• 17 Apr - 23 Apr, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Mirials started teaching her to ride a horse and assemble a suit of armour and memorise how to get to all the outposts in the country for when she was sent, one day, to park close to a far–off cluster of villages in case one of their beacons went up in flames.

Deathsbane Alcessa, Moque to her papa – did not see how this added up.

"I don't understand why he would take me," she told Mirials, sitting beside her at supper after having raced the other children all afternoon to improve her conditioning. "What's so bad about knighting a baby Deathsbane?"

"Oh," sighed Mirials with astonishment. "...Perhaps, I'd better just show you."

"Show me what?"

"The sword we use to knight the new ones."

They finished their dinner and Moque dragged tired feet after her mother and they went up to the highest part of the oldest building in the compound.

The attic was low–ceilinged, but clean, and there was a cloth–draped table dominating the space, and on it was a Deathsbane sword. Unremarkable as those went.

Until it actually spoke.

"Mirials. Alcessa," rumbled the sword.

Moque knew that animals could talk, if wizards used them as familiars. She did not know that swords could talk.

"I've brought Alcessa here to explain about knighting," Mirials said.

"Talking sword," Moque mouthed but didn't voice.

"I will tell you the story," the sword said. "Sit, children."

Mirials sat at once. Moque followed after a moment's stunned hesitation.

"The first Deathsbane was born almost two hundred years ago," said the sword. "He was a mage as well as a knight, and he had already performed a great triumph in making a weapon that could kill deaths without multiplying them. But he saw how few people wanted this task. He could have made a dozen more swords, and those willing to take them up even in crisis, let alone make themselves ready to fight deaths, would have been few, perhaps none. And he would not live forever."

Mirials had her eyes closed and nodded along to the story. She had heard it before. She liked this story.

"And so he worked a still greater magic. Animals may become people, exposed to magic, but they are new people. The first Deathsbane wished for his sword to become him and give his drive and his will to those who took it up, because every death slain was dozens, even hundreds of lives saved."

Moque closed her eyes too.

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 Kelur Antre curriculum and she'd only get busier once she had her sword, and she'd missed twelve years of it thanks to.

"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."

It was beautiful. Neither 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.

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.

"He succeeded. His personality was copied into me. And when an unformed mind contacts me, the same personality goes into them. The first Deathsbane's three daughters were the next generation, and their children the next, and on and on, until now."

"So, what Papa saw," Moque murmured, "…..was....?”

"Was me holding a sword over you and saying part of the Sendaway. It's only one verse. You didn't die," Mirials said, just as softly. "You were never even scratched. A Deathsbane sword only cuts what its wielder wants cut. But it's part of the ceremony out of respect for who you would have been unknighted. Antre came in at just the wrong moment, and he didn't understand, when I explained."

"Oh," said Moque.

"Depart now," said the sword. "I will hear the evening's reports soon in privacy."

"Yes, Grandfather," said Mirials.

Grandfather, please!

Mirials took Moque's hand and pulled her to her feet and led her out of the attic.

The new sword was ready.

She could collect it and turn up for her lesson at six in the morning and learn to make it part of her arm. She could stay, where everyone knew just how to teach kids like her, just what temperature she thought soup should be served at, just how she'd like her hair cut, because for two hundred years, these things had all been just so, and she was just the same.

She could run away like Papa. She could wait a week, for her new cousin to be delivered, and snatch the babe before he or she was sent away in favour of a new Deathsbane.

A new baby who'd pick up their own sword and wait in outposts far from home for weeks on end just in case someone needed Deathsbane expertise to kill a death that would otherwise eat their babies. She could stop the baby from growing up like that and instead she could put it on a doorstep in the middle of nowhere and it could farm oats.

In the end it wasn't much of a choice for her.

Deathsbane Alcessa took up her sword. –Anonymous