• 10 Apr - 16 Apr, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

The knight looked at her, half–smiling, then – gestured invitingly to the sword where it lay black–stained in the grass.

It was very heavy, and much of the weight was feet away from the hilt; Moque had to grip it with both hands to keep it under control. The knight had wielded it one–handed. "Wow."

"You can wipe it off on the grass for me if you like."

Moque did not do this as smoothly as she supposed the knight would have done if uninjured, but she got the death's blood off of the bone–white blade eventually, dragging it after her to fresh patches of grass twice. "I want a sword."

"Well," said the knight, "you might need to save up a bit and start with a smaller one."

"Will they just sell deaths bane swords? In stores? To anybody?"

"Oh, you want a deaths bane sword." Someone from the village tapped the knight on her good shoulder. "Yes?"

"All our thanks, Lady. May we have your name? Is it safe to burn the death here? What about your animal?"

"I'm Deaths bane Intara. Make a firebreak, but yes, burn it here," advised the knight. "Don't let animals graze where the death has passed until after the next frost has been and gone. The bigger plates might survive the fire, and after the frost you can take them safely, if you have a use for such things. I've seen people use them in furniture and such. I'll get the armour off my horse before I go. Burn the horse too, unless you want to eat her. Leave my armour and the horse's somewhere safe in your village. Someone will be by to pick it up within the fortnight."

"Yes, Lady Intara," said the villager.

Moque was sitting on the grass, sword propped with its hilt on her thigh, looking raptly at Lady Intara, still, who looked back down at her. "As I was saying," Intara said. "Most of the deaths bane swords in this part of the world are made for the Deaths bane family, by the family wizards – Deaths banes who can't do field work pick up magic. I'm not even sure how much a sword like mine would cost on the open market if you found one. It might be a matter of more than saving up, at least unless you want to move all the way out of the country."

"Oh," said Moque.

"What's your name? Do you live here?"

"Reet Moque. I live three days' north. I'm going to Charata City."

"All by yourself?"


"Well," said Lady Intara, "I'm going back to Charata City myself. That's where Deaths banes live when we aren't at outposts to respond to beacons like the one that brought me here, so it's where I need to be to recover from all my injuries. We might as well walk together, especially since you look about ten and I have a broken shoulder."

"I'm twelve," said Moque.

"Oh? When will you be thirteen?"

"Midwinter," said Moque.

"Hm," said Intara. "But in any case, do you want to come with me?"

"Yes," said Moque at once.

Without Intara's horse, it was two days on foot to Charata City; luckily the lady knight could still walk. Moque accompanied her, sometimes carried the sword (in its scabbard) for her, and asked questions every time Intara paused in describing the Deaths bane compound.

"There are a lot of us," Intara explained. "More every generation. Fifty years ago we could fit snugly in one big house, as long as we weren't all home at the same time, and we never are, because we have to spread out to be ready for deaths. Now we have four houses that size, and more buildings besides – training grounds and the stables and such."

"And it's only Deaths banes who live there?" asked Moque.

"Some people marry Deaths banes and take the name, and they can live in the compound with us," said Intara. "And we hire people to do things like cook, and fetch armor we have to leave behind like I just did, and maintain the beacons, and they aren't Deaths banes at all. But only born Deaths banes get the training and swords."


"Still stuck on that, huh?"

"You killed it," said Moque fervently, as they approached a farmhouse. Lady Intara, unlike a wandering girl of no particular family, had a good chance of being offered a place by the hearth for herself and a traveling companion if she knocked on any door. "If you hadn't killed it would've just – kept going. A sea–death killed my papa," Moque added, as though she needed additional reason to hero–worship Deaths banes. "They all need swords in their eye and you got hurt and you could've died but you showed up anyway."

"We don't have a very good way to hunt down sea–deaths, yet," said Intara.


"Hm," said Intara, and she knocked at the farmhouse, and talked to the woman who answered the door, and they were indeed offered pallets near the fire ("for you and your little squire", and Intara was kind enough not to correct her).

Moque lay awake staring at the rafters in the firelight and wanting the weight of the sword to belong to her.

They reached the city the following dusk, just as the city lanterns were being lit. Intara was recognised, greeted: "Thank you Lady!"

"Knight! Look, darling, a knight!"

"My lady, some water for you?" She nodded at everyone, took the water, led Moque through winding streets that were knobbly under their feet.

Moque looked at a juggler, a busker, a cart selling baked apples – and wrenched her eyes away to jog after the knight.

"What were you going to do once you got to the city?" asked Intara. "If it’s not eating baked apples."

"I – I don't know," said Moque. "When Papa died I went through some of his things, and there was a passbook for somebody I never heard of, from here."

"Who?" wondered Intara.

"I don't know how to pronounce it exactly," Moque dug out the passbook.

"Kelur Antre? Do you know a Kelur family?"

"I... don't know the family," said Intara. "But I've heard of one person by that name. Your family is Reet, right?"

"Do you know Reets?"

"Only you, little squire. But we can ask the other Deaths banes, how does that sound? All together we know a whole lot of people."

Moque nodded.

"Do you really not want a baked apple, or did you just not want to lose me in the crowd?" Intara added, with a faint, warm smile.

"I kind of want a baked apple," Moque admitted.

Intara bought her one. Moque savored the treat and followed Intara as they cut through the heart of the city to reach the Deaths bane compound.

It was beautiful. Not opulent, nor even particularly cunningly designed – Moque doubted very much that people went to stare at it for its architecture. It was plain and the corners were sharp and the layout was simple. It was a set of buildings designed, with ruthless clarity, for its efficiency at housing and supporting Deaths banes so that they could efficiently kill deaths.

There were a few people crisscrossing the yard. Someone with a basket of laundry. Someone with a horse on a long line, in a fenced section by the stable. Someone leading a group of little Deaths bane children, all younger than Moque, all going for a jog, chanting call–and–responses together as they went.

The man with the laundry stumbled and scrambled to catch a square of fabric. Pale gold. Embroidered with a sword.

Intara led Moque to a front entrance of one of the buildings. There was no entryway; they just stepped immediately into what looked like a living room – fire in the middle, roaring high and hot, and knights and children and old mages resting around it.

"Family," Intara said, addressing them all with one fell swoop. "This is Moque. She's looking for someone who might have known a Kelur Antre."

The Deaths banes all looked at Moque. Moque stood up taller and held out the passbook.

And then she got out her fabric square, and her wedding bangle.

And a woman sitting close to the fire got up, and came close, and knelt so she was eye to eye with Moque.

"Go get patched up, Intara," she told the lady knight. "I'll take it from here."

"Of course," said Intara, and she went back out the door again.

"H–hello," said Moque.

"Hello," said the woman, taking the passbook, the fabric, the bangle. "Where did you find these?"

"In Papa's secret box. After he died."

"Come sit by the fire with us." She led her to the couch; it had just the right amount of squash in the cushions. "Where did you grow up, Moque?"

"Five days' walking north of here. On the beach. What does this have to do with anything?"

"It might have a lot to do with everything. How old are you exactly?"

"I'll be thirteen Midwinter. Lady."

"No need to be so formal." But she didn't give Moque another name to use. "What did your papa look like?"

"Like me. Well, but taller and a man, and he had his hair longer. I have his eyes."

"Moque," said the woman, "will you bear with me for a minute if I tell you a story?"

"All right," allowed Moque.

"About fourteen years ago a Deaths bane lady knight named Mirials wed outside the family. She married a fellow named Kelur Antre and they were very happy and soon enough they had a little daughter and named her Alcessa. And it is customary for newborn Deaths banes like Alcessa to be knighted right away, even though they won't be full knights until later. But Antre didn't like that at all. He wasn't supposed to find out – it's a Deaths bane thing and he wasn't supposed to see. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when he saw, he decided to kidnap Alcessa and run away with her and go into hiding. Mirials looked – and so did her brothers and sisters and cousins and parents. It took months to track Antre down."

There was a shiver creeping up Moque's spine. "Then what?"

"I was the one who cornered him, and it was way up north, at a huge waterfall. And I said, 'Give back the baby, Antre, and we'll have no quarrel', and Antre held the baby over the edge of the river."

Moque gulped. "Wh–why didn't he want to give her back," she murmured.

"He didn't say. He just said that the Deaths banes had better stop looking for him, that he wasn't letting us get Alcessa back, not ever, no matter what."

The shiver was turning into a spider of ice across Moque's back. "Did he mean it?"

"We don't know," said the knight. "Maybe it was an empty threat. But we let him go."

Moque clenched the bangle and the golden blanket in her fist. "And he moved to a fishing village and changed their names and told her she didn't have a mother, until a sea–death ate him."

"Hello, daughter," said the woman, and without either of them clearly deciding to do it first, they embraced.

Deaths bane Alcessa, Moque to her friends, had a sword on its way.

The forges were hot and her grandfather was hammering it into shape while her third cousin, once removed, layered spells into its blade. She would be old enough to really use it in five or six years, but old enough to start catching up on learning how as soon as it was cooled. Moque had her own room in the dormitory wing with the other Deaths bane children and she ate three meals a day all of which were delicious and none of which she had to cook. She was studying like mad, because there was a curriculum and she'd only get busier once she had her sword, and she'd missed twelve years of it thanks to Kelur Antre.

Deaths bane Alcessa, Moque to herself, had a mother.

Mirials loved her and wanted to hug her, rocking, and sing her a song – "Just once, please? I know you're a little old for it but I never got to" – and showed her where everything was and introduced her to all the Family and brought her along to convey their joint gratitude to Intara, laid up with her broken ribs and shoulder in the infirmary.

to be continued...