The tragic tale of an unknown pacifist knight from the Bridgeland of Rowne, whose gauntlets, imbued with the power to break swords and shields, became an ironic rallying war-cry for his own countrymen as they battled the horde of the Sunthari. Unknown to his countrymen, the Sword-Breaker had a terrible and hidden past, despite harboring a hopeful wish for a peaceful future.
RYWEN's CROWN, Rowne (17 Aeyr, Tae 2033), The Bridgelands of Iorensia
On his tenth birthday, Kyp, a Rownean farm-boy with freckles, ginger-colored hair and a smile too big for his face, made a wish.
Word had filtered through that a new hero, dubbed the Sword-Breaker, had lifted the siege of Djinna in the desert land of Sunthar, using nothing more than his gauntlets and magic. The story was he single-handedly clambered up the city walls and broke a thousand Sunthari spears, before forcing the warlord into surrendering, sparing the lives of Rownean prisoners he had held hostage. When Bridgelanders in Rowne heard of what he did, many rejoiced, giving praise to the Paladin Gods, believing a new Rownean champion was born.
When he heard the Sword-Breaker would be riding through his village on his way home, Kyp knew he was about to meet his hero.
Kyp's heart pounded with excitement when he saw it. The Rownean army was twenty thousand strong, with knights in glinting armor, lances, spears, swords and shields, their pennants fluttering against breeze and birdsong, riding grey and white horses in straight rows of two. Accompanying them were the freed hostages, looking all relieved and waving to onlookers. Behind them were stable-masters, cooks, squires and blacksmiths, accompanying siege engines and wagons filled with spoils from Djinna.
As Kyp and the rest of the villagers leaned over the wooden fencing lining both sides of the wooded track, cheering and raising their fists to the thunderous clip-clops of hooves and clatter of wood and metal, the boy craned his neck above the rest, trying to catch a glimpse of his hero, the savior of Djinna.
His face changed from eagerness to awe, then impatience to doubt, before the last solitary rider came into view. It was him. Kyp knew it. Everyone could tell it was him.
Riding a grey mare, his five-foot-seven-inch-tall frame covered in silver metal from helm to toe, the Sword-Breaker strode by. His armor was nothing extraordinary, just battered pieces of plate metal, strapped with leather and brackets, chiseled with glyph-like symbols and Rownean emblems. Underneath them all, his mailshirt and coif could be seen through his joints. He did not carry a shield, nor was there a sheath or a weapon on him. Even his horse was nondescript - just a leather saddle with strips of colored scarves to mark the celebration in Djinna. What made him stand out was the pair of gauntlets he wore. Made of polished steel, with vambraces around his forearms lined on each side with serrated hooks, and knuckle-studs embossed with even more symbols, his gauntlets were known to be imbued with magic. Those standing in the front rows could clearly see bloodstains and dust on them.
Yet what Kyp remembered most were his eyes, visible through dark slits on his helm, unblinking and piercing, staring ahead.
As he rode past Kyp, the cheers from the rest of the villagers drowning out his horse's snort and trot, the Sword-Breaker jerked his reins and halted. Before Kyp could react, the Sword-Breaker turned to look at him, eyes all white except for the black pupils within. He didn't seem like he was breathing, his chest-plate hardly moved.
"What is your name lad?" he asked, his voice low and melancholic, muffled by his mouthpiece.
"Kyp, sir," he answered, suddenly goaded by the rest of his village-friends to step forward and shake his hand.
The Sword-Breaker extended his left hand for the shake, but Kyp was in awe, hesitating to reach out. One of the Sword-Breaker's gauntlets, metal fingers and palm opened in welcome - the very same gauntlet which had forced the surrender in Djinna and saved Rownean lives - was now mere inches away from him.
Before Kyp could decide, the Sword-Breaker grunted and tousled his hair instead.
"Never hesitate, young man. Overcome your mind, before you overcome your hands."
Leaning lower until his entire body was leveled with his horse, the Sword-Breaker moved his hand and touched Kyp's chest.
"But never, ever, overcome your heart."
Straightening back up on his saddle, the Sword-Breaker took a moment, before steering his mare forward, rejoining the column.
It took a minute before Kyp could breathe normally. He would never forget that day - the moment he made his birthday wish, to never, ever, hesitate again in his life.
TEN YEARS LATER
For his twentieth birthday, Kyp wished he knew better.
It was the year Tae 2033, and the spring morning breeze felt like winter's chill. He had sunk into a trench by Rywen's Crown, his lance and shield all but lost. His horse had been trampled and left for dead a few yards in the battlefield; its whinnies crystal-clear amidst the shouts of the Sunthari moving among the Rownean dead, thrusting their spears into the crippled ones unable to keep quiet.
After a few moments, Kyp's horse also fell silent.
He closed his eyes, sweat and blood pouring down his face from his matted hair clumped up inside his helm. He was wearing plate armor, but parts of them were missing, detached or loosened during the initial charge up the Crown. If he yelled and charged back up the slope, he knew it would be the end of him.
The Sunthari had marched across the border in the wee hours of dawn, spilling through the narrow strip of land known as Rywen's Crown to lay siege on the Tower of Remembrance. Kyp was asleep at his post then. By morning, as the sun cut a swath of orange across the crystal blue waters of the three lakes - Roen, Oen and Woen - with the Sea of Onwyr to his left, half the Rownean army protecting the Crown was dead, the other half either dying on the landbridge or floating on sea or lake, or worse, laying injured and shaking behind the barricades, knowing that it wasn't the end yet. The Tower was their only defensive position now; a tall, three-hundred-foot stone edifice built to remember the Paladin God Rywen. As Bridgeland knights stationed at different levels of the tower reloaded their crossbows and ballistae, Kyp hunkered with his comrades in one of the many circular trenches below, waiting for the next wave.
The gates leading into the courtyard of the tower opened. A dozen knights, led by a mustachioed commander with yellow plumage on his helm, marched forth. Moving in step beside him was someone Kyp recognized - the Sword-Breaker. The time he'd spent fawning over his hero over the past ten years had now become nothing more than subtle acknowledgement. While he still admired the knight from afar, the bitter feud with the Sunthari had taken its toll on all of them, despite the warlord's surrender a decade ago. Kyp had lost his entire village, including his family, to the warlord's vengeance.
"Move forward men!" the commander shouted to knights still laying splayed in the trenches, "we're going to kill those bastards in Rywen's name if it's the last thing we do!" Kyp picked up his sword, the only weapon left on him, and clambered up to join the commander.
It was just fifty of them, including the Sword-Breaker, against a Sunthari side of a thousand. Their enemy now held the land-bridge, the only piece of dry land bridging the Tower to the eastern hills and mainland, before touching the border with Sunthar. The sea of Onywr to their left spread expansively to the north. There were several other land-bridges beyond but it would be futile to sail across and get help. Taking the southern lakes was probably worse - a bulk of the Sunthari army was already assembling on the opposite shore, waiting for them with ships of their own.
As Kyp marched in step beside the commander and the Sword-Breaker, he wondered if the latter even remembered him. All that speech about not hesitating and overcoming one's mind. Over the years, he'd come to realize they were bullshit, words meant to inspire empty minds and unfeeling hearts. The scars across his back, hands and legs were testimony to that. He couldn't even remember the last time he smiled - a quality his village-friends used to praise and found comfort in. Now they were all gone.
Kyp spat on the ground as they got into formation. They were marching in neat rows of ten by five, Kyp being in the second row, just behind the Sword-Breaker. The first ten held up their long, wedge-topped shields, with the exception of the Sword-Breaker, who raised his gauntlets by crossing his arms. The heavy grunts of men, and some women, as they moved together to the sound of their mud-crunching boots, suddenly felt inspiring, reminding Kyp of the earlier years when he was a young recruit.
"Well, Sword-Breaker, if yer be thinkin' Djinna's been kind to us all, yer better rethink yer strategy," said the commander, his yellow-feathered helm looking quite distracting, at least to Kyp. He half-expected a Sunthari spear to come flying for his head, seeing how it ebbed and flowed to the rhythm of their march, like a song-bird calling out to its mate.
"It's not Djinna I'm worried about, commander. It's the warlord," the Sword-Breaker said. Kyp had always wondered if he grew old, since his voice had not changed.
The commander spat on the ground in front of him and stomped harder as he passed. "Hazhtur? You should have killed him when you can! Saved us from all this misery these past ten years."
Several of the knights around Kyp nodded in agreement, some even spat at the back of Sword-Breaker's helm.
"He was shamed. His dignity lost. He could have rebuilt his city with the support and love of his people. Instead, he went back to his old ways and enslaved them all. Now, the Sunthari fight for him because they fear him. They fear what he might do to their families if they do not."
"Like what he did to mine? To all of our families? Surely, after so many years, you can't be that blind. Them Sunthari need to be quashed under our feet, their skulls crushed into dust and sand. Leave none of them living behind I tell ye, for this time, Hazhtur will know who's merciful and who's not!"
The Sword-Breaker turned briefly to look at the commander beside him. There was a sense of fear among the group, Kyp could see it on the faces of the knights to his left and right. Many were probably questioning why the Sword-Breaker was even with them, if all he ever did was to disarm the enemy and show mercy.
"Commander!" Kyp suddenly found his voice. The commander twisted his head to look at him, shield blocking out the sun from his eyes.
"Why is he with us?" Kyp pointed his chin at the Sword-Breaker.
The commander let out a laugh. His front teeth were missing. Several other knights around them started laughing along. It was surreal, like marching into battle with a group of drunken knights. Only the Sword-Breaker was quiet, but Kyp noticed a stiffening in his movement, as if his rhythm had slowed a little, went out of sync with the rest, like he did not belong.
"Do not hesitate, Sword-Breaker!" Kyp called out to him from behind, "overcome your mind, before you overcome your legs!" This prompted even more laughter from the commander and the rest, the infectious nature of their guffaws compelling Kyp to laugh along. They were still some distance from the Sunthari but anyone close enough to see them would think they were heading into battle, believing they were dead.
The Sword-Breaker, however, continued marching in silence, seemingly oblivious to what Kyp had just said. One thing's for sure - he definitely was not laughing nor shown a wish to be dead.
Rowne's Rywen's Crown was a land-bridge that straddles between a massive sea and a lake. This narrow strip of land was where the Rownean knights, with the Sword-Breaker, would hold the invading Sunthari force back. (reference image is reportedly a scene from The Battle of the Ice, where Prince Alexander Nevsky fought pagan warriors)
The Sunthari warrior, covered in a fluttering of beige cloth, colored scarves and barefoot, ducked under Kyp's heavy swing and easily knocked his sword off his hand with a flick of his scimitar.
As the knight's sword flew from his grasp, the Sunthari swung his scimitar at Kyp's outstretched right hand, only to be punched in the face by Kyp's left. Before the Sunthari fully hit the ground, Kyp pinned him down and grabbed his sword-hand with both hands. Yelling as he twisted the blade around, he gritted his teeth as he pushed its edge towards the enemy's neck. The tip of the scimitar pricked blood through the cloth of the Sunthari's neck, but the enemy was stronger than he was, and fast. The enemy's left hand, knife glinting, swung towards his exposed waist, and Kyp saw his life flashed before his eyes.
The knife, however, did not touch his flesh. Instead, a gauntleted hand reached down and clutched the knife, a light shimmered around its fingers and the knife was suddenly reversed, its blade sunken deep into the palm of the Sunthari, hilt turned the other way around. The Sunthari warrior screamed, suddenly in pain and gurgled as Kyp pushed his scimitar all the way through his throat.
"Watch your corners, soldier!" the Sword-Breaker said, before moving on to the next fight.
Breathing hard, Kyp didn't know whether to thank him or follow, watching the Sword-Breaker charge into another fight, saving a fellow Rownean knight by catching the incoming spear of a Sunthari, then breaking it in half. The Sunthari used the momentum of the break to leap upwards, his foot catching the Sword-Breaker full under his chin. As the Sword-Breaker fell flat on his back, the Sunthari leaped down, aiming his splintered spear at the Sword-Breaker's eyes, visible through his visor.
The Sword-Breaker caught the shaft with both gauntlets, then with another shimmer around his hands, he disappeared. He'd swapped places with the Sunthari, who was now prone on the ground instead. Holding the broken spear threateningly over the prone desert-warrior, the Sword-Breaker locked eyes with him. Then, he tossed the spear aside, letting the warrior go.
"You should have killed him!" Kyp shouted at him, picking up his sword as he ran over.
The Sword-Breaker stared at him, but said nothing.
The bulk of the Sunthari army, about eight hundred of them, was regrouping two hundred yards ahead, near the center of Rywen's Crown. The winds blowing from the Sea of Onywr on one side and the Woen lake from the other, did nothing to ease the dust-cloud and scent of blood permeating the tight strip of muddy land. Bodies of the dead lay littered all around them, pushed aside until they formed a mound on both sides of the path. The Rownean commander and a dozen of the remaining knights had formed a line near where Kyp was, reforming with shields and swords, taunting the Sunthari to advance. It seemed the Rowneans had been successful in taking down the first and second waves of Sunthari, but not for long.
"I am sorry..." Kyp muttered, his voice muffled through his helm.
The Sword-Breaker, eyes still watching him, put a hand on his shoulder-plate.
"You always have a good heart, Kyp. Do not let this war change it. Never forget that."
"How do you know my name?"
"I remember you, from that village ten years ago. What matters now is that you remember why you're fighting in the first place. What are you fighting for."
Tears brimmed in Kyp's eyes. His fingers clenched into fists, sword wobbling in his grip. Blood covered his face, stunk through his sweat and vomit. His lips quivered, tongue curled underneath his teeth waiting to let out an anguished yell.
"I'm fighting for my country! For the people who died! They died because of you! Because you didn't kill their leader!"
No one seemed to have heard Kyp but his outburst took the Sword-Breaker by surprise. The rest of the knights around them were all focused on their critical tasks and killing off the rest of the Sunthari too slow to retreat back to their group.
The Sword-Breaker was quiet, letting Kyp calm down.
Kyp removed his gauntlet to wipe his tears, but they kept streaming. His nose was a puffy red mess and now his chest hurt.
Suddenly, a jostling among the knights caused them to look ahead. Something's happening at the Sunthari camp. A tall warrior had stepped out of the crowd. Black headgear covered part of his curly, black hair and neck to reveal a craggy face and well-trimmed beard, and a flowing caftan dress with colored scarves covered his body and arms right to his toes. He held a scimitar in his right hand and a short-spear in his left.
"Who's that?" Kyp asked.
"The Warlord Hazhtur," the Sword-Breaker said. "The man you've wanted dead. All of you wanted dead."
The warlord squinted towards the commander and his knights, then sneered at the paltry offence they had put together. It took two fifths of his army to decimate half the Rownean counter-offensive. Granted the Rownean knights had strong defense when they worked together, but it was a matter of time before they were dwindled down. For a warlord hailing from a city surrounded with desert-sand, he had a lot of time.
"Commander!" the warlord shouted across the field, "where is your champion? The one they call the Sword-Breaker?"
The commander hesitated at first, but directed his gaze towards the Sword-Breaker.
"Leave him to me commander." The Sword-Breaker began to walk towards the Sunthari camp.
"No Sword-Breaker. You will just let him go again or preach your pacifist bullshit and bring shame to our ranks!" the commander bellowed at him, forcing his men to stop the Sword-Breaker from advancing.
"I see him!" the warlord shouted across, "and it seems you have doubts about him! Let him come! Fight me one-on-one. If he kills me clean, my army goes back to Djinna, leave you sorry lot alone!"
The commander swore, the notion was suddenly tempting.
"But if I kill him instead, then the Tower of Remembrance becomes Sunthari by nightfall!"
Kyp joined the group, seeing the Rownean knights holding the Sword-Breaker back.
"Commander, let me fight the warlord," he raised his sword, "let me avenge my family, my village. He will not claim the tower, not ever!"
The commander looked at Kyp with a raised brow, at first lost for words. Then grabbing Kyp by his arm, rattled him like a doll.
"Have you lost your mind, soldier? The only guilty party in this war is this man," the commander pushed a finger at the Sword-Breaker, "right here! If anyone among us deserves to die, it should be him!"
"Let me end this, commander," the Sword-Breaker said, pushing his way through the knights, kneeling before the commander, "you and I both know I am the only one who can finish this. Not when his army outnumbers what's left of ours."
"Commander!" one of the Rownean knights shouted, pointing towards the field. They turned and looked, jaws agape and eyes widened. Kyp, sword in hand, was already marching across the muddy track, alone.
The warlord laughed, clattering both his spear and scimitar against each other, letting their piercing sounds echo across.
"What is this commander? A boy? You're sending a boy?"
"I will fight you Hazhtur and I will kill you!" Kyp shouted, pointing his sword at the warlord and began to make a run.
"By Rywen's Light! The boy is really going to get himself killed!" the commander swore. The Sword-Breaker pushed the rest of the knights aside and dashed forward as well.
"Hah! The Sword-Breaker really does have a soft spot indeed!" Hazhtur shouted, bracing himself and swinging both his weapons, "two-for-one then commander! I think you can't ask for better odds when your bridgeland's at stake!"
As Kyp drew near, Hazhtur leaped across, weapons raised, about to slash their edges across Kyp's exposed neck and waist respectively. But just as Kyp swung his sword no more than three feet away from Hazhtur, he felt dizzy, his body trembled and he found himself swinging at thin air.
He looked ahead and realized he had been transported a few feet farther away, closer to where the commander and the Rowneans were. In his place, the Sword-Breaker had planted his right foot on the ground, blocking Hazhtur's blades with his gauntlets with sparks and sizzle. The blades rattled against the edges of the Sword-Breaker's serrated vambraces but did not break.
"Nice trick!" the warlord echoed, then spun around with both spear and scimitar aimed for the Sword-Breaker's visor slit - the only known exposed area deemed to be vulnerable. It was also the surest as a jab through the eyes meant a jab through the brain.
Kyp ignored his commander's cries to return and ran forward again, sword raised. Tears covered his face, spittle overflowed from his lips. Hazhtur was his and he wasn't going to let the Sword-Breaker ruin his vengeance.
As he closed in on the duelists, he thrust his sword at the warlord, but once again, struck thin air, as the Sword-Breaker raised his gauntlet and shifted him across the other side of Hazhtur, like flipping a reflection. Kyp grunted, frustrated, but swung his sword to his left this time, the warlord parrying it with his spear, while swinging his scimitar at the Sword-Breaker.
The fight became a dangerous dance, as Hazhtur, being the deft fighter he was, maneuvered one hand to block the boy's clumsy attacks while twisting the other to attack the Sword-Breaker. Sometimes he twisted his body around, using the folds of his caftan and scarves to distract them, other times he would kick the boy aside or head-butt the Sword-Breaker.
Right when Kyp began to tire and slowed, Hazhtur swung both his weapons at the boy, leaving the Sword-Breaker unattended. It was a killing blow and Kyp knew he was going to die. He shut his eyes when he saw the spear and the scimitar swerved across the gap towards his neck.
When he opened his eyes, he was standing behind the warlord. The Sword-Breaker had once again taken over his spot, gauntlets raised to block both weapons, but there was only the spear. Hazhtur's other weapon, the scimitar, had feigned at the exact moment and diverted backwards, striking Kyp in the shoulder.
The boy yelled in pain, collapsing. The shout distracted Hazhtur, the pupils of his eyes moved ever so slightly. The Sword-Breaker grabbed his spear by its tip with his gauntlet and his fingers shimmered. Hazhtur was prepared, he released his hold on the spear and now the weapon was in the Sword-Breaker's hand.
With his scimitar hovering just inches from Kyp's eyes, Hazhtur held the advantage, but the tip of the spear was now inches away from his heart. One thrust from the Sword-Breaker would surely end the warlord's life. One thrust from him and Kyp would die.
Hazhtur smiled, eyes locked on the Sword-Breaker.
"Very well done, Sword-Breaker. My life tethers at the end of my spear. Question is, are you going to drive it through my heart before I push my scimitar through the poor boy's skull?"
"Let him go. This business is between you and me, Hazhtur," the Sword-Breaker said, not even breathing aloud.
Hazhtur pushed the tip of his scimitar closer towards Kyp, pricking the bridge of his nose and drawing rivulets of blood. Kyp stayed very still, cold sweat coursed down his face and neck. Any sudden movements from him would mean the end of his life.
"I said let him go!"
"Or what? You'll kill me?" Hazhtur grinned, "haven't all those ten years of regret taught you anything? Taught you how cruel the Rowneans really are?"
"My family is dead because of them, Hazhtur," the Sword-Breaker said, "burned alive and left for dead." There was a shudder in his voice, one that Kyp had never heard before.
"What the war has done to your conscience is tragic. But I saved you from the fire and gave you back your life! I gave you back your conscience! Sent you to the best masters to learn the way of the mirror! You've reflected on your past and mastered it beautifully. And instead of killing me ten years ago, you spared my life. For that, I am thankful. Now you must realize the Rowneans are no longer your people, Sword-Breaker. They do not understand you nor respect you. And that includes this boy!"
"You shouldn't have invaded us, Hazhtur. You should have remained in Djinna and continued with your life."
Hazhtur spat on the ground. "And what? Become a laughing stock because my prized champion has suddenly betrayed me?"
"He saved you?" Kyp asked, looking at the Sword-Breaker, past his teary eyes.
"I not only saved him, I gave him back his life! A life the Rowneans took from him when he was but a boy!" Hazhtur snapped, looking at Kyp as if he was a culprit, "and now, after all I've done, he still believes he's one of you, a bloody knight of Rowne!"
Tears flowed from Kyp's eyes. The story made sense now. The Sword-Breaker was a warrior stuck between two worlds. No wonder he had wanted to end the conflict.
The Sword-Breaker, still holding the spear to Hazhtur's chest, stared pointedly at Kyp.
"Remember Kyp, whatever happens, do not ever overcome your heart." The Sword-Breaker began to shimmer.
Hazhtur grinned, holding on to the spear now, knowing what was going to happen next.
"No!" Kyp screamed, understanding what he meant. The Sword-Breaker was going to swap places with him, intending for the scimitar to kill him instead.
But he was wrong.
Instead of appearing where Kyp was, the Sword-Breaker took the warlord's place.
With the spear now held in both Hazhtur's and his own hand, the Sword-Breaker jabbed the tip of the spear through his own eyes, penetrating his skull.
Then in his final act, he swung the scimitar around, inches past Kyp's nose, and thrust it through the warlord's heart.
As Hazhtur, looking shocked, clutched his bleeding chest and gurgled blood, Kyp rushed over to the Sword-Breaker and cradled his head in his lap.
Behind him, the commander and the Rownean knights cheered aloud and jeered at the Sunthari. The warlord's army had begun to retreat, their leader all but dead.
"It should have been me...you should have let him kill me," Kyp said in-between choked up tears, "Rowne needs you more than it needs me..."
As the Sword-Breaker released his final breath, eyes still staring at Kyp, the boy buried his head on his chest. "I wish I'd never hesitated. I wish I'd overcome my mind. I wish I'd shook your hand. And I will never overcome my heart. I will always remember you, Sword-Breaker. I will never forget what you've done."
Just then, the commander and the Rownean knights surrounded Kyp, hoisting him on his feet and then up on their shoulders. They shouted and chanted Kyp's name, praising him for winning the duel and ending the war, calling him their hero. He had no time to protest nor tell his story, for none of them would listen nor understand his version. In time, he would be presented before the Bridgeland's General and bestowed an honor far greater than anything he deserved. When asked what made him charge into battle and confront the warlord, Kyp's reply was to defend the heroes of the Bridgeland of Rowne and save as many lives as possible.
No one remembered the Sword-Breaker's body. It just lay there on the ground all bloody and broken, then infested with maggots, worms, flies and crows. Days later, all forgotten and decomposing, it was tossed into a massive bonfire with Hazhtur's and the rest of the dead; the light from the massive flame illuminating Rywen's Crown and the Tower of Remembrance.
About the World
This section highlights the world of Mortalissar in greater detail, especially her territories, countries, races, magic, calendar and belief systems. Occasionally, I will write short fiction stories relevant to a particular realm to define its unique characteristics set against a larger canvas. Hopefully, over time, the collection gives you, the reader, a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of this world, and her many qualities and flaws.