Not so long ago I waffled on about my family history and how I was going to concoct a fictional legend about one man and his really big sword (not a euphemism). It’s been slow work. As with nearly everything I write it oft feels like I’m writing it by smashing my head against a brick wall in the misguided hope that the resulting splatters of blood and flecks of cerebral goo will form some interesting sounding words, or at least something that wouldn’t look too out of place in the Tate modern.
The greatest problem I’ve encountered is that it seems to be a lot grander and more in depth than I initially anticipated. I originally set out with the outline of “man finds sword, man has badass adventures, lots of people die” but it all seems to be getting a lot fiddlier than that. I’d say that the tale grew in the telling, but that would imply the tale had actually been told which, as you may gather, it hasn’t. I was hoping to at least have the appearance of the eponymous sword written before sharing the first part with you nebulous internet types, but seven or so hundred words in I realised it would probably be another seven hundred before it’d be anywhere near done. So I thought “meh” this is a good enough place to stop, it’s sort of cliff-hangery, it’ll do.
How much of the story I’ll get round to finishing is something I’m not yet sure of. Even if I don’t finish it all properly I at least now have a nice new character for use elsewhere. I’m half tempted to toss him into the world of Mister Callis’ adventures as the archetypal “Barbarian thug with sword”. Admittedly Máel Coluim is no LoganNine-fingers (the thinking man’s barbarian) or Conan (the one and only, accept no imitations), but I sort of like him.
So until further writing is completed I give you, the beginning.
What follows is a transcribed excerpt taken from the legends of the Steele family.
The story of our family begins with the first man to bear our name. Before him we had no name to call our own. We were common, simple people of little renown or consequence. By his deeds he changed this. Because of him we became what we are today, people of action, unwavering, with a will as stubborn and unyielding as wrought iron. Despite all we may achieve as individuals we are but pale imitations of this man. He is something to aspire to, but something we can never reach; ours is not an age for folk like he. He belongs to a bygone time of heroics and magic. He was Máel Coluim mac Stàilinn, Bladestorm, the Son of Steel and first of our name.
Our story begins in 11th centuryScotland. A time when the world was still wild and untamed, when the last of the giants still stalked the mountains and valleys, making their homes amidst the tarns and the high-places where mere men could not tread. A time when people still lived in fear of marauding dragons out of the far north. It was before the last vestiges of magic had faded from the world and the spirits of the land had not yet succumb to the long slumber of the ages. It was a dark and dangerous time, but it was also a time of infinite wonder; a time of adventure. Back then a person’s worth was measured by their deeds and by their honour, not by their wealth or their words. In those dark times a single man could reshape the world with nothing more than a blade and the will to use it.
Máel Coluim lived with his mother and his two younger brothers on a small farm whose fields ran along the banks of the Clyde. It was a hard life. The winters were long and cold and the land unforgiving. Things first began at dusk one day in the depths of winter. Máel Coluim had been sent down to the river by his mother to collect some water for dinner. As he knelt at the river’s edge with the light rapidly fading into night he saw something caught out of the corner of his eye, bobbing along in the current; a brief flash of colour. He paid it little attention and continued to fill his buckets. Máel Coluim stood about to begin the walk back to his home, he blew on his hands and tried to rub away the chill of the encroaching night. Another flash of colour appeared on the surface of the river, almost directly in front of his eyes. Peering through the gloom Máel Coluim tried to see what it was. As he peered at the river he saw that the thing which was merrily bobbing along the river was in fact a man. Without a second thought Máel Coluim shrugged off his coat and began wading into the river. The cold of the icy water bit deep into his bones, but still he struggled on. Gritting his teeth he started to swim into the centre of the river and soon he reached the poor soul that the river had been bearing along. Cradling the beleaguered soul in the crook of his arm Máel Coluim dragged him to shore. The man who Máel Coluim had rescued began to cough and splutter, taking deep, ragged breaths. Night had fallen now and it was beginning to get even colder. Shouldering the man, Máel Coluim began to rush home.
Barging the rickety wooden door to his home aside Máel Coluim headed towards the fire.
“What’s all this about? You’re letting the cold in!” his mother cried.
“I found this man in the river. I couldn’t just leave him there.” replied Máel Coluim.
In the dim light of the fire Máel Coluim got his first proper look at the man who he had saved from a death at the hands of a cold and merciless river. He was swaddled in rich, vibrantly coloured silks and festooned with chains of gold and rings. His skin was the colour of polished oak. Of all the jewellery one chain in particular caught Máel Coluim’s eye. Wrought in ivory and jet, edged with silver, it was a pendent bearing the shape of a crescent moon. It was clear to both Máel Coluim and his mother that this man was no Scotsman.