The Crown and the Shattered Sword

James’s Note: I’ve been starting to dip into a little more fantasy, which of course is what this story is. I had the idea for this story while planning a table top role playing game with my wife. It’s definitely a different style than I’m used to writing but I think it turned out alright. Think of it as a little bit fairy tale, a little bit parable, and a little bit legend. Warning: Any resemblance to a certain tribe of horse mounted warriors from Game of Thrones is completely in your head and I won’t stand for this kind of slander.

When I was born, my father was a Khan of the Golian horse tribes. In my first memory, he strangled a man with his bare hands. You see, the Khans did not rule by birthright, and only the strongest could lead. There was always some young warrior who thought he was stronger than my father. He made sure I was there for all his duels. I watched my father kill every challenger.

Because I was a girl, I could never be Khan. This never upset me. My father groomed me to be one of his generals. I was satisfied with that. Generals fight far less duels than Khans.

By my thirteenth year, I was taller than most of the men in our tribe. I was broad in the hip and chest, like my mother, but muscular like my father. I carried a two-handed scimitar in combat, even from my horse. From a gallup, I could swing it like a mowing scythe.

Just as I was almost old enough to ride with my father into battle, everything changed. An old witch woman had rode into our camp on a white mule. She told fortunes in exchange for food and precious things. A wise Khan always respects a fortune teller, and my father was never a fool. He gave her a golden necklace that he ripped from the neck of a desert king and invited her into his tent.

When he came out, he looked grave. Two days later, I sat in on my first Council fire. My father announced he was declaring war.

“With who?” asked his generals.

“Everyone,” he said.

We rode to war against every other tribe. After the first battle, my father shocked the tribe when he declared he was no longer Khan. He named himself King, and made a crown from the gold he took from the other Khans.

The Golian tribes had never had a King. We knew what they were. The lands we raided and sacked were often ruled by a king. The idea that a man should be above challenge and that his children should rule after him was foreign to us, but no one dared question my father.

Our warriors were strong and we were many. The other tribes fell before us. As we cut through the plains like a wildfire, the other Khans either bowed before my father or died. The tribes that wouldn’t join his new kingdom were slaughtered to the man. All their possessions were burned, save for the gold.

By the time I was a woman, my father was known by all as a King, and I was a princess. We were living in the palace my father took from a Ptomey trade prince when my brother was born.

The news ran through the palace like a fever. My brother had been born weak and stunted. His left arm was withered and he struggled to breathe. The midwife said the child should be put down, out of mercy. My father would hear none of it. The first man who suggested it got a broken jaw for his trouble. He picked up my brother, and cradled him in his arms. He named him Rasha, after a dead hero who could not be defeated in battle. The love in my father’s eyes was fierce and hard.

The next day my father took me for a ride. I knew what he wanted to tell me he had to be serious. It is said that anything important should be discussed from a horse.

My father told me that someday my brother would be King, but he would be King of a hard people. He said I would be my brother’s general and that he would need my strength. He didn’t ask me to love my brother, but he didn’t have to. I already did.

And so my brother grew up. He was plagued by bad airs and fluxes as an infant. He might have died before he learned to walk, but my mother loved him as fiercely as my father. She sent for a medicine woman from the mountain people she came from. The old woman they sent looked half a hag and half a twisted willow tree. She gave my brother poultices and willow tea for his fevers and herbal steams for his lungs. By the time he was five, he was as healthy as any boy, though still small and weak. She could do nothing for his withered arm.

When my brother began his training, father put him with one of his oldest warriors. The old man was merciless, but he was clever. He worked hard to make my brother strong. He also taught him how to fight stronger men. He taught him how to win.

By the time he was 13, my brother was a capable warrior. Not the best, but neither was he the worst. His teacher had trained him to exhaustion, and occasionally to collapse, but it worked. He learned to use a short one handed saber. He even studied the fencing styles of some of the coastal kingdoms. In their style, they fought with one arm behind their back. It didn’t matter that he only had one.

Of course he faced mocking from the other boys. When a giant of a boy tried to grab his withered arm, my brother’s foot flashed out and caught him in the crotch. Before he could recover, my brother slammed the elbow of his good arm into the boy’s face and rode him to the ground. He shattered the boy’s jaw and one eye socket before he was pulled off of him.

I was the only one who saw my father watching from his balcony. I was the only one who saw him smile.

On his 14th birthday my father presented my brother with a sword. When I saw it, my heart dropped into my stomach. It was beautiful, no doubt, sharp as a razor with a hilt decorated in gold and fine gemstones. The blade was long, almost as long as mine, with a handle too short for both hands. It was exactly the kind my father wielded. He famously mocked other men for not being able to swing it.

At first I thought he had given it to my brother by mistake. When I realized it wasn’t, I became so angry my vision went red. I could see the look of embarrassment and fear on my brother’s face. There was no way he could wield that. His good arm wasn’t strong enough, and he sure as all the hells couldn’t use his other one.

I spoke up to my father. I told him he was mistaken, that he should get my brother a sword more to his style. His hard look struck me silent.

He said his son was a prince and would wield a prince’s sword. Henceforth, he would use no other sword in training. I had to swallow my wrath. If it had been anyone but my father, I would have struck him to the ground. But I kept my silence.

My heart broke as I watched my brother struggle. His training had been going well. He wasn’t the best swordsman, but he was respectable. Now he struggled to even perform the most basic drills. I watched as he sweated and bled in the training yard, refusing to give up.

Finally, as my brother was struggling to use his new sword against a training post, my father strode into the training yard. He walked right up to my brother, and with his face as hard and passive as a marble statue, he demanded my brother give him the sword.

I could see the shame on my brother’s face as he handed it to my father. I looked on in shock as my father took this beautiful sword and, his huge muscles bulging, shattered it into over his knee.

My brother’s face was a mask of horror, until my father handed it back to him. What was left of the blade was the length of my brother’s arm and even where it had broken made a good cutting angle.

My father commanded my brother to continue training. To his credit, he did it without hesitation. With the sword lightened, it was no longer too heavy for him. A grin spread across his face as it flashed and danced in his hand, just like his fencing masters had shown him.

My father looked at everyone assembled, for a crowd had started to gather around. I will never forget what he said. 

“Just because a thing is broken does not mean it is not useful.”

My brother adored that sword for the rest of his life. When he finally became king, they called him King Rasha, the Shattered Sword. He made a good King. If a dual needed fighting, I fought it for him. I never lost in my brother’s name. This wouldn’t have worked for a khan, but it worked for a king.

On my father’s deathbed, he drew me close. He wanted to tell me a secret. Something he had never told anyone else in his entire life. He told me what the fortune-teller told him that night in his tent. It broke my heart that he couldn’t tell me from a horse.

She had told him that his son would be born crippled. That his son would never be Khan.

That is why he did what he did. That is why he changed our entire people and brought nations to their knees. He loved his son so much, before he was even born, that he forged a crown for him to wear.

They still tell stories about my father’s strength and ferocity. They even talk about his cruelty. But they know nothing of his love.

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