“The works of fiction with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted are such as exhibit life in its true state… it is therefore precluded from the machines and expedients of the heroic romance, and can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity: it can neither bewilder its personages in deserts nor lodge them in imaginary castles.” – Johnson
“Be careful where you unsheathe your sword!”
To my left, but almost directly behind me, a pock-marked lad of about nineteen stood. His face had more red than white, and he wore wire-rimmed glasses and a brown pullover with a hood. On his back a quiver strapped with arrows and a bow glistened with his short golden-blonde hair in the glow of our lighted tent. Across his chest lay a leather strap wrapped around his shoulder to his waist. Attached to his leather strap was a long sheath, as for a sword. A sword that was held firmly in his right hand and pointed across my body at my comrade. This individual also had an unsheathed sword, but he only gazed at it in admiration, its tip pointing to the grass. And when he heard the words of his challenger, who it seemed popped out of the ground, he could only stare at him in wonder. He was, I imagine, grateful at the gracefulness of this lad. For had the lad merely assumed his doctrine of sword-sheathing, instead of warning us, my comrade would surely be headless.
“This is Gandalf the Grey’s sword,” the lad continued. “I paid more for it than if I had got it here.” He made a motion with his head to the rack of swords before us but did not seem upset at having paid too much. “That is Gandalf the White’s sword.”
“Well, you’d want that one,” said my comrade.
“Yes, except that it will get dirty faster. See the white handle.”
“Ah, yes,” I chimed in. “For all the men you have to slay.”
I grabbed the sword. Its handle was overlaid in white leather and its silver hilt curved and had small knobs on its ends. I compared it with the lad’s sword, which was now pointed at us with the handle. Then, my heart fluttered, and I began to unsheathe, checking myself and not unsheathing completely, lest any more challengers should set upon us. The blade was very sharp, and after further study, my comrade observed ruins on the hilt.
“And that one is Aragorn’s.” The lad pointed to another racked sword. My comrade wasted no time unsheathing it. “But, it is not as long as the actual sword.” There was disappoint in the lad’s voice at this thought.
“Whose sword is this?” I grabbed one that had an insignia of a lion on it. The lad did not know and gathered it was just a sword.
“Here, this one, though, you see,” he quickly – and without care, I thought – unsheathed a curved, golden sword. “This is an elven blade. Legolas’s.”
At the word’s “elven blade” I knew we had entered new territory. There’s a fine line many men cross, and this lad cross it several years in his past. We meandered on two sides of a long table, fitted with swords and daggers. A holed partition separated each side.
“Say, are you guys Star Trek fans?”
No! I thought. I have my limits. “Well, yeah, I’ve seen it,” my comrade said indifferently, gazing at the lad through the partition but fondling a few daggers.
“See this?” he grabbed a large curved, hilt-less blade with two hands and held it up to his forehead. The ragged blades poked out of his pock-marked face like several silver horns. He transformed suddenly from a young lad of nineteen to some horned beast with fire shooting out of his face. Whatever he said was either inaudible or forgettable, and we carried on looking at daggers.
“It’s king Volpone.”
One a bench by a tree, a fox stood wearing a long cape and golden crown, surrounded by children looking upwards at him. My comrade stalled and started near it, but the rest of us held back.
“Or, perhaps it’s the Robin Hood fox,” said his wife. “Prince John was a lion though, wasn’t he?”
“Yes,” I said confidently. “The kings were lions. That was my favorite movie as a child.” And as we passed the fox-king, I thought about that movie. I thought about Romance and the battle of life. I remembered, through its own film, my fifth birthday. I clad myself with a new sword, shield, and beaver. I planned an attack and rescue. I thought, not for the first or last, that my fellow Romantics are daily persecuted. We sauntered under a crescent moon, slightly hazed with thin clouds, surrounded by men wearing capes; Viking-horned helmets that glowed purple and red; men with swords, battle-axes, clubs, daggers, or wands. I thought about how I live in a renaissance fair. I thought about Romance and how we still must fight with swords and rescue women from towers. Only, the towers are ivory and the swords as mighty as pens. It will take a sword and bloodshed to destroy some Romantics.
“You can get your sword sharpened. The blades will get worn down after awhile. After you kill many monsters.”
“It will get worn down if you don’t use it? Keep it sheathed?” I asked cynically.
“No, man,” said my comrade, playing along. “When you’ve killed so many monsters and dragons and such. Then it gets worn down. Not if you leave it sheathed.”
“Yeah, it’s the constant hacking at their necks and the blood. That wears down the blade. But there are places where you can get it sharpened. I’ve had to get mine sharpened. I’ve killed so many.”
There’s a fine line. I almost cashed in, bought the unknown sword with unknown money to satisfy a deep boyish need. Then, I looked hard at this pocked-marked lad and knew there was a fine line. I knew that the only reason for owning a sword was Romance, defense, slaying real men and protecting real princesses. I knew and know that if monsters do exist, or if dragons do return to our world, that swords will be required. I knew that the last thing a grown man must do is buy a sword to fight an imagination. Children may do this; but men must mature. There is only one age a man should always be; the age of chivalry. Better, then, to buy a sword to fight your neighbor, than to fight the air. For a sword without bloodshed is a pen without ink. It is a pen without an audience, a knight without a damsel. Knowing this, I looked hard at the pock-marked lad and asked him sternly the only important question, the only requirement of knighthood and chivalry.
“Sir! How many men have you slain with that sword?”
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
October 8, 201
Painting: “Examining the Sword”
Thomas Sword Good
Oil on panel, 1822