Dance of Swords

There is a certain poetry to The Way of Swords. Yes, it is about steel and strength, speed and endurance, truth and beauty but also balances on the soul of the wielder. And this is a special ceremony. A moment in which a great power is released out into the world. A power of good to fight against the scourge of evil. Whatever form that evil takes. This temple is the last movement in a grand test. A test that kills and maims and demands the taker give everything they have to their god. And now, the student enters. He is battered and bleeding, maybe he is walking with a slight limp. He has been over a mountain pass and through a forbidding swamp. Yet even if injured he moves on the tips of his toes, graceful and ready as he faces his final challenge, his master.

The master is hunched on a curved spine leaning on a piece of birch and says, “congratulation on reaching this far learner. Surely you must be tired, but before you can rest you must answer three questions.”

“Yes master,” the student replies.

“First, what is essential to combat?”

The student answers without pause, as is expected, “the body must strike before the mind is sure.”

Then, an attack from behind. The assailant, dressed in black, swings a stick of bamboo. The Student slices with his own bamboo stick taking the attacker across the middle. The strike would have been deadly. The attacker rolls away certain to be bruised tomorrow.

“Impressive, you know much, Journeyer. Surely you must be tired.”

“No, master. I shall not rest until I am finished.”

“Why not learner, why should you not rest if you are tired?”

“I must always be alert. I must always be ready to face Death for living by the sword means living with the sword. Forever bonded from baptism to my final battle. And only in death shall we be separated.”

Maybe, in that moment, the downward arc of the perfectly quiet attacker might have triggered his reaction, maybe, not that it matters much being how swift the student’s defense was and how severely the leaping attacker was repelled. Writhing in agony he was quickly helped from the temple by two of the monks standing in the shadows.

“You are indeed a great warrior. Your awareness is mystical. But you must of course have scorn for those you have beaten.”

“I respect all effort for even in the slightest breeze a lesson can be learned.”

“What are the tenets of our order?”

“I shall never kill. I serve the god of compassion, life, and the earth on which we live. And beyond all else, my life will be spent in the pursuit of peace and justice.”

“Very good. Now, will you face me?”

“Of course master.”

The master’s attack was quick. The birch staff comes up and licks the student’s sword hand. In shock, the bamboo rod begins falling to the floor as the birch staff re-aimed for a direct attack on an exposed neck. But at the last minute, the neck disappears and instead of the bounce of a free bamboo training sword hitting the ground, there is the grunt of air being forced out of ancient lungs.

The upward strike would have killed instantly.

But what follows is laughter and celebration. This is the moment the student began this education for so many years ago. Maybe even a decade of training to become the creature he is today. A creature of reflex and virtue. Love and compassion. Solitude and tenet. The training is conducted alone. There are no classmates to confide in or hate or love or count on. It is lonely and brutal. And now as the monks of the order file in, each carrying a candle, except the one swinging a hollow metal ball filled with incense. The fragrant smoke is intoxicating.

The monks moan their hymns and words, hymns and words that the student knows deep in his soul. Hymns and words that he will be entrusted to use in his quest. A quest to spread peace and love. Then the ceremony begins and he is stripped of his learner wraps, dinge colored and frayed yet they protected him from nudity and the elements for so long and now he stands there in both making stoicism difficult but he manages, it’s his job, after all, to stand it all, to defend against it all, to beat back it all, all at great personal peril with the one caveat- he can never kill.

He is surrounded by monks who give him new wraps. White. Bleached with holy magic which will forever prevent them from staining. Then the chainmail, mithril with a slight blue tinge to the smithing, then they place pounded steel on his shoulders, chest, arms, and legs, leather on his feet and hands.

The symbol of Bryil is placed around his neck. His head bows at the weight and reverence of this moment in particular. The beauty. The connection between mere mortal and the divine. When the monks part next it is to expose the head of the order, the high priest. He wears robes of scarlet and in his hands is the Sword of Blessing Curse. One drop of blood on its perfect surface and it will crumble to ash along with his every promise. Once the hilt is gripped in his fist the sword of peace is his and the monks turn him and push him from the temple into the swamp beyond.

The moaning humming words and hymns continued up to this point but cease immediately when he leaves the temple. The quiet behind him is unnerving. Just the chirp and grunt of swamp. As if the temple itself vanished. He knows not to look, though. He knows that his time there as a student is over. Behind him the temple might as well have vanished because from now on he is the order, a knight of The Word and Hymn, so he turns his new leather boots in the direction he feels he has work to do.


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