My wife passed away almost nine years ago, now. I haven’t forgotten her, though I’ve forgotten bits and pieces of her. I can’t picture the exact shade of her eyes anymore, though I can see a vague impression of her smile, if I try. I can’t remember exactly what she sounded like, though I can remember some of the things she said to me. I remember that her hair always smelled good, even when she hadn’t washed it, but I can’t bring to mind what, exactly, it smelled like.
I’ve heard people who have experienced a loss say things like, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.” That’s not been true for me. There are days, sometimes two or more right after one another, where I don’t think about her much, if at all. It’s been nine years. Memory and passion fades, after that kind of time. That’s just the way the mind works.
Sometimes I feel guilty about that, like maybe I should set aside time to think about her every day. Before bed, or something. Maybe if I’d done that all along my memory of her would still be pristine and untarnished, without little blurs where there used to be firm pictures.
Parts of her lived on in my son, of course, but he always took after me more than her. He had my light brown eyes and my stiff blond hair. I guess he had her nose, a little round button, but he was young enough that I wondered if he might grow out of that and end up with a nose that looked like mine, as well.
He was ten years old. When she died, he was close to one. He has no memories of her at all. All that she ever was lived, for him, only in the scant few words I spoke to him about her. He asked about her a lot when he was younger. He asked less as he got older, because he learned that I never had much of an answer, but he still did ask.
I wish I had told him more. I wish I’d told him stories of her every night, so that he could have felt like he knew her. Maybe it would have helped me remember her better. Maybe I wouldn’t have forgotten as much of her as I feel like I have, now. And maybe, if I’d told him how she died, he wouldn’t have died, too.
My wife died because of the swords, and now my son has, too. I feel like I’ve failed him as a father as surely as I failed her as a husband. I couldn’t protect either of them. I couldn’t save them from the swords or from themselves.
I guess that’s part of him that was always like her. He got her bravery. She died because she opposed the Final Empress. My wife believed the Final Empress had no right to her rule, and so she fought against it, because she believed it was the right thing to do, consequences be damned.
She fought with a sword in her hand. A living sword. My son never knew that, because I was too afraid to tell him. I was afraid for him to know that his mother was a warrior. I feared that if he knew she had opposed the Empress, that he would grow to resent her rule, as well; that he would want to grow up to be a warrior, and that he would die young, as his mother had, leaving me behind.
Well. Well, the worst of my fears has come to pass. My son tried to take a sword in his hand, and the very act of it killed him.
I’ve never seen a sword like this one. You know a living sword when you see one, even the weaker ones, and even if you’ve never seen one before. It’s like telling the difference between a person and a mannequin. A sword made by the hands of man is a dead, cold thing. A living sword is, well, alive.
This one, though — this one has power. I can see that just by looking at it. Its parents had power. When swords create offspring, they take whatever matter lies at the nexus of their influence and forge it, through strength of will, into a new blade. Some matter is more challenging to work. I know that metal, for instance, requires less power than diamond.
This sword, however, is made of the impossible. The blade isn’t matter. It’s light. I never knew such a thing was even possible. I had thought, at first, that the blade was merely glowing. I’ve seen such a thing before. It’s not, though. It’s golden light, emanating forth from the hilt in the shape of a blade.
There is anger building inside me. Anger, regret, and woe, all swirling together in a violent torrent. I have no outlet for it. I can’t be mad at my son, who lies still at the blade’s feet. It’s not his fault. It’s not. He couldn’t have known. Frankly, I couldn’t have known. I knew the blade would be dangerous, but to kill him at a touch…
I can’t be mad at myself. I won’t let myself be mad at myself. When my wife died, I wasn’t angry with her. I punished myself for it. I swore, when I made it past those dark days and I realized that it was my infant son, and not myself, who had suffered for my anger, that I would never do that to myself or to him again. I promised myself I would blame myself for things that were out of my control.
The sword, then. I can be angry at the sword. It’s alive. It has thoughts and intentions. It must have known what it was doing to him.
I pick up Dani’s body, cradling him in my arms. He feels so much heavier than he ever did in life. He’s always been thin and small for his age. His head droops to one side. Sobbing, I place my hand under it, supporting his neck like I did when he was a baby.
“Why?” I demand. My voice has gone ragged, torn up first by yelling at Dani not to touch the sword, and then by my sobs. “Why did you do this?”
The sword pulses. I don’t see it, but I feel it, like a rippling of its strength through the air between us. I know this feeling. I got to know Yva’s sword well, though we never got along. The sword is trying to communicate.”
“Speak up, then,” I say harshly. I take a step forward. It’s possible that I’m out of its range, but that seems unlikely. Given its make, it has to be powerful. “Why did you kill him?”
The sword tries again. I can feel it straining. I catch a glimmer of it, like a whisper on the wind, just loud enough that you can catch only the tone and not the message: confusion.
Hugging Dani’s body close to mine, I take another step forward. This will be my last. The sword is only a few feet away. If I leaned forward, I could reach out and grab its hilt. “Speak!”
The message from the sword is clear now: confusion and worry. There are no words behind its message. My brain fills in what it means to say, but the sword itself is communicating only with impressions. It doesn’t understand me. It sees that I’m angry, and doesn’t know why.
I shake my head, feeling as confused as the sword. “What did you do to him?” I ask. “Why him? Did you call him here?”
More confusion from the sword. It doesn’t recognize my words. Perhaps it grew up exposed to another language. Perhaps… but no, that’s not possible.
It wants me to reach out and touch it. I shake my head. Swords don’t see or hear, but they have knowing instead. They know their surroundings in a way that humans don’t. It should know what I’m doing. It should understand me, if not by words, at least by meaning. But I don’t think that it does. Its knowing must be very weak. Or, perhaps, unpracticed.
“You’re new, aren’t you?” I ask, not even believing my own words. Yet they’re the only conclusion I have. “You’ve just been born.”
The wordless meaning comes to me once more from the sword, and I know I’m right. Newborn humans communicate with their faces and their bodies and their cries, but swords don’t have expressions. Many of them don’t make any sound at all. When they’re first born, before they learn language, they communicate with simple impressions of what they want understood.
Talking to the sword will get me nowhere. I take a deep breath. My wife died almost ten years ago, and now my son, too, is dead. I have nothing worth having left to lose. I shift Dani’s body, so that his head rests uneasily over my shoulder. With one hand pressed tight to his back, I reach out with the other to touch the sword’s hilt.
A warmth flows into my body, and I almost recoil. I stop. It relaxes me. It feels good, like warm water flowing over my skin after a hard day in the cold. My eyelids flutter. Dani woke me from a hard sleep. I’m exhausted.
“What did you do to him?” I demand, hoping that now that I’m touching it, the sword’s knowing will let it understand me. “Why did you kill my son?”
The sword has no words, of course. It will learn them with time. Now, though, its message is more clear. I didn’t mean to harm him. I thought he would be strong enough to bear me. I was wrong.
“You killed him,” I say, putting all the dread and horror I can into the word.
No. The sword bucks at this, its heat briefly becoming a painful prickle. No! I tried to save him. He is inside me.
I lift the sword gently, fearing the repercussions of the act but compelled, by its words, to observe it more closely. I can see nothing more than I could before. A blade of light, and a hilt and guard and pommel of what seems to be cut crystal.
Yes. Not his body, but all the rest. I took it inside me so that I didn’t destroy it.
I feel, for the first time this evening, a spark of hope. “Dani is… alive?”
The sword does not know how to answer this question. The impressions I get are conflicting. I can make no real sense of them. The answer seems to be both yes and no. Something of Dani is inside this sword, but it doesn’t know if that qualifies as “alive.”
It seems to agree with me on one thing, though. Dani’s body is not alive. It knows that as surely as I do, with his limp limbs hanging at his sides in a way they never did when I carried him to bed at night, after he had fallen asleep elsewhere. This body, and whatever the sword has taken inside of it, are all that I have left of my son.