Ormskirk Writers' & Literary Society - OWLS - was established in 1963 by Dora Doyle to promote local writers. Founder member Ron Bartholomew contributed to the Waverly Encyclopaedias and was widely published in Practical Mechanics Magazine. A successful playwright, he opened his house to us for weekly meetings and served us with tea and home made cakes for many years. As Otis lifts Chief Engineer he also designed the press button control boxes used in lifts to this day. ALT="Ormskirk Writers' & Literary Society">

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Magic Sword

King Boden, in despair at losing yet another battle to defend his kingdom, the Kingdom of Icia, was sheltering in a cave and in fear for his life, when suddenly he was trapped by a Tall Stranger.

“What do you want?” cried King Boden. “I cannot defend myself for I have no weapon.”

“What would you wish for yourself?” said the Tall Stranger.

“If I could have anything right now, it would be a sword so that I could strike down any who threaten me or cause me fear.”

“Then take this,” said the stranger, producing from inside his voluminous cloak a sword. It was a sword like no other King Boden had ever seen. Its balance in the hand was perfection, its blade gleamed and its edge would make shame of a razor. King Boden hefted the sword in his hand. “You give me this, yet are unarmed. Do you not fear me now?”

“No,” said stranger, “I have fear of no man.”

“But why do you give me this sword?”

“I tell you this,” said the stranger. “This sword is a Magic Sword. With this, and as King, you will never taste defeat again. But you will never know love...”

And with that, the Tall Stranger was gone.

Sure enough, from that day on, King Boden was victorious in every battle. His armies grew stronger till all feared the power of Icia. Then one day he captured the Princess Alsanda, daughter of King Ezeck of the neighbouring land of Maggedor and took her hostage. Ezeck swore revenge against King Boden and declared war. But on the eve of battle, King Boden realised he was falling in love with his prisoner.

“You are indeed a beautiful princess,” he said. “I feel my heart yearning for your affection. What would it take for you to become my bride?”

“More than you have in your power to give!” she vowed. “Take yourself from me, for your presence poisons the very air.”

“But, Princess, if you would be mine there is nothing I would deny you. For without your love my heart will surely break.”

“Then let it break. Your destiny is on the battlefield and not within my affection.”

Angrily, King Boden left the Princess and went to prepare for victory or death at the hands of Ezeck and his warriors of Maggedor.

That day, on the vast Plain of Ildion, the mighty armies of Icia and Maggedor faced each other. Their weapons glinted in the pale cold sun shining balefully down upon them. King Boden had the unwilling Princess brought by guards to watch the battle.

“I ask you one last time,” said King Boden to the Princess, "If you would surrender to me as I demand, and be my bride, I would recall my soldiers. But if you deny me, you will see the men of your homeland scythed down like ripe corn.”

The Princess raised her noble head. “I and all the troops of Maggedor would sooner die than suffer such dishonour.” And she lowered her head once more and wept.

“That is your answer?” roared King Boden.

“That is the answer of all of the line of Maggedor,” whispered the Princess.

“Then so shall it be,” said Boden. With a curse, he wheeled his horse and galloped off to the head of his troops.

Arranged in the first line of battle upon the Plain of Ildion were the two cavalries, the horsemen of Icia decked in their colours of blue and gold, the knights of Maggedor in purple. The crests of their colours stood proud in the wind on the manes of the battle horses. But when at last the order to charge was given, not an animal would move from either side. The riders urged them on fiercely with blood-curdling battle cries, but the horses, snorting and pounding the earth with their hooves, refused to move forward, even an inch.

Realising the peril if his horsemen remained still and were charged by a powerful enemy, King Boden raced to the front of his troops. He had the Magic Sword, the ownership of which had made him the victor of so many battles. He could not be defeated.

King Ezeck, too, saw the danger his army was in, if the horses would not charge and attack the enemy. He galloped to the head of his army to urge them to attack. But to no avail. It was as if the horses had no wish to be a part of the wars of men.

Across the plain, the two kings dismounted from their steeds and turned to face each other. King Boden raised his sword in signal, and shouted. “King Ezeck. Our armies are evenly matched. There is no need for them to fight this day. We two can determine the outcome of this battle. Let us fight, just you and I, to decide the day.”

Ezeck knew of King Boden’s recent successes on the field of war. He had heard rumours of the Magic Sword, of how King Boden had come by it, in the cave with the Tall Stranger. He knew the promise the stranger had made that King Boden would never taste defeat as king while he had the sword. Yet he was not afraid. “I accept your challenge! He who wins our duel will win the war between Maggedor and Icia!”

“Victory in war!” cried King Boden.

“Victory in war!” Ezeck shouted back.

The two paced across the plain till they were in sword’s reach. A pause stayed them. The two armies looked on in thrall. Princess Alsanda swept the tears from her eyes upon seeing her father, standing proud. Then King Boden raised the Magic Sword and swung it fearsomely at King Ezeck’s head.
It was a mighty blow. Yet Ezeck parried, and deflected the lethal blade harmlessly. He too struck out with his weapon, but Boden denied the steel a target in his flesh.

And so the fight was joined. On it raged, blow followed by counter blow. Sometimes the fight seemed to favour one man, then the advantage would swing the other way. But neither man took wound.

“Surely I cannot be defeated,” King Boden thought between thrust and parry, “for I have the Magic Sword. The Tall Stranger swore to me.”
For hour upon hour the epic struggle raged without rest, quarter neither given nor taken. But then, just as the sun that had blazed down upon this momentous day seemed to weary, and kissed the horizon, King Boden lofted the Magic Sword high above his head and brought it down with a crashing fury greater than any before.

King Ezeck raised his sword in defence and, as steel clanged on steel, the blade of his weapon shattered. The broken tip fell to the ground. King Ezeck, in despair, let the hilt slip from his hand and join the rest of the now-useless weapon in the dirt.

Quietly he spoke. “King Boden, you have your victory.” He stole one last look at his daughter, Princess Alsanda, in the lines of the men of Icia. Then he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable death.

But death did not come. Kind Boden, following the gaze of his adversary, also spotted the beautiful princess. He saw, even at this distance, the tears upon her face, and the sadness in her eyes, and he felt his heart leap.

“As King, you will never taste defeat again. But you will never know love.” The words of the Tall Stranger who had handed him the Magic Sword repeated themselves on his lips. He raised the Magic Sword one final time.

But the blow never fell.

Lowering the sword, he spoke, almost in a whisper, to King Ezeck. “Open your eyes, King Ezeck. I cannot strike you down.”

King Ezeck looked into the face of Boden. “What do you mean?”

“As a king, with this sword, I can never taste defeat.”

“So strike me down, for I will not live if my daughter is to remain your prisoner!”

Again Boden looked to the princess. “But, as a king, I will never know love.” He looked again at King Ezeck. “Therefore I choose no longer to be King! I am now a common man, and a common man cannot strike down a king.” And with that he laid the Magic Sword at King Ezeck’s feet.

“And what of my daughter?” said Ezeck, in a bare whisper.

“She is free,” he said. With a wave, he commanded his guards to release her. For a moment, Princess Alsanda was frozen to the spot. Then she, tearfully, ran into the arms of her father.

“Oh, my beautiful daughter,” cried King Ezeck, for tears had come to his battle-drawn face also, “I thought that I should never see your sweet face ever again.”

Ezeck turned to face Boden. “So how do we decide the battle?”

“What battle? There is no battle. There is no war. We should leave this place in peace, with honour.”

For a moment, Ezeck was unable to speak. “You could have won the day,” he said.

“I would have won nothing.”

“But is there nothing you would wish for?” said Ezeck.

Boden hesitated. “I can barely say this. But if I could have one thing, it would be to ask for the hand of your daughter, the beautiful Princess Alsanda, in marriage, for I am under her spell, a spell greater than that of any sword or weapon. And I ask, not demand. I would have her answer freely, as only her heart dictates, and I would be content with any answer, though I hope for only one.”

Princess Alsanda looked at Boden. Suddenly, now that he was no longer a king, it was as if a blindfold fell from her eyes, and she could see a handsome, wise and generous man. She turned to King Ezeck. “Father, this man is more noble than any I have ever met, nor even dreamed of. With your permission, nothing would make me happier than to be his bride.”

King Ezeck wiped the tears from his face, and for the first time since news of her capture in Icia had come to him, he smiled. “Then his bride you shall be, with my blessing.” Upon these words, she let go of her father, and embraced Boden.

At that moment, as the shade of evening was drawing upon them, a figure appeared from between the two now-silent battle lines. It was the Tall Stranger who had given Boden the sword so long ago.

Boden, recognising him, said, “How can we be of service to you?”

“It is you who have served me,” said the stranger. “I have merely come to collect the possession I lent to you.”

“You lent to me?” said Boden, astonished. “So it was never really in my ownership?”

“No man can own this sword. I take it back now, for its magic is done.”

“And what magic is that?” asked King Ezeck in awe.

The Tall Stranger faced both of them. “Know this truth,” he said. “It is a truth equally for king and peasant, high-born and humble, rich or poor. War is not the true purpose of any living thing.” He paused to smile at Boden and Princess Alsanda, hiding the sword away in his cloak.

“Then what is life’s true purpose?” Boden asked the Tall Stranger in a hushed voice.

The Tall Stranger looked one last time at the two former enemies. “Love is.”

And, with that, taking the Magic Sword with him, the Tall Stranger was gone.


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