The Reavers’ Knell
by Martin Bolton
Heron skipped aside from his father’s down-swinging blade, but no sooner had he done so the bright steel whistled from his left. He ducked and danced back the way he had come, spinning on the balls of his feet. The blade came again, relentless, this time upwards and from his right. He brought his own blade up and the razor sharp edges rang together. The sound of the blades’ kiss sang in his ears. The Reavers’ Knell, the warriors had named that sound.
Egret advanced swiftly, glistening brow furrowed with concentration, but Heron found his father too predictable. He slid around the sword thrust and let the bigger man’s momentum do the rest.
Egret Steelflight stumbled over his son’s outstretched foot and toppled over, landing heavily on his face.
“Good,” said Egret, wiping blood from his lips, “but you must be more ruthless. You fight well, with grace, but you must learn to kill.”
“How can I learn to kill when I fight my own father? Would you have me slay you for the sake of a lesson?”
“You will have to kill without hesitation when the Reavers return. The fate of mankind rests upon you. The prophecy…”
“Fuck the prophecy!” Heron roared, his temper flaring. “Who shall I kill then, Father? You? Raptor? Ibis? I am eleven years old…”
Egret cuffed his son back-handed across the face.
“…and already the finest blade in Talonreach!” Egret barked, then his voice took on a softer tone. “You are the only hope. When The Reavers return, you will stand against them, and you must… you will prevail!”
Heron looked sullenly down at his sword, turning it back and forth in his right hand, wiping blood from his lip with his left. “I am not the finest sword in Talonreach. Redkite is.”
“Then you have answered your own question,” replied Egret.
Heron gaped. “What are you saying?”
Egret looked away. “It is the only way we can be sure you are the one. You will kill Redkite or die trying.”
* * * *
“Get down from there you fool, you’ll break your neck!” Heron called out, frowning.
Raptor capered on the rock with a stick. “I am Heron Steelflight,” he cried, waving the pretend weapon in the air, “I am born of the prophecy! I am indestructible!”
Ibis’ smile faded when she saw Heron’s face, and she reached out to touch it. “What happened to your lip?”
“Nothing,” he replied, not meeting her gaze.
“He only wants you to fulfil your destiny,” she said.
Heron turned away, irritated that she always knew what he was thinking. He took a few steps and stopped, sighing heavily. He glanced up at Raptor, still dancing atop the rock, fighting off imaginary Reavers, though the boy could not know what they looked like.
Even Heron’s father was not old enough to have witnessed the near total destruction of his kind, but even so he believed in the prophecy. He had told Heron stories of the distant past. Stories of how mankind had spread across the entire planet. They had once built machines that required no beast to pull them, yet moved at amazing speeds, and weapons of fire that could destroy entire towns from miles away across sand and sea. All this was lost long before the Reavers came, or humanity might have defeated them, but mankind had all but destroyed itself by then. All the Reavers did was help to finish them off, or nearly. A few survived and founded Talonreach, many generations before Heron’s birth.
The Reavers would return, the prophecy said, and Heron Steelflight would lead the army that wiped them out once and for all.
Ibis took his hand and they walked away, leaving Raptor to his game.
“What am I?” he asked, picturing the bloodied corpse of Redkite in his head. Something deep within him made him sure he would kill Redkite, but what if the prophecy turned out to be false? He would have killed his friend for nothing.
Ibis stopped and took both his hands in hers, fixing him with those intense, green eyes. “You are Heron Steelflight,” she said.
“And who is he?” He felt tears in his eyes.
“…says I am invincible.” He finished her sentence for her. “I cannot be injured by another mortal. I am the saviour of humanity. Where does it say I must kill Redkite?”
Ibis pursed her lips, the way she did when she was in deep thought. He wanted to take her and run away, but he knew she would not allow it.
“My father says I must kill,” he continued, “to be sure I will not falter when the Reavers come.” He produced a knife from one sleeve and pushed the handle into her palm. “I must be sure. If you believe I am the one, press the blade into my heart.”
For a moment he thought she would refuse, and if she did he would know her belief had wavered. Ibis took the knife and swiftly pushed him down onto his back, placing the blade against his heart. She placed one hand over the hilt and, as she pressed her lips against his, put all her weight on the slither of steel.
Heron Steelflight closed his eyes as the blade broke against his skin. In his mind he heard The Reavers’ Knell, and knew who he was.