Blades of Light and Honor
by Tyra Tanner
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
At home after their journey, Swordsun fell into a trance of disquiet.
For five days, her mind retraced her steps. Over the past ten years, she had accepted nearly thirty challenges. She drew each opponent in her mind, recalling their final movements. Moonbreather had fought with the strength of a dragon, the lines of his body straight and clean, like the lines of light she called upon to buoy her, and she had reveled in his mastery. But then, at the last moment before their fight would be postponed, he had made an error. Moonbreather opened himself, chest wide for piercing, a mistake only a youngling would make.
Unless it hadn’t been a mistake.
Before him, Ribbonsnake had torn into Swordsun with her taut ribbons, her precision that of the most skilled Ribbondancers. Swordsun had been forced to inhale more and more light to shield herself from the onslaught. But then, Ribbonsnake had tripped on her own ribbon. Swordsun had taken the opening.
Firelion had drawn power from over three dozen inferno pits, and yet, despite his expertise, he had retreated when he should have charged, and Swordsun’s blades had thrown true.
Echospear had wielded the voice of thunder against Swordsun, disorienting her and shaking the earth beneath her feet, but despite the blackened storm above their heads and the weak rays of sunlight, Echospear had called too much thunder, ripping the clouds in two and granting Swordsun a direct line of deliverance.
None of her battles had been easy, with the exception of Windknife but, as Swordsun dug deeper into memory, she began to see a pattern. On the evening of the fifth day, Swordsun opened her eyes. Her small home appeared pale and barren. Gray light filtered in the doorway.
Bladesun knelt before her. Stale bowls of rice and cups of water lingered around Swordsun’s knees. Bladesun whimpered and pushed on Swordsun’s cheek.
“Honor is dead,” Swordsun said.
“Master, eat.” Bladesun pushed a bowl toward her.
Swordsun eyed her student. Bladesun nudged the bowl into Swordsun’s hand.
“Do you know what honor is?” Swordsun asked.
“It is belief,” Bladesun answered.
“Do you know how to gain it?”
“By faithful acts.”
“Do you know how to lose it?”
“Do you know how to identify deceit?”
This brought Bladesun to a halt. She cupped her master’s hand in her own, coaxing her to take the spoon to her lips.
“I cannot fight,” Swordsun said. “Honor demands I refuse. Yet honor demands I accept. Bladesun, what do I do?”
* * *
The challenges came steadily, like the change in the seasons. One by one, Swordsun refused them. With time, fewer challenges came, supplanted instead by warnings from the other Masters: “For a thousand years, the Reward of the Warrior has been our most revered tradition. To depart from it will sever all of our peoples from their destiny. The Elders of the Eternal Fight will send down fire from the Forever Skies if you do not maintain your honor.”
“The old texts say that a warrior who abandons the Path must be punished according to her crime. Her pupils and her village are forfeit to the will of the other Masters.”
With those words, Swordsun knew what was coming.
* * *
“When do you rest your feet?” Swordsun asked Bladesun.
“When they fall upon my father’s house.” Tears streaked down Bladesun’s brown face.
“And if you come upon a fight?”
“Run the other way.”
“And when the light is low?”
“Hide till day returns.”
“It has been an honor, Bladesun.”
“It is time.”
“How will I become a warrior?”
“You will not.”
“You will return to your family and dance in the leaves. The light inside of you will warm their hearts. Warriors are no more.”
“Go now, while the sun is strong in the sky.”
“I want to stay with you.”
“If tomorrow is my destiny, I will come to you. We will learn to use the Sun in other ways than the fight.”
“Bladesun. Run till the light is spent.”
“Will you obey, my student?”
Bladesun’s reply came slowly. “Yes.”
Swordsun frowned, her worry growing. She knew the child was lying.
* * *
The warriors came at dusk, when the light was falling low.
They would use the darkness of night to pillage and attack her people without Swordsun’s power of the Sun to defend them.
Windcharmers hovered on streams of air, their backs to the cliffs and their robes fluttering in the breeze. The Moonbreathers lined up at the edge of the mountain valley, their hands coming together — snap, snap — as their moonshadows slithered from the ground. The Waterwielders took position near the cascading pools. The Fireshifters angled themselves toward the straw-roofed homes; those would be the first to go. And the Ribbondancers twirled their ribbons above their heads, like snakes ready to strike.
And there was Swordsun, come to meet them, a lone figure with naught but a steel blade in her hand. The weapon was a crude replacement for her curved blades of light. She knew it would not withstand the assault of the warriors come to meet her.
Tonight, she would die in battle. But, for the first time, she wished it were otherwise.
She eyed the anxious faces of the villagers behind her, their pitchforks and shepherd’s hooks gripped in untrained hands. They would not be spared the warriors’ wrath, and yet they stood at the ready, prepared to defend their homes.
In their dry eyes and stalwart expressions, she realized that now, for the first time, she was seeing the face of honor.
But then a small form appeared at her side.
As Bladesun came into view, Swordsun’s heart seized with fear. “My student...” Swordsun croaked. “I told you to flee.”
Bladesun looked into Swordsun’s eyes. “I could not leave them.”
“My friends.” Bladesun pointed into the village. “Bo who plays chase with me. Hira who braids my hair. Ezu who picks the brightest red flowers and strings them together as gifts.”
“I see.” Swordsun swallowed, the sting of her choices coming to bear upon her.
Swordsun eyed the enclosing wall of warriors. Within moments, they would fall upon them. Swordsun grabbed one of Bladesun’s skinny arms and thrust the child behind her.
Bladesun tugged on Swordsun’s skirted robe. “Master?”
Swordsun blinked at the graying sky. Her mind raced. What else could she do? What else could she have done? She looked into the dead eyes of the rising moonshadows. How could she save Bladesun? How could she save the villagers? Her powerlessness rankled inside of her.
“Master!” Bladesun called urgently.
Swordsun snapped her eyes toward her student.
“There is something you have not understood, my master.”
“What is that?” Swordsun asked. As she eyed her young pupil, she began to notice a dull glow forming beneath the child’s skin.
“Light is always inside of us,” Bladesun answered.
With those words, Bladesun clapped her hands toward the sky. Swordsun’s pupil lit up, inside and out, like a spear of light thrust from the center of the sun.
And then the child ran.
She weaved around the village with such speed that Swordsun would not have been able to follow her movements if it weren’t for the bursts of golden light streaming from her. Within moments, Bladesun had encircled the village in a wall of light that grew higher and higher until it domed over the entire village.
At the top of that giant shield, Bladesun hovered in the air, a small golden ball in a black sky. Swordsun watched her in wonder.
Then the warriors arrived.
If they were astounded by this never-before-seen sight, they did not show it. With the vigilance of the most somber of warriors, they attacked the wall of light. Ribbons slashed against the shield, to no avail. Wind pounded against it but could not pierce it. Shards of ice stabbed it but fell bluntly to the ground. Lightning scoured its surface, and yet it held. Fire scorched it, and still it glowed strong.
The warriors shook their weapons in rage. Their battle cries bounced off the shield like the playful shouts of children in a distant field.
And inside the shield, where moments before a village stood ready to die, a delivered people clapped their hands together and shouted a name.
The whimpers of the enemy outside the walls were nothing compared to the triumphant uproar within. As Bladesun slowly descended to the earth, her eyes alight, her hands and feet streaming heavenly trails as she walked, the villagers took up another mantra.
“She is honored.”
“She is honored.”
“She is honored.”
Swordsun bowed before her pupil, an act reserved for student to Master, not the opposite. Bladesun waited for Swordsun to rise, and then the child slipped her hand into her teacher’s hand. Swordsun squeezed it.
Swordsun stood guard over her student that night, as Bladesun’s inner light wrapped the village and its inhabitants in its protective glow.
Near dawn, one bedraggled Moonshadow managed to slip through the shield of light, its limbs askew from the force of entry, its form shivering and twitching.
Swordsun smiled and raised her steel blade.
The Forever Skies would have to wait.
Copyright © 2016 by Tyra Tanner