Steel Alphabet

Alpi winced at every sharp clang of the hammer on the forge. She caught the brawny smith’s attention with a loud cough and backed away from the heat, relieved by the breeze from the wide doors.

Bern wiped the sweat from his brow with a thick forearm and followed the woman outside. She pointed at a knife hanging alongside its dozen brothers and he grunted approval. The ring pommelled blade she had chosen had been one of his better attempts. He accepted her coin and handed it down with a pang of loss.

Ceralt lounged back, drawing on his reed pipe. He had been watching the inn keepers daughter cutting meat, no doubt for a stew he could afford even less than a night’s lodging. He stood, spurred by decision. He may not have a penny to his name, but he still had charm dammit. Dinner should be no challenge.

Dorn did not like his new son in law. He shook his head and stabbed the good knife into a piece of wedding cheese. He had always tried to give his girl what she wanted. He had not, he reflected, been able to give her what she needed. Good judgment in men.

Eras had his father’s eyes. Though the proof was only in his mother’s memory. The man had left with grandfather's savings before he was born. Whittling a stick, the boy watched his mother sorting barrels. Still breaking her back to keep the inn alive. He threw the stick down and tucked the knife into his belt. This was not the life for him. He deserved more.

Fan-Lu looked with astonishment at his belly. The bandit hooked one finger in the ring at the blade’s end and yanked it out as suddenly as he had struck. Blood spluttered from his lips, his punctured lungs expelling more than air. The fact that the Grip would avenge him was less comfort than he had always supposed. His wagons were already being ransacked when he slumped to his knees.

Gerel watched the drunken youths from a nearby rooftop. He could tell the leader from the way he ordered his tribe of pilfering urchins about with a gleaming knife. He wondered if the Grip would be satisfied with just his death but he knew the foreign merchants better. They would settle for nothing less than the slaughter of them all. He began some stretches to limber up.

Harri shook with unaccustomed fear. There was something about the way the man moved, the easy way he had taken the boss’s knife. Harry had thrown punch after drunken punch at the lithe attacker but he was never where his fist struck out. Instead he flowed smoothly around the small campfire, slitting throats. The killer twirled the boss’s knife on the ring at its hilt and flung it. Harri felt a click in his head. Then nothing.

Ino took the proffered blade with mild curiosity. The assassin knelt before her. She liked this one. He knew his place. She turned the blade over a few times, weighing it. It was fine work. She had only part listened to the story that brought it to her. The score had been settled, that was the main thing. She passed the knife to her servant and drew the man’s payment from her silks.

Jerren-Du-Sonel hurried through the streets, her cloak was pulled tight. Her faith in her cleverness, so certain when she had accepted this assignment, now choked in self doubt. Watching Ino’s manipulation of every aspect of city life had done that. She reached the door, checking every gutter and shadow behind her before pushing it open.

Kal wondered if he should pull his protégée from her position. Her tension was greater at each rendezvous. Still, his affection for the girl could not override his lust to bring down the foreign gangsters. He nodded over the knife as she explained its significance. It could be evidence he needed. He waved Jerren back to her double life, excitement and triumph mounting under his breastplate.

Lau smiled widely as she peeked through the timbers at the guard captain, coveting the blade the assassin had brought her mistress. Lau hated the girl that had displaced her, but even she could summon pity for what would happen when the Grip found out she was a traitor.

Mayor Mundi listened to his old friend’s report wearily. Kal always appeared to have such energy. Perhaps if he had chosen the army instead of the legislature he could have retained some of his youthful zeal. He took the knife, handle first, and sighed. Now he would have to confront the foreign merchants.

Nial hid his nerves by gripping his shaking hands together behind him. The defendant sat serene by comparison. If she was concerned by the evidence she gave no sign. Her reaction shook Nial’s faith in the knife’s bloodstained blade. Did she know something he did not?

Officiator Lorne stared down from his pulpit at the cold steel on his evidence table. The right thing to do was clear. It had always been that way for him. He looked at the knife’s sharp edge and could not help but imagine it slipping across the slender neck of his eldest girl as the man had threatened. Yes. The right thing to do was clear.

Prealos threw the box down in a corner almost as dark as his own skin. He clicked his tongue at the waste of it all. He had seen a good knife in that box. He would never understand the foreigners need to horde everything involved in their trials. In his village every scrap was made use of, no matter its history.

Queen Beatre had ordered her troops to tear, burn and defile every aspect of the decadent city. Boxes were being thrown from the court house, spilling into the streets. Her men picked over their contents, two arguing over a knife that had rolled from one.

Ral did not want the stupid knife. He just didn’t want his smug bastard of a cousin to have it. He had been told that war forged brothers of men, but all it had heated in him was his hatred. He spat as the other man lunged again.

Sen made another feint for the knife, but his other hand was drawing a blade of his own. He had been waiting for this chance for months. In the heat of the battle no one would notice. Finally he would silence his idiot cousin. He whipped round his dirk and slashed at Ral’s neck.

Thamos threw another body in the flames, shielding his eyes from the shower of sparks and fat thrown back in reply. The next one was the other‘s cousin, executed on the spot for murder. There was a good knife in the man’s belt that Thamos added it to his prizes. Anything he wanted was his. His huge arms made him the natural choice for this work, but they also ensured no other scavengers could take the job from him.

Umos looked at the giant in front of him. The two men were as far apart in appearance as could be. A previous life as a mercenary was clearly drawn in the lines of the old beaten face. Umos did not care about the cruelty they described. To him, his father was the strongest, kindest man he had ever known. Now he sat on the unlit pyre, patient in death. Umos’s hand drifted to his father’s favourite knife, then he reached for the torch his mother held.

Valdryn took out her betrothed’s knife, for the twentieth time that voyage, and began carving. She was keen to finish the tiny fire god before they met again. Occasionally her eyes flicked out to the unchanging horizon, a curved line between two shades of blue. Absorbed in her work, she did not notice the black sail until the ship beneath it was well into view.

Warun Pel, scourge of the Talon Gulf, paced by the crewmen. His twisted smile held more disdain than humour. These weaklings only confirmed his sovereignty. He would have fought, died even, before kneeling to another. One of them, a woman, surged forward from her crouch and slashed at him with a knife. He avoided the worst of the blow, and backed away with a deep laugh. A week later he was pleased with his decision to spare her. The girl was a fighter, equal of any man on deck. She had used that ring handled knife to ensure they knew she was a more than a match below deck too. He clapped her on the back as she coiled ropes. If the Goddess was willing they would leave her ashore at the next port.

Xavier was only too happy to have the company on the long wagon ride into the hills. Trading with the new settlements was lucrative but tedious. He had never suffered boredom well. In the home country he had thrived in the markets, shouting promises and jests. This odd driftwood of a girl, carving her heathen god with an archaic knife, was at least a willing conversationalist. That alone covered the cost of her ride.

Yuri tugged at the child, its screams mingled with the mother’s. The young father looked down, fear evident on his face. They were always so skittish these first timers. She gave him a smile. The noises were a good thing, she reassured him. With a flick of the wrist she used the sharp knife they had given her to cut the baby’s chord, handing it to her apprentice.

Zachariah used the old knife to gut his fish. Its edge was still sharp and he made short work of the trout. He was looking forward to his parents returning home. His first proper catch, served up and waiting for them after a day on the hills. He dragged the big pan on to the stove then cleaned the old knife and hung it reverently on a hook.