Your Sword, Your Trumpet, by Anjali Patel


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The first time I saw you was at the beginning. This world was flat and featureless and newly made, and I its named guardian. With my hammer in hand, I waited for time to spin into motion. When the first sunrise broke its yolk on the horizon, I thought I would never feel anything as glorious as those first rays of light.

You showed up to ruin everything.

Your silhouette split the sun as you sauntered toward me, sword and trumpet belted at your hip and jangling with each step. You smelled of flowers that had yet to be named; your eyes full with the morning and hungry for the new world in front of them.

I raised my hammer. This was the only time I ever saw you falter; you stumbled backward, and your hand went to your sword. Then it shifted it to your trumpet. You grinned and it pierced me.

“When I blow this trumpet,” you taunted. “Everything in this world will unravel. Everything will come undone.”

I was young and eager to prove myself. I did not ask questions or attempt to reason, I did what I believed I was created to do: preserve and protect this realm. I swung my weapon and your mischievous eyes twinkled, and on the dawn of this world you danced out of my way with no effort, no effort at all.

This is my first memory of you. I fold it into your sword with my hammer as I remake it.

The next time we exchanged words was in a tavern.

The mists of creation had long since settled. There was life now: rich, fervent life that you tempted and instigated while I worked tirelessly to shape a stable world. We had fought through the centuries from opposite sides of the battlefield, I righting the realm and you tilting it. But we had not spoken beyond my battle cries and your laughter. Now, we coexisted in an uneasy truce — I on the side of consistency and order, you on chaos and excitement, the world split between us.

Until you attempted to sully one of my domains.

When I shoved open the wooden door, humans, half-clothed and stale with beer, stepped forward. Sweat and musk and the perfumed oils that hid neither affronted me. I shoved through slick bodies, not caring if I ruined the woven floor mats with my sand-dusted boots because I knew you were here, had felt the stain of your licentiousness in every lustful glance thrown my way. I followed the smell of the unnamed flower and found you on floor cushions, tangled in the arms of mortals: two on each side, at least, and one in your lap, all tracing their fingers along your arms, your neck, your jaw.

“What is this?” I hissed through the flutes and sistrums that punctuated the low rumble of voices.

You looked up, and your kohl-lined eyes flickered gold as they caught mine. “Your people are bored and lonely. I answered their calls.”

“They’re not my…”

You tangled your fingers in the curls at the nape of a mortal’s neck and pressed a curl to your lips, never breaking eye contact. Repulsed, I looked away. “I do not need your interference,” I said.

“Oh, really, it’s not a problem. I know you have no interest in humans, but they hate neglect. I’m just trying to help.”

I stole a quick glance. You pulled one of the mortals closer and rested your cheek against their head. “Well, perhaps I will return the favor,” I said. “Perhaps I’ll leave right now for one of your domains and—”

“No,” you said quickly. You jostled your leg, and the sword clanged against the trumpet. The person in your lap giggled, unaware of the danger. “I have a song I’ve been meaning to play. If you leave now, you’ll miss it.”

My fingers flexed, but I did not reach for my hammer. It had taken centuries of watching you flit around with that wicked grin, always just out of reach, to know that I could never swing far or fast enough to reach you. Not with the end of the world so close to your lips. I needed to catch you off guard, and to do that I had…to distract you.

“Then I’ll join you,” I said.

You furrowed your brow. “Join me?”

I shifted my weight, cleared my throat. “I’ll sing. A duet. With you.” I eyed the trumpet. “No instruments.”

Your eyes locked on me, expression unreadable. Then you rose, untangling your arms from your entourage so quickly the one in your lap tumbled to the ground. They all sighed in disappointment, and I felt a pang of jealousy; it was so natural for them to adore you. “What do you have in mind?” you asked.

“I…I don’t know. I don’t know songs.”

You waved a hand. “No matter, just follow my lead. Repeat what I sing. This will be fun.” You whispered something in a musician’s ear. The players set down their instruments, then you motioned me over.

You led me through a ballad of seasons, the heat from your bare arm warming my side. Where my voice tripped and wavered, yours rang clear as chimes. Your last note was starlight distilled into sound. Its remnants shivered the air, binding every soul in that tavern within its spell. My eyes prickled and I stole a blurry glance at your tilted chin, closed eyes, parted mouth. When you opened your eyes, the spell lifted and the tavern broke into applause.

Your shoulder brushed against mine as you turned to me, steeping me in heat and flowers. “You’re not terrible,” you murmured, and despite myself, I felt pulled to you like the sea to the shore, like time yanked forward on its steady march to oblivion.

I understood why the mortals flocked to you. But I saw you for what you were: a temptress, a charmer. Someone with the power to unravel everything. I would not allow you to lead me or this realm to destruction.

I kept my eyes locked on yours and moved closer, reaching forward. But when my fingers grazed your trumpet, you stepped backward and bowed. “Until next time,” you said. You winked and disappeared and I was left alone, flushed and a few degrees colder.

I set down my hammer and stare at your glowing, fractured sword in the fire. The silence in your absence is unbearable. Even the crackle of my hearth fire is muffled. I leave its warmth to step outside my temple that overlooks the sea at the world’s edge, bracing myself for the realm as it is without you.

Three days ago, I would have been met by the roar of the ocean and sea-sprinkled winds under a turbulent sky. Now, everything is blank. The sky is gray. The water, motionless. There is no wind or movement and everything is still, too still. I sit on the stone steps and close my eyes.

Three days. Three days you have been gone, three sunrises and sunsets, had the sun still bothered to rise, had it not flickered out of this world when I felled you.

I gather my grief and return to my hearth to do the only thing I can in the moment: reforge you.

You grew bolder after that, planting seeds of chaos across the world. I calmed the seas, and you unleashed philosophy; I fought tundra off the steppes, and you ripped apart a nation with a song. You raised temples in your name and spilled jungles into deserts and plains where they did not belong. Always overstepping, ever encroaching, never giving me a moment to look away.

Mortals lived and died and loved and warred for your affection. But for every light show you dazzled them with, I spent a century putting out fires. You grew more careless and destructive, and so once again, I brought the fight for you.

I lured you in with offerings the misguided people of my realm set out for you: milk treats and honey-soaked fruit; candied nuts and spiced wine. You came, always came, unable to resist their cloying smells. I tried to trap you with nets inlaid with pearls and incantation, but you were too deft. I tried to freeze you in time with arrows dipped in rivers that fed the sea at the end of the world, but you always slipped away. Every time I failed, your eyes found mine and you put a hand on your trumpet, bright and grinning with another fresh triumph.

Villages sprawled into cities and cities into kingdoms that rose and fell as you twisted the world into something beyond my understanding. I donned a new face and spent a generation infiltrating an empire you bought in exchange for a story. On the day I arrived at your throne room, sunlight pierced the windows and reflected off the marble floor. I kneeled disguised at your bangled feet, dizzy with the smell of the flower I still could not name, my hammer at the ready just under my cloak. Gauzy fabric flowed off of you like water as you reached for me and lifted my chin.

“Primordial fool,” you whispered as your eyes caught fire. “You cannot catch me off guard.”

I swallowed, felt my throat move against your finger. “Why not?”

“Because I look for you everywhere.”

You released me and lifted your trumpet from your lap. I rose slowly and backed away. The members of your court looked between us, murmuring. When I reached the door, you lowered the trumpet and I fled, clearing your kingdom in three steps, throat aching where you touched it, heart fast as a swallow.

We danced through time, sometimes so close it frightened me. I erected temples in my own name, hoping to fuel my cause with worship. They emptied and filled and emptied again, but I could not get a foothold on this ever-changing world as you had. I grew desperate.

I summoned you with poetry.

“No,” you said. “Disgusting. Atrocious.” We stood in my temple by the sea and you held the parchment at arm’s length, eyeing the smeared and clumsy letters as if they reeked of ox dung. “Stick to trying to fight innovation with your axe.”

“It’s a hammer. And I don’t—”

You threw the parchment into the fire, releasing a plume of smoke. “Clearly you went through excruciating effort to lure me here. What do you want?”

I closed my eyes against your heady scent mixed with the hearth smoke and sea air. “I have a proposal,” I said. “A truce. I will stop hunting you…”

The suddenness with which you froze electrified the air.

“…and help you secure passage to a new realm.”

You were still. Then you nodded and let out a single, breathy laugh. “Ha. A truce. A truce. And what do I get out of it?”

“I told you. I will help you find a realm where no one gets in your way. Create chaos however you want. End your new world a thousand times over.”

“Why would I want that?” you asked, narrowing your eyes. “If I leave the realm to you, this world will fester and languish. Curiosity will die, and wonder with it. Here’s my proposal: you leave. Let this realm invent and compose and make love to its heart’s content without your attempts at stagnation.”

You had insulted me. I tried to steer this world toward peace and stability. You tilted it toward disorder. We could not stay on this path.

“I was the first,” I said, unhitching my hammer and pointing it at your trumpet. “You are no more than an intruder. And do not pretend to care for this realm when you march around with its destruction like it’s nothing more than a trinket. Ensuring the realms’ preservation is my sacred duty, one you undermine by turning mortals from my protection with…with hedonism.”

“Turn them from you?” you laughed. “They don’t even know of you, except for the faintest wisps of myth.”

I tightened my grip on my hammer. “I should have ended you at the beginning,” I hissed.

“You tried,” you spat, and you looked so tired. You walked to the temple entrance and rested a hand on its wide, doorless frame. Then, so quietly I could barely hear it: “But if they caught more than a glimpse of you…you are magnetism. Anyone would follow you to the end of time.”

My hammer slipped slightly in my grip. You looked over your shoulder and lowered a hand to your trumpet. “Don’t forget,” you said.

I gritted my teeth and rushed forward, swinging my weapon in the arc of a blow that could have razed mountains had it struck something other than air.

But you were gone.

Gold runs through the hairline cracks of your sword as the memories work their way through. I wipe sweat from my brow, even as the world outside grows colder. There has been no hint of sunrise, no inkling of first warmth after a frozen night.

The world holds its breath for you.

There is just one encounter left to relive. Trembling, I fold the sword metal one last time, stitching our story closed.

There was a reason I was not the clever one. I would have been too dangerous. Unfortunately, I had learned too much from you.

I called you to me once more with a poem. This time, I confessed my love.

Your eyes darted between mine, and your lips parted, as realization overtook your face. More alluring than a milk treat, with more staying power than poem, was my confession. You could never suspect me of such wickedness because you did not think me capable of imagination. Yet here I was, stepping through the back door of your domain and playing you the fool.

Your one foolish act in a world you had long pulled the strings for was your final undoing. Your one foolish act was trusting me.

“Disgusting,” you said, voice breaking as you took a step forward. “Atrocious.”

My arm was already in motion when I expected self-satisfaction or deviousness to cross your face. It was too late to stop when instead I saw softness, relief. As you reached for me I, having spent too much of my life rehearsing this moment—I, who could not stay my basest instincts to slay you for what I imagined to be the good of my realm, swung my hammer and caved in your chest.

You could not speak. Instead, your jaw fell open and you gasped.

I dropped my hammer. It landed in the sand with a dull thud. The hurt on your face was so unnatural in a visage usually set with mirth. It is what broke me, what continues to break me, and I will break myself upon your sword grasping for your spirit as I try to reforge it with my memories of you before I ever consider forgiving myself for what I’ve done.

You burst into light and were gone. Your trumpet fell and your sword shattered and the sun disappeared and I knelt in the sand where your body should have been, hoping it was a dream, that you were not truly gone at my hand.

I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.

I fold in the last memory. When your sword no longer glows amber, I douse the fire, searing my nose with the smoke. The coals hiss as they turn dark and when the steam is gone, nothing moves except for my breath, just visible in the slanted moonlight. The world is too quiet.

I lift your blade. “Please,” I whisper.

Silence. There is no laughter, no dancing footsteps. I take your trumpet and hold it against your sword, but there is nothing. I bring the trumpet to my lips.

I cannot.

I lower it.

“You were this world’s beginning,” I say, voice fractured. “The spark for light and motion and…life. So much life. And I…” I clutch your sword and trumpet tight to my chest. “I could not see it because if I did, my entire existence would be meaningless. I feared irrelevance. I feared you turning on me if I let you in. You were easy as an enemy, and unbearable as a being to admire. And now because of my cowardice, the realm is…”

The sword and the trumpet disappear from my hands.

“No!” I drop to the ground and feel in the dark, but there is nothing. Your sword and your trumpet are gone.

Then, clapping. And the scent of flowers.

I turn. You are in a chair in the corner, one leg crossed over the other and a glass of wine in one hand. Your sword is in your lap; your trumpet pinned to your side. Your mouth is a flat line and your golden eyes dim. “I believe those are the most words I’ve ever heard you say,” you say, dully.

“You are here,” I breathe.

“So I am.” You set the wine glass on the ground, but do not move otherwise. Finally, you say: “Well?”

My mouth goes dry. “Well, what?”

You lean forward a little.

“I’m…sorry?” I say.

I cannot fault you for throwing up your hands and making to leave.

“I’m sorry I struck you down!” I say. “I do not know how to apologize for what I have done. There are no words in our language or any other.”

You face away from me and you are still, too still. A seed of fear takes root, that I have hurt you in a way that cannot be healed—that I have stolen the light from your eyes and the delight from your laughter and in turn robbed the world of its joy and motion. If you leave without saying anything, I am sure it will be forever. Now that I’ve tasted my worst horror, my greatest fear would be to relive it.

When you turn to me, there is a great weariness in you. You hold the trumpet to your lips, and your hand trembles as you wait for me to react. You want it to have some hold over me, but it no longer does. And I realize…

“I know,” I say.

“You know what?”

“I know it’s just a trumpet.”

It falls with a clatter. “Well, that’s it, then. You figured it out. It only took you…” You look to the ceiling, feigning calculation. “Several thousand millennia. Fair is fair. A lie for a lie. This realm begins with my lie and ends with yours.”

“I never lie,” I say gently.

You narrow your eyes, and I know you are replaying those last moments on the shore. Your face contorts in a new emotion: fury. “That makes it worse!”

“I know,” I say.

“I don’t, do you—” You take a step in one direction and then the other, tangling a hand in your hair. It is all so endearingly human. “Do you understand that when I sprang from the dawn, you were the first thing I saw—sure and stable and…beautiful, so beautiful, smelling of weather that was not yet imagined. Everything I did after our first meeting was to capture your attention. All of it was in dedication to you. But when nothing shook the detestation from your eyes, I tried to free myself of those feelings. And then you called me to that shore…” You drop your hand to your side and look at me with so much hurt I ache. “Do you understand how cruel you are? I cannot…I cannot forgive you.”

I try to come up with something to say, but there is nothing. “I wish you had lied,” you say, voice breaking. “I am done playing this game. You win. I will leave. You will finally have the realm to yourself.”

Dawn paints the world as you step through the temple entrance. I think of that first sunrise and our first meeting—how I had raised my hammer and you stepped back, surprised. What would we have been like if I had not done anything? If I had waited to see what you would do first?

I rotate my hammer in my hands. It glitters in the new light; the weight and grip are perfect as they have always been. I trace my finger along carvings on the handle. Just patterns, I had always thought. Now I see them for what they are: etched vines and flowers.

I take a deep breath.

I swing my hammer into my temple, blowing out half the wall and shattering the hammer’s head into pieces. Shards clatter to the ground like meteorites. You whirl to face me.

“The realm is yours,” I say as the world pitches and my vision darkens.

Your mouth moves and the ground sways as my consciousness bleeds out. I wonder briefly if my thoughts will become oblivion—if that is where you went, when I struck you down.

The last thing I see is you running toward me. My only regret is that I will not see what beauty springs forth without me to intercept it. Your golden eyes rush forward, twin stars in an obsidian night…

A burst of light, and you catch me and pull me into you.

We become one.

We are sunlit waves breaking against rock shores; we are starlit landscapes on frozen nights. We consume the horizons and take the space between seasons. Mortals and empires rise and fall under our gaze that is at once steady and tumultuous. We forgive ourselves in time, and learn to love ourselves by doing so. And as the realm spins forward, somewhere at its edge a sword and a trumpet and a shattered hammer lie abandoned on a sea shore, frozen in time.


Anjali Patel is a Black and South Asian speculative fiction writer and software engineer. She lives with a grizzled dog who offered to teach her magic in exchange for free New York City rent. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in Escape PodUncanny Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, khōréō, and others. Find her at or on Twitter @anjapatel.

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