tagSci-Fi & FantasyChronicles of the Black Swords Ch. 03

Chronicles of the Black Swords Ch. 03


The Chronicles of the Black Swords

Mother's Morn

"Night gray steel
on razor edge
A heart of iron
a thousand dead
Weeping widows
Mother's Morn
A thousand names
from life I've torn."

"This poem sent me hunting the black times of the Grull invasion. So much history was lost to their fires but finally I found the account of a manor lord, Sir Brian of Albrik. His story was far too fantastic and accurate to other details to dismiss it as fancy. What follows is one of the few stories of a black sword that lends us hope that not all of them are evil."

Albreth Ravenclaw Kings Chronicler.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

The axe hits the tree with a huge spark of metal, a ring of steel on steel and a vibration up the handle that shakes the wood axe out of my hands.

"Yea gods what did you do, Flenn?" calls out my older brother from nearby.

"Damned if I know! All I did was hit the tree." I walk shaking my numbed hands over to pick back up the axe.

I stare in horror at the huge nick in the blade edge. It's at least and inch back into the axe head!

"Sweet lords! What the hell kind of tree is this?" I ask turning and looking up.

"It's just an oak. Let's take a look."

My brother, Steward, bends down and with his knife probes at the notch I had been cutting. I watch him for a second then point out where I think the axe hit. There is a metallic ring when he taps there.

Steward takes up the small hatchet he carries to delimb with and starts to hack near that spot. After a moment I see a band of darker wood appear.

No not wood. That's Metal!

I take my delimber and together we work around the spot a bit. I start to see the shape of a blade appearing in the wood we clear.

"Well what have we here?" ask Steward as more of it comes clear. "Some sort of blade." A large slab of wood splits from the side of the tree and I hear a creaking of the tree soon followed by a popping.

"Get clear she's going. " he warns me calmly.

As I walk away a bit Steward takes his long handled axe and gives the tree a push. I see the base start to splinter and pop as the top slowly falls towards the ground. I watch my Brother walk calmly to my side.

"Well whatever it was I'm sure it's broke or bent all to hells now."

As the tree hits with the customary thump I see that he is wrong.

Standing from the splintered stump is the handle of a sword. The black corroded blade is point down into the wood.

"Now how did that get in there I wonder?" says Steward walking back to the tree.

I shake my head unable to fathom it either. The tree was big enough around to be hundreds of years old.

"Did you see any cracks in the wood? It might could have been lightning struck at some point and split. Maybe some one hide it in there and never came back." He offers a possible explanation.

As I take my hand and wrap my fingers around the handle I know he is wrong. Some how I know this thing was driven into the ground and the tree grew up around it. How I know this I don't question. I just know.

The blade is terribly old, the steel blackened with time and tree sap. The whole length of it bares places etched into the metal by the work of centuries of sap. The handle crumbles in my fingers as I pull at it.

The sword slides free with no effort.

"Well. I guess you better take that thing to the smith. See if he might buy it. You will need the money to pay him to fix father's axe." Steward picks up his long axe and heads back over to the tree he was felling.

I look from the notch in the axe to the blade in my hand.

It bears not even a nick on its edge!

I place the old sword near my shirt and lunch and get back to work. The nick in the axe makes the rest of the day's effort an even greater chore. Every swing seems to land with a clang.

"Father's going to kill me." I say in a whisper.

"Na. Just sell that piece of scrap and get it fixed. I'll tell him how it happened. Hell the local farmers been plowing up bits of metal for the last five generation, maybe it's our turn?"

Steward grabs up his shirt and goes over to the wagon we have loaded with wood. I move over and take up one of the poles.

Between the two of us we get it moving. Then we take turns playing the 'mule' as we walk our wood towards the house.

"I wish we could afford a real mule to do this." I say for maybe the hundredth time since Gerty died this spring.

"Soon. Let winter start to bite and business will pick up like always. We will have a new mule come spring. Beside look at it this way. You're getting all big and strong just in time for Beltine."

I grimace and shake my head. I did not need reminding.

Every spring at the festival of Beltine the unmarried women of the village get to pick and chose among the young men of eighteen winters. They pick whom they will marry. My time will be this year and the idea of a wife does not hold any appeal.

"Chin up little brother. You're handsome enough. There will be a bit of a scuffle to get you."

I shake my head in denial of Steward.

Charcoal burners don't make for good husbands. We don't get the beautiful girls because of that. I mean look at Mom and Stewards wife. I love my mom but at dawn when she wakes she could frighten a troll.

And Stewards wife if anything is worse.

Steward takes his turn as we cross into the open fields. Ahead of us I can see the ever-present column of smoke rising from beside our home.

Father is hard at work.

My admiration for him is immense. Before Steward and I took it up he would cut wood all morning then burn it till dark haul it to the smiths then return home in the blackest of night and be out again before the dawn.

Now a days he just sticks close to home and burns our efforts. He deserves it, an old man like him.

Hell I think he's beyond thirty-five.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

I see the extra wagon already loaded with coal ready for the smiths.

I walk over and take up the poles. Steward goes to unload the wood by the fires. Father waves to me as I start to pull off. I nod back.

I see Steward talking to him as I take the turn onto the main road. I can see father's shaking his head.

"Yep...I'm a dead man."

Well I think look on the bright side. If father kills me I wont have to get married come spring.

That cheers me a bit as I pull the heavy load. The leather harness straps across my chest and shoulder bites into me as I start up the very slight grade towards the village. A mule wouldn't even notice it but the backs of my legs are burning by the time I take the turn at the top down the road to the smiths.

Candler's Row they have taken to calling the place since the new candle makers moved their shop there ten years back. The local farms have never been more productive since the huge cone hives were set up but the tons of bee stings I and the others have gotten in the last decade were not an even trade.

Still the supply of honey and the odd barrel of mead that some how finds it's way, not to the lords cellars, but to the local tavern just might be.

I look at the small cluster of trees not far away. The old apple trees still have their sinister look. I remember when I was a child the other boys daring me to go there and steal apples. Would I dare a whipping from the lord's men for steeling apples or maybe the prospect of being eaten by the trolls that no doubt must live in the heart of so dark an orchard?

Being the son of a charcoal burner I had been in and out of far darker woods since before I could walk.

"Ah speaking of trolls." I whisper under my breath as I feel the wheels roll up onto the cobbles stones that surround the smithy. The smiths daughter Gertrude, hence the name of our departed mule Gerty, steps from the doorway of the house carrying a pitcher of beer out to where her fathers and brothers are working late. Seeing me she gives a wave and walks towards me.

I look over her features and cringe at the very real prospect of waking up next to her for the rest of my life. The mule was cuter, if memory serves.

She looks to the forge and quickly pours me a leather jack of the beer.

"Here, Flenn. Be quick with It." she tells me with a grin.

I smile at her as I take it and bolt it down.

Well at least her mother taught her how to cook. I might not be happy but I will at least be fat.

I hand Gertrude back the leather mug just as her father comes walking to the forge.

"Gerty, see to your brothers." He calls to her as I pull the wagon past her and around towards the side of the forge. He may like and depend on the work of my father brother and myself but that doesn't mean he likes the idea of his daughter marring a charcoal burner.

I would agree with him, except there are far uglier girl in the village.

As I push the cart up to the covered bin he looks into the back.

"Good size pieces. Flenn, tell your father to keep this kind of stuff coming. I've got a big order just come in from the Lord's stable master. Some kind of trouble down south. Likely to spread if the Lord and his peers don't put it down. Will be needing a lot of charcoal to forge shoes for the Lord's knights if they take to the field."

I know he means for their horses but the idea of seeing some of the prissy knights I've seen slumming at the tavern being shod makes me chuckle.

"Yes sir, I'll tell him." I say quickly when he looks at me after I laughed. "Speaking of that I have something to sell and something to repair." I pull the damaged axe from the back of the wagon.

"Yea gods, what did you hit a stone? I've told you cutter since your father got started never to plant an axe in the dirt."

I draw out the blackened sword.

"I hit this. It was in the middle of a tree I was cutting."

He rests the axe by his foot and takes the old blade.

"Well the metals ruined. Still I might be able to melt it down and make a couple of horseshoes out of it. You wanting to even trade, the repair on the axe for this?"

I hadn't but given that I have very little in my belt pouch I give a nod.

"Fair enough." He says.

I dump the charcoal into the bin and start back towards the house as he walks off towards his forge carrying the axe and sword.

His daughter hands him the last of the beer and he drains it and goes into the clanging of metal on metal.

Gerty gives me a wink and a flip of her skirt that shows me her ankles. I smile seeing then slim leather-encased feet.

Well maybe a smiths daughter wouldn't be that bad to wake up next to.

And at least she can cook. I look back at her as I pull away.

And if there really are trolls in the apple woods I would have the best deterrent I could get.

It's truly dark when I turn the wagon into the yard at home. I stand and look towards the mountains in the distance. I swear I saw a line of fire moving across it for a second. Then the sun drops out of sight and it's gone.

I go in to face the consequences of damaging the axe.

Father is not pleased.

Oh well, I can always eat standing up.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

The days pass and the slow turn of the season's rolls us into the fall months. I feel a growing chill about me as I walk the cart towards the smiths. It's become a two wagon an afternoon job for the last month. Steward and I go out before daybreak, some times with Father. He selects the trees we cut then returns to burn at the kilns. They never stop now. One of us will sit half-awake through out the night watching the fires. The orders for coal have more than doubled.

We even have managed to get us a new mule before the spring.

The old beast is truly ready for a stew pot but I appreciate not having to pull the larger loads of charcoal.

Though I seem to spend just as much time pulling on him.

"Come on damn you! Turn!"

I finally get the stubborn thing to back the cart in next to the bin.

There is a clatter of metal on stone behind me that scares the mule and me.

Turning I see the black blade laying by my feet. I look up to see the smith, standing red-faced, looking at me.

"Get that hellish thing away from my forge." He goes to turn.

"What? What?" I walk the few steps and bend down.

The blade is almost cold to the touch as I wrap my fingers around the thin tang.

The smith looks at me his eyes ablaze.

"I finally got time to try melting it down. I burned half a wagon weight of charcoal and it never even got hot! I don't know what the hells that thing is but I want it away from me and mine."

The smith storms off towards his forge.

I look down at the tree sap etched blade with its twisted patterns of black and gray.

"Well I guess your mine now." I shrug and go to put the thing into the wagon.

For just a second I feel a reluctance to turn it lose. I turn in place and look up towards the distant mountains. I feel a shiver run down my spine. Like the kind I might feel it a sound in the woods caught me by surprise.

I lay the old blade into the wagon.

"Come on Gertytwo"

Now the mule doesn't want to leave.

I don't know, maybe he doesn't like his name.


** ** ** ** ** ** **

I sit in the loft on my cot and slide the piece of dark wood I carved today over the tang. It slips on tight. I take the piece of scrap harness strap I sliced into thin strips and start to braid it up the wood.

I watch my hands at work. They puzzle me as I watch how they work.

There is a skill about them I have never had.

The old blade turns catching the light from the little window. The thin oiled skin that covers the window frame lets in almost no light but I see the blade with no trouble.

The patterns down its length. No tree sap made them. The little work with a scrap of leather and some sand had made them clearer. The hands of a master engraver had been at work up the sides of the sword.

I tighten back down the pommel and drive back in the little slivers of dark metal that held it in place. I tap them with the back of my hatchet.

When I look I see dents in the back of the metal axe head.

I lift Mother's Morn into the dim light.

Mother's Morn? Where did I get that name?

I shrug and set the sword to the side. Picking up the file I use to sharpen my axe I turn the blade and run the edge along the side. I see little slivers of metal curl up behind it.

Holding up the file I see all of one side is smooth!

I pick up one of the curls. I can see the little places where the file had been scored.

"Hells laughter" I say in a soft whisper.

Getting to my feet I climb down the ladder from the loft and walk out the side door of the barn. I see the tall straight column of smoke running like an arrow up into the sky. The orders for coal doubled again yesterday. We can't keep up. I've heard that the smith told father he might have to buy real coal from the dwarf mines soon.

Despite the prospect of my family losing money I hope he does I would love to see a dwarf. I've heard about them but to my knowledge no one in the village has ever seen one. They only travel very rarely now day. And never to far from their mountains.

The mountains.

Again my gaze is drawn back to them. I look over the edge of my sword towards them and feel my teeth clinch together almost painfully.

I walk through the light snow out towards the edge of the tree line. Long left uncut by my family they have grown taller every year. By the time I'm my father's age we will be cutting and burning these.

Well all but one of them maybe.

I step up in front of one of the tall trees and lifting Mother's Morn I give it a two handed swing at the wood.

I stagger and spin into the snow as I miss the tree completely!

"Idiot!" I call myself as I get to my feet and start to brush snow off my pants with my off hand.

Then I hear it. Looking up I see the slow topple beginning.

I watch unable to believe what I'm seeing at the tree lays itself over and hits with the thump.

Mother's Morn leaves a trail in the snow as I walk the few steps back to the stump.

The top looks like it's been planed smooth. I run a finger across it. My mother table isn't that smooth and she's been polishing it since she choosing father at Beltine.

I lift Mother's Morn into the dim moonlight and just look at the impossible.

"What in the hells are you." I ask the black sword.

In the very depths of my mind I hear the reply.


** ** ** ** ** ** **

Winter freezes the marrow in us all that year. The coldest in living memory. I welcome my chance to sit with the fires now. It's the only time I'm really warm. The snow soon has us hauling a single tree back to the house and cutting it there. The mule, Gertytwo, complains bitterly about the deep snow but we don't stop for our own complaints let alone his.

There is a war in the south. That's the rumor that comes up the trade road at the close of harvest. The manor lord sent out a call to all the smiths in his lands to forge arrowheads and spear points.

There is even a talk of a levy being called this spring to go fight.


That has been the big question all winter. That news didn't make it this far north.

My shoulders burn under the force of the axe. I have been splitting wood every day for the last month. Normally father's job he's been bedridden with a flux. Steward and I have taken up the full job of getting the ever-increasing demands for charcoal to not only our smith but also the ones in father villages. They have been sending their own wagons to us.

Steward only asked me once how I was managing to cut trees down out in the deep woods so cleanly that they look smooth. When I showed him he wouldn't come near me if I had Mother's Morn at my side.

Which I almost always do now.

Strange things started coming down out the hills as the snows deepened. Driven into the valleys by the growing cold higher up.

I swung Mother's Morn at something other than a tree for the first time, only weeks ago. What it was I killed I have no name for. Steward and father burned the body off in a stone pit my grandfather use to burn his charcoal in. It's deep in the woods. The trees around it are too small but maybe by the time my grand kids are my age.

"Hu...grand kids? You got to marry and have children first."

I walk behind Gertytwo toward the smiths. He offers no protests now. I absently patted his ass with the scabbard covered blade one time to make him move faster.

It took me hours to reload the wagon when I finally got him to stop almost a league away!

Now? Just having me behind him with the sword would compel him to move faster. I see the column of black smoke drifting from the top of the forge as I get closer.

The only person in the valley that's possibly working harder now than us is the smith. He's taken on two new apprentices and they look like they are about to drop every time I've seen them.

Before I enter the cobblestones circle around his house and forge I undo the wide leather belt and place it under the blanket on the wagon seat. I cover it with my blanket.

The smith and his two new apprentices come out to help me guide the new wagon back into the larger coal box he built. The box like the wagon must hold twice what our old one did.

It's also harder to fill up.

Also like the wagon.

As we slide the load out the back with shovels I hear a curse behind me.

"I told you not to bring that hellish thing near my house!"

I turn and see the smith looking up at me his face flushed with anger. He moves his eyes over to the front of the wagon. I see the hilt of Mother's Morn sticking out from under the blanket.

Leaving his apprentices to finish the last few bits I step off the side of the wagon and land on my feet in front of him. As I straighten up I note that my eyes and his are on level with one another. Mothers been complaining all winter about me outgrowing even Steward hand-me downs. With the mid winter festival I, like everyone born the same year I was in the valley, have passed into my eighteenth winter.

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