Chapter 11:

10 - A Proper Blade

The Fallen Diadem

A week after I encountered the sword instructor, Charlie and I were meandering past a collection of merchant carts that had trundled down to the middle of Vichtstein. Amaranth had worked his army, and us, to the bone, smoothing out the main road so that timber could be brought down to the impromptu shipyard, and now peddlers were plying their wares to the soldiers. Charlie didn’t have a single copper on him. When Claire had tried to pay him for the week’s work he had handed it straight back to her and told her to take if off his debt. I wanted to do the same thing, but I had to buy something.Bookmark here

“Don’t,” he said as I lifted up a basket hilted blade.Bookmark here

“What do you mean, don’t?”Bookmark here

“Look at it. Come on, don’t you know anything about swords?” he asked, gesturing at the weapon. It felt like a good weight to me. He could only withstand my confused silence for so long before he said, “It has rust spots on it.”Bookmark here

“Rust can be cleaned off though.”Bookmark here

“No self-respecting blacksmith would sell something with rust on it. It means he doesn’t oil his wares properly. This guy is just a go-between peddler. A middle man gouging you for money for an inferior product,” he explained.Bookmark here

The shop keeper’s face went red and we had to run off before he started clubbing us over the head. With the collars around our necks, we had certain freedoms and having money was one of them, being respected was not. “Here. I don’t know why you’re shopping for a sword, but this is where you should shop,” he said, tapping me in the side and pointing at a small cart. The man sitting beside it was certainly as thick as a blacksmith, but most of his goods were cooking utensils. There were pots and pans mostly, as well as heavy forks and kitchen knives. I didn’t even notice the handful of swords he had at one side, but they didn’t seem to be anything impressive.Bookmark here

I didn’t want to offend the man who was meekly staring at us, trying to gauge whether we had the money to shop given the collars on our throats. I whispered to Charlie, “Why though? That other guy had way more swords.”Bookmark here

“Quantity means nothing of quality. For starters, you can see that his pots are all uniform in size. He isn’t just banging metal into a bowl. It’s the cleavers that give it away though. That’s the same handle style the army chefs have; the ones they use for hacking animals apart,” he explained.Bookmark here

The blacksmith laughed and smiled. “Is he still using that then? You’re talking about Gerome, right?” We nodded. Knowing the chef was always important. “I met him years ago and haven’t been able to sell him a second set ever since. You’re looking for a sword? What kind?”Bookmark here

I felt my mouth dry out and I shifted around on my feet. “A good kind?”Bookmark here

Charlie elbowed me. “We’re excavators. We get in fights with the fallen every few days.”Bookmark here

The blacksmith scratched his beard. “So, you’re in a mix of armored and unarmored enemies then? You’ve already got an arming blade there, so you must want something a bit longer.”Bookmark here

The thought of something even heavier than my current weapon made me wince, but I hadn’t stood a chance against that spear user back in the temple. “Yeah, longer would be good. I guess.”Bookmark here

The blacksmith nodded and stood up. He was a head taller than me and he took a moment to size me up properly, then he pulled a sword from his cart that was so long I thought it might drag across the floor if I wore it at my waist. It was huge, and he handed it to me anyways. “Try this,” he said.Bookmark here

It felt like I was holding Xon’s pole-hammer, and the handle was the ugliest thing of twisted iron I had ever seen. It even had a huge knob of metal smashed onto the base too, because the blade wasn’t heavy enough. Bookmark here

Charlie sighed. “Mark, you need to hold it with two hands.”Bookmark here

The blacksmith’s attention switched from me to him, and he raised an eyebrow. “Is that a Druscan accent? How did a Druscan end up owned by the Order of the Broken Concordant?”Bookmark here

“Recently,” he grumbled as I finally took the scabbard off and held the sword with both hands. The thing was perfectly straight, just like the training blade the fallen instructor used, and had a wedge tip to it. I took one practice swing with it and nearly chopped part of the display table off.Bookmark here

“Watch it you idiot!”Bookmark here

“Sorry! Sorry, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be,” I cried out, and stepped away. I gave it a bit of a wobble and took another swing. The thing flowed through the air perfectly. The overall weight was a bit more than the other sword, but the pommel actually did balance it right in the center of my palm. It was exactly what I had been looking for. “How much?”Bookmark here

“Two gold.” Twenty-silver. Literally everything I had, including the bonus Claire had given me for saving her from the hound. The blacksmith could see I was hesitating, so he turned his attention back to Charlie. “Still though, you know your stuff despite being a slave. Why are you excavating? And why do you only got a stick there?”Bookmark here

“The good lord Arnstein stole my father’s sword from me.”Bookmark here

I cleared my throat. “Could you do fifteen silver?”Bookmark here

“Nineteen is as low as I’ll go kid,” the blacksmith said, only shooting me a quick glare. “Well that doesn’t seem like something he would do without a reason. He’s a reformer, as far as Piedtriesian slavers go anyways. Was it something special?”Bookmark here

“It was my father’s.” Charlie’s voice was tight and clipped.Bookmark here

“So an heirloom? Trying to get your inheritance back?” the blacksmith asked, and noticed what I was doing with my hands. “Eighteen silver, five copper. Take it or get lost.”Bookmark here

When I reached down to get my purse, I finally noticed how clenched Charlie’s hands were. His voice exploded. “That sword was proof of his honor! It’s all I have left of him! The king gave him that sword!”Bookmark here

The blacksmith was a bit taken aback, then he burst out laughing. “King’s don’t give out swords boy. Your daddy may have been a good man but that’s a lie. I’m from Drusca myself. Barely made it out with my skin when Fulvous came a’knockin’ for the diadem.”Bookmark here

Charlie kicked the display table, toppling everything onto the ground. “Shut up! You don’t know anything about my father!” he roared as several soldiers started jogging towards us. He took off running before they could catch him, and I practically threw the money at the startled blacksmith before I went running too.Bookmark here

Charlie didn’t go back to the camp, he went out into the ruins of the city. We lost the soldiers, though I was sure they’d go complain to Claire afterwards. There weren’t any other slaves that matched our descriptions. I wanted to ask him what the hell that had been about, but that didn’t seem appropriate when I found him sitting in a corner. I didn’t really know anything about Charlie. I had never bothered to ask him about his background. I just took for granted that he knew how to fight and that he was our leader.Bookmark here

Recalling what Amaranth had said the day he arrested us, I squatted next to him and asked, “So your father was a Druscan Blade Master?”Bookmark here

Charlie nodded. “He was one of the best.”Bookmark here

“Is that like, nobility or something? I don’t know anything about Drusca.”Bookmark here

Charlie shook his head. “He was a commoner. The title was honorary. He was the castle’s instructor of fighting and they cut his head off.”Bookmark here

I licked my lips and sat down next to him. From where we were, we could look over most of Vichtstein as well as the lake and the sunken castle. I tried to picture how many people had once lived in the city, how they had come and gone from the castle and to everywhere else living their lives. Now it was just a haunt for the fallen, one of which was teaching me how to fight.Bookmark here

I had been lost in my own thoughts; but, Charlie continued, “All he did was follow the orders given to him, and they accused him of treason because he was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. The king wanted someone to blame for why they got conquered so easily.”Bookmark here

I wondered what my own father had been like. I couldn’t remember, and the hole inside me where those memories should have fit was thorned. “That blacksmith said something about another diadem? So those are actually real? Like the one here in Vichtstein?”Bookmark here

“Obviously they’re real, Mark. The diadems let you sit on the throne.”Bookmark here

“What throne?”Bookmark here

That took his mind off things, if only to stare at me and try to figure out how I could be so stupid. “The throne! The throne of the world! The first king’s throne that made the sun!” he said, pointing at the light.Bookmark here

“Oh, that one,” I said, nodding as if I understood. I changed the subject. “So if his sword is so important to you, why haven’t you tried to get it back?”Bookmark here

“If I ask for it while I still have this collar on, he might just claim it against the debt and keep it. If I wait till I’m free, I can press it as theft. He might still keep it, but it’ll hurt his image. That’s why I have to pay off my debt as soon as I can. I can’t go buying myself toys like you can.”Bookmark here

I rubbed my thumb across the pommel of my new sword. “Well, to be fair, this is the first steady pay I’ve ever had. I don’t like not having a choice, but I don’t exactly have anywhere else to go,” I said. And I thought about Amaranth’s offer again. I wondered if I could still get a position underneath him if I asked for it. “Hey, what’s Ascalon?”Bookmark here

“Mark, I thought you were supposed to be the smart one?”Bookmark here

“Intelligence and Ignorance are different things.”Bookmark here

Charlie sighed again. “Ascalon is the name of Amaranth’s spear. The holy lances were all made with the power of the throne and choose their owners. Don’t let it get to your head though. Lots of people can be recognized by the weapons. It just means the weapon likes you. Ask Claire about it, she’s probably recognized by it too.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

“For what? Not your fault your parents didn’t teach you common sense.”Bookmark here

“No, that I’ve never asked this kind of stuff before. Maybe if I had, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”Bookmark here

“Me and you both buddy. I should have spoken to Neeka about her past more. And what about you? You remember anything?”Bookmark here

I shook my head. “Everything before you three found me is still a blur. I think I have dreams about it here and there, but I can’t piece it all together.”Bookmark here

Charlie patted my shoulder and stood up. He interlaced his fingers overhead and stretched his back till I heard some joints crack. “Well, nothing to do about it right now. I’m going to go get some of Gerome’s cooking. All good things start with a full stomach.”Bookmark here

I didn’t know how he could switch himself back to happy that easily. That was just the kind of thing that made him our leader though. He was right, there wasn’t much to do about it but take life one day at a time. I couldn’t wait till I could try my new sword against the instructor that night, and one day, I’d get the collar taken off and hold Brekhart to account.Bookmark here

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