This next episode in the Silver Sword Saga takes place about 100 years after the time of Norin. For the Silver Sword's background please refer to: Forging and the 1st Unworthy. For the story of the Silver Sword's first hero please refer to Swan Warrior parts 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5.
The Fairy Vault
Let the praise of God be on their lips and a two-edged sword in their hand, to deal out vengeance to the nations and punishment on all the peoples.
Psalm 149: 6-7
The pounding of feet and a shout of the name, “Weston!” were the first signs of trouble. As the gypsy pounded on the door of the caravan, Weston untangled himself from the arms of Ysla, the gypsy girl who currently held his interest, and the only reason he remained in the camp this late in the night. Grumpily, he pushed open the top half of the caravan door, smoothing his rumpled brown hair and worn clothes.
Glaring at the gypsy man with clear blue eyes, Weston crossed his arms over his chest and demanded, “Well what is it?”
“News just reached our camp,” said the gypsy. “The Sardi Empire raided your village.”
Weston’s expression changed. He dropped his arms and leaned forward whispering, “Mira.”
The image of a slim fourteen year old girl with chocolate brown hair and eyes sprang into his mind and his chest tightened in worry. He moved back inside the caravan, gathering his few belongings from the floor.
“Leaving?” Ysla murmured propping herself on one elbow to watch him from her bunk.
“There’s been a raid on my village,” Weston replied. “I have to make sure my sister’s all right.”
Ysla grabbed his arm as he passed her. “Be careful. Sardi raiders are like poisonous snakes just waiting to strike.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Weston.
He landed a quick kiss on Ysla’s lips then flung open the door of the caravan and dashed in the direction of the village.
There was not another living being there when he reached it. Moonlight glinted off broken glass littering the streets from shattered windows. The few doors still intact swung loosely, creaking on their hinges, while the rest were only gaping mouths with teeth of shattered wood. Assorted items of clothes and furniture were scattered here and there across the roadway. The village was as silent and deserted as a ghost town.
The sight of it made Weston’s heart beat faster. He raced down the street to his own house feeling as though his lungs were no longer pumping enough air. The door to the low wooden building which once housed Weston and his younger sister, Mira, had been knocked down. The gap in the frame revealed a scattered mess of their belongings similar to those he had passed on the street.
Pushing his way through the debris, Weston made his way inside rushing to each of the small rooms in turn shouting, “Mira!” He barely noticed as he tripped over broken tables other bits of furniture in the darkness. He strained to hear a reply but only his own voice echoed back to him. Tears prickled his eyes as he realized that his sister was gone, taken prisoner by Sardi raiders who would most likely sell her as a slave in their country and he hadn’t been there to stop them.
He staggered out of the tiny house and ran from the village, blind with guilt and despair. He ran for a long time without any sort of destination until dense branches slapped his face. Each time the twigs and leaves hit his cheeks they seemed to be an echo of his own thoughts, How could you let this happen? If you had been there you could have saved your sister! At last Weston stopped and sank down on a patch of moss, sobbing uncontrollably.
It was said that the current emperor of Sardi was sending the raiders as a way to goad the king of Windola into war. The emperor had a particular hatred for the people of Windola, partly because they offered sanctuary to slaves who escaped the Sardi Empire and partly because the Windolise religion of Light was spreading across much of Irowasa while Sardi’s devotion to the gods remained the belief system of only the people of Sardi. Soldiers from Sardi had been raiding towns and villages in Windola’s four southern most provinces, Oathswine, Fingred, Akayen and Milarko for the past three months. Though Weston and Mira lived in the province of Oathswine, Weston had believed they were far enough north of the Sardi border to be safe from the raiders. He saw now that he was wrong.
Weston didn’t realize he had fallen asleep until he woke to the pale morning light filtering through a canopy of leaves and pine needles. He felt cold, stiff and numb. Birds sang and small animals moved among a carpet of old leaves making rustling sounds. The air smelled fresh tinged as it was with scents of pine, damp moss and clean earth. Still, nothing lifted Weston’s spirits because Mira was gone. Grunting, he got to his feet and followed the sound of running water until he came to a wide river which sliced its way through the ranks of trees as it moved south. Kneeling, Weston cupped his hands, scooped a little water into his mouth and splashed another handful over his face. Glancing around again he noticed a place to his right where the forest floor was strewn with boulders. The area was shaded by thick pine branches, giving it a dark forbidding look. Weston was intrigued by it in spite of himself.
Beneath the pines his boot brushed the edge of a low flat stone, knocking pine needles off its surface. This revealed a shape that most people would take as simply a crack in the stone. Weston, who had ventured into Fairy Wood before, recognized it as a rune. Bending to better examine the rocks at his feet, he discovered three more runes. With growing curiosity, Weston snapped off a bough from the nearest tree and used it to sweep dirt, needles and dead leaves from the stones.
When he finished, he found himself staring at a number of small rocks each marked with a rune symbolizing a letter of the fairy alphabet. The runic rocks spiraled out from a single flat unmarked stone.
Weston stepped onto the unmarked stone, which was just large enough for both his feet, and contemplated his find. It had to be some sort of puzzle. Perhaps there was a code hidden in the letters. He squinted as he tried to remember the symbols for the few words he knew in the fairy language. Driven by a strange compulsion, he lifted his right foot and brought it down on one rune stone after another until he had spelled the fairy word for "open".
A tremor ran through the ground as though the earth shivered. Weston stumbled to one knee, twisting to avoid bumping the runes. Trees creaked and swayed. A small hill swelled in front of Weston as a boulder at its front rose, freeing itself from the dirt encasing it.
When at last the world stilled, Weston found himself staring through an arched doorway carved into the boulder which had risen, revealing a large stone vault hidden inside the hill. Objects from within glittered with promise. Pushing himself to his feet, Weston stepped carefully over the runes and slipped beneath the archway.
Once his eyes adjusted to the dim light of the cool, narrow room, he took in piles of gold, jewels and strange items lining the walls. He gazed into the depths of tiny crystal balls filled with swirling colored mist, then tugged open a leather pouch to reveal glittering white dust. Glancing around, he noted a gilded cage holding a carved wooden bird painted in bright colors. The bird turned its head and chirped as he moved past. The sound caused a small spark of hope to settle in Weston’s heart. All of these items were clearly magic, surely at least one of them would allow him to find and rescue Mira.
As if hearing his thoughts, a broadsword resting on a stand near the center of the vault drew Weston’s attention. He stepped forward to get a better look. The sword seemed plain beside the glittering jewels, though it gleamed of polished silver even in the thin light. The metal forming the hilt and hand guard twisted and curved around itself in a fascinating way which drew the eyes. Yes, with this weapon in his hand he could kill the raiders and avenge his sister. He reached out to take the sword. His finger tips had just brushed the hilt when an icy female voice came from behind him, causing him to jump.
“I thought my vault was protected against thieves, even ones with the Sight. It seems I will have to create a stronger spell.”
Weston turned to face a slender woman with silvery blond hair and intense blue eyes. She was a few inches shorter than him and wore a long green gown. A wreath of leaves and flowers adorned her head. Muscles in her back twitched as she folded a pair of delicate gauzy wings into the hollow between her shoulder blades.
“I’ve heard of you,” the fairy woman continued. “Gypsies pay you to steal magical trinkets from my forest so they can sell them as amulets to weak-minded aristocrats.”
“It’s a living,” said Weston. As the fairy queen’s expression darkened he added, “Granted it’s not always an honest one.”
“Taking magical artifacts from my people is illegal both in my forest and in your country,” the queen replied. “I would be well within my rights to hold you here for several years.”
As if to emphasize her point, a shower of dust rained down and the arched doorway began to sink back into the ground. Weston’s eyes widened with panic. He stepped toward the fairy queen holding up his hands.
“Wait, listen! It’s true I’ve stolen from you before but that’s not why I’m here today. My sister was taken by Sardi raiders. I was looking for something that could help her.”
The coldness in the fairy’s eyes and the continued descent of the doorway made it clear she did not believe him.
A sudden anger filled Weston, fueling his actions. He turned, grabbed the Silver Sword off its stand and flung it through the gap at the fairy queen. Instead of striking her, the sword changed directions in midair and imbedded itself in the ground at her feet. As soon as the sword landed, the doorway ground to a shuddering halt. Weston ducked under the low archway and retrieved the Silver Sword, pointing it at the queen in a threatening gesture.
“I may deserve to be punished for the things I’ve done but my sister does not. I will not yield to you or anyone else until I know she is safe, especially since I know you have the power to save her.”
The fairy queen’s gaze locked on the Silver Sword. For a moment some strange emotion flickered across her face before she returned to looking cold and impassive.
“I will give you one chance to redeem yourself,” she said. “You may take that sword and use it to free your sister so long as it is the only thing you take from the vault. You must swear never to steal from me or my people again and instead work to protect your own people from Sardi.”
“How will I find my sister?” asked Weston. “I don’t know which way the raiders went after they left my village.”
“The Silver Sword knows who the enemy is. Let it guide you.”
Weston lowered the sword and said, “You have a deal.”
“Some of my people will watch you and report your actions to me. Just remember, if you get yourself into trouble they cannot offer assistance. You must defeat the raiders alone.”
The fairy queen bowed her head. Unfurling her wings, she flapped hard several times and flew into the depth of the forest.
Once she was gone Weston felt the tension go out of his shoulders. A grinding sound drew his attention to the boulder behind him where the vault was once again threatening to close. The thought of all the treasures the vault contained filled his heart with a greedy longing. He and Ysla could earn a fortune selling the artifacts contained here. He might never have an opportunity like this again. The only thing stopping him was his promise to take only the sword from the vault. That promise was made to a woman who wished to trap him below ground, perhaps for the rest of his life.
That thought decided him. Remembering how the vault had stopped closing when the Silver Sword struck the ground, Weston stabbed the sword into the earth again. Sure enough, the door stilled as if waiting his command. Leaving the sword in place, he ducked into the vault where he grabbed a handful of jewels and stuffed them into his pockets. Continuing through the vault he grabbed several small leather pouches, a couple crystal balls filled with colored mist and various other interesting objects until there was no room left in any of his pockets. Satisfied, he exited the vault and pulled the Silver Sword out of the ground. He proceeded through the forest to the echo of the vault door slamming shut.
The Silver Sword proved to be a reliable guide. It sang with an energy which tugged Weston in the right direction. As daylight dimmed into evening he found himself walking a ledge which skirted the edge of the forest. On the plains to his left he heard hoof-beats and the cries of harsh voices. Crouching, he crawled forward until he could see over the ledge and onto the open plain. His heart sped up at the sight of a dozen Sardi soldiers with a group of prisoners chained between them. Is Mira there? Weston leaned forward, straining his eyes until he made out a familiar girl’s figure near the center of the group.
He closed his eyes for a minute, steeling himself. What he was about to do was crazy. He was an untrained man going up against the warriors of Sardi, the most deadly warriors on Irowasa. Yet he had to do it for Mira’s sake. There was only one way he would have a chance: he would have to use trickery.
Taking a deep breath, Weston opened his eyes and lifted the Silver Sword. With his left hand he reached into a pocket pulled out a leather pouch. With the sword in one hand and the pouch in the other he dropped from the ledge and onto the back of the rear guard, knocking him from his horse.
Weston sliced the guard’s throat before the man had a chance to react. Using his teeth, Weston tugged open the drawstring on the leather bag in time to throw the white powder it contained into the eyes of two other nearby warriors and their horses. Their cries as they fell from their horses and landed, clawing at their eyes, drew the attention of the rest of the soldiers. An order was barked in the Sardi tongue. Four warriors drew their scimitars and turned their horses in Weston’s direction. Weston retreated, scrambling back up the ledge and swinging himself into the branches of a tree before the raiders caught up with him. He ducked behind a leafy branch and pulled the Silver Sword against his chest. There he waited until the warriors passed below and entered the forest before jumping back to the ground. Again he scrambled over the ledge and moved part way down the hill before ducking behind a rock to watch the five raiders who remained to guard the prisoners. They had dismounted. One man held the horses while the others herded the prisoners into a tight knot then stood talking in their own language and casting glances at the top of the ledge. The two men whose eyes had been burned by the fairy dust blinked and stumbled around as they tried to recover.
The last light of the sun glinted off a set of keys hanging from the belt of one guard. Weston waited until the man moved a little closer to him then pulled out a crystal ball and smashed it on the rock in front of him. Green mist spilled out of the broken ball. It curled around the raiders making it hard for them to see. Weston jumped forward, slashed the leg of the nearest raider and cut the keys from the man’s belt. He moved into the mist with the keys in hand before the guard could draw his scimitar. The other raiders all had weapons in hand and were running through the mist, calling to each other in a vain attempt to figure out what was happening. Weston dodged them before they could figure out he was an enemy. He came to a halt beside Mira who was watching the confusion around her with frightened eyes and didn’t notice him.
Stabbing the Silver into the ground beside him, Weston lifted Mira’s chained wrists. Mira flinched and tried to pull away until she lifted her eyes and saw who it was. Her expression changed from fear to relief. She opened her mouth to say something but Weston motioned for her to keep quiet so they wouldn’t draw the attention of the raiders. As soon as he unchained her, Mira threw her arms around Weston’s neck. He pulled her close in a tight hug. Suddenly Mira cried out in alarm. She grabbed the front of Weston’s shirt and tugged him roughly down toward her just in time for the blow intended for his neck to imbed itself in the flesh of his left shoulder instead. Weston yelled in pain then grabbed the Silver Sword and smashed the hilt into the face of the raider behind him, breaking the man’s nose. As soon as their enemy collapsed, Mira ripped a strip off Weston’s ruined sleeve and tied it around his shoulder to keep the wound from bleeding. Once she finished Weston pressed the keys into her hands.
“You free the others, I’ll keep the raiders busy,” he cried as he turned and took up a defensive stance in front of her.
By this time the green mist had mostly dissipated. Sardi warriors had remounted and turned their horses this way and that as they tried to locate the threat. Catching sight of Weston, one of them pointed with his scimitar, yelled and charged. Weston glanced around for anything useful. He took in the fallen raider still clutching his bloody scimitar and the chains which had fallen from Mira’s arms and now rested on the ground beside him. Gritting his teeth against the soreness in that arm, he switched the Silver Sword to his left hand. Then he bent and grabbed the manacles. He swung the chains over his head a couple times to build momentum then flung them at the charging warrior, knocking him from his horse.
The last three Sardi warriors were now advancing as well. Weston ran forward and grabbed the dead raider’s scimitar which he flung at the horse on the far right. The blade slashed the horse’s chest causing him to stumble and throw his rider. One of the remaining warriors threw a knife at Weston but he ducked and it sailed over his head.
At that moment Mira yelled, “Weston, come on!”
Weston turned to see Mira at the head of the newly freed prisoners leading them north along the ledge. The uninjured horse whose rider Weston had unseated stopped a few feet from him in confusion. Grabbing the reins, Weston turned the animal toward the last two mounted raiders and slapped its rump to send it in that direction. The riders split in opposite directions to get out of the way. Switching the Silver Sword back to his right hand, Weston ran to catch up with Mira and the other refugees.
“We have to hurry,” Weston told Mira. “It won’t be long before they organize themselves enough to come after us.”
All too soon the sounds hoof beats warned Weston and Mira that the raiders were in close pursuit. Mira led the group away from the sounds and nearly ran into a second group of raiders on foot. She dropped to the forest floor and ducked into the underbrush signaling the others to do the same. Weston crouched beside her, his heart pounding as he listened to the soft noises of Sardi warriors searching the woods around them.
“They have us surrounded,” Mira whispered, leaning so close to Weston her breath tickled his ear. “Any minute they’ll find us. We don’t stand a chance.”
She jumped as a raider smacked a bush a few feet away with the flat of his scimitar. Weston carefully stretched his stiff left arm then wrapped it around Mira’s shoulders. He felt her shaking against his side. The Sardi warrior was moving closer. Mira was right, he would find them in a matter of minutes unless someone stopped him.
Weston placed his mouth beside Mira’s ear and whispered, “Mira, listen closely. I’m going to break cover and draw the attention of the raiders away from you…”
“Don’t you dare!” Mira hissed interrupting him.
“If I don’t they’ll find us all,” Weston said. Shifting, he removed his arm from around her so he could pull the remaining magical trinkets out of his pockets. He handed them to Mira. “Take these. Once it’s safe, move deeper into the woods and offer these things to the fairies in exchange for their protection.”
Mira closed her hands around the items then locked eyes with Weston.
“What about you?”
“I’ll lead the raiders out of the forest then lose them and double back to find you,” he replied.
“You better,” said Mira.
Weston gave her a quick hug then moved past her. He crawled through the underbrush until he felt he was a safe distance from the refugees. There he stood and intentionally snapped a twig under his heel. For a moment nothing happened, then a net landed on top of him dragging him to the ground. Through the mesh tangling him, Weston spotted the shadowy figure of the raider who had thrown the net. He twisted the Silver Sword until its double blade sliced through the cords, allowing him to struggle free just before the Sardi warrior reached him. Weston ran, stumbling over roots and log as the raiders called out to each other and gave chase.
One of the mounted soldiers thundered past and pulled his horse to a halt, blocking Weston’s path. Weston tried to stop but his momentum carried him forward, strait toward the animal’s leg. As he got close the horse spooked and reared. Weston ducked around the flailing hooves and continued his hurdle toward the edge of the forest. He was nearly there. He could just make out the shape of the moon hovering at the edge of the horizon.
There was a whistle as an object sailed through the air. The sound was followed by hot pain which spread from the spot where a throwing knife found its mark in Weston’s right thigh. Weston stumbled and fell onto a mixture of tree roots and dead leaves. The raiders were closing in and with panic he realized he had to keep moving or be caught. Shifting the Silver Sword to his left hand again, Weston gritted his teeth and took hold of the knife. With one hard yank and a pained moan he removed it and tossed it aside. Leaning on the Silver Sword for support he attempted to get to his feet. His injured leg buckled under him and he found himself once again on the forest floor.
Footsteps drew closer. Weston pushed himself to his knees and moved the Silver Sword back to his right hand in preparation for a fight. He lashed out as the Sardi warriors moved to form a circle around him. A blade slashed his back and he collapsed as stars brighter than those in the sky exploded in his vision. One of the raiders kicked the Silver Sword out of Weston’s hands. Two others pulled him to his feet and held him upright between them. A tall bearded man who was clearly the captain of the groupdismounted and stepped in front of him. Weston’s heart pounded a furious rhythm but in his mind he repeated the mantra, Mira is safe. Whatever happens to me my sister will stay safe.
“Where are others?” demanded the captain.
A faint smile twitched the corners of Weston’s mouth.
“Safe,” he whispered in a hoarse voice.
The raiders conversed for a moment in rapid Sardi, most likely deciding what to do with him. At last the captain made a gesture. Without waiting to find out what it meant, Weston shifted his weight to his left leg and shoved his right elbow into the gut of one of his captors. He continued to struggle until he pulled his arms free. Before he could flee, one of the warriors kicked the backs of his legs, striking the wound on his thigh and forcing him to his knees. At the same moment the captain raised his scimitar. Weston had only enough time to think, Mira is safe, one last time before the blade crashed into his skull.
The fairy queen stood with the Silver Sword in hand like a sentry overseeing the humans and fairies piling stones on a fresh burial mound. The forest was silent save for the sounds of Mira’s weeping.
The queen had heeded Mira’s call for protection as the girl guided the refugees through the forest. The fairy was stunned when Mira returned most of the magical items her brother had stolen. Was he trying to redeem himself after all? She still wasn’t sure.
The following morning, after the Sardi raiders left the forest, fairy spies had found both the Silver Sword, which they returned to the queen, and Weston’s body. By the looks of it, Weston had received a blow to the head hard enough that it killed him instantly. The fairy queen ordered him buried in Fairy Wood with the honor she felt he had unexpectedly earned.
At last the burial mound was complete. The queen came out of her reflections and stepped forward with a rustle of her silky silver dress. Mira still knelt at the foot of the grave but her sobs were quieting to silent tears.
“I have something for you, Mira,” said the queen in quiet voice.
She opened her left hand, revealing a silver pendant covered in swirling patterns. A shining white stone dangled at the bottom of it.
Mira glanced at it then turned away and snapped, “I don’t want your sympathy.”
“I’m not offering it to you out of sympathy,” said the queen. “This is my way of honoring your brother. Weston loved you more than his own life. He sacrificed everything to keep you safe. The necklace is an amulet. It will grant you my protection. I only ask that you wear it to honor what your brother did for you.”
Mira turned and hesitantly took the necklace from the queen’s hands, then turned away as fresh tears well up in her eyes.
“You are welcome in my forest at any time,” the fairy queen added before turning and leaving the girl alone to grieve.
As she walked the queen considered what she had gained and what she had lost. She had prayed for a hero to claim the Silver Sword and rescue her beloved people of Windola from the threat of Sardi invasion. The wielder who had come was incapable of such a feat yet still had the heart of a hero. She doubted she would find another wielder for at least a hundred years by which time there would be new threats to handle. In the meantime something had to be done about Sardi and the Silver Sword must be placed somewhere safe until the next wielder should come. The sound of water rushing in the riverbed reached her ears and she smiled as she decided what to do.
The fairy queen flew to the spot in the mountains from which flowed the stream which was the source of the Farawad River. Bowing her head in a prayer to the Lord of Light, the fairy queen placed the tip of the Silver Sword on the earth above the stream. A hole opened beneath the blade. The sword sunk into it and the ground resealed itself. For a moment the stream went dry and a number of rocks rearranged themselves to form the shape of a compass with four small colored stones marking the directions. The queen noted which color marked which direction then scooped up the four rocks. Water gushed from the stream again and things seemed to return to normal. Yet far to the south where the river broke from the cover of Fairy Wood, the foamy water changed its course to form a natural boundary between Sardi and Windola.
Silver Sword Saga continued in Riddle of the Stones.