Calamity’s Keep: Part Four – “The Shield”

Janus could hear his father’s voice every single time he hammered the anvil. Many images and sounds repeated through his memory, but it was his dad’s degrading bark that always overtook his mind’s eye. He had been a blacksmith just like his father before him, and the one before him. In fact, it was rumored that some of Janus’s ancestors were settled here before Calamity and the Lutchkins, and actually made arms against them in the first wars over the Grimwall.

Janus hated everything about this trade and profession, but it was inescapable, like it was scheduled and shackled into his very genes. There wasn’t a ton of business or money in Clare De Rune. You were lucky to have anything, much less a trade that was in constant demand. Things could be worse. Janus could be a beggar. He’d grown up loving books, the outdoors, and even the intricate bugs you’d discover beneath a heavy rock. He couldn’t get enough learning, but the magnetic clang of the hammer always pulled him back into his father’s shop. Janus was tall, wide, and wrapped in a blue blacksmith apron. His narrow face dripped with soot and sweat. All the townsfolk thought he was his dad, even though he was only thirty years old. 

The only real distinction they shared was that Janus went gray early in life, just like his dad.

Janus’s father had retired and moved to the central part of the city, where the Lutchkins, harpies, and vampires wouldn’t dare breach the walls. Elite soldiers called the Inner Guard protected the metropolis’s center. Not even Calamity would be able to escape a skirmish with them unscathed. The wealthy lived everywhere the Inner Guard patrolled. This could be on rooftops, atop pubs, stores, garrisons, and even churches. It was safest to be next to the people who were willing to scowl down the devil’s army.

It was a typical morning for Janus. The summer sun had a weary yellow to it. The air was licked with moisture. Birds chirped between wagons bumping over the cobblestones outside his shop. It was a simple looking store. It had a brown, spiked roof with three hearty brick walls. In the winter, the forge was hot enough to melt any snow that tried to creep inside. The captured glow of molten metal was like having a caged sun. The only time this job was seemingly charming was during this season, when the world would come to a standstill, but his forearms would still be making thunder like some ancient god.

His work for today was simple, four shields with iron streaks latched over wooden bars. They were called an OHS, which was short for “one hit shield.” They would only stop a Lutchkin’s harpoon once in combat. The metal lines would theoretically catch the spear, trapping the wire they used to pull their lance and victim away. Sometimes the City Guard would bring the shields back to Janus for him to salvage materials from. Occasionally, they’d be stained with blood, hair, or even bits of flesh.

It was always human too.

Four new shields were a bit unusual. Skirmishes were rare for the most part. The Lutchkins were well fed. They were always getting wagons of leftover meat from every butcher in Clair De Rune. The shields must be for a counterattack, to teach the monsters a lesson. A few travelers were entering the woods recently. They were seed merchants to be exact. They didn’t do the ritual when they entered the Grimwall, so they were attacked and one was killed. This was a random escalation, which meant Janus would be making shields for quite some time. The two forces would have a prolonged conflict over the severity of this misgiving.

Lutchkins didn’t have to kill you for violating the toll. Many travelers had passed through the forests of the Grimwall without a single glimpse of the monsters. Murders like this were rare.

“Everything in life requires retaliation,” Janus said, with a sigh.

Sorry for the hiatus. All back and going now. To get the other parts of this story, visit the Calamity’s Keep page to access them all. Thank you for reading. Stay healthy!

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