A Sword-Torn Hand


Cody shuddered when the wind blew a few drops of rain onto the page: They splattered there like little drops of blood, the yellowing paper instantly discolored like Rorschach blots waiting to be analyzed. He wiped the tips of his fingers over the spots, judging their wetness and if they needed any special treatment, and then decided it was safest to close his book: The spots might leave small scars, but nothing else could be done. Sometimes the Wyrd went that way.

Cody stuffed the book into his pocket and stood up. The grey clouds, thick in places but breath-thin in others, tumbled over the skies in every direction he looked. Over the trees and bulging boulders before him he gazed at the dance of dragons in the sky promising winds beat from leathery wings and electric breath that would incinerate all it touched. Cody’s lips curled into a smile.

He spotted his house much further down, nestled at the end of the township where he lived with his father. His mother had always loved the small house, quaint she had called it, and when the Wyrd took her to Death’s door, he found something more special about it than he had before. There was depth to its simplicity, a thin layer of magic that draped its myriad ways of being mundane.

If his mother were here, she’d have called him back to the house at once. She always was a good guardian in that sense, never letting her little prince get too far from the castle, but now she was gone, and Cody much preferred the open kingdom to his human confines. His father would not be home for some hours either, so Cody knew a second adventure for the day would be of no great loss to his father’s peace of mind.

So decided, Cody turned on his heels and began climbing further up the mountain. The dirt-and-rock covered ground was hardly at more than a thirty or forty degree angle to the sea (should he have been able to see the sea, at least), and the trek was not arduous at all. Instead, it was fairly benign, but the occasional splattering of rain certainly made it more interesting. No great hero was borne in good weather.

When he reached the next spot of level ground, Cody turned around and peered out. He was quite nearly at the clouds themselves and he heard a roar of thunder roll from one of the massive maws of the dragons circling his city. If only he had a sword, he would vow to slay them. If only he had a sword and shield, since that would be more proper. But he had neither, and so—much like the thief that had waken the fiery serpent of lore—he could only watch them.

A surge of longing swelled inside him like a sea-swell of rage, and he clenched his fists and stomped his feet.

“Begone, dragons!” He shook his fist at the swirling clouds. “Begone, you damnable beasts! Begone!”

At once, the skies split open. A torrent of water struck him in the face and he stumbled backward. He lost his footing and landed on his rump, and then pushing his hands into the quick-formed mud, swore loudly and tore his hand back: There was a gash in his palm. Sweet-smelling crimson blood leaked from his flesh and mingled with the raindrops that berated him.

Cody slid onto his knees and began clawing at the mud where he’d placed his hand: He moved deliberately, completely ignorant of the rain now, in search of whatever had plagued him. Then he saw it—a flash of silver—and he pushed aside some thick, gritty mud the color of aged tree bark, and finally uncovered the culprit: A sliver of metal about the length of his middle finger.

Cody lifted the piece of metal and turned it over in his hands; as the rain came down, amidst flashes of blue lightning and peals of thunder, the dirt that clung to it was chiseled off and it shone only brighter. The one side was flat and its edge, once sharp, now looked dull. The other two sides were jagged and more likely the part that had cut him, probably the part that had shattered from whatever the piece had once belonged to.

He slid the shard into his other pocket and began digging through the mud once more for any other remnants he might find. After four or five minutes, he sneezed and realized it was still raining, in fact harder now that he paid it attention, and decided there probably weren’t any other pieces to be found.

Cody clambered to his feet and shook a bit: Through the grey deluge, he could see no further than a few feet. If he did not know where he was, he wouldn’t even know he was on a mountain, let alone that the world dropped off only a few steps before him! The trees and the clouds and his house a long way off were all invisible in this blight.

“Damn dragons,” he muttered.

The challenge was simple: Return to his castle before his father arrived after work. Cody could imagine some of the roads might have flooded, adding obstacles that would delay his father’s journey, but if such were the case he may feel compelled to call home, and this meant that Cody surely did not have as much time as he would have otherwise hoped for. Everyone knew adventures couldn’t happen on a schedule—why did he have to have so many of them?

The problem was even simpler: Devise a way to return home safely without any sight to aid him.

Cody got on his knees and began crawling forward. If he could find where the slope began, he could descend by recollection, relying on his honed experience. He reached out his hand, cringing as his cut throbbed for the first time (perhaps because, at last, he was paying attention to it), and began surveying the space before him. Ground… a couple rocks, more ground… and then nothing.

Cody stood up, wiping his hands on his pants (howling just a bit at the pressure on his palm) and then took a deep breath. He took a step forward, placed his foot down, waited till his foot touched the ground, and then—

His foot never touched the ground. The rain must have washed some of the mountain away and Cody tumbled forward a bit before landing in a heap on a hard surface. He didn’t have any time to collect himself, however, for once he had landed, the earth beneath him began to tremble and break away and now he was hurtling forward on his own personal mudslide.

“Dragons!” he screamed. “I’ll—” Then a mouthful of mud clogged his word-hoard and he choked it out while the earth drove him forward.

All at once the rain stopped and the thunder was silenced, only a distant echo behind him. His sliding came to a stop and he stumbled forward until he was on both feet. Except now that he had come to a stop, he had no idea where he was—and there wasn’t anyone out there to help him.

“A fearless hero,” he recited, “forges forward even alone.” He shivered a bit (it was cold in here) and began walking forward ever so slowly. His footsteps echoed around him and he was certain he had fallen into Moria or perhaps worse, the barrow-cave that the dragons writhing above him had left unguarded—and when they returned, surely they would roast him and feast on him, letting him feel every fang sink into his scorched flesh.

He shivered again, but not because it was cold.

Cody began walking forward more quickly now, straining his ears to hear the subtle differences in every echo and squinting his eyes until he could just barely see the outlines of what things lived in the dark. He was in a large open cavern of some sort, a few stalactites so tall that they ended in stalagmites rising from the floor, and in the distance, a deeper darkness, broken by a ring of what appeared to be a touch lighter than the space around it.

When he reached this phenomenon, he found it was indeed an end to the hall, but a beginning to a round cavern that had more than likely been carved by the many rough scales of dragons slithering to and fro from their now empty abode. It would be quite dangerous to meet them unarmed in this small tunnel, but what could he do? He had neither shield nor sword.

Although, perhaps…

Cody withdrew the sliver of metal from his pocket and in the darkness it shone with a white glow. He brandished it before him and imagined what blade it may have been borne from. After a few minutes of consideration he decided it could only have come from Naegling, that failed blade of the great Lord of Rings of Geat-land, for that blade had been dulled by a dragon and then shattered by it.

Cody plunged into the tunnel, sword shard held high, and forced his way through the darkness. As he went, the roaring thunder became steadily louder and the bursts of lightning breath illuminated the cave before him. Then the pounding of raindrops, of flood waves, reached his ears. And at last he was stepping from this wretched cavern into the rain once more.

It had calmed sufficiently and with the rolling thunder far removed from his ears, he could tell the dragons were retreating as well. They must have seen him at the cave’s end with his Naegling shard shining and, with their notoriously bad eyesight, thought he was far more powerful than he truly was. No more would that clan of dragons plague his kingdom. They had been defeated at last.

Through the rain Cody could easily discern the trees that grew around the base of the mountain. He walked a few paces and then felt the earth shake as he heard a magnificent growl behind him. He turned slowly and saw that a mudslide had caved in over the cavern and now it was once more hidden from sight. That, more than anything else maybe, would keep the dragons from coming back.

Cody held onto his small sword and quickly followed a nearby trail to the end of the woods and then a few more paces to his back yard. The driveway still appeared empty, which was a good sign for him, and as soon as he was inside, he peeled off his clothing, tossed it into the wash, and then ran upstairs to clean the mud off his hands, and arms, and legs, and neck, and hair, and then to get dressed once more.

He was lying on his bed, absently turning Naegling over in one hand while he read once more, when he heard a familiar car horn toot in the front driveway. He read to the end of the paragraph, shut his book, and set his sword on his bedside table before he went downstairs.

His father had just stepped inside when Cody got to the door.

“Hey there,” he said, and then his eyes widened. “What the hell happened to your hand?” He grabbed Cody and inspected the layers of bandages that were wrapped around him palm.

Cody shrugged. “Nothing really.”

His father sighed, shaking his head, and walked into the kitchen. He pulled open the first aid cabinet and withdrew some disinfectant.

“Let me see it,” he said and waited while Cody unwrapped his hand. His father cringed at the red gash and stood up to grab a few other things to properly treat it. “If I didn’t know any better,” he said, “I’d say a sword got you.”

Cody grinned—and then quickly looked straight-faced again when his father turned around.

“You know,” his father said, “I saw the library’s hiring. You read so much, maybe you should apply.” He began dabbing the disinfectant on Cody’s hand and he flinched; getting cut in the first place had hurt less.

“You think so?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” his father said. “I know a sword-torn hand when I see one.” He looked up and this time he was the one grinning. He finished wrapping Cody’s hand and then ruffled his still-wet hair. “Next time you go up there, be more careful, all right?”

Cody nodded. “All right.”

“Now run upstairs get me this sword of yours. I want to see it.”

Cody smiled and stood up. His hand felt much better now that it had been properly treated and he started for his room at once—up the stairs and through the hall, to his doorway, inside, and finally to his nightstand.

Beside the shard, in a dark wooden frame, was his favorite picture of his mother. She was standing in the woods with her dark hair—that same dark hair he had—blowing wild in the wind. She wore a faded red dress that looked like flames in the broken, leaf-shaped shade she was bathed in. In her hands she held a white bow pointed at the ground, and a ways behind her was the arrow she had lodged in a tree twelve yards off. She had described the shot right before making it, and when she had done exactly as she had said, Cody had jumped up and hooted and yelled in excitement. She turned around, laughing, her smile so bright Naegling’s glow was a star next to the sun compared to it, and his father snapped the picture before she knew it was coming. That raw glow on her face, that magic spark in her eyes. She might have been a princess.

She might have been a queen.

The End


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