This sword is heavy. The longer I carry it, the heavier it gets. But I can’t be without it, not even during the nights. Especially during the nights.
Sometimes I awake to find myself still asleep. I break out of a chrysalis of spindly thoughts and rise from my body. There are black shadows at the corner of my eye, always at the corner of my eye: when I look directly at them they melt back into the periphery. My heart beats faster and panic fills my chest. The shadows start to move in closer. I take a deep breath and draw my sword and ready myself for battle. I’m afraid of failing. But I don’t fight the fear, I just lift up my chin and let it fill me.
Today my journey took me down into a valley. On both sides ragged cliffs rose up and disappeared into the clouds, and beneath them I was a tiny insect incapable of flight. I marched on with my heavy boots and wondered why the valley was empty despite being green and nourished by a great river.
After a few hours of walking I came across a hut haphazardly built into the side of the cliff-face. “What brings you here, stranger?” asked a man as he emerged from it. “These are dangerous lands.”
The man was tall, with hulking broad shoulders and a long brown beard and a sword just as strong and heavy as mine.
“I’m passing through here on a journey,” I replied. “But why are you the only one here?”
“Dangerous, as I said,” he replied. “No-one can settle here. This valley is ruled over by a monstrous beast that none can slay. Its claws cut through men’s armour and its piercing beak picks the courage from their bones. It knows every man’s doubts and weaknesses.
“I am the greatest warrior in my lands,” he continued, “and I was sent here to defeat it. I have fought with the beast once, and was lucky to escape with my life. It is impossible. I cannot protect you — you must leave here before it sees you.”
“Thank you for the warning,” I said. “But the only way I can go is forwards.”
“Well then I pray that the beast will overlook you,” he said, laying one huge hand on my shoulder.
I walked on. The sun was descending behind the cliffs and the valley was becoming thick with shadows.
The air began to hum with a dissonant sound, like two notes being crushed together. I felt my heart beat harder. My senses heightened. Every step was bringing me closer to the great and merciless beast.
I felt a sick feeling growing in my bones. I clutched my sword so hard my knuckles became bloodless and told myself I had to press on. Suddenly I felt a presence behind me like a hulking black thing getting closer. I spun around with my sword held high—but there was nothing there except the empty valley drenched in shadows.
I turned back around and pushed forwards. My heart was beating so hard now it was inside my head. The low humming sound started to swell, becoming louder, louder, drowning out the beating blood in my ears, rising and rising until it was no longer a hum but a hideous shriek that echoed through the valley around me.
Before I even had a chance to work out where the noise was coming from, I felt the sudden swoosh of beating wings. I swung my sword blindly against a rush of air so strong it pushed me to the ground.
As I tried to get up I felt a pain unlike any I’ve ever felt before. It was the pain of certain defeat; all my doubts being drawn up and sucked out through my bones, through my flesh, like a thousand hot needles. So this is how the beast destroys its prey, I thought.
The pain grew stronger, paralysing me. The beast shrieked again and, seeing my moment of weakness, swooped towards me.
No, I told myself, you will not give in to these doubts. Don’t fight your pain or your fear: accept them. Let them fill you. And let them make you stronger.
The beast was close to me now. It bore down at me, a dark, undulant mass of sharp claws and determination. With a deafening cry it made its final attack upon my unmoving body. And at the last second I lifted my sword, and stabbed it upwards into the huge, obsidian body.
“Tell your people the beast is dead,” I said to the man in the hut after collecting myself and walking back to find him. “They can come and make their home in this beautiful valley.”
He looked at me and at my sticky black sword and his eyes were wide. “But how could you have been the one to defeat him?” he said. “How could you be the greatest warrior?”
He fell to one knee so he could look me level in the face, and said with awe, “You’re only a little girl!” And he bowed his head, and I smiled.
For my nieces, Zara & Alia.