Age of the sword

skull

Having made a sword from a fallen tree branch you do get yourself a weapon. You can master the art of the wooden sword beautifully. You can even win battles with it if you are good enough. Yet everything will change the moment you lay your hand on the hilt of a real sword. You will feel…No. No words are powerful enough to fully describe the feeling of finding the truth…

The age of the sword is back, with a power beam to replace the ancient steel blade. Ancient legends are coming to life, with mighty heroes fighting each other with weapons made of pure light. Rejoice, oh warrior of the space age! You are their par now!

*

A boyish delight had been written all over Lambert’s face as he accepted his first real weapon. It made the hardened veterans, his elder brothers in arms, smile, recalling their own initiations. Most smiles were sad, though, for this happy boy was to enter his first battle tomorrow and very likely die. War-lady Tanath is blind, her empty eye sockets are two black, bottomless pits under her brow. She doesn’t care how young a warrior is when she plays her game.

“Go make a prayer to Tanath for your tomorrow, Lambert, “ Ringe the Redhead said in his usual careless manner.

An old, grey-haired warrior named Merman overheard this while passing by. Merman usually looked like he’d stopped caring about anything decades ago. That day he made an exception, just for Ringe alone. He stopped mid-stride and smacked the younger man on the back of his head.

“Never pray out of fear,” Merman told Lambert without even giving Ringe a second glance, “especially to the old hag Tanath.”

Lambert remembered the blasphemous advice. He refused to pray to Tanath that day, even though it meant joining the outcasts for from now on neither Ringe nor any other Tanath’s worshipper would forgive him.

Loneliness has a bitter taste. Lambert felt it even before his first “adult” day has ended. People ignored him everywhere he went, merry companies fell silent when he approached them. The only joy he found was counting the stars in the sky while lying sleepless on his bunk by the window.

The next day, as Lambert marched toward his first battle among his fellow soldiers, he felt no joyous thrill, no sweet pre-battle madness, no surge of faith in his chest. He couldn’t join the others, neither in a battle song, nor in the rhythmic march. He felt alone in the middle of the crowd, yet he didn’t regret his choice. Today, the world seemed so crystal clear to Lambert, so real, so true, he didn’t want to go back.

They approached the enemy fortress, a grey mountain of stone and steel towering above the land. Innumerous battle drones circled above the battlefield like the crows of old. Even higher, bright flashes of light pierced the heavy, dark clouds, where flying machines were engaged in air combat. Sunlight fell down to earth in broad, slanting rays full of ash and dust.

“Attack!!!” The maddening cry spread through the rows of the soldiers in waves. A moment later they joined the battle hell.

Lambert survived his first battle but not because he fought well. He didn’t. To his utter horror, he realized how little his battle skills mean in the real world. He had survived just because an enemy soldier, an old, grey-haired warrior looking somewhat like Merman, had spared his life. Instead of hacking the boy’s head off with his lightblade, he hit him with the hilt on the temple giving him a concussion.

Thanks to the nameless enemy Lambert spent most of the battle unconscious. It had already been evening when he woke up. His head hurt terribly, but otherwise he was fine.

They had won. The grey fortress fell. The warrior who saved his life was most likely dead. Lambert mourned his death for weeks, every day asking himself: why? Why did he spare his life?

“Merman, why?” Lambert asked one day.
“Maybe he prefers Jiva to Tanath, just like you do”.
“But… I’d kill him…”
“Of course. But it doesn’t matter. He still did the right thing.” Merman looked Lambert in the eye. “Make that count. Don’t waste the life he spared.”

That day Lambert understood what was the thing Ringe and all other Tanath’s worshippers lacked: the very idea that the war madness has to stop. Not as a result of an order from the top, but as a result of the change in people’s minds.

Lambert wanted to make that change happen. He felt he could.

Was that the unnamed soldier’s message to Lambert? Did this man even have time to think of a message? Most likely not. It was an impulse. He felt something, as brief as a lightning flash in the sky, and managed to react to the feeling in time. All his training, all his battle experience, all his doubts, all his insights went into this single moment, which had made all the difference in the world.

(October 7, 2003)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.