Long, long ago in the second kingdom, there was a master sword-maker, who made swords and knives and daggers for kings and warriors, that were known everywhere as the very best of their kind, as keen as they were beautiful. When he knew that he was coming to the end of his life, he used all of his skill to make a dagger that was sharper than words and truer than light. What is more, it had the power of telling truth from lies. When the truth was spoken, the dagger shone more brightly than silver, but when someone was lying, it turned a dull, ashen grey.
For long years, the dagger was the prized possession of kings and rulers, and then it was lost, no-one knows how. With time, it was known only as a legend for children and story-tellers.
Now one day an old woman was drawing water from a well. When her bucket reached the top of the well, she saw something dull grey lying in the bottom of the bucket. “This is a fine thing,” she said to herself. “If I polish it, my son Glim will be able to sell it. He may even have enough money to marry at last.” For her only son, Glim, loved a girl who was as good as she was beautiful, but they were far too poor to be married.
She took the dagger home and polished it until it shone, then she showed it to her son. “Where did you get this fine dagger?” he asked her. “Surely it has been stolen from some nobleman.”
The old woman was afraid, and she said, “No, no, it is only an old knife that has been in our family for ages. I found it when I was cleaning out an old box in the attic.”
Immediately the dagger turned dull and grey, and became so heavy that the old woman dropped it with a shriek. Then she told Glim the truth. Before their eyes the dagger’s edge began to shine like silver.
Glim said, “This is clearly no ordinary dagger. It should be in the hands of the king. I will take it to him myself, at once.” He said goodbye to his mother, and to his beloved Rilla. She kissed him and blessed him for the journey, and he set off.
It was a long journey, but Glim was young and strong and he strode along with a good will. On the first day he was walking beside a long field which was being ploughed ready for sowing seeds. The farmer was lamenting loudly that his plough had hit a rock and was shattered into pieces. He could not finish the ploughing, so no seed would be sown, so there would be no crops and his family would go hungry.
Glim said to the farmer, “I have a fine blade here that may be useful.” Together they tied the dagger to the plough and the farmer finished ploughing the field in no time at all, the blade of the dagger making easy work of the hard soil and even the rocks. Glim untied the dagger and went on his way.
On the second day, he heard shouts of distress and when he looked around, he saw a hunter whose favourite hunting dog was being carried off by an eagle. Glim threw the dagger and it struck the bird’s claws so that it let go of the dog, which fell safely back to the ground. He continued on his way, and early on the third day, he came to the court of the king.
The king sat on his throne, with his Chief Minister at his side ready to whisper in his ear whenever he thought advice was needed. When they saw Glim, in his poor clothes with his shoes almost worn through from his long journey, the Chief Minister would have turned him out without a hearing, but Glim bowed very respectfully and said, “If it please your Majesty, I have brought you a thing of great wonder and mystery.” He brought out the dagger and held it across his hands, where its silver edge shone brightly.
The Chief Minister said, “What is one more dagger? The King has cupboards and shelves full of swords and daggers, made of gold and covered in jewels.”
Glim said, “This dagger has never been known to miss its target. It can cut through stone or iron.”
The king said, “Let us have a target set up, so that we can test whether what you say is true.”
Servants came forward and set up a target, fifty paces away. Glim threw the dagger and struck the very centre of the target. The king ordered the target to be moved two hundred paces further away, and again the dagger hit the centre. The king said, “Do you see the flag that waves on the Chief Minister’s house? There is a black circle at its centre – hit that, if you can!”
The flag was so far away and so high that it was like a tiny bird’s wing on the top of a church steeple, and the black dot at its centre was too small for the eye to see, but Glim put his trust in the dagger and threw. It sped like an arrow to its target and tore the flag from end to end. Then it fell back into Glim’s hand, with the flag tangled around it. Everyone could see that the tip of the dagger had pierced the black circle at its centre.
“This is truly a marvel!” the king said.
The Chief Minister said, “Now that I see it closely, I recognise this dagger as one of my own that was stolen some time ago. Guards, seize him!” The Chief Minister had it in his heart to use the dagger to kill the king and then marry the king’s daughter and thus become king himself.
The king’s guards sprang forward and seized Glim. The Chief Minister took the dagger from Glim’s hand, but it was heavier than lead, and he dropped it at once. “What magic is this?” he shouted.
Glim retorted, “The dagger will always tell the truth from a lie!”
The Chief Minister drew his own sword with an oath and started forward to kill Glim, but the dagger leapt to Glim’s hand. They fought back and forth, from one side of the courtyard to the other, until the dagger sliced right through the Chief Minister’s sword, cutting it in two. Without a weapon, he was at Glim’s mercy.
“Enough!” cried the king. “Bring the dagger to me!” Glim willingly gave it into the king’s hand. The king held the dagger to the Chief’ Minister’s heart, and the silver edge faded to ashen grey.
“So, you are a traitor to me, after all,” the king said. He had the minister bound in chains of iron and banished beyond the borders of the kingdom.
Then the king turned to Glim and said, “You seem a worthy young man, worthy to become my Chief Minister, and marry my daughter. Is she not the most beautiful creature you have ever seen?”
Now the princess was thin and bony, and her nose was as large as a turnip. Glim knew that the dagger would make it clear if he spoke anything but the truth, so he chose his words carefully. “Your Majesty,” he said, “my heart is already given to one whom I love above all others, who is to me, more beautiful than anyone. I could not give the princess the love that she deserves.”
The king was pleased with this modest reply, and the princess was even happier because she had been in love with the captain of the guard in his red and gold uniform for years. He loved her in return and thought she was the most beautiful creature in the world.
The king said, “Nevertheless, I am still in need of a Chief Minister. Send for this girl that you love, and you can be married and live here in my palace.”
So Glim and Rilla were married, and the princess married the captain of the guard who became king in due time, and never was a kingdom ruled more wisely or well.
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