So speaks the faerie Sianann as she musters what is left of her powers in a desperate attempt to save her beloved homeland. In 1713, Scotland's Jacobite rebels face their darkest hour. They need new blood, a new leader to help them fight English oppression. And they are about to get one...
Dylan Matheson is an ordinary guy with ordinary problems: family, girlfriend-the usual. But he likes his life, living above the dojo where he teaches martial arts and swordfighting. Then one day at a Medieval Faire, he sees a magnificent broadsword. He takes it in hand-and is transported to a time and place he's only read about.
Now Dylan Matheson, ordinary guy, is about to embark upon an extraordinary adventure. And it will take all of his skills-plus a bit of magic-just to survive.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||515 KB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The aristocratic voice of the red-coated English Captain droned as he read the order of eviction, words snapping one after another in his hurry to say them. His precise enunciation never faltered. Sinann Eire watched from the cover of high branches in a nearby tree, as aghast as those whose belongings were being loaded into the wooden cart.
Ending in a perfunctory monotone, the Englishman then refolded the document and stuffed it into his coat pocket. He sat straight as a ramrod and spurred his light sorrel gelding to the other side of the cart, riding as if he had been born in the saddle. More Redcoats, each with a musket slung over his back and a sword at his side, scurried to and fro, methodical as ants. It was a misty day, and though patches of blue sky were visible, there were showers along the southern ridge and low clouds hugged granite crags that jutted on either side of the tiny glen.
A black and white sheepdog barked and danced around the yard at a safe distance while young Alasdair, the father of the displaced family, railed under his breath in venomous Gaelic against the English monsters. His wife, Sarah, urged him to be still. She herded their three small children into a cluster behind her and took the youngest onto her hip, but though she tried to draw her husband away from the soldiers, he shook her off. Her voice went shrill with desperation. Sinann, too, could see blood in Alasdair’s eye and knew the wife had no hope of calming her husband. The faerie longed to fly down there, but if she let anyone see her it would only make matters worse, witch-hunts being what they were. In her rage she jumped and shook the branch that held her weight. Nobody below noticed the tree rustling in a nonexistent breeze.
One dragoon, carrying a long bundle, ducked out of the door of the low, thatched peat house. Alasdair gasped and swore, his already ruddy cheeks darkening to feverish red. He made a move to intervene, but Sarah held him back, her fingers digging deep into his arm. In the soldier’s hands, wrapped in a ragged old Great Kilt, was the ancient claymore sword handed down through five generations of fathers and sons. Alasdair’s eyes followed the dirty and crumbling feileadh mór, from which protruded the two-handed grip decorated in Celtic knot design and straight double quillons, as the dragoon offered the gigantic sword to his superior.
“Lookit what I found, buried in a corner.”
The Captain grunted. “In the cart.” He gazed about, satisfied with the find. “There’s one less sword to kill our men.” He said it as if he’d single-handedly saved untold English lives.
The dragoon set the weapon in with the other household goods: wooden bowls, linen clothes and sheets, iron pots and utensils, sacks of wheat and oats, wool, flax, a plow, a harness, a sickle, stools, a wooden table, bedding, and the small family Bible in the English of King James I.
Sinann was the only one who saw the look of hopelessness cross the Scot’s face at sight of the Bible, and she understood he had decided to die rather than watch the English take everything. She emitted a long, loud cry of despair, which nobody heard for she’d hidden the sound of herself from the mortals, as well as sight of her. Tears sprung to her eyes, as she remembered her dear Donnchadh, who had died horribly not so long ago at the hands of this very Sassunach.
Alasdair shook himself loose from his wife, lunged at the Captain, and caught the blood-red coat in his fists. The officer’s hat flew from his head and landed on the sod behind. He cried out and kicked at his assailant. The Scot, his nose bloodied, kept hold and tried to pull the Englishman from his horse. The animal whickered and backed away, but the young man followed. The officer kicked again, swore, then called to his men.
“Get the bloody bastard off!”
The nearest dragoon, lips pressed together, hauled back with the butt of his musket and knocked Alasdair sideways. Sarah screamed and set the baby down with his brothers. The children cried, more at their mother’s terror than any real understanding of what was happening. Undaunted, the Scot pursued the retreating horse and attempted another hold on the officer, who hauled back in the saddle as far as he could and kicked again so Alasdair stumbled. He hit the dirt with a grunt. As he tried to rise and renew his assault, the dragoon turned his musket and fired.
The back of his head was blown off by the force of the ball, bloody bits strewn over the dooryard. Still Alasdair stood for the briefest moment, his chin on his chest, until he dropped to his knees, then all the way to the ground so his face thudded on the sod. A pool of dark blood quickly stained the ground and soaked into the turf. Sarah shrieked in terror.
The horse danced, skittish at the excitement and noise. The officer reined away with a hard yank at the bit and circled from the corpse to bring the steed under control. A look of disgust crumpled the well-bred lines of his face, and he looked away as the woman ran to her dead husband. The children were all screaming now, like hysterical tin whistles, taking little steps this way and that as if unsure whether to approach their dead father and grieving mother. Tears streamed down Sinann’s face.
“Sorry, sah.” The soldier who had fired stared at the body spoke as if he’d had to shoot a mad dog.
The officer sniffed and brushed a piece of pink skull from his coat. “Oh, well. Nothing for it, I suppose. Can’t expect sense from them.” His clear, brown eyes narrowed at the cacophonous brood. He addressed his men.
“Hurry this along. Before their relatives come swarming and we have to shoot our way out of this wretched place.”
“Aye, sah.” The soldiers hurried at the loading, having their orders.
Sinann’s fists clenched and unclenched. Oh, how she wished to curse them all! How she would love to wave her hand and bring them bad luck and death as she had done many times in the far distant past! She waved her hand, but only succeeded in popping two buttons on the Captain’s coat. They went ignored. If only her powers weren’t failing. She leaned her face against the trunk of the tree in which she sat, and fought the tears. If only her people weren’t so powerless! If only Donnchadh...she sobbed, her heart broken. If only.
She sighed and watched the loading of the cart, then the lighting of the house as a torch was thrown onto the thatching. Quickly, the dried straw caught, and flames licked from thatching to peat walls. Fire grew and consumed, and grew stronger. The remnants of the family watched their home burn, until the roof tree collapsed in a rain of sparks and the fire slowly died into blackness and glowing red embers.
Having seen their task accomplished, the soldiers mounted their horses and the order was given to ride out with the herd of cattle. The cart with two goats tied to it brought up the rear, pulled by a single mare and driven by a soldier who perched on the front rail. The claymore, bundled in faded, rust-colored tartan, stuck out of the rear of the possessions like a captured flag.
Sinann’s heart galvanized and she hiccuped through her tears. Her voice became low and dangerous, roughened as it was by her crying and anger.
“I think not, laddies.”
She leapt from the tree and spread her white wings to swoop down on the cart. She hovered for a moment over the hilt of the claymore, gathering her strength, then grabbed it by the quillons and pulled.
It didn’t budge. She muttered some very bad language, even for faeries, flew to catch up with the moving cart, and grabbed it again. This time it loosened from the other goods. One more yank, and the sword flew free. Taken by surprise, Sinann almost dropped it. But she was determined not to let the English have this weapon, so she held on and kept it airborne. The dragoons rode onward, unaware of the theft to their rear. She swooped and wobbled, then steadied herself over the road. Each hand held a quillon, and she carried it back to the destroyed house.
Sarah and the children had fled to safety, most likely the Tigh in Glen Ciorram below, and it would be a bit of a walk over steep terrain to the castle on the loch. The corpse lay where it had died, to be buried by the clan when the men could be summoned.
Sinann rose into the air. The large claymore pulled at her arms and tried to slip from her fingers. She was scarcely four and a half feet tall, thin and not strong. But something had to be done. The killing had to end. Tears returned, and she blinked them back. Yes, something had to be done about these English, and if she was powerless to stop them and her people were powerless, she still had to do whatever she could. She let go of the sword, then hovered and watched it fall to earth to stick in the sod below.
She settled to sit cross-legged on the ground, gasping to catch her breath. The sword stood over her, a silhouette against the now-purple sky. One or two stars had made an appearance. After a short rest, she stood, nearly as tall as the sword, and squeezed her eyes shut to cast the spell in the old tongue:
“Ancient sword of my people, the life within you brings life to those who belong to this land. Bring me a hero, a Cuchulain, to save from tyranny the sons and daughters of this land. Let a Matheson lay hands on you and become that hero. By the powers of earth, moon, and sun, by the powers of air, fire, and water, the will of the great art be done.”
Sinann then stood back as the sword glowed for a moment. It shimmered in the gathering gloom, with a promise of power the faerie hadn’t felt in ever so long. Her heart swelled with hope.
She turned as the pounding gait of a galloping horse came from up the road, and her moment was shattered. The English officer rode up, blond queue flying, and reined his horse to a skidding stop as he searched the ground. Sinann stood still as she willed him to go away, but his knees urged the horse farther on, until he found what he was looking for: his hat.
Quickly he leapt to the ground, snatched up the hat, and slapped it against his breeches to remove some dirt. Then he set it on his head and remounted.
Sinann breathed with relief. He would leave.
But, just as he was about to spur his horse after his troops, he spotted the sword stuck in the dooryard sod. He uttered a disgusted noise, then guided his horse to the sword, nearly overunning Sinann as he did so. With one hand he reached down and pulled the claymore from the ground, held it with the long blade away from himself and the horse, and galloped away to his men.
The faerie sagged to the ground, her wings drooping, and laid her face in her hands.
Moments passed. Mere moments, she was sure, though it could have been longer. It could even have been much longer. The sun was almost gone, though it was not quite dark. But a glow came to the air above the spot in the dirt where the sword had been. Warmth gathered. Sinann looked up, hardly able to believe her eyes. The light grew bright, until it began to take shape. It was a man. A tall man, wearing kilt and sark. Then, as the glow died, the form became solid. Braw and bonnie, he was, real and breathing.
Sinann’s heart soared, and she fluttered into the air, eye level to him.
He looked around, his eyes wide. Sinann examined him closely, for he couldn’t see her unless she willed it. He swallowed hard and blinked, then shook back a shaggy lock of dark hair long enough to tie in a queue but too short to bother. His eyes were blue, though his skin was the darkest she’d ever seen with the exception of the southern races from over the sea. But he wasn’t a Moor, nor even a Roman. He was a Scot, all right; she could see it in the line of his brow and the light of his blue eyes.
The man squeezed those eyes shut, and when he opened them didn’t seem anymore pleased with the view than before. He turned, looked, and turned again. Then he spoke, and Sinann’s heart clutched with alarm. His words were English.
“Holy moley,” he muttered to himself. “What just happened?”
Shelter #3 at Moss Wright Park was where the administration tables had been set up for the Fifth Annual Middle Tennessee Clan Society Highland Games. Almost the entire park was filled with people of Scottish ancestry from all over the state, most in plaid of one sort or another. Some of those plaids were established setts of real clans, some fanciful, some in modern style, and others part of a traditional costume.
Dylan pulled his sword from the back of his jeep, hung the leather baldric across his chest, then slipped the scabbarded sword through the frog and secured it at his side. He headed on to check in, along with a scattering of others who wore brightly colored MacNotice-me tartan. Dylan didn’t particularly care for the modern colors that didn’t exist back when kilts were daily dress in Scotland. Day-Glo oranges and electric blues stood out from the crowd, mixed in with the more authentic greens, browns, and rust-reds. His was the Matheson sett of red with a fine mesh of black, dark blue, and dark green against it.
The enticing smell of food booths wafted past, and though he’d just eaten breakfast, he looked forward to lunch. None of the competitions and demonstrations had begun yet, but clusters of men were forming up yonder on the fields, and some men in kilts were setting up equipment. Painted lines defined fields for tossing cabers, exhibition sparring with swords, and other traditional pastimes. A set of bagpipes warming up in the distance sounded in short spurts of intermittent song that drifted among the rustling trees.
A squeal of delight came from somewhere nearby, and the corners of his mouth turned up. The Girls were here, though he was never sure this was a good thing. He’d expected the teenage trio and, though on any other day he would as soon they’d stayed home, today his torn ego welcomed a visit from the wide-eyed gaggle.
Cay, Silvia, and Kym were all Saturday morning kung fu studentsnot a one of them over seventeenwho had less interest in martial arts than they did in the teacher they all thought was just totally adorable. Well, maybe Kym had a genuine interest in the study.
Dylan got a kick out of the attention, and often wished he’d had that effect on teenage girls a decade before when he himself had been a teenager. The girls were sometimes amusing and sometimes a pain in the ass, but today he guessed it’d be a blessing to let them salve his ego. He smiled his best cute teacher smile as the threesome ran up to greet him.
“Hey, Mr. Dylan!” cried Cay. She wore a plaid skirt that was a uniform from private school and a red poet’s shirt she must have thought looked period. The other two girls wore jeans and tank tops. Their bra straps were visible, and it made him feel old that he didn’t understand this fashion quirk.
“Hey, yourself.” He adjusted the baldric on his shoulder as he walked. They followed like pilot fish. “Y’all been practicing real hard?”
They assured him they exercised their martial arts skills everyday, like good little ninjas. “Which sword did you bring this time?” Kym peered at the scabbard as if to see through to the blade.
“A new one. Well, a new-old one. It’s a Scottish broadsword replica made in Toledo. Spain, I mean.”
Silvia giggled. “Hey, Dylan, show us your sword!”
He suppressed a smile and ignored the obvious entendre as he paused to draw the sword. The girls oohed dutifully over the shiny blade and steel basket hilt. “It’s a replica after one from the middle of the eighteenth century. See, there, they even engraved the blade with Jacobite mottoes.”
“What’s a Jacobite?”
Dylan opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. Dang, how could he explain centuries of Scottish history to a teenager who barely knew where Scotland was and likely wasn’t interested anyway? He said, “They fought for Scottish independence from England.” Sort of.
Kym said, “Like the American Revolution, right?”
He considered that. “Yeah, I reckon. Only they lost.”
Her face fell. “Drag.”
Dylan chuckled, and imagined the Jacobites’ reaction to the defeat must have been a mite stronger. He scabbarded the sword and continued walking.
The girls followed. Cay said, “You’ve got great knees. What’s under that kilt?”
His eyes narrowed at her. “Never you mind.”
“Oh, come on!”
Now they had to see what was under the kilt. “Oh, Dylan! Please! Please, please, please!” they chorused. Cay giggled like a maniac, and Silvia jumped up and down.
With a heavy sigh, he reached for his hem. The three stood back, wide-eyed and breathless that he was actually going to do it. He stifled a grin, then rucked the red plaid wool up to his hip.
They laughed. Tucked into the kilt was his linen shirt, and the tail of it was almost as long as the kilt itself. It covered all, like a slip, nearly to his knees.
He let down the tartan. “Happy?”
“No,” said Cay with a big, sunny smile.
He chuckled and started off again. They followed.
“Think this thing’s got enough cloth?” Cay tugged at the plaid thrown forward over his left shoulder, slung around the right side of his waist, and then across his back and up over the shoulder again. The end was secured with a large steel brooch bearing the Matheson crest of a hand, wielding a sword, emerging from a crown. Engraved along the outer circle of the brooch was the motto: Fac et spera. Do and hope.
“Don’t pull, it’s all of one piece. The kilt and the plaid.”
She pulled again. “It sure is soft.”
“I said, let go. It’s soft because it’s real Highland wool.”
She poked at his belt. “Really?”
He dodged. “Really. It’s an authentic feileadh mór. An old-style Great Kilt. To put it on, I have to spread it out on the ground, lie down on it, then belt it on. Leave it aloneyou’ll pull it crooked....” She pulled on it, and he warned, “I’m fixing to smack your hand, girl.” Finally, just as they reached the admin tables, she listened and quit fooling with his belt.
Some of the folks there whom he’d met at other games, and others just from around town, greeted him and he waved back. There were lots of unfamiliar faces as well, all eager to experience the culture of their ancestors. Dylan took a deep breath as his soul eased with the pleasure of the day, and wondered if this was how it had felt at a real gathering of the clans, where greeting old friends and making new ones was as important as the games themselves.
Cody Marshall caught his attention in the midst of the milling people, and he gave her a cheerful smile as she wended her way toward him with Raymond, her husband, in tow. Dylan had known Cody all his life, but not the husband; the man always seemed a mite vacant. Weenie was the word that popped into Dylan’s mind. His hair looked like it was made of polyester, long in front and graying just enough to give it a sheen of plastic fibers. But Cody loved the guy to pieces, so who was he to criticize?
Cody was in a seventeenth-century plaid overdress and bodice, her shiny red hair plaited and pinned under a white linen kerchief folded into a three-cornered corrachd tri-chearnach. But Raymond wore denim cutoffs and a T-shirt that declared him a Titans fan. Dylan said to Cody, “Well, if it isn’t the Scottish Maiden!”
She laughed. “You think I don’t know what that means, but I do. You think I want to cut off your head?”
“I’ll just bet.”
She said, “But I wouldn’t, because you’re the one who taught me how.”
He gave her an air kiss and murmured, “Ciamar a tha thu?”
“I’m fine,” Cody replied to his query, which was the only Gaelic she knew. “Yourself? Where’s Ginny?” She looked around.
Dylan’s gut clenched, and he shrugged a shoulder. “History.”
Cody gave him a bless your heart smile of sympathy and said in a low voice, “You’ll forgive me if I fall down dead from Not Surprised.” Dylan peered at her, wondering what she knew, but she shrugged. “I had a feeling.” Then she put her hand on his arm and changed the subject. “Oh! I just saw the most fabulous claymore! A real one!”
Dylan’s interest perked. “No kidding? How old?”
“Centuries”. At least four hundred years. Maybe five.”
Dylan looked around at the milling crowds and display tables, hoping to spot the sword. “Fantastic! I’ve got to“
Raymond interrupted. “Something I’ve been wondering about. Isn’t Matheson an English name?”
“It’s not.” Dylan almost slipped into a Scottish accent at the thought of how his ancestors would have reacted to such an accusation.
Raymond smiled. “But the son part“
“The clan’s traditional homelands were in the western Highlands. Matheson is only English in that it’s an Anglicization of MacMhathain, which, I’m told, means son of the heroes. Or son of the bears, which in the traditional iconography means more or less the same thing.”
Raymond’s eyebrows went up, which Dylan found annoying. The man said, “I keep forgetting how well read you are on this stuff.”
Dylan shrugged and looked around for an excuse to leave, but found none, so he replied, “I got curious when I was a kid and found out I was named for a famous member of Clan Matheson. My grandfather used to tell this story all the time before he died. He didn’t know exactly when the guy lived, but there was a Matheson, name of Black Dylan, who was a highwayman. Used to rip people off all over Scotland, but they still thought he was some sort of hero. Dad thought of the name because of the color of my hair, and Mom liked it because she was a huge Bob Dylan fan at the time. So I’m named after a guy who was probably hung for lifting cattle, or robbing coaches, or something. Which, I expect, is more than you ever wanted to know.” He offered Marshall his social smile, with teeth.
Raymond said, without a sign of sarcasm, “For someone who lives in the past the way you do, it must be hell to live in the twentieth century.”
Cody chirped, “Twenty-first century.”
Raymond smiled at her. “No, hon, not for another three months when the calendar turns 2001.” His voice went to a conspiratorial stage whisper. “That’s why the movie wasn’t called 2000: A Space Odyssey.”
There was a brief silence as Dylan and Cody stared at Raymond. “Anyway,” Dylan said, “come on, Cody, show me that clay“
“Dylan Matheson?” It was the admin guy with a form in his hand. “I need you to fill this out. Insurance. We need it if you’re going to take that there sword out of its scabbard.” He wore a green-and-black military-style kilt with a matching waistcoat and plaid. His hair was decidedly non-period, neatly trimmed for a twentieth-century office job.
Dylan sighed and went to do paperwork, and Cody wandered off with her husband to enjoy the rest of the festival. Dylan figured he’d hook back up with them later.
The broadsword exhibitions weren’t until the afternoon. Ronnie would arrive after covering the Saturday morning classes at the dojo, so Dylan and the girls hung out for the morning and watched the more brawny types throw telephone-pole-looking cabers, stones, and whatnot. Dylan was well built, but some of those men were like mountains. Several wore their hair long, and on the field at their competitions reminded him of Klingons in drag. He himself was built more like a quarterback than an ox, and he liked his swords just fine. He didn’t much see the point in hurling logs, a sport Cay called “chunking the pole,” which struck Dylan as so funny he chuckled periodically for the rest of the morning.
The girls followed him around the entire morning, and along the way the group picked up another couple of students, Steve and Jeff, who were also in a Saturday morning class. The day was beginning to feel like a field trip, and he wondered if there was anyone left for Ronnie to teach. They caught up with Cody and her husband in time for lunch.
The food booths offered meat pasties and sausage rolls, scones and bannocks, turnip greens cooked in ham (though Dylan wasn’t sure if that was a concession to the Tennessee crowd or a Scottish thing that had become a Southern thing by emigration), tarts, fish and chips, shortbread, American beer, and imported English ale. The kids ate hot dogs and drank Coke, though Dylan was able to talk Kym into trying a bite of mincemeat pasty. Haggis was available, but not even Dylan wanted to eat boiled sheep guts, no matter how traditional.
Ronnie arrived just in time to eat with them, and the group squeezed onto one cement picnic table. The breeze was gentle and the trees threw dappled shade over them. A cluster of marching pipers passed, and Cody grimaced. “You know, I like bagpipes, but I swear, if I hear 'Scotland the Brave’ one more time, I’m going to run, screaming, into the next county. I’m beginning to feel like I’m trapped in a men’s cologne commercial.”
Dylan hee-heed into his lunch. “Well, watch out. Their other song is ‘Amazing Grace.’”
Cody rolled her eyes, then chattered about how wonderful all the men looked in their kilts. She ragged Ronnie a little about not wearing one, and he declared them uncomfortable.
She nodded and said, ''I bet for guys that wool and linen under there must get pretty rough. Probably a lot easier for Dylan to wear those things, seeing as how he’s not been circumcised.’’ She took a big bite out of her pasty.
The table fell silent. Dylan’s ears warmed, and he began picking flakes from the pastry of his meat pie. Raymond stared hard at his wife. The students sneaked looks at Dylan’s reddening face.
Cody looked around the table, swallowed the bite she’d taken, and said, “What?” Then she laughed. “Oh, for crying in a bucket of bolts! We were four years old! We played Show Me Yours I’ll Show You Mine in the bushes behind his garage. I haven’t seen it since. Relax, you guys.”
The girls giggled helplessly, snorting through their noses. Dylan sighed. Raymond said to Cody, “And did you reciprocate?”
She rolled her eyes again. “Of course, I did. I’m not a welcher.”
Dylan cleared his throat and said, “Anyway, I find my kilt comfortable enough, thank you all for your concern.”
The girls collapsed onto the table in paroxysms of laughter.
The broadsword exhibitions were after lunch. Dylan gave an instructional talk to a fair-sized cluster of onlookers about the techniques of broadsword fighting. He demonstrated some in slow, careful motions, then trounced Ronnie in a carefully staged and rehearsed duel, complete with dialogue. Dylan played the Jacobite hero defending his homeland, and Ronnie was hissed and booed by the crowd as the Lowland fop, waving a lace handkerchief in his free hand. It was nearly impossible to keep a straight face while shouting at each other, ''You scoundrel!’’ and ''Filthy Sassunach!’’ At the end Ronnie gave a less-than-convincing, staggering, reeling death that had Dylan smothering a smile as he scabbarded his sword.
“You ham,” he said as he helped his assistant off the grass. Ronnie just laughed and bowed to the crowd.
After his own bow and the crowd’s applause, Dylan took his entourage on a tour of the sword display tables. He was pleased to show his martial arts students a wider variety of European weapons than his own collection. He pointed out the differences between the English and Scottish broadswords (in general, fancy vs. affordable), then discussed how to tell those from a rapier and a rapier from a smallsword, explaining the century-long evolution from broadswords that cut to smallswords that could only stab. Then they came upon the claymore Cody had seen.
Dylan uttered a small moan at sight of it, and reached out to touch the glass cover of its case. It was a real claymore from the fifteenth or sixteenth century, maybe even earlier, not the later basket-hilt claybeg.
He’d never seen one up close that wasn’t a replica, and he ached to hold it in his hands. The straight quillons that slanted toward the blade had no finials and were sharp, and the grip had an intricate, interwoven Celtic pattern so graceful as to entrance the eye. It was a monster weapon, able to cleave a man’s head in half to the shoulders, not meant for stabbing so much as for hacking pieces from an opponent. It had a two-handed grip, which was required to control and balance the long blade. Oh, how he longed to try it out!
The owner of the sword, a Yankee named Bedford, declined to allow it. “Can’t,” he said. “It’s a family heirloom. My great-great-great...” He paused for a moment, counting on his fingers, “great...well, one of my ancestors was in the English army back during the reign of Queen Anne, and he captured it somewhere in Scotland. Up until about ten years ago, it hung in the house where my grandfather grew up, in London. When his brother died, my grandfather asked my cousins for the sword for me.”
“It belongs in a museum.” Dylan couldn’t take his hands off the case, as if by pure will he could feel the weapon beneath the glass.
“Maybe when I die. Unless one of my kids wants it.” He had an odd way of speaking. Precisely, but with utter ease and a vocal tone that was almost lazy. He was the most casual, composed Yankee Dylan had ever seen.
“How did you get it out of the country, it being an antiquity and all?”
Bedford grinned and slipped into a passable English accent. “Smuggled it up me arse.”
Dylan and his entourage laughed, then Dylan looked the man in the eye and said, “I really want to hold this sword. What’ll you take just to let me heft it?”
The request didn’t bring the laugh he’d expected, but Bedford’s eyes narrowed instead. ''I saw your exhibition. You’re pretty good. You ever do any real sword fighting? Sparring, I mean?’’
Dylan’s interest perked. “Of course.”
“Spar with me to first touch? Beat me, and I’ll open the case for you.”
“And if you win?” Dylan now assessed the guy as an opponent. Tall, broad shoulders, broad hands, and an elegance he knew could be deceptive.
Bedford grinned. “Then I win. Hey, if we make it look like another exhibition, the insurance geeks won’t have a hemorrhage.”
Dylan knew he was being talked into a bit more than just a sparring match. There was a certain reckless thrill to sparring without protection, and the chance of drawing blood made the proposition as intriguing as it was dangerous. Dylan agreed to it with whole heart.
They moved to the empty exhibition field just beyond the display tables, Dylan windmilling his broadsword in a fidgety mulinette to the side as the energy built. His pulse picked up, and his muscles were alerted to the contest. He took a deep breath of the fall air, and a thrill ran down his back. A smile crept onto his face.
Bedford wielded an Italian storta, with curved quillons and knuckle guard, which he swung back and forth by way of warming up. Dylan figured it was a replica, seeing as how a real antique would be worth too much to risk in a fight. His own sword was lighter and faster, but the storta was longer, which meant a longer reach. In a real fight the storta could do more damage, but here a touch was a touch, they would be attacking with the flat of the blade, and the amount of potential damage should be irrelevant.
Hopefully. Dylan figured, though, someone was going to bleed today.
The contestants squared off and saluted each other, then went to en garde. Bedford’s stance was haughty and assured, and relaxed in a way that seemed natural to him. In an instant, he rushed. Dylan parried, again and again in a flurry of clanging swords, until he was almost backed against the boundary line. Then he feinted, sidestepped, and attacked Bedford’s flank. The attack was parried, so Dylan went high to be parried again. Bedford captured the broadsword blade with his own and threw it aside. The metal sang. Then he backed up to gain room, but Dylan pressed him.
The storta flew, and Bedford wielded it with speed astonishing for such a large blade. Dylan grinned at the challenge of a skilled opponent who was not his employee. He beat hard with his broadsword, not trying to meet Bedford’s speed but throwing him off with each hard, odd-timed beat. It was working; Dylan was wearing him down. Bedford backed toward the tables, parrying fast as he went, lips pressed together. Dylan looked for openings, but Bedford gave none. Then Dylan laid off and circled.
Bedford laughed out loud and shouted. “Fucking hillbilly!”
Dylan refused to take the bait, so the expected attack didn’t come. That threw Bedford off balance, and he was momentarily unsure of himself. He attacked in confusion. Dylan parried and lunged for a sidestroke that took Bedford at his rib cage.
Bedford staggered sideways, though Dylan had pulled the attack, then he laughed again and shouted with heavy breaths, “Ah! A touch! A touch, I do confess it!”
Applause rose from the spectators, and the combatants both bowed to them. Then they saluted each other with swords and shook hands before walking together to the display table. Dylan scabbarded his broadsword, lifted its baldric from his shoulder, and handed scabbard and baldric off to Ronnie, who hurried to put it in its case. “Yo! Ron!” His assistant turned, and Dylan threw him his car keys. “It’s locked.”
“That was a right good fight,” said Dylan to Bedford, still trying to catch his breath, then he saw Bedford held his side. “What, did I get you?”
Bedford shrugged. “I think you cut my shirt. Maybe a little skin. No big deal.” He showed the hole in his shirt, and a thin red line that looked like a long scratch.
“Dang. Sorry about that.”
Bedford shrugged again. “You win. You now have the right to molest my family’s property.” He winked and gave a white grin as he unlocked the case and opened the glass cover.
Dylan reached in, reverent in the presence of such an historical weapon. He slipped both hands around the hilt and lifted it from the case. For such a long sword, the weight was only a few pounds, easily wielded by two hands, and the balance was amazing. It felt warm in his grip. Goose bumps rose all over him, and he shivered them down as he let the sunshine glint from the blade. But the tingling in his hands remained. The warmth increased until he had to set the sword back in its case. Puzzled, he stared at it and at his still-warm hands.
“What’s wrong?” Cody asked.
“Don’t rightly know.” The heat in his palms grew, though they no longer held the sword. He stared at them, and the tingling swept through him. Frowning, he tried to shake it off, but it wouldn’t go. He looked around, afraid now, almost in pain. Everyone around him stared at him, concerned.
“Are you all right?” Cody reached for him, but he held her off. Something was very wrong, and he didn’t want her to catch whatever it was.
His heart leapt in his chest as the world went black. He tried to stay conscious, but focusing on faces did no good. He reached out to them as they disappeared into swirling nothingness.
Almost as quickly as it had disappeared, though, the world returned. It seemed a miracle he was still standing. But when he could see again, the mid-afternoon sun was gone and it was cold. He blinked, but the dusk remained. The crowds were gone. All was silent. He stood in a grassy area, but the tables and booths were all gone as well, and the grass was weird-looking. Sort of knobby, like a poorly woven blanket. He turned, and turned again. Mountains! Higher mountains than he’d seen in his life, more brown, and certainly steeper, than any he’d seen in Tennessee! Some of the peaks disappeared into intermittent mist and jutted up to a dark purple sky scattered with more stars than he could comprehend.
The sharp smell of wood smoke greeted him, and he looked around to see the smoldering ruins of...something. A barn, maybe? He muttered to himself, “Holy moley. What just happened?”
Voices came from up the slope, and he looked to see moving shapes. About four or five of them, and they were hurrying toward him. Good. Maybe here was someone who could answer his question.
Reprinted from Son Of The Sword by J. Ardian Lee by permission of Ace, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Julianne Lee. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.