Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Brief History of the Sword of Kings

From the private notes of Nicholas Rasputin, adjunct professor of history at Oxford University:

According to legend, the Sword of Kings was originally forged in the ancient city of Troy for the hero Hector around 600 BC.  Modern scholars believe that the blade was forged from black iron, the first known instance of that metal’s use in recorded human history.  The legend has it that King Priam commissioned the sword from a traveling smith who impressed him during a feast, and that Priam meant the sword to be a symbol of his favorite son’s coming reign.  Events, however, derailed those plans.  After Hector’s defeat at the hands of Achilles, King Menalaus demanded the sword for his own, but Achilles refused, instead returning the sword to Priam during the games held to honor Hector’s death.  This, then, was the second time that the sword’s name became ironic—that it was wielded not by a king but by someone close to the king.  From these events, the pattern was set.  It would be repeated throughout history.

Following the fall of Troy, there is no record of the sword’s fate.  However, scholars feel that Priam must have given the sword to his next favorite son, Aeneas, who is credited by legend with the founding of Rome after the fall of Troy.

From there, the Sword of Kings disappears from history for over a thousand years.  Perhaps the sword helped the Romans to conquer the known world, or perhaps its design merely informed the creation of the gladius, the famed Roman short sword, and its attendant tactics.  We can at this point only speculate.  Whichever Roman general held the sword during the days of the Republic, he took care to keep its power a secret.

Some romanticists have claimed that Julius Caesar must have carried the sword during his conquest of southern Britain around 70 BC.  However, there is little concrete historical evidence to support these claims, and indeed, they seem doubly unlikely given that Caesar himself succeeded in becoming king.  Given the sword’s history, if anyone near Caesar carried it, it was most likely Mark Anthony, Caesar’s right-hand man.  Regardless, while many modern scholars of sorcery believe that Caesar himself may have been a sorcerer of some local repute—or, more likely, that he kept one nearby—there is little direct evidence of arcane influence in his victories beyond the sheer improbability of the ones in the later stages of the Roman Civil War.  Moreover, even evidence of Caesar’s use of magic would not prove that he carried the sword.  

The Sword next appears in Wales, in the hands of a Roman officer and patrician named Ambrosius Aurelianus around 600 AD.  Aurelianus, one of the earliest known uniquely British wizards, used the sword to fight off invading Anglo-Saxons and to establish a unique and independent society in Wales and southern England.  Modern scholars believe that the legends of Merlin and King Arthur originate from this time as a result of the works of Aurelianus and the Sword of Kings.

An early illustration of Weyland,
also called Volundr.
From Aurelianus and his line, the sword makes its way to France, to Weyland the Smith.  Of course, Weyland was one of medieval Europe’s greatest and best known wizards and makers, and it is from his rather detailed writings that we know much of the sword’s early history and original design.  In his notes, he states that he knew immediately that the sword was a powerful focus of magic but that he also knew that its metallurgy would not much longer stand the test of time.  In other words, by the early Middle Ages, the sword was becoming obsolete.  It was still a good conductor of arcane energy, but as an actual weapon, its effectiveness was strictly limited.  Weyland the Smith therefore reforged the sword in 775 AD, lengthening it and tempering the black iron of its original construction with carbon to forge a blade of steel.  He also altered the grip, crossbar, and pommel, shaping the pommel to look like a lion.  He was, however, careful to leave the sword’s enchantments in place, ensuring that it could continue to be both a weapon of war and a means to channel magic.  Weyland then gave the sword to Charlemagne, who in turn gifted it to his paladin Roland under the name Durandal, meaning Endurance.  Roland’s exploits with Durandal are well-known.  Of importance here is the fact that Roland was eventually forced to hide the Sword of Kings at the conclusion of his last battle against the Saracens.  

The sword next appears with Gilles de Rais, a companion to Joan of Arc.  De Rais used the sword as a weapon during his days as a soldier, but though he himself was not a wizard, extended exposure to the sword’s power eventually led de Rais to study of the occult.  Unschooled in the arts of wizardry, de Rais went mad, becoming in his later years a serial killer of children.

Charles XII of Sweden was the next known wielder, though it is unclear how he came to possess the blade.  It’s notable, however, that he himself wielded the sword for more than a decade—the only time in the sword’s known history when it was actually carried by a king in battle.  With the Sword of Kings in hand, Charles XII was unbeatable.  He led the armies of Sweden to victory after victory until he eventually took a wound in the foot during one of his final campaigns, against the armies of Peter the Great of Russia.  Unable to participate in combat with his wound, Charles lent the sword to General Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt for the Battle of Poltava.  Peter the Great then took the sword when he forced Lewenhaupt to surrender at Perevolochna.  Charles died soon afterwards.

Peter the Great carried the sword, but he never truly wielded it.  For him, it primarily a decoration.  Indeed, it stayed in the possession of the Czars of Russia as a decoration for the next hundred years, until the coming of Grigori Rasputin towards the end of the 19th century.  Rasputin found the blade hanging forgotten on the wall of a hunting lodge on the coast of the Crimea and recognized it for what it was.  He was then able to use the sword to take control of the Russian royal family—and all of Russia. 

British secret agents murdered Rasputin but failed to recover the sword.  The sword itself is now lost to history.

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