Vulnerable

by April on May 10, 2012

A sword of prophecy can’t go missing when a soldier is guarding it. It’s impossible. We have a carefully calculated method to bring together the prophecy bearer and the sword at just the right time for the kingdom. And let me tell you, now was not the right time for who-knew-what prophecy to be fulfilled.

I glared at the soldier in front of me. Klaxon was his name, and his diminutive height and narrow shoulders clashed completely with his name. Someone ought to talk to his parents about false advertising. We had spells to match names with children ; it was criminal to not use them..

Of course, those same spells matched children with prophecies stored in the imperial vaults, but parents didn’t need to know that. Just as they didn’t need to know multiple children could fulfill the same prophecy. One unique child per prophecy makes for a better story, and ruling an empire is all about the delicate art of twisting stories into unrecognizable propaganda..

Don’t look at me like that. You know it’s true. How else would a bunch of incompetent emperors maintain power without their propaganda branch?

Back to the story unfolding in front of my unwilling eyes. “Did you, or did you not, touch the sword of prophecy?” I asked Klaxon. Like every other soldier under my command, there was nothing about him to suggest he’d be any sort of match for the sleek, deadly beauty encapsulated in each and every sword under my care. Although to be safe I placed each soldier on his first shift with the nameless sword, since it took time for soldiers to learn how to resist the clarion call of a prophecy sword. No one had been matched with this nameless sword in thousands of years. It had seemed perfectly safe.

Until now, apparently.

Klaxon met my eyes. “Not on purpose. There’s a crack in the floor by the altar yonder. I tripped.” Unfortunately, not a hint of guile marred his face. Worse and worse.

Honesty. What a rare quality. His mother must have neglected to beat it out of him. I circled around the cracked stone altar with its curiously bare surface. Sure enough, there it was. A nice, dark crack that made the floor jagged just so. I’d wager a pillion full of henfeathers it hadn’t been there before Klaxon’s shift.

Don’t mistake me, though. This fellow, hardly worthy of the name of soldier, was not capable of cracking the floor. No, every now and then fate had to get in the way and demand a prophecy be fulfilled.

The question was, what prophecy?

“What did you feel when the sword disappeared?” I asked the victim. “Did your arms gain strength?” This youngster would need every bit of muscle he could get if he was destined to start a rebellion.

Klaxon shook his head. “They went weak with terror when I found that sword gone.”

I had to give him credit for directness, even if that answer made my insides squirm with embarrassment. How unmanly to give that much insight into weakness! The sound of my feet echoed in the cavernous stone room as I paced back and forth. As Captain of the Prophecy Guard, this fell squarely on my shoulders to solve.

“Do you feel any sudden…urges?” I squinted at him. Not even his hands were trembling with the need to fulfill his prophecy.

Klaxon shrugged. “Now that you mention it, I do feel a strong desire to kiss the princess. That long, flowing, blond hair….”

This was getting worse and worse. “That big, bulbous nose,” I countered. The last thing we needed was a dynasty change.

“Oh, but her smooth complexion,” he sighed. Literally sighed!

“At least you didn’t say fair.”

“That wouldn’t be true,” he agreed. “Not when I can’t see her maidenly blushes.”

I groaned and covered my face with my hands. “Please, please forget all this happened?” I was perilously close to begging. The princess was already betrothed; this would start a war.

Klaxon laughed. “Not to worry. Prince Raken is welcome to her.”

I searched his face.

He nodded. “I couldn’t help wagging the dog’s tail, but it wouldn’t be right to let it go on too long.”

I rested one hand over my racing heart. My age didn’t show, at least not yet. This particular scrape was going to take years off my life, though, I was sure of it.

“All right, then.” I turned around and headed for the iron-bound door. “You’re for the All-Seeing Eye.”

“No!” Klaxon backed up three steps and bumped into the altar “Never! Not the all-seeing eye!”.

I looked heavenward and begged for patience from the fulfilled prophecies shining down from above. “If I have to drag you there….”

A smile darted across Klaxon’s face. “Sorry. You just sounded so dramatic there. All-seeing eye and everything.”

Little did he know. “This will not be a pleasant experience.” Was it rather mean of me to thoroughly enjoy the concern now dawning across Klaxon’s face?

He followed behind me with a slow step, but we eventually made it through all seventeen corridors and nine flights of stairs to the room housing the never-sleeping and always exhausted All-Seeing Eye.

“Yes?” The All-Seeing Eye’s white hair frizzed out, just one small sign of the incredible amount of magic she radiated.

I gestured Klaxon into the room, and he edged in. I didn’t sigh at his subtle resistance since it wouldn’t do me any good. Not in the mood my charge was in. And he used to be so quiet and compliant!

“A prophecy fulfilled, Seeing One,” I said, bowing at the waist. “The nameless prophecy has been embedded inside this young man.”

“Poor, poor boy,” she whispered. “You of all people. How I wish this hadn’t fallen upon you.” She hobbled close to Klaxon and brushed the brown hair out of his eyes.

Klaxon squirmed at the familiarity.

“You haven’t learned to manage it yet, but you will,” she said.

“Manage what?” I asked, a hint of exasperation seeping into my voice. It definitely wasn’t fear. Or worry. Definitely not.

“Didn’t his name give you a hint?” she asked instead. “Klaxon. Alarm bringer.”

Despite my best efforts, a strangled gasp made its way out of me. It was so obvious. Now, anyway. “You mean the sword he touched…”

My worst mistake yet. I reached my arm out to stop her from saying the deathly words, but I was too late.

She named the unnamable. “Lie-cleaver.”

I fell to my knees, overwhelmed by despair. All that I knew, all that I had built over decades of planning, of carefully wrought lies, what would happen to it?

Not to mention the empire. It had been centuries since we’d used something as esoteric as truth.

Klaxon stiffened, and a pure expression of heartbreak twisted his face. But the All-Seeing Eye had spoken the key words, and Klaxon was now bound to utter the words that would be heard as if blasted from every roof top. Each word would break the Empire down till not one stone was left standing. “Emperor Ridan was not born to Empress Galianne. She’s childless and sterile…” On and on he went, unstoppable, listing the secrets of every family, every clan, down to the furthermost peasant in the far reaches of the Empire.

The Empire that had lasted through millennia fell in a single day. It could withstand years-long sieges and decades-long wars. But truth. That one thing it couldn’t stand against. Family fought against family, clan against clan, and all fought against their benevolent government.

As clouds of smoke rose from billowing fires across the horizon, I wept for the dead, but I wept more for those who still lived at the end of this terrible day. The ruins of all I loved filled my vision, and I turned away from the stark window of the only building left standing. “Is that it?” I asked, “Utter destruction and nothing else?”

A hint of the Klaxon I’d seen before, the optimism and humor, peeked through his now aged face. “What was destroyed can be rebuilt.” His voice was hoarse, hardly a whisper, but the wisdom radiating from the sword through him was undeniable.

“Together, then,” I said.

The All-Seeing Eye limped over and dug her bony fingers into my arm. “This room has been protected, but the other swords must be secured.”

I didn’t really want to find out what was on the other side of that door, but we’d need every one sword to rebuild. Orphans and wretches were surely already lining up outside the sword-keep walls, called there by the swords themselves.

My mind boggled at the thought of building a nation on truth. The common people couldn’t handle the truth. They’d be running to and fro in a frenzy with every little crisis. But it would just have to be that way as long as Klaxon lived.

Hmmm. As long as he lived. I cast a speculative glance at the flesh embodying the Lie-Cleaver.

“Captain.” Klaxon raised a warning eyebrow.

That isn’t what stopped me, though. The brief glitter of sharp-edged blades blossoming from his bare skin made me falter in my step. I knew the legends. He wasn’t just the sword-bearer now; he was its sheath, something I should have realized when the sword disappeared.

If I touched him with the intent to harm, even if I was simply brushing up against him, I’d suffer a cut. The wound would seem minor at first, but my life’s blood would seep out one slow, unstoppable drop at a time.

While poison or some other esoteric means of murder was still an option, perhaps it might be safer to try rebuilding with truth. Looking on the bright side, the paperwork ought to be far less without the labyrinthine lies to keep track of. I hoped.

Of course, worried citizens clamoring at my door day and night jabbering my ear off about things they couldn’t hope to understand, let alone fix could easily be worse.

“You’re wrong, you know.” Klaxon replied to my unspoken thought. “You’ll be surprised at what the people can handle, that I promise.”

I harrumphed my doubt at him, a small germ of a plan starting to form in my mind. Normally I would have kept my mouth shut about it, but being in Lie-Cleaver’s presence had strange effects, unfortunately. “How about you go and rest? I’m off to find Lie-Bringer.” The antidote to this horrid state of affairs, although it couldn’t rebuild buildings or bring back lost lives. But it could bring back our highly successful, stable way of life.

Klaxon just laughed at me, and silver glinted off his bare skin again. Another warning. I looked closer and saw multiple blade edges rising out of his arm, all of them with the tell-tale burnish sported only by prophecy swords.

The newly-formed lump in my throat was too hard to swallow. No doubt Lie-Bringer and all other sword threats were quarantined inside Klaxon. The protective magic embedded in Lie-Cleaver was frankly terrifying, as if the hand of Fate itself was reaching out to stop my every move.

Maybe it was time to search for the rightful heir to the throne. I made my way through the keep and into the sea of ashen-faced orphans hoping against hope that fate would rule in their favor.

Surely this new child couldn’t make as much of a hash of things as Klaxon. Perhaps if I raised him in the ways of subversion…

“Captain!” The ringing voice of warning stopped me cold.

I shrugged. Or perhaps not. Oh why hadn’t the Lords of Creation granted prophetic powers to something harmless? Like a quill. Who’d ever been hurt with one of those?

The End

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Beyogi September 10, 2012 at 10:08 am

Ok, this was funny, especially the end.

Thank you for writing,
Beyogi

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April September 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Thanks! It was fun to write, so I’m glad that came through.

April

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Johnathan Collette December 8, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Thanks so much for the blog.Really looking forward to read more. Cool.

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