Battle drums kept the villagers marching in formation. It did not matter that they had just lost two battles for slavery was not an option these villagers considered. Women and children took arms to join alongside men.
The wooden drums continued to pound by the very hands that created these war machines, which though used for dance and celebration, were now used to instill adrenaline. Step by step the villagers marched in uniformity, da-da-da boom-boom-boom, da-da-da boom-boom-boom.
Though some were farmers, teachers, and carpenters, every villager was taught to fight, defend, and protect. The ranks grew and spread forth to engage, but I already knew what laid in store for them. I began to envision the unfolding events about to take place, as though foretold.
I observed what I had already witnessed too many times. The ground shook from a horde of troops marching towards what would be a triumphant victory. Villagers released a thicket of arrows that depleted the front and second rank. No arrow missed its target, still there simply too many foes. Beyond the hills and in the distance, which was thought to be shadows cast by clouds, were enemy divisions to no end.
Upon penetrating the outer defenses, all enemy divisions pressed through. It didn’t matter how many foes died because there were countless more. The villagers deployed their infantry units, but they were no match. Screams shrilled louder than the clash of metal. I could not tell whether the sounds I was hearing were from the onslaught itself or echoing in my head from memories.
I had been just a boy when I escaped the same calamities that befell my own village. Never mind that my people were trained to fight since youth, or that most of the King’s warriors derived from my village. An overwhelming force decimated us. As the lone survivor, I traveled through the countryside in search for others. Passing through countless ruins devoid of survivors, my hope ebbed away. Just then as the land became silent I looked over to see the horde marching onward.
Approaching the smoldering village before the hour of light soon passed, a gust of wind sailed across my shoulder. It swept away the smog, revealing, to my surprise, a young man. After briefly searching for survivors he yelled and yelled again. No one answered, not so much as a whisper. Neither did his words echo because the hills and the mountains were too fearful to be trampled upon and crushed by the horde that consumed all in its path.
That night the young man hammered away in his desolate village where rubbles continued to burn through the night. His muscles were well-toned, lean and strong. Sweat dripped from his pores. The kiln bubbled with flares. Vapors blazed forth singeing his hands and forearms. The sword glowed …perhaps even brighter than the flame with which it was being forged. It appeared as though it were made of fire rather than metal. Could it be an unknown element? I wondered.
Curious, I drew nearer. I marveled to see that he was crying as he hammered. His tears instantly vaporized as they fell upon the sword he was folding. He had been beaten in battle and everyone he had known was gone.
Had he not been knocked unconscious when his head struck against a large stone, his fate would have been that of his fellow villagers. His rearing horse had lost control and toppled upon him from forty to fifty spears that hurled forth. His head wound had scabbed and the blood along his neck and forehead had crusted. In spite of all he endured, I was surprised that he had not lost heart like I had. I admired his resilience to prepare himself a new weapon, but it wouldn’t make much difference.
By now, the young warrior had been forging for nearly three days without eating, sleeping, or leaving his father’s foundry. The hammer pounding continued with the cadence of a marching drum thrumming just before battle, pumping adrenaline into the warrior’s chest.
The young man first acquired his skills as a boy. His father, the town blacksmith, took him as his apprentice. It was then that he wielded every sword his father had crafted. Therefore, he eventually became a master swordsmith and a master swordsman. If there were any defect, any fault whatsoever with the blade, it was tossed into the fire. No matter the effort, anything less than perfect would be detrimental to the one who would wield it. The sword was a warrior’s life and strength, which the livelihood of a village depended upon.
Stepping closer to peer inside the smithy, I noticed along the blade were inscriptions and intricate designs I did not recognize. I had never heard of a sword that could be folded as many times as this one. At the base of the hilt was some sort of translucent agate that shimmered with a fiery brilliance similar to the flames escaping the furnace. It appeared as though this stone had somehow trapped the fire inside.
When I thought the sword was finally finished, the young man plunged the blade into the heart of the furnace, where it burned the hottest. The furnace grew red hot, I was afraid that it might explode but then he hurried outside to plunge the sword into the iced-over brook. I covered my ears from the shrill as the ice fractured and steam vented.
Iridescent colors shimmered as he pulled out the sword. The ice fractured for miles, revealing instead of a brook, a massive lake. The young man hopped from one slab of ice to another. His motions were swift, his footing sure, though the slabs of ice bobbled up and down. Getting to the other side of the lake, he dropped to one knee in silent homage.
I gazed upon the sword, which had been folded many times until its razor edge was almost too fine to be seen. I quickly turned away because of the intense pain I felt. As I rubbed away the discomfort from my eyes, I noticed blood on my fingers. I knew then this was no ordinary sword. It warranted great respect. It could only be beheld for a few moments at a time.
With unwavering confidence, the sword spoke, “We shall battle together as one, as long as there be one that unites with me.” Not so much as falter was heard in its voice. It was as wise as it was beautiful. Now I understood why the young man had worked painstakingly.
It continued, “I will give you the chance to make me proud, but you are yet finished.” The young man was then guided to a mountain.
The crevice leading into the mountain was quite dark. Terrors of growls and groans echoed in the cavern – human words with accents of what sounded like demon creatures. The torch flickered and dimmed by the breath of these creatures. I now knew what it felt like to be blind and dependent, as I stumbled over loose rocks. I used my hands to guide me along the walls, trying to find the passage we had entered so that I might escape. When the torch was put out, I panicked upon hearing creatures approaching. Just then the sword promptly shined. Glancing all around, I was alarmed that there were no creatures in sight; just shadows along the wall, but these disappeared with the light radiating from the sword.
The young warrior proceeded into the deep darkness of the mountain. The air was thin and suffocating. My head seemed light and my body became weaker with each step. Suddenly, a stampede of demon-monsters appeared from the dark shadows and attacked. There was neither tunnel nor path from whence they came.
Some were burly giants, others small yet furiously fast, and still others so grotesque their glance was a mesmerizing weapon. Paying no attention to me, they advanced with one desire – to attack and crush the light. The young man darted to the left and to the right, thrusting and blocking, stabbing and fending off.
Another legion quickly appeared, fighting to prevent him from passing onward. Yet as many as charged, he struck down until they gave up in a defeated retreat, realizing that they could not overpower the might of the warrior. As they left or vanished from sight, whips flung forth. Some with iron fragments, razor sharp that ripped through his armor and clothing, scuffing his flesh.
Both of his ankles were suddenly straddled, pinned from moving, they lashed their whips to take the sword away from his grasp. Just then his right hand that held the sword was grappled by a whip that had shards of fiery glass puncturing his skin. The more he tightened his grip, the more the shards weakened his strength.
I grabbed my dagger and rushed toward his left leg to cut the whip, but the blade melted away. Still, it was enough to distract the beasts. Freeing his right hand, I could see hundreds of hooks on the shards at the end of the whip, which were used to fasten its grip and rip apart both armor and flesh should one try to break free. Loosening his left foot, he kicked me backward out of harms way. I covered my ears as the whips crackled with ferocity.
Ripping off a piece of his clothing he hurriedly wrapped his right wrist while still maneuvering swiftly to cut the whips sailing toward him. In all directions, he rushed toward the beasts to catch them off guard. That’s when I noticed that the whips were tongues of demon beasts, and still others were tails or limbs. Seeing they that they too could not over power him, they withdrew.
As I followed the young man, I was astonished there was no blood on the creatures he had slain. That’s when I realized this was the Sword of Swords! It could pierce the hearts of men. I, like many others, had heard of it, but no one had ever seen one. Few had ever believed it was anything more than a myth. This sword existed long before time began, a time when legends of old were in there making. This young man knew how to forge the Sword of Swords, but why hadn’t he done so sooner, I wondered.
The warrior turned and made eye contact with me, revealing to me that he knew my thoughts. At first I was fearful, but as he kept his gaze, my fear faded away. How long had he known I was following him?
I ran closer at arms length away, and we journeyed further when the air became more stifling than before. With water trickling down the walls, the path became slippery and it was descending. Losing my footing, I slid downward when the young man caught my hand. My legs dangled over the drop off.
Before us was an endless expanse. It was impossible to measure how far it expanded, but it appeared to be longer and wider than the mountain itself! The young man tossed a rock over. I listened, but never heard it strike bottom. However, a voice rumbled, “Those who have come this far …
…shall perish if they do not continue.” Loose rocks fell from the echo. My body shivered with fear. I tried to rub it away, but the hairs on my arm pricked my hands. How could we cross this great chasm? To my surprise, the young man began to cry. As his tears fell upon the ground, they combined into a puddle.
There is no time for this, I thought to myself. The cave walls vibrated again when the same words issued forth. I dove aside when a massive rock trundled toward us. Looking back as I fell to the ground, I saw him stand up just in time to slice the boulder into halves.
Then striking the puddle with the sword, a bridge formed across the expanse. I now knew that tears of sadness paved the way to happiness, for those who cry, hope for something better. Certainly, those who persevered the most must be the happiest.
As the warrior began to make his way across, I reminisced what the sword had said: “…but you are yet finished.” It wasn’t the sword; rather the young man had to prove himself worthy to wield the sword.
I drew near the edge of the expanse when the path began to retract from the ledge. Remembering the demon-creatures were still out there, I quickly jumped. After gaining my balance, I hurriedly followed.
After several hours, we arrived at the exit on the other side of the mountain. Smoke filled the sky from the plundering of nearby villages. Passing straight through the villages, I had trouble keeping up with him. Along our path were corpses to the left and right. As had been our experience, we found no survivors.
Seemingly without reason, the young man began running faster. After running several miles, I finally saw the enemy that he had been pursuing. I felt like a coward. This young warrior charged into battle and slew many minions. He slashed and thrust as he spun and dove. His movements were swift, yet controlled. Truly he was a magnificent swordsman. The enemy, seeing that it was facing defeat, retreated.
The young man thrust his sword to the sky, and light shone through the clouds. The villagers, who had been dispersed by the invaders, began to draw near to see this mighty warrior. Wanting to know where he came from they asked, “Are there others like you?”
The warrior said not a word. They admired him for his bravery, but I was saddened to perceive that their courage had waned. I felt an urge to tell them that they too were courageous and that they should believe. Then again, who was I to tell them so? I who had been too frail to defend my own village. Yes, I survived, but for what? To live in fear, in hiding?
“That is the Sword.” Some nearby proclaimed while others said, “No, it is only a myth.”
The fallen foes who had been slain by the young warrior began to rise. The villagers were traumatized fearing another assault. To their surprise, those whose hearts had been pierced by the sword remained to help rebuild, choosing to make this village their new home. While the others whose hearts were not pierced, fled away.
“It is the Sword!” the villagers exclaimed.
The warrior continued his journey, liberating every village he could. Each community, grateful that he had salvaged their freedom, begged him to remain. However, his mission was not over.
At the next village, henchmen had overwhelmed the defenses. Women and children fled in the opposite direction, toward me. I had never seen dispirited faces such as theirs. While they fled, they began dropping from the arrows that chased them. The men looked to regroup for an attack, but instead, they retreated. Why are they fleeing? I thought. “Fight,” I yelled, “Fight!”
My body jolted back and I nearly tripped over, when I understood why. A monstrous man-like demon creature looked straight at me. He stared me down as he stepped closer to the perimeter of the last defensive line protecting women and children. His sword very much like the young warriors’. It glowed with a fiery rage of evil and it was twice as large.
While the scattered villagers hurried in their last hope to create a fortified barrier, the henchmen fell into ranks behind their master champion. Raising their swords up and down they chanted, but they too kept their distance.
With the ground shaking beneath my feet I looked around to see what was happening when I noticed the young warrior charge into battle. The demon creature likewise charged. Their footsteps pounded against the rugged terrain. A huge battle aura began building up as they each summoned their energy.
“Will the young man die,” I groaned, as I looked at giant’s imposing structure. They met in a thunderous clash of swords and I was elated to see that the young man held his ground. Each pressing against the other to see which of them had the greater strength. At first, the man-creature took a step back, but then pressed harder to regain his footing causing the warrior to take a step back.
They looked intently at one another and both pushed more weight into their stance. They stepped back and forth for a while, until the giant summoned more energy with his sword and pushed off. The young man stumbled back, but quickly regained his composure.
The monstrous fiend in the meantime, thinking he had knocked him down, turned toward the villagers and henchmen. Wavering his sword above his head, he began shaking and roaring, taunting the villagers and strengthening his henchmen. He notices however that the villagers and minions paid little attention to him, as they looked beyond him.
The giant being agitated, gripped the hilt with both hands when he noticed the warrior in his fighting stance, waiting for him. Both step forward to swing, as if to obliterate iron-trees.
Villagers and henchman alike took cover to avoid the sparks shooting off with each sword clash. I ducked as one of the sparks headed directly toward me, and turned around to see a field in flames. Such was the intensity of the battle that one strike could wipe out a hundred men.
As they clashed together once more, they pushed their weight against each other to the point that they were very near each other. They’re elbows collided. Their knees also colliding from time to time as they switched stances. The ogre-demon, with his beast-like legs, took a left step forward followed by a right step. Going for the opening, he bent slightly down on his left knee and sprung upward, jabbing his right knee at the warrior’s left side.
Falling toward his right, the young man turns to land on his back. With the advantage, the giant relentlessly swings over and over again with all his might. The warrior’s energy drains away as it becomes increasingly difficult to block each attack. However, because the ogre-beast was taller, he had drawn too close. Kicking upward at the hilt of giant’s sword, the giant quickly backs away because his torso was left exposed.
They both seemed to pause for a moment. I wasn’t sure if they needed to catch their breath, or if they were reevaluating each other. The beast was stronger and bigger, and therefore charged. The warrior matched each blow, and what advantage the giant had over him in strength, he made up for it in agility. I thought to myself that surely, this warrior was mightier than all the ones I had heard about in the legends of my childhood. Yet, to see a warrior become a legend was itself monumental.
Close in proximity to each other, the demon-ogre swung horizontally aiming for the neck. The young man took a large back step, with his head and torso leaning as far back as possible. Placing his left hand on the ground, the giant swiftly stepped inward to strike. Yet the warrior sprung backward and landing a right kick to the giant’s chin.
Staggering back, the demon-creature fixated his gaze and wiped away the drool-blood from the side of his lip.
Enraged, he powers up by summoning more energy. His legions became faint looking, from the loss of their strength. The villagers took notice of this and mustering their strength, they launched an attack.
The giant moves forward only to deceive the young warrior by taking a quick step in reverse for a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree spin, and swings with his right arm for the neck, only to miss. However, his left hand sails into the chest.
The warrior’s arms and shoulders curled inward from the pain and force of the blow. He attempts to raise his sword for a block, but is still stunned and unable deflect the giant’s jab. The blade pierced through, smooth and clean, severing both armor and bone.
I felt a sharp pain penetrate my chest, as the young warrior fell to his knees. With one hand covering the wound to his left side, the other gripped his sword, which was partially plunged in the ground.
The man-like beast raised his arms back for a final lunge to end the warrior’s life. The warrior placed his left hand upon the rock adjacent him to anchor his weight. With a tenacious backhand grip, he drew the sword from the ground in an arc that deflected the attack. Then, slingshotting his momentum, he pushed off the rock to thrust his sword.
Frozen in his tracks, the open-mouthed demon looked with disbelief at the sword puncturing through the armor on his belly. The young warrior, reversing to a front hand position, thrusts his sword further upward as he stands to his feet. The giant’s sword tottered and fell like a bronze pillar hitting the ground.
The henchmen scattered but some tried to pick up the giant’s sword, but it was too heavy. It also burned their palm and fingers. Just then the sword vanished from their sight and they fled.
The warrior staggered towards me in spite of the fatal blow. I wanted to back away and keep my distance, yet I found myself walking towards him. As I did, I noticed his sword was dripping. The tears of those who had cried for hope were flowing down the blade.
“This sword is their hope!” The warrior exclaimed. It provided an everlasting hope that grew stronger with every tear. No matter how great or small, the sword rejected no tear.
The sword spoke with the utmost confidence, “There is always a price for freedom. The greater the freedom the greater the price that has to be paid, and the greatest freedom will require your life.” I looked at the warrior to see if the sword was speaking to me or to him.
“Will you take this sword?” The young warrior asked.
I thought about how courageous he was, and what it meant to be a soldier. I however-
“You have been with me from the beginning. You have followed me, learned from me, and now you can do greater things.”
After a moment of silence to ponder, he spoke again, “Or will you let others fall.”
Although his stature appeared to be as strong as it was before, I watched him buckle to his knees. With his vigor diminishing, his right hand gripped the hilt as he held onto it with all his strength to keep from collapsing.
“But I am not worthy,” I replied.
“That is why I asked you. If you believed that you were worthy then I would have chosen another. The sword will make you worthy.” With these final words, the young man had given up his last breath. I remembered that during the forging of the sword, he had been crying. He had known then that it would cost him his life. His sorrow was another man’s joy.
The sword began to flicker in and out, so I quickly grabbed it.
“Do not fret about the young man. You see, to be with me, you must be one with me. He is with me even now. You must also know that he chose you because I had already chosen you.”
“What is your name?” I asked.
“You already know.”
I knew its folklore name, but I wasn’t sure if that was also its true name. “You are Sword of Swords!” I proclaimed. A surge of power came upon me. Fear, even to the slightest degree, dissipated.
My mind began syncing with the sword. It knew my every thought and to an extent I knew its own – at least what it wanted me to know. There was no need to speak, nevertheless the sword spoke, “Let us not waste time. Go!”
Keith Yrisarri Stateson
© 23Aug2021 1st Publication Keith Yrisarri Stateson
Names are listed alphabetically within each field, regardless of the amount an individual contributed.