Arrows blackened the sky, a thousand deadly predators hunting men’s flesh. They rained down in the middle of a raging battle, adding to the already pitched chaos of weapons clashing, shouts of anger and bellowed war-cries, anguished pleas for help that would never come…
Kandil the Fierce led the thunderous charge, round shield high above his head to catch or deflect the onslaught. Men fell around him by the dozen. Most were his, but he fought on without hesitation.
They were warriors, and each of them knew the price could be high.
Each knew the prize was worth any sacrifice.
The legendary sword of many names, wielded by Golifax, the Immortal Emperor. Some called it the Eternity Blade, others the Sword of Dawn, Mortal’s Bane, Godmaker… It was spoken of in taverns the world over in hushed awe, envied by any warrior with the desire to achieve true glory. Bards told stories of its power, and the exploits of the men who carried it. They spoke of the gifts granted its bearer, only one of which all agreed on.
He who bore the sword would never die.
And Kandil would stop at nothing until he held the blade in his own calloused hands.
Three of the imperial soldiers, their mail hauberks filthy and gouged, rushed at him unimpeded. Kandil swept up the battered axe he’d been dragging behind him, through mud and water and bodies and blood, in a vicious arc. The soldier in the lead caught it with his own blade, but the force of the blow sent him flying into another pocket of fighting.
The other two soldiers attacked in unison. Kandil sheared through the weapon of one, taking off the man’s head in the process, but had to jerk out of the way of the other’s blow. It grazed his ribs. A soft kiss of fire. He screamed in rage and let go of his weapon with one hand, punching his assailant in the face, watching it crumple like so much parchment.
His warriors reached the massive city wall, erecting thin wooden ladders along its length. The defenders tried to push the ladders away or rain arrows down. Men fell like stalks of wheat at harvest, death’s great scythe cutting them down without mercy.
But the defenders were fewer than they’d been, before all this began, and they wouldn’t be able to hold out long.
Kandil held himself back, watching his warriors attempt the wall, inexorable as the tide. They found purchase, and it was as if a dam burst. Warriors swarmed the great barrier like ants, throwing down the enemy archers with cries of jubilant vengeance.
He followed, then, ascending one of the ladders with a wide grin and glory in his eyes, oblivious to the pain from his dozen or so minor wounds.
He was close.
He crested the wall and gazed down at the great city, heart of his enemy’s empire. His warriors swept through it like the plague, killing with reckless abandon. Fires already marked the city, and the terrified cries of its inhabitants rose up, joining together in one single, sorrowful note.
Kandil felt nothing for them.
How could he, when so many of his own had fallen?
All three of his sons.
Two in their long war against Golifax, slain in battle. The last born after they’d departed the homeland, died from the fever, never having felt his father’s touch.
Yes, he had sacrificed as much as or more than any other.
Kandil descended wide stone steps into the burning city and hurried toward the palace at its heart. That was where the Immortal Emperor would be. That was where his destiny awaited.
A small number of imperial soldiers had fallen back to defend the palace, loyal to the end. They were cut down in short order, and Kandil found himself sprinting through the palace’s elaborately decorated halls, along crimson carpets threaded with gold.
He found Golifax in the throne room, waiting for him, sword in hand. He knew the man by the smiling gold mask covering his face, almost as legendary as the blade.
The emperor called him a butcher and promised a painful death.
Kandil said nothing.
He approached cautiously, knowing the enemy to be a dangerous foe. A few careful attacks revealed, however, that the emperor was a mere novice. His grip was all wrong and his swings were wild and inaccurate.
Kandil let out a roar and charged, knocking the blade away with ease and burying the head of his axe in the emperor’s gut in a spray of red. The force of the blow knocked the golden mask from the man’s face and Kandil gasped.
He was a boy. No older than Kandil’s sons would be…
But the stories all said Golifax was an accomplished fighter and leader before ever finding the blade.
Kandil pulled his axe free and watched in horror as the emperor’s blood poured from the wound, and the life began to flee his body…
Even though he was holding the legendary sword. The one that granted immortality.
The boy smiled a red smile and said it was all a lie. A way for their family to take and keep power. He said there’d been over a dozen Golifaxes, that the mask kept the secret for them.
All a carefully constructed lie.
The boy said the blade had been nothing but a curse for him. That its true name was Sorrow. Then the boy’s eyes rolled back, and he was dead.
Kandil the Fierce sank to his knees, staring at the worthless blade in mute horror. He had sacrificed so much.
So many years… so many dead…
His own sons…
Tears streamed down his face and he thought that the boy had been wrong. The true name of the sword wasn’t Sorrow. Not for Kandil.
It was Regret.
Paul Miller writes in Texas, USA.