The Paper Sword

Free The Paper Sword by Robert Priest

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Authors: Robert Priest
one way to go.”
    Saheli frowned at this but she nodded in the affirmative.
    â€œAt least we have a real weapon now,” Xemion said, nodding toward the bronze sword in the corner.
    All that night while Chiricoru gasped and rattled, they gathered supplies to take with them on their journey. Xemion collected anything that might be used as a weapon. He found an old copper rake and some cutlery, including a bronze bread knife. These he gathered in the corner with Smedenage’s sword, ready for their flight, while Saheli secured the locket and stuffed a jute bag with enough food for two days’ walk.
    Just before dawn they tried to lift the sleeping Chiricoru delicately into the second jute sack they had rigged to carry her in. Unfortunately, they must have disturbed the bird in the midst of some kind of avian nightmare for she awoke with a start and for a second her mighty wings flapped open and she came at them hissing with fury. This sent Xemion sprawling back against the table where the painted sword, still at his side, struck one of the candles.
    It was a big candle and the moment its stream of molten tallow hit the carpet, it ignited. Saheli screamed. Chiricoru gobbled, terrified, as Xemion stamped at the flames. He might have succeeded in putting the fire out if Chiricoru hadn’t spread her wings and run fearfully for the door, sending the rest of the candles toppling to the floor, their tallow launched in ten different directions. Like starved beasts that had not eaten for years, the flames spilled across the carpet, ate their way up the threads, and ignited the half-finished cloak in the loom.
    â€œTake Chiricoru,” Xemion screamed, still trying to stamp the fire out. But even as Saheli grabbed the bird and fled, one of the flames ran along a green thread from the inferno of the loom to the wicker of the divan and in an instant it began to devour the sofa. From there it leapt across the floor and onto the wood and wicker of the other furniture. It consumed the tapestry on the south wall in an instant, its famished tongue darting up toward one of the high windows. Xemion yelled as the fire began to climb up his boots and singe his cloak.
    Outside, Saheli was still trying to secure the frantic Chiricoru in the carrying bag when Xemion burst out of the door, his cloak on fire, his boots aflame. By the time he managed to suffocate the flames in his clothing, embers were beginning to fall from the scorched, crackling canopy above. Xemion looked for a moment as though he might be ready to dash back into the house.
    â€œHis sword is still in there,” he shouted over the increasing roar of the fire.
    Saheli shook her head. “No, Xemion. You’ll have to leave it.”
    â€œBut we’ll have nothing to defend ourselves with,” he protested.
    â€œNo! You’ll get burned to death in there.”
    Xemion clenched his jaw angrily but as the flames continued to rise he saw the sense in it. He touched the hilt of the mock sword at his side. “Well, we do have this,” he said.
    Saheli did not look the least bit comforted. She shook her head and frowned and hurriedly returned to her task, finally managing to get the bird securely fastened onto her back in the sling-like device she had turned the bag into. The two of them dashed toward the surrounding thicket and through the tunnel to the other side. There they turned to see the orange flames rising up through the branches of the tower tree.
    â€œI’m so sorry, Anya,” Saheli yelled in a choked voice. “I should never have moved those candles.”
    â€œGoodbye, Anya Kuzelnika,” Xemion called out sadly.

    Before they set off into the eastern forest they examined the edge of the crevice where Rotan Smedenage had ended his flight last night. At the bottom of the rock face they could clearly see a black Pathan boot emerging from the undergrowth.
    â€œDo you think the rest of him is down there?” Saheli

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