“Could help you with that, you know.” Aunt Clotilde sounded miffed.
“Keep your pouch in your cloak, woman!” Gelearde waved his arm at her without looking up from the rail.
Galwyn shook his head. His aunt and uncle, though brother and sister, argued and bickered frequently like an old married couple.
“Look up, Uncle. I can see Utoa on the horizon. We’ll be there in a few hours. Keep your eyes on the island. Looking at the water will only make you feel worse.”
“Thank you, boy.” Gelearde straightened up and looked to the northwest. The hills of Utoa Island were shrouded in the overcast sky.
Gelearde’s profile reminded Galwyn of the head on a coin: bushy eyebrows, an aquiline nose, and a finely trimmed, pointed beard jutting from his chin.
“Aunt Clo probably could help with your seasickness,” the younger man ventured.
His uncle shook his head and untied the chinstrap on his cap. Gelearde regarded his nephew with pride. The boy he once knew had grown into a tall man and a skilled soldier.
“Her skills are too unpredictable. I’ll take my chances until we land.” He managed a weak smile. \
Clotilde brushed a wisp of her wild, frazzled hair from her brow.
“Ungrateful old goat!” she sniffed.
Galwyn looked up at the frigate birds wheeling over the ship and went over the details of their commission again in his mind. He recalled the audience with King Vortryx in Port Cunin. The market by the quays had bustled with merchants hawking their wares and screaming gulls hovering over the fishing boats. And looming above it all, the King’s lavish palace perched on its bluff facing the sea. The long climb to the gate had felt like a pilgrimage to see the fabled monarch.
“Your reputation precedes you, Master Gelearde,” the King smiled indulgently. The ancient sovereign had a reputation as a stern ruler, but his court was filled with smiling people of every description, chatting with each other in low murmuring voices. A tall soldier in armor stood off to one side of the throne. Much like Galwyn, Gelearde thought to himself. Clotilde and Galwyn stood back with the courtiers while Gelearde ascended the dais before the throne.
“You are too kind, Sire,” his Uncle said.
“Not at all, not at all! You are a scholar and a man of many talents. You come highly recommended. Isn’t that so, Neguan?” He glanced at the soldier next to him, who nodded in response. “And that is why I have sent for you.”
The King was a very old man, but he still had a strong voice. He was stooped over from a crooked back, and leaned on a large bronze staff. “Do you see this talisman?” The King fingered a large gold medallion that hung from his neck, with a dark red gem at its center. “It is an heirloom of my family, and is one of two identical pieces that were made. The other one was stolen from this palace many years ago by a former close and trusted advisor.” He paused and scowled as he regarded the gem.
“Pray go on, Sire,” Gelearde urged.
“Sendatur!” The King spat the name as if it were an insult. “He was my father’s advisor before me and served my family for many years. I have good reason to suspect that he was the thief. He was always jealous of me.”
“And how can I be of help to the Crown?” Gelearde remained impassive.
“Sendatur left the court and returned to his home island of Utoa. I sent men after him, but they never found him or the medallion, and the trail has now grown cold. I’m sure he’s dead by now. You should start there.” The King held Gelearde in a steely gaze. “The talisman belongs to me, and I would have it again before I die. I want you to ascertain its whereabouts and return it here. You will be richly rewarded, I assure you.”
“Very well, Sire.” Gelearde bowed. “I will go to Utoa.”
They took passage on a small trading vessel that plied the Cunin Archipelago with cargo and passengers, and after several days at sea were now approaching a fishing town on the coast of Utoa.
The sky cleared as they spent the day visiting various shops and boats in port. Gelearde spoke with proprietors and fishermen. Clotilde, listened intently and asked the occasional question. Yes, they had certainly heard of Sendatur. Old Utoan family. No, they thought he had died years ago. They believed that Sendatur’s family had a burial mausoleum at the peak of one of the hills. No one goes there anymore. The three of them purchased walking staves and other supplies, then took lodging in the inn for the night.
They rose before dawn and packed their things. Gelearde’s appetite returned and he ate a hearty breakfast. Clotilde sipped tea in the dark and ate a roll with butter and honey. Galwyn, still accustomed to military fare, ate his usual bread and meat. The little band left at first light and began the long trek up and inland. It was not an easy trek for the two siblings, and Galwyn made them pause at regular intervals. Evergreen trees had given way to scrub and boulders when they paused for lunch.
“Well, look who’s dropped in on Dortok’s little fiefdom!” A burly man stood in their way with a sword in his hand.
Galwyn started to his feet, reaching for his sword.
“Galwyn, don’t!” It was Aunt Clotilde.
“Yes, Galwyn, don’t. Just look around you.” The man leered jocularly.
Galwyn glanced slowly to either side. They were surround by armed men crouching in the brush. He let out a sigh of exasperation, and sat back down, disgusted at himself. How could he have been so careless?
“Passing through Dortok’s realm merely requires a modest toll - every coin in your purse!” He and his brigands laughed together.
“Duck”, Clotilde said to Gelearde through clenched teeth. He knew that tone all too well, and immediately dropped to the ground like a cut rope.
Muttering and gesturing, Clotilde unleashed a spray of jagged ice crystals from her hands at the nearest group of ruffians. They cried out in agony as the frozen shards tore their flesh. Gelearde could feel the bone-chilling cold on his skin, and shielded his face with his hand. Galwyn swept his leg against Dortok’s ankle and leapt to his feet as the man toppled to the ground. He drew his sword and held the point to the man’s throat.
“That’s Captain Galwyn to you, you cur. Chief of the Uldum Night Watch am I.”
Gelearde slowly climbed back to his feet and looked around. Several men lay moaning and bleeding, their bodies contorting in pain and covered with frost. The others had fled. He looked down at their leader, now not quite as haughty as he had been a moment ago.
“I’m pleased we found you, Master Dortok. We’re searching for something, and we could use a guide who knows the area.”
Yes, Dortok knew where the mausoleum was. He knew enough about it to stay away.
“I lost two men there last full moon. They went poking about that hilltop and never came back. I’m not going near that place!” Dortok was a sullen now as he was jovial before.
“Yes, you are,” Galwyn replied. He followed behind Dortok, sword at the ready.
The Mausoleum was a squat stone building covered in carved runes, human figures, and boats. The only door faced east. Two decomposed bodies lay nearby.
Gelearde approached the door cautiously, and withdrew a leather sack from beneath his cloak. He rummaged for and found a thin metal rod. The end was fashioned into the shape of a dragon’s claw and clutched a small crystal ball. He waved the rod slowly about as he walked, pausing occasionally to dwell on something that caught his interest, and wrinkling his nose at the stench of the corpses. Finally, he stood before the door.
“Clo, you still have some of the dweomer dust, don’t you?”
She produced a small pouch and walked up to join him, also wrinkling her nose, then placed it in his outstretched hand and backed away.
Gelearde took small pinches of light gray powder from the pouch and flicked them at the large metal hinges, the rusted iron bar, and other features of the stone door. The others perceived no effect, but he nodded knowingly to himself.
Finally, he backed away and withdrew a bone wand from his sack. He waved it in a large circle and muttered an incantation.
Suddenly, the iron bar crackled with lightning that spread and ran around the rim of the door frame. Acid hissed from the latch and dripped to the ground, bubbling and smoking. And small darts shot up vertically from the ground in front of the door, right where Gelearde had been standing.
Dortok squealed and turned to leave. Galwyn grabbed the man’s collar with his free hand and held the bandit in place.
They entered into an antechamber lined with stone statues, presumably likenesses of members of Sendatur’s family. Another stone door stood opposite the one they came in. Once again Gelearde repeated his examination with the crystal ball.
“This one is safe,” he proclaimed. “No traps.”
“After you,” Galwyn gestured Dortok to the door with his sword.
The bandit approached the door with trembling knees. He put one palm on the door, then drew it away quickly. Nothing happened. The man giggled with relief, then pushed the door open.
The stone door creaked and dragged slowly against a tangled mass of cobwebs that filled the doorway in the room beyond. The strands were as thick as canvas thread. A multi-legged creature, its abdomen the size of a large cat, scuttled amazingly fast down from the ceiling into the middle of the doorway. Dortok shrieked and sprang back.
“Move!!” Clotilde bellowed, and everyone sprang away from the door.
Clotilde quickly uttered a spelled and pointed her finger at the beast. A large spark shot from her fingertip to the creature, enveloping it in a mass of electrical arcs and sparks. The thing shuddered and hissed, paralyzed to move, and the cobwebs caught fire in a flash. When it was over, a huge spider lay dead in the doorway, its legs still twitching.
“Should’ve let me go first,” Clo said, and pulled a necklace out of her tunic. The pendant glowed to life, its shine revealing shapes ahead through the doorway. She proceeded through, kicking the smoking corpse aside without as much as a glance down.
“Hate spiders,” she mumbled to herself.
In the center of the main crypt lay several sarcophagi, and stone benches lined the walls. The benches were crowded with urns and figurines. Gelearde followed Clotilde and called the others in. He moved among the stone caskets, peering down at their carvings and inscriptions. Finally he motioned Dortok over.
“Help me get this lid off.” The brigand looked back to the door, saw Galwyn regarding him coldly, and decided to comply. The lid fell to the floor with an echoing thud.
“Hello, Sendatur, you old fox,” Gelearde spoke to the mummified body of an elderly man, still bearded with long white whiskers. Sendatur lay clothed in a gold-threaded robe, his teeth showing in a grim rictus. Gelearde thought he smelled something odd. He bent down and sniffed. There it was, bitter like old roots.
“Poison!” he exclaimed.
While Gelearde and Dortok searched the body and its casket, Clotilde perused the figurines and Galwyn wandered around. One of the other caskets caught his eye. The name stamped into a metal plate on the side read “Tryvor”. An inscription was carved on the lid that he could read.
Our kith, but not our kin. Yet welcome to dwell within.”
Kith, but not kin? This person was not from Sendatur’s family? Galwyn shoved the stone lid aside. Another mummified body lay within, but this one had been a young man, perhaps the same age as Galwyn himself. Thick locks of red hair clung to the man’s skull and a downy beard, just beginning to fill in, adorned his chin. The strong lines of his brow and jaw suggested that he had been a handsome fellow. The dead man was garbed in fine leather leggings, boots, a luxurious tunic, and a chainmail shirt. He clutched the hilt of a fine sword and scabbard to his chest. Who was this Tryvor? A warrior? Or a soldier like himself? He could see several brown-crusted slits in the man’s neck. Stabbed! He felt sympathy and kinship for this long-dead comrade, a brother-in-arms who displayed a noble aspect, even as a shriveled corpse, and who had been ruthlessly cut down in his prime.
Gelearde finally stood up from his examination of Sendatur’s resting place.
“It’s not here,” he said to no one in particular.
“I know”, replied Clotilde. “But I think there’s something over here.”
Gelearde hastened over and pulled out his crystal ball rod again. He waved it over several urns and figurines, then settled on a particularly old urn in the middle of all the clutter. Clotilde and her brother looked at each other knowingly. She removed the lid and he plunged his hand into the ashes inside. He presently pulled out a metal chain and held it aloft. A gold medallion with a red gem dangled and glittered in the light of Clotilde’s pendant. The is gem was bright red like a fire opal, not dull red like the King’s, but the two pieces were clearly identical.
Just then the two noticed Galwyn bending over the other sarcophagus.
“No!”, they cried in unison, but it was too late.
Galwyn had desired to look at the dead man’s fine sword for himself, to examine its blade and feel its heft. But as soon as he touched the hilt, he stiffened and uttered a stifled moan. Then he drew the sword swiftly and held it high above his head. The blade was as black as ink.
“At last!” he said. “A true swordsman!” But it was not quite Galwyn’s voice.
The man who stood before them now spoke in deeper, more sonorous tones, and his voice echoed, as if the crowded burial chamber was more like a great pillared temple.
“Galwyn!” Clotilde exclaimed. “Now you’ve done it!”
Gelearde approached slowly. “May I see that sword?”
Galwyn lowered the blade to point at his uncle. “None may take this now.” Gelearde stopped in his tracks and thought for a moment.
“Excuse me, but who am I addressing at the moment?”
“I,” intoned the voice, “am Retaliator.”
“And what are your intentions here?”
“I seek the one who killed my master, so that I may slay him.”
“Who is that talking?” Clotilde interjected.
“Ssss!” Gelearde shushed her with a slice of his hand. “It’s the sword!” Gelearde pondered the situation again, uncertain. How to handle this?
“You are now held by the hand of Captain Galwyn, your new owner and a most worthy master.”
“My master is dead. No one owns me. This one is strong. He will carry me to my vengeance.” Galwyn’s eyes were turned up in his head, half-lidded.
“But he is our companion. He travels with us.” Clotilde joined the conversation.
“I will seek my own path.”
“Do you know where your quarry is now?” she asked. (“Good, Clo!” Gelearde whispered).
The voice paused for a dozen heartbeats.
“Then you will find what you seek as easily with us as by yourself,” she retorted testily.
Gelearde put his hand on her shoulder, as she seemed about to say something else. He didn’t want her to antagonize the sword.
“We travel widely,” he said, “and I have many skills. If you join us, I will help you find what you seek. I will help you to deal out justice.”
Another lengthy pause. “I will accompany you.”
Galwyn’s hand slid the blade into its scabbard. He belted the weapon around his waist, then blinked several times. He turned to his aunt and uncle.
“What happened? Why are you two looking at me like that?”
“Seems you’re possessed now,” Clotilde answered the bewildered young man. “Should never just go reaching for a strange blade like it’s a new toy, you know.”
“Dortok?” Gelearde called out. Where had he gotten to? He searched the room with his eyes. The bandit was cowering behind Sendatur’s casket, his eyes as big as plums.
“You aren’t thinking of bringing your little band back here to plunder this tomb, now are you?” The brigand opened his mouth, but did not answer.
“I’ll just reset the traps, you know, and add a few of my own that are even worse. Do you understand?” This time the man nodded his head vigorously.
“I think you can go now”, the older man said gently.
“So this is a magic sword, ay? What does it do?” Galwyn held it up in the light. They were half way down the hillside, and paused for a rest. The black blade was shiny like obsidian, and scrawled with runes that looked like pure gold.
“Not just a magic sword, Galwyn: a purposed sword. Those are rare, and always named.
But I’ve never heard of this one before.” He paused to stroke his beard as he pondered that. “Hmm, this one appears to have been crafted to avenge its wielder in case of death. So it must seek out whoever killed Tryvor. Perhaps once it fulfills its purpose it will truly serve you. What does it do? I imagine it has some magical abilities that will manifest themselves the next time you are in combat, but its main power is the ability to compel cooperation for its purpose.”
“Very disciplined magic, this,” Clotilde ventured. “Very orderly and purposeful. Wouldn’t be surprised if it was crafted to be good at fighting others. Good against armor or other weapons, perhaps. Or it protects the wielder.” She brushed a curl of blonde hair out of Galwyn’s eye, as she had so often done when he was a child. “And it won’t stop until it has its vengeance.”
Gelearde nodded in agreement. “Likely so.”
“But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life chasing after some murderer!” Galwyn protested.
“Be at ease,” his uncle said soothingly. “The sword lay in that sarcophagus for a long time. The one it seeks is probably long dead by now.”
“Well, it doesn’t think so! Wouldn’t it know that?”
“It’s not all powerful, now is it?” Clotilde answered for her brother. “If the killer were on the other side of the world it couldn’t sense his presence. Gelearde is right: you probably have nothing to worry about.” And she continued down the path.
“Probably?” Galwyn sheathed the sword and followed her.
“I’ll reason with it,” he said.
“Can’t reason with it!” Clotilde admonished, not turning around.
“Then I’ll throw it into the sea!” he shouted.
“Can’t throw it away, either.”
“The sword is not a living thing, Galwyn”, Gelearde added. “It’s … it’s a magical force, you see. It’s not intelligent the way we are. It only exists to fulfill its purpose. And one of its powers is the ability to control you whenever it needs to in order to achieve that goal. You cannot defy it. You’ll just have to live with it until I can came up with something.” The young man glowered and said nothing.
The journey back to Port Cunin was much like the trip out. Gelearde retched at the railing and Clotilde sipped tea in their cabin. But Galwyn sat by himself in the bow and brooded at the horizon as if it were his impending doom.
“It doesn’t heed my commands, Uncle,” he said to Gelearde without looking up. “Nor does it give me commands, either. In fact, it doesn’t speak to me at all. But when I try to throw it into the sea…well, I just can’t”.
Gelearde patted his shoulder without answering.
The next morning saw the King’s palace looming over Port Cunin from its cliff by the sea.
“Why are we here?” Galwyn asked Gelearde as they disembarked, but his voice was deeper again. It was Retaliator.
“The palace here has learned men and a library. I hope to find out more about Tryvor and who killed him,” the older man answered.
“Very well,” Galwyn said, and blinked at his uncle.
When they reached the palace they were ushered immediately into the throne room by a smiling young courtier. Gelearde proceeded first toward the throne dais.
“Success, Sire! We found the … hey!” He was rudely shoved aside from behind, interrupted in mid-sentence.
It was Galwyn, charging the throne with the black blade in his hand. The golden runes glowed red now.
“Murderer!! You doom is at hand!” Galwyn bellowed.
Gelearde was bewildered. “What? Him??” He looked from Galwyn to the King.
A cry of alarm arose from the courtiers and servants. Most of the palace soldiers were caught off guard and just stared, but their captain drew his sword and interposed himself between his king and this attacker. This was the man the King had called Neguan. Galwyn brought the black blade down in a high arc onto the other soldier’s upraised shield, splitting it nearly in two in a shower of sparks. The man cried out in pain as he was battered to the ground. He rolled away and held his shield arm as his sword clattered across the floor.
Galwyn strode purposefully up to the throne. Surprisingly, the King stood his ground and held his staff at the ready. Galwyn swung Retaliator at the King’s head. The old man parried the blow, and the sword glanced off the metal shaft in another shower of sparks. But the King’s staff did not break.
The palace soldiers regained their composure and moved forward to engage Galwyn.
Gelearde turned to Clotilde.
Clotilde gestured again as she had on the hillside. This time, a flurry of ghostly hands appeared. They swarmed around the soldiers, batting their helmets askew, and deflecting their weapons. They could not mount an effect attack. The combat by the throne continued as a duel between two men.
Gelearde stood by her confused, shaking his head as he struggled to understand what was happening. Galwyn feinted low, then swung again at the King’s head. This time the sword caught the edge of the royal crown. The headpiece flew off the king’s head, and with it a white wig. The crowd gasped as they saw that Vortryx had a full head of close-cropped black hair. The King flung off his great cloak and stood straight, revealing a muscular physique. He noticed the magic being used against him, and stole glances at Clotilde as she continued her incantation. A sinking feeling overcame Gelearde. This man is not what he seems, and he has skills to be reckoned with.
But then sudden comprehension dawned on him. He leaned over to speak into her ear.
“Clo, the King’s medallion!” She nodded her head.
As suddenly as it began, the combat ended, and in blood. Vortryx bought time to act with a skillful move. He parried Galwyn’s sword, trapped the blade against the floor with the headpiece of his staff, and then spun in the other direction, catching the young man across the temple with the spiked tailpiece. Galwyn was knocked unconscious and toppled backward, bleeding from the head and losing his grip on Retaliator.
Clotilde ended her incantation and began a new one just as Vortryx reached inside his tunic. The medallion was ripped free of his neck, and flew across the room to her hand. But then the King drew his dagger and threw it, burying the blade in Clotilde’s sternum. She cried out and fell back into Gelearde’s arms.
The King now stood alone, looking triumphantly down at his newest victims.
“Seize them!” he bellowed at his soldiers, gesturing wildly. “Seize them all!” But none of the soldiers moved. They looked at the King with fear and revulsion. His sweat ran down his face, washing off the expertly applied maquillage he had worn for so long. They stared uncomprehendingly as they saw now that he was not an old man at all. On the floor behind him lay his cloak, with a cushion sewn in below the nape of the neck to make him appear hunchbacked.
Vortryx turned toward where his palace captain lay on the ground.
“Neguan! Give the order!”
But Neguan, too, refused to move.
“Sire, what are you?”
Gelearde looked down at Clotilde’s face. She was still breathing. He looked around for something hard and readily at hand. There! Neguan’s sword lay on the floor nearby. He grabbed the medallion from Clotilde’s clasped hand and lunged across the floor for the sword.
Vortryx must have sensed something wrong, something that threatened his being even more than a magical black sword. He whirled around in time to see Gelearde kneeling on the floor, placing the medallion on the cold stone, and raising Neguan’s sword high above his head.
“STOP!!” the King screamed with both arms stretched out in supplication.
Gelearde ignored him and brought the flat of the blade down on the gem. The jewel in the medallion shattered into dull red sand with a noise like a thunderclap.
Vortryx screamed and clutched his chest, falling back onto the steps leading up to his throne. The spell of the medallion broken, his face shriveled and withered as he aged all of the stolen decades of his life in mere moments.
Gelearde walked over to the black blade lying near Galwyn. He saw that his nephew was coming around. Enough, he thought. Galwyn was his own man, not a pawn in some ancient feud. The scholar from Uldum looked at all the destruction this cur of a king had wrought. His sister lay dying, and his nephew clutched his injured head with bloody hands. All members of the court stood slack-jawed, coming to grips with the reality that they had spent their whole lives serving...what? A man, or a monster? And Neguan, the captain of the palace soldiers, still lay on the floor clutching his shield arm. That was likely broken, but he still had one good arm. Yes, the man still had one good arm.
Gelearde took careful aim, and kicked the black sword Retaliator across the floor at Neguan. The weapon spun horizontally, whirling across the polished stone and coming to rest against the soldier’s thigh. Neguan’s body stiffened, and he looked down curiously at the sword. He grasped the hilt and awkwardly stood up, wincing in pain, then strode purposefully to the throne dais.
Vortryx, now showing his more than one hundred years of age, lay gasping and wheezing as he watched Neguan approach. Only his eyes moved in the shriveled husk of his face.
“No, Neguan! Not you!”
But Neguan ignored his pleas, and stood over the King with the black sword held high. Gelearde heard the deep, echoing voice again, the one from the crypt, as Neguan proclaimed Retaliator’s judgement for all to hear.
“Here lies a craven assassin and murderer. Let justice be done!” And he plunged the sword into the King’s chest.
The blackness flowed down the length of the sword’s blade from its hilt to the point, like ink dripping off a quill, revealing a silvery metal. The red runes faded and were gone. The King was dead. Retaliator now appeared as an ordinary sword, albeit an ornate and very fine quality one.
“Aunt Clo!” Galwyn was now stumbling over to the stricken woman.
Gelearde rushed to her side.
“If I am not the most addlepated dunderhead!” he castigated himself.
“The other medallion!” He pulled out the duplicate piece with the fiery red gem and placed it around her neck.
“What are you doing?” Galwyn’s speech was still slurred.
“I don’t know! Trying to activate this thing! If she was awake she could tell me.” He rummaged in his leather sack and began tossing items out.
“And I am twice a dunderhead!”
“Whuh?” The young man shook his head still groggy.
“Tryvor, Vortryx. They’re practically the same name.” He shook his fist at the dead king’s corpse. “They were brothers!”
Neguan had joined them, still holding the now perfectly normal-looking sword.
“I’m sorry, sir. We didn’t know what he was.”
“Never mind that now! Where is it?” He dumped out all of the remaining contents of the sack: rods, and wands, feathers and lenses, small vials, and… there!
“The triggerstone!” Gelearde exulted. “It’s got to work!”
He held a small stone of murky, translucent blue, chased with white quartz veins. Gelearde pressed the blue stone against the red gem and muttered an incantation he had heard Clotilde use a long time ago. He hoped he got it right. Finally, the blue stone began to hum in his hand, and medallion’s red gem glowed softly. Clotilde stirred and coughed. The magic of the medallion was now tuned to her.
Gelearde pulled out a kerchief, then placed it against Clotilde’s chest. The King’s dagger was still embedded there. With one swift move, he pulled the dagger out and applied pressure to the wound. Clotilde gasped and cried out in pain. Then he placed the medallion on top of the spreading blood stain and pressed gently.
The gem stopped glowing, and then its bright red color began to turn darker. Color returned to Clotilde’s cheeks as it faded from the gem, and she breathed more steadily. She brushed Gelearde’s hand aside and pressed the medallion against the wound herself. It would take all the of the jewel’s magic to heal her back from the brink of death. When the gem finally turned completely black it crumbled into a pile of obsidian sand. Gelearde gently pulled the medallion away. There was no trace of a wound under her bloodstained tunic. He turned the medallion over and noticed a symbol embossed on the back. He recognized it from the crypt on Utoa. It was Sendatur’s family crest.
That night they stayed in a suite at the palace as Neguan’s guest. Gelearde slipped out the next morning while Clotilde and Galwyn still slept. He made his way down to the royal library, and was surprised to find Neguan sitting in the corridor by the great door, cradling the sword Retaliator across his knees.
“I thought you might come, Master Gelearde,” the soldier said. He looked down at the sword in his lap. “I can find no mention of it in any of the texts.
“I’m not surprised,” the scholar answered. “I think it may be very old, from the ancient empire even. May I examine it?”
The soldier stood up and backed up a step, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“I don’t need to touch it, just look at it”, Gelearde reassured him, his eyebrow raised.
Neguan slowly held the sword out, point down, clutching the hilt with both hands. The older man took out his small crystal ball and held it to his eye. He leaned forward and made an act of closely examining the sword, looking slowly up and down the length of the blade.
“It is a fine sword,” he declared, straightening up. “Those worn runes at the hilt merely spell its name in the old continental scrit. They must have been covered by the blackness before. And the scrollwork is also from another age. Retaliator is ancient. Well, may I enter the library?”
Clotilde and Galwyn were still asleep at noon. The smiling courtier from the throne room swept into the suite to greet them with a flourish, the left again to summon a troop from the kitchen to bring them a sumptuous lunch.
Galwyn set down his spoon and adjusted the bandage around his head. “I still don’t understand how Sendatur fit into this whole thing.”
“Neguan filled in details while you were still sleeping,” Gelearde replied. “Everyone at court remembered that Vortryx had an older brother, but the story was that he disappeared on a hunting trip when they were both young men and was never found. My guess is that Vortryx murdered him to put himself in line for the throne. Then when their father died soon after that, Vortryx was crowned king.”
“Bet that Vortryx murdered his father, too.” Clotilde added.
“Yes, it’s interesting that all this transpired soon after Vortryx returned from his education abroad.”
“He was a rotten one, that one was!” she interjected. “You don’t learn murder and poison and disguise just anywhere! He fell in with an assassin’s guild somewhere on his journey!”
“I believe you’re right, Clo. More partridge?”
“But what about Sendatur?” Galwyn reminded him.
“Oh, yes. Well, that medallion was no Vortryx family heirloom. He lied about that. It belonged to Sendatur’s family. That gem held great healing magic, and Vortryx wanted it to prolong his miserable life. I think Sendatur was a bit of a wizard.”
Galwyn thought about that for a moment. “So Sendatur made those medallions.”
Clotilde shook her head, and swallowed some partridge.
“Uh-uh. Much too old. Those were made centuries ago, by an ancestor, no doubt. But he would have known what they are and how to use them.”
“Yes, I believe that Sendatur suspected Vortryx of everything: the murder of his brother, the likely murder of the old king, and his desire to possess that medallion. I further speculate that he used his skills to locate and conceal Tryvor’s body.”
Galwyn shook his head again. “But then how was the sword involved in all this?”
“Ah, that’s where Neguan helped me the most. He gave me access to the palace library. There were some journals written by courtiers there, including one from Sendatur himself, from when the previous king was still alive. You see, it was known that Tryvor had a magic sword, an artifact from well before the Season of Chaos. But he made no mention of it being a purposed sword. It was simply an artifact of great martial prowess, befitting of a crown prince. That suggests to me that Vortryx didn’t know its true nature either, and so didn’t bother with it.”
“But Sendatur would have found out about the sword, though, wouldn’t he?” Clotilde thought out loud. “When he found the body, the sword would’ve rejected him! Not suitable, not a swordsman.”
“Yes!” Gelearde agreed. “Then Sendatur could have made sure that no one handled the body who the sword would want to possess. Himself, or anyone not skilled with a sword.” He turned back to his nephew. “It seems that Sendatur interred Tryvor’s body in his family crypt on Utoa as a trap for Vortryx, and to guard the second medallion. This must have happened after Vortryx stole the first medallion. He knew that his own days were likely numbered. And they were. Vortryx poisoned Sendatur, after all.”
“He knew?” Galwyn looked puzzled.
“Sendatur knew that Vortryx would come looking for the second medallion, sooner or later.” Clotilde explained. “Vortryx probably thought the medallion would last forever. What did he know about magic? But it started to wear out.”
“The burden of keeping Vortryx young gradually drained the gem. He used it for almost a century, progressively making himself look older with his assassin’s disguise skills, while staying young, thanks to the medallion. That’s why the gem was already dark when we first saw him. When he finally realized what was happening he knew he had to have the second medallion to keep living agelessly, at least for another century or so.”
“So now Retaliator is just a normal non-magical sword?” Galwyn seemed disappointed.
“Oh, no! It’s still magic. I detected that when I was with Neguan this morning.”
“Then what will happen to it?”
“Retaliator will serve Neguan from now on. After all, it was he who dealt the deathblow to Vortryx. And if Neguan is ever murdered, the blade will turn black again, and Retaliator will not rest until Neguan’s death is avenged.”
“Well, isn’t that just wonderful!” Galwyn said sarcastically.
“What’s wrong, nephew? I thought you wanted to be rid of that sword.”
“I thought I did, but it was great sword. It almost cut Neguan in two! When will I ever get the chance to have a sword like that again?
Clotilde clucked her tongue and cuffed Galwyn on the shoulder. “I liked you better when you were possessed!”
©November, 2016 Edward H. Parks
Edward H. Parks writes both science fiction and fantasy. His has appeared in Interstellar Fiction, Perihelion, and one of the Third Flatiron Publishing anthologies.