Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 24
The sword lay there, as long as he was tall, and made out of some dark metal that he’d never seen before. The boy walked around it carefully. “You don’t have ears so you probably can’t hear me, but mother says I talk just to hear myself anyway. You don’t have a mouth to talk, but you still let everybody know what you think!”
It was hard to find tiny specks of blood by lantern light alone, and a few times he found himself picking at something that was actually a brown spot on the rock itself. Even though he’d practically memorized ever single stone set in the floor, he scrubbed at them just in case. “I probably shouldn’t talk to you because I’m not a real person, but you’re not a person either. I don’t know what the Law says about that.”
Then he noticed a fat drop of blood that he’d somehow missed, but only because it was beneath the sword.
The boy was suddenly very afraid. That had never happened before.
“I mop around you every night, but I can’t mop under you,” the boy said. “I could slosh some water on you.…” The tools the older casteless were issued sometimes rusted. Could this sword rust? If the whole men would have him severely beaten for missing a drop of blood, they’d surely murder him for making their magic sword rust.
Very carefully, he reached for the drop with his rag-wrapped fingertips. He didn’t know what the parts of the sword were called, but the part that protected the fingers was resting on the floor and lifted up the part the warriors tried to handle. If he was careful, he could sneak under that without touching anything.
He bumped it with one shaking knuckle. “I mean no disrespect.” The sword didn’t answer, but since it didn’t remove his fingers, it didn’t seem to mind. He wiped away the drop with a fingertip, but there was still a stain there on the stone. If he let it sit it would become a permanent blemish on House Vadal and he’d be beaten to death for it.
There had to be a way to move the sword without offending it…They’d put it here somehow after the Thakoor had died after all, but he was not a trained warrior. He was a child of the non-people. He didn’t know any other way. “Forgive me, sword, but I have to fulfill my duty.”
The boy looked at the filthy rags wrapped around his hands. That would not do. It would be wrong to touch the sword with something dirty, so he unwound them until it was just raw, clean skin. Then he took a deep breath, reached out, and took hold of the handle.
It was far lighter than it looked.
The sword bit into his palm.
* * *
The guards found him some time later, lying on the floor, barely conscious, and raised the alarm.
Weak, confused, it was like waking up from a bad nightmare, and when the boy realized he was still holding onto the sword he began to panic. “I’m sorry!” Hot tears began to stream down his cheeks. “Please don’t kill me.”
But the intimidating guards seemed more terrified by this development than he was. Most of them seemed too stunned to react and stood there clutching nervously at their swords. One ran for help. Another even dropped to his knees, bowing to the boy as if he was of the highest caste.
“I was only trying to clean the blood,” the boy cried. “Take it back!” But his fingers would not unclench from the hilt. He tried to pry them off with his other hand, but they wouldn’t budge. He managed to get to his feet. The tip of the sword was dragging along the floor and slicing through the stone. “I’m sorry!” He lifted the sword so it would do no more harm. “I’ll fix that. I promise.”
The boy turned in a circle, and found that he was surrounded by warriors. Each one took a fearful step back as the blade pointed at him. Even in the hands of a child, there was no mistaking how incredibly lethal the sword was.
“Why have I been awakened?” It was the woman, the angry one all of the warriors deferred to, the one who was in charge, the one who was going to have him whipped to death in the dungeons for his insolence. Then she was staring right through the boy at the sword he was waving about and her expression changed from icy rage to shock.
“The blood scrubber picked up the ancestor blade,” one of the guards explained.
“As if Angruvadal would choose a casteless!” She began to laugh, only it was a bitter, mirthless sound. “Give it a moment and he’ll slice his own throat.”
“He’s been holding it for several minutes, my lady. It doesn’t appear to be turning on him.”
“This is impossible,” one of the guards stammered. “Only the best warrior may take up the sword. This has never happened before!”
“As far as anyone knows, it isn’t happening now.” The woman appeared to be deep in thought. She frowned at the boy. “Do not speak a word about this to anyone. Summon my advisors.”
* * *
“Are you comfortable, child?” the woman asked him.
The boy nodded. The lady of the great house didn’t seem so angry with him now.
“Good. Drink up.”
They’d given him some cushions to sit on and a cup of wine. He was still scared, but something in the drink had made him very sleepy. The sword had finally allowed his fingers to release it, so it was resting at his side. Though he wished they would, no one had tried to take the sword from him yet.
“I’m sorry I took it.” He was having a hard time speaking. It was like his tongue was too big for his mouth. “You can have your sword back.”
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, child. An ancestor blade cannot simply be given or taken.”
A few other members of the first caste had joined them and then they’d gone to a smaller, more private room. It was covered in silks softer than anything he’d ever felt before and the air was filled with perfumes that made his face itch. The woman in charge was named Bidaya, because that’s what the other important whole men called her, except for the youngest one who kept calling her “mother.” The young man was pacing back and forth nervously while the others sat. The boy was very sleepy, but he could tell that the young man was very upset, even more so than the others, or maybe he wasn’t as good at hiding it yet.
“You should have had the guards execute the little fish-eater on the spot!”
“That would have been foolish, Harta,” one of the old men in robes stated. He had white hair and a bushy beard. “Your mother was wise to proceed cautiously. What’s done is done. Angruvadal chose this casteless for some unknowable reason. He is the bearer now, and one does not simply execute a bearer.”
“Speaking of which…” The young man stopped his pacing long enough to look the boy over. “Are we in danger? What’s to stop it from slaughtering us all?”
“Besides the fact that he’s probably only five or six years old and the sword is bigger than he is?” Bidaya snorted. “Calm yourself. The boy is no danger. His drink is laced with a bit of the sleeping poppy. I’m surprised he’s still awake at all.”
“You should have just poisoned it and saved us all the trouble,” Harta complained.
“That would be unwise,” the old man said. “The sword has spoken. If we went against its wishes, the Angruvadal might construe that as an act of treachery. To murder the bearer of an ancestor blade is a terrible dishonor against a house. Traditionally, the only way to remove a bearer is through a proper duel, and he is far too young to legally enter into a duel.”
“Damn it, Chavans, the judges don’t have to know,” Harta shouted.
“I’m not worried about what the judges think. I’m worried about what the sword thinks. Why do you think there are so few of them left? There were once hundreds of black steel weapons and now there are only a score, if that many. If the blade feels its house is no longer worthy of protection, then it will perish. The surest way to prove we are unworthy is by murdering its bearer.”
“A duel isn’t murder under the Law…Neither is falling asleep in the bath, and this stinky little creature could certainly use a bath.”
“No one has ever accused an ancestor blade of having nuance, Harta. If we murder the bearer, no matter how clean we keep our hands, the sword might shatter.”
“So what?” Harta waved his hand dismissively. “Killing the brat is worth the risk. Even if it breaks, it isn’t like father used that sword in decades. There hasn’t been a demon washed up on our shores in my lifetime. Vadal is the strongest of the great houses. We don’t need to rely on some superstitious artifact when we’re this well positioned in the capitol.”