Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Wizard and the Sword

Udlotwyn was seated outside his cottage in the warm sunshine when he sensed coming towards him up the hill a sword with a man. When they were within sight he knew that his fears were justified.
    The man proved to be a youth; probably not more than about seventeen. He rode a good horse, but rode it clumsily, suggesting it did not belong to him: probably he had stolen it somewhere. But it was the sword he wore that worried Udlotwyn, for the sword was a demon.
   In past aeons, there had been many demons in the world, but now there were few: it was many years since Udlotwyn had seen one. They had come from Outside, he had been told, and the mighty wizards of past ages had striven to trap and imprison them, to preserve the world from the chaos and destruction they brought. He guessed that this one had been imprisoned in a sword ("Not a wise thing to choose!" he thought), and then buried deep in the earth for safety. Perhaps this youth had turned it up with his plough, and now he imagined he was possessed of a mighty weapon; but in fact the sword was possessing him. It would urge him on to deeds of violence, telling him that he could become a mighty hero, but in fact it would drain him dry, and when he was no more than an empty husk it would discard him and find a new bearer. In the meantime, he,Udlotwyn, would have to be very careful, for the demon in the sword would doubtless seek to kill him. Demons always hated wizards.
     Udlotwyn put forth his powers, out of practice though he was. Ignoring the youth, who would be under the sway of the sword, he concentrated on the most vulnerable target: the horse. By the time it reached the cottage,the horse was convinced it had gone lame in its right fore hoof and was limping badly.
   "Ho, wizard!" called the youth, brandishing his sword, "Bring me out your treasure, or I shall kill you now,rather than later, and slowly, rather than quickly!"
   That's the demon talking, thought Udlotwyn: how else would he know I'm a wizard? But the demand for treasure shows that the youth still has a mind of his own, otherwise he would have killed me immediately instead of wanting treasure. If I proceed carefully I may yet escape with my life.
    "Greetings, Sir Knight!" he said, "My treasure you are welcome to take, for what would an old man like me want with treasure? But it is hidden, and many spells are needed to unlock it,which will take time. But I see you horse is lame: you will not be able to ride far with him unless I cure him. I have food inside, and good water in my well. Pray you: stay a while in my humble cottage while I release the treasure".
   The youth dismounted, and being unaccustomed to riding, he had to return the sword to its scabbard in order to descend. Immediately the demon's hold over him was reduced, and Udlotwyn had little difficulty in persuading him that he was both hungry and thirsty. When the youth had come inside the cottage and was seated at the table, Udlotwyn placed before him not just bread, but the choicest wines and sweetmeats such as might be set before a monarch. Udlotwyn could sense the sword screaming Do not trust him! it's a trick!, but the youth's greed was now in full control of his mind, and it was not long before he had fallen into a deep drugged slumber.
    Udlotwyn unbuckled the youth's sword-belt and, taking care not to touch the sword with his hand, carried it to the back room and locked it in. He then returned to the sleeping youth and caused him to walk, all unawares, out of the cottage and mount his horse, where Udlotwyn secured him to the saddle. The animal was now recovered from its imaginary lameness, and he gave it a slap and commanded it to walk on. When the youth awoke,he would have forgotten everything that had passed. Udlotwyn hoped that the owner of the horse would not punish him: without the sword he seemed to be a harmless enough young man. Udlotwyn then returned to his cottage, sat down and wondered what to do next.
       Once, long ago, he reflected, the world was full of magic; but over the centuries it has all seeped away, and soon there will be none left. It is many years now since I met a wizard: maybe I am the last one. And this sword, perhaps, is the last demon remaining at large. But with no more wizards, who will be able to control even this single solitary demon? I must now watch over it, for as long as there is life in me.
     He entered the back room and with great reluctance drew the sword from its scabbard. Instantly he perceived the power of the demon as it spoke in his mind. Take me, master! it said. Together, none can resist our strength! Together we shall rule the world! But Udlotwyn knew it was only a deception. The demon in the sword would use him to spread death and destruction, and eventually, though it might take many years, in the end it would drain him dry and abandon him. But what could he do? It was said that in the past there had been mighty wizards who could expel demons, back to the Outside from whence they came. But I do not have that power, he thought: nor is there anyone remaining who could instruct me.
     He could still feel the sword tempting him with visions of power and glory, but although there was turmoil in his mind,he managed to resist, and decided on a plan. I must keep the sword here, he thought:  and then I must stay here to guard it; if necessary till the end of my life. But I must also place it somewhere even I will be unable to retrieve it, for I do not know whether I shall always be able to resist its temptations.
    He took the sword from its scabbard. Immediately it resumed speaking to him, promising wealth and glory. He felt his mind tottering as he walked across the back garden to the well. The sword guessed his intent. No, master, no! it shrieked, do no reject this chance! You can rule the world! You can restore the glorious days of magic! It took the last vestiges of Udlotwyn's will to take the cover off the well and drop the sword down. He heard it splash into the water far below. He the picked up several large stone and dropped them down until he was sure the sword was buried. He was utterly exhausted as he replaced the cover.
   He could still hear the voice of the sword, but it was now distant and faint. Maybe it would be best, he thought, to have a new well dug, in a different part of the garden. I shall say that the water from the old well is bad. As the men dig out a new well, I shall use the earth to fill in the old one. I had better do that part of the work myself, lest they should hear the sword and be tempted to look for it.
    He settled down to start his vigil. He would be there a long time.

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