Once all the armour was off, Azaila took Chirel off his own shoulder and held it out to Chevenga, saying, “Make your farewell, Virani-e.”
Chevenga had said that it was the name he was taking, as a non-warrior. The same way Surya had taken a new name, I suppose. It made sense that the warrior name would no longer be the first thing people knew of you, but it would be very, very hard for him to let go of everything forged under the name that had changed the world.
He sank to his knees, clutching the scabbard of the sword as if it were a life-ring, or a beloved child. That was it. It was exactly how a parent, about to go on some necessary and arduous, possibly eternal journey, would hug a child and try and tell him goodbye, and to be strong.
He was folded over the weapon, the leather pressed first to his forehead, then to his cheek, sobbing once more, weeping as though the sword could somehow know that he was leaving it behind. Asa kraiya. Beyond the sword was so much more the journey of flesh and heart. The sword didn’t care.
“Azaila...” he managed to choke one word out. Then more, ‘I... don’t know... if I can do this... I’m tearing myself down... I feel as if I’m ruining myself.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the war master answered. I could barely hear him but everyone else in the room was silent, even the tiny children. “Everyone feels that way. I did.”
I could see the breath he took and his head tilted forward over the sword. Then he straightened and drew it. The sound of the steel sliding out of the scabbard was clear in the quiet. “There is no sword in the known world like this one,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much I love it. It’s been my power and my life. I... the idea... of never touching it... never holding it again...” He bent his head but in such a way that his tears wouldn’t touch the metal.
I couldn’t look away, however much I wanted to be polite. It wasn’t polite in the Yeoli sense of the word anyway. I was witness to him grieving the glory that rested on the edge of that sword, grieving all that that razor had stood for, for him. I had a flash of seeing him in the Mezem, of him on the streets of Arko with that harbinger and warning of death on his shoulder. Beautiful. Awful. Terrible.
The sword, and in particular that sword, was not truly personified by the Yeolis, not the same way the Imperial sword was said to have a soul, but it was the image, the arc of the circle cutting everything from nothing, life from death. But nothing, without the hand, the mind, the heart to wield it.
Kallijas’s face was wet. He understood... he’d taught me that one wields a sword with the heart not merely with the hand.
Others around the room were sobbing. I really didn’t know the source for their tears. I couldn't know, only speculate. For his struggle to let go of it? For their part in teaching him to cut death out of life with it? I remembered raising the Imperial sword over my head, in my dream, when it spoke to me, and my tears spilled over the edges of my eyelids and I swiped them away, fast with my gloves.
“But I have been blessed far more than most, to have been given it to carry at all,” Chevenga whispered, his head still bent. “So… no reason for sadness…” He laid his lips reverently to the blade, sheathed it and gave it to Azaila. It was as though his fingers clung to the leather till the last moment, as if the sword were reluctant to let go of him, as he was of it. Is that it? Is that all of it?
He was on his feet now, and Azaila had put the sword with the armour and come around behind him. The black cloth he put over Chevenga’s eyes contrasted starkly with the skin of his cheeks. His hair... which he’d been letting grow out, long enough to be shaggy, was barely enough to be called curls at all, cut tight against his scalp. Why had he cut it, since asa kraiyaseyel usually let their hair grow out long?
The war master adjusted the cloth to make sure that Chevenga could see nothing, whispering to him as he stepped around him. I couldn’t hear what he whispered back.
“Be cleansed, Virani-e,” Azaila said and others... other asa kraiyaseyel, brought basins of water and washed Chevenga from head to foot, three separate times. He took him by the elbow and faced him away from us, where three elders were arrayed in a semi-circle before him, each holding a narrow mirror, almost as tall as they were. Arkan glass. He’d been washed, but not dried, so now he was naked, wet as a newborn but with water, not sweat. “Now, kneel down here.”
As he did so, I could see a flash of him reflected in the one mirror in front of me, angled toward me, but they were tipped just slightly so he could see himself in them all, were he not blindfolded. Azaila removed the blindfold, commanding him to look, then brought his empty hand down across his eyes to shield his threefold reflection from him for a moment, then raised it, commanding ‘Look’ again.
I could see no change in the part of reflection that I could see, but something struck him, something moved him. He started at the one on his shield side, then the centre one, then fixed, staring at whatever he saw on the sword-side one, as if he were seeing spirits.