Five years of searching had paid off; finally, Edward had found his father’s killer. Now, here in this field, in a duel to the death, he would take revenge.
Ten minutes had passed, and Edward had been wounded twice, while his opponent remained untouched. No matter; he would press on, avenge his father’s death or die trying. He savored the blood and sweat running from cheek to mouth. The salt and metal mixture was the flavor of battle, and it drove him on. He reveled in the sound the blades made when they touched, two bodies of live steel coming together. It was the cry of battle, and it, too, drove him on.
More minutes passed. They seemed like hours, but Edward’s attention never faltered. He dodged, parried, and thrust with all the skill and power he could muster. Again, he was wounded when his opponent’s saber sliced his arm. He uttered a silent prayer, thanking the Lord that it was not his sword arm, and he continued to fight.
His opponent had decades of experience, while Edward had learned to wield a sword only five years ago, after his father’s murder, and had done so until now only in practice. He had learned solely in anticipation of this moment.
“Have ye had enough, lad?”
Edward didn’t answer, couldn’t answer; he had to focus on his footwork and the movement of his blade. If he faltered even once, he would be dead, and justice would go unserved.
Parry, thrust, parry, parry. Thrust, parry, thrust.
Each thrust missed, and with each parry, steel rang out against steel. Edward listened. His opponent’s sword caught him again, this time in the thigh, as he parried the blade downward. He gasped and fell to his knees.
Time slowed. He saw the honed blade, shining in the sun, inching ever closer, and he prepared himself for death.
But death did not come. Instead, again, he heard the scrape of steel against steel, as his opponent’s strike was blocked. Who? Who had saved him? Who had interfered? He looked around but saw no one. Then he understood; instinctively, he had raised his own saber at the proper moment, saving himself from a mortal wound.
Gathering his strength, Edward forced himself to stand. No sooner had he done so than his opponent’s sword came at him once again. The passage of time was no longer slowed, and Edward had only an instant to react. He was successful; once again, he parried an oncoming thrust, and once again he heard the battle cry of blade striking blade.
He heard, and this time he understood. The clashing of blades was more than a battle cry; it was an impassioned song, a song of love, of death, of fear, and joy, and hope. It was the song of centuries, the song of the human condition, sung in one brief moment, somehow relating all that it meant to be alive. It was all that, and it was still just steel against steel. Metal against metal. Metal, like that he tasted in the blood still running freely down his cheek. Metal, like that coursing through his veins.
Yes, this time he understood, indeed. He would not win until he gave himself over to the sword.
Edward backed away from his opponent, putting some distance between them. He closed his eyes briefly, inhaled deeply, and let out a battle cry of his own. Like the cry of the swords, it was a song, and it sang of Edward’s pain, and of his thirst for vengeance, and of his hope for the future. It was Edward’s song, and as he sang it, he sang his sword to life.
He closed the distance between himself and his opponent, and for the first time since the battle began, he went on the offensive. No longer did he think, no longer did he focus on his footwork and the movement of his blade, for he and his sword were one.
Thrust, thrust, parry, thrust. Parry, thrust, thrust.
Edward smiled; his opponent was losing ground. he could see the fear in the older man’s eyes, and he could see that it was a fear the man was unaccustomed to.
“I say again, lad, have ye had enough? I do not want to kill ye, but I will.”
Edward laughed, said, “Nay, I think not, old man,” and he and his sword continued to sing.
Thrust, parry, thrust, thrust. Parry, thrust–
The song crescendoed. From the hesitant opening bars, somewhat discordant, it had metamorphosed into a symphony worthy of the greatest composers. Soon it would end, as all songs must end, but Edward committed himself to writing the greatest symphonic coda the world had ever heard. Without thought, he continued to let the music flow.
Oh, it was glorious. As Edward’s saber struck his opponent, piercing just below his ribs, the young man let out the final note of his masterwork and then fell silent. He listened, and he realized that there was no sound here on this plain. The birds in the air, the insects on the ground, the trees, the grass, the clouds — all were still. They were his audience, and they were engulfed by the quiescence that engulfs all who experience the depth of emotion a true work of art bestows.
Edward closed his eyes, drew himself back into the mundane matters at hand, and checked to make sure his fallen foe was dead. He was, and Edward smiled. He knelt down, closed the dead man’s eyes, and whispered, “Thank you for the song. Without you it would never have been sung.”
Then, Edward stood, sheathed his sword, and limped away, letting the pain of his wounds envelop his body. It was a pain he would hold on to, a pain he would embrace, for it was inspiration, this pain, and he would use it, weaving it into the melody and harmony of his next song.
Travis King is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. His works draw upon a broad range of interests and have appeared in such publications as Open Ways and the literary journal Waves; he has also published two limited-edition poetry chapbooks: The Darkness and the Light, and Other Poems and Where Have You Gone, Great Goddess? and Other Poems of Nature and the Spirit. He currently resides with his wife, Nancy, and their three children on the central Oregon coast.