flASH fiction: Volume 4: Idle Grind (2)

Idle Grind
Jason Pere

Rustwatch was a city that born from war. Like the great metal walls that surrounded the realm of industry and martial craft the inhabitances of Rustwatch had grown hard and tempered from generations spent in conflict. While the Iron Men of Rustwatch had always been practiced on the field of battle and bolstered by the arms and armor to come from the forges of their city, they now suffered a new kind of war that they were ill prepared to fight. The sealed age had turned the Iron Men’s way of bloody marching campaigns into a siege with no end in sight. The warriors of Rustwatch were no strangers to being put on the defensive during the course of a war but the conflict against the chimera was more a matter of survival than it was a war. The Iron Men were known for their hearty endurance and moral that was as unbreakable as their namesake but as the twisted beasts birthed by the red rains continued to sweep across the face of Argaia, the people of Rustwach found their resolve slowly eroding as they were resigned to witness the descent of the world into the claws of monsters.

The quiet hush of stone grinding against metal drew Shibon into a hypnotic lullaby. It was the sensation of heat working its way through the thick blacksmiths gloves that pulled the woman from the sirens call of the whetstone. She snapped her focus back to the work in front of her. The stone was bone dry as it spun and was beginning to catch on some of the chipped parts of the battered longsword’s blade. She pumped the water billows at with her foot and gave the grinding wheel a few fresh squirts of water. The hydration helped to smooth the spin of the whetstone and Shibon continued her sharpening of the sword in her hands but her mind quickly drifted from the menial task once again.

“Slow down you are going to make me look bad,” came the gravelly voice of Rolly. The barrel-chested man looked at Shibon from his adjacent workbench with a sheepish but good natured expression. His eyes compared the heaping stacks of refurbished arms on Shibon’s workbench against his the modest number of sharpened blades he had amassed since the stack whistle’s first blast.

Shibon returned to the moment upon hearing her companions dig against her unyielding industriousness. She glanced about the rest of the workshop and noted that she was grossly outproducing all of the other craftsmen nearby. Confident in her lead she lay down her current task, slid her goggles back into her black and silver hair and ventured over to Rolly’s grinding wheel. She picked up a battle ax that the man had finished grinding not long ago and ran a gloved finger down the edge. Her face was caught between a frown and a smirk as she removed her glove and slowly slid the pad of her bare thumb down the ax’s blade. “You will not need my help looking bad. You spent twice as long as you had a right to with thins one and I’ve still seen butter knives with a keener edge than what you put on,” she said with her impossibly charming throaty cadence.

Rolly quit working on reconditioning the blade on his wheel and removed his goggles. “You do not need to bring me down to elevate yourself. Everyone knows that your work is superior to most anyone else in the shop,” Rolly said with a defiant cross of his arms over his chest.

“Ha, I would hardly call what we do here work,” Shibon said with a roll of her eyes and flip of her hair. “It is the Forge where the real business happens. Down here we just fix mistakes. I dream of the day I get to build something of my own, let alone a personal anvil in the Forge.”

“An anvil in the Forge. That is a dream shared by most everyone in this shop. I will admit that you are closer to realizing that dream than anyone I can think of,” Rolly said with a supportive tone and softening of his light brown eyes.

“Yet I am still leagues away. I have been stuck at that wheel so long I do not remember when I started and what do I have to show for it?” Shibon spat with an empty gesture of her hands.

“Do not let yourself feel so useless. We provide a needed service for the city. Reworking and repair is valuable to the war effort,” responded Rolly.

“If what we do here is so valuable, how come the Forgemaster never comes around? All we do is grind and for what?” Shibon said with bitter biting.

“I would imagine that Forgemaster Gerwayne is busy creating new arms to best the chimera in the wilds. We are needed to return to service the weapons that have seen one to many battles. We all have our place in Rustwatch,” Rolly said with the sound of indoctrinated dogma ringing in his words.

“If Forgemaster Gerwayne and his mastersmiths were half as good behind an anvil as they would have us believe I doubt that we would be needed at all. Rustwatch arms are supposed to last forever. The quality of what passes from out gates has declined over the years. I could do so much if they would just let me. Our Forgemaster can scarcely smith a proper set of horseshoes let alone…” Shibon started with long tended ire but she was interrupted buy Rolly before her rant could gain momentum.

“Shhh, you best not speak like that. Things do not bode well for those who disparage the Forgemaster,” Rolly said with alarm.

“Oh what could he do? Double my quota of blades to sharpen and stick back in the armory for nobody to use?” Shibon scoffed.

“Well yes, for starters…” Rolly led with a reflective tilt of his head. “What do you mean when you say, for nobody to use? The Iron Men beyond the seal wall need to be kept in steady supply of arms and armor.”

“Please tell me you have noticed the stockpile we have been gaining in the armory. We are running out of weapon racks to store what we send down there. Pretty soon they will have to open up the auxiliary armory just to handle the overflow,” Shibon said with an all knowing melody.

“That is a good thing is it not? Being well stocked with arms,” Rolly responded as he scratched his scalp with a gloved hand. He left a few greasy streaks in his hair as he mulled over his evident confusion.

“What good is a large arsenal if we have no body to wield it? The dead wagons that came back from the wilds in the early days were few and not even half full. Now the they are overflowing with slain Iron Men. There are more widows and widowers in our city than wedded women and men,” Shibon said while morbidly touching the corner of her mouth with her thumb. Her rich and colorful eyes glossed over with tell-tale painful recollection as she recounted the macabre parade of the dead wagons rolling thought the streets of Rustwatch and the throng of sobbing spouses and children that followed the grim procession. She thought of the day she tearfully followed the wagon that had just heralded her as a freshly forged widow.

Rolly found himself without a ready riposte. He took a long measure to continue scratching his head and leaving greasy trails in his hair as he contemplated. “War goes in cycles. Lots of ups and down. Any worthy enemy does its fair share of winning before it is defeated,” he said with a hollow quality where there should have been hope filling his words.

“Well then the chimera the most worthy foe I have ever heard of,” Shibon fired back with rampant sarcasm.

Rolly frowned and searched for some meaningful response. After a weighty silence endured between him and Shibon he replaced his working goggles. “Looks as though Deter is catching up to you,” he said with a nod towards one of the other craftsmen and the sizable collection of refurbished weapons beside his grinding wheel. “Better get back to it if you want to continue your reign down here,” he continued with a half-smile pulling at his mouth.

Shibon huffed and returned to her whetstone. She pumped the water billows, replaced her gloved and goggles and got back to work. “For what, for what…” she trailed as the mind numbing grind of stone on metal began a new verse to the song she had grown exhausted of hearing. Her hands were bound to the mindless task of sharpening but her thoughts flew high and free above the smoke and iron towers that presided over Rustwatch. The thought of an anvil of her own and giving metal the kiss of life while creating all manner of contraption sustained Shibon until the stack whistle sounded the end of the working day.

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