Swift, the Arkend
Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015
Recently I've been thinking about Silence's sword forms (spoiler alert: she doesn't have any), which has produced over a dozen pages of notes. This week's installment of Curious Tale Saturdays is born of that effort.
I've mentioned Silence's legendary sword Swift on a number of occasions, and it has some importance to The Curious Tale, but I have never given the sword a detailed physical write-up for the public—for you, Gentle Reader. Mostly that's because the background research for such a project is enormous, and even after many years of occasional efforts I haven't completed my work yet.
Nonetheless, I am at a point where I can give you a good physical description, and since I included some material of this sort in my notes on Silence's sword forms, I figured now would be a good point in time to go ahead and share with the world.
This is going to be a two-part article. This week I will talk about arkends in general. Next week I will talk about Swift in particular.
Configuration of the Arkend
Swift is an arkend, a relatively obscure class of longsword. By the Takiiswei Institute Armament Classification System that Silence would have used in her personal research prior to constructing Swift, arkends are considered mizzen swords—a type of longsword comparable to the bastard sword in real-world English history. Thus, arkends are meant to be wielded primarily in one hand but possess a weighted pommel grip and other balancing factors for two-handed assists and extra reach techniques. (The "bastard" in "bastard sword" refers to the sword's duality as both a one-handed and two-handed sword.)
Most arkends run between 28 and 44 inches in total length (notwithstanding that on Relance different units of measurement would be used in descriptions), and are not meant to be used with proper shields. In most of the technical literature, the secondary hand is prescribed to be kept available for use on the sword when needed. Arkends tend to weigh around 3 pounds (usually a little less), which is heavier than average for swords of their length. This owes to the arkend's unusual shape:
Arkends are considered to be unwieldy, bastardized, and expensive, and all three of those qualities come from the arkend's namesake signature asymmetrical shape: Arkends are always doubled-edged, with one side being straight and the other having a heavy, fan-shaped flare.
The straight side provides direct structural support for piercing and thrusting into armored targets, while the straight edge itself is well-suited to hacking. Though of course context is paramount, the prevailing theory as expressed in the literature considers this side of the sword to be the primary side, with according considerations built into the hilt (where applicable; many arkends do not possess a sidedness).
The flared side is widest at the middle of the sword—often in the realm of 6 inches (quite wide indeed)—and is excellent for slicing and all other applications that take advantage of having a greater edge length in a shorter vector space. What this effectively amounts to is a faster angular speed: Imagine it takes you 300 milliseconds of contact time to execute a cutting attack. This is true regardless of whether the sword is curved, so with a curved edge you have more blade running across your target in that time. You'll also have better penetration for a given amount of arm, wrist, and hand movement. The flared side is the trickier and more vicious side of the arkend. If you were going to disembowel someone, for example, you would use this side.
The tip of the arkend has a relatively gradual profile taper (i.e., a taper by which the width of the sword decreases along its length), well-suited for piercing armor and mail. The extremeness of the flare on the flared side is partially to compensate for the need to have a fine taper at the sword point.
The literature considers the core trait of an arkend to be its prominent, asymmetrical flare while retaining a continuous structure along the longitudinal axis, upon which both the hilt and the point are centered. Any deviation from that, and the sword is not considered an arkend.
Within that single boundary, there are four major variants of the arkend (and dozens of minor ones—or thousands if you account for variations of locality and material).
The Peers arkend is the oldest (limited records notwithstanding) and most common of the four types, and is also the type that Silence built. Originally forged at the Takiiswei Institute inside Junction City—hence the name, as Junction City is usually called the City of Peers—the Peers arkend has the fattest flare, the longest length, and the narrowest profile taper. Thus it is the biggest of the four variants.
The Imperial arkend has a fat flare but is shorter and has a much more acute taper.
The Tanziban arkend has a much thinner flare—so thin that some argue it isn't an arkend—and is as long as the Peers arkend. It has a slightly sharper taper, but is more comparable to the Peers than the Imperial. Some Tanziban arkends carry out the variation even farther by curving the sword point, but this runs afoul of the sole criteria for what constitutes an arkend, and thus the terminology is considered colloquial by most authorities.
The Upperlands arkend is a notably thicker sword (distally), as well as being the shortest of the four major variants. It has a fat flare and a relatively sudden taper (comparable to the Imperial, but less extreme). It is the least common of the four.
History of the Arkend
The origins of the arkend are lost to time. They are documented to have existed at least six thousand years prior to the events of After The Hero, but the documentation shows their presence in several regions of the world at that time, meaning the true origin is older.
For all their age as a species of sword, arkends were not actually in continuous use during all that time. When they were used, arkends were never a sword of first resort, nor were they ever the primary armament of any general infantry. They were sometimes used by special forces in various countries, usually because their master or captain preferred the weapon and insisted that their subordinates use it, and this appears to be the extent of the arkend's utilization on an institutional scale. Primarily, the arkend—when used in actual combat—was an individual weapon, used only because its wielder personally preferred it.
Still, for their relative unpopularity in war, arkends have enjoyed disproportionate popularity ceremonially, theatrically, and as collectors' pieces, in all cases owing to their impressive visual stature. To the peasantry, an arkend's exotic and large appearance can easily connote prestige while instilling fear and admiration.
Arkends have also enjoyed some attention for the challenge of their construction. Many are forged purely as an exercise for the swordsmith. The swordmaster Sela, of Tanzibay, famously required his apprentices to construct one hundred different kinds of sword, of which the arkend—specifically the Tanziban lowland arkend—was No. 87, the last of the swords to come before his Grand Finale Series. He considered it the ideal sword for symbolizing conspicuousness without grace.
Historical Appraisal of the Arkend
Most swordmasters and other relevant experts—when they even know of the arkend's existence—consider its asymmetrical premise a faulty one, trying to take the best of two paradigms but ultimately losing the best of both. In particular the arkend's shape requires extra material, which means both a greater cost and a significantly heavier weight, while the asymmetrical quality is hard to take full advantage of in battle, as full utilization usually requires a change of grip that may often not be feasible in a timely fashion.
Nor is the prevailing opinion arbitrary: According to historical records, arkends have never especially distinguished themselves—except with Silence Terlais. (And this appears to be the sole exception in known history.)
Neither, however, are they poor swords. Assuming the cost of their manufacture were a non-issue, and that the wielder trained properly and was sufficiently strong, arkends are quite serviceable in the most common types of mêlée combat. Their flaw is that they lack clear superiority over any traditional combat paradigm. In other words, their features—with respect to the features of the prevailing weapons of many a time and place—have never permitted them to dominate the battlefield.
Silence's Decision to Build an Arkend
Nonetheless, it works for Silence. When she resolved to construct her own weapon, as a student living in Junction City, she undertook more than a year of research. Her overriding goal was to win in any possible combat situation, while sustaining no significant injury. She preferentially regarded swords because by that point she was well-trained in them, but she considered all weapon types as well as unarmed combat forms. (Silence's combat prowess outside her swordsmateship is an article in itself.) And eventually she settled on the arkend as the optimal weapon for her
What did she know that history didn't? Her considerations are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that Silence explicitly determined, after a rigorous selection process, that the arkend—and specifically the arkend she would build, if she were to build one—would be ideal for her use, based on her movement, abilities, and preferences. While her arkend was not intended to be her sole weapon, she did envision it as her primary one, and designed it accordingly.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!