"Let me go! Give me my sword and I'll take all four of you at once!" Orson shouted, thrashing against the other boys. They held him pinned against the alley wall as Cabbot took a few experimental swings with the captured weapon.
"I thought you winning all those bouts was because of this stupid sword. I figured it just had to be enchanted, but it's just as much a piece of garbage as you are, hill-trash."
"Then you don't need it," Orson said between clenched teeth. "Give it back, you weasel turd."
Cabbot held the sword up before Orson's face. "You want your sword back, hill-trash?"
For a moment Orson's heart hammered extra hard against his ribs in fear that Cabbot might run him through. Instead, the older boy turned and with a grunt drove the sword between a chink in the stones. He heaved on handle. The metal gave a high pitched creek as it bent.
"No! Please don't!" Orson said, hating the pleading in his own voice. "Please! My whole village donated money for that sword!"
The boys holding him sniggered. Cabbot heaved again and again the steel shrieked.
"No! Please, look, I'll stop winning. I'll throw the next three matches. The next ten! I'll-I'll—"
SNAP! The sword's shining blade sheared off at the haft, sending shards of metal whipping through the air. The boys holding him let him go with a shove and Orson collapsed as if the breaking of the sword had also broken his spine.
“Looks like your hill-trash village should have invested in better steel," Cabbot said and hurled the handle with its stump of a blade to the ground. It rang strangely, off tune, as if the steel knew it were no longer whole. "Let’s see you become a champion without a sword!”
“My god, he’s crying,” one of the boys sneered.
Orson ignored the bullies as they stalked away and the tears as they coursed down his face. He scrabbled along the stones seeking the sword's shattered bits. "It will be all right. I can have it mended. I can have it mended. It is High-hill steel. It will mend. Then I'll show them. They'll see."
He repeated the words over and over as he pieced the blade back together but gradually he fell silent. There were too many pieces. The sword could never be reformed. The handle could be reused but the blade .... He shook his head. There'd be no time to forge a new blade.
"I couldn't afford it anyway." He mumbled, cradling the simple brass-and-leather handle in his lap.
His master's voice kept echoing in his head. "Keep your head down until the end. Loose a match or two. Keep every bout close unless you're pressed hard. And don't present yourself as confident, much less skilled. The real battle will be outside the willow square, and there will be no one to protect you there."
"Why didn't I listen!" Orson moaned. "All the village’s money, all my training had been wasted."
He flew into a rage, hammering the sword's pommel into the cobbles again and again until the brass deformed and the stones cracked. He sagged exhausted back onto his heels and wept.
Eventually the tears subsided and he knelt numbly in the filthy alley staring down at his broken hopes. The moon rolled out from behind a tattered cloud and glinted off the shattered steel. The shivered blade seemed to blur and shimmer. Orson blinked, rubbing at his raw eyes and when he opened them again a new sword, lay across the sheered stump of his old blade. It was a thing of platinum and ebony, steel and diamond with a strange basket hilt like flowing ribbons of steel and a lean, needle pointed blade. Beautiful and deadly in it's form.
He reached out hesitantly. His fingers grazed the platinum inlaid guard. Cold metal greeted his touch.
It was real.
It. Was. Real!
He closed his hand upon the black wooden handle and felt its warmth. It was full of life and magic. He hefted the blade. The balance, weight and length were exquisite. Deadly. Perfect.
Brandishing the blade high he dropped into a fighting stance and stepped into a simple drill. The blade moved with uncanny speed, each cut and thrust and block seeming to fly into place with a life of its own, faster, and faster until Orson’s hand and arm and the marvelous blade blurred into a streak of silvery death. The air hissed. The sword sang. Orson laughed, all his sorrow forgotten.
Gasping he looked at the marvelous blade and whispered, "With you, victory will be mine."