“It was your mother’s sword, Charlene.”
Charlene stroked the intricate designs on the blade, and the basket hand guard. “Birch leaves?”
“Your mother’s family symbol. They’d be proud of what a fine young woman you’ve become.”
Char took a few practice swirls. “It’s like it was made for me.” She turned to stare. “Enchanted?”
Her father nodded. “It fits itself to its rightful owner’s hand.”
“What other powers does it have?”
“Your mother told me it depends on the owner. For her, it cast a glamour over her, making her seem bigger, stronger, and more fierce. It pierced whatever she hit, no matter how poor the blow. You’ll have to find out what it will do for you.”
Char gazed at the sword with a mix of eagerness and dread. “The gift of the sword must mean it’s time for my quest.”
“You’re twenty. What will you do?”
Char had been thinking about it since she was eight. “I’m going to find the king who destroyed my mother’s family and kill him.”
“A grim task.”
“Long overdue.” She slid the sword into its new scabbard. “Why didn’t you do it?”
“You mother forbade me.”
Char asked, “Any advice?”
Two weeks later Char left. The tradition held that she was to go alone but for the last four generations, a squire had been allowed to go along. Char’s squire, Holly, trained with her from the first year. Beside Char’s horse she said, “Killing King Dwile isn’t going to be easy. A dwarf is going to be underground more often than not.”
“He’ll come out, probably for hunting and he’ll be a lot less protected than in his stronghold.”
Holly nodded. “Killing the dwarf king will cause trouble.”
“Father believes the revenge-killing will be understood by the dwarves. They follow the custom themselves. Prince Dwale will take the throne and there will be peace.”
Holly sighed. “I don’t like it.”
After a month to travel to King Dwile’s stronghold, two months were spent hiding and spying on the king. Twice they’d nearly been caught by the dwarf patrols. The fourth month they spied the king leading a small group of hunters from the stronghold’s gates.
“They’re headed for the woods,” Char mounted her horse and traced the king and his party.
An hour later the King had just shot a fine buck. While two men gutted the deer, the King called out that he was going to water a tree. The men laughed and the King moved into the woods alone.
“Here’s our chance.” Char hurried through the woods after the king. She reached him already finished with his business and looking up at the trees. Char drew her sword. “King Dwile. I’m Princess Charlene Longbow. You murdered my grandparents and stole their kingdom. Now you must die.”
King Dwile slowly turned to face Char. “A left-over Arborman? I thought I’d destroyed the lot of you.” He pulled his sword from its scabbard.
“I’ve come to avenge my family.”
“A slip of a girl like you?” he laughed. “You’re quest is to kill me? A great many have tried.”
Char advanced, sword ahead of her. The dwarf was short but stocky and broad of shoulder. She saw that he was light-footed as he crossed the forest floor. It was only a moment before they crossed swords. Char hoped that the sword’s magic, still unrevealed, would work for her now.
Holly stood back, keeping watch. “Kill him and be done.”
King Dwile laughed. “In a hurry little one?”
Char pivoted and struck another blow but the King was quick and the swords clashed again. The two of them circled. Char realized that the magic the sword had for her mother wasn’t for her. She wished the sword would help her.
The swords clashing drew the hunting party. “What’s this?” A young dwarf cried out. He drew his blade.
“Stop,” Holly stood between her princess and the dwarves. “Princess Charlene is avenging her grandparents. You must hold.”
“That’s my father, girl.”
Holly nodded but didn’t take her eyes from the dwarf. “Your majesty. Tradition and custom is clear. This is a fair fight.”
Prince Dwale grimaced and continued to grip his sword but no move to stop Char.
Char tired. The King struck harder than the human men she trained with. She stepped forward and before she knew it, her sword had pierced the King’s chest. As soon as she had stopped planning her strokes, the sword took over.
King Dwile stood, eyes wide, his sword dropped. The prince caught his father just before he sank to the ground. Char stepped back and Holly with her.
The prince sobbed over his father before calling his men to carry the king back to the stronghold.
Char gripped her sword as the prince stood up. “King Dwale.”
The young dwarf sighed. “Does this release my family from your revenge?”
“It is done. I’ll trouble your kingdom no further.”
“My father was wrong to attack the Kingdom of Arbor. The old king wouldn’t grant mining rights.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, sir.”
“And I for yours, fair maid. May we offer hospitality?”
Char thought that a bad idea. “My thanks, sire, but we have been travelling a long time. We’re ready to go home.”
“Go safely, then, Princess.”
Returned home, Char met with her father.
“You don’t think he’ll start a war?” The King treaded.
“I don’t think so. They may want to open trade negotiations.”
“Good idea. I’ll send emissaries. What did your quest teach you?
Char thought a moment. “I chose a stupid quest. It wasn’t helpful in and could have led to a war. I wonder that you allowed me to go.”
“It was a chance, but you needed that lesson. You’ll be a better queen for having learned it the hard way.”
Char hoped she wouldn’t have to learn too many more that way.
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