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In a sheepfarmer's low stone house, high in the hills above Three Firs, two swords hang now above the mantelpiece. One is very old and slightly bent, a sword more iron than steel, dark as a pot: forged, so the tale runs, by the smith in Rocky Ford—yet it is a sword, for all that, and belonged to Kanas once, and tasted orcs' blood and robbers' blood in its time. The other is a very different matter: long and straight, keen-edged, of the finest sword-steel, silvery and glinting blue even in yellow firelight. The pommel's knot design is centered with the deeply graven seal of St. Gird; the cross-hilts are gracefully shaped and chased in gold.

The children of that place look at both swords with awe, and on some long winter nights old Dorthan, grandfather of fathers and graybeard now, takes from its carved chest the scroll that came with the sword and reads aloud to his family. But first he reminds them of the day a stranger rode up, robed and mantled in white, an old man with thin silver hair, and handed down the box and the sword, naked as it hangs now.

"Keep these," the stranger said, "in memory of your daughter Paksenarrion. She wishes you to have them and has no need of them." And though he accepted water from their well, he would say no more of Paksenarrion, whether she lived or lay buried far away, whether she would return or no.

The scroll Dorthan reads is headed The Deed of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter of Three Firs, and many are the tales of courage and adventure written therein. Time and again the family has thrilled to the description of Paksenarrion in battle—the littlest ones pressing close around Dorthan's knees, and watching her sword on the wall. They are sure it glows slightly when those tales are read.

And always they ask, the little ones who never knew her, what she was like. Just like that in the scroll? Always so tall, so brave? And Dorthan remembers her face the night she left, and is silent. One brother thinks of a long-legged girl running down errant sheep; the youngest remembers being carried on her shoulders, and the smell of her hair. Besides this, legend is all they have. "She's dead," say some. "She must be, or they wouldn't have sent her sword."

"No," say others. "She is not dead. She is gone where she doesn't need this sword."

And Dorthan turns to the end of the scroll, which solves nothing . . .  for the Deed is unfinished, ending abruptly in the middle of a stanza.

And one of those children, the little ones, has climbed from stool to table, and from table to mantelpiece, and touched with a daring hand the hilt of each sword . . . and then climbed down, to dream of songs and battles.


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