Title: “The Scepter and the Sword”
Word Count: ~3100
Background notes: I wrote “Scepter and the Sword” for a class assignment my senior year of high school. We were asked to write a myth based on Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, which he discusses in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In addition to the story, I wrote a poetic introduction as a sort of added bonus. This was the result, and six years later, I’m still pretty proud of it.
Beast of ambiguity
Monster of negativity
who attempted to destroy
again and again
at my resolve, my strength, my dreams
Leeched off of my fears and anxieties
Turned me inside out,
Threw me to the vultures —
a ravaged corpse.
But a spark of resilient fire remained
a smoldering ember, struggling to resist
Broke through the lies,
awakening the Seraph within me
As a phoenix rises
from the ashes
Seraph strives to reclaim her throne from the usurper
gathers her will within herself
searching for a means to defeat the creature
Thunder booms, lightening crackles
as the Seraph regains her strength
She calls upon winds and rains,
galaxies and supernovas
to renew her strength
refresh her memories of her goals and dreams
Brandishing her blazing scepter of stars,
she ruthlessly attacks the behemoth
Strikes him once, twice,
again and again
to dispel the monster demon
from her realm
annihilate him so he may
Passionately, she strikes home
vanquishing her foe with a reborn strength
the Seraph stands at once in her ultimate glory
stars of crystal ice adorn her midnight tresses
Bathed in a soft violet light, emanating from within
she clothes herself with the robes of her scattered dreams and wishes,
Repairs them with love and tender care.
She restores her realm and resumes her throne
with the knowledge that she will never again flounder in turbulent waters
With her hand raised high to the heavens
She invokes the name of her Creator
So that all will know that she finally is
The smell of death hung in the air, suffocating and oppressive. Another volley was launched into the stone parapets; with its strong impact, the floors shook violently, threatening cracks forming in the walls and ceilings of the once-regal chambers. The siege had already lasted for two months, much longer than anyone anticipated. The rebel forces, once believed to be nothing more than a band of miscreants, were displaying a finesse and strength that hinted that there might be more than met the eye to the enemy. Some evil had lent its dark energy to the rebels, power too strong for the Seraph’s people to contain. Mother of the Realm, the All-Seeing Eye, High Sorceress, the Seraph – by all these names her people called her. The ruler of the Crystal Realm, she had continued the reign of peace that had existed since the days of the First Seraph, the beloved of the god Eilon, her ascendant and ancestor, over a thousand years before. With her illness, one that began with the Realm’s invasion and worsened with the subsequent death of her husband, her consort and regent, it was clear that all would be lost to the invaders. She lay on the cushioned divan, her long, lean frame frail and weak from the power she had expended trying in vain to rid her land of the encroaching enemy. In her final hours, she had sent all but her only daughter away that she might impart the last of her wisdom, memories, and love to her sole heir.
“Vanora.” Her mother’s voice, weak but still commanding, called her away from the window and back to her side. “How goes the battle?”
Vanora turned towards her mother, her heart wrenching with sorrow as she took in the Seraph’s haggard, emaciated appearance. Her dark skin was stretched across her face, thin as parchment, streaked with paper-thin lines of worry and sorrow, covered with dust and tears. Once the most beautiful of the Realm, it was painful to see her beloved mother reduced to such a state. “Not well,” the girl replied grimly. “The rebels continue to advance with their weaponry.”
“Remain with me, Vanora. We haven’t much time,” she said, urgency in her voice. She gazed up into her daughter’s deep violet eyes, the mark of the Seraph, and gave a gentle smile. “My daughter… I have protected you for as long as I can. One day soon, you will be grown. You will have to find your own way.”
The day that her mother spoke of seemed far, far in the future. “I’ve not yet lived my thirteenth winter, Mother,” the girl protested.
“So tall, so strong, so beautiful,” the Seraph continued as though she had not heard her daughter’s protestations. “You are but a child now, but one day you will reach womanhood. Then, it will be for you to avenge the death of those who loved you.”
The true meaning of her mother’s words slowly sunk in. “Mother, please,” Vanora cried out, tears streaming down her face. “Where will I go? How will I live without you to guide me?”
“Travel to the North, into the mountains of Chardaell; Everett of Verseillon is a fair man and will shelter you.” It seemed as though each word and each breath took another ounce of her strength and energy; regardless, she continued on. “Vanek will accompany you, to serve as guide and sage, and I give you Shadowstar, the sacred sword bequeathed to the first Seraph by the gods, to protect you from harm.” At her words, a brightly burning sword appeared at Vanora’s side. “Do not weep,” she said, managing a smile as she brushed the tears from her daughter’s cheek. “I will see you again, my daughter, on the day when the dead are raised to life and the gods walk among us once more. Remember – my spirit will always be with you.” With those words, the old queen released her final breath, shuddered, and fell back, her face peaceful as if bathed in an eternal rest.
Angry tears rolled down Vanora’s face as she shook with the grief of one who has lost her entire world – first her father, a fortnight before, and now her mother. How would she survive? Her sorrow and agony was interrupted by another volley launched at the faltering battlements.
“Princess,” Vanek appeared at her side suddenly and silently, the cowl of his cloak pulled over his head. An eminent scholar, sorcerer, and warrior, he was like an older brother to Vanora. He had been found by the Seraph when he was no more than a tiny scrap of a child, the victim of a tragic fire that killed his entire family and left him maimed, with only one hand to call his own. In the years that passed, he became renowned as a fearsome fighter, as deadly with his one hand and hooked, wickedly curved claw; despite his youth, he possessed wisdom beyond his years, allowing him to study the sacred books with the Wise Men of the Cove, men of magic and books far surpassing him by scores of years. He was like a son to the Seraph and her husband, and somewhere within, Vanora knew that his grief must have been as strong as her own.
“We must flee at once – the enemy will break through the fortification before the rising of the moon, and then all will be lost.” His voice echoed through the stone chamber, but Vanora, caught deep in the net of mourning, paid him no heed. She continued to kneel by her mother’s side, anguished sobs racking her slight frame. “Do you understand?” he demanded, pulling her up from the floor and thrusting the sword into her hands. “Escape into the wilderness is the only way your parents’ deaths will be avenged!” As if to underscore his words, an explosion ripped through the castle, filling the chamber with smoke and dust, and plunging Vanora’s world into the darkness.
“My Lady? My Lady?” Vanora woke with a start to the insistent tugging of Madeleine, her maid. The young girl averted her eyes as soon as she was met with Vanora’s violet gaze, one of such unique intensity that it unnerved her. “My Lady, the Earl of Trellham has bid me to remind you that you were to ride together.”
“We were not to ride until after luncheon,” Vanora said in confusion, rising to rest against the large, overstuffed pillows on the heavily cushioned bed.
“‘Tis nearly two hours after luncheon,” Madeleine informed her meekly, gesturing out the large window where the sun hung high in the sky. “His Majesty gave word that you were not to be disturbed till this late hour; he knows your sleep has been troubled of late.”
Vanora’s face clouded at the mention of her nightmares. “It’s a wonder that the entire Court doesn’t know!” she snapped peevishly. “Tell Trellham I’ll be down momentarily.”
With the room emptied, Vanora sagged against the pillows and covered her eyes with one hand. Dreams of her mother’s death and her exile from the Crystal Realm – a full ten years before – had been assaulting her like never before.
A native of the Summer Country, the southern tip of the continent where the Crystal Realm was located, Vanora bore the almond-shaped, slanted eyes; bronzed skin; long black hair; and gently rounded body that were typical of Southlanders, but a world apart from the blond, freckled, fair-skinned complexion of the Northern realms. Rather than feel isolated from her different appearance, she reveled in them and used them to her advantage. The beloved “Exotic Blossom” of Verseillon’s court, she enjoyed the attention and affection of the young gentlemen who visited Court; her lively, amiable disposition endeared her to the young women. It was a peaceful, blissful existence, free of the pain that had tormented her long after her exile. She was happy, she told herself firmly in attempt to quell the voices that had been nagging at her over the past weeks. She enjoyed her life, and had no wish for it to change in any way. Unbidden, an image of her mother’s face rose before her, silent, benevolent, radiant with love and trust. Shaking her head to clear her mind of the vision, she rolled out of bed, nibbled at the breakfast Madeleine had left for her, and dressed herself in her riding habit. She was on her way to the stables when she was stopped.
“Going riding, are you, my Lady?” The voice, emanating from the shadows, startled Vanora; she relaxed when a tall, cloaked figure with a long serpent draped over one shoulder emerged, a mocking smile on his face as he looked down on her. It was Vanek, the scholar and sorcerer who had borne her from the Realm to safety. He had been a pillar of strength and wisdom in her life, the provider of guidance and direction. Though hardly more than eight-and-twenty, he cut an imposing figure, frightening many of the Court’s youth from his corridors with the power that emanated from his mere presence. For ten years, he had been instructing her in the old ways, the magic and power that were her birthright. With her focus diverted by matters of the heart, however, the two had grown increasingly distant.
“Vanek, you almost scared the life out of me!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing hiding in the dark?”
“Another meeting with the foppish Earl of Trellham?” he asked, ignoring her question. “You shouldn’t lead him on, Vanora; it’s not fair to toy with his emotions.”
She bristled at his words. “He’s not foppish and I happen to like him better than the others,” she shot back, knowing quite well that she sounded like a young girl rather than a woman of two-and-twenty.
“And what is it about your young beloved that endears him so to you?”
“He plays the lute rather well,” she said in an off-hand fashion. “Now, if I may take my leave, my ‘young beloved’ and I are to go riding – ”
“Vanora, wait,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I worry for you. It’s been weeks since you’ve come for your lessons – ”
“I’ve been busy,” she faltered.
“And the King tells me you’ve been sleeping ill of late. Something about dreams…?” He trailed off and glanced at her expectantly.
“They’re nothing,” she dismissed.
“They’re disturbing you,” he countered. Stubbornly, she glanced down, refusing to answer or to meet his gaze. Undaunted, he continued. “Thoughts of your task are arising,” he stated calmly, noting the shock on her face. “You are restless, disturbed. To the rest of the world, you bask in the attention of your admirers; within, you are searching and eager to wander. You want more than they have to offer.” He leaned closer towards her. “Take up the task, Vanora. Avenge your parents.”
“The task is not mine,” she said brusquely, breaking away from him. “I am no warrior.”
“It is your destiny to wield the Scepter and the Sword,” he continued implacably. “I have trained you to the best of my ability; you have long been ready.” Sensing her hesitation, he added, “You are the Seraph, the rightful ruler; you must take up the crown in your mother’s stead.”
“That right was taken from me ten years ago,” she snapped, undisguised bitterness in her voice. Before he could continue, a young man came hurrying down the corridor.
“Vanora, where have you been? I’ve searched the entire castle for you!”
She faced the Earl, a forced smile on her face. At the moment, he was the last person she wanted to see. “I’m sorry, my Lord. I was… detained.” She curtsied to Vanek. “If I may take my leave…?” He assented with a nod of his head, and the two swept from the corridor together, laughing and chatting amiably as they left. With a tired sigh, Vanek returned to his studies.
The day’s ride was uninteresting and uneventful, save for the Earl’s insipid, banal recitation of his mediocre poetry. Vanora retired to her chambers discontented, the feeling of emptiness growing within her as she thought back to her conversation with Vanek. She had treated her mentor poorly, disregarding his advice and counsel as she grew in what she had thought was wisdom, but now recognized to be the folly of womanhood. If she could only find the answer…
Suddenly, an idea occurred to her. Quickly, she pulled back the paneling of one wall to reveal a secret hiding place. Pulling a long, skinny wooden box from the hollow place, she sat back on the floor and stared at it in silent contemplation. With a deep breath, she opened the dusty cover, revealing her most prized possession within: Shadowstar, her mother’s final gift. With slight trepidation, she took the sword in one hand; it responded immediately to her touch, flaring to life with a fiery brilliance that made her shield her eyes for a moment. She shut the box’s lid resolutely, the answer firmly planted in her mind. She knew what she must do.
Vanora and Vanek left the castle under the cover of night. She had left a note for the king, her protector, making reference to her quest and asking him not to worry or distress for her safety. The two traveled for a month through wind and rain, sleet and snow, emerging finally in the Summer Country, the realm that had been Vanora’s birthplace. But the realm, it soon became clear, had been sorely changed. No longer the prosperous, peaceful country of her youth, it had been transformed into a barren wasteland of sadness and evil. It was with a heavy heart that the Princess and her Mentor rode forth, witnessing the harsh toil of the starving, ragged people in the fallow fields, cruel taskmasters prodding and beating them to continue on their fruitless paths.
“We have to stop this,” she murmured to Vanek, her face bleak as she cast her gaze upon the scene. “Someone has to restore this land.”
“I have no doubts that you will,” he told his protégé, a note of pride in his voice. He had waited and hoped for the day that this would pass; he was confident in her abilities, her courage, and her strength.
The two made their way to the castle that had once been the Seat of the Seraph and Vanora’s home. Now the home to the Dragon King, the usurper who fashioned himself the ruler of the land, it blended well with the harsh, desolate landscape. Surprisingly, they were admitted without trouble or question into the throne room.
It took all of Vanora’s willpower not to scream in anger at the scene around her. Swathed in darkness, stinking of evil, it was the nest of the foul creatures that had taken over the land. Despite this, the two approached the throne calmly and assuredly. A dark figure with a forbidding iron mask sat upon the throne, fingers glittering with large diamonds and stones. He sat up in interest as the two made their way towards him.
“Bow down and prostrate yourselves, strangers!” the herald at the foot of the throne commanded imperiously. “You stand before the dread king, the Dragon Lord of the land!”
“We bow to no one,” she returned in a loud voice. Her refusal silenced the entire room. “I am the Seraph, the true ruler of this realm; I have returned to take back my rightful throne from the scum – ” She broke off to spit on the ground in contempt ” – who stole it ten winters ago.”
The robed, masked figure on the throne laughed scornfully, a sound that echoed throughout the stone walls of the room. “What can a man and a girl do to me? If you are who you claim to be, not even your mother, the Seraph,” he said in disdain, “could stop me. There is no hope for you.”
Vanora lifted her chin resolutely and pulled her sword from its sheath. As she held it in the air, it blazed as if in defiance of the Dragon King. “I do not intend to fail,” she told him tenaciously. “I will avenge her death.”
“You should provide pleasant sport,” the Dragon King laughed again as he rose from the throne and took a heavily spiked mace from one of the servants. Before she had a chance to collect her thoughts, he came at her with the full force of his weapon, slamming and beating at her in an attempt to find her weak point. Vanek had been taken by the guards; he would be unable to help her now. Deep within her heart, she despaired. Although she had been an apt pupil and had bested most of the men at Court in riding, archery, fencing, and magic, she seemed to be no match for the Dragon King.
With every step, every blow to her magical shield and defenses, she felt her resolve crumbling. Her power was draining from her, leaving her weak and light-headed; she understood suddenly how her mother’s final moments must have felt.
Suddenly, she felt a soft breeze caress her cheek, and heard her mother’s voice in her mind: “Remember – my spirit will always be with you.” As if her mother had lent her strength to her daughter, Vanora attacked with renewed vigor, her sword burning brighter than ever as she dodged her enemies’ blows until she found his weak point. As she drove her point home, the earth shuddered and heaved, and the Dragon King exploded from within. Stunned by the force of the blast, Vanora’s sight dimmed, and she collapsed to the ground.
The sun shone brightly in the Summer Country for the first time in ten years on the day of Vanora, the Seraph of the Crystal Realm, assumed the throne for the first time. Rulers from the neighboring lands had come to witness the momentous event, for it marked the beginning of a return to peace and prosperity. With the thrust of her sword, Vanora had vanquished the agent of the Darkness, and sent his minions into the wastelands of the East where they came from. Through undertaking her quest and responding to the call of her task and destiny, she uncovered her true identity, the self she had run from for so long. With this reconciliation of psyche and consciousness, she was poised to lead her people into the future, wielding the tools that were her heritage: the Scepter and the Sword.