Darkness covered my blade. A bit of mold left from the wedge of gorgonzola he’d eaten before…well, before…clung to a notch on my right edge complete with the stench of rotting eggs and ale. Underlying the pungent smells, however, one remained, one no amount of scrubbing or honing would be able to cleanse.
I remember the night I earned the scent, the night I tasted my first blood, the pulsing flesh, the copper tang. It was all I had left to ponder. I hadn’t been unsheathed since.
I missed the feel of picking a lock. The way a bolt would give after a quick twist. Of being held between my owner’s teeth while he climbed up an ivy-coated wall or opened a crate to reveal the gold, jewels, or silken goods within.
The bloody night had started the same way as all the rest.
After a bracing slice through hard cheddar and dried sausage and then a wipe with a rag, I had been stowed into my sheath. I bobbed at his hip when we scurried through the lamp-lit streets and then again during the ascent up the manor’s stony face. Brandished once more, he clutched me tight in his mouth while he secured his foot holds, the heat of his breath on my edge blanketing my face in moisture, his lips drawn back to keep them from my sharp touch.
It had been a window’s lock we’d unfastened, the bolt retracting with a dull snap at our deft thrust. Opening the shutters had spilled out a wave of fire-stoked air, complete with smoke and a perfume as thick as brie.
I didn’t worry about the disturbed curtains, however. The cowled man had said the room would be deserted and my owner had feet as light as a cat’s.
Held in his dirt-smeared hand, we’d slipped inside, nothing more than a faint breeze. A ray of moonlight gleamed on carpet, on the four polished posts of a velvet-draped bed, a snuffed fireplace, and the trunks and shelves heavy with books and boxes.
After a tiptoe, we’d knelt by the table-sized chest stowed at the foot of the bed. Another thrust and jerk and the lid succumbed. We poked through the first layer of blankets and cloaks, then dug deeper. I’d nipped the cedar sides with my tip and then grated along the back wall. I hit a nub and we burrowed further. With my edge and his rounded fingertips, we’d pried open the secret compartment.
It was then the mattress groaned; the squish of down and body stirring beneath sheets.
We’d frozen stiff and the sounds had settled, the sleeper’s breaths again at ease. We hurried nonetheless, and out of the hidden panel collected the pouch, the one the cowled man had offered a year’s worth of coin for us to deliver.
Replacing the disturbed clothes, we’d lowered the lid and didn’t bother with the now broken bolt. We’d padded toward the window, but having better ears than I, my owner stopped again. I recognized the creak in the wall, one a heavier foot might have made.
The arrow had come fast, a quick zip and plunge into skin. My owner couldn’t smother his gasp, and again the sleeper rolled.
The velvet split and a woman’s voice called out in fear while wooden slats thudded and a growling man shouted in warning. My owner had stumbled back, his own tenor raised in pleas of innocence, of mercy.
I swung through the air as he defended himself against the roaring, ursine shadow bearing down like a charging bull. Blows landed, making me shake when his arm trembled. An arc down and I tasted skin, I sank into flesh, I found a throbbing darkness, one I’d never felt before, one I hope never to experience again.
Wheezing, and then stunned silence filled the room.
The leap from the window had been more routine. We’d fallen forward, though. He’d twisted a knee and I struck the ground when he’d cast out a bracing hand on the cobbled stones. Regaining his feet, my owner had managed a staggered run down the alley. Behind us voices dwindled, the spatter of our dash through puddles and mud became the sole attendant in our journey through streets. The stones gave way to dirt, the buildings to either side shifting to planks and daub while the smell of the river beckoned.
The current on my edge that night had been crisp and swift. He cleaned me like he did his hands and the glancing wound in his arm, scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing again and again until I chilled to the inside and his fingers pruned around my handle. Washed, but never to be clean, he’d stowed me at his hip and we’d moved on.
The day passed in solitude within the cellar. He’d paced and rocked, murmured and pined, bit his lip, snarled in rage, raked his fingers through greased locks, and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, holding back tears.
The cowled man arrived by nightfall. In his hoarse timbre, he’d warned of forces seeking us, of pictures of my owner’s face drawn in charcoal and posted throughout town. The money for the pouch, however, could buy passage and cowled man knew a Captain, one who asked little so long as the passenger paid or knew how to work.
With a choice between the sword and the sea, my owner had made his decision.
And so, we stood, enduring the sway of a ship and the retching of those not accustomed the elements. At the railing, I imagine he looked out over the water. He kept me sheathed though, even when we ate and I wondered, wherever we landed, if I’d ever taste air again.