The Citadel: Anvil

Sparks flew from the steel, searching their way out the window, merging with the scattered lights of the enemy’s campfires on the plain. These in turn merged with the stars as night took the last color from the sky. He would not sleep tonight, nor had he slept for three nights previous. Instead he hammered out spearpoints that were mounted on the ends of oak dowels as thick as his thumb was long. The ballista crews would go through his entire night’s product in a quarter of an hour, but it would be enough. He’d seen men pinned to the horses they rode on, the horses themselves pinned to the blood-softened earth below. Man and beast would writhe as the attacking hordes split around them.He remembered playing in a stream once, throwing rocks into the shallow rapids. The stream would part, leaving a teardrop-shaped spot of calm in the lee of the rock. Once he’d thrown a rock that had landed exactly where a frog had been basking half-submerged. The frog — through luck or alertness — had jumped clear just in time, and landed in the downstream calm. It blinked and looked at him, climbing half-way onto this new basking place.

A friend came up beside him with a home-made bow. He’d nocked a reed with the tip cut cross-wise like a writing quill. He aimed and loosed the reed, which hit the frog broadside and killed it. His friend was immediately shocked that it had worked — he’d never hit the quarry before. The young blacksmith was angry, although he didn’t know why. He had just moments before tried to crush the frog with the stone. But it seemed a shame that having survived his attack that it would fall to another. Especially since he’d given it shelter of sorts.

A hiss and popping sound brought him back to the present. Perhaps he’d fallen asleep at the anvil. He glanced at the fire to be sure that a knot hadn’t jumped from the hearth. Everything seemed fine. The point he was working was still red, so he continued hammering.

He missed his first stroke, the bright clang of hammer on the bare anvil ugly in his ears. He went to pick up the hammer again, but it was as if it had fused to the anvil. He stooped to look closer, but the feathers on the arrows sticking from his chest caught fire on the spearpoint. “They attack at night?” he thought, “I should have shuttered the window.” He stared at the flaming ends of the arrows, wondering what was making the flames leap horizontally. “The flue couldn’t have that much draft from this distance.” Then he realized he was staring at the vaulted ceiling, flat on his back. “Well then, I guess I will get some sleep after all.”

–Steve Kilian

Joseph in the North

Russian Roulette

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