Like 99 per cent of the posts on this blog, this comes as a request/challenge/prod from Chuck Wendig. The idea was to post 1,000 words of one’s Nanowrimo project, or if not doing Nanowrimo post 1,000 words of a work in progress. I intended to take part this month, but technical issues and teething issues mean this hasn’t happened. Here, however, is 883 words of something that, having reread what I’ve done, I want to get back to.
Rachel sat by the fire in Hawthorn’s house. She held her knees to her chest, shivering and crying as the adrenaline left her system. The killer had just appeared and she had reacted. She had no idea that she was capable of killing another human being, but she had done just that. She hadn’t even realized what had happened until the man was on the ground, strangled eyes bugging out of his head while the garrote dangled from her right hand. He had been trying to kill her, she reasoned, or at least hurt her, or take her to someone else who would kill her or hurt her. She knew it was something she had to do, but she kept thinking that he was alive, and now he’s dead, and he might have a family, or kids, or a dog, or—
“Snap out of it,” said Hawthorn. “Drink this, it will make you feel a bit better.” He handed her a steaming mug of tea, and when she lifted it to her face the heady vapour of whisky drifted up her nose. She took a long sip and felt the heat course through her muscles. Hawthorn pulled a chair near her and sat down. He had something on his lap, wrapped in a soft cloth.
“Let me tell you a story about two people,” he said. “The first was a young man, not much older than you are right now. He wasn’t a fighter, by any means, but planned to study the law, and spend a life surrounded by books. Such was not to be his fate. He was pulled from his schooling and roughly trained to go and fight for his king against some other king. In his first battle he was so afraid to die that he fought like a demon, killing all who came near him. When the battle was done he got sick on the field, threw his armour off where he stood, and swore never to take up arms. The trouble was that he was extremely good at the taking up of arms, and they came looking for him often enough that they became his career. He became a leader of warriors and a name to be feared. Many weapons adorned his walls, some gifted to him by superlative craftsmen.” He nodded down at the package across his knees.
“One such is this, but I’ll get to that in a moment. He lived a life of arms until circumstance and necessity forced him to give it up, and that was not, indeed, an unwelcome turn. That man, of course, was me. The second man was my student. Unlike me, he was drawn to martial life from a young age. He studied and trained in the arts of war, of battle, and of command, and he also was extremely skilled. He did not draw his first blood in battle, though. He had learned his skills in a time of peace and had not put them to the test until two men attacked a friend. One was about to cut the boy’s throat and the other was on the watch for authorities. This man disarmed and killed the first man efficiently and instinctually, and held the other man, unharmed but for the broken arm he was given, until authorities arrived. Then he, too, went into a corner and was sick on the ground and questioned his actions, his training and his life. I let him know that he had acted as a good person would. He had saved his friend, and had not needlessly killed the accomplice. He had felt remorse, but still did what needed to be done.” He unwrapped the package, which contained a fine, narrow sword, its blade damascened and its unassuming hilt tightly wrapped in red leather.
“That second man was your father. I gave him this sword as a token of my esteem. It is not a pretty sword, but it was made by a master, and is perfectly balanced.” He looked her in the eye.
“Tonight you acted without thought for yourself and did what needed to be done. You did something you didn’t want to do, and wouldn’t have done if given a choice, but because of you, I am able to stand here and tell you this story.” He held the sword in the palms of both hands and extended his arms toward Rachel.
“I gave this sword to your father, and when he needed to begin living a life of peace he gave it back to me to hold. It is an outstanding weapon, light enough that a small person can wield it easily, but crafted so that it floats through the air as if its user was controlling it with their mind. For what you did tonight, and for who you have become, I would like you to have this weapon.” Rachel held out her hands and Hawthorn gave her the sword. She gingerly accepted it, taking pains not to touch the blade with her fingertips.
“Thank you,” she said.
“No, Rachel,” Hawthorn replied. “Thank you.” Rachel stood up, moved away from him, and tried some slow, tentative moves with the blade.
“We shall work on subtleties,” he said dryly, “but for now I am confident you are not a danger to yourself.”