Author’s Note: I wrote this story a couple of years ago and only recently rediscovered it. It has always been one of my favorites and I was encouraged to share it with others. So here it is; sorry no Xena or Gabrielle but its still worth a look. So please read, review and enjoy!
Feed back is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
* * *
She stood next to the anvil, a small slender woman who looked as out of place working in a blacksmith’s shop as the stout man before her would have looked working in a brothel. She looked as if a good stiff breeze might knock her down and pin her to the ground.
But the moment she moved, the moment she set motion to that slender form, she was transformed. Her slender arms and small hands belied a strength and grace that spoke of long hours spent at the forge and perhaps other things as well.
There was a fluidity to her movements, a purposeful efficiency that spoke of harsh training and even harder learning. In short, she seemed almost to dance as she moved not a single motion wasted.
“I can have her shod by the end of the day, if you want to leave her with me, Gailan.” She spoke comfortably to the older stout man before her. Her words were familiar and easy with just a hint of impish merriment to them. She wasted nothing of words either.
“My gratitude Anila. Aye, that’d be good. I don’t know why the damn thing came off when it did, horse damn near caused a wreck she did.”
She smiled at him the gesture transforming her face as she escorted him to the door. “Then it’s lucky for you that you brought her here as I’ve a pretty good idea why she threw the shoe.”
The older man’s interest perked up and he leaned a little closer to her. “Ya do?”
“Sure do. Not enough whiskey in her diet and too much in her owner’s.” She winked as she said this and it caused the old man to laugh heartily.
He shrugged as he placed his hand on the door of her shop. “Be that as it may, you’ll get no complaint out of me about the whiskey rationing in my house.”
“Of course not sir, your wife is in here complaining for you. And a fine woman she is too.”
The man laughed again as he stood in the doorway. “Aye that she is. I’ll be by before sunset to pick up the nag.”
“Tell that wife of yours that I send my regards and that Hendel and I will be at the house for dinner tomorrow, same as always.”
The man waved as he nodded and walked out the door.
She chuckled as she walked out to the back of the shop where he had brought the horse to be shoed. She was still chuckling when she set out the tools needed for the job. She patted the horse on its rump soundly feeling more pleased with her life and where it had landed than in quite some time. With a surprisingly light heart, she set about the task of putting iron shoe to hoof.
She was in the middle of the task, nearly ready to set the new shoe onto the hoof and nail it on when she heard the bells over the shop door ring. She set the horse’s foot down, gave it a pat as she left and went to see what new business had just wandered through her door.
She had never seen the man that stood in the doorway of her shop before. And while she tried never to judge anyone on first appearances, she disliked him on sight.
He was tall and slender, almost to the point of appearing emaciated. And his jet black hair stood in stark contrast with the milky white of his skin. Skin so white, it appeared to never have seen the light of day; almost as if he had chosen to hide it from the sun.
His long flowing robes were dark as well, a flowing inky black so dark they seemed to swallow up all the light around them, leaving a void in the room. They were nicely tailored and appeared to be made of something other then mere peasant wool.
Everything about the strange man screamed of wealth and power. For someone who was running a simple simth’s shop in a very small village, the appearance of such a man as this should have seemed a blessing. But as he stepped into the front of her smith, she felt a strange desire to shove him back out and barricade the door.
She pushed the strange feeling deep down inside, forced a smile to her face and stepped forward to greet him. “Can I help you with something this fine beautiful day sir?” The words sounded forced to her ears and she mentally winced at the snappish tone in them.
He failed to notice either her tone or discomfort. Instead, he slowly removed his gloves as he gazed at his surroundings with obvious distaste. “Yes you can. I was told that you are the only blacksmith in this backwater village.” He continued to look around her shop in disgust, not even bothering to meet her gaze as he spoke.
She felt her ire rise as she realized that she didn’t like the man, his attitude or his appearance. She felt her hackles rise at the scorn and disdain she heard in his voice. She didn’t bother correcting his opinion about the village; she well knew that trying to change his mind would be a waste of effort.
“That I am.”
He walked towards her, turning his attention to inspecting some tools she had lying out. He touched them, a grimace crossing his face when his hands came away smudged with dirt. “I’ve also been told, not by anyone in this village of course, that you are someone who might be willing to help me.”
“That depends upon what you might be needing.” She kept her voice level, her tone sincere but she found herself irritated by the way he spoke.
His voice had a high nasal quality to it that she had often heard used by rich aristocrats or children about to throw a tantrum. In this case both seemed to fit the man. For the first time he turned to face her as the words fell from his lips with all the force of a hammer on an anvil.
For a moment the shop was filled with utter silence. She stood there, her heart suddenly still in her chest as she stared at the strange man in black. Time seemed to have stopped for her in that moment. In the next instant her heart began to beat loudly in her chest as in the blink of an eye, her past, in all its bloody detail, roared back to life.
Her ears were filled with the dim and distant roar of battle and the screams of fighting and dying men. Hazy visions of enormous armies clashing on mile long battlefields swam before her eyes, colorful pennants snapping in the breeze. The smells of smoke, sweating horses and bleeding men filled her nostrils, and stung her eyes as she stood on a distance hilltop overlooking it all.
A moment later, she blinked as she came back to herself. The images and sounds fading away as she pushed her memories back down, deep inside. With an effort, she pushed everything behind the shields she had constructed so long ago to hold back the horrors she’d seen in her life.
She felt a stony mask slide across her face, wiping the smile from it and concealing the pain and anguish the images had brought forth. “I’m sorry, I don’t know who told you that but I don’t make weapons. The only blades I forge are knives and those are used by women to cook or men to hunt game with.”
The man stepped forward, his smile wicked and thin on his too pale face. “Really, then tell me why have you turned as pale as a sheet and your heart begun to race like a rabbit’s?”
She forced herself to hold her ground and felt anger add color back into her cheeks. “That’s none of your concern. All you need know is that you were told wrong. I don’t forge weapons.”
This time he sneered at her, his teeth appearing yellow against the abnormal white of his face. “Then you are not Tavryn of Ginwell, Sword Smith and Death Dealer of the Imperial armies?”
She started at the hated name and title, her shields slowly collapsing as she once again faced her past. He took that moment to grab her wrist in his bony fingers, squeezing it painfully as she tried to pull free.
“I am not that person any longer, nor do I wish to be.” Her voice was tight and strained as she resisted the urge to pummel the man senseless.
He smiled at her denials, his face a scant inch from hers. “Ah but you are that person, as loathe as you are to admit it. You can’t run from it, you can only hide it for a time.”
She flinched at the feel of his fetid breath on her cheek. Reaching up with her free hand she grabbed the hand that held her and twisted it cruelly until he let go. She shoved him away from her the disgust on her face evident.
“I run from no one and I hide nothing. The person you speak of is dead and nothing you say will bring her back to do the work you’re asking.” She turned from him, picking up some scattered tools that she had meant to put away earlier. Despite her heated declaration, she was shaken and needed a moment to compose herself.
Behind her the stranger chuckled softly as he stepped up next to her. “I’m prepared to pay any price you name; you have but to ask. All I require in return is a sword, forged by your hand and with your skill.” His voice was as smooth as silk to her ears.
For the first time, she felt a twinge of temptation. Angered at his ability to touch her with his silver words, she threw down the tools she had gathered and turned on him, the violence clear in the set of her body and her eyes. “You’ve nothing I would accept. I’ll not make you a blade for any amount of money.”
He smiled again, the gesture seemingly much more sinister than before as he chuckled. “I never mentioned money, I mentioned only price. You need not limit yourself to a simple monetary transaction. The price I’m willing to pay is much more, shall we say…personal to you.”
She hesitated, suspicious yet unable to still her curiosity. “What do you mean?”
He lowered his voice, the tone slowly softening, soothing her, lulling her as he stepped closer whispering into her ear. “Isn’t there something you want, something you desire beyond all reason; something that you would be willing to give anything to have?” His words flowed over her, like liquid honey, sweet and oh so tempting; enticing her, urging her to think well on his question.
She resisted, with everything she could muster, she resisted. But despite her will, a hazy image began to form in her mind, slowly taking shape as the longing in her heart grew. Drawn by the promise of his words, emotions she had thought long buried and ignored came alive, surging to the surface. She could feel herself wavering, faltering as she let herself wonder, for just a moment about granting what he asked.
Deep inside, she felt her heart break at the mere thought of selling her soul to this man. That tearing burning pain was enough to break his hold over her and she felt herself snap. A wave of anger overcame her and she lashed out with her hand, slashing at the image with her fist. She swallowed a sob of grief as the image swirled and faded from view, the spell cast by his words, broken. She stepped back from him, thinking to put space between herself and temptation.
“The thing I desire most at this moment is for you to leave my smith and never return. Beyond that you’ve little hope.”
He stood in front of her, angered, the emotion twisting his face into a sinister mask as he once more tried to bring her under his influence. “No? You think the task beyond me? Did you think that I came here without knowing what it is that you might ask of me?” He stepped closer, grabbing her firmly by the shoulders as he began spinning his spell around her once more. “I can return her to you, whole and hale. She need not lay in that shallow grave on the Moriann Plains any longer. She can be here with you and your companion, living out the remainder of the life she was meant to have. I can make that happen; death holds no dominion over my power. All I require is your skill and hand at the forge. Surely that is a fair trade?”
Each word from his lips was like a drop of honey to her; filled with promise and desire. She stared at him for several moments her eyes glassy and unfocused as the longing in her heart allowed the spell to take hold.
She could see it all so clearly in her mind. He would return Nadara to her; he would give her her heart’s desire. All that he asked in return was a blade, forged by her hand. Surely that was not so much to ask for the return of something so precious to her. Surely that was worth the price he asked of her.
Once more the image formed in front of her as she allowed his words into her empty heart. This time the picture was clear and crisp, the spell he had woven much stronger than before.
Dimly, she felt tears sliding down her face as he stood behind her, whispering silver promises into her ear. As they slowly slid down her face, her heart rebelled once more at the image before her and it quivered slightly, changing as something inside of her showed her the truth of what she was contemplating.
Where before, the vision was surrounded by light, it was now shadowed in darkness. The figure of Nadara raised her hands and she could see that they were covered in blood. Anila looked up in horror to see worms crawling through her hair and clumps of maggots falling from her eyes.
She flinched, closing her eyes, destroying the vision and the spell. She turned to face the man behind her, her insides suddenly ice-cold. She knew what he was and what his promises meant.
He was a necromancer, a sorcerer who dealt in death and resurrection. If she allowed him to, he could easily persuade her to take up the bloody forge she had left behind ten years ago. The one she had sworn she would leave behind until the day she died.
Tears slid down her cheeks as she forced his compulsion away knowing that she could never accept the deal he offered. To do so would darken her soul and place a blight on her life and all those around her; she would not risk that for any price.
What she desired was dead; had been dead for ten years. And there was nothing that she or anyone else could do that would change that, or her hand in it. To attempt to do so would change the very balance of the world that she believed in so strongly. And to do so wouldn’t save her, it would just damn her all over again.
Sickened by his presence, and knowing that she could not fight off his spell a third time, she grabbed him, dragged him across the front of the smith and shoved him out the door as forcefully as she could. He landed in a heap in the middle of the lane.
She spat in his general direction as she shouted. “I’ll not forge anything for you. Nothing you could pay me would be worth the risk to my soul. Don’t come back else I’ll be forced to rip out your black tongue.”
When he looked up, she saw the murder and rage in his eyes. “You will regret this denial.” He stood up brushing himself off and turned to walk away.
She was thankful that her end of the village was deserted. There was no one to see the silent tears begin slipping down her face. She watched him stomp away in ill concealed anger and felt her heart break all over again.
“I already do.”
* * *
“You couldn’t do what he asked Anila. There are some things that we were never meant to mess with; it was too great a risk.”
She had returned to the home she shared with Helden; her friend, companion and lover of the past eight years. After she had thrown the necromancer out of her smith, she had finished shoeing the horse and waited for Gailan to return.
When he finally did, she had found herself simply walking through the steps of banter with him. Normally she quite enjoyed the man’s wit and appreciated the verbal banter they shared. But her encounter with the necromancer had shaken her badly and she was only able to nod and grunt noncommittally at Gailan’s words.
If the older man had noticed her reaction, he did not say; he simply paid her, gathered his horse and left the smith bidding her a good evening. When he was gone, she had closed the shop up and headed home; despite the amount of work that she had to be finished for the following day. One look at her face had told Helden that something was terribly wrong. It had only taken a moment or two for him to begin prying the story out of her.
He had sat them both down with glasses of mulled wine as she spoke in hushed, low tones about her conversation with the dark sorcerer. As she spoke, he seemed as shaken by the encounter as she had been.
“I know Hendel, but I was sorely tempted. More so than I can ever remember being before.”
“What will you do now?”
She sighed hating what the appearance of the necromancer would force her to do. In the past few years, her life had developed into a strange routine. They would settle down in a small town; one far off the beaten paths, far from the larger cities and deep in the backwaters of the Empire.
Then somehow, someway someone would come looking for her and show up demanding her skills at the forge. Then they would find themselves packing up, leaving behind whatever they couldn’t carry; often sneaking away under cover of night to avoid uncomfortable questions.
They would travel for time, then settle down in another nondescript town and the whole cycle would start all over again. Each time she was discovered the circumstances would be different, but the reasons for leaving had as of yet remained unchanged; the ghosts of her past were still strong. Guilt was a powerful emotion and it drew her along paths of darkness that she normally wouldn’t travel.
“Close up shop, move on. If he’s discovered my secret it won’t be long before others come calling; though none could tempt me as he did. If word reaches others in the village they’ll drive me out. There are many families here that lost loved ones because of the blades I forged. I want to leave before they all begin to hate me.” She took a deep drink of her wine and shuddered as the image of her older customer cursing her and leading a lynch mob crossed her mind. “I love these people; but I daren’t stay to let them hate me. I hate myself enough for all of them.”
He touched her hand saddened by her statement of self-hatred. “Her death wasn’t your fault you know, none of their deaths were. They were the ones who decided to pick up the sword in the first place. You not forging blades wouldn’t have stopped that.”
She laughed derisively. “No? I’m not so sure anymore. I know for a fact that if I hadn’t taken up a sword she wouldn’t have either. No one else would've taken her for a student; and she wouldn’t have ended up in that damn battle facing odds even I might have balked at.” She finished her wine in one large gulp, holding the cup in her hands.
“It was still her choice to fight. No one made her do it.”
“But no one tried to stop her either; and the one person she might have listened to failed to protect her; her teacher.”
“Anila…” he began gently.
But she stopped him when she slammed her glass down on the table, cracking its base. “No, my mind’s made up. Sell the shop. Take a loss if you have to and make up any story you like, I don’t care. Just get us the hell out of this village.” She left the glass on the table and stormed out of the house, fleeing into the night hoping to outrun the memories that were even then fighting their way back into her mind.
* * *
She wandered for hours, and found herself in the nearby larger village of Brisbain. She wandered around it for nearly an hour before she found herself stopping in front of a temple of a goddess she had never heard of.
She stared at it, contemplating why her feet had led her there, to that place. She hadn’t prayed in years; hadn’t even thought of entering a temple in over a decade. But she found herself standing in front of the temple wondering, contemplating not only her past but her future as well. She stared at the tall temple walls for several moments, her thoughts a whirling turmoil inside her mind.
As a rule she didn’t trust those who possessed what others would call a divine spirit. Her previous experiences with other gods had left a sour taste in her mouth and often an irresistible urge to bath, repeatedly. She had once likened the gods to a group of immature teenagers: too often used to getting their own way and not used to being disciplined or denied.
And yet, she found herself standing outside a temple, wondering if perhaps it might be time to renew her faith; even if it meant consorting with spoiled children. After all, everything else she had tried had failed. Ignoring the problem had not caused it to disappear; in fact the problem seemed even bigger than she remembered.
Alternatives that tainted her mind, like liquor and opium, were not an option. She had seen what such measures did to proud and strong people. The tainted road they traveled was not one she wished to follow.
Instead, she had tried running, hoping the truth of her past would not follow; and for ten years she had managed to keep ahead of it. But now it seemed to be quickly catching up wither her. She was fast running out of options.
And so, she stood in front of a temple of a foreign goddess contemplating her next step. Suddenly, as her indecision grew, she became furious. Never before, had she hesitated and contemplated a course of action so closely. Never before had a decision so incapacitated her that her life became merely a hollow; a vacant empty void that nothing had been able to fill. So thinking that, she took a deep breath and walked into the temple before she could change her mind.
The interior was dim; the affect only intensified by the lack of torches or other fires in the entranceway. The firelight from the inner sanctum of the temple beckoned her, like a moth to a flame.
As she walked closer to the doorway that opened up into an inner courtyard, the light seemed to grow more and more intense when compared with the gloom of the entranceway.
She watched priestesses and supplicants moving about slowly, each seeming to know where they wished to go and moving there unerringly. She heard hushed voices speaking in low tones that were too often undecipherable. And yet, from time to time a word or phrase would cut through the din.
She moved deeper into the inner courtyard of the temple, looking around, wondering where she should go and what she must do to gain the counsel she sought.
“You are welcomed into the sanctuary of the Goddess. If you come in peace to seek answers, then you have found the right place.”
She looked up at the tall and slender priestess that had suddenly appeared at her side wondering just where she had come from. The woman moved like smoke as she had made no sound approaching her. She felt suddenly uncomfortable and cursed herself for coming into the temple.
She fidgeted for a moment, unsure and then blurted out. “I’m sorry; it was a mistake for me to come here. You can’t help me; no one can possibly help me.” She turned to go, but the priestess’s quiet, unhurried words stopped her dead in her tracks.
“Really Tavryn of Ginwell, I would have hoped that you would leave that decision in the hands of the Goddess. She seems to think that she can help you.”
Anila turned and gazed at the priestess closely wondering if perhaps they had met before and she did not remember. But the hood that covered the priestess was deep and its shadow hid her face well.
“How do you know who I am?” Despite herself she couldn’t stop the slight tremor of fear that ran down her spine. The possibility that she might be known even in such a backwater town as this chilled her blood. What could that possibly mean for her elsewhere?
“The Goddess knows you well sword smith. It is she who has kept her eye on you all this time. It is she who has guided your steps here to this temple to help you find the answers you seek.” Anila flinched at the title the priestess called her, looking around quickly to see if anyone else had heard. But no one seemed to have noticed the priestess’ words.
The priestess reached out her hand and touched her on the shoulder. “You are safe here sword smith. There is no one within these walls who will violate the law of sanctuary; no one without these walls will ever discover that you were here.”
“Be that as it may, I’d prefer not to be addressed by that title within earshot of anyone.”
The priestess nodded and let her hand fall. “As you wish.”
She studied the priestess for several moments wondering just what was happening. She had forsaken the gods and their ways decades ago. And yet, a goddess had singled her out and watched over her.
“Tell me why?” She waved her hands to indicate the temple as she spoke.
“Yes, as in why would a goddess choose me? I’ve done nothing, followed no rituals attended no sacrifices that paid homage to any god. Why did your patron deity feel the need to protect me?”
“That I cannot say, she does not reveal her reasons to anyone; not even her high priestess. But I can help you; guide you to the answers for the questions that you have; help you to see past the blindness in your heart.”
She bristled slightly at the Priestess’ words. “I have no blindness in my heart or anywhere in my life. I just choose to ignore what others would find so important.”
“Is that so? Then what you’ve been doing these past ten years was planned and desired?”
She felt the rage rise within her. It was enough for Helden to silently judge her actions and choices but she’d be damned if she allowed the same treatment from a strange priestess of an unknown goddess.
“No, it wasn’t planned or desired. But it was necessary. Just who the hell are you to judge the road my life has taken? I’d never have ended up this way without my accursed skills with steel.”
The priestess reached up, pulling back her hood. Her head was shaved, covered in ritualistic tattoos and dotted with various piercings. But it was her eyes that were the most arresting feature; they were milky white and had no pupils that Anila could see. “I did not desire nor did I plan to give my eyes to service of the goddess, but it was necessary. So you see I do know about the paths a life can take and the weight that one’s gifts can bring.”
There was silence between them for several moments as the words of the priestess weighed on Anila. She sank onto a nearby bench her legs suddenly weakening as the grief and guilt of her past pressed down upon her shoulders. The priestess sat next to her silent as the tears began to flow. Anila reached up, touching her face, seemingly surprised at their onset.
“Now you see. There are no veils hiding your heart from your own eyes. Tell me what it is that you see now when you look at it.”
“Nothing, my heart is empty. It has been for ten years now. Ever since…” she hesitated not wanting to admit out loud something she hadn’t ever dared to admit before, even to herself. To say the words out loud, to give them substance would be to give the thought form. To give the thought form would be to make it real in every way. She was not sure if she could handle that truth once faced with it.
But she did not have to; the priestess spoke the truth for her. “Ever since your student rode off to war and never returned.”
Anila nodded, surprised that the words once spoken did not break her as she had so often feared. In fact, they seemed to greatly lift the weight off her shoulders. She remembered that day well, watching her student ride off with a sense of dread in her heart but ignoring it. And later that dread had been confirmed when the riders approached her smith and school to give her the sword and scarab of her fallen student.
She remembered that it had been snowing and her feet were wet and cold as she had numbly taken the sword from them. She also remembered that she had turned from them in the middle of their story on how she had fallen saving several wounded men, one of them the general of the Imperial army.
It had not mattered that she had sacrificed her life and died a hero; the truth of her death did not change the pain of it. It only mattered that the young woman who she had loved like a daughter was dead; and the last words they had shared had been angered ones.
“We fought the day she left.”
“About her leaving to fight.”
Tavryn nodded. “I didn’t want her to go; didn’t want her to get involved. The emperor had soldiers enough for the campaign, there was no need for her to go.” Tavryn looked down at her hands; they were good strong hands toughened and strengthened by the forge and the sword. There was nothing she could not accomplish with those hands when she set her mind to it. And yet they had never managed to accomplish anything of great importance in her eyes, only great and everlasting shame.
“It was the wrong thing to say. It made her feel as if she weren’t good enough; as if she lacked skills in some area. I should have told her the truth.”
“And what truth was that?”
“That I was afraid she would die. That I’d lose her to a war that had no business being fought.”
“Most never do.”
Surprised by the words she looked up at the priestess. She was silent but nodded for Tavryn to continue. “No I suppose not.”
“Why did you never tell her the truth?”
“I was supposed to be a great warrior and mentor in her eyes. I had abilities with steel that boggled the minds of others. The things I could do with a sword and the swords that I was able to make were magical to some people. People looked upon me as a sorcerer or even a demi-god; I used that perception many times to my advantage.
“I took her on as a student not because I needed an apprentice. But because I saw in her something that I deemed worthy of the things I could teach her. I saw that as an admirable goal; to pass on my knowledge and maybe even my skills to someone else who would truly understand them and be able to harness them to their fullest potential. What I did I did out of sheer arrogance at my own importance.
“But she became something more during the years that we spent together; she became my equal, my friend even something akin to a daughter. She was the only one to ever get that close to me. In all my years no one else has ever touched my heart as she did.
“And yet, I dared not tell her. In her eyes I was strong, invincible. I thought telling her the truth would only weaken me somehow and I would become nothing in her eyes. All my life I had lived by a strict code that didn’t allow room for the truth of one’s heart. And so I did the only thing I thought I could: I forbid her to go.
“So we argued and she left in anger thinking she had to prove herself to me; thinking to defy me. She was always so damned stubborn.” A ghost of a smile appeared on her face at that thought. It faded as her memory continued to play forward.
Again she stood in the snow as the riders approached wishing fervently, with everything she possessed that the foreboding she had felt the night before meant nothing. Even when they handed her the sheathed sword that she had made herself, the sword she had given her student to mark her passage from novice to master, even then part of her still refused to believe.
“When they brought her sword back to me, I was heartbroken. I locked myself away for days ignoring my other apprentices and my smith. It wasn’t until I began to get angry customers pounding on my door demanding the blades I’d promised them that I realized I could no longer forge swords for the Empire. The very idea disgusted me so much that I went down and burned both my school and my smith to the ground. I laid Tavryn of Ginwell the sword smith to rest that night determined never again to use my skills to forge another weapon.
“I left the next day with only the clothes on my back and a few coins to my name. I changed my name and hid myself away in small backwater villages that would go unnoticed to the eyes of the Empire. For a short time, I was at peace. But it never lasted long. Someone would show up seeking my skills and I would be forced to pick up and move again. Ten years later, I ended up here.”
“Something has changed for you then.”
Tavryn nodded the memory still chilling her to the core as she recalled it. “Someone came into my shop today and offered to pay me for a sword. They knew my name, my true name and they tempted me beyond anything I could have imagined.”
“They offered to resurrect her as payment.” Tavryn gave her a startled look which was met by an indulgent smile. “As I said before, the goddess has had her eye on you for some time now. You were right to deny him; what he promised would have tainted your very soul.”
“I know. The problem was that I nearly accepted his offer.”
“And that bothers you?”
“Shouldn’t it? He was the first dark wizard that ever walked into my life and he managed to tempt me closer than any other person I can recall these past ten years.”
“Perhaps. It is a very rare person who could deny such temptation without feeling the urge to accept. And most would feel no shame at the realization of that truth. They would see their denial of temptation as a measure of strength; as would most others around them.
“But you don’t. Instead you feel shame at your desire to bow to temptation. This more than all else tells me that the burden you carry is one of guilt as well as grief. Because you feel guilt in the deaths of those you armed and taught, particularly your last student, you can never see your past as anything but a burden. And this has made the skills you once prized so highly seem little more than a curse.
“In the end such twisted perceptions will eat away at you and destroy everything you value in your life. They will cause you to drive away those that love you in the altered belief that they will be safer if they think that you do not care about them. It will cause you to grow old before your time, making you resentful of the happiness of others. In the end you will die lonely and bitter without kith or kin to see your spirit laid to rest and your body returned to the earth. Now tell me Tavryn, is this how you wish your once promising life to end?”
During the priestess’s description of her future, Tavryn shed silent tears. The priestess’s words were so vivid she could feel a shadow of the bitterness she described piercing her heart. Shaken, it made her feel as if there was nothing to do to escape the utter disaster that her life had become.
“No, I don’t wish to die embittered and alone. Tell me, is there no way to avoid this grim future that my path of pain will lead me to?”
The priestess smiled kindly at her and reached up to wipe the tears from her face. “Of course, blessed child, there are very few events in our lives that are set by the wheel of fate: our births, our deaths sometimes even who we love. But ultimately to change your life and your fate is something that you must do. I can guide you, even help you along the right path, but I cannot take the first step for you.” The priestess let her hands drop and despite her blindness, met Anila’s gaze.
“What must I do?”
“Mend your heart; let go of the guilt you feel at the actions of your life and realize that despite what you feel, you are not responsible for the deaths of either your student nor anyone else who carried your blades.”
“But how can I when I feel so ashamed of what my actions and life have wrought?”
The priestess smiled kindly at the note of frustration that crept into Tavryn’s voice. “I, with all my wisdom and greater knowledge cannot help you on this road of self renewal. I can only guide you to the path and show you that it exists.
“For you to step onto it takes encouragement of a kind I cannot offer you; only someone who knows you and loves you greatly can pull you onto that path.” The priestess took Anila’s face into her cool hands and kissed her forehead gently. “You know in your heart what must be done; you’ve simply been too afraid to do it. Go now and heal your heart.” The priestess stood and led her to the entranceway.
She looked into the dark hallway, feeling the fear and uncertainty rise up and squeeze her heart painfully. She turned to say farewell to the priestess, but she was gone.
Anila looked all around herself, but saw no one she recognized; nor anyone close enough to her. Feeling a shiver of apprehension travel down her spine, she stepped into the entranceway, the darkness embracing her.
* * *
She walked back home quickly, suddenly desperate to undertake the task set before her by the priestess. A few hours later, near midnight, she arrived at the house she shared with Helden. It was still and dark and she knew, even as she ran into the house yelling for Helden that no one was there.
She chided herself as she realized that he was probably out looking for her fearful that something terrible might befall her in her angered and unreasonable state. She occupied herself by building a fire to welcome him home and sat down to await his return.
As she sat before the fire, she recalled some of the happier times they had spent together. Slowly she realized that in the past year or so, despite the peace of the life they led, the happiness had begun to dissipate. Even worse, it seemed that she had been responsible for its loss. Her grief and guilt had slowly sucked the life from her relationship with Helden and everyone else around her.
She suddenly felt a great deal of admiration for those who cared about her for staying by her, despite what her pride had put them through. She promised to somehow make up for that selfishness if ever she had the chance; it was time for the past to rest.
He came in around one o’clock in the morning followed closely by Gailan. Both wore worried expressions and were talking heatedly as they walked in.
“She seemed a little off today when I picked up my horse but I said nothing thinking that she was just tired. I should have said something, offered to help.”
“Come on Gailan, you know her better than that; she can be as stubborn as a mule with a bee up its ass when she wants to be.”
She stood up as Helden finished his statement smiling over the rather apt image. “Actually I can be much worse if I’ve mind to.” They both turned at the sound of her voice. “I would have thought you two would have realized that a long time ago.”
The two of them looked up in surprise and Helden rushed forward and embraced her; she could feel her ribs creaking under the force of it and she could feel his arms shaking with relief that she was alright.
“Young lady, you gave us quite a scare; I’m not sure Helden will ever recover.” Gailan stepped into the room as the two separated.
“He’ll be just fine, he just needs another moment or two.” She lowered her voice so that only he could hear. “Would you make some tea; there’s something important we must discuss.” She indicated Gailan with a nod. Helden hesitated. “Please, its important.”
Helden, a bit confused simply nodded and left the room.
She turned to Gailan and invited him to sit next to the fire and warm himself from the cool of the evening.
“I don’t mean to sound like an overprotective father, which I never was, but just where were you all this time?”
She sighed thinking back briefly to the time spent in the temple. “I was regaining my perspective.”
He nodded seeming almost to understand her need to do that. “And what did you discover?”
She thought for a moment unsure of how to begin. She needed to reveal the truth to him, to everyone in the village; it was the only way she could make peace with her past; she had to stop running. “That I couldn’t see the forest for the trees that surrounded me.”
He laughed at that, and she smiled with him. “Neither can some of the wisest people I know; but you realized it a lot sooner than most of them.”
She grew quiet as the laughter faded away. She could feel a lump of fear climbing up her throat as she thought on her next words. “
You still seem quite upset.”
She nodded looking again at her hands. She turned them over looking at them closely, just as she had done in the temple. Suddenly she realized just how best to tell him the truth of who she was.
“I’ve come to realize something today.” She held up her hands, showing them to him. “All of my life, I have worked with steel; it came easily to me just as the sword did. But never before today did I realize that while I had spent my life shaping and changing steel, it was in turn changing me.” She dropped her hands back into her lap.
“Before today, the thought of such change would have terrified me; I hated change, of any kind. And in my blind arrogance I refused to acknowledge any change within me.
“But today, someone opened my eyes and for the first time I see just what my life has been and I am ashamed at what it once was. It is not a life that had any meaning nor was it a life that followed the honorable principles that I so often preached.
“Ten years ago I abandoned that life and I have been running ever since; fearing that at any moment someone would find me, recognize me and I would be forced to run again.”
Gailan leaned forward as her voice fell. “Did you do something so wrong in your past?”
She shrugged but knew that she hadn’t fooled him; more importantly he didn’t seem all that surprised by her words.
“Tell me, what did you do?”
“I’ve lied to you Gailan; I’ve lied to everyone in this village. I’m not Anila, humble blacksmith from the backwater country of Highgen province. In fact, I’ve never even been to the damn place; I’d only heard about it from a book and used it because I thought that no one here would have seen the place either.”
“Tell me who you really are.”
“I was born Tavryn of Ginwell, and once was sword smith and death dealer of the Imperial armies.” As the words left her mouth, she could feel the tears beginning to slide down her face. She lowered her head, unable to look at him, fearful that she might see the hate and anger come over him and change him from someone that loved her to someone that hated her and wanted her dead and gone.
She was surprised to hear him begin to chuckle warmly; after another moment that chuckle turned into a deep laugh. She looked up watching him as he laughed, unsure of what he found so humorous.
“Do you really mean to say that you were the deadliest, most skilled and most feared member of the Imperial army next to the general himself?” She nodded and his laughter died away. He sighed loudly, leaning closer, taking her hand into his own, squeezing it gently. She met his gaze and he smiled kindly. “So this is why you were so upset this afternoon. Oh lass, did you really think that who you once were would matter so much to me?”
She nodded silently, not trusting her voice as her eyes filled with silent tears. He reached up and touched her face gently in his beefy, callused hand. “Anila, I don’t know who you once were; I only know who have become.”
Confusion swept over her face. “I don’t understand.”
“You may once have been Tavryn of Ginwell, you may have once forged the deadliest blades ever known to man for the Imperial armies and at one time you may even have been the prized sword smith of our emperor.
“But I do not see that person in this room. The person I see sitting before me is Anila, black smith of our village, companion of Helden and most importantly, my closest and most esteemed friend. No matter what you might have done before you came to live with us in this village, no matter how horrible your life before this, who you are now will never change.
“More importantly, who you once were will never change how I and so many others in the village feel about you.”
Upon hearing his words, the pain in Anila’s heart lifted, taking with it the guilt and anguish she had kept locked inside for so long. She burst into tears, sobbing loudly as Helden appeared carrying the tea she had asked him to prepare only moments before.
He rushed over to her just as Gailan embraced her gently.
“Everything is fine lad, she needs just a moment. After all, when you’re suddenly released from years of guilt and fear, you’re entitled to be a little emotional.”
Helden chuckled with relief as Anila slowly regained control of herself.
* * *
“Are you sure about this? You don’t have to do this you know; you’ve nothing left to prove to anyone.”
She smiled at Helden as he sat on the horse next to hers. Then she looked out over the Moriann Plains alight with sunshine, green with tall grass, the late morning aair heavy with bird song. She looked down at Hadara’s sword; something she had kept hidden and unspoken of for the past ten years.
“I’m not doing this for myself or anyone else; I’m doing this because it will honor her and her memory.”
Helden nodded as she reached over to take his hand in her own, clasping it for a moment before riding down the hill alone onto the large plain.
As she rode closer and closer to the memorial that had been erected nearly ten years ago, she pondered the feeling of anticipation that radiated from the flat expanses of the plain. With very little effort, she could picture just how the field might have looked on the morning of that long ago battle. The regal, colorful banners of the two opposing armies flying smartly in the early morning breeze as each side waited tensely for the battle to begin.
And despite the span of years that hung over the plain since that battle, despite the obvious renewal of the area, that air of anticipation and tension was still as palpable as it must have been that morning. Anyone who ever came here would quickly realize that something had happened here; even if the truth of just what that had been was no longer remembered.
She stood before the monument as she contemplated these thoughts and the monument before her. She was unsure just what to feel at this moment. This was where Nadara, her student had fallen, cut down during a battle trying to fulfill a duty she had sworn to do. And yet despite the monument and despite the bravery and resolve behind such an act, she would most likely go anonymous and forgotten into history.
Part of Tavryn’s heart railed against the injustice of such an ignominious ending. But the other part of her heart, the part that had been reawakened recently realized that she would never truly be forgotten. Not so long as she was alive to spread the truth of her student’s actions.
She stepped forward dropping to her knees and touching her forehead to the ground to show her sorrow and respect for those who had fallen and lay buried beneath her. “I should have come sooner, I’m so sorry I didn’t. But I’ve come now, to say all those things that I should’ve said when you were alive.” She paused and looked around her at the beautiful view.
“It’s beautiful here; I suppose that in some small way, that should make your death easier to bear. But the truth is, it doesn’t. I’ve spent ten years regretting what I said to you before you left; ten years running from a bloody past and denying who I was and what I had been.
“But I was a fool. I can’t change what I said, I can’t even change who I was. But I can come to terms with it, accept it and move on. That’s part of the reason I finally came.” She paused for a moment, kneeling before the grave contemplating just how to say what was in her heart.
“I never told you the truth; I never gave you a kind word or a single word of praise or encouraged you in any way. I never told you I was proud of you or what you had accomplished in so short a time. Hell, I never even acknowledged to myself that, in many ways, your skills would have soon exceeded my own.
“Part of me was terrified of saying those words, so sure that I would be diminished in your eyes somehow. But now I regret not having said those things you most needed to hear.
“So I’ve come to tell you just what I should have before you left to die here on this field.” She felt her eyes sting with unshed tears as the emotions she had been fighting for so long filled her heart to overflowing. “I’m proud of you Hadara; there was no student before or after you who came as far or accomplished as much as you did. You were a credit to your teacher and the skills she gave you.
“You served with great honor and distinction on this very battlefield. Saving the lives of several injured men; earning yourself great esteem in the eyes of the emperor. But most importantly I want you to know that I loved you, as much as if you’d been my own daughter.” Her lips trembled slighty as the tears that had been threatening to spill began sliding down her cheeks.
“And I’m so sorry that you had to die before you could ever hear me say these things to you.” A gentle breeze enveloped her as she spoke seeming almost to caress her cheek as tears continued to slide down it silently. She smiled at the feeling, wondering. She stood up and again contemplated the monument before her. She felt a hand touch her shoulder and turned to see that Helden had rode down to join her. She smiled at him as she wiped away the tears that had slid down her face.
“Are you ready?”
She nodded, turning back one more time to place the sword at the foot of the monument. Then, with Helden riding next to her, she rode away heading back toward the village. For several moments she was quiet and thoughtful.
“Are you sure that everything’s alright?”
She nodded. “I was thinking that I’d like to start my school once more. What do you think?”
He paused for a moment as he considered her idea. “What of your vow to never forge another weapon?”
She considered for several moments before answering. “Someone recently told me that I was not responsible for how my weapons were used; I think you were only partly right.”
“I wasn’t responsible then; I couldn’t handle or accept that responsibility before. This time however, I can teach my students the values and honor codes to make the right choice. Who knows, it might actually work this time. We can only hope.”
Helden paused a moment considering. “So we’ll be teaching a bunch of gangly, awkward, possibly even lethally clumsy kids to not only make weapons but use them against us.”
For a moment her face fell as she wondered if perhaps it wasn’t a good idea.
He turned to her and flashed a huge smile. “Sounds like fun.”
She laughed loudly, the breeze carrying the sound far off into the distance and back toward the monument where Hadara’s sword twinkled brightly in the afternoon sunlight.
Return to the Academy