(For those who’d rather just see the pictures without the pageantry, I’ve included a pure gallery HERE)
“How can it be said I hold no mercy for necromancers? Always when I find them, I offer them Absolution.” -Pelari Tur, Grand Inquisitor of the Sleepless Vigil
The people of the Black Havens have long had a dubious relationship with the word “knife.” Under the legal definition given by Stoßdär, Graufeld, and the other core-states which once comprised the Empire of Schwarzhafen, a “knife” is any single-edged blade with a hilt fastened by pegs instead of a peened pommel. This definition conspicuously omits that most minor consideration–size!
Absolution, a traitor to her working-class brethren, has a peened pommel supplementing her pegs. Nevertheless, this two-handed “war-knife” proved so excellent in every other regard that the 7th Annual Ceslonian Smithing and Armory Summit in Helenenburg, capital of Stoßdär, unanimously gave the sword First Place in her category. International visitors were greatly confused to hear “the peerless lady in white leather’ named the winner. Absolution’s smith, Wenka Shober, is purported to have nearly died laughing when an Ansethi man asked if there was some symbolism to calling her apron white when it was so clearly covered in forge-soot, and red-brown besides. She finally explained that swords in Stoßdär are popularly held to be female.
Foreigners are well-advised not to ask how this reflects on Stoßdär’s women.
The following images depict Absolution as it looked then, under bright, gently-tinted mage-lights on the examination floor. In a chamber of broad marble slabs, with a cooling salt breeze from the sea and the odd ash-flake from a distant volcano, visitors from every species and nation walked among gilded stands. In a room of peerless forging, Absolution alone was peerless. In those first few minutes the war-knife’s dread reputation waited, unborn, and its name seemed quaint or overzealous rather than simple grim fact.
The first thing which struck the panel, aside from the blade and scabbard’s artful contrast, was the blade’s exceptionally vibrant grain. It was both brighter and more active than any sapphire-steel blade the panel had ever seen, though admittedly less colorful besides. When pressed, Wenka acknowledged this was related to the blade’s steel, but refused to say more. The secret, she protested, was not hers alone to reveal.
Closer examination only impressed the panel more; the collar, though clearly forged from a different metal, formed a seamless fit with the guard and against the blade. The sword’s grain structure comprised three layers, subtle at first, but crystalline-bright when they caught the light just so: one like calm ocean waves, another as of stormy seas, and the last like blinding to look on, like the heat of the forge given forth anew.
The patterns shifted and danced, waxed and waned towards the blade’s point, but the forge-brightness never quite made it to the dark edge. “Nor should it,” Wenka teased, “that dark stuff, that’s where it’s hardest. That’s where she keeps her teeth.”
The panel saw the three grains most clearly at the fuller’s end, where Absolution flared cleaving broad and the forge-brightness climbed towards her spine.
Towards the blade’s point the forge-brightness slowly drove out the other grains…
…until at the wicked tip the last traces of the hard, dark metal were just visible lining the edge and point. The point itself gave the panel their sole disagreement; some marveled at its unflexing thinness; some swore it would snap off in the first exchange of blows.
All agreed, however, that the steady shift of Absolution’s grain, revealed by more and brighter mage-lights, was the loveliest forging they’d witnessed in years. The great Till Wismeyer himself said, blue eyes dancing, dark brows raised, “If my own school forged half so well, I’d have retired five years ago and bought a Dukedom!” The foreigners on the examination floor were not convinced. “It seems impossibly broad,” protested a Ton man. “It looks to weigh 10 pounds if it’s an ounce!” And at this the Black Haveners smiled, and Wenka took the opportunity to invite the sword’s commissioner to the floor.
“Grand Inquisitor,” she called, “Care to dandle the piece in your hand? The bog-spawn are scoffing.”
And so in dead silence Pelari Tur, a pale, wiry black-robed woman of only average height, made her way through the milling press like a shark harrying fish, and lifted Absolution for the first time.
“Meet her gaze, then,” she invited, holding the sword out point-first with only thumb and forefinger.
“We give to you the secret of the war-knife,” Wenka said, much amused. “It is wide, yes, but narrow too; no thicker than a longsword at the base, and closer on a needle by the point. You see also it is hollow-ground. A weapon of deceptive agility. But, you must wonder, how well cuts she, this lady both broad and thin?”
And she shocked them all by bringing forth a living convict, proven guilty of rape, encased wholly in a suit of plate and bound in iron chains to a wooden frame. Without word or delay Pelari whirled the sword up in both hands and threw a horizontal cut for the visor-slit on the convict’s helm. With a scraping howl and sprinkling sparks and awful red burbling, the top of the helm and the top of the convict’s head slipped loose and splat-clattered to the floor. But the Inquisitor, knowing the test would never be taken seriously while she held the sword, bid the panel come forward each in turn and take their cuts. Till Wismeyer clove through one leg at the meat of the thigh, and others through the breastplate and arms and legs; only when they struck at a bad angle, or in haste with the edge ill-aligned, did Absolution glance away or screech to a halt, and in no time at convict, plate and table were a horrid gestalt of flesh-scraps and hanging digits, cloven white bone and emptied bowels and guts.
The warstock humans all agreed it was a most instructive display, and that their children’s character was much improved by it. The peacestock were strangely gone from the room, with most of the non-humans save the Ilbaret. After all this Absolution bore but light scratches, and no gouges, chips or dents.
“It shames sapphire-steel,” Till Wismeyer said. “It is something grander, what you have created,” and he gave Wenka and the Grand Inquisitor a look which said all the things he did not say.
The panel were delighted, though not surprised, to find that Absolution’s three grains were unique on the other side. For sometime, they spoke no further, other than to make small approving noises of the perfection of the blade’s lines.
Almost regretfully, the panel tore themselves from the blade to examine the guard in greater detail. They found it quite as impressive as the blade, with its quillions offset yet proportionate, ring-guards to prevent blades sliding down it, and a long bar to protect the Grand Inquisitor’s main-hand in the last stage of a cut. All seemed to be forged from the same piece of black, acid-etched metal.
The panel were briefly fascinated by the symbols on the inmost portions of each bar of the ring-guards, and asked if they would play a role in Absolution’s enchantments.
“Perhaps,” the Grand Inquisitor said, allowing a tight smile that died without stretching her cheeks.
“The small stones,” Wenka explained, “are rough diamonds. My apprentices needed much time to soak them opaque.”
“Diamonds,” the Grand Inquisitor said conversationally, “are the ugliest gemstone, really. Wholly without color; their sole merit is that they shine, and this only with much polishing. Feh! So does water, but ice rings seem little prized. My diamonds will pierce skulls and helms when I punch across the bind, and this seems to me far better than a stupid ring.”
This had something of a chilling effect on further conversation.
Shortly, however, the panel set to admiring the overall shape of the guard, which seemed like some insectoid mandible yawning wide, or perhaps some clawed appendage stretching out. None were quite sure how to agree when the Grand Inquisitor chimed in with a cheerful agreement.
Some explanation of the spacer separating the two pieces of white leather proved necessary; its central engraving was not fire, Wenka explained, but seaweed. The panel found it pleasant regardless for the way it caught the mage-lights.
The panel were bedeviled by Absolution’s pommel, which had been filed so precisely its individual faces gleamed like the facets of a gem. “I don’t understand how they got it so precise,” Ruskov Pelochyn complained. Wenka smiled coyly and gave no answer.
Absolution’s scabbard bore an early form of the Vigil’s icon, a hooded figure bearing a sword in a closed fist.
“It doesn’t resemble you, Grand Inquisitor,” a panelist ventured.
“Good, it is not supposed to,” Pelari answered.
The detailing, they agreed, was lovely, the color balance marvelous, and the “half-char” effect of the ripplewood scabbard’s lacquer made for a compelling blend of flamboyance and workaday grime. Till Wismeyer particularly loved it, and his profuse praise likely swayed the panel further in Absolution’s favor.
Even the relative simplicity of the scabbard’s middle binder drew praise. “I make myself always careful that a piece does not become busy,” she said. “Too much work is the saddest reason for poor art.”
The other side of the cap depicted a stylized bleeder whale, just as vicious and grotesquely warped as the real creature.
Zhou-hai was silent this time.
“This looks like the one that took my grandfather,” she said at last. “Solid work,” she said, and was silent.
Shapes at the top and bottom of the scabbard mimicked the blade’s spine. In Stoßdär folklore this is considered auspicious; the blade and scabbard are two parts of a whole unit, and it will go ill if they are not in harmony with each other. More basically, it looked lovely.
At last the panel were satisfied, Absolution was given First Place, and Pelari took it for good as soon as Wenka’s apprentice used a strange, shimmering cloth to polish away its scratches.
“So,” Till Wismeyer asked, grinning, “What shall our esteemed Grand Inquisitor do with this magnificent weapon?”
“It wants enchantment first,” Pelari said. “When I am finished, I will seek people to give it to.” She left without another word, and the panel assumed her last sentence was in jest. Absolution has since been “given” to hundreds, but Pelari has allowed none of them to keep it for long.
There are always more in need of it.
(Author’s Note: I was not aware today is International Women’s Day when I assembled this post yesterday afternoon. As the actual business of talking about women’s experiences is, I suspect, better left to women, it’s fortunate that the sword in the post was forged by and for a woman. The canon of an unpublished book it a tenuous excuse, I know, but the Aspergian in me–id est, all of me–was going to flense madness if I didn’t post this as planned.)