(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)
The morning chill in what could only be described as a pathetic attempt of a forest bit through Zyn’s robes, and he tried to remind himself that the day would get warmer as the fog dissipated. The thought held little comfort.
He held the wooden claymore over one shoulder as he walked, script covering the length of the blade. Zyn didn’t read it. The sword never had anything useful to say anyway.
The road flattened after a time, and through the fog the shape of a large log structure came into view. Not the town Zyn was hoping for, but some food would be nice.
“I know you’re probably bored,” Zyn said. “But I want you to stay hidden. You can’t just assume everyone’s illiterate, got it? No writing.”
The white runes on the blade faded as if the wind had worn the words away. New runes replaced them almost immediately, but Zyn could only read the end since most the sword’s length was behind him. It read …kill them.
He sighed. “We’re not going to kill anyone willing to put food in my stomach. This isn’t a discussion.” It couldn’t be helped. He would just have to try to keep the shifting words from eyesight as much as possible.
The building looked warmer and more inviting than the forest surrounding it. Perhaps it was the the log walls that were made from trees too dark and too thick to have grown anywhere near here. Perhaps it was the smoke billowing out from the chimney, fading into the fog out of sight. Perhaps it was the promise of some modicum of civilization Zyn so desperately needed. Either way, it didn’t matter. Anyone that could hold a conversation better than a bloodthirsty sword was worth spending time with.
“Hello?” Zyn called, opening the door with a tentative push.
“Hiya! Come in, come in!” a voice replied, much higher pitch than anticipated.
Zyn pushed the door far enough to allow him to walk in, stepping sideways as he was careful not the brush the sword against the threshold.
The warmth of the interior washed over him, and he let out an involuntary gasp of relief. The hand that held his sword was freezing, so he switched hands and breathed warmth into it.
The room was dark and small. A bar on one side of the room housed several cupboards and bottles behind it, though there were only two chairs at it. Hardly a tavern. To his right was a more open area that surrounded a fireplace like a stage, which was lit by a roaring flame. Further away from the fire, an empty table with a bowl of fresh fruit waited patiently for him to take a seat.
Movement caught his eye, and he turned to see a little girl peek out from behind the bar, her golden hair tied in a neat braid. She grinned. “Business or pleasure?” she asked.
Zyn frowned. That wasn’t where her voice came from before.
“Siba, nobody comes here for pleasure,” somebody said from behind Zyn.
He spun around in surprise to see a boy standing there, golden hair kept short. He seemed of very similar age to the girl in that both had reached the end of their adolescence. He had probably come from a side room Zyn hadn’t noticed at first. He grabbed one of the fruits on the table and bit into it.
“That’s what Gramps told me people say, Siben,” the girl replied. Their voices were so similar Zyn could hardly tell them apart.
Zyn’s uneasiness grew. There was one person on each side of him. One of them was bound to see the words on the sword sooner or later. Luckily he was much taller than them. He shifted the sword to lay flat on his shoulder so that the words pointed upwards.
“Yeah, but we’re in charge now,” the boy said in between bites. “So we can say whatever we want.”
“You mean whatever you want,” Siba shot back.
Zyn sighed. After all this time, this is what he got?
Siben, the boy, was now waving the fruit in the air to emphasize his point. “All I’m saying is—”
“Excuse me,” Zyn interrupted. The two of them shut up to look at him. Maybe they had forgotten he was there. “What sort of place is this?”
“It’s Siben and Siba’s Restful Resort!” Siben said.
“It is not!” Siba argued. “You can’t change the name just because Gramps retired! Besides, my name should come first!”
“Your name? Why your name?”
“Gramps says I’m older than you!” she stuck her tongue out at him.
“That doesn’t count!”
“It’s Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort or we don’t change the name at all!” Siba said, folding her arms.
“Please,” Zyn sighed. “I’d just like a place to stay for the day.”
“You got money?” Siben asked.
“Siben, that’s rude!” Siba scolded.
“It is not! We’ve got a business to run!”
“I don’t,” Zyn confessed. “But I can make it more than worth your time by sharing the news from the west.” That was the deal he often made with establishments like this.
“What would we want news for?” the twins said in unison. Their similar voices added an eerie air to the words.
“Surely you’d like to hear how other lands are faring.”
“Not as much as I’d like to hear coins in my pocket!” Siben shrugged.
“And what would you do with said coins?” Zyn asked. “I can’t imagine either of you have been to the nearest village more than once in your lives, given your age.”
“But merchants come through here selling wares,” Siba said. “If we had money we could buy stuff from them.”
These kids clearly hadn’t been doing this sort of thing for very long. “But in that case you can just trade wares for services,” Zyn explained. “Likely they’ll want to stay for a while, too.”
“He drives a good point, Siben,” the girl said.
“Yeah, he does,” Siben replied, finishing the last of the fruit. “But it still seems like he’s getting a free bed just for some dumb news we don’t care about. What else you got?”
“What about that sword?” Siba asked.
“Not for sale,” Zyn said, tone final.
“Looks weird,” Siben noted as though he was seeing it for the first time. “What’s it made of?”
“A wooden sword?” the girl said.
“What’s the point?” the boy nodded.
“It’s not really a weapon,” Zyn shrugged.
“It’s a sword,” Siben said, tone flat.
Zyn sighed. “Not just a sword. Can you two read?”
“Sure can!” Siba perked up.
“How about I tell you about me and my sword in exchange for a bed for the night?”
“I don’t know…” Siben frowned.
“Oh shut up, what are we gonna do, make him leave?” Siba said. “Tell us!”
Zyn relaxed, taking a seat in the table that overlooked the fireplace. Siba hopped onto the bar and threw herself over it, sitting on the counter and rocking her legs back and forth as she waited for Zyn to settle in. Siben grabbed another fruit from the table and went to sit, legs crossed, by the fireplace.
“This sword is an ancient heirloom that has been passed down for generations in my family. Legend says that it was used as the vessel for a powerful spirit that could command people with just the sound of its voice. They trapped it in this blade so that none could be controlled by its power ever again, but over time, it found a new way to exert its dominance.
“You see, the spirit inside the sword can write along its blade. You could have a conversation with it. You merely say something to the sword and the text on it will change in response.”
“Whoa,” Siben said. “So it can, like, hear us now?”
Zyn nodded. “The spirit is evil, and even though it can no longer physically speak, it has been known to control the minds and thoughts of others just through its words. My family has proven to be the only one that is unaffected by the spirit’s influence, and thus we have become the bearer of the sword.”
“Why not just leave it somewhere and forget about it?” Siba asked.
“Yeah, like couldn’t you just throw it in the ocean?” Siben said.
“I could. But Cinderbark is one of the hardiest woods ever discovered. The tools used to carve this blade have been lost to time, and I know of no other way to destroy it. By leaving it unattended, it is forcing trouble on future generations. I would not want to be guilty of such a travesty.”
“So the words are magic?” the girl said.
“As far as I know,” Zyn nodded.
“But you’re immune?” the boy replied.
“What’s it say now?” they both asked.
“I don’t read it very often. Mostly it just tells me to kill those around me. It tries to persuade me to follow its bidding nonetheless. But don’t worry, I won’t harm you, even if you do throw me back out into the cold.”
“Cool,” Siben said.
“Read it!” Siba nodded.
“That’s not a good idea.”
“Because it can hear this whole thing. It’s a wise and powerful being. Anything I tell you it says could influence your actions into causing something horrible.”
“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad,” Siba laughed.
“Read it or you can’t stay the night,” Siben said.
Zyn sighed. Children. “Alright, but you can’t look. And I won’t be held responsible for this. There’s no telling what horrible images it wants to plant into your mind.”
They nodded in agreement. He raised the sword from his shoulders and pulled it from around his head, holding it with both hands as the white script on the blade changed.
As soon as he read the words, he shook his head. Now he was forced to make something up, or look like an idiot.
“It says,” he began. “‘Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort’ is a good name for this place.”