His Father’s Sword – a historical short story

Hugh walked into the smithy and slammed a sword down on the anvil.

“Sharpen it for me.”

A warm summer wind blew in through the door, stirring the flames in the fire of the forge. Steam hissed from a bucket as Hugh’s Uncle David plunged a horseshoe into water, then set his work aside.

“Where did you find this, lad?” David picked the sword up with his right hand, then ran the remaining fingers of his left hand down the rust-blotched flat of the blade.

“Hidden in the rafters. It was my father’s.”

“Oh, I know whose it was.” David set the sword down carefully. “I made a matching pair for your father and me, before we went to war.”

It was one of Hugh’s first memories, the two most important men in his life marching away like warrior saints, sunlight gleaming off their spear tips. The return had been bleak, Uncle David alone, crusted bandages around his hand, Hugh’s mother crying while David talked about a battle at a place called Barnet.

“I’m going to fight for Henry Tudor,” Hugh said. “This time we’ll win.”

“Maybe.” David scooped sand from a bucket with a rough cloth. “I’ll clean the rust off first, then get to sharpening. If you’re sure you want to fight.”

“Of course I want to fight! And what do you mean maybe?”

“I mean perhaps you’ll win, perhaps you’ll lose.”

“Why are you fixing my father’s sword, if you don’t believe in me?”

David sighed, but kept working the blade.

“You shouldn’t go to fight because you think you’ll win, lad.”

“You did!”

“No. We went to fight because the cause was just. Wanting to win and expecting it are very different. One drives you to do better, the other blinds you to the truth.”

“Liar! My father thought he would win, otherwise why would he leave us like that?”

“Because we wanted to mend a broken country. And because we were fools.”

Tears welled in the corners of Hugh’s eyes. He snatched the sword from his uncle’s hands. He was going to fight for the true king, like his father had done, and he would come back, like his father had intended.

“You’re a liar and a fool,” he snapped.

“Maybe, but I’ll still sharpen your blade, if you think you should go fight.”

“You don’t deserve to touch this.” Hugh clutched the sword close.

“I don’t deserve…”

A terrible stillness fell across the smithy. No wind blew through the door. The flames in the forge dwindled. Hugh’s uncle stared at him, face set like a carving on the wall of the church.

David held up his hand, both fingers and thumb extended.

“Maybe you don’t deserve that sword, boy, if you can’t face the real world the way your father did. If you can’t accept its pain and cruelty. If the only cause you’ll fight for is a cause that’s already won.

“I fought because the right side might lose, and that doesn’t stop it being right. If you can’t fight that way, then you’re the one who doesn’t deserve the sword I made.”

Hugh trembled. “My father wouldn’t have deserted us.”

David sighed. His shoulders slumped. He stepped around the anvil, and Hugh stepped back, but instead of reaching for the sword, David sat on the anvil, and all the strength seemed to fade out of him.

“Your father thought that it was more important that you grow up in a good country than that you grow up with a father, though he wanted you to have both, and if I’d been quicker with my spear then he might have got part of his way. I’m not saying he made the right choice. I’m saying that, if you’re going to leave your mother all alone, you should do it for a good reason. People die on both sides, and dying because you think you’ll win is dying for no reason at all.”

In his uncle’s face, Hugh saw grief weigh as heavy as the iron chains he forged. Anger, the last bulwark of certainty, shattered in the face of long-held loss. Would he make his mother go through this again, when she was finally smiling?

“I don’t know if we’ll win,” Hugh confessed. “And I don’t know if it’s the right cause. I need to think.” He offered up the sword. “Can you sharpen my father’s sword for me, while I decide?”

“Aye, lad.” David took the weapon with a sad smile. “Let me do that for both of us.”


I have a new Commando comic out this week, “Brothers in Arms”, and like this story it’s set during the Wars of the Roses. it follows two brothers who end up on opposite sides of the fighting, and their journey to one of the decisive battles of the Middle Ages. You can buy it digitally through Comixology, or as part of a bundle of issues through the publisher’s store.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


What if someone had conquered the Vikings, someone claiming to be their gods?

What if King Arthur’s knights met a very different metal-clad warrior?

What if you were ordered to execute a statue, and hanging just didn’t seem to work?

These short stories explore different aspects of history, some of them grounded in reality, some alternative takes on the past as we know it. Stories of daring and defiance; of love and of loss; of noble lords and exasperated peasants.

From a Foreign Shore is available now in all ebook formats.

The Pen Versus the Sword – a FantasyCon Panel

One of the most exciting panels at FantasyCon, and one with a very eager audience, was ‘The Pen vs the Sword’, on combat in fantasy fiction. On this panel were…

  • Adrian Tchaikovsky – writes fantasy, fights at the Leeds Armoury for research, also does live roleplay
  • Juliet E. McKenna – writes fantasy, does aikido, used to do live roleplay
  • Fran Terminiello – writes fantasy, does 16th and 17th century martial arts
  • Clifford Beal – writes historical fantasy, used to do full armoured combat, now does rapier fighting
  • David Thomas Moore – fantasy writing, moderating on short notice

I’ll try writing this one up as bullet points, see if I get more in than with my last panel writer-up.

Bad sword fighting in fantasy

  • FT: Fighting that’s artless – real western fighting was and is an art and a science.
  • JM: The idea that you can just pick up a sword and fight. Complete novices often tear their own ears in the attempt to fight, and that bleeds a lot.
  • JM: Long fights. Most sword fights last two or three strokes.
  • CB: Using one weapon’s technique or terminology for another.
  • AT: Not taking account of armour – fighting someone with armour requires a completely different approach.

Best sword fighting in fiction

  • JM: Old samurai movies, like Seven Samurai.
  • JM: Game of Thrones books – less the nuts and bolts than the attitudes of the fighters.
  • AT: K D Parker – technically good stuff.
  • AT: Abercrombie’s The Heroes for the sense of the chaos of battle.

Fighting in its social and historical context

  • FT: Rapiers were very much fashion accessories.
  • JM: Swordplay’s survival in Japan was down to the ban on gunpowder weapons.
  • CB: Many wearing rapiers for fashion didn’t know how to use them.
  • JM: Fighting well requires day in day out training to build muscle memory.
  • AT: Old fighting styles can be invalidated by technological change.
  • JM: Fast technological change means skills get lost in two and a half generations.

Planning a fight scene

  • FT: Context is key – battle or duel? What’s the regional etiquette?
  • JM: Less is more on details.
  • AT: Have the fight’s pace and structure driven by the characters’ personalities.

Other odds and ends

  • JM: Someone can have a non-survivable abdomen wound and still fight for twenty minutes – taking out their ability to fight is what counts.
  • FT: The locked crossed swords thing never really happens for more than a second – there are lots of ways out of it.
  • CB: In full armour heat exhaustion is your enemy.
  • FT: Swords are a last resort weapon – would rather have a spear.
  • Someone recommended reading English Martial Arts by Terry Brown.

The panellists did a demo afterwards, which I missed, but here’s a video someone else took of it:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHQC_Ds5sTs?rel=0&w=560&h=315]


This panel contained a lot of practically useful information on writing fights in fantasy and historical fiction. Anyone have any other guidance on this, or good sources to check out?