I was squashed. As usual I was crushed tightly in a sheath of hardened leather bound around with brass, the stink of life lingering around me. I was used to it, after four centuries you inevitably become used to such petty humiliations as a constant exposure to other peoples’ body odour. Unfortunate, but true. I used to have such high standards, you know.
“By the might of Grim-Nok-Teh I smite thee!”
Ghastly. Crude and ghastly. It would be nice to fight back against it, but under the circumstances, there is little I could really do about it. Over time I have understood the deprivation and silliness of it all, but it can hardly cease to trouble me. I suppose it is inevitable that the greater part of heroism is flamboyance and self-aggrandisement.
The mystical sword spat forth a mystical crackling of energy and fire, ricocheting off the blade and burning through the leathery flesh of the trolls nearby. A dramatic, heroic effect, crackling purple lighting, greenish fire, flashy magic. The lone man, brandishing an enchanted blade to fight back the massed evil spawn that faced him. Very heroic. To be honest, though, after this much time, the novelty had begun to wear off.
Grim-Nok-Teh, a great and powerful warrior, a man who had dedicated his life to fighting off the forces of evil and chaos. A man tales were told of, to make men proud and women swoon. A man worthy of song! A man whose exploits were told to the children as an ideal to aim for, tales of daring, self-sacrifice, and heroism. A man dead centuries before my own birth, a figure of myth even in my own time. Sadly, my experiences of recent years have coloured my views slightly, he may well have been the figure that legend painted him, but I suspect he was an over-weight alcoholic who died young. When I was younger, I was called Knormahn. Perhaps it was not a heroic name, but then, to be honest, I was not a heroic man. I was no figure of tale and legend; I was a simple, honest, trader in perfumes. The perfumes of the Southlands had long been the envy of the world, the only odour that could acceptably emit from any woman of real status. I remember them well, the heady, beautiful, perfect aromas that could trickle forth from the jars, always ready to fill the mind of an honest man with the dreams of the shapely necks that they would one day fragrant. I lived a simple and comfortable life, I knew it was perhaps a little dull as I lived it, but I never minded. It only became a problem when I fell in love. Love, the damnation of many a sound mind, of many a man of sound mind, but oh, the joy… you could be told that would suffer damnation and not care. When the favour of the beautiful fall upon you, comfort and easiness are of little concern.
With remarkable ease, the long, slender blade with a gem-set hilt span through the air, making a high singing note as it turned. The unnaturally sharp edge of the sword cut through bone, sinew and muscle with ease, the misshapen and bulbous arm of the troll fell softly to the ground, a subdued wet thud amidst the snarls, shouts and clashes of a fight. Honed steel, magic steel, blessed with the lives of the heroic fallen.
D’Zia was beautiful and dangerous; I felt the two strike me in tandem. When I saw her, I knew that she was both my salvation and my demise. A fiery, tempestuous and beautiful woman, captivating and terrible. I cared little for the dangers. We courted, I gave her many gifts, the choicest perfumes, the most elegant jewelry, the finest cloths, everything. I knew she was dangerous, but I cared little, to have a woman so beautiful and awesome, nothing mattered more. When she spoke of gems in soft, sibilant tones, I wondered how far I would need to reach to satisfy her. For many days, she would speak only of the beauty of the gems she loved and fantasized about; more powerful than anything I could stir in my mind. To my immense eventual chagrin, I determined to satisfy her. She spoke of perfectly elaborate facets, the flawlessness of structure, the fire in the heart of each stone. I knew I had to find such gems to keep her. I looked.
The last of the trolls fell dead, and with an appropriately flamboyant twirl of his blade through the air, Barathon the Deft dropped the ornate sword back into its scabbard at his belt. His palm resting at ease on the large gem that made up its pommel. He was a striking and noble figure, dressed in colourful silks, his hair flowing, and his features strong and brooding. He knew he looked a hero, and he wanted to act as one. He fought whenever he could create the opportunity, smiting his foes in the name of his causes of good, right and order. The sword itself he had bought from a seedy trader in an underground bazaar for magical tools, but he never mentioned the fact. A heroic weapon should come from a heroic source, and so rumours of gifts from gods, or apparitions of legendary figures to boon him the weapon were cheerfully encouraged. It behooved a hero to wield a tool of valour and renknown, the weapon of someone great and famous, and Barathon was, of course, a hero.
In my desperate search to satisfy D’Zia, I had looked far and wide. All of the merchants and traders that I knew were pressed for their finest gems, I begged the silver and gold-smiths to reveal to me their treasures, but nothing was equal to D’Zia’s demands. Eventually, in desperation I sought the great gem-wizard, one Thalamoth, renknowned for his unique thaumaturgical skills at manipulating the salts of the earth into the finest gemstones. I travelled far to find him, and endured much. The vision of D’Zia’s beautiful face and lissome body forced me on, that and the knowledge that I could not return to her empty handed. His tower stood alone, deep in the deserts, a wholly unnatural building that survived untouched by the swirling sands and burning heat. When I eventually gained an audience, I spoke to him of the gem I desired. He showed me a perfect, flawless gem. It was the size of a small egg, cut to a perfect and beautiful shape, every edge glistening with beauty, and in its heart there glowed a fire that was enough to ensnare my very soul. I asked him if he would sell it to me. He mumbled and declined, pleading some higher purpose. I begged him to make me one, a gem of such beauty. He laughed and looked me in the eye, then he asked me if I meant it, that I wanted him to make me a gem like that. Of course I did, I insisted, and he began to work his craft. His methods were long and complicated, but once they were over, I was changed. He had made me the gem I desired for D’Zia. He had made me the gem I desired for D’Zia. No wonder he laughed.
Barathon spun the ornate sword across his gloved palm with an ease that spoke of extensive practice. He sat in the tavern, drinking ale and glorifying his earlier battle, punctuating each thrust and parry with a twirl of the glittering blade. The maidens were suitably impressed. He made a heroic figure, his fine silken clothes immaculate despite the blood he had shed. The blade was perfect; glittering steel with a razor edge, elaborate etching trickling softly over the metal, and bound to a hilt of burnished gold, an elegantly sweeping cross-guard, a grip of soft leather, a pommel made of a single huge gem that flickered in the fire-light.
I wanted to sigh. I never imagined, when still really alive, that what I would miss the most about life was the ability to sigh. That soft, all-encompassing feeling that swells with the ribs as they rise, the calmness that pervades every pore with the long, slow exhalation… ah, I wish I could feel it again. That conscious action of resignation to the path that faces, the calmness of acceptance. Now, I merely accept with silence. The showmanship of the flourish, the dramatic gibberish of the declaration, it matters little to me. I can, of course tell, when I am pointed in the appropriate direction, it is something that is simply known. The words, the flamboyance, simply a sideshow. Grim-Nok-Teh? A name from the fairy-tales of my childhood. It would be nice to be involved in such heroism in a way that I could actually receive the credit for it….
As I felt my soul being moulded by the wizard into the gem, I became utterly bewildered, and a dazed slumber gripped me for much time. When I became aware again, I could feel my new form, feel the extent of the blade; it’s edge and heft. I became more aware outside of myself, I could sense the world again a little, confused and distorted, but I could feel it again. As the centuries passed I started to feel more and more, now I can sense everything that is going on around me, but I have no control. I can feel the edge kissing the skin of its victims, but I can do little to control it. I am not compelled to create the magical fire and lighting that can crackle from the blade, but I like to do my part. When the moment is appropriate, I try to help.
“The power of the immortals guided my hand… with this, my blessed blade, I was able to strike down the forces of darkness and aid the cause of light once again….” Barathon was drinking heavily. I suppose it is hard to begrudge him, he has, after all faced down the spawn of Hell today. His palm slapped against the face of the scabbard, causing me to rattle off his leg.
A hero? Unquestionably, a swashbuckling figure in fine silk, holding aloft a blade of glittering steel, smiting the forces of evil in a brutal yet honourable fashion. After this much time one learns to become philosophical. I have had an interesting time, found by one budding hero, wielded by them, travelling at their side, eventually lost, stolen or handed on to the next. I have experienced life in a way that I could never have anticipated, and I suppose it could have been worse. D’Zia would have become an intolerable mistress anyway, her beauty waning as her temper grew. Never would I have been able to satisfy her anyway. Anyway, I like to think that I have had a little to do with the exploits of “heroes”. Waerloga, Tarquin, Jacaradhan, Barathon; the Great, the Pure, the Mighty, the Deft, all have wielded the mighty blade and earned their reputations. Ah, if only the name of Knormahn the trader in scents, Knormahn the magic gem in the hilt of a finely honed sword was treated with such regard….