Gardener of Swords

  • The air was heavy, one would even say sweaty. It was glueing to one's skin, turning into drops of sweat and water rolling down over revealed skin, soaking one's clothes. It was difficult to breath, but neither of the two men travelling through the shade of tropical forest seemed to mind that. Both of them were breathing steadily, inhale and exhale, keeping rhythm.


    They have been travelling north of Riverpoint for days now, following the foot of the mountains. The tropical forest was changing into savannah in places where the sun was burning hot, only to become the green sea of lianas and exotic flora.


    The first man was a young Nord, barely twenty-two winters old. He was tall and lean, not bulky as many of his kinsman - there was something wolf-ish in the way he carried himself, his muscles flexing it. Almost like if his whole body was meant for the balance of speed, agility and strength. He had dark brown hair tied into one thick braid hanging on his back, the right side of his head was shaved. There was stubble on his face, but no beard. Dark brown eyes were following the tricky path ahead of him. He was wearing a simple leather vest with no sleeves, leather pauldrons on his shoulders and his belt heavy with a sword and an axe.


    He looked over his shoulder at his teacher, a Redguard with his skin so black he barely saw him in the shadows of the forest. There wasn't a single hair on the Redguard who walked around only in pants and boots, his chest bare. He was smaller than the Nord, his bowed-legs shaped like an O, but he was bulkier, his arms  huge and shining with sweat covering his midnight skin. He was of the savannah folk, and up to this day the Nord still didn't know how old the Redguard was. He could be anywhere from thirty to sixty.


    The Nord sensed the Redguard suddenly stop and a frown appeared on the young man's face. “Are we here?” he asked, looking around, seeing nothing but the impenetrable sea of the forest.


    “Almost,” the Redguard replied, pointing towards the mountains. “This is as far as I go, student,” he murmured, his head low. “You follow the path. You'll see it. It will lead you to the Garden up there,” his finger pointed to the top of the mountains.


    The Nord narrowed his eyes, trying to see the top through the branches. He then nodded. “I'll see you in few days then, master.”


    The Redguard shrugged. “We'll see, young one. We'll see.” He then pointed at the Nord's belt and the weapons. “You won't be needing those where you are going.”


    The Nord tilted his head to a side and snorted. “We'll see, old man.” With that he turned away from his master and began walking towards the mountains.


    It took him several hours to reach the bottom of them and the light was slowly fading. He narrowed his eyes, looking around and then he saw it. A sword wedged in between the rocks, its blade pointing up. A few steps away up the rocky slopy was another mound, several blades sticking out, almost like leaves of a blooming flower. The Nord followed the path with his eyes, chewing the inner side of his cheek. It seemed almost like a goat-trail, dangerous and deadly even during day, double so during night. But he didn't have time to waste.


    He began picking his path between the rocks, following the swords sticking out of the ground. “Journey many, many miles, but do not leave the Hall of Virtues of War,” the Nord murmured as he was laying his feet at sharp-edged rocks and slippery gravel.


    The moons and stars came out, casting a faint light on the trail ahead and he peaked at night sky. It seemed so distant, cold, out there in the middle of Hammerfell. Not like in Skyrim where a man reaching a top of a mountain could almost reach out and pluck the stars from the sky. He sorely missed the Kyne's breath down on his neck, howling and chilling his bones. But it was supposed to be that way. He would never feel it again, not in his life. Maybe at the end Kyne would come for him and carry him to Sovngarde so that he could sing and feast with heroes of old. Or maybe Tu’whacca would come for him and sail him to Far Shores. Or Arkay would take him to Aetherius with Talos' blessing. He wasn't sure of anything these days.


    The swords on the trail were becoming more numerous, reflecting the light of the moons, the faint red and white light dancing on the blades almost like if the swords were alive. There were dark spots on the blades, dried blood that turned black over the time before the hot wind of Hammerfell would scorch it, pick it off clean like a body in desert. Nothing but bones survived Hammerfell and even those not for long because the march of Allik’r was relentless. The desert consumes all and it will one day. One day…


    The Nord fell into a trance, a distant rhythm of his feet shuffling on the rocks, his hands looking for holds. All that mattered was the rhythm of his breaths, the pounding in his head, the beating of his heart. He wasn't even realizing it but the dawn was slowly coming and he had to blink several times when he found himself staring at a mouth of a cave in front of him, the trail ending there.


    He looked behind himself, at the forest deep down under him and he released a sigh. He felt his muscles trembling, he felt the tiredness spreading over his body and he took several deep breaths, trying to calm his mind. With every exhale he was pushing energy into his limbs with his mind, taking in the pain, numbing it with his sheer will. After several minutes he was ready and entered the cave.


    It was dark there, roots covered with moss sticking out of the walls and the ceiling, along with more swords. The swords were reflecting the light of the rising sun behind his back, showing him the way but also blinding him. He walked carefully, avoiding the blades hanging from the ceiling, sticking out from the ground and the walls. It was almost like if the metal was growing straight out of rock.


    He passed through the cave, unharmed, and stepped outside. He arrived at a plateau at the top of the mountain, the shade of the rocks behind him blocking out the sun for a little bit longer, casting a huge shadow over the plateau. And then, in matter of seconds the sun came over the top and the Nord became blinded.


    As far as he could he see, the plateau was covered with swords. Blades sticking out of the ground, reflecting the sunlight directly at the Nord. He could see rows between the swords, almost like rows on the field but these weren't straight. They were chaotic, curling over the plateau like a maze. Among them were frail trees with branches that lacked leaves, the trunks twisting along huge blades so big no man could wield them.


    The Nord took a deep breath and began picking his way between the blades. He could see all manner of swords sticking out from the dust that was the ground. Scimitars, shamshirs, straight swords, one-handed and two-handed, even a few Akaviri katanas and several swords he wouldn't even know how to wield. They were made in many styles, out of all possible materials and the Nord walked between them in silence, careful where he was laying his feet.


    And there, in the middle of the plateau was a man, a Redguard in green rags, covered in blood. As the Nord was getting closer he could see that the Redguard's whole body was covered in minor cuts, but his hands were the most damaged. The Nord narrowed his eyes when he noticed the Redguard had his wrists slit, the blood poured from them like two waterfalls, falling down on the ground, immediately disappearing in the dusty ground. And the blood wasn't stopping.


    The Redguard noticed him and got up from his knees, now standing so that he could see better the visitor, completely ignoring his wounds. By the time the Nord got several steps close to the man the Redguard would have bled out at least twice, but he was looking as healthy as the moment the Nord saw him.


    “I haven't had a visitor in some time,” the Redguard said in a hoarse voice, as if he hadn't driank anything in days. “And definitely not a Nord.”


    “I walk the Way of the Sword,” the Nord said the words, just like his teacher told him to. “I came looking for the Song of the Blade.”


    The Redguard tilted his head to a side and a sad smile appeared on his face. “Of course you do. They all do,” he murmured and wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, blood spraying from his wrist in the Nord's direction. “You may call me Gardener of Swords, stranger. How should I call you?”


    “Tyr,” the Nord said stoically, looking around. He felt wind picking up and as it did he heard a strange sound, like a chimes ringing in the distance.


    “You are a Blade,” Gardener said. It was a statement, not a question and Tyr looked at him. “Why do you seek Song of the Blade, young man?”


    “My order is preparing for war,” the Nord replied. There was something eerie about this place, something he couldn't place. He knew he should be shocked from the sheer numbers of the swords or a Redguard who didn't stop bleeding. “I am preparing for war. With elves.”


    “Present me your weapon,” Gardener said, almost like if he wasn't really paying attention to what Tyr was saying.


    The Nord instictively reached for the axe with his right hand and the sword with his left. He pulled them out and he could see an anger flash on the Redguard's face. Gardener raised his hand and the axe in Tyr's hand crumbled to dust. “Why do you think it is called sword-singing, boy?!” Gardener thundered. “Axes do not sing! None of the other weapons do!”


    Tyr looked at the mix of wood and iron dust in his hand and narrowed his eyes. "’A thrust is elegant, and a cut is powerful, but sometimes the right action is a head-butt,’" he cited, looking defiantly at Gardener. The Redguard's anger was now exchanged for amusement.


    “I see you really follow Way of the Sword - even without a sword actually,” he smiled warmly now, most likely pleased that Tyr could cite a passage from Book of Circles. “Can you tell me what master Saikhalar said about swords?”


    "’The sword is our soul,’” Tyr started, closing his eyes. “‘Mighty Onsi showed our people in ancient days the way to lengthen blades, and we have known their blessed virtue in our victories since. Focus on it alone, and you will defeat every weapon—you will outreach daggers, roll from under heavy hammer blows, and deflect the arrows of your foe. If you are distracted from the blade's way, you will only be confused and the path to mastery will disappear beneath your feet.’"


    “And yet you prefer an axe over a sword,” Gardener pointed out.


    Tyr looked at the sword in his left hand, looking at his reflection on the blade. “I do not prefer one weapon over another. I look to master all.”


    “Expert of all but master of none,” the Redguard shook his head, walking now closer to Tyr with his hands open at the side of his body. He walked among the blades that cut his legs and his hands, more blood soaking into the ground which seemed to drink it as if it were water. The Redguard noticed Tyr's look and smiled. “As every garden even this one requires watering. And swords are always thirsty, but not for water.” He stopped few steps from Tyr and tilted his head to a side. “Why did you come here, Nord? Why did you really come here? This is a sacred ground of sword-singers. You are not one. You are not trying to be one.”


    “I came looking for wisdom,” Tyr hung his head, looking at his feet, shielding his eyes from the sunlight reflected by the blades. “I came looking for a sword. I came looking for Song of the Blade.”


    “Did you, now?” Gardener murmured and then his hand draw a wide circle in the air, blood dripping on the blades around him. “Then look at the Garden of Swords. Bury your sword and listen. You shall hear wisdom.”


    Tyr stared at him and then looked at the sword in his hand. A Nordic sword made just for him. Skyforge steel, forged by old Svorgar Grey-Mane. Tyr's father. It was the last thing reminding him of his home. How could he say goodbye to it?


    “Bury the sword and listen,” Gardener repeated and Tyr found himself kneeling in the dust. He began digging a hole with his bare hands, tears rolling down his cheeks. The wind howled again and he could hear the chimes once more.


    “You came looking for the Song of the Blade,” the Redguard said and raised his hands. “Then listen.”


    The wind picked up the dust from the ground, blowing amidst the Garden of Swords and the chimes sounded again. A doleful and sharp sound, rising and falling like a battle, when one side is the pushing the other back and then the other way around. And it was then Tyr realised it wasn’t chimes. The were the swords. He could feel the song in his bounds, humming and vibrating, tugging at his soul.


    “Master Saikhalar said that sword is our soul,” Gardener stated, an invisible voice above Tyr who was bent forward, seeing only the shadow of the Redguard. He now had a hole deep enough so that he could put the sword in it and he did that without hesitation now. “You are just burying your sword. What does that mean?”


    “That I am burying my soul,” Tyr replied when he began sweeping the dust back into the place, on his sword's hilt. The only thing sticking out was now the blade and Tyr wiped the tears off his face with the dirty hand. “I am soulless.”


    “Will you receive a new soul when you take another sword?”


    Tyr looked up at Gardener who was watching with him with calm expression. Almost like if he was waiting for something. “No,” the Nord shook his head.


    “But what if master Saikhalar is wrong?” Gardener then smiled at Tyr who frowned. The Redguard pointed at all the swords around. “They come here looking for wisdom, for sword and for the Song of the Blade. They think that sword from this Garden will make them sword-singers, Saints of the Sword even. They believe the swords here are magical. But they are just swords, just as yours. Did you hear the Song, young Tyr? Did you hear it?”


    “Yes,” the Nord replied, feeling his brows furrowing as he was trying to follow the Redguard's words which spinned and whirled like a swordsman in a complicated set of cuts and thrusts.


    “They think they can become Ansei by mastering the sword. But it's not about the sword. It's about the singing,” Gardener continued and the wind began singing the song as he was clashing against the swords. “What if master Saikhalar is wrong? You came here looking for the Song of the Blade. You found it. You came here looking for wisdom. I passed that onto you.” The Redguard then smiled as he touched Tyr's forehead with his forefinger, the warm blood from his wrists dripping on Tyr's lips. “You came here looking for a sword. What if master Saikhalar is wrong?”


    The sword is our soul, Tyr recalled the words. What if master Saikhalar is wrong? What if…? Tyr looked at all the swords around him and then at his. They all came looking for a sword and left with their swords staying here. His eyes grew wide as he looked at Gardener who smiled in return. “The sword is our soul. It's wrong,” Tyr proclaimed.


    “Then what is the right answer?”


    Tyr shook his head and looked into himself, into his heart and mind and then into his soul. And he knew the truth. Today he was forged, tempered and cooled. Anselim. “Our soul is the sword,” he replied, knowing it was the truth.


    Gardener simply nodded. “The days of Tonal-swords and soul-singing are long gone. But maybe those days will return one day, just as they will return in the land of Kyne's Breath. You shall not be a sword-singer, young Tyr, but you have heard the Song of the Blade, you have received wisdom and you have forged your sword. You can become the sword now.”


    “I can become the sword now,” Tyr repeated. He meant to master all the possible weapons but now he understood. It wasn't about that.


    It was about mastering himself.


16 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 12 others like this.
  • Justiciar Thorien
    Justiciar Thorien   ·  July 1, 2018
    Mastery of self is mastery of the world, no doubt))
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  September 14, 2017
    Ah, the Book of Circles. Stands to reason that there would still be practitioners of the surviving techniques. Practical of the Blades to expand their horizons. And good work as always, Karver-jo!
  • Matt Feeney the New Guy
    Matt Feeney the New Guy   ·  August 4, 2017
    Very Raga. I approve. Loved the suitable twist on the "sword is our soul." Clever wording, that. Absolutely brilliant extrapolation of the lore and I love the Gardener. His "watering the garden" reflects some Imperial Library artwork of Onsi with a collec...  more
    • Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Matt Feeney the New Guy
      Matt Feeney the New Guy
      Matt Feeney the New Guy
      Very Raga. I approve. Loved the suitable twist on the "sword is our soul." Clever wording, that. Absolutely brilliant extrapolation of the lore and I love the Gardener. His "watering the garden" reflects some Imperial Library artwork of Onsi with a collec...  more
        ·  August 4, 2017
      I was secretly hoping you'd drop by, Matt.   Actually, that TIL artwork of Onsi gave me that idea for Gardener - who on the other hand is an ES Legends card.  I reailly appreciate your approval, Matt of the Make-Way 
      • Matt Feeney the New Guy
        Matt Feeney the New Guy
        Karver the Lorc
        Karver the Lorc
        Karver the Lorc
        I was secretly hoping you'd drop by, Matt.   Actually, that TIL artwork of Onsi gave me that idea for Gardener - who on the other hand is an ES Legends card.  I reailly appreciate your approval, Matt of the Make-Way 
          ·  August 4, 2017
        The swords call and I answer. Man, Legends is a goldmine for good artwork. I'm really digging it.

        Still salty about Allena Benoch being an archer though. She even refers to herself as the blademistress in the game! And the Redguards need anot...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  August 2, 2017
    I dont think that path meets OSHA requirements... Joking aside great mystic atmosphere and vivid descriptions. This could easily stay as  stand alone short or unfold into an epic saga.
    • Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      I dont think that path meets OSHA requirements... Joking aside great mystic atmosphere and vivid descriptions. This could easily stay as  stand alone short or unfold into an epic saga.
        ·  August 3, 2017
      Exuro! I missed you and your jokes! :D
      Thank you for taking time to read it. As for unfolding into an epic saga...It already is. It's part of Straag Rod Expanded Universe :D
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  August 1, 2017
    Thank you all for your support, guys. You´re the best :)
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  August 1, 2017
    Very mystical feeling into this one. I love it! :)
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  August 1, 2017
    This is one really cool piece with such a profound ending which really makes one stop and think. 
    Three howls to you Lorc.....
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  July 31, 2017
    Holy maloly, if you all knew the conversations that the Lorc and I are having on Steam now planning for future things, you would drop your jaws. Glad you got this out, Karver. What an interesting look into the philosophy of the Sword-singers and I am supe...  more
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  July 31, 2017
    By the sword I mean the word. Nicely written, Karves. Full of eastern mysticism and a philosphy of self-mastery with a touch of TES quirkiness. The final truth not being revealed, only hinted at, until the last word. Peaceful yet deadly, there's definitel...  more
  • Teineeva
    Teineeva   ·  July 31, 2017
    A great little piece.  As you know Karve, I've been quite interested in the Ansei ever since our jolts across Craglorn fighting the stars themselves and proving ourselves to the fallen sword singers of Yokuda. I have however not been able to properly...  more
    • Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      A great little piece.  As you know Karve, I've been quite interested in the Ansei ever since our jolts across Craglorn fighting the stars themselves and proving ourselves to the fallen sword singers of Yokuda. I have however not been able to properly...  more
        ·  July 31, 2017
      Likewise, my friend. Our journey across the stars-cursed Craglorn - as well as my own journey across Alik´r and the Gardener of Swords card from Legends - inspired me to write this. I always liked the idea that the modern sword-singers are focusing too mu...  more