Lennart Svensson is a myth-maker and an epic fantasist. See for example his 2017 novel, Redeeming Lucifer. Now he's back in mythical lands with a story called The Flaming Sword. It's a about a dry, sunbaked, overripe civilization awaiting change, a cataclysm, something new... and it's finally brought about by a hero wanting to go on the ultimate quest -- a quest to seek that beckoning beacon, that shiny weapon, that legendary sword -- the Flaming Sword.
In the year 999 of the Bosconian Era a man was riding eastwards through a fair wood, the sun beating down from a blue sky, birds singing and bees humming. It seemed like a fine time to live but nothing of this could be seen in the countenance of Delian, which was the man’s name. Even his horse noticed it. Presently it said:
“We are quiet today, are we...?”
“Maybe,” Delian said and steered the horse in under some apple trees lining the highway. Having picked some of the yellow, ripe fruit from a branch he dismounted, took out a knife and peeled an apple. Then he patted his steed on the side of the head, carved a slice of the apple and fed the horse with it, saying:
“My dear Binto, are you ready for some more adventures...? Ready to ride out over the edge of the world, ready to carry me to hell and back...?”
The bright white horse munched the sweet, winked at his master and said:
“I don’t know... isn’t riding around in this world enough for you? Do you have to go beyond the Beyond to thrive?”
Delian didn’t answer. Instead he fed the horse the rest of the apple. Then he mounted and rode away through the sunny morning. Finally he said:
“Beyond the Beyond... well said! I do want to go beyond everything. Become an incomparable legend. Perform some untold of feat.”
“Isn’t finding that jewel enough for this?” the horse said.
“The Igozil?” Delian said and patted the pocket of his tunic where the gem rested. “It was a fine adventure and all, but... I want more out of life than this.”
- - -
Delian was a hero, an adventurous man. He lived in a world called Klesimir, a thriving continent with many fair lands. Currently he was performing a deed, fulfilling a certain labor: to find the Igozil, a curious crystal with which you could hear the heartbeats of the universe. All told, after some drama and action he had found it and now he was returning to the king who had presented the challenge to him, who had asked him to fetch this gem for him.
That king’s name was Kobe and his realm’s name was Nisidor. Now, Delian was heading back for Nisidor and his reward, riding eastwards through the lands. He was dressed in a green tunic, leather breeches, riding boots and a red scarf. His hair flowed long and blond; his eyes were blue, his countenance firm, his complexion fair.
- - -
In the sunny summer day Delian rode east to Nisidor. On the way he passed through a city state called Vinsaka, an aristocratic republic ruled by a council. From the distance it seemed like any town, rather fine with pointed spires and palace towers and a wall surrounding it, the whole place sitting on a grassy plain with quaint meadows.
But when he entered the town he saw that this was a place where debauchery and loose living prevailed. The main street was lined with brothels, tottering buildings labelled “hotel” and “inn,” crowded with scantily clad women and rapacious, unkempt men. To make it worse this was in the dog days and a foul, rotten smell was everywhere. Everything was sunbaked and overripe, all in a state of putrefaction and degeneration.
Delian rode into the city square. In it, a short, wild-eyed, disheveled man was haranguing the crowd with these words:
“The world has gone awry because of your sins! It is now the year 999. What do you think that means?”
“No, tell us,” someone in the crowd said.
“It means the world is coming to an end! We will all die in a storm of divine retribution unless we better our ways and become pious and responsible men again!”
Delian listened to the man and didn’t know what to say. The words resounded in him, he found them not totally out of line, given that the present year actually was 999 and sinning was everywhere, even in this reputedly respectable town, along its main street as he had seen when passing it.
Delian had thought of staying at an inn for a meal and a bed – but now he had lost all appetite, the impressions of Vinsaka upsetting him more than he would openly admit for the moment.
He quickly turned his horse around, headed back for the city gate and rode out into the wilds again.
Leaving the plain and heading into the woods the horse, Binto, spoke up and said:
“What was that? Leaving that fair city? Just turning away from this promise of a nice stable and heading out into the woods again?”
“Oh that?” Delian said, “I just couldn’t stand that city. It was reeking of rotten smells and downright ugliness. I just wanted to cry out loud.”
“Like the prophet in the square?”
Delian said nothing. But the horse got the drift of his thought, so he continued:
“The world has gone awry, eh...?”
Riding through a dense forest in the twilight Delian still didn’t answer. Instead, he headed for a dry piece of ground, dismounted and made himself a shelter under a spruce tree. Then he sought out a brook where he and the horse had their fill of water. The hasty departure from Vinsaka meant that he hadn’t bought any food in the town but he would manage; he had some dried meat to spare. Lying by his campfire at night, having had some tea to go with the meat, he said to his horse:
“To answer your question: indeed, the world has gone wrong. The prophet in the square was right. Sinning is everywhere these days. I mean it; it’s an impression that’s been building up over the years. I’ve seen degeneracy spread and grow for a long time.”
- - -
Looking into the glowing embers of the campfire Delian told his horse of the ways of the Klesimirian world where he had lived all his life. Vinsaka was no isolated phenomenon; the whole world was like that, a world gone astray, a world having forgotten about eternal values like courage, fidelity, loyalty and self-restraint. Now it was all greed, indifference and cowardice.
In his career as an adventurer he had seen virginity sell itself for a few gold coins, he had seen erudition and wisdom degenerating into clowning and posing. He had seen the calm, collected poise of aristocracy fall into grimace and masquerade; he had seen feeling degenerating into emotion, he had seen dedication turning into greed.
Money and lechery ruled, decency and dignity were empty words. Idealism was down on its last legs.
As an old-school hero Delian wanted to change all this. But how? He seemed to be living at the end of days; no one wanted a hero anymore. A responsible man, being true to his word and performing extraordinary feats against robbers and bandits; no one wanted that anymore... for most people were on the sides of the robbers and bandits!
There were no heroic deeds to perform anymore. The current labor he was doing for king Kobe seemed to be the last one, period.
“There’s no will in the world anymore,” Delian told his horse as a summation. “No one has willpower and vision. No one but me. I have the vision of a world where the strong are just and pious, where people do their share, where decency and moderation, courage and responsibility rule. We don’t see this today but we might be doing it in the future, if I have my say.”
That’s what Delian told his horse and the horse nodded and said, “Ummm”.
The ride continued the next day. They headed east and they both went through fine lands and more repellent ones. Riding through a derelict neighborhood in the last of the dog days, finding nothing but foul and rotten stenches from tottering hovels teeming with angry, staring villagers, Delian thought:
“Oh, what to do... I have my willpower and vision, I want to perform heroic feats. But the world just isn’t right for heroism anymore. So, then – maybe it’s time to stop thinking about heroism and adventures altogether. Maybe it’s time to rise to another level of action. Like: punishing the world for its arrogance and indifference...! Just ending it off, destroying it all and then letting civilization start anew. Burning down the whole world and then seeing a new world magically arise from the ruins."
Strafing the world for its sins, learning the world a lesson of chastity and moral rectitude...!
He must put an end to civilization. And he thought: the very deed apart, the destruction and terror and all, if he succeeded it would make him, Delian, a legend for all time.
Riding into a lush, green valley Delian saw a little hut by a stream, a modest building made of logs and with a roof covered by moss, all of it sheltered by tall spruce trees. The sight was endearing, his heart warmed a little. Maybe all wasn’t bad in the world, he thought.
He reined in his horse, dismounted and let the steed go drink water in the rivulet, finding its way through stands of birch and spruce. Delian himself sat down on a fallen log and took out his pipe. Puffing on it he basked in the rays of the late summer sun.
Soon a man emerged from the hut, a rather tall, bearded fellow. He nodded at Delian, faced the sun and seemed to be meditating for a while where he stood. Then he produced his pipe and sat down on a chair next to the entrance of his house. The man was dressed in a blue gown and on his head wore a pointed hat with wide brims. The beard was long and white and he had a wrinkled face, yet, his eyes were young and lively.
Delian rose from his log and said:
“Greetings. I am Delian, adventurer.”
“Greetings to you,” the man said. “I am Magantar, magician.”
Delian sat down again. In the warm afternoon they burned tobacco together and spoke of the world, how dismal the current development was and of the need for change. Delian even vented his feelings of destruction, of burning down the world.
At this the other man raised a bushy, white eyebrow. He said:
“Indeed, fire could be the answer. Burn down the world and let something new grow out of the ashes. Something new, something better – finer times, a new Golden Age mayhaps...!”
Delian smiled inside. This was a kindred spirit, another man realizing that the world could need some fiery cleansing.
Magantar saw Delian’s horse go grazing on a meadow near the brook and said:
“Nice horse. Can it fly?”
“Yes,” Delian said, “in fact it can. It can both talk and fly...! As for flying I don’t use that talent of his so often but yes, he can fly.”
“Fine,” the magician said and smiled. “You have all the marks of greatness on you. A hero, an adventurer – and you have the White Horse That Can Fly. And you have ideas of destruction. Thus, when the time is right I strongly advise you to go to Clydon in the south. There’s a temple there with a shiny god, guarding a sword... And it’s not just any sword; this is Galanta, the Flaming Sword.”
“Oh?” said Delian and gave a start. He had never heard about that sword before, although the mention of it kind of struck a chord in his innermost being. He just knew that this was something for him. There was no hesitation, no qualms – nothing! Instead it was like a beacon of grandeur beckoning him, a goal to seek, a quest to enter upon when the time was right.
He bade the magician tell him more and was told that the object was also called the Sword of the Gods, forged in the early days of the world as an ultimate weapon, there to be received by the right man at the right time – there to draw fire over the world, burning it down, leading the whole of Klesimir into a new era.
This made everything come real; this took it all to a higher level. He said to Magantar:
“Drawing a burning sword, eh...? Is that the solution...?”
Magantar nodded. “It’s in the prophecies.”
Delian didn't say anything. He was simply invaded by a feeling of having arrived, of having met his fate. Of having been presented with the ultimate quest for a hero: going south to retrieve the Flaming Sword... and then use it, burn down the world with it.
It was an unspeakable prospect – and yet, to Delian, it seemed just right.
So, maybe someday he would go south and retrieve that sword – when the time was right, as the magician had said. As he saw it there was no hurry; there was no danger in someone else retrieving it if he, Delian, was the right man.
He and no one else would choose the right time to go south and fetch Galanta, the Sword of the Gods.
Heading east his mind was haunted by visions of a sunbaked, dry world, a world asking to be put to the torch by him, Delian, wielding a flaming sword. He had visions of a copper brown earth, a steely blue sky and fire, fire running over the land, crisscrossing it and engulfing it into one great bonfire. He had visions of woodland burning, every tree a veritable torch, silently shouting out in pain or maybe a strange kind of joy, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new. He had visions of burning villages, burning cities, burning people running screaming – and, above it all, on a flying white horse, was a steely-eyed rider with a flaming blade, the source of all this conflagration.
That was the mental state of Delian by this time, the late summer of the year 999 in the Old Era. He was in a mental grey area, in a psychological land beyond the Beyond. He hated the world and he wanted to destroy it but the time wasn’t right for the ultimate feat yet.
He was still only on his original mission, that of riding eastward to Nisidor and giving the king the gem. And he still had many days to go. One late afternoon he came to a seemingly desolate, sandy plain with a bright yellow castle at the end of it. Just when he was about to take the road leading up to it a small creature addressed him:
“Ohoy-hoy, rider of the white horse!”
“Gooday to you, fellow,” Delian said and looked down at the rather compact, eldritch, one-yard-tall figure, dressed in brown from head to toe.
“Are you thinking of approaching the castle?” the gnome asked.
“I am,” Delian said.
“Beware, then, for she who dwells in it is a sorceress.”
“Is that so?” Delian said. “But I’m tired and need a place of rest.”
“I see. But if you must approach the castle, wait until later when the Shiny Path appears – a woodland path, leading through this copse of pine and spruce.”
He pointed at a small wood next to them.
“Take the Shiny Path; do not take the cobbled highroad. The highroad won’t give you access to the castle but the Shiny Path will.”
Delian took note of the advice, gave the gnome a gold coin and laid down in the forest to rest and wait for the evening. After a nap he awoke – and around him was now a strange luster, a magic sheen. It came from a path next to him.
It was the Shiny Path the gnome had spoken of.
He got up, led his horse along the trail for a while, then mounted and rode away through the stands of coniferous trees.
Soon the castle came in sight, a cream-colored dream with turrets and galleries, intricate wings and fronts, all surrounded by a lush garden. He rode up to the bridge and crossed it, entered the courtyard and was met by a groom.
“May I take your horse?” the man said and Delian retorted by saying, “Aye”.
Then he went inside, led by another servant.
And in a lovely, brocade-clad chamber overlooking a flowery, twilight meadow, he saw the Lady of the Castle.
“I am Milana,” the woman said, her hair a hazelnut brown dream, her eyes wells of beauty, her pale skin smooth as a peach.
“I am Delian,” the hero said, approached her and kissed her hand.
They went out on a balcony and had some wine. She asked him of his whereabouts.
“Where about, where to?” he rejoined. “I go where Destiny leads me.”
“And if I’m your Destiny, then what...?”
“We’ll see about that, lovely lady,” Delian said and told of his adventures in the northwest, fighting trolls and seeing the wonders of the northern light. By this time the wine and the beauty of the woman had taken its toll on him; he moved closer in order to know her better and soon they headed for the bedroom, about to “play the animal with two backs”. This was a favorite pastime in Klesimir when youngsters met.
In the morning Delian took a swim in a nearby pool and then shared a modest meal with Milana. She said:
“We had a lovely night, Delian, my friend! So I say: do stay, if you want. This is the Palace of Eternity. You won’t find any better place to live, in this world or the next...! Or, if you must go – do come back some day.”
Delian had a sip of wine and said:
“Well, my lovely – I kind of happen to be on my way. I have a deal to fulfill. But I would dearly like to return.”
“I’m glad to hear. You see, we share something special. We might have a future together, you and I...!”
“We might, we just might,” Delian said.
Milana peeled an apple, cut it in wedges and devoured one. Presently, she said:
“I am a very mysterious woman... I might even be divine.”
“So might I, my dear Milana,” Delian said. The woman brightened up and retorted:
“I knew it! Like, yesterday you spoke of your heroic feats. And a hero is a kind of demigod. So go on, Delian, go out in the world and keep up the godly work.”
After goodbyes Delian rode on, passing through the eastern woodland of Klesimir, a fair land of linden and alder, oak and poplar, babbling brooks and emerald fields. One day he passed over a certain stone bridge, rode through a stand of copper beeches and over a meadow with daisies and lilies. As always he wore a green tunic, a red scarf, leather breeches and riding boots.
He said to his horse, Binto:
“We’re approaching our goal, Napsala, the seat of the king who sent me on this mission in the first place.”
“Nice,” Binto said.
“Nice? Is that all you can say? You’re heading for a stable and a full manger, isn’t that something to dream of?”
“Oh, hmm, yes, of course...”
Resting by a forest edge Delian saw a city in the distance, a congregation of white towers rising above the greenery: it was Napsala, the destination of his ride, the capital of Nisidor and the seat of king Kobe’s castle. Delian rode on through the beautiful forest, crossed a glittering brook on a marble bridge and soon came to the city gate which magically opened.
The ride continued along Napsala's winding main street. Delian rode through the city on his steed, nodding at people, admiring the buildings lining the street, sturdy merchant palaces with plastered fronts adorned with escutcheons, statues and cornices.
A proper city of industrious, responsible burghers... one of the few left in the world, Delian thought.
He rode up to the castle proper, mighty behind walls of cyclopean stone. After some discussion the gate was opened and he rode into the courtyard. Soon he entered the great hall where everyone was waiting for his return: the ladies, the lackeys, the waiters, the dowager queen – and, on his marble throne, king Kobe himself with grey hair and beard, dressed in a black silken garment with gold embroidery.
“Your Majesty,” Delian said and bowed.
“Delian,” the king said and smiled, “I am glad.”
The tall, blond, long-haired, muscular hero nodded in confirmation.
No time was wasted on courtesies. The king asked:
“Do you have the gem? The treasure, the thing I asked you to fetch for me?”
“I do have it,” Delian said.
The king ordered his chief lackey to come forth, holding a red velvet cushion. When he stood nearby, the hero took out an object from his pocket and placed it on the cushion, saying:
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Igozil... the crystal enabling you to hear the heartbeats of the universe.”
The whole court collectively drew its breath. The gem, a blue crystal cut in the cabochon fashion, was displayed for a while and then the lackey carried it away for storage in the chamber of treasures. And with this item out of sight it need not bother us anymore. It has no role in the tale at large.
“You delivered,” the king said, stroking his beard, “I’m impressed. We must talk about this over a meal.”
The king arose from the throne and brought our hero to the banquet hall where they had a meal of fish marmite, poached eggs with butter sauce, mutton chops, and, lastly, cheese and pears. While eating, Delian told the king how he had won his treasure; he was in a good mood, he liked the king, and he generously shared anecdotes from the adventure.
They ate and drank. Delian thought that perhaps he should request some compensation for the assignment; he had forgotten it before the whole adventure, having been so eager to get away. Now he hoped that the king would bring it up, that the king would be so polite and offer some payment.
But the king said nothing. So Delian himself had to mention it:
“Um, Your Majesty...”
“Yes, what is it?” Kobe said, peeling a pear.
“Before I left for my adventure I didn’t request any payment for my services...”
“True, you didn’t!”
Delian looked around the hall, taking in its brocade hangings, its silk carpets and waiting lackeys. Then he realized that he didn’t want any concrete payment, just an abstract one. He said:
“And I don't think that I want any payment either. Not of the concrete, tangible sort: no gold, no mistresses...”
The king cut a piece of the pear, put it in his mouth, chewed and said:
Delian finished his cup of wine and got it refilled by a waiter.
“But,” said the hero, “In the general sense I would like to be your man, your vassal: a knight of Nisidor, one who can at any time remind you of the service I have done to the kingdom.”
“Indeed,” said the king, taking another piece of pear. “You are a clever man. And I will accept your suggestion: if one day you need a favor of me I will do my utmost to fulfill it.”
They drank on that and ended the meal by burning tobacco.
After finding the gem for the king Delian rode off and lived a life of ease for a while; he devoted himself to rest and meditation in the pleasure gardens of western Cokelia, the remote island situated south of Klesimir’s mainland.
Thus the winter and spring were spent. Then, in the summer of the year 1000, he was told that there was some unrest brewing in the world, some quarrel on the mainland.
Actually, it all developed into a war between all the princes of the world. And why was this? – You could say: the general degeneracy that Delian had seen on his way east last year had now seized even the higher echelons of society, all of the world leaders suddenly becoming greedy and rapacious. They wanted to claim their brothers’ possessions, including their wives; they wanted to rob and loot and spend their time off with pleasures aplenty.
However, Delian didn’t moralize about this; on the contrary, he went back to the mainland to partake in the fray as the old warrior he was. Soon he was back in the saddle of Binto, his trusted white horse, one spring day riding across a desolate mainland moor and dressed in his green tunic, his leather pants and boots, his red scarf and his cheerful mood. After all, he was a hero, a steely-eyed fighter with willpower and vision as his constant companions. He wanted to be successful and healthy, no matter what sickness had taken hold of the world. And overall, he wanted to take part in the fray, not just sit and watch the world go by. Action, not passivity, was his mode of being.
“Enjoying your stay in the pleasure gardens?” his horse asked.
“Indeed, it was nice,” Delian said.
They rode into a town. In the square they saw a familiar face: the short, haggard man, the doomsday prophet they first had seen in Vinsaka the previous year. Now, looking at the crowd with his wild, staring eyes, the prophet said:
“Repent your sins! Or the world will end in a storm of violence, infestation and misery. Remember, we are now in the year 1000, the last of the current era!”
Despite his dress and general demeanor the preacher was a serious man but the people laughed at him. Then Delian rode up to the man, faced the crowd and said:
“Listen to him! He is right. The world will end unless you better your ways.”
“How,” said a man in the crowd, “will the world end, then?”
“That remains to be seen,” Delian said. “Drowned in water, consumed by flames – who knows? The important thing is to turn away from material pleasures and cherish the eternal within yourselves, the spark of the soul. That way the violent end may be forestalled.”
That ended the conversation. And Delian didn’t feel like staying in the neighborhood. He just bought some provisions and rode on. Riding through a woodland northwest of the town his horse, Binto, then said:
“So, you’re the moral consciousness of the world now...?”
“Because you don’t spend your time indulging in pleasure...?”
“Well, now, let one thing be clear, my dear Binto: I like beauty and the company of a fair damsel. But I don’t think of women all the time. I don’t indulge in it. That, plus my willpower-driven nature, my motto of ‘willpower and vision,’ is what sets me apart.”
“What is your vision, then...?”
“Letting the world be consumed in flames,” Delian said, thinking of the Flaming Sword that Magantar the magician had told him of the previous year.
They soon came to a country, a rich old country with a strong defense, involved in the brewing war. It was Cluxia in the southwestern part of the main continent. Delian offered the country’s prince his services as a soldier and was immediately honored. During a probationary month he first served as a squadron commander in a cavalry unit. Next, as a battalion commander in the infantry; it was a unit of footmen but as a commander he led it from horseback. Lastly he was placed at the head of all of Cluxia’s army as a marshal.
War was already declared and a main battle would decide it. In the summer of the year 1000 the Cluxian army traveled east through a cypress forest, opposed by the united forces of Julmo, Vugland and Frippso. As for support Cluxia was allied to Drex, Lux and Jix, three nearby states in the West. Eventually they reached the Heather Plain, a wide, almost treeless prairie in the center of the mainland. To it also came a third faction, consisting of king Kobe’s Nisidorian army, a small but good army, and three other eastern forces, Sipanor, Guttorm and Askudram.
This was all of Klesimir’s great powers. Outside of the conflict stood the western island of Raventa, a kingdom governed by the so-called Mini Lord.
It was war and the respective leaders had mobilized their forces, convening on the Heather Plain.
The army chiefs rode off to parley. Heading for a pine grove and assisted by aides they eventually dismounted their horses, gathered under the trees and greeted the others. For his part, Delian was the head of his coalition, Drex, Lux and Jix supporting Cluxia; this very day he wore black armor, a red coat and a helmet with a brim, protecting him from the rays of the burning sun. Then it was king Kobe in cloth cap and burnoose; along with leading the Nisidor forces he was the head of Sipanor, Guttorm and Askudram’s armies. And finally it was, in that grove where they met, prince Luppula, wearing red trousers, a blue jacket and a tricorne hat. This dark, mustachioed fellow was the head of Julmo’s, Vugland’s and Frippso’s forces.
The three commanders, sitting around a makeshift table with log seats, eyed each other. Delian broke the silence by addressing king Kobe:
“Nice to see you again, Your Majesty,” he said.
“The same to you, Marshal,” the king said.
Then Delian again:
“When last we met we spoke of a favor I could claim of you. Have you forgotten that?”
“No, I haven’t. You brought me a gem and I would pay you later for it.”
“Indeed. And now I demand that payment.”
“Very well. What is it? I’m all ears.”
It was a warm summer day. Delian took in the dry smell of wood and heather, breathed out, inhaled gently and presently said:
“Join your forces with my side – that of Cluxia, Drex, Lux and Jix.”
Kobe raised his eyebrow. Then he lowered it, rubbed himself over his grey beard and nodded:
“A promise is a promise. And your demand sounds fair. I will go over to your side, with the united forces of Nisidor, Sipanor, Guttorm and Askedram.”
“What say you of that, Luppula?” Delian asked the third man at the table, Luppula, who was now in an unenviable position. He was outnumbered. He only directed Julmo, Vugland and Frippso against all the other forces.
“I’m not saying anything,” Luppula said. “Let the weapons speak. We start fighting at dawn tomorrow.”
With these words the three commanders bowed to each other and, with their adjutants, returned to their respective lines, Delian and Kobe to their side, Luppula to his.
After proper grouping on the sandy field came the evening; the fireplaces were lit, guards were posted and the armies settled for the night. Delian discussed tactics with king Kobe and his generals. Strong flanks and all-out attack was the recipe for victory.
After a meal of beans and sausage Delian went to his tent and meditated on his past. Born in the northern land of Tinturel he was now in his thirtieth year. For over ten years he had lived the life of an adventurer and mercenary soldier. And now it was all coming together, now the adventure of adventures was looming... for in his inner mind The Flaming Sword shone like a beacon, the symbol of an irresistible task, the quest to end all quests.
But first there was a battle to be fought – tomorrow. He went to his camp bed, drew a blanket over him and slept well all night. He was sure about everything these days; like a sleepwalker he went the way Providence pointed out to him.
Dawn came. No one in his right mind had anything to eat, no, just a little drink of water would suffice. Soon the fray started. Skirmishers advanced and fell away. Cavalry attacked Delian’s wings but he fought it back thanks to his strong flanks. Then Delian’s infantry attacked, steady men with lances and swords. Luppula’s men carried bronze shields which, however, were thrown aside after a while; they were too heavy to wield for any longer time, weighing over twelve pounds.
The battle hung in the balance. The issue was in doubt, not yet revealing who would gain the upper hand and win. Delian then had an inspiration; he knew how to decide the battle – how to end it – maybe even end the whole world...!
Again he remembered what Magantar the magician had told him last year, the solution of fetching a certain fiery sword. This now seemed a feasible thing to do – actually, the only thing to do.
It was “in the cards,” so to speak.
It was the perfect ending to these “end of days”.
It was in the prophecies.
He told his generals to run the show for a while and went to see king Kobe. They went to the rear of the distribution, to a well shaded by some spruces. When they had refreshed themselves with a drink of cool, clear water, Delian said:
“I have to break the deadlock in this crucial world battle.”
“I have to go and fetch Galanta, the Flaming Sword, in a forest in Clydon. This is a numinous weapon, the ultimate weapon if you will. With it you can set the whole earth on fire.”
“And you think that sounds good...?” said Kobe.
“I do. Because we are at the end of days,” Delian said. “The sword must be retrieved and drawn, letting its flames spread. In this way, the unfaithful will be punished and the materialists annihilated; the degenerate will die, the debauchers will be taught a lesson. The lukewarm will be shown what the material world can be like; in the face of engulfing flames they will have to acknowledge their immortal soul or perish forever. They will get down on their knees to repent their sins. The whole world will be purged; then a new era will dawn.”
“Do you really mean that...?”
“I do. Burn it all down and then let something new grow from the ashes.”
“But, what about the battle we’re in right now? Does the wielding of the sword have something to do with that, deciding it? Or will everyone die?”
“I don’t know,” Delian said. “I will only say that a drastic measure is needed right now.”
The marshal and the king sat in the shadow of the dark spruce trees. The din of battle was heard in the background, sounds from the vast engagement going on in the dry field, sounds of steel meeting steel and cries of pain and horror.
“Very well,” Kobe said, referring to the plan Delian had pointed out. “Do it! Get the sword! Get the sword of the gods, the Flaming Sword, the numinous Last Weapon! Maybe we can decide the battle with it. We will hold Luppula at bay in the meantime.”
Thus, Delian gave his red commander’s cloak to general Molle, left the Heather Field and headed south. There was no time to lose so he took Binto to the skies; he let his white horse do its special thing, fly. He only demanded this of his steed at special times – and this was such a time.
He took to the skies and flew south, soaring over the sunlit lands. If the times hadn’t been so dire, so infested with decadence and misery, it would have been a fine sight: woodland and farmland, lakes and mountains, the faraways lost in the summery mist.
He told his horse about his mission, about fetching a fiery sword with which to burn down the world. Binto said:
“So, you’re going to get the ultimate weapon? And end the wicked ways of the world?”
“Yes,” Delian said. “It’ll be just perfect: the Flaming Sword, right out of the cherub’s hand.”
“Is that really in harmony with your creed, your philosophy of life?”
“It is, given that my creed is the willpower and vision that I’ve told you of. I envision a new world, arisen from the ashes that will remain after I’m done. And it takes will, my will, to seek out the sword and draw it.”
“I see. So, the degeneracy and decadence you’ve seen in the world will be rooted out now? All will be burned down, like a bonfire?”
“It will, my dear horse, it will!” Delian said. “A world gone awry will be put to the torch and face death by fire. It’s such an elegant solution, so simple and convincing, so fundamental, so elemental. Here’s where the talking ends; here’s where the elements in the form of fire will have its say.”
They flew over hills and valleys, over deserts and woodland and finally reached a rather stately shrine in a cypress copse: the Temple of Torodian, located in the middle of Clydon, a land in the southern part of Klesimir.
The temple had only one story, was of shiny white marble and had a front of four pillars. On top of these was a stylish pediment, a triangular fronton. Delian landed, got off his horse, went aside and meditated for a while, gathering his wits in silent concentration.
Then he took off his red scarf, folded it into a band and tied it around his head. This was partly a way to protect his long hair from what lay ahead, partly a symbolic gesture of a man going into battle: I now dedicate myself to this task, and I don’t expect to come out of it alive.
He took a deep breath.
It was time to go.
He headed for the temple, went inside and came to a room where a radiant Deva sat on a throne. The creature had humanoid features, was dressed in white, had long golden hair and a sword in his lap. The sword was encased in a golden sheath, had a hilt of darkened wood and a golden pommel encasing a ruby. It was all attached to a sword belt.
“Welcome, Delian,” said the Deva.
“Thank you, honorable Deva and cherub.”
Said Delian. He saw the sword and said:
“I want the sword.”
“To burn down the world.”
“It would teach the world a lesson. It would put an end to this dismal era – an era of debauchery and decadence, nihilism and defeatism, irreligiosity and decay. The fire will burn away rotting matter and leave only the pure spirit.”
The Deva nodded. Then he said:
“What is the name of the sword?”
“Galanta,” Delian said. “Or simply – the Flaming Sword.”
“When was it made?”
“At the dawn of time to forever exist as a beacon of grandeur, a goal for the ultimate quest: the last weapon for a pertinent hero. And, I venture to say, I am that hero. Only I have the willpower and vision to draw the sword. Only I have the flying horse needed to wield the sword from, sending flames all over the world.”
Asking Delian this was a kind of test. Next, the Deva put Delian to another, more discreet test: reading the mind of him, sounding out the depths of his soul. Was he the Man, was he worthy of drawing the Sword of Fire...?
His mind-reading finally told him: yes.
Because the man before him exuded this quality: equanimity.
He had composure, coolness and serenity, together with being a man of action.
Delian was a mixture of total concentration and total relaxation.
These qualities seldom come together these days, the Deva thought.
In other words, Delian himself wouldn’t be touched by drawing the sword. He would simply do a cosmic job that had to be done: to smite the world for its sins, burn down the lands and by this inaugurate a new era.
The Deva said:
“You spoke of willpower and vision. What do you mean by it?”
“What I mean by it...?” Delian said. “Well, I live a life driven by will. I put up goals and I strive for them – spiritual goals, visions worthy of the name. I strive for spiritual development, not material gratification.”
“Fine,” the Deva said. “A song seldom sung today.”
He handed Delian the sheathed sword and added:
“I am convinced. You are the man! You are equanimity personified; you are the tool of gods par preference. So, take this sword, O man, and burn down the world! The time has indeed come. It is time to punish the world for its sinful ways. Set fire to everything and let it be consumed by the red devil!”
“Indeed, I will,” Delian said, inspired yet calm, raised to a higher mental level: he was eager to go and yet cool and collected. He was in a state of trance, a state of action as being.
And, for that matter, now it wasn’t about winning the battle of the Heather Field anymore, like having a heavenly fire tipping the scales in favor of “his” army. Instead, it was about conflagration on a continental scale. As a tool of the gods Delian had gone beyond party strife and the struggle between nations. Now, he would strafe all the nations of the world, all of mankind – for the world was rotten to the core and all people everywhere would have to face this ordeal by fire, this elemental trial, this igneous affliction, this fire from the sky!
Delian left the shrine, pulled the sword a little out of the scabbard, seeing flames starting to emerge.
Standing outside the temple he nodded at his horse. Then he girded himself with the sword belt. Next, without revealing any emotions, he mounted his white steed and flew away, only watched by the Deva. Looking at the equipage through a temple window the divine being was thinking:
“Now there’s no return. Klesimir, in its present stage, must perish: all of its woodland and cities, all of its fields and meadows, all of its inflammable material must burn. That will teach them, the dolts and blockheads of every land, safe in their petit bourgeois thinking, having only bread and enjoyment before their eyes. Now they will learn to trust their inner reserves... As the world burns, they may learn the basics of esotericism – that the soul is immortal. In this way they might learn piety, the art of listening inward. The ability to enjoy what they are and not indulging in what they have.”
Delian rode away from Clydon’s temple, ascended into the air and flew with his horse through the mild summery skies. And, most importantly, Delian now in earnest unsheathed and wielded his sword, seeing flames shooting out in all directions – long, searing flames, flames setting fire to woods and fields, towns and villages, meadows and moors.
The sword was on fire but Delian remained cool inside. For he knew that he only did what was necessary: to smite the world and take it to the next level of development.
He drew the sword and sent flames everywhere, bringing a firestorm to the world. And the horse, Binto, said nothing; it obeyed its master, like it the tool of the gods, a force of destiny at work.
Flames fell from the sky and, indeed, all around woods and houses, farmland and wasteland started to burn when the fire reached the earth, yellow flames rising in Delian’s wake wherever he flew.
He finally reached the Heather Field where the breathlessly waiting armies saw a portent in the sky, a rider figure shining like the sun. It was Delian on his flying horse, sending all-engulfing flames over the battlefield. Everything was reached by the fire: men and horses, rankers and commanders, even king Kobe himself, his old ally. Delian sent fire over both armies, sending both of them the next world. He was no longer a man considering who would win; he was the tool of the gods when bringing Klesimir into a new phase.
The Heather Field was engulfed in flames. Screams of pain filled the air. In the end, only ashes and charred remains of men and horses spoke of the battle having been fought in the area. Now, a larger battle was raging, that of fire against earth, of flames against everything incendiary in the world.
- - -
Delian continued his fiery ride, traveled all over the world and set fire to lands he had visited during his adventures. He flew over Eastland and Zammazingo, over Southland and Mellion, and even over the enigmatic island of Cokelia in the south.
He burned up Drex, Lux and Jix; Julmo, Vugland and Frippso; Askudram, Nisidor and Guttorm. The air itself was on fire; no one was spared. No man or woman, no child or beast, no fowl or insect.
He even burned down his own native land, Tinturel in the north.
No pious consideration would be exerted this day.
No – for this was a case of divine justice. Equal justice under the Flaming Sword, that was the theme for the ride...!
- - -
Everything went up in flames. The whole world was on fire. Thanks to Delian and the Flaming Sword.
Having had his fill of fireworks Delian finally alighted on a mountain in Julmo, stuck his sword in its scabbard and looked out over the lands, seeing the entire world burn like a bonfire. Wherever he looked the night was marked by flames, of ruby-red streaks that crossed and disappeared in the faraways. The air was thick with fire smoke, redolent of the aromatic scents resulting from combustion.
“What a spectacle,” Delian said to Binto, his faithful, talking horse.
“Indeed,” the animal said. “You have killed a whole culture, burning it down like a heap of dry wood. You must be satisfied.”
“Well, I am pretty satisfied. This culture was tired of itself, gone awry in devious ways. I just helped to push it over the edge, so to speak. And it couldn’t have been done without you, my four-legged friend!”
Said Delian. And brought out a blanket, lay down on the ground and slept. It was hardly “the sleep of the righteous,” such standards no longer applied. As a tool of the gods he had taught the world a lesson, punishing it for its sins.
He had put everything to the flame and let the world burn up: he had let everything perish in a magnificent bonfire of purification. He had burned down all civilization so that a new one could sprout from its ashes.
He dreamed of screaming people, flames and smoke, red devils and burning heavens. He was haunted by the fire god, he yearned for water; he walked across a field of iron under a sky of copper. He was chased beyond the edge of the world and fell into eternity...
A horse neighed. The man opened his eyes and saw a gray sky. Nice, it was just a nightmare.
He sat up, looked around – and saw burned grass, charred forests and, in the distance, a city in ruins. Black ruins, burnt ruins. Smoke was on the wind.
He was sitting on the top of a mountain. The horse Binto stood next to him, looking at him with its wise eyes.
“Now what...?” Delian said.
“What you see is what you get,” the horse said. “Yesterday, you burned down the world with the sword of Galanta.”
“I did?” Delian said. At once he remembered yesterday – and he quickly gathered himself, using willpower to calm himself down and vision to put things in perspective. “Oh yes, I did. And, believe you me, it was a necessary move. It had to be done to mend the ways of the world, teaching it a lesson of ontology. Teaching all and sundry that the soul is immortal and the flesh perishable.”
Delian looked around on the ashen world and he remembered it all. In the previous years he had seen the fall of the civilization, the degeneration of it into debauchery and decadence, and he had thought of the need to burn it all down and start anew. He had also been told of the possible remedy, the Flaming Sword, a clue given to him by Magantar the magician – and, yesterday, he had indeed fetched the sword, drawn it and burned down the whole world with it.
He had no regrets. The nightmare he had was only a result of temporal human weakness. The fire was necessary to cleanse the world and start anew.
He rose, took a deep breath and felt rejuvenated. Then he saw a sword in a golden scabbard, lying on the ground. It was Galanta, the fiery sword, the legendary weapon that he had wielded yesterday for his fiery mission.
It was the Sword of the Gods. It had been hidden from man until now – now, when it was time to expose the world to its sins and set fire to anything that would burn. The time was ripe, sinning had grown out of hand. Therefore, it was better to wipe everything out and start anew with a clean slate. That was Delian’s idea, and that was implicitly also the gods’ idea – and therefore, through the Clydon Deva, they had allowed him to take the sword and do his thing.
He had done it, drawn the weapon for sending blazes everywhere, bringing a firestorm to the world from the back of his horse – flying over the land like a scourge, spreading flames all over Klesimir. On his horse he became a scepter in the sky, a divine smiter of a culture gone wrong.
They rode out in search of water. Both horse and rider must have something to drink but they found nothing to quell their thirst. The only thing they found was dust and ashes under a cloudy sky. They rode through veils of smoke, coughing from the bad air, seeing burned corpses and charred houses everywhere.
Everything was burnt, everything was over. There were ruins, burnt carcasses, soot and coal as far as you could see.
Everything was in ashes, Klesimir was in ruins, no life could be discerned – and no water. And the instigator of all this was Delian himself. He, and no one else, had been the performer of this act.
Did he understand what he had done?
He did; looking out over a black valley, with a foul, pungent odor in his nose and with a gray sky above him, he recalled his devilish ride. He remembered the sword and the flames, the shrieks and the yells, a work nonetheless done in equanimity since it was necessary, given the dismal state of the world before the fire.
He rode in search of water: he rode across plains and over mountains, over meadows and flats, but in vain. Then one day, riding through a forest of bare trees, Delian saw something in front of him: it was a stream, a babbling brook. He jumped off the steed, ran forward, saw that the water was clear – and drank. Binto joined him.
“That was that,” Delian said afterward. “I thank the gods for this sign!”
The horse neighed. Delian was about to sit down and rest on a little block of granite when he saw a man emerge from the distant rubble. He was a tall, bearded man in a blue gown and a pointed hat.
“Magantar!” Delian cried out for he recognized the magician. The one he had met last year before coming to Nisidor.
“Indeed,” the man eventually said, “it is I.”
The newcomer bent down to drink from the brook and then sat down on another rock, facing Delian.
“So, how goes it?” Delian said.
“Fine. And you?”
“I’m fine,” Delian said. “I did fetch the Flaming Sword and I did burn down the world. Since even you intimated it was necessary to do it.”
“True. Now we can build a new world. But things will have to settle a bit first.”
Pause. Smoke drifted, all was dry and brittle except for the running brook. Then the magician:
“I’ve heard that Raventa, the island in the west, wasn’t touched by the flames.”
“Aha,” Delian said. “Maybe we can use that land as a base of operations to build the new world.”
“Indeed,” Magantar said. “There might arise a kind of mob rule in the world after this conflagration. Thieves and bandits having survived the fire might take advantage of the situation when organized government has been destroyed.”
Delian nodded and said that he would remember it.
Then the magician said:
“Other than that, I want to thank you! It was about time to put an end to civilization. All debauchery and sloth, all lechery and gluttony. All that went up in flames yesterday. Maybe it’s still burning.”
Delian pondered this. Then Magantar again:
“The karma of the world called for this bonfire. The world needed a catharsis.”
“Indeed. Now a new world can sprout from the ashes. A world where the strong are just and pious, the people loyal and industrious; a world ruled by decency and moderation, courage and responsibility.”
Delian said this. And he heard what the other man said:
“Aye, well spoken. We shall build a new world. We shall meditate on the mantra of I AM and think, ‘the way ahead – days to come – a new world’. Now, with the world in a state of shock, we of the willpower and vision-mindset shall take the lead and steer Klesimir into a new era.”
A lonely bird sang. The sun shone from a fleecy sky. Magantar and Delian, both mounted, headed west to Raventa to seek out its ruler and start civilization anew.
They rode over a burned and ravaged land. And in a village they passed people were seen; some had actually survived the conflagration. In awe these figures saw the mounted pair pass by.
Commenting upon this, Delian said to his guru:
“Some have survived...”
“Indeed,” the magician said. “Mostly for the good. We won’t have to start everything anew, like having to spawn a whole new generation of men...”
“But with the surviving humanity on hand there is also the risk of mob rule arising. We still must not let that happen!”
“So, for this we’re going to Raventa...?”
They rode west and eventually saw the sea, they found a ship to ferry them across the channel, and they soon landed on the island of Raventa. This land had indeed been spared of the conflagration. It was a land of teeming villages, of land and town untouched by fire, of neighborhoods populated by men.
Also, the air was full of birds, great flocks swirling around. Delian noted this and Magantar said:
“Birds indeed... and a bird told me this, that word soon got around in their community that Raventa wasn’t touched by the fire. So they flew here to escape the flames.”
“Air beating fire,” Delian said. “The battle of the elements.”
Coming to the capital of Raventa was a bit odd. Delian wasn’t allowed into the city, Falva. As “the man who had burned down the world” he had become a kind of pariah. He was treated rather well, he was given a house to stay in outside the city with all conveniences, but he was an outsider now. Taboo.
Magantar had to do the talking with the ruler, the so called Mini Lord, a rather short fellow. And the Lord listened to Magantar’s story and soon an armed expedition was sent to the mainland to smite down any signs of mob rule in the wake of the Fire.
Next, the plan was to have new rulers installed all over the land.
Magantar and Delian joined the army when it was shipped over to the mainland. Now the air was fresh and the ground kind of cleansed and moist, due to a rain that had fallen the other day, ending all the fires and the smoldering. However, Delian, given his status as pariah, wasn’t given any command in the upcoming mission, to strike down robber gangs and chase bandits. And he didn’t really mind this; he, Lord of the Flame, the man wielding the Flaming Sword, was beyond such petty concerns now.
So, having crossed the channel to the mainland and landed in the land of Drex, he took Magantar aside and asked for leave. The magician generously gave him that and asked:
“What are you going to do now, Delian?”
“See an old friend,” he said and rode off on mysterious paths.
A fountain sprayed water jets, the sun illuminating the droplets into a gossamer rainbow. The sky was clear and blue.
Near the pond with the waterworks Delian sat by a table in an arbor. He saw Milana come walking under a pergola, smiling under her hazel-brown curls and carrying a jug of wine. She then poured the wine into two golden cups, sat down and said:
“Welcome back, my hero.”
“Thanks,” Delian said.
They sat in the garden of Milana’s castle, drinking wine. He had been in this place before, during the ride east to Nisidor last year, heading for the meeting with Kobe. And now, having realized that there was no place for him in the post-conflagration restauration, he had come here again. Serendipitously he had found the Shining Path and followed it to the cream-colored keep, the Palace of Eternity, the magic castle of this mysterious woman.
Sitting in the arbor Delian admired his old friend. And he told her of Galanta, the Flaming Sword, and the fire he had brought over the whole world. Milana’s castle had seen nothing of it because it was situated in a parallel dimension; therefore, it was also completely untouched by the conflagration.
“Terrible things,” Milana said when hearing of the fire, “but I guess it was inevitable. You were an instrument of the gods in doing this – and a conscious instrument, too, since you wanted it yourself. You weren’t just a madman in a trance, remembering nothing afterwards.”
“True,” Delian said and had some wine. “I was conscious of what I was doing, I wasn’t carried away. I wanted to burn down the world – and I did it.”
“You were in a sense possessed,” Milana said, “but you remained yourself while being it. That almost makes you divine.”
“It does? Oh, maybe,” Delian said. Then he told her of his experience in Raventa where he was treated as a pariah.
“That makes sense, too” she said. “It’s like this: that which is dangerous is holy; the holy is dangerous. You burned up the world; that’s no ordinary thing to do. Details aside, only an extraordinary man can do that. Whatever the reason, whatever the meaning, this feat is now part of the legend that is you. You are beyond human society now. Your only place might be here... with me.”
“With you... who are divine too...?”
“Of course I am,” the lady said. “I intimated it last time we met. I am the Goddess of Eternity in human form. And you, a pariah in the world of men, a man above human affairs, is now divine too. Your fiery act, and your being here with me, has affected you. You’re a god now, a superman. You have been through apotheosis: the elevation into godhead.”
The birds chirped, fluffy clouds sailed by. Delian got closer to Milana and soon the arbor echoed of laughter. The gods made love...
They sat in a dinghy on a lake lined with oaks. Delian rowed and Milana lay outstretched in the bow with a parasol in her hand. Small waves made clucking sounds against the hull.
In the Palace of Eternity the days passed as in a dream. It was meaningless to speak of “yesterday,” “today” et cetera – since everything in this place existed in an eternal here, an endless now.
Anyhow, they were in the boat, enjoying the sights, enjoying each other’s company.
“Do you still have the sword?” Milana suddenly asked.
“I do,” Delian said. “It’s in the castle, in the entrance hall where I left it.”
Some swans flew by, croaking. Then they got down and landed on the lake. Milana admired them as they swam along, gliding gracefully on the water surface. Then she remembered what she had been talking about and said:
“Do you still think it will give off flames when you draw it?”
“I don’t know,” Delian said. “We can see. Have a look, examine it, see if it still burns. But not now.”
“True, not now. We have all the time in the world.”
They eventually got back from the boat ride. In the castle Delian sought out his sword and drew it – and, as he had expected, no flames emanated from it now. It was over, it was done; properly speaking it wasn’t a flaming sword anymore. However, it still was a legendary sword, a weapon with a past, with a history; that much was true. It was no ordinary sword.
“I suggest,” Milana said, “that we store it in my temple.”
“Do you have a temple?” Delian asked.
“Of course I have. A chapel royal, a temple for this castle, the Palace of Eternity as the whole complex is called.”
Off they went to a separate building of red sandstone, delicate and simple and yet dignified and grand, as befits a temple. The structure consisted of a pointed tower, a main hall with a pitched roof and a round-arch entrance. Inside there was a floor of granite slabs, an altar and a round-arch window letting in light through colored glass.
On the walls hang escutcheons and shields. Milana went to a certain place where there was a free hanger, an unoccupied nail. Delian produced the golden scabbard with its sword and handed it to her. The goddess took it and hang it on the nail. Then they bowed to it, turned and left.
Having left the temple, walking along a garden path, Milana said:
“It feels good to have left the sword, doesn’t it?”
“Maybe,” Delian said. “But I’m beyond such feelings now. I’m equanimity personified, as the Clydon Deva said. In getting the sword and drawing it, burning down the world, I did what had to be done. I live on a higher level now. Like you, I’m beyond the petty concerns of everyday man.”
Milana nodded and said:
“You have donated Galanta, the Flaming Sword, in my beautiful temple. There it can hang like a testimony – a testimony of how the previous era ended, in fire and smoke. Now begins a new era, maybe a Golden Age to be. A new thousand-year rule...! A rule when harmony, esotericism and holism shall prevail. The lechery, sloth and robbery of the previous era is a mere memory now.”
They left the temple and crossed a lawn, heading for the palace.
“Clear skies,” Delian said.
“Indeed,” the goddess said. “New heavens and a new earth...!”
She took a leap and made a little dance, her brown hair flowing like a symphony. Delian smiled at her and embraced her. He thought: he could stay here and live with her, as a godly groom to this goddess of love; he could spend the days studying, hunting, playing, carosuing. And yet he could also venture out in the world, if he felt like it. He was still a being, a man with a body and soul; just because of his apotheosis he was no mere sprite, no mere dream shape. He still had ideas and dreams, he still had his willpower and vision. And he could live this willpower-driven life in Klesimir and its parallel worlds.
But for the moment, he would stay with Milana and experience her godly ways and divine beauty.
The clouds went by in the sky. The wind whispered in the grass. Delian and Milana headed for the main building to do – what...? Drink wine, play some passionate play or just sit down and talk, maybe read a book...?
However, they could do whatever they chose – since, as Milana said, they had all the time in the world.
Lessons of War (short story)
SF Seen From the Right