This is the 120th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.
Sword of Destiny, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 30th March 2013
Word count: 834
“This is it,” the old man said handing over the long package wrapped in oiled cloth.
The younger man looked at it reverently. He had spent years searching, a trail of bodies laid in his wake, lives ruined. It was worth it, now he, above all others, had found it.
“Take it,” the old man urged, not understanding the man’s pause with the prize so close.
“Why?” the man suddenly asked.
“You’re on a quest. The whole world awaits the man who takes this sword,” the old man said.
“I don’t need it,” the man said suddenly making up his mind. “It’s not worth it,” he said with finality.
“If you say so,” the old man said. “Can I at least have the name of the man who would turn down the most powerful sword in existence?”
“Cri Toulou,” the young man said, “And I shall take my leave.”
“Before you do, will you not share a drink with an old man?”
“I suppose that’s fair,” Cri said.
They went further into the cave, a cave that appeared on no maps, that lay across a desert that was so dry it could dehydrate a man in hours if he wasn’t prepared.
“You know you’re not the first man to turn down this honour,” the old man said as he poured the drinks. “Many make it to the sword.”
“Then why is it still here?” Cri asked.
“Because any man that would take it is unworthy,” the old man said, “I was fortunate to make it all the way.”
“And you didn’t think it was worth it?” asked Cri.
“It ruined me. I only made it to the sword out of pure determination, I had nothing to lose,” the old man said, “And when I got here, and the sword was held out to me, I realised I had nothing left to win. It would be a life of fighting, I had made so many enemies, even if the sword was the one sword in all the world that could conquer anyone that faced it – it would take even more.”
“I guess it’s similar to me,” Cri said, “I’ve been through so much. I’ve been part of armies, I even led an army briefly. So much blood and suffering, and a lifetime of more, it’s not what I want. I think I’d like to retire to a farm somewhere, and forget it. I only finished because when I was on the cusp of the decision I finally came across the location of this cave. Might as well finish the road I started.”
“Yes, yes,” the old man said, “There’s something you need to do before you retire,” he said as he drank some of the sweet wine.
“Oh?” Cri asked curious.
“You need to take my place,” he said frankly.
“What do you mean?”
“Why do you think no one who finally gets here walks away with the sword?” the old man asked, “I invite them for a drink that’s laced with poison, and they die. It has always been that way. I’m not the first to protect the sword, and you won’t be the last.”
“And if I don’t want to?” Cri asked.
“I won’t give you the antidote to the poison you’ve just drunk,” the old man said frankly again. “Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s a peaceful life, there’s a library back there, a comfy bed. A lookout post to see the questers early on. And if anyone gives up the sword once they get here, you can hand the duty over to them.”
“Ah,” Cri said, “In that case I guess I have no choice but to accept.”
“Good,” the old man said, “It’s settled then. Take this,” he handed over a small vial.
Cri immediately swallowed the contents.
“Spend time getting to no this place, it’s more important, and more vital to the future than the sword itself. Read the tapestries, you will see why we do this,” the old man said between coughs that were suddenly racking his body.
“Are you okay?” Cri said leaping to his feet.
“I,” the old man started but was stopped by another bout of coughing, “I took the poision. I’m too old to make the journey back over the desert. It is better this way.”
Cri was trying to coax some drops of the fluid he’d drink from the container.
“No,” the old man grabbed Cri’s wrist forcefully, “It is time for me to go, and to face the consequences of my life.”
“I’m sorry,” Cri said.
“No, need,” the old man said, then his body went limp as the life left him.
That night, Cri buried the old men in the desert. He didn’t resent the man, he found, after the traumatic decade that proceeded this moment, a few years at peace here in the desert seemed appealing. He set about his new life, and the wait for the next power hungry quester to stumble across the cave.