The story starts when a lad out in the wilderness on the fringes sees a glow. He investigates and sees a supernaturally shining sword sheathed in a large rock.

He knows what the sword is and he is excited. Last year the Emperor sent messages and messengers everywhere ordering that when the Youth of Destiny pulled the Sword of Destiny from its stone, that they come at once to the Emperor to be richly rewarded and to save mankind from a terrible looming fate etc. etc. Even here on the fringe, a thousand leagues from the Emperor, the Emperor’s insistent message has arrived.

The lad was pleased. The imperial decree said nothing about the person who merely found the sword, thankfully. Even out here, the Emperor’s vicious reputation was well known.   The less one had to do with him, the better.  As the mere finder he wouldn’t have to go to the capitol. But just finding it would bring fame and fortune to him, surely.

With these happy thoughts he examined the sword a little, just to make sure, and, oops!, it came out.


The lad was phlegmatic.  He accepted his ill-fortune with good grace. He shrugged, picked up the sword, and started to trudge towards the capital.

After a few days travel he came to a village.  A young woman, a girl really, was the first to see him.  She gasped in horror.  The Emperor’s Youth of  Destiny!  She quickly prostrated herself and gabbled she was delighted and at his command.  While the lad goggled, she leaped up and ran back to her family compound, shouting that they had been greatly  honored, very, very, very greatly honored indeed, and  must make the the Emperor’s Youth of Destiny very welcome, lest the Emperor possibly hear of any lapse on their part and feel displeasure.

Soon the lad was being stuffed with food and plied with all the wine he could drink.  In fact, the family was getting him drunk.  Not with any ill-intentions, though this was the kind of family that did have ill-intentions.  But because they were deeply scared of the Emperor.

When he was tired they escorted him with many expressions of loyalty and joy to their best bedroom, normally the patriarch’s, on the second story of the only building they owned with a second story.  They stationed two family members at the base of the stairs in case the lad called for anything.  The rest held a hurried family council.  Was it enough, what they had done?  Should they give him gifts?  A horse?  Would it help or hurt to send the girl to spend the night with him? (They were an unsavory family).  But their council was cut short when they heard a horrible clatter and the two at the base of the stairs ran in, faces white with fear.  The drunk Youth of Destiny had got up, fallen down the stairs, and snapped his  neck.

The family council resumed.  Now with even  more desperation.  If the Emperor found out, the least he would do would be to kill every single member of their family by slow and sadistic degrees.  Likely the entire village for good measure.  If he didn’t find out . . .  But the risks!  If even rumor of a suspicion reached the Emperor that the Youth and Sword of Destiny had been seen and then disappeared . . .  He would enthusiastically put the whole region to torture.  No, they agreed, there was ultimately only one choice.  The young woman who  had brought the curse on them by seeing the lad in the first place would have to take up the Sword and pretend to be the Youth.  Perhaps she could travel for months before the deception was discovered, by which time her steps might be impossible to re-trace!   Who knows, they assured her, she might even make it all the way to the Emperor and become rich and famous.  Meanwhile they would very quietly and inconspicuously wait back here in their remote village, confident that they  next time they saw her she would be a hero of the whole empire!  They loaded her up, gave her the Sword and set her off that very night.

She had only gone a few miles when she heard a distant hubbub and saw a glow on the horizon behind her.  As she knew they would, her clan had fired the family compound and were now attacking the other villagers to make it look like a raid (and to eliminate witnesses).  Afterwards, her family would flee, she knew.  She would never seem them again.  She had known this all along.  But what could she have done?  It was her fate, as soon as she saw the Youth of Destiny.

A few days later a group of robbers jumpy her.  The panicky and frightened way she refused to give up her sword was very far outside the norm, the robbers didn’t know how to respond except by  more violence, and in the confusion she was killed.  They then unwrapped the sword and discovered what they had on their hands.  They promptly fell to killing each other–no witnesses–and the winner wrapped the sword back up and started trudging towards the capital.

He was being feted by a rich aristocrat a few days later when in his cups he confessed that he was not the real Youth of Destiny.  The aristocrat just stared.  The enormity of what he had just heard flummoxed him.  Finally his mind kicked into gear.  The survival of himself and everyone he ever loved was at stake.  Luckily no one else had heard.  The next morning the aristocrat set out with his son and the quondam Youth of Destiny in a carriage.  Word had run ahead, and it took some doing and a fair amount of luck and derring do to avoid letting anyone else see the robber and to escape the rumor of their coming.  But he pulled it off, until they were in a lonely spot.  Then he killed the robber.  He had already explained the situation to his son–one of the few people he could trust because of the Emperor’s known tendency to kill whole family groups along with scores of bystanders.  The son took the sword and started trudging cross-country.  If discovered, he would claim to be the Youth.  But the hope–the knife’s edge of hope–was that he could travel by night and hide up by day, slipping past the notice of everyone, until he had traveled a few hundred miles.  Then leave the Sword to be discovered by someone else.  The aristocrat also had weeks and months of tense work ahead of him.  He needed to cover the tracks of the rumor, suppress word here and there, starts rumors elsewhere, and he had to do it all himself or using a few close family  members he could trust.

The son succeeded somehow.  He ruined his health and badly injured himself but against all odds he trekked many leagues without being seen and succeeded in stowing the sword in a likely place far away from his home, and luring a peasant boy to “find” it.

The peasant boy went mad with the strain after a few days and ran gibbering, leaving the sword in the track.

And so it went.  A troop of actors found it.  They all felt confident in their ability to pass as the Youth of Destiny and killed each other in intrigue.  A soldier took it from survivor.

Rumors and counter-rumors spread and were suppressed.  The Sword took a wandering path.  It passed from hand to hand, from death to death, from lie to  lie.  A few even tried honesty, so desperate were they.  They died and lost the sword in turn.  At last, a dying worker told his young son that his mother and his sister’s only hope was to bring the Sword he carried to the Emperor and to no one else.

The boy took the Sword and set out.  For days he stolidly trudged on.  He said nothing to no one and somehow escaped all notice.

When he came to the capital, he was bewildered by the noise and swirl.  But he had  decided that the Emperor must be at the  middle of all this, so he trudged on.

The Emperor was out and about that day.  As was his custom, he dressed less magnificently than even many lower ranking nobles.  His conceit was that everyone knew him.  No one could afford not to, he thought.  And he was mostly right.  But this boy didn’t.  He saw the crowd drawing back creating an open space around the Emperor’s palanquin and avoided the space–being noticed meant trouble–but he didn’t stop to watch either.  He thought little of it. He just kept walking around.  He created a little eddy in the crowd.  The Emperor saw it, focused, and felt the presence of the sword.  “Guards!” the Emperor commanded me, “bring me whoever that is.”  He pointed at the eddy.    The crowd parted instantly as soon as the Emperor pointed leaving the boy blinking stupidly by himself.

The guards took the boy to the Emperor.  “Now, the sword!” the Emperor said.  The boy did not respond.  “I do not repeat myself,” the Emperor said.  “Guards, kill this lad and take the Sword of Destiny from him.”  The chief guard murmured hurriedly.  “Sire, the Youth of Destiny . . .”  The Emperor laughed.  “There is no Youth of Destiny,” he said.  “I made that up to get the Sword here.  And now its arrived, without me having to lift a finger!”

But when the guards reached to take the boy’s pack and wrapped staff from him–the latter was the Sword–they boy frantically lashed out at the man he did not know was the Emperor, who he thought was going to steal the Sword that he meant to give to the Emperor.  The Emperor and his guards were so used to the terror they inspired that they had grown careless.  And, whether it was because of the presence of the Emperor or a certain purity of motive on the  part of the boy or because the Emperor was a villain grand enough to be worthy of the sword, the Sword of Destiny finally did its thing.  It sang, a sheet of light burst through the wrappings, and the Sword cut deep into the Emperor.

The Emperor staggered in shock and pain.

The guards also fell back in shock.

The crowd turned as one and fled.

One of the guards stumbled as if drunk towards the boy.  He lifted an accusing finger.  “You . . .  you struck the Emperor!”

The boy blanched.

He turned and ran in the opposite direction from which he came.

Nearly half the capital fled into the countryside in all directions.  Were it not for that the Emperor–he was deeply hurt but too wicked to die easily–and his guards and soldiers would have tracked down the boy easily.  As it was the boy was one drop of a great human tidal wave of fear.

Eventually some other starving refugees killed they boy for whatever of worth he might have on him, and discovered that they had the sword on their hand.  They didn’t dare to leave it.  The Emperor in his pain had sworn that when he did find the Sword, as surely he would, he would know from its magic everyone who had ever mishandled it and punish them beyond all measure.  So they took it and fled even faster.

And so it went.  The sword passed from hand to hand, from death to death, from lie to lie, a wandering path, but always farther away from the capital.

By a process of Darwinian selection it was likely to end up in the hands of someone brave and skilled and heroic–because anyone less would die and lose the sword in the chaos of the land–but also very unsubtle and bullheaded–because anyone more devious would figure out a way to pass the sword on to someone else.  And so it occurred.  It came into the hands of someone who would have made a perfect champion, a perfect hero.  The only thing he could think to do was to continue fleeing.  And he did, bashing through all obstacles.

He made it to the wilderness–not in the same place as before–a thousand leagues and even farther from the capital.  He passed tall mountains of strange tribes that were not men.  He went so far that no one had even heard of his Empire.  He came to a great canyon and crossed over a perilous cable bridge erected by magic in some former age of the world.  And halfway across he flung the sword.  He then passed on.



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