. This story is one I wrote for an assignment in a writing evening course I do. I don't' consider myself a writer at all, I just do this for fun and I don't think I'm very good at it but the teacher in the class said that it was good enough to be published.
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The corridor was long and wide, just like any other in the Temple. It was also dark, the only illumination being the streaks of moonlight that crept into the gloom from the windows like silver blades through black cloth. During hours of daylight, one would see brilliant white stone shining in Tirean’s golden sun but now, in the small hours of the morning, that could only be imagined.
A steady sound could be heard. The feather soft foot falls of a single raven haired female as she made her way down the length of the walkway. She was of slender build and small stature, her figure wrapped in the flowing black robes of an Iradin Knight; identical to that of any of her order save for the tabard ,which normally hung at a warriors’ belt, that was conspicuously absent, marking her as a novice.
Arifen Thyfeius was sixteen years old. Were she not sworn to rites which demanded, among other things, chastity, she would be eligible for a suitor to court. And with skin the colour of milk and eyes the purest cerulean, there would be no shortage of young men for her father to chase away, were he still alive.
Yet for an initiate of the Iradin Order of the Illisian Empire, there would be none of the frivolous escapades of courting and romance in which those of Arifen’s age all too often lost themselves. A knight must be selfless, honourable and above all else, pure. Those were words well remembered and soon, she would be required to test those qualities onto herself. For sixteen meant something to a girl on the threshold of womanhood regardless of her calling in life. For her, it was ascension.
She stopped outside a plain wooden door. The only difference which marked this portal out from the many others along the corridor was the strip of light which crawled from under the frame to spar with the darkness for a few inches of the floor to illuminate. Placing her hand on the door handle, she took a moment to gather herself.
Like a musician before her first concert or bride on her wedding night, she felt the senseless apprehension so often felt by those greeted with something they had hoped for all their life. With a few sharp words to her own self, Arifen swallowed her fears before pushing the door open and entering the room.
The chamber that greeted her was well lit, a stark contrast to the corridor from whence she had come. Several braziers burned on black iron fixtures, casting their yellow light over the alabaster walls and floor. At the back of the room was second door, not unlike the one she had entered from and at the centre of the floor lay a medium sized table upon rested a long, lacquered wooden box.
Yet the most prominent sight to fill Arifen’s vision was that of the two silent figures standing behind the table. Like her, they wore robes of black yet each had their hoods drawn up, hiding their faces in shadow. Even still, she could feel their eyes on her, examining her like one might examine a merchant’s wears before purchase.
Slowly, her own eyes were drawn to the symbols sewn in silver thread, which appeared gold in the light of the flames, on the tabards that hung from the front of each knight‘s waist. Both depicted the same image, an out stretched hand grasping the blade of a sword; the symbol of a Master. Immediately, Arifen stood bolt upright, as if the realisation had pricked her like an icy needle. She brought her right hand to her left breast whilst bowing her head; the customary salute.
‘Be at peace initiate’ spoke the right most of the masters, as if her gesture had roused him. The voice belonged to a middle aged man. Arifen loosened her stance slightly and raised her head in time to see the both masters lower their hoods.
At the left of the pair was a face well known to her. Master Vasca Shael; the knight that had inducted Arifen and her twin brother, Railis, into the Order over a decade earlier. Then, as now, she was a woman of handsome appearance; though the marks of age were beginning to make themselves known by the kisses of grey in Shael’s auburn hair and the faintest lines by her emerald eyes. She favoured Arifen with a stern look and small smile; mirroring the somewhat paradoxical position she had always held in the younger woman’s heart, that of a stern preceptor and caring mother.
However the figure beside Master Shael was one not at all familiar yet one immediately recognised. It was that of a man late into his years. His hair was the colour of hot charcoal and his skin showed the signs of many a winter come and gone. Yet still, he projected an air of absolute authority and intelligence that could bend the knees of the most insubordinate noble and humble the ego of the most studious scholar. He was Mathyus Taraeis. Regent of the Empire and the Lord Master of the Order of the Founding.
Arifen felt what a pauper might feel if he were to wander through a slum and be greeted with the sight of his king; surprise beyond surprise at being in the presence of one so much higher in standing than her. Many a time had she laid her eyes upon Mathyus Taraeis but never had she met him. She swallowed the knot that was her own apprehension and searched the library of her mind to ensure she was not over looking some obscure etiquette required in the presence of the Orders foremost member. The master put her worries to rest when he began to speak.
‘You know why you are here novice. The final obstacle on the journey that begun when we first took you in shall now be laid before you’. he moved forward from his position beside Shael to stand by the table at the room’s centre. ‘Are you ready?’
‘I have prepared myself well, Lord’ Arifen answered with the greatest effort to keep her voice steady and her words clear. ‘I believe that I am ready’.
Taraeis gave her an exacerbating look which felt as if it pierced right to her core. ‘We shall see’ he said silently. ‘On the morrow, you will travel south with Master Shael.’ He gestured to the woman behind him. ‘She will over see your trials and conduct you in to their completion. Also, given your circumstances, we have deemed it fitting for your brother to accompany you and undertake the task alongside you’. The old man placed a hand onto the box laying on the table. ‘But first, your blade’ he asked.
Arifen nodded respectfully, contented at the news that Railis would travel with her, and drew the sword that rested within a leather scabbard at her waist. The weapon was a simple thing. Just the sort of sword that was ideal for a warrior to learn the arts of the blade with. She turned the hand grip to her master which he accepted, taking the weapon from her grasp.
He then opened the box. Inside lay another sword. It was almost identical to the one just forsaken in size and shape yet the difference between the two weapons was as great as the difference between day and night. The other blade had been a functional but plain training device. This, however was far more.
The handle, from pommel to chappe, was inlaid with intricate designs of swirling and dancing shapes that looked to be moving of their own thought and will. These designs continued onto the slender, double edged blade where they were joined by tiny runes and symbols, the meanings of which could not be described in the tongues of men. A faint, almost ghost-like, glow ebbed from the weapon to project the lightest touch of blue onto Arifen’s face.
This was a blade that could cleave plate armour like it was paper, which could never dull and which could never break. It was to swords as a prime stallion was to horses, the secrets of its crafting known to less men than one hand could count. It was a Shadis, the weapon of an Iradin.
Lost in the sight of the blade before her eyes, Arifen was more than slightly startled when Taraeis plucked the weapon from its bed of silk and offered it to her. She stared at him, eyes wide with surprise. ‘Take it’ he said, ‘it is yours’.
With the gentleness that a mother might reserve for her infant, she placed her hand on the leather bound grip of the Shadis and took it from the Master‘s grip. It felt very similar to her training blade but at the same time different. It was feather light, perfectly balanced and above all, wondrous to behold. Almost, upon seeing such a beautifully made and decorated work of art, one could take leave of the fact that it was a weapon more deathly than many, almost.
There was a persistently held belief among knights that their swords had souls of their own and it was that belief from which the name Shadis had been derived; Shadis, which roughly translated from Vaejol, the language of the Elves, as “steel with life”. Looking at the enchanted metal of the weapon. It was clear why.
It came as a start when she heard her Master’s voice again, pulling her out of her walking dream. ‘Arifen’ the voice was, this time, the higher and softer tones of Master Shael. ‘I ask a question of you child. What is the duty that we uphold’?
Immediately Arifen recited the words as familiar to her a favourite rhyme would be to a child. ‘Master. Our duty is to defend the Empire and protect its people’.
‘Words, Arifen. Words’ Shael said dryly. ‘Do you understand what they mean?’.
The question seemed rudimentary to Arifen. Spinning it in her mind, she considered her answer. She had been told what the duty of the Order of the Founding was since she were little more than a toddler. Of course she understood. ‘Yes’ she replied, with confidence. ‘Yes master, I believe that I do’.
‘Indeed’ Shael mused before letting a small sigh escape her lips. A gesture mirrored by Taraeis, who nodded to her in some unspoken agreement. She clapped her hands together.
Two men, clad in the plain grey colours of Temple serfs, dragging a third in their midst, entered from the small door to the back of the room. The conducted was a small man and one of thin build. Hair had begun to desert his crown and despite his efforts to keep it pointed to the floor, Arifen could see his face were sullen and marked. The two servants threw him to the floor before her and, with prompt gestures of respect to the two masters, left.
She looked up to meet Shael’s gaze but it was Master Taraeis that gave voice to her unasked question’s answer. ’This man, child, is guilty of the worst crime in the realm. He has put his own, pitiful, needs before those of the land of his birth. He is a traitor’. Though the master’s voice was calm, it clearly terrified the prostrated man as much as the red eyes of a dragon might. ‘What should be done with him?’ he asked Arifen, coolly.
Arifen looked down on the turncoat. He sunk lower onto his knees, unable to meet her gaze. She had been thought to revile the souls of those who court the enemy since she had first begun her training. And thought well. When she answered, her words were coloured by the first sparks from the furnace of revulsion that had begun to burn within her.
‘My lord’ she began, ‘he should suffer the fate all traitors are due. His entrails should be drawn out, his head perched on a spike atop the gates of Illis’Iyan and his body left as carrion to beasts’. The words she more spat than spoke.
Taraeis nodded. ‘Well spoken’ he said, ‘but not this one’. He then placed his hand on the mans head and pulled back, hard, so that he was forced to meet Arifen’s stare. He wore a look of pure terror. Eyes red from tears and lips trying to form words that might evoke mercy from those he knew would offer none. Taraeis calmly spoke, ‘Kill him’.
At first Arifen did not register the words her Master has given voice to. ‘My lord?’ she asked, nervously, her voice losing a little of its bite.
‘Child, I am not in the habit of repeating myself. None to least to novices whom I have given such clear instructions. Take the blade in your hand. Use it. See that this filth draws not another breath of the air loyal citizens of out empire breath!’ he snapped, showing emotion in his words for the first time.
Arifen looked from Taraeis to the doomed man on the floor and then, finally to Shael. The older woman’s eyes betrayed a hint of emotion, but not a single whisper did her face contain to suggest that this was some manner of test.
The young woman returned her gaze to the man on the floor. His expression on his face was held much easier message to fathom; a pleading look that one could only muster in his situation. Some how, his tears seems to cool the fire in her belly earlier stoked hot.
The weapon in her right hand began to grow heavy, like it were cast from lead. Not an ounce of pity should she feel for the wretched form before her nor did she question that he should be put to death. But to kill him, in cold blood; it terrified her more than the darkest nightmares from the most un visited corners of her mind.
‘Complete your task child, do your duty!’ snapped one of the masters, though Arifen barely registered which one. Slowly and with no small amount of reluctance, she turned the sword in her grip so that the point faced down. Taking it in both hands, she raised it for the fatal strike. Not giving herself time to think about it, she brought her blade down..
The weapon plunged into the man’s shoulder, beside his neck like a needle into a cushion. The rune sharp blade tore through muscle and bone with ease, burying itself, point fuller and edge, into his body. It was supposed to be the cleanest, fastest way to end a life yet it was not fast enough to prevent a horrid, gurgling scream escaping the pierced lungs of the dispatched nor a spray of crimson from landing on the robes of his dispatcher.
With his last ounce of life, the dying traitor lifted his head to lock his eyes with Arifen’s. She saw pain in them, terrible pain that she had caused and, for one brief moment, he ceased to be a traitor in her mind. He became a living being with a life un-known to her, a life which she had ended. Like a red hot brand pressed to her skin, that sight and that thought, she knew, would be with her until the grave.
She ripped the sword from the man‘s body, he was dead. The corpse slumped and fell before her, spilling a pool of blood around her feet that looked like a blanket of red ink spilled onto the floor.
A dreadful feeling rose to fill the void left by her evaporated hate and deserted anger. She felt sick, sick and disgusted. Always she had known that a time would come when blood would have to be spilt by her hands but always had she imagined it as being face to face against an opponent with a weapon in his hand. Traitors had to die, they deserved it, she fully understood that. Yet execution in cold blood. That was not what the knights in stories did.
But he was a traitor, she reasoned to herself, that makes it right and just?. The question lingered unanswered.
Taraeis was the first to speak, but not to her.
‘She is ready, master Shael. I take my leave, fortune be yours’. With not a single word to Arifen, the venerable master left the room though the same door the slain traitor had been admitted.
Arifen heard Shael approach but kept her face fixed on the floor to hide guilty tears from her master’s eye. The older woman rested a hand upon her shoulder before whispering a single sentence into her ear. ‘Now you understand’. With that, she turned followed the same exit Master Taraeis had taken.
Almost as soon as the door shut behind the vacated master, Arifen lost the restraint she had held, tangibly, in the masters’ presence and promptly vomited onto the floor in front of her. However, even when empty of its contents, her stomach still turned at the sight of her actions.
Wiping her mouth in the sleeve of her robes, she turned toward the door she had entered from. Her eyes were drawn to look at the blood stained Shadis in her hand. It was still the same blade. It still had all the masterfully made engravings and decorations. It still glowed from the magic bound inside its steel. Yet somehow, it did not seem so beautiful anymore.