September 2021

“What a sordid tale!” Nacee the milliner cried. “Of course, leave it to a wrestler and a mule to glorify heresy like the Hamurabash while disparaging the truth of the Creator.”

A man, leaned up against one of the great stone columns that supported the armory ceiling, called out. “What if they was only an orc mule?” he said. “What would the Anchor Blade do then?”

Zaldi, laughing, looked him over. “I don’t know, Kect-of-the-Mud-Pits,” she said, directing a singsong tease at her fellow wrestler. “Do you keep the Hamurabash like your mother did?”

“In my own way, I does,” the man, Kect, said.

“I imagine the Anchor Blade would hit you, then, but not very hard,” Zaldi said. “Bruising strength, maybe.”

“I’ve always wondered,” Hirt, the blade-bard, said to Kect. “The Hamurabash says that every male must carry an axe at all times, yes? Would a sword work for that purpose? After all, I imagine that the idea is to be ready to defend oneself.”

“Heh,” Kect responded. “Me mum had a story she used to tell, old orc tale, about that. Vivritan the Summoned and his Sword. I’ll tell it to ya, yeah?”

“Yes, please!” Hirt said.

“So, I don’t know what all y’know about the Hamurabash, but the great Hamur said t’keep an axe at all times. Folks what feel strong about it argue as to why, but he was clear as could be that you oughta do it. So one day, see this orc name of Vivritan comes to the great Hamur, who put down the Hamurabash (as you mighta guessed).”

“He was summoned there on account of he would not wear the axe, yeah? Vivritan the Summoned, that’s where that comes from. He says to Hamur, he says, this sword is fine steel, right? Great sword, been in my family generations, made in the Seven Sisters, same as your pirate knife, Zaldi. So Vivritan says to Hamur, he says, can I carry the sword instead of the axe?”

“Old Hamur, he asks to see the sword. It’s real pretty, real sharp, kept up nice, no oiled. Beautiful weapon, Hamur says. And Hamur, he takes out his own axe, and he says look at my axe, what do you see? And Vivritan, he’s shook. Hamur, the orc what wrote down the Hamurabash, the one what says to carry the axe, his axe is in real bad shape. It’s dirty and it’s dull.”

“So Vivritan says to him, to Hamur, how can you fight with an axe like that? Because, you know, Hamur was a great warrior too, not just a great author. And Hamur, he says oh, my arms are all around me. That is my spear, that is my sword, that is my shield. Each has its own, you know, purpose. He even had axes, other axes.”

“Vivritan is proper shook by this time and he asks what Hamur means. Hamur, he says, sure, you can fight with the axe if you want. Sometimes it’s a good tool for that. But sometimes there are better tools. But what the axe is always the right tool for, is reminding you of your commitment to the Hamurabash. It’s a reminder that you’re committed to thinking stuff out, to reason, so none of that superstition. Other than the Hamurabash itself, which is too big for everyone to carry, an axe is the best reminder that you’re cutting away the ignorance of the world like dead wood when you fight, yeah?”

“So Vivritan is all moved, and he begs Hamur’s forgiveness and gives him his sword. Hamur takes it, and gives Vivritan his axe. I have many reminders on my wall, but you need this one more than me is what he said.”

“So,” Zaldi said, after a long pause . “What happened to them? Don’t just trail off, man!”

“Well, Hamur called his new sword the Summoned Sword, and he had it with him in some of his greatest battles until he died. They hung it in his memory hall, the very first memory hall. And old Vivritan? He takes Hamur’s axe into battle and fights with it even though it’s nasty and dull. He wins a hundred battles with it before he falls, and some folks say it’s still around.”

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“What a dull ending that was!” A large form in the back of the room stirred; some recognized it as Zaldi Xianuende, one of the foremost female wrestlers in the famed Mud Pits as well as a retired mercenary. An elf-dwarf mule, she was tall as her father, but with her mother’s stout build, casting a truly formidable shadow. “I like the goblin’s better!”

Nacee, the milliner from Exor, pressed her lips together. “It is not necessary to be interesting in order to be holy and pleasing to the Creator,” she said.

“I’ll say not,” Zaldi laughed. “Who wants to hear a better story? It has a pirate sword in it! I heard it during my mercenary days working out of Toan.” She paused, then whispered again, for added effect: “Pirate sword.”

“I’d like to hear about a pirate sword,” the small child who had told of the lava sword whispered.

“Good enough!” Zaldi boomed, overcoming any objections through sheer volume. “The Seven Sisters of Naïx are all pirate havens, but everyone knows that the great free port of Gizan is wealthy and powerful because it’s the most friendly to troublesome corsairs. One day, a pirate captain sailed into port laden with gold and silver; he had captured an orcish trade ship destined for Layyia, where the orcs traded the spoils of their conquest for the weapons and supplies their holy war needed but that they could not make themselves.”

“The captain, Robas, took the finest treasures to a jeweler in Gizan and ordered a fine sword to be made with them. But the jeweler, knowing the look of orcish gold, refused. He was gently persuaded via a black eye, but went about his work with a warning: the orcs do not believe in an afterlife, he said; they attain immortality through remembrance. And gold never forgets.”

“Robas responded with a quip from an old Crimson Emperor who had instituted a urine tax: money doesn’t stink. He collected his blade and soon after set sail afresh with his crew.”

“Ten days out from Gizan, they intercepted another orcish merchant ship, but this one was escorted by a trireme, loaded with armed orcs girded for battle. Flying the black flag, Robas demanded their surrender. They refused. With arrows and shot. Robas ran up the red flag, then. For those of you who don’t know your pirates address for shame!–the black banner means that surrender will be accepted, and the red banner means that the pirates will kill every man aboard save a single survivor to spread the tale.”

“With the gleam of dead mens’ riches in his eyes, the pirate captain Robas led the first assault onto the orc trireme once his men had grappled it to a standstill. With his glittering new sword, he charged the first orc he saw. But the sword would not strike; it missed, even at close quarters. It was as if an anchor weighed it down, and it would not suffer itself to be lifted in anger against the artisans that had worked its original pieces.”

“The jeweler and the pirate flag were both right that day. The god had not forgotten, and every man aboard the loser’s ship, save one, was killed. But it was the pirates, demoralized at the fate of their captain, who suffered that fate. Some say that the survivor was Robas himself, put ashore with his shame and his sword. Others say that it was a lone crewman who converted to the Hamurabash in gratitude and was given his old master’s sword in recompense.”

“But what came to be known as the Anchor Blade traveled the coast of Naïx and Layyia for years afterwards, and it would never suffer itself to strike a blow against any orc, nor any who had converted to the Hamurabash. For the gold…the gold remembers.”

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As told by Nacee, a human milliner originally from Exor

Stuff and nonsense! Here is what really happened to the volcano king that broke his word.

The Creator saw what was happening and was filled with righteous anger, for although the Creator lies dead and dreaming, some of Its dreams are still for us. On the one hand, the Creator was faced with an oath breaker, a man who could not be trusted. Clearly, the volcano king could no longer be trusted to be a just ruler. But on the other side, and just as bad, was the man who had claimed the Creator’s aid in a thing he had dome himself, a trick and therefore beneath reproach.

In the wisdom of his deathly dreaming, and as a prelude to the age of magic and paradise which will accompany It when It returns to life, the Creator caused a great thunderstorm to break over the volcano palace. Bolts of lightning rained down, and its great stones were rent asunder. Both the old king and the would-be usurper were cowed by the might of the Creator, which they recognized as divine vengeance.

Into their midst came a tall man, pale of skin and fair of hair, who lectured both on the error of their ways. Lifting his hand to the heavens, and invoking the blessing of his hidden and dreaming Creator, he found his hand filled with a sword of pure storm, of lightning and thunder and wind. With a single clean and cleaving blow, both the old king and the would-be usurper were cast into the volcano, and the righteous man of the Creator took their place, a king who would reign with peace and justice and a storm sword to back them both up.

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As told by Gob, a nameless goblin from a Simnel Scullery

Hume, the man that had made the mold and watched as the Creator filled it, walked to his king. This king, Firebeard Rockthrone, had earned his name from the building of his kingdom and capital atop such a dangerous and unpredictable mountain of fire.

“Ho there, Rockthrone,” Hume said. “I call on this one to be true to its word. I name myself Mold Sparkblade in honor of this that I have wrought, and I demand that you honor your word and surrender your keep and your name.”

Rockthrone was crafty, though, and he refused Sparkblade. “Give this one the opportunity to let the Creator forge me a blade in turn,” he said. “If the Creator forge me not a blade of equal skill, my name and my throne I surrender to you, Sparkblade. But if the Creator does, a nameless and throne less Hume will you leave this hall.”

Sparkblade was not without cunning himself, as his forging of the hot blade (with Creator’s help) had shown. So he countered: “O Rockthrone, I accept your offer with but this addition: if Creator bestow you with blade and me as well, clearly he look upon us with equal favor. Let the contest be sword against sword, then.”

Agreeing, Rockthrone went to the non-fire mountains and prepared his own mold, which he allowed water to run into and freeze. But, clever human that he was, he also prepared an exact duplicate that was made of glass and would not melt. This he brought to the fire mountain, thinking that it would at a stroke shatter the flimsy hardened lava of his challenger.

“Behold the great favor which the Creator shows me,” speaketh Rockthrone, “a sword of snow and ice which does not melt, though my hands be warm and my throne be warmer. Strike a stroke against this, usurper Hume, and see upon whom the Creator truly smiles.”

Mold Sparkblade struck the blow. His sparkling blade, made of the solid dark waters of the night which some call obsidian, shattered the glass sword. He took up the king, and tossed him into the fire mountain, with no kingdom and no name at his death and therefore doomed. The blade he named Snowslayer, and it was an heirloom of that one’s kingdom for many years.

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“So how can you tell,” one of the younger children, one who had come in with the last refugees before the gates were barred, whispered. “How can you tell if your sword has the sword ghost inside of it?”

“Well, little one,” Anx said. “The Dayfather, or the Nightmother–or perhaps both if they are quarreling again–will appear to you in a dream and say that it is thus.”

“Oh, please,” Tova said. “Fill that child’s heads with such nonsense and they’re sure to believe the next rattle they find is from the Creator’s very cradle.”

Hirt, looking toward the child, asked: “Young’un, have you ever had a dream about a truly magnificent sword you’d like to share with us?”

The child, after a reassuring nod from their mother, bobbed their head enthusiastically.

“Tell us, then. Keeps the stories, and our spirits, flowing.”

“Okay, well, I dreamed of a big mountain with fire in it. Like they say that there is way in the south. A vol…a volc…a volca…”

“Volcano,” Tova sighed. “At least lie with the right word, yes?”

“Volcano.” The child furrowed their brows before continuing. “So these people wanted to make a sword, okay? But then one of them said that they should let the Creator make them a sword, and that would be the best sword. But the guy that said that? The other guys didn’t believe him, they laughed. They said if he could get the realtor to make him a sword, he would be their new king and they would totally throw the old one into the vol…volc…volca…fire mountain.”

“What happened next?” said Hirt.

“Well, the guy, he knew that the fire mountain was going to burp up a fire river soon,” the child went on. “So he did what the blacksmith does and made a big mold in the shape of a sword. And he put it on the side of the fire mountain. And then when the fire mountain woke up and the fire river started to flow, it flowed into the mold and filled it up. So when the guy went back, he opened up the mold and the Creator had made him a sword, just like he said.”

“A fine tale,” Anx said. “Now tell me, little one: did the other ‘guys’ keep their word and throw the old king into the fire mountain, and make the fire smith their new king?”

“No, they said it didn’t count because he made the mold, not the creator,” the child said sadly. “I woke up before I found out what happens next.”

“That part, at least, is quite realistic,” said Tova. “The perfidy of human nobles is the one constant in this world of ours.”

“Well, what do you think happened next?” Hirt said, the sweep of his arms encompassing the room. “Come now, someone, finish this tale of fiery swords for our young blade bard here.”

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As told by Anx, a dwarf of Aiov in the northwest

After the Shattering, when the King Over the Isles fell at the Battle of Two Lakes, the Sea Peoples took our homelands from us. Those they did not enslave were forced to flee, but they did so without reason or purpose. The King Over the Isles was also the high priest of Dvagnchi the Dayfather, and his queen was high priestess of Qingvnir the Nightmother, you see.

When the King Over the Isles died, the throne would pass to his designated successor and his wife. If he died suddenly without an heir, the dwarves would call a Great Council made up of all the heads of the Great Holds in the Shattered Isles to elect one among their number to succeed. They would be girded thereafter with the Isthmus Blade as a solemn token of office.

But the Two Lakes was such a crushing defeat that not only was the King slain, but every dwarf who was a possible member of the Great Council had died or was captured. The Isthmus Blade, so they say, was thrown into the great pile of weapons melted down and reforged after the battle. The Sea Peoples poking their new dwarves with their own iron, now that must have made their cruel hearts smile!

One of the few noble dwarves to survive a free man was Tivej. He had this notion that the Isthmus Blade was less of a real thing you could hold than a ghost, a spirit that inhabited a metal shell as a gift from Dvangchi and Qingvnir. He declared that his own humble sword had been imbued with that spirit, and that the Dayfather and Nightmother had told him so in a dream.

For the next eight years, Tivej wielded his sword, imbued with the ghost of the Isthmus Blade (or so he claimed) against the Sea Peoples. He fostered slave revolts, led the free dwarves in guerilla warfare, and eventually declared himself King Over the Isles. When he was betrayed by one of his men, who sold his liege for the Sea Peoples’ gold, Tivej fell in battle, refusing to surrender.

And his sword, the one he said to be possessed of the spirit of old? It was never found. Many since have claimed to have it, or to have another sword possessed by the same spirit, in the centuries since.

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“I don’t think that elves game out very well in your sword-story, blade-bard,” Tova said. “You make us out to be a lot of squabbling adulterers. Vol and Elw never ruled over much territory and they were mules besides. Let me tell you of a true elven blade from the time before the Creator to set the record straight.”

“Is it a real story,” Hirt asked, “or one you made up?”

With a twinkle in her eye, Tobe ignored him. “In the days of old, long before the Seven Sisters of Naïx dotted her shores, the deserts of that land were lush forests. It came to pass than an elf was lost in those jungles, the last survivor of an expedition. He was wounded for want of a weapon, starving for want of food, and dying for want of sweet water to drink.”

“In those days, great insects lived in the jungles of Naïx, the size and bearing of a man or an orc, and they were doughty survivors because they lived short lives, giving birth in their death throes to children that were better-suited to survive than they. If there was a flood, the child would swim; if there was a drought, the child would not thirst. It so happened that one such insect came upon this elf, lost and dying. And in his plaintive cries, she found something at once both pitiable and admirable.”

“Her child, born the next day, could speak the elf’s language and led him to an oasis. There, able to eat and drink, but unable to penetrate the dense jungles, he began to recover. But the insect soon found that she was better-suited to the elf than the mother had been; what had been admiration was now love.”

“So when, in turn she died and brought forth a daughter, the new insect was adapted to love the elf, and to be loved by him in turn, for although still an insect she had the outside form of a beautiful woman. And, for a time, they were both very happy. But she soon noticed him stockpiling food and water, gathering supplies for a trip to the north, to the coast. When she asked, the elf spoke of his wife and children, whom he missed dearly.”

“And so, heartbroken, the insect died that very night and her daughter was born: in the form of a sword, chitinous and sharp, with which the elf could cut his way through the jungle and return to those he loved. He left then,, bearing her hence, and for he remainder of their long lives together she hung by his side through many a trial and travail.”

Tova folded her hands. “That is a true elf-story for you.”

“If she could have a daughter that was better adapted, why not wait until he was out of the jungle and then have one that looked like an elf again?” Anx said.

“Shut up,” Tova said. “That’s why. And besides, it’s your turn.”

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As told by Hirt, a man of Simnel

In the days before Eyon I, the first king of Pexate, the land was rent by petty kingdoms and strife. One of the strongest was a realm which once stretched where we now sit, centered on the city of Simnel. Elves had carved a great citadel for themselves, and ruled as far as their spears would reach.

Their old king died just as their lands had begun to be threatened from the south, and his wife was heavily with child at the time. It was decided by a great council that her child should succeed him. But when the time came, she gave birth to twins–both mules, for it happened that she had been unfaithful to the old elf-king with many who had come through Simnel-that-was. Her son, Vol, had a human father and was fair-skinned and fair-haired. Her daughter, Elw, had a goblin father and had dark olive skin and midnight-black hair.

At their birth, the sword traditionally forged for the new king was hurriedly duplicated, and thus Volen and Elwva were forged. In the elven dialect of the time, Vol was noon and Elw midnight, so Volen and Elwva were the Light-Blade and the Dark-Blade respectively.

Decades of war followed as the Twin Monarchs came of age, and in them Eyon I found his craftiest opponents in the north. Vol was a cruel man, prone to fits of bloody rage on the battlefield, but nevertheless a skilled warrior. Elw was temperate and kind, a formidable diplomat. Together on the throne, they kept King Eyon at bay for years.

The King, in his great wisdom, dealt with them in his own way. He sent emissaries to Vol, promising recognition as King of the North if he would only remove the thorn of Elw, with the shadow-blade Elwva to be handed over as proof of the deed. Vol greedily acquiesced to the terms.

Then King Eyon sent emissaries to Elw, revealing Vol’s treachery. He promised her the title of Queen of the North if she wiped away Vol’s dishonor with blood and collected Volen, the blade of light. The two siblings met in the great hall of old Simnel and fought for hours, forbidding their retainers to intervene. Their final blows, in parallel, struck at each others’ hearts, with the obsidian of Elwva shattering in Vol’s chest and the translucent quartz of Volen breaking between Elw’s ribs.

King Eyon then arrived, took the fealty of the retainers, and collected both shattered swords. “Let these broken blades be a reminder to all who follow me in my line,” he said. “If their bearers had remained unified, and not let the petty strife of their common history drive them to violence, I would never have triumphed.”

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“They call you the blade-bard,” the dwarf, Anx, said. “Does that mean you can sing? Come, sing us a song to pass the time.”

“Oh, that’s not quite what the name means,” said Hirt, looking around the dozens of other anxious, haggard faces clustered inside Kingskeep for safety against the siege. “I run the royal armory’s historical collection.”

The elf from the royal architects college, Tova, snorted in the shadows to Hirt’s left. “What’s bardic about being a librarian of old rusty daggers?” she said.

“You misunderstand,” replied Hirt. “I make the blades sing. Not the whistle of slicing through the naked air, either, but songs of their history.”

“This one would be more interested in the history-to-come, or perhaps the swords-to-come if the city walls are breached,” the goblin from the castle scullery said. “Perhaps the blade-bard knows how the siege goes, if King Uxbridge rides to relieve Simnel as the gobs in this one’s scrubbing-crew have whispered.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” Hirt said. “But I could regale you with a tale of one of the blades from our collection. To pass the time, that is.”

Tova snorted again. “I could easily tell you a better story of a better sword, avdpas.”

Anx clapped his hands together, causing several of those huddled on the stone floor to gasp. “Now that is the first good idea I’ve heard all siege,” he said. “Let us each in turn tell the story of a blade we know, and thereby pass the time.”

“What if I don’t know any swords?” one of the pages, leaned against the wall, said.

“Make something up!” Anx said, laughing. “You there, blade-bard. You go first. Tell us of a sword. Something wondrous, from before magic began leaving the world. And don’t waste our time with the Purposeful Blade either, we know it’s kept in Aiov.”

“Very well,” said Hirt. “Let me tell you of my favorite blades: Volen and Elwva, the sword of shadow and the sword of light, taken from the Twin Monarchs by Eyon I when he took Pexate.”

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