flASH fiction: Volume 3: Scars to Remember (25)

FB flASH fiction

Scars to Remember
By
Jason Pere

The funeral pyres in Rustwatch has long since dwindled to nothing more than wasted brands and dying embers. The death toll from the most recent breach of the city’s seal wall was the single greatest loss of life that Rustwatch had experienced in living memory. The volume of Iron Men who perished at the jaws of the chimera were too great a number to count. It had required a second burning in order to fully cremate the last of the dead. Two full days of moratoriums and eulogies had brought the Iron Lord’s city to a standstill. The only thing that had taken precedent form honoring the dead was the refortification of the damaged and destroyed portions of Rustwatch’s main gate. As soon as the gate’s defenses were returned to serviceable condition all of Rustwatch was enamored with the rites for those who died protecting the city and its inhabitants.

The chimera had been beaten back by the combine forces of Rustwatch and Rayward. The cannons were silent on the ramparts of the seal wall. The gates remained barred and locked but none of the twisted beast flung themselves against the city’s defenses. Lookouts remained ever vigilant atop the battlements but none had been required to raise a call to arms since the arrival of Dimona Odinstar and her Rayward army. For the first time in ages, Rustwatch knew something of peace. Sadly the break from killing and bloodshed was marred by the scores of newly made widows and orphans within the Iron Lords domain. While there were no chimera posing an immediate threat to the people of Rustwatch, no one could bask in the serenity of days absent the horrible creatures.

Now that the formal rites and funeral traditions had been observed for the slain Iron Men, the city took on a different air. The shanties of Rustwatch were alive with music and laughter. Strong drink flowed and stories of great acts of heroism were told and retold by the Iron Men who had survived to fight again. The dead were immortalized in song at verse by their brothers in arms. Each fighting man who had died upon the claws of the chimera was lauded a paragon of strength and bravery by the boisterous revelry of men whose sense of honor was greatly exaggerated by potent drink.

In the homes of the metalclad kingdom, wives who would never again know the touch of their husbands continued their grieving process. Many widows kept to the old ways by cutting their hair and burning their severed locks and braids in their hearths. The act was a gift given to the dead so that the living could, at least in part, join their departed loved ones in ashes. Children lit candles and posted them in their bedroom windows so their fathers could easily watch over them from the afterlife. Brothers and sisters set an extra place at their tables so the spirits of their departed siblings could have final a meal to sustain themselves on the long road to paradise. Each and every person living in Rustwatch who lost a loved one in the recent battle went about saying their farewells in one way or another. In the heart of the city, the Iron Lord had his own ritual or mourning that enraptured him.

The Forge was empty, save for Coal Roarkwin. He stood at his anvil and billows like he did on many a day before. While the fires of the forge burned bright amid the otherwise dark and sleeping city, it was without the usual clanging and banging of hammer striking hot metal. The Iron Lord’s purpose in the Forge was not one of industry and creation on this night but one or remembrance. Coal fanned the fire one more time and when he felt the heat burning so intense that he could no longer look at the flames without feeling an aching in his eyes, he knew it was time.

Coal ceased operating the billows and went to his work bench where he had spent part of the afternoon preparing a simple piece of metalwork. The small charm or iron lay flat on the bench and Coal regarded it curiously and reverently. When he had fashioned the item his hands had moved on their own and without his conscious command. The latent magic in the Iron Lord’s blood had spoken to the raw metal and after some fast crafting, bred something humble but impressive. The charm was a character from the oldest of tongues known to Argaia. The dialect was so old that nobody spoke it anymore let alone understood it. Coal was no exception but while he might not have been fluent in the forgotten language, the timeless immortal parts of his being were practiced and fluent in the mysterious alphabet.

The Iron Lord picked up the charm with a heavy pair of tongs. He held the small piece of metal close to his tired eyes and tried to make sense of the object. He could not read it but in his bones he knew what the character meant. Coal placed the charm into the blazes of the forge and let it begin heating. As the iron turned form a dark grey into a glowing orange Coal set about doffing his thick leather blacksmith’s apron. As the fire in the forge burned hot and bright the Iron Lord removed his shirt and gloves. The veteran warsmith stripped bare to the waste and waited for the iron to reach it’s peak temperature.

The inferno that the Iron Lord had tended and stoked cast a harsh red light upon the man’s beaten and worn skin. Every wrinkle and crease the weight of time had wrought on Coal’s muscular physique was shown as was each and every battle scare the man had earned in his considerably long life. What dwarfed the man’s age lines and war wounds were the copious amount of uniform and strategically placed scars. Coal’s body was a collection of runes and glyphs in the old world tongue banded into his flesh. Each self-inflicted scar was the name of someone the Iron Lord had once held dear. His body was a living memorial to lives lived courageously and lost bravely.

Once the forge had heated the iron charm to the maximum degree possible, Coal Roarkwin pulled the glowing piece of metal from the flames and pressed the brand firmly against a spot of unclaimed flesh on the inside of his right bicep. The Iron Lord grunted and grit his teeth as the branding sent a one of a kind pain blasting though his arm. As many times as Coal had suffered the touch of hot iron, each new mark always surprised him with how intense the agony of seared skin could manifest. The sizzle of burning flesh and the smell of charred meat signified that the iron had completed its task.

Coal let the brand fall to the ground and barked a painful cry as the small trinket took a fair proton the skin on his arm with it. He looked at the black and bloody sigil that meant “Everstone” in the old word. Coal let his mind go to the memories of the late Forman. The man was neither husband nor father. Forman Everstone had no family save for the arches Rustwatch’s seal wall that he had designed. The nuts and bolts that the Forman had tooled for the steam mills and mine carts of the city were his only progeny. The forge had been his wife and mistress. The countless arms and armor that Forman Everstone had crafted at his personal anvil were his closest brethren. The man’s industrious genius and keen architectural acumen had undoubtedly saved more Iron Men and Rustwatch natives from the chimera than could be reasoned. The humble blacksmith’s memory was likely gone before his ashes had even been swept away by the wind blowing across the smoldering funeral piers. Coal Roarkwin was bound to see the unsung hero of his city remembered for all time. Forman Everstone was immortalized in the skin of the man he had spent his life in service to.

Coal felt the incessant throbbing of his new scar to be grinding away at him. He knew that he needed to tend to the wound with fresh water and clean bandages but his spirit was restless. Where mourning had once been, the thirst for vengeance had taken it’s place. Coal Roarkwin swore that his friend death would not go unanswered. The mighty Iron Lord picked up his hammer and set about pounding away on a hunk of shapeless scrap metal. With each blow the man rained down on the chunk of ore he envisioned the twisted face of some chimera beast. Coal nurtured his rage long into the night. The streets around the forge echoed with the sound of metal, pain and the promise of primal retribution until the sun crested the horizon and a new day broke over Rustwatch.

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