It was like a memory…
He looked at her then, seeing her not with his eleven-year-old eyes, but with his ageless heart. He understood, for the first time, his purpose, and why she seemed sometimes as if she mourned when he sat at his desk with blank page before him.
"Come on, now, Drew." She laid a hand on his shoulder. "Let's catch up."
He nodded, and together they left the room.
Go now, and carry my tale. My task is yet begun. I must abide here a while longer, in the patience of steel, in the hope that others will hear me and take my lesson with them. It is not he who lets that is wrong, but he who lets for cruelty or for hatred. There will come a time in the summer of every man's life when he must choose his path. I beg of you, remember me as I remember you. Stand proud, fall if you must, but give yourself dearly so that others might live, far from hurt and hunger, hate and harrow.
Know that I remember.
Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
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