Henry paused the metal detector where the beeping was steady, just like he’d seen on the telly, and dropped a button on the ground to mark the spot.
Then, he carefully set the apparatus down, removed his coat, and set about digging.
His son had called him a fool for taking from his pension to buy the thing, but Henry had a feeling in his gut that he’d find results. If not a buried Roman hoard, perhaps relics from a more recent century that could be worth a few more pounds than the machine had cost. And what else was there to do upon retiring from forty years of keeping a pub?
The spot he’d chosen, just far enough into the woods from the motorway that the sound of engines were a gentle growl, was mossy and overgrown. It reminded him of a fairy tale. The great twisted tree roots and a nearby babbling brook spoke to him of ancient mages and whispering Druids, although whether they’d been prone to whispers or taken vows of silence like monks, he couldn’t recall. Still, it had seemed the best place to start his hunting.
When his spare hit something hard, he knew that he had been right to follow his instinct. Bugger his son for refusing to take chances and get the most out of life!
“Well, once you’ve stood behind that counter for another twenty-five or thirty years, perhaps you’ll be looking for adventure, yourself,” he muttered, sinking creakily to his knees.
Dampness seeped into the cloth on his knees, and he knew the dirt and moss were likely to leave stains on his slacks, but the faint glint of metal in the clods of earth took away that care, too.
Henry reached into the hole to brush the metal clean. To his astonishment, it wasn’t a box or a decorative rod. It was a sword.
“I’ve found bloody Excalibur!” He laughed aloud.
Even though the little dell was shaded from the summer sun, Henry was sweating and his chest heaving with effort by the time he’d uncovered the rest of the thing. Whether it could be properly termed a broadsword or a longsword, he couldn’t be certain, but it was — or had been — a beauty. The hilt was intricately designed with inlays and carvings peeking out from under centuries of dirt and tarnish, and the blade was whole, though edged with notches and blackened by time.
“Poor old thing,” he told it, shaking a hanky open to wipe it down. “Not even broken. Put out to pasture and forgotten before your time, eh? Buried away from slaying dragons and rescuing maidens just when life was getting good? Well, I know how that feels. Indeed I do.”
The hilt felt friendly in his hand. Manly. Henry stood up with it and automatically straightened his shoulders, running the fingers of his open hand along its tarnished edge. One callused finger caught on a crack. He started at the little burst of hurt, nearly dropping the sword in shock.
“Blast, wasn’t expecting that.”
He leaned the sword on a tree trunk to fetch a thermos of clean water from his pack. It was short work to rinse his cut. Even shorter to realize that the place on the sword where it had cut him was . . . Clean.
Henry stared. “Blimey.”
He moved closer and adjusted his spectacles. Wiped them on the least bit of dirty shirttail, just in case. There was no mistaking, though — that small spot on the blade’s edge where he’d cut himself, a section no bigger than his thumbnail, gleamed as brightly as a polished mirror.
“How could that be?” Henry wondered aloud.
A wind rattled the leaves of the tree, and the summer sun seemed to disappear, leaving a dark chill behind it. Time to leave. Henry shivered, putting his coat back on for a moment before taking it off again. He laid it flat and wrapped the sword in it for the walk back to the car park. No need for anyone else to see his finding, after all. There would be too many unnecessary questions, if someone noticed him tucking a great dirty sword in the dented boot of his car.
When he got it home, Henry locked the sword in his old kit from the war, washed up, and had his tea. He knew he ought to go to bed, but his thoughts were still filled with knights and castles, so he sat at the old computer that his son called a relic and logged onto the World Wide Web to see if he could find some answers.
How did one clean an old sword, anyhow?
He supposed he could call the curator of a museum, or an antiques specialist, but it was in the back of his mind that they might try to take the sword from him. And he simply could not let that happen. It belonged to him, now.
Henry hadn’t felt this good in years. So energized and full of purpose. He barely noticed the passage of the afternoon into evening, or evening into night. When his son phoned in the morning, as usual, he was still at his computer, and he didn’t take the call.
Which was why Peter came round at 10.
“Dad! Have you been sitting there all night?”
Henry turned in his chair to gaze blearily at his grown-up child. “Oh. Peter. Hallo. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“You didn’t answer your phone. Had me a bit worried, you know.” Peter tsked, looking over Henry’s shoulder at the computer screen. “What’s this nonsense you’re looking at now? Swords?”
“Yes, yes! You’ll never believe what I found!” Henry pushed away from the table and rose with little of his usual difficulty, in spite of the hours he’d sat in the chair, and went to his kit. Peter was close behind, demanding answers in a steady stream of belligerent remarks, mainly the usual claptrap about wasting money and remembering to keep putting extra by, for the sake of the future.
“Well, if it is worth something, ithe sword will be your inheritance instead of bits of my pension!” Henry snapped. He pulled the sword out, his hand comfortably gripping the hilt as though it had always done so, and turned on one bended knee to show his tarnushed treasure to his son.
He underestimated how quickly he could turn. Was used to his bones creaking and his joints aching. Peter was standing too closely, as he’d been wont to do for years, invading Henry’s space in an effort to be helpful.
The blackened and uneven blade sliced cleanly through Peter’s side, cutting kidney and intestine right up to the ribcage, where it caught. Henry and Peter stared at each other. Then, following his instinct, Henry put his weight behind the hilt, changed his grip, and thrust the blade upward, cleaving his son’s chest in two.
Peter’s mouth fell open and then his head dropped down as though he wanted to watch the sword’s gleaming metal sliding free of the sheath of his body. Henry couldn’t take his own eyes off it, barely glancing as his son’s corpse hit the floor. Under the layer of swiftly clotting blood and matter, threads of fabric and bits of skin, the blade shone almost like new. And then, before his astonished gaze, the blood disappeared. He blew the dried bits of material off the sword, marveling at its craftsmanship and beauty.
“Now that’s a way to clean you up, isn’t it?” Henry whistled, long and low. He turned the blade this way and that, noting how the shine ended where the blood had stopped. He rose to his feet, his back straighter than it had been in years. Henry felt like a new man.
But when he experimentally dipped the last of the tarnished bits in his son’s open wound, there was no noticeable effect.
“Ah, I think I understand, my sir,” Henry told the blade. “I worked in a pub for forty years. I know a thirsty customer when I see one. And only a fresh pint’ll do, won’t it?”
He stepped over Peter and headed for the door. The young fellow who lived next door, who’d kicked his car and dented it — Henry could often hear him outside, strutting about with his mates. He couldn’t wait to see what the bastard lay-about thought of his new sword.