A Kingdom for a Sword was the story that impressed an editor at Pocket Books so much that he handed me an e-book contract. It is a story from my transitional period - it began as Diablo fanfiction, and then, as I decided to go professional writer, was revamped to take place in my Road of Legends universe (a wonderful place that, if all goes well with the current book submission, everybody will be able to explore and enjoy in the next few years). However, you can certainly see Diablo in it. And, if you take this story and Demonsbane and put them side by side, there are more than a few similarities.
The big problem with this story, however, is the ending. I'm not sure if it was just written when I was in the rationalization phase of a massive rebound (if there is such a phase of a rebound), but when I look back at it now, eight years later, I find the last paragraph absolutely asinine. It certainly lacks the emotional maturity I have today. I have kept it intact, though, because of its historical significance (well, I changed one capitalization, but otherwise it is intact).
But, otherwise, it is quite a good story, and after close to a decade, people should be able to enjoy it, particularly since everybody is now able to enjoy the e-book it made possible.
By the way, for those fanfiction writers who like this story, I'm afraid I have bad news. I don't want any fanfiction coming out of the Road of Legends, aka "The Great Road." Please respect my wishes on this - I am sharing this story so that those who are curious about where Demonsbane came from can read this for themselves. I am not opening up my pet universe to other writers. There are two full-length novels set in that world already written, and fanfiction for this showing up could cause complications in getting them published at last, particularly since they are already under consideration by a publisher.
Copyright 2000 Robert B. Marks, all rights reserved
“It’s a hole,” Zartran said, “leading down.”
Wonderful. We’re about to try to kill one of the more dangerous demons in the underworld, and that’s our great wizard’s idea of sagely advice.
“Even demons need to see,” Zartran said calmly.
And I couldn’t have figured that out for myself? I really hope he’s as good as he says he is. Otherwise, this venture is going to end rather quickly in a very unpleasant fashion.
I met Zartran in Harodam, just before I got drafted into this ungodly mess. He tried to awe me with his knowledge of the magical arts, but unfortunately for him, it didn’t work terribly well. Now he’s just tagging along, and I’m hoping he’ll actually prove his worth.
Perhaps I should actually start at the beginning, if there can be considered to even be one to this story. I know that the sword in question goes back long before I was born. My part of this story, at least, begins on the battlefield.
I was at Varasin, fighting for Prince Taragrim. Those that have heard the bards’ tales will know that Varasin was an unholy massacre, and Prince Taragrim barely escaped with his life. I had left home looking for glory twenty winters before, found what I had thought I had been looking for, and was eventually recruited for Taragrim’s army. At the time, I had fought enough to know that it wasn’t the honor it was made out to be. I had long ceased to take any joy in it, but it was one of the few things I was good at. Taragrim offered gold, however, and that attracted me.
It rained that day, covering the field of Varasin in a slick mud that killed as many horses as men. I stood in the field beside my prince, my bloodied sword at my side, awaiting the next attack.
Somehow I remained calm as the screaming, sweat and blood surrounded me. I saw a black flag rise on one of the enemy standards, and at that moment I knew there would be no mercy. The battle for the prince became a battle for survival.
As the prince fled, the enemy closed in. I found myself in the crush of a makeshift shield wall, hacking with my sword at any soldier who showed himself. Arrows fell all around us, downing any man they struck. And as the battle came to a close, the few of us who remained were surrounded by a sea of enemies.
It would be glorious to say that we all decided to fight to the death for our cause, but none of us did. We all ran, the soldiers behind us struggling to hold back the enemy while those of us in the front line tried to cut our way into the clear. I don’t know how many men I killed that day, but for every man who fell another took his place.
And then Taragrim came, his sword held high, leading the last of the cavalry in a wedge to break through to us. They swept around us, killing any enemy who came before them. Those of us in the shield wall finally ran, slipping in the blood-stained mud.
I looked back once as I ran, watching with horror as the prince’s cavalry was surrounded. For a moment I thought about going back in to help, but then I realized that a lone soldier could do nothing. The prince’s life was no longer in my hands. And so I turned and ran.
After an hour, I came to the Pentagem River, its banks overflowing from the rain. The swift current washed past me, the water holding a slight crimson tint. I heard the sounds of pursuit, and then I cursed under my breath. I was trapped, and my enemy would show no mercy.
I knew it would probably mean my death if I went into the river. But, when you are faced with certain death anyway, you will try almost anything. So, I stripped off my coat of mail and sword and dove into the water.
The current dragged and pulled me, forcing me under. In that moment I fought harder than I had in the battle, trying to hold on as I struggled to the surface. I finally sputtered out of the water, swimming weakly to the opposite bank.
I looked around, trying to get my bearings. The rain had stopped, and the clouds had parted to reveal the crimson sunset. The bank was crowded with oak trees, and the opposite shore held the tended fields of Hostrim.
I shook my head. I was still too close to the enemy. I had to head west, and perhaps I could find employment somewhere. Then I grimaced; my sword and armor were gone. For my entire life, I had been a soldier. Now I was useless.
With little or no hope, I trudged into the forest. The moon had risen halfway into the sky when I came to the barrow.
The mound stood in a clearing, the ancient stone gate hoary in the moonlight. I couldn’t tell how old it was, only that the grass had overgrown it long ago. In any other circumstances, I would have passed it by. But this night I was cold, tired, and in desperate need of a place to stay. I staggered into the entrance and lay down just inside the gate, praying that I wouldn’t offend any spirits with my presence. Then a dreamless sleep overcame me.
I woke up to find sunlight streaming through the door. My eyes widened as I took my first real look around the barrow. It had not been robbed centuries ago; a tomb lay at its center, and on top of the sarcophagus lay a shining sword.
I stepped carefully over to the sword, examining it carefully without touching it. The blade shone bright in the sunlight, contrasting with the ancient runes etched along its length. Somehow, I knew the sword was special. I didn’t know if it was meant for me, but I knew it was special.
And so I did the thing that any old soldier would do. I took it.
I was able to find a sheath and some food at a nearby village. It turned out that Taragrim was raising another army, and spirits were high in his kingdom despite the defeat at Varasin. But I had seen too much bloodshed to be interested; I had been a soldier for twenty years, and I had seen too many great battles. Instead, I took a job guarding some merchants as they traveled west. They were kind enough to give me a new coat of mail, for which I was thankful – I had never been enthusiastic about the idea of dying on the battlefield, even if there was nothing outside battle to look forward to.
They went just where I wanted to go: in the opposite direction of the fighting. And thus, on another cold and cloudy day, I came to Harodam.
Harodam was a little mountain town in a kingdom I had never heard of. I have since then heard tales of the death of their king by foul beings and the kingdom falling into disarray, but I had seen that sort of thing too many times before to be impressed by it. It seemed as though the entire world was going mad around me.
I could tell at first sight that the town was dwindling, though. The walls were crumbling, and I’m sure that in their prime they had been quite high. We were greeted at the gate by a motley group of guards and spectators, who followed us as we traveled through empty streets filled with abandoned houses.
The earth crunched under our feet as we came to what had once been a fine tavern, but was now a worn building with a sign reading “Tiligar’s Inn” on its front. I looked around, thinking that the view from the high mountains to the south was perhaps the only redeeming aspect of the town. Even the landscape was muted by the heavy clouds hanging over us.
“What has happened here?” I asked the caravan master.
“They say that this is a battleground, Edgewulf,” the man replied. “It is said that here good and evil are clashing for the last time.”
“And do you believe this?” I asked.
The caravan master shrugged. “I only know that this is a place touched by evil. We will not stay here long.”
A short, balding man with a gray beard took our horses and looked at us. “You are welcome at my inn,” he said. “My name is Tiligar, and please stay as long as you wish.”
I nodded and thanked him as I walked into the common room. The candlelit chamber was dark to my eyes, and I could see several other armed men and women. They looked at our group for a moment, and then returned to their drinks, chatting quietly among themselves.
“Adventurers,” Tiligar said in my ear. “Like yourself, no doubt.”
I shook my head. “I’m not here to fight.”
“You have the look of a warrior.”
“I was once a soldier,” I said. “But that day has passed. Now I’m just working my way home.”
“Your sword is somewhat impressive, however,” Tiligar said. “Is it a weapon of power?”
I shrugged. “I just carry it.”
“I suggest you talk to Otar,” Tiligar said. “He’s our town Ealdorman. He is quite learned in these things.”
I nodded; the idea had caught my interest. “I might just do that. Where can I find him?”
“When he is not in his office in the old fortress he is sometimes in the town square,” Tiligar replied. “It is as though he is waiting for something, but none of us know what.”
“How can you not know? He’s your Ealdorman.”
Tiligar shrugged. “He serves a higher cause than I.”
A tall man of dark complexion imposed himself beside me. “I believe I might be of help. My name is Zartran, and I am a wizard.”
“And how might you help me?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. Magic is not something I’ve ever trusted, and the same goes for those who wield it.
“I can point out Ealdorman Otar to you,” Zartran said. “And if you wish to attack the evil, I would make a good traveling companion. I am quite skilled in the magical arts.”
“I see,” I said carefully. “I think I will be fine on my own, thank you.” I turned back to Tiligar. “Where would Otar be right now?”
“Sitting by the fountain in the square, I think.”
I nodded. “Thank you for your help.”
Otar turned out to be a man of middle years who always gave me the impression that he knew more than he ever told anybody. As Tiligar had said, he was most often found waiting by the fountain, sometimes looking into it as though it would divine the future. I never did find out if it succeeded. I know I surprised him in the end.
“I am Otar,” he told me as I approached. When he saw the surprised look on my face, he said: “You are not the first young adventurer to come to me with a question.”
“I’m only a traveler,” I said. “When my caravan leaves, I shall leave with it.”
Otar nodded sagely. “Then you are wiser than most of the warriors here. They come here for glory, and most of them do not return when they attack the evil.”
“Is this truly the last battleground?” I asked.
Otar shook his head. “There will never be a final battle between good and evil. But this is the battlefield in our day and age. On all of the Great Road, this is where the Eternal One and the Damned One war. But you did not come here to ask me this.”
I nodded and drew my sword. “Can you tell me what this is? It has felt strange to me since I found it.”
Otar took the sword, noting the runes of the blade with a measured gaze. Then he looked up abruptly. “Where did you find this?”
“In a barrow,” I said. “I had taken refuge after the battle of Varasin, and I found this lying on a stone coffin.”
“It was on the tomb, not inside it?” Otar pressed.
“That’s what I said,” I declared, becoming slightly impatient. “So what is it?”
“This is the sword of Caelwulf the Conqueror,” Otar said. “It is almost as old as history itself. It is a talisman of great power, and if it chose you to bear it, you must have a destiny.” He handed the sword back to me.
I sheathed it and crossed my arms. “I’m not here to fight any great battles. I’m just trying to work my way home.”
“And yet you are here,” Otar stated. “The sword has chosen you. It will never break or grow dull, and when it is truenamed it will destroy whatever it touches that is evil.”
“What is its truename?” I asked.
Otar leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Taelrysyn.” He stepped back. “Do not truename it unless you are in a moment of dire need, for when you do, every creature of power will know that you have it, and they will want it.”
“I thought it would destroy whatever it touches that is evil.”
“It will,” Otar said. “But if you could keep such a weapon out of the hands of your enemy, even if it would be dangerous to yourself, would you not risk it?”
I conceded the point. “So how do I stop it once it has been truenamed?”
“Truename it again.”
“I shall store it in a place of honor once I return home,” I said, turning away. I paused suddenly, my mind spinning. “How do you know this, anyway?”
“I have traveled the Road of Legends, and I have been taught by Daelyn himself,” Otar replied. “You could call me a sage.”
I blinked. Only that last part had made any sense to me. “I’m going to make arrangements to go home now,” I said, taking my leave.
“I do not think it will let you leave this easily,” Otar said as I left.
Although I hate to admit it even now, he was right.