An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

A Secret Sword Carvesh

Carvesh awoke in the grey half-light of the pre-dawn. In truth, it was more like coming to a fuller state of wakefulness, for he had hardly slept at all since collapsing into his bed. The few fleeting hours had been spent tossing and turning beneath haunting and fragmented dreams of shadowbeasts and the enigmatic words of the stranger who had called himself Taarumachk. I will be watching you, I think, he heard again and again in his mind. If you prove yourself worthy, I will share with you what I know.

What did it mean? Who was the impossibly large stranger and how would he be watching? What did he mean by being worthy? The questions raced circles in Carvesh’s restless mind, like a herd of feral horses. When he could not bear it anymore, he threw back the blankets and slowly dressed himself, all the while struggling to drive the weariness from his mind and the burning need for sleep from his eyes. He stretched his aching muscles, wandering sleepily through the quiet of the house and out onto the veranda, where Madik was already sitting, smoking away on his pipe.

“Rough night?” asked the hunter. Carvesh could only grunt in response. The crisp morning air was already helping to clear his head, but his mood was still far from cheery. “I guessed as much. A man’s not likely to sleep sound after what we saw last night. I’ve been sitting here nearly an hour myself, wondering what’re you going to do next.”

“What do you mean?”

“You heard what the big one said—hundreds of those things crossing the Stonewall. I may not know you well, farmer, but I’ve seen enough to recognize that you’re the type to just stand back and when others stand in the path of danger. So what’re you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” responded Carvesh. He looked to the west, where the Great Oak still stood as it always had. Crows and buzzards fought over the remains of the slaughtered bulls. What other meals would such birds be feasting upon soon? “For now, I’m going to head back into town to make sure my family is safe and check on Trent. Then I’ll probably talk with the Mayor. He’ll need to know what’s happened.”

“Seems sensible enough,” said the hunter, taking a deep puff from his pipe. “I think I’ll come along, if it’s all the same to you.”

“It’s fine by me. Are you hungry? I’m going to fix something to eat. ”

“Famished,” replied Madik.

After preparing a small meal of porridge, berries and strips of salted pork—which he had purchased from Hendrick Rasmas only the week before—Jadoc emerged from Alek’s bedroom and the three mean shared a solemn breakfast. The food helped Carvesh overcome some of his weariness, but it seemed strange to be eating here in his own house, devoid of the presence of his wife and children. He wondered if they were safe. When he had climbed the Great Oak, he had expected to trap and kill two or three of the shadowbeasts. Instead, he had his two allies had found more than a dozen, and very nearly lost their lives. If the stranger Taarumachk was to be believed—and Carvesh had no reason to believe otherwise—there were hundreds more of the beasts roaming the countryside.

Could another pack of the beasts have fallen on Kervale as well?

A cold shiver crept down his spine and the food felt like lead in his belly. Quelana’s home rested along the town’s outskirts, and could well have been among the first targets of an attack. With no wall and no standing militia, his family would have been left virtually defensless. That the healer herself was Flameborn offered him little in the way of comfort. As far as Carvesh knew, her talents were almost entirely limited to the healing arts. She had demonstrated some small skill with a flame, but hardly enough to use as an effective weapon. Besides, the Shadowbeasts had already demonstrated their own resistance to fire.

Madik had asked what he was going to do. There was no question about that now. Only a few hours earlier, Carvesh had told the mysterious swordsman that he would do everything in his power to protect his family. The breaking dawn had done nothing to change that. Indeed, it had only strengthened his resolve. He needed to get back to Kervale.

But first, there was something else he needed to do.

Jadoc and Madik were already outside seeing to the horses by the time Carvesh pushed his bowl away and forced the last mouthful of porridge down his throat. He did not bother cleaning up, but prayed that Anya was still alive enough to scold him for it later. Instead, he returned solemnly to their bedroom. He opened the small closet that he shared with his wife and, pushing aside the hanging clothes, ran his hands along the back wall. Almost immediately, he found the small notch in the wood. It was no larger than his fingertip, but when he pressed it in he heard a small click and the false wall slid easily away.

The secret room beyond was no more than three feet squared. Only he and Anya knew of this secret place, where they hid old memories and stored the most precious fragments of their past. On one wall, hung a long, red robe that had been cut from the finest Mesinian silk, and trimmed in golden thread. Opposite that was a painting. With only the dim light that filtered in from the bedroom’s windows, it was difficult to make out the detail, but Carvesh did not need to see. He could feel of his father’s eyes on him.

At the moment, neither the robe nor the painting interested him. Nor did the small chest filled a small fortune of gold and silver falcons. Instead, he crouched down and found a  slender wooden box that had been tucked away in one corner of the room. Carefully and reverently, he undid the two iron latches that held it closed. Hinges that had not been moved in years creaked in angry protest as he opened the box, revealing the treasure within.

Laying there, on its bed of black felt, was a sword.

It was very unlike the blade he had used to slay the first shadowbeast. That sword had been wrought of simple iron, and though it had been crafted by skilled hands, it would have appeared like a crude imitation next to this other, secret sword.

Carvesh knelt down and, wrapping his fingers tenderly around the leather-bound hilt, lifted the weapon from the box for the first time since it had first been brought to him by his brother, years earlier. It was both longer and lighter than his usual sword and, forged as it was from tempered, Relenian steel, its razor-sharp blade would not easily dull or break. Even in the dim light, the weapon’s polished surface gleamed like the night’s silvery moon. Its pommel had been masterfully worked into the shape of a horse’s head, with diamonds set in each of its eyes. The only other ornament were three simple words that had been engraved into the fuller.

Shield the Weak.

In reading them, it was as though the Guardian himself whispered the command into Carvesh’s ear. Perhaps it was merely his imagination, or something that had been engrained into him as a young boy. Perhaps it was some instinct that ran through his blood, or just the compulsive need to protect his family. Whatever the cause, as he lifted the sword, a new resolve filled his mind and he felt the burden of secrecy fall from his shoulders.

Gregor Corbit had already seen through his pretence, and he suspected the Quelana had as well. Others would surely follow. There was no way to keep the truth hidden now, not without running again. Besides, Madik was right. Carvesh could not leave the people of Kervale to face the rising shadow on their own. Though it might cost him his life, he knew the time had come to stop running, to make a stand and fight for the lives of those he loved the most.

He slid the blade into the scabbard that had also been resting in the wooden box, then belted the weapon to his side. When it was secure, he took one long look at the still shadowed image of his father. For the first time in years, he found that he could look into those painted eyes without the feeling that he had somehow failed Merek Rayderon.

Then, with the sword at his hip, Carvesh Rayderon, son of the late King, strode from the secret room and prepared to meet his destiny.

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