Whisper, that’s what the Lutins call it. It’s a good name, one that the blade likes. But that’s not its only name. Through time the great axe has had many names, grand and simple, apt and sarcastic, serious and humorous. All are born with patience or pride by the axe itself.
Since the first time I ever laid eyes on it. I’ve always wondered about Great Grandpa’s axe. I’ve wondered who made, how old it was and I’ve tried to imagine all the history that it’s seen in it’s long life. As a child I would stare at it and imagine the great heroes who had wielded it, and the glorious battles it had been a part of. Sometimes I still find myself doing that. The only difference is I no longer have to imagine. Caroline says I’ve spent too much time alone with the blade, but I know different. For you see, the axe talks to me, whispering of events long ago. Whispering of battles long over, fought by people long dead, on battlefields long forgotten. It whispers to me of cities and civilizations long returned to the dust they had come from. It whispers and I listen.
Metamor Keep 708CR
Southlands, on the Great Western Sea
It took a few moments for the mans eyes to adjust to the dark, cool interior of the building. Slowly the vast form of the interior of the workshop came into view like figures approaching out of a fog. A tall, brick forge filled one entire wall, towering over the room, its contents and the king. In all of Aritcherts previous visits that forge had been glowing red hot with a heart of fire, seemingly alive with flame and smoke. Now it sat cold and dark like it was brooding and waiting, ready to spring to life. The rest of the brick lined chamber was more mundane. Tables, benches and counters filled the open space of its interior, all arranged in neat rows and columns like soldiers on parade. Many were empty, holding simply dust but others were filled with all manner of objects, some mundane, others magical, all were mysterious and unknown to the warrior-king.
The warrior always felt uneasy in here. Battlefields, the throne room, the royal court; those places he knew well but this place was strange to him. It was filled with odd devices and tools of which he had no knowledge. Knowing that touching the wrong thing could earn him a swift and painful death made him all the more nervous.
But unease and nervousness never showed on his face or in his bearing. Those were two emotions Aritcherts dared never show openly, for as a divinely chosen ruler he must never show such weaknesses. Ever. The warrior stood tall and straight, with a look of cold determination upon his deeply tanned face. A goatee beard jutted straight out from his chin like the sharpened blade of a spear. The bronze scales of his armor protected a body hardened, scarred and well muscled from years of campaigning. Hanging from the crocodile hide belt was a sickle bladed sword with a long, ivory handle inlaid with gold, silver and electrum. It’s blade was of iron and covered from hilt to point with gold, silver and alabaster decorations. A smaller, bronze dagger just as well decorated hung next to the Khopesh sword. Gold, ivory and alabaster rings decorated each finger on both hands. Gold rings dangled from his ears and matched the bracelets that he wore on both his wrists.
A small figure suddenly appeared from out of the shadows that dwelled at the far end of the room. It raced up to Aritcherts and flung itself down on the floor at the Kings feet. He looked down at the figure with the cold disdain of a conqueror and a king. The person was a boy of around six or seven years old, dressed solely in the red and brown loin cloth of a slave. His black hair and skin tanned as brown as leather marked him as coming from one of the Kings southern conquests. The slave didn’t speak but just held his position in silence, waiting for permission.
“Speak slave,” the noble ordered.
“Oh great, powerful, all conquering warrior and ruler of the known world. To whom be life, prosperity, and health,” the boy said in a frightened voice. “My master Ayeth is in the summoning chamber and begs your indulgence to come there as soon as it pleases you.”
The warrior-king gave an almost indolent wave of the hand and effected an air of indifference. No matter how excited he felt inside he would never show it publicly. He had to maintain the air of a cold, always calm, supreme warrior king. He knew that the nickname he bore among his soldiers was Tha An; Man of stone. An apt name, stone was cold and unyielding, just like him. “You may guide me.”
With the speed and grace of a young gazelle the boy jumped up and raced along the tables and counters. In a moment he was lost in the shadows that he had appeared from.
Aritcherts followed after the slave walking with the slow measured pace and dignity of royalty among the tables and workbenches. In a moment he came to a long table made of a deep, rich brown wood that was empty save for a single candle in an ivory holder. But it wasn’t the table that drew his attention or the wine red color of the wax in the candle. What drew the warrior closer was the color of the flame; it was pure, jet black! The weirdly colored flame danced about like one of its normal brethren. He held his hand close to the flame but instead of heat the king felt a numbing cold. Pulling it back he continued his journey at a faster pace, keeping his hands close to his side.
It took him several moments before the opposite wall came into view, appearing out of the darkness like an apparition. Painted onto the white plaster of the far wall were numerous, complex and arcane symbols, full of loops, swirls and twisted ribbons of black, red and green paint. It was a strange and unknown language that seemed somehow vaguely familiar. But no matter how he tried Aritcherts could never decipher it or even recognize what language it was.
Whenever he looked straight at that wall the emblems seemed merely to be painted art. The thing that unnerved him was that every time he did examine the wall it looked different, as if the symbols themselves were moving around when his head was turned. Almost like they were taunting him with his ignorance.
It vaguely reminded him of the flowing script used by the forest dwellers but he wasn’t sure if that was true or just his imagination trying to make sense of the senseless. His intuition told him that not being able to understand that script might not be such a bad thing.
Trying to ignore the wall and its unsettling art he concentrated on the ocean blue door set in the middle of the wall, but it too had those strange unnerving symbols on it. Some painted, some actually carved into the wood, all were as unsettling as their painted brethren. Finally to find something normal his eyes drifted to the floor.
Prostrate on the gray stones in front of the door was the boy his body spread flat on the floor. Kneeling next to the child was a man dressed in a blue and white colored kilt and a white linen, sleeveless shirt. His short, black hair was done up in curls that bounced as he moved about. His body was held with a firmness that contradicted the wrinkles and lines of great age. He held his head down and he was staring at the cold, gray, stone slabs of the floor in front of him. Unlike the king he wore no jewelry nor carried any weapon save for a solitary electrum bracelet on his right wrist. The bracelet bore the picture of a winged ibis; the emblem of a mage.
Aritcherts moved slowly towards the waiting pair, taking his time. He had been through too many battles to hurry for anything. When he was a single step from the kneeling man the warrior stopped. With his hand he touched the mage on the shoulder. “Rise Arar Hekai Ayeth. I hope you have good news.”
“Yes oh great Peraya,” Ayeth spoke in reply as he stood up. He looked at the slave who was still kneeling. “Ready the table, Teb,” he said simply.
The boy bounded to his feet and ran off past the warrior.
“Doesn’t he ever walk?” the king asked chuckling when the two men were alone.
“This is about as slow as he gets,” Ayeth answered. “But he is young. He will slow down with time and wisdom.”
“You have finished the task I gave you five years ago?” Aritcherts asked.
“Yes and the results are far better then expected,” the mage answered with obvious pride. He pointed in the direction the boy had taken. “They all await you Great Lord.”
The ruler smiled and nodded, “Lead me.”
The trip led away from that wall and its strange covering, much to the Kings relief. It took them through a small door and into a section of the workshop he had never been in before. This room was a lot smaller then the rest of the workshop, barely twice the size of the platform of his chariot. The room was big enough to hold the two men, a large table, the slave boy and little else. Teb was standing in front of the table, which was covered with a large, light blue, silk cloth. There were bumps and ridges in the blue material that spoke of objects hidden underneath. Great treasures awaited discovery beneath that cloth.
Ayeth and the boy took positions at opposite ends of the table and slowly lifted the cloth clear. “As you requested Great Ruler, sword, hammer, spear, dagger and axe,” the mage announced. The mage handed his end to the boy who left the room burdened with silken cloth. But Aritcherts didn’t notice Teb’s movements, he only had eyes for the table and it’s contents.
Arranged on the wooden surface were five weapons, all wondrous to behold. First to catch his attention was a spear fully as long as Aritcherts was tall that lay at the back of the table. The weapons blade was as wide as a mans outstretched hand and shaped like a leaf. The long shaft was of cedar wood worked to the smoothness of the finest silk. The shape of the blade reminded him of the Mountain tribes his father had defeated when he was just a child. Hundreds of spears with blades shaped the same way filled the palace halls as a sign of Ayamhati’s victory.
Laying in front of the spear was a large combat hammer as long as his lower arm. Its head was as thick as one of the warriors, well muscled legs. both heads on the weapon were worked into a flat plane resembling a common workers tool only larger. But this wasn’t a tool meant for working wood or stone, it was designed to break bones and shatter skulls. It was a killing tool. It was an unusual weapon to be seen in Kkarrt, he had seen one like it only once before.
“Is this a Stone Eaters design?” the king asked pointing to the hammer.
The mage nodded. “Yes. You’ve seen such weapons before?”
“Once, while hunting ibex we came upon an old tomb,” the warrior explained. “The surrounding stone had weathered away and the contents were scattered across the hill side. I saw such a weapon clutched in the hands of the occupant.”
“Did you keep it?” the mage asked.
Aritcherts wheeled around and slapped the mage hard across the side of the face with his right hand. His left hand fell to the hilt of his sword. “DO I LOOK LIKE SOME FILTHY TOMB ROBBER,” he thundered.
The mage was mere seconds from death and knew it. He dropped full length to the floor. “My apologies great one. This stupid, foolish worm has insulted you.”
Still livid the king placed his foot on the back of the mages neck. He let him lay there for several minutes in silence to remind him just who was the ruler and who was the servant. The only thing that kept him from removing Ayeths head was that he needed the mage too badly. He stood motionless, trying to bring his anger under control, make it leave him.
Finally when the anger had passed he removed his foot and touched the mage on the shoulder with it. Slowly Ayeth stood up keeping his eyes lowered to the floor. With the touch of a finger the warrior brought the mages eyes level with his own.
“You need to remember your place mage,” the king warned ominously. “Gone are the days when your kind controlled the kingdom.”
“Our power is still great,” the mage countered in a cold voice.
“Not as great as in the past. If it were there would be only one weapon on this table and not five.”
Ayeth didn’t argue the point but just nodded in agreement. “All too true. Times change. Few wish to learn such a dangerous tasking, no matter how great the rewards.” There was a great sadness in his voice.
The warrior touched his fellow on the shoulder. “That might be true, but your workmanship shall endure for all times! Long after I am just a memory they will still be wielded and your name spoken with reverence.”
The magic user smiled at that and stiffened with pride. “These are my finest work,” he said and pointed to the weapons.
Aritcherts turned back to the table and looked again to what lay there. Sitting next to the hammer was a much smaller weapon. A thick hilt with an upswept cross guard at the point where blade met hilt. The blade itself was as thick and as long as the kings hand and was straight for most of its length, ending with a diamond shaped point. Unlike the spear, meant for killing at a distance, and the hammer which was meant for open field combat, this dagger was meant for something different. This weapon was for the nasty, bitter, ugly killing work of a warrior in desperate straights. Aritcherts also realized it would make the perfect weapon for an assassin.
At the front of the table, a mere fingers width from the edge rested a sword. The blade was as straight as a ray of sunshine streaming through a cloud. The weapon looked strong and there was no doubting that its edges were razor sharp. He had seen such swords before, many in his own army used them but not the warrior king. The Khopesh sword was the traditional weapon of Kkarrt. It was very closely associated with the fighting prowess of the kings. The very sword at his hip was over two centuries old. Its sickle shaped blade had dispatched many of Kkarrt’s enemies. Still the shape of a weapon didn’t matter, it was the skill and courage of the warrior wielding it that mattered most.
The last weapon was resting in the center of the table and stretched its full length. The head with two, huge blades were as wide as the table, overhanging the edges on both sides. It was truly a huge weapon whose design looked vaguely familiar. It took the warrior a moment to remember where he had seen it before. Many such axes were wielded by the warriors carved into the walls celebrating the defeat of the Sea Peoples. But even those weapons hadn’t been so large and had only one blade not two, this weapon was unique.
Despite their different shapes and sizes all five weapons had one thing in common, their color and markings. All were colored the deepest shade of black he had ever seen and were devoid of decorations of any sort. It was as if they had been forged from the very darkness of the blackest of nights. He noticed that no light reflected from the weapons. The light itself seemed to be simply absorbed into the metal. He could almost imagine falling into that blackness and vanishing forever.
“Why aren’t these decorated in a manner befitting myself,” the ruler asked, his annoyance plain to hear.
The mage simply smiled. “The spirits themselves demanded so during the summoning. You wanted weapons to defeat Shnut Tcheb; the great spear of the Darshimites and those you now see before you.”
“Completely black?” the warrior asked. “They did not want even the simplest of decoration?”
“No, “ came the explanation. “They were quite specific. Even the leather windings on the hilt had to be the same color.”
“Why?” Aritcherts asked.
Ayeth smiled enigmatically, “These weapons are to endure for all time. They have their own reasons.”
The king looked at his companion for a moment hoping for some explanation of that odd statement but nothing was forth coming. He wasn’t surprised by this, Ayeth loved to play the role of the strange and mysterious spell caster. Aritcherts wouldn’t take accept such behavior from any common man, but Ayeth wasn’t a common man, he was magic binder and they were strange and mysterious. Irtish said the man was insane. A point that Aritcherts was hard pressed to argue against.
“Try them,” the mage ordered. “But choose the one you touch first carefully. That will be your Ayha smai.”
Ayha smai – battle mate. The ruler understood what he meant. Although there were five weapons for him to use, only one would truly bind itself to him. The others would find their own Ayha smai in due time, each following its own destiny. Until then he would be tolerated to use them. That was tolerable to him, he only needed them for one battle.
“Which to choose?” the warrior/ruler thought to himself.
“Choose that which feels right,” was the mages enigmatic suggestion.
But which was right for him?
The spear was a fine weapon, many in his army used such a weapon, even he used it both on the battlefield and to hunt lions and leopards. But Shnut Tcheb was also a spear and he had seen too much of such weapons. Too many had died by its powerful magic.
The hammer was both powerful and deadly, but it’s reach was only as far as it’s wielders arm, not long enough to deal with that deadly spear.
No warrior went anywhere without a dagger at his hip. The warrior glanced at the dagger on his own belt. It had served him well in many battles and it was the dagger, hidden beneath his pillow that had save him from assassins the year before. Aritcherts remembered with some amusement that the assassins had wielded daggers shaped just like the one on the table. But a warrior who fought a spear with a dagger would soon be dead.
That left the sword and the axe. The sword was a weapon that Aritcherts felt comfortable with. He had been training to be a warrior since he had been old enough to stand, wielding a sword was second nature to him. Despite it’s odd shaped blade the warrior would have no trouble using that black weapon to deadly effect. But he didn’t grasp its hilt, instead his eyes wandered to that axe. That odd, mammoth axe.
Using the axe in combat would be difficult at best. It’s great length and large head would make it unwieldy in combat. With a handle that long it would need to be swung in a large arc that required lots of room. Aritcherts moved his hand toward the axe his fingers barely touching the metal as his hands skimmed over the weapon. Still, with those huge blades and the power imparted by the long swing it would be unstoppable. It would cleave through anything.
He grasped the handle of the axe with both hands and picked it up off the table. The weapon felt cool but surprising light in his hands.
“What metal is this?” the warrior asked. “It feels odd for iron.”
“It’s a new metal refined from iron,” was the answer. “In the barbarian tongue it’s called steel. It’s lighter and more durable but extremely hard to craft in. All five are crafted with it.”
“Does it have a name?” the warrior asked.
“No,” was the answer. “Of course all have a True-Name but not a Common name. That must be chosen with care.”
The warrior nodded. “I will give it a name after it is blooded in battle. Something worthy of it.”
Aritcherts brought the head of the weapon level with his own. Closing his eyes the warrior rested his face against the flat of the blade, trying to get a feel for it.
At first all he could feel is the metal where it touched his skin. It was surprisingly warm, it felt more like a living thing then something made of metal. It was unlike any weapon he had ever know. He had felt the touch of a weapon in his hands every day of his life, if not in battle, then in duels or in practice. His mind wandered back to those times. He remembered the long days spent with his father learning the use of the sword, the mace, the bow and the spear. The traditional weapons of Kkarrt. His most cherished memories of his father were the two of them in a chariot racing across the desert. The wind and sand whipping past them, the horses manes and tails and the chariots banners flapping loudly as they flew over the ground. It had all been so exhilarating. He had never felt so alive.
The warrior ruler thought back to how the charge of his chariots had broken the broken the Arysnian on the plains of Muresh. At the battle of Hartuf, after many days of maneuvering he had finally come to grips with the Harsit army. He shivered as he remembered the bloody, bitter fighting that had decided things. It had been a great victory, afterwards his soldiers had collected over eight thousand hands from the enemy dead. But it was a very costly victory, they had buried over three thousand of Aritcherts twelve thousand soldiers.
The only good to come from that whole campaign had been his beloved Abeb. The princess had been given to him as a trophy but she had soon worked her way into his heart. It was her pleading and cajoling that had made him agree to such modest demands for tribute. Her argument was that such great warriors as her people would make great allies. He had balked at the idea of mercy at first but she had been right as always. He would dearly need all the warriors he could get, and he could ill afford another such bloody victory.
They were great victories for which he was justifiably proud of. Then a thought had occurred to him. Had not all of those battles had been to defend territory his father had taken in conquest? The plains of Muresh had been Arysnian until his father had defeated them in battle and taken it as part of the peace treaty. And the hills of Maau had been home to the Harsit for centuries before his father had taken them in battle.
He remembered standing at his fathers side staring up at some great stone building that loomed half finished over him. Its great bulk blocking out the sun and casting a long shadow over him. Ayamhati had been dead for over fifteen years and yet like that building Aritcherts was still standing in the long shadow cast by his fathers memory. He lived in the palace his father had built, he worshiped in the temple his father had built. The great army he commanded had been organized and trained by Ayamhati. Even the very sword at his hip and the armor he wore had belonged to his father before him.
What did Aritcherts have to claim for his own? He hadn’t built any temples, or palaces or canals. The warrior king had built no monuments nor raised any obelisks to carry his name down through the ages. He hadn’t even begun construction on his own tomb. He had won many victories, but time had a way of erasing the memory of such things. Who now alive remembered the battles fought by his Grandfather? None, but people still spoke praises of the fine temple the man had built.
The great warrior realized that all he had done with his life was fight. When he passed into the sky to be judged what would he have to weigh in his favor? Had he honored the Gods with temples and obelisks? Had he staged great festivals in their honor? No, all he had done was kill many people. Somehow that felt wrong. Warriors spent their lives killing, but he was more then just a simple warrior he was ruler of the greatest people in the world!
With a start he pulled his head away from the axe and stared at it. He could see no reflection nor any sign of life in that black metal, yet he had the feeling the weapon was staring back at him, examining him as closely as he was examining it. Was it testing him? Was the spirit in that metal making him think back to past victories? Had the weapon made him think about more then just being a warrior? Why?
“Has the weapon spoken to you?” Ayeth asked.
“I am not sure,” Aritcherts answered truthfully.
The mage crafter laughed. “The spirit is subtle and slow to show itself. But it has accepted you.”
“How do you know that?”
“Simple,” the mages answer. “You are still alive.”
The warrior stared at his companion for a moment, trying to contain his rising anger, “Explain,” came the short bark of a command.
“These,” the magic user said, pointing to the weapons. “Are holders of great magic. Such power is easily misused and the spirit controls and guards this magic. Those that it deems wise and skilled enough are allowed to use it. Those that aren’t, die.”
“Even royalty?” Aritcherts asked in a cold tone.
“Yes,” was the answer. “What do you think would happen if your brother were to wield one of these weapons?”
The ruler simply nodded in agreement. His younger brother had many fine qualities but common sense and wisdom weren’t among them. Aritcherts had good reason to confine him to the palace. Still even under close guard he found ways of causing trouble. Soon he would have to find some permanent answer to the problem of Sheshi. It was a subject the warrior tried to think of as little as possible.
“What power does the axe possess?” Aritcherts asked, changing the subject.
The mage smiled enigmatically. “It has many powers both great and small that will be revealed to you in due time.”
The warrior scowled, “So I’m supposed to use this without any knowledge of what it can do?”
“Of course not. I will tell you the basics of its powers, the rest the axe will reveal to you with time and experience,” the mage answered. “Axe and warrior, you have both just met. You need to time to get used to each other, each needs to learn the foibles of the other. That takes time.”
A sudden thought came to him; Ayeth wasn’t being vague just to confound and confuse, the mage didn’t know the full capabilities of his creations and was unwilling to admit that fact.
Aritcherts gave the axe as much of a swing as the limited space allowed. He had the sudden urge to go outside, to a place where he could have the room to swing the axe freely. To test it’s true power. He knew that urge was from both the axe and himself, weapon and warrior.
He shook his head at the mage, “Time is something I don’t have. I received word today that King Sennacherib took the city of Aimth. That was the last of the cities in open revolt against him. He will march against Kkarrt within the month, of that I am sure.”
“Then you march soon?”
As cities go Ilturu was average for the Learent. Smaller then Mesdura but larger then Farnesh. The hill it was located upon was man made but not intentionally so. Once countless generations ago that hill had been merely small knoll barely visible above the level ground. A small village had been built upon it to take advantage of spring at its base. The surrounding lands were rich and the village flourished. The village soon became a town and then a small city. As generations were born, lived and died each added their own layer of trash the ground around them. Other times the town was destroyed, either by fire, earthquake or attack. Each time the survivors would bury their dead, level out the debris and rebuild. And so as the town grew higher upon the remains of its past incarnations. Now the hill was a low ridge and supported a city of some three thousand people. It was surrounded by verdant fields of wheat, and barley. The road leading to the town was surrounded on both sides by orchards full of date palms. Underneath them grazed sheep & goats. All told a prosperous city. But prosperity brought with it another danger, attackers; people who wished to make that prosperity their own by the sword or the threat of it. Armies would besiege its walls, trying to take it by the sword.
But Ilturu was hardly a helpless victim. It’s walls, made of dark gray rock that stood a little over twenty feet high and were plastered a light tan color. It’s strength was increased by tall towers and a massive gatehouse that stood some four stories tall. Behind the triangle shaped merlons of its battlements stood countless warriors ready to shower arrows, spears, javelins and stones down upon any attacker. To any other ruler the city would present a daunting place to assault. Even the army of Mintir which was arrayed around it’s walls would have had a long and bloody task to take the city. But the army wasn’t there to take the city, they were there to keep any of its citizens from escaping punishment.
Sennacherib could little for wheat, grain, goats, or sheep and even less about how tall it’s towers were or how skilled were its archers. He had come here for one reason – destruction. He was going to crush this city into the dust. To show all that to deny his right to rule would only earn them annihilation. Never mind that the taxes he imposed were far too heavy, never mind that for three years running he had taken their entire harvest to feed his army. All that mattered was they had dared to challenge his right to rule.
His black hair and beard was clipped short and kept in tight curls. On his head was the flat topped, purple cylinder shaped crown of Mintiri. He was dressed in a red, sleeveless robe made of the most expensive cloth. There were gold tassels dangling from all its edges and the gold scorpion emblem of Mintiri was embroidered over and over again along the entire length of the garment in silver and gold thread.
He was standing on a hill so close to the city he should have been holding his royal bow and been protected by his two shield bearers. In his belt should have two strong daggers hanging next to a finely made long sword. Nearby should have been the servants of his royal household ready with more arrows, or bows should he call for them.
Instead shield bearers and eunuchs stood a full spears throws distance. The only reason they had not moved further was that Sennacherib had ordered them not to. They knew all too well not to even consider disobeying.
The ruler stood alone at the apex of the hill bearing neither daggers nor sword. In his mind he had no need of such minor things. Just as he didn’t need the army, that was arrayed before the walls of the city to take it. He alone possessed the power to destroy entire cities. He alone was strong enough of mind and body to use that power. He alone was worthy of it.
The power itself was always in his hands or within quick reach. It was shaped like the black spear that was one of the five, but only vaguely so. Both had shafts that were a long as a man was tall and both were topped by a sharp blade. But that was all they had in common. This weapon had a blade at each end and both had fine oval points, like the tip of a javelin.
The Five were made of blackened steel and devoid of decoration. This weapon had a shaft of gold inlaid with silver and ivory. The blades themselves were made of mitheral hammered, smoothed and polished to a high glossy finish. The final addition was a red metal worked into the very point of the blades. To someone observing it the points looked as if they were covered with blood. Which wasn’t far from the truth. It had has many names in it’s long existence the most pleasant of which was Tanach Terea; City Slayer. It was a very appropriate title. One it had lived up to many times before, it would live up to it again now.
Opposite Sennacherib was the entrance to Ilturu. The massive gatehouse stood some four stories tall and was made of the finest stone. Over two score warriors stood ready with bows, slings, and spears stood at the battlements or behinds it thick walls. It’s gates each weighing a ton each were sheathed in iron and hardened to the consistency of stone.
None of this impressed the ruler. He would once and for all crush all resistance to his final rule. They would not go against him again.