“It is our task to maintain balance,” the god in the gray robes said. He lifted his head up, even though he was half again the sword-smith’s height. He cast his gaze downward.
The sword-smith knelt before the god and bowed his head. When he raised it again, his eyes were full of grief and disbelief. “How can one woman threaten the balance of the world?”
The gray god’s brow creased slightly. “Many ways. By questioning the gods for one, as you do now.”
The sword-smith bowed his head again. “I only seek to understand.”
“It is not your place to understand the will of the gods. Only to accept it.” The gray god’s voice was soft. His tone gentle. But the sword-smith would later remember that it was the first time he heard something else in a god’s voice. A tremor. Of doubt.
The sword-smith went home unsatisfied as he knew he would be. The only satisfaction he could receive from the gods was to have her back.
He had jested many times that she had enchanted him into loving her with one of her potions. It irked her as nothing else he said ever did. Because even though she knew that he did not believe such a thing, she still worried that he did. She still had that small doubt. She even dared him once to go to another sorceress or healer or alchemist and have them brew him a potion to counter the effects of any such elixir of affection. If he did not feel the same love for her after taking the potion as he did before, then she would leave him be and take herself and her craft and her heavy heart away. And it was when she would speak such words that he would berate himself for being a fool and risking to drive away the best love of his life.
She was an extraordinary sorceress. This he knew even before he laid eyes on her and when he did lay eyes on her, he never thought he would share his life with such a grandstander.
He played over sweet memories of her and bitter memories and funny memories and quiet memories until he felt his heart crack in two. He had pretended with the gray god. Pretended civility. Pretended obeisance. Behind their polite exchange, they had both known.
Perhaps the gray god was right. Perhaps she had become such a powerful mortal that she had tipped some balance. The gods of the southern realm had been petty and cruel long ago, many of the old folk said. But they had changed in the past few generations. They had let the sorceress be until a few months past.
The sword-smith had revisited his memories time and time again in the seven days since he had lost his love. And he remembered the first time she had the nightmare where the gods warned her, threatened her. As powerful as she had become, they had let her alone, knowing she was mortal and would die, and her power would die with her. Until she began to teach that power to others.
The nightmares warned her to stop. But she would not. And then she began to see visions of the gods. And they warned her to stop. But she would not. At last, she saw a vision in which a gray-robed god threatened the swords-smith and the people of her town. So she stopped.
But they still killed her.
He was there when they sent their beast after her. They meant for him to see. They meant for all to know that any who “threatened the balance” would suffer a brutal death. No gentle passing in sleep. She fought the beast. He fought with her and for her. He still had bruises and scratches and missing teeth. And his head ached sometimes as it never had before the beast lifted him up and threw him to the ground, and he landed on his skull.
She had cried out then. In fear and fury, she cried out and she struck the beast so hard that it flew and fell. The sword-smith did not see it. Others told him afterward that it had been so. The beast had come to their home, and their neighbors had come out, some to flee and some to see.
Some even believed she had defeated the beast of the heavens. But as she rushed to the sword-smith, to her love, to help him, the beast rose. And it came at her again.
She was a powerful sorceress. But her powers were no match for the powers of the gods.
She died in his arms. And many who might have come to her aid were prevented out of fear for the gods. For the beast did not return to the heavens, but stayed and watched until she breathed her last breath.
She proclaimed her wrath at the cruel and cowardly gods. But her last thought was of him. She looked up at him and with clear eyes proclaimed her love for him. She told him that she would give him her powers. They had no children. Her powers were the only legacy she left behind. And she begged him to use them only to protect himself from the gods. And the sword-smith promised. And the sorceress died.
The sword-smith raged at the gods, but he could do nothing. He lamented that he was not a great sorcerer, like his love. Even greater, so he could decimate the heavens, and teach the proud gods of the loss and grief that he and all mortal men, women, and creatures suffered. But he was no sorcerer. He was a maker of swords. He was the son of sword-makers. His father had once forged a sword that had slain a great dragon. The sword-smith himself had crafted swords for countless lords, one king, and a knight who was celebrated across half the known world.
He wondered if he could make a sword that could slay a god.
She had given him her powers. But without the skill to use them, they only served as a shield. It was as if she had locked him in a box full of tools and weapons, none of which he could reach, and none of which he would need so long as he remained in the box.
She bequeathed him more than her powers. All her worldly belongings were now his. And he kept everything. Every dress. Every potion bottle. Every basket of herbs. Every pen and ink jar.
In a stale corner of the heavens, a few gods gathered in secret and spoke of the sorceress and the sword-smith.
“A usurper sits on the throne of heaven,” the goddess of midnight said. “We do not have time to deal with a grieving lover.”
“This is no ordinary man, sister,” said the god in the gray robes, the god of the fog. “He has in his possession a most valuable object. The witch bequeathed it to him upon her death. We cannot take it from him. We cannot break any contracts made regarding a mortal’s death. But he does not know what he has. One of us might be able to convince him to part with it.”
“You gathered us here to make plans for tricking a mortal out of his trinkets?” The question came from the beautiful rosy-cheeked god of the dawn.
“The book was written by one of the Old Gods, our ancestors,” the gray god of the fog said, ignoring his vain brother. “To us it is a few generations past. To the mortals it would have been just after the dawn of the world. It contains lost knowledge and powers that even we do not know of.”
“That is the true reason you felled the sorceress?” someone asked.
“She did not know what she had,” the gray god answered. “But she was a clever little fleshling. She would have reasoned it out sooner or later. And then we truly would have had a shift in the balance of power.”
The sword-smith looked through every one of her books. He found healing spells and summoning spells. Spells to control the powers of nature. Spells to see with the mind. Spells to speak to the dead. Spells to imbue ordinary weapons with great powers. Some of the books were written in languages he could not read.
Within him bubbled his rage, kept under control only by his determination to find something in his love’s possession that would help him to avenge her.
As he read one of her own writings, he stopped and remembered how greatly he had impressed her when she learned he could read. And how offended he was at her reaction. And how sincerely contrite she had been. And grateful. She had shown him disrespect in assuming anything about him, she had said. And had done herself a disservice as well, for it was always her pleasure to meet any among the learned. For she had learned much yet still had much to learn.
He had been, despite himself, immediately charmed. Not by her precious words, for any could have spoken them. But by the truth in her eyes.
Keep going, he thought. She deserves her vengeance.
And so it was that he found among her books one that looked much like the others on the outside but contained much that was different within. A dark blue cover it had and a silver clasp, the kind that turned like a shipwright’s wheel. And in it, he found at first many of the same spells he had seen in the other books. And then he saw deeper spells, spells that chilled him. A spell to enter and control the mind of another. A spell to turn back time for a day. He did not believe such spells would work. And for some, he hoped they would not. But then he found something he hoped he could make work.
He found a drawing of a white-hot sword, glowing with the power to kill gods. He began to read. And to learn.
The sword-smith spent all his days and nights at his forge, making sword after sword, tossing aside weapons that were magnificent and mighty. He did not need such weapons. He did not need magnificent and mighty. He needed unholy.
“He is trying to forge a weapon” the gray god of the fog said, reporting what his spies had found. “A sword that can kill our kind.”
The god of the dawn yawned. “Impossible.”
“Most possible. Even probable.”
“Then we must stop him,” the goddess of midnight said.
“Let him forge it,” the gray god said. “And then let us take it from him, kill our prestigious ‘ruler’ and take back the throne for the rightful heir.”
“And if he manages to kill a few of us before we can take hold of this sword?”
“There is a price to be paid for all great victories.”
As the god of the fog learned of the sword-smith’s progress from his spies, even he began to doubt whether he should let the sword be made. But he could not abide by the rule of heaven as it was. The sword-smith was not the only mortal who had ever sought vengeance against the gods. One of them, a mortal, had somehow tricked the gods, defeated them, and taken the rule of heaven from them. Then he had hobbled them.
For three generations of men and women, the usurper had forbidden the gods of the southern realm from punishing mortals for defiance, from taking tithes from the poor, from taking what they were due, and he had instead compelled them to serve mortals.
Some of the gods had welcomed the change. But to the gray-robed god of the fog, it was blasphemy what their king made them do and accept.
But the usurper’s weakness was the weakness that all mortal creatures shared. Their attachments. And a few months past, he went searching once again for the one thing he could not seem to find. The one to whom he was attached once. And he left his favorite mortals unprotected.
The god of the dawn may have been a fool, but he was the rightful heir. And he could be managed.
With the sword that the smith forged and the book of the Old Gods, the god of the fog would finally have the power to defeat the usurper. For the usurper had tricked the gods so that none could use their powers against him. But he too was a god now. And the sword would surely kill him.
But only if the sword-smith didn’t kill the god of the fog first. Hatred destroyed mortals. It burned away their very souls. The god of the fog watched the sword-smith and hoped the man would not abide for long. So full of hatred for the gods was the sword-smith that his soul would surely burn away to nothing. And without it, he would perish. And when he perished, the god of the fog would claim the sword, bring it to the heavens, use it to restore the proper order, and assure that no one, god or mortal, ever laid hands on it again. According to his spies, he would not be able to destroy it. Only its opposite, an object imbued with love, could vanquish the sword. And there was no such object on earth or in the heavens.
So the god of the fog kept watch. And so news came to him that the sword-smith had succeeded.
“Good eve, sir, you look like you need some warming up.” The barkeeper set a mug of something hot and foamy before the sword-smith. And the sword-smith was not so far gone in his obsession with ending the gods that he failed to recognize the kindness of his fellow man. He nodded to the barkeeper.
“If you have any troubles to lay at my feet, my ears are open,” the barkeeper said. “I’ve settled with my own troubles for the time being.”
The sword-smith said nothing.
“Very well, then. I’ll not disturb your silence. I’ll be at the other end of the bar should you need another drink, or should you change your mind about telling me your tale, Master…?”
“I have no name, friend,” the sword-smith said. “The only name I carry is the name of my sword.”
“An impressive weapon indeed. And what is its name then?”
The god of the fog watched as the soul before him dimmed further and further. It dimmed so much it was hard even for a god to see it in the dawning light of a new day. He followed the sword-smith through flurries of snow. Having risen early, the man was making his way to the next town. The god of the fog had called off his spies. He watched the sword-smith himself now, for it would not be long, he thought, before the man succumbed to the poison of his hatred. But in the meantime, the god of the fog could not figure what the man was doing, how he was planning on assaulting heaven.
The god noticed the sword-smith stopping and stopped himself, even though he glided over the snow and made no noise that a mortal could hear.
The sword-smith turned and glared at the god. “Why don’t you just strike me down and be done with it?”
The god of the fog was impressed, but not surprised. The sword-smith seemed to have learned a few tricks of his witch’s craft. “How ever did you know I was following you?”
“I’ve smelled the stink of your breath in the wind for many moons now,” the sword-smith said.
The god of the fog felt slightly amused that the man was trying to goad him. The sword-smith must have mistaken him for the god of the flame. Fog had no temper. “I’m not going to strike you down.”
“Then why do you follow me?”
“I’m interested in acquiring that exquisite sword you crafted.”
“It’s my sword. So long as I live, you cannot take it from me.”
“So long as you live,” the god of the fog agreed. “I am patient. I can wait until death claims you.”
“You’re afraid to face me, then. Afraid of my sword.”
The god of the fog smiled. “It’s not fear, child. It’s caution. And good sense.”
“Take me up to the heavens,” the sword-smith said. “Let’s test it on the gods who are your enemies.”
At that, the god of the fog was somewhat startled. He wondered how the sword-smith could have found out about the state of the heavens.
“You gods are always at each others’ throats. Making each other miserable and taking your misery out on us.”
The god of the fog felt some relief. The sword-smith didn’t know about heaven. It was only his hatred of the gods that made him think they had perpetual and petty feuds. “I will be taking that sword up to heaven,” the god said. “But not you with it.”
The sword-smith advanced on the god of the fog, and it took all of the god’s pride not to move. But a thick fog began to form around them. The sword-smith stopped and tried to peer through the fog. The god of the fog expected the big man to look smug after making a god defend himself. After all, the god of the fog did not know if the sword at the man’s back could really hurt him.
The sword-smith did not look smug or satisfied. He took a deep breath and pulled something from his coat. He knelt and placed the thing on the ground. And the god of the fog saw that it was an altar. A little altar like the ones mortals kept in their households. And the idol inside this altar was the god of the dawn.
The sword-smith began to pray then. And the god of the fog wondered what he was about. And then the rays of the dawn cut through the fog and shone on the altar. The god of the dawn appeared. And too late, the god of the fog understood what the sword-smith intended. For the god of the fog was not to be victim but witness.
The sword-smith rose and pulled his sword out and swept the blade through the dawn god’s still-emerging form in one quick motion. The dawn god gave a startled cry and a great force burst from the spot where he was beginning to appear. The force knocked down the sword-smith. He rolled over and rose again and looked at the god of the fog. He raised the sword before him.
“Its name is Blasphemy. It is the child of the ones you wronged. And someday, it will end you.”
The sword-smith stepped back and vanished into the fog. The god gazed through the fog that was of his own making and commanded it to burn away. But somehow, he was not quick enough. The sword-smith had vanished.
The sword had vanished. The god of the fog could not find it though he searched for long past the natural life of the sword-smith. He feared that the sword was somewhere on the earth, as was the book that helped make it. They had to be. And he was terrified that one or both the sword or book would fall into the hands of mortals again.
And his terror made him wary of the feelings that mortals bore toward the gods. For the sword’s power issued from hatred. As long as the sword was out in the world, the only way to thwart it was to gain the love of mortal men and women, so that they would not use it, even if they did find it. The usurper king, the mortal-made-god never returned to the heavens. But the god of the fog obeyed the rules the king had set forth anyway. And still he lived in great and constant anxiety.
So the sorceress and the sword-smith were avenged.
But their fates were no happier than that of their enemy’s. When the sword-smith struck down the god of the dawn, he burned away the last of his soul. And when he died, he was pulled down into the pits of punishment, there to suffer eternal torment. The sorceress did not know, for she had no news of earth or other realms where she was in the afterworld. And there was no one left on earth who knew them and loved them well enough to put their tale right.
All that was left of them on earth was a sword named Blasphemy…
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.