The Swordsman’s Alphabet: City
C is for City. Cities are the great gathering places of humanity, and by definition the most civilized places a swordsman will visit. They are filled with exotic smells (but more often awful ones) and exotic people (who are good both to rob and have sex with).
Consider the tropic jungles of the south. The bone-biting cold of the north. The long, grassy steppe with its horsemen and howling idols. Can any one of these compare to the city? No matter where a swordsman makes his fortune, the city is where he comes to lose it.
The city, after all, has everything to offer: commerce, crafts, courtesans — even cups of wine. The alphabet outdoes itself extolling the virtues of the city. And, indeed, its drawbacks: crowds, corruption, and cutthroats. How marvellous is our assortment of letters!
We are informed that one of Mr. Campbell’s disciples has suggested that cities are “wretched hive[s] of scum and villainy.” This is precisely why a swordsman should seek them out, as they present ample opportunities to be among one’s own kind.
In the city, even thieves have to watch their purses. There may be honor among thieves, but there are also union dues. As most swordsmen are, at one time or another, thieves, it is recommended that the sword pays at least the minimum necessary dues to the city’s Thieves’ Guild. The union is otherwise likely to harass the delinquent with thugs, assassins, and other such people one would rather be playing cards with.
Cities are woven from mazy streets and suffused with smogs of dubious origin. In these, the swordsman will find merchants, harlots, and beggars, will wander both temple and bazaar. One will also find the past, for as every brick is placed upon another, so every street and house has been built upon what came before.
The layers of the city are without number, and the passages between those hidden everywhere. In the city, a forgotten stair is as likely to reveal the resting place of an ancient king as of an aged beggar. The passages descend, endless, into memory and time and rats.
The greatest cities (much as, sometimes, the greatest lovers) are those past their prime. Once, the city was the center of a vast empire. Wealth was earned, harvested, sacked… now, as with a swordsman’s haul, it is merely spent. The city has become aged, but not enfeebled, decadent, but not yet decayed.
As the rain ends and runs muddily down black-slate roofs and into gutters, and the sun settles duskily over a skyline of shattered temples, the astute swordsman will see a truth. He will observe both the beauty of ever-crumbling time, and the way of all things. To be born, to be great, and then simply to be.
And one day, perhaps, to be great again. That, after all, is the life of the swordsman, and the city is the only place the wandering sword can call home.