I do a very good trade in magic swords.
They’re not my number-one sellers, mind you. That distinction belongs to my handcrafted scarabs – those scarabs just seem to fly off the shelves. (Not literally, in most cases, although accidents have been known to happen.) On your average lunar week, I sell fifteen to twenty scarabs, easy, and you can double that figure around festival time. Jade is the always the most popular color, although there’s usually an uptick in sales of the ivory ones during wedding season.
But, the problem is, the margins on scarabs are just criminal. Once you factor in the cost of the jade, and the silver, and the gold – not to mention the value of my own labor? I’m lucky if I can clear half a sovereign on each scarab that I sell.
Truth be told, I really should have gotten out of the scarab business a long time ago. But I just keep on making them. And, honestly, I think it’s just because I happen to like making scarabs.
Anyway, that’s my problem. Or one of them, I suppose.
Magic swords, on the other hand, are basically pure profit. I have a ratfolk acquaintance who digs up old battlefields out beyond the marshes – she’s a graverobber, if we’re going to be fully honest about it, but she prefers to call herself a scavenger, and that suits me just fine. Anyway, whatever you want to call what it is that she does, she’s mainly on the lookout for bone charms – fingers are the best, she tells me, although toes will do in a pinch, or really tiny ribs – but she digs up a lot of old swords in the process.
The bones, she keeps for herself. The swords, she sells to me. I buy them by the cartload.
The good ones – the really nice ones, mind you, with good balance, and a little heft to them – I clean up and resell down on armorer’s row. With a little sanding and polishing, you’d be amazed at what you can do.
The not-so-good ones I enchant, and I keep them for the tourists.
It’s not too hard to make a convincing magical sword, if you know what you’re doing. The most important thing is the look: you want the blade to have a little bit of age to it, a little obvious wear-and-tear – but not too much. So, if I’ve got a sword that’s just a little bit too rusty, I file some of the rust off. If I’ve got a sword that isn’t rusty enough, I’ll put a little more on. It’s all about creating the right feeling – like this is a blade of legend that was lost to time, and only just rediscovered, before it found its way into the hands of some unsophisticated junk dealer like me.
The etching is the next trick, and I’ve found that it’s better not to carve the runes right onto the blade. That’s just a little too obvious, and the buyer’s got to feel like they’re discovering something that I missed, like they’re getting one over on me. So I tend to unwrap the grip (assuming there’s still a grip left, mind you – if there isn’t, I’ll supply one) and I do my etching right there on the pommel. Then I rewind the grip, but I leave one end of the sharkskin just a little bit loose, so that a curious customer can peak beneath it, and discover the ancient secrets it conceals.
Then there’s the matter of actually enchanting the blade. And, just to be clear, I enchant every magic sword that I sell, so anyone who may have told you that they bought an enchanted sword from me that wasn’t really enchanted is lying – and I would say as much to their face.
Now, the enchantment I use is one of my own devising, and, if I may be immodest for a moment, it’s actually an extremely clever bit of spellwork, because it does nothing. But it does nothing in a very powerful way, which anyone with even a passing familiarity with magic can sense.
Anyway, once I’ve put the finishing touches on one of these magic swords, I stick it at the bottom of my chest of bulk items, beneath a bunch of other swords.
And then I wait.
Sooner or later, a real sweetheart comes into my shop. Maybe it’s a provincial noble, stopping in the city as part of the Grand Tour, and looking for a souvenir to take home – something that would look good over the mantle, a real conversation piece. Maybe it’s some stuck-up taskmage, looking for a staff or a grimoire or somesuch, but who doesn’t want to pay High Market prices. Or maybe it’s some fortune hunter, back in town after pilfering some poor, picked-over ruin, who thinks they can unload their salvage on me, even though the antiquarians up on the hill told them that all their priceless treasures are anything but.
See, I can always tell who these sweethearts are, because they’re always the ones who try to grind me on price. And I don’t mean that they haggle, because there’s nothing wrong with haggling. That’s a part of the business – I get it. I’m talking about the real cheapskates, here – the ones who think that they can bargain me down to nothing, just because my shop’s not up on the hill, and because they have a jumped-up sense of their own importance.
So, when we can’t come to agreement on price for whatever it was that they wanted to buy – a really nice skyshell cameo, let’s say, with lapis insets, and gold foiling – I’ll just shrug my shoulders a little bit, and I’ll suggest that they look around a little more, and that maybe they’ll find something else that we can use as a throw-in, to square-up the deal. And I just wait for them to find the sword.
They always find the sword. I can’t explain why, but they always find the sword.
And, when they do find the sword, they always try to act so cool about it, so sly. Maybe they’ll pick a couple of swords out of the chest, and ask if I’d be willing to throw one of them in, as if I can’t see that they’re gripping that one magic sword so tightly that I would need a pair of darksteel pliers to get it out of their fingers.
So I play it cool, too. I act like I’m barely paying attention. Maybe I’ll discover some entry in my receipt ledger that suddenly requires my close attention.
“Did all those swords come out of that same chest?” I’ll ask, without looking up. “The one with the leather hinges, that says ‘PICK ANYTHING – 5 SOVEREIGNS’ on the lid?”
That’s the one, they’ll say, trying not to sound excited, and failing.
“Probably,” I’ll say. “Pick the one you want, and let’s take a look.”
They’ll hem and haw for a few seconds, playing like it doesn’t really matter to them which of the swords they pick, before they just happen to choose the enchanted one. Then they’ll bring it over to my counter, although they won’t set it down. And maybe they’ll even have their coins at the ready, like they suddenly can’t wait to pay me the thirty sovereigns I wanted for that skyshell cameo they were looking at earlier, even though, a minute ago, they were blue in the face about what a usurious price that was.
Maybe I’ll let them dangle for a moment. Maybe I’ll start to reach out to take those sovereigns.
But then I’ll stop. My hand will freeze in mid-air, and my fingers will close.
“Can I take a look at that sword?” I’ll say.
You won’t believe this, but, sometimes, they actually try to tell me no! They actually try to tell me that I can’t look at my own sword!
Eventually, though, I get them to hand it over.
I’ll hold that sword in my hands. I’ll hold it up to the light. Maybe I’ll even close my eyes for a moment, maybe I’ll even hold my breath.
Then I’ll sort of flinch a little bit, like I’ve just discovered something. And I’ll move to put the sword beneath my counter.
“Sorry,” I’ll say quickly, “but there’s been a mistake. This sword isn’t for sale.”
Oh, that will get them howling.
But I will not be swayed. My heart is made of stone.
“You can still have one of those other swords, if you like,” I’ll say, sounding apologetic, but firm. “But this sword isn’t for sale.”
That’s when they’ll start offering me coin. Maybe just the five sovereigns, for starters, like it says on the lid of the chest. Maybe more. Because, you see, they had the magic sword in their hands. They had it in their hands, and they were so close to pulling a fast one on me, before I got wise! And that just makes them want the sword all the more.
Now, they have to have it. Now, they’re hooked.
I’m not going to lie: I draw it out. I make them work to get that sword. I make them fight me for it.
But, eventually, I’ll cave. They’ll wear me down. I’ll sell them the sword.
I will sell them that sword for ten times what they didn’t want to pay me for that skyshell cameo. And they will leave my store with a smile on their face, because they know, in their heart-of-hearts, that they just haggled me out of some legendary blade of lore.
That’s fine by me. I’ll let them smile. Because I’ll be smiling, too, as I put their sovereigns into my cashbox, before I hide a new blade of lore at the bottom of my “PICK ANYTHING – 5 SOVEREIGNS” chest.
It’s like I told you: I do a very good trade in magic swords.
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