* * *
I remember the two most important lessons I learned, in swordplay.
“Elias, are you hurt?”
I looked down at the sword.
We had only just begun the transition from practice blades, but I was eager to learn, and I had picked up the true weapon, hungry to know the differences between it and the dulled or wooden blades with which we first practiced. My brother stood closer than I realized. In our play, I had thrust, and he had jumped back, but not soon enough, and I had driven the tip up under his ribs, the blade cleanly piercing his skin. I remember the way he bled, staining the new tunic a brilliant scarlet.
“Elias? Dear Goddess–You! Marshall! Get a chiurgeon. And a priest. Now.”
I looked to my brother.
He was doubled over, and looking at me with wide, dark eyes. He had gone white-skinned, grey lipped. The instructor laid him to the floor, cursing furiously, and tore the tunic open, so he could see the wound.
“Elodie, what did you do?”
I looked down at the sword again.
I had still been holding it, and now was staring in awe at the tip. Two inches of the blade had been coated in glistening red. It ran down the fuller, seeking out my hand.
There was only a minimal guard — no basket or fancy quillions — and the blood ran right over it, and painted my fingertips crimson. The world greyed out, and everything felt far away. Before I could answer, the instructor reached out and slapped my cheek, hard enough that my ears rang. I dropped the sword and he grabbed my hand and pulled me down to my knees, putting my hands to Elias’s skin.
“Press here. Hold it. Don’t move.”
He ran, then, to see what the marshall’s delay was, leaving me alone with Elias. My brother stared up at me, and weakly laced his fingers in mine.
It cost him to speak, but I shook my head, unwilling to listen. I wouldn’t even look at his face, as he lay bleeding beneath my hands. His fault. How ridiculous was that? I was the one playing with the sword, not him. When the instructor and marshall returned with a cleric and medic, Elias was taken away for immediate surgery, and I remained. Someone would be sent for me — not my parents, as they would be with Elias — someone would come.
I sat in the practice hall, alone, for hours. It was my mother who did come, my mother the general. My mother who wore Elias’s blood on her breast, as I wore it on my hands. She came back for me, and I made her promise me three times that Elias would be well before I would pick myself up off the floor, where I still sat.
It was my mother who said the words I think on each time the banners are lifted, as I carry her broadsword. It is her words I think on as we march out to the field, facing off against our own kin. She is gone now, has been gone for dozens of moonturns, but I can still hear her voice reminding me:
“If you remember nothing else from this, Elodie, remember these two things: One, that you must never wield a weapon until you are ready for it to find blood. Two, a weapon does not care whose blood it may find.”
* * *