A Pale Green Blade
By William Maier
The whetstone followed the steel edge with a hiss, paused briefly, and then lifted back towards the hilt to start its journey anew. The rhythm of the gritty hiss lent an almost musical quality to the air. It was a methodical process; it was a process which had become ritual. A thousand times the hand had held the stone, and thousands of times more the stone had ridden the steel. It was a simple act, in which Ryl Lorme had always taken pleasure. To whet an ensorcelled blade was unnecessary, yet the serenity it brought was useful, particularly so of late.
A troubled mind was not something that Ryl was accustomed to, and he did not plan on keeping its acquaintance long. Such things spelled doom for men like him: men that were in the employ of the High Marshal. The position was for life; it served as a reward for excessive skill, or punishment for serious crime. In Ryl’s case both applied. The Marshal’s men did not retire, rather they were retired; this was a fact he was intimately familiar with, being the preferred instrument of retirement. Being the best had afforded him an extended life expectancy, though someday, without doubt, the crown’s dirty little secrets would need to be scrubbed clean. Who would they send? Garbow? Terne? The Marshal was no fool, he would send both. It would be a close thing, but in the end he would need to send more, and he certainly would. If you knew where to find a man you could kill him, and the Marshal always knew where to look. And therein lay the source of his current discontent.
How long had it been since he closed the door to foolish hopes of anything but a blade in the back, or a flask of tainted ale, as an end to his story? But now, he could hear memories long put to rest, like kenneled dogs-- scratching at first, but now clawing-- behind the door, refusing to be ignored. And perhaps their diligence paid off, for at that moment he was struck with a recollection of youth: the fancy of someday leaving these highlands to pursue a career as a treasure-seeking pirate, though he had never seen the sea. There was a fair-haired girl as well, the cobbler’s daughter, whose mere presence would weaken his knees. A pungent odor of the past flared his nostrils; it was the smell of onions on his mother’s dirt-stained hands, the only thing that would grow in their wretched little garden. The door had been breached. And only with a great flexing of his mental muscles did Ryl manage to seal it again, but not before the damage was done. For the first time in thousands, the hand betrayed the ritual; the whetstone fell from loose fingers to thud on the ground.
Ryl stared at the stone a moment before reaching down to pluck it from the grass and slip it into the small satchel on his belt. He looked at his sword, giving some regard to the pale green blade before sliding it into the baldric about his shoulder. His trance was broken, the ritual was over. He rose from the rock that served as his seat; he stretched his back, rolled his shoulders, and strode out toward the trail. As he went, he thought about a certain boy: a boy called Rat-face.
Labels: William Maier