Bottom Bridge

Will ran for the rest of the night, down the huge valley that slowly diverged into the lowlands of the East Riding. The stern wall of the mountains and the boundless expanse of the plain had been the borders of his world for as long as he could remember, as if guarding the secrets of the world with their impregnability and emptiness alike.

The only settlements he knew was the hikers' place up in the mountains and his village, Bottom Bridge. It was a small, cosy settlement built up around a sturdy stone bridge that crossed the Rushwater at the bottom of the valley. It was tiered into the steep, grassy banks either side of the young, sprightly waters, the stone terraces like giant steps in the darkening light. Farmland was too steep for ploughing, so instead the farmers grazed animals on the slanted hillsides, trading their salted meats in the larger market towns for grain to make their bread. He could see the speckled cows peppered across the grassy slopes, grazing nonchalantly or bedding down for the night.

Before long he was on the stony road leading to the north gate of Bottom Bridge. The guard, who had been preparing to secure the wooden palisade for the night, stood aside for him ("Yeh cut that a bit fine, didn't yeh, laddie?") Will hurried through, attempting to hide his won weapon in his tunic - the guard knew him well, but would not be impressed if he thought Will was here to cause trouble.

Once inside the village, Will found a secluded corner to hunker down. He pulled the sword carefully from his scabbard and examined it by the flickering light of the nearest lantern.

It was an astounding piece of workmanship. Thin enough to slip between a pair of ribs, yet stout enough to maintain its shape in the thick and thin of battle. The pommel was embedded with a sapphire, and fine gold filigree chased its way up and down the blade, glistening in the half light.

Then Will heard a voice.

"What's that you be holdin', sonny?"

Will looked up to see his friend Axbrand the butcher come galumphing towards him.

"Nothing, Ax," he said, trying to cover the entire four-and-a-half feet of the blade in his pack as inconspicuously as possible. But Axbrand was no fool.

"If you think I can't read a fourteen-year-old's face after forty summers, you're more of a fool than yeh look," said Axbrand, in good humour, as he gestured for the sword.

The look of benign mirth died on his face as he took the sword from Will's hand. He spent a long time looking at it, then turned to Will.

"Where'd you get this, son?" he said deeply, looking sharply down at him.

"Why?" said Will.

"And don't ye think of lying to me, 'cos I know exactly where I last saw this."

Will hesitated.

"I won it," he said finally.

"You won it?" said Axbrand, a crease of surprise entering his loosely-skinned face.

"Aye," Will said. "Fair and square."

Axbrand looked down at the sword in quiet contemplation for another moment, then said: "I think you'd better come with me."

Will got to his feet, feeling like a chastised child, and followed Axbrand back into the street and towards Will's most favourite place in town - the Slipshod Inn.

The End

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