Polished steel gleamed as bright as a newly forged sword untouched by blood or rust. Perfect in symmetry and artistry, the Goblet was the clan lord’s most prized possession, worth more money than what every person in his domain could produce in a year put together. It was an heirloom passed down from generation to generation, never aging, immutable in shine and shape no matter how many times wine filled it or it tumbled to the floor from clumsy hands.
It was said the goblet had been forged by the gods themselves long ago, that they had imbued it with life, so that any who drank from its brim would have their lives extended. And so it seemed to be true, for the lords of this clan had lived longer than any of the men around them for centuries on end. Many had come seeking to take a single sip from the shining steel vessel, to beg a favor of the clan lord, so they too could enjoy years beyond what had been preordained for them.
None ever touched it. No outsider’s lips sullied the purity of the Goblet. For if ever more than one man in a lifetime drank from the cup, both would die within minutes, their lives curtailed like a bad play. What could grant life could also bring death, a death as swift and certain as a blow from a sword—a secret known only to the clan which owned it.
Serrick stood before the Goblet on its stand, looking uneasily at his distorted reflection. “Father, you mustn’t do this. Killing the other clan lords will only worsen the war and bring unnecessary suffering to the people.”
“Don’t speak of things you don’t yet understand, boy,” his father said. “When I am gone and the weight of this domain falls on your shoulders, you will understand why I must do this. Why I must see the other clan lords dead in one fell swoop, and all will fear the power of our clan and pay obeisance to us.”
“The war has clouded your judgment. What makes you think the heirs will not just as swiftly take their lords’ place and renew their fight against us?”
“Their heirs shall be there, too. They shall all taste death. The heirs of all the clans, save you, my boy. And you shall rise above all the others while the clans struggle for power within themselves—and you will unite them all. You will be king. There will be peace at last.”
“Peace cannot come through deception, nor the dishonorable slaughter you plan.”
His father wheeled around. “You dare to call me dishonorable?” He slapped Serrick smartly on the face. “Watch your tongue. Everything I do, I do for honor, for our people. Now. Bring the Goblet. The other clan lords and their heirs await us in the hall below.” His father chuckled. “If only they knew what awaited them.”
Serrick gritted his teeth and did as his father said. Once they reached the hall, his father’s voice boomed off the ceiling.
“Fellow lords! We are gathered here to negotiate peace between our clans at last. As a show of good faith, my son and I will share the blessings of the Life-Goblet with you.” He clapped his hands. “Steward! Bring wine.”
Serrick watched through narrowed eyes as the steward filled the Goblet with blood-red wine. He wanted peace. He wanted his clan to maintain its sovereignty, and for the other clans to stop warring.
But not like this. Not through deception and usurpation.
He held the Goblet steady as the steward filled it, knowing what he must do.
“Now, my prized son,” his father said. “Pass the Goblet around the room.”
Serrick closed his eyes. “No, Father.” He raised the brim to his lips and drew a deep draught of the heady red wine. He dashed the rest to the ground. The Goblet hit the stone with a cold ring.
His father let out a roar of rage. “Serrick! What have you done?”
“Listen, fellow lords!” Serrick cried. “This cup holds only death for you. My father would have you murdered all. But I have taken this sword of death upon myself. Bring peace to these lands, brothers—but let no more blood be shed. You may think me a liar, but when my body lies cold upon these stones, perhaps you will believe me. The Goblet itself is poison, the cause of generations of war. Will you perpetuate it? Will you…will you…” The world around him grew blurry and dim as he watched his father fall to the floor, livid with rage even in death. “Will you…end…this…”
All went black.
The other clan lords and their heirs stood by, watching with horror as Serrick’s lifeless body fell to the ground. For a moment, none moved, staring at each other with shock in their miens. But then their eyes drifted to the Life-Goblet. Surely all that had happened was that the wine was poisoned. Surely the cup maintained its power.
The Goblet merely lay upon the floor as the lords drew their blades and began to fight over it, this piece of polished steel, gleaming as bright as a newly forged sword untouched by blood or rust.
“The Steel Life-Goblet” copyright 2017 by A.L.S. Vossler.
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Goblet image courtesy of Firkin on openclipart.org.