13. The Forge
Kannen retied the hooded cloak around her neck. “Who’s coming?”
The Smithy came forward. “You’ll need me.”
“No, papa!” The burly man’s surviving blood clung to his trunk of a leg. “I won’t let you go.”
He heaved her up in his arms and wrapped her in a hug. “You know I have to do this, love.”
She wept into his shoulder. “No, you don’t. They can find it without you.” Another sob. “Please don’t.”
He pecked her on the head and set her down. “You stay here with the Innkeeper where it’s safe.”
“No.” He ushered her to the woman’s side. “I’ll come back once I show them to the weapons. Then, I’ll never let you go again.”
The Innkeeper huddled the girl under her apron. “The Vicar and I will look after her.”
The front door burst open, startling the group. The Taverness slammed it shut, blowing flakes from her fur overcoat. “What did I miss?”
The Innkeeper threw on her coat. “We’re putting together a group to go to the Smithy’s for weapons.”
The Taverness glanced out the window behind her. “Sun’s setting.” Her body shivered. “The entire path is covered again.”
The big man slid into his cloak. “They’re here.”
“How do you---?” The Taverness’s slender nose searched the space and wrinkled. “What’s that stench?”
The Smithy narrowed an eye toward the fireplace. “One of them got my boy.”
A nervous silence stifled the room.
The Taverness looked on him with hardened resolve. “Count me in.”
The Vicar hobbled up next to the Innkeeper. “We’ll keep the fires burning and protect the child.”
“Very well.” Kannen pried the door ajar. “Those coming, let’s go.”
Kannen trudged through the shin-deep drifts. Distant howls from the horde bounced around in the storm’s void.
“Iron and fire,” the Smithy said. His long brown curls swung over his face. “When they come, use those.”
As they neared the gully in the path, Kannen stopped. Her keen gaze cut through the snow and twilight. “They’ve come through. A dozen or more.” She sped down the path and jogged up its opposite incline.
At the top of the other side, both Kannen and the Taverness drew their swords. Two creatures, one tall and the other short, snapped their bald heads around at their arrival.
The Taverness twirled her blade. “No time like the present.”
She charged the lanky one, a salty bounce in her step. It advanced and grabbed for her throat, but the agile woman slid on her knees, hacking off its left leg in the process. The ghoul wailed as it crumpled to its knees.
Kannen rushed the shorter monster, swinging her twin blades in a blinding flash. She brought one of them down on a course for its skull, but it swatted the nuisance away. Kannen slashed her other sword around taking its right arm off at the elbow. Kannen’s chest caved upon the impact of the dark servant’s fist. She slid across the ground on her back fighting for breath. Kannen tilted her head to one side. The Taverness had dropped her adversary to the snow in a headless heap. Her opposition advanced as Kannen struggled to pull air into her lungs. Black blood pumped from the mangled remnants of its arm. Kannen rose to her knees and scrambled to finder her sabers in the drifts.
The creature snapped its head around giving Kannen extra time. It didn’t matter. The Taverness’s blade made quick work, freeing its dented head from its gory stump. She lowered her free hand to Kannen. “Cutting it a bit close, weren’t you?”
Kannen rose to her feet and rubbed the radiating pain in her chest. Her awestruck eyes moved from the Taverness’s sword to her eyes. “Where did you learn how to do that?”
The woman shrugged. “Might’ve swashed a buckle or two in my day.”
“Make haste!” The Smithy shuffled through the gate in his fence and along a stone path beside his home. “The others are on their way.”
They jogged along the side of the home and caught up to him. The Smithy paused at the back stoop, sniffling at the pair of lifeless legs visible through the open kitchen door.
“Why didn’t she change?” Kannen hesitated, unsure if his dead wife might reanimate or not. “Like your son?”
The Smithy blotted back his tears. “It may be that if they’re killed, they don’t turn. Only the ones that they injure do.”
Kannen studied his mutilated socket as he glanced over at her. Stinging sadness hung behind his good eye. A moistened clarity of his destiny.
“Hurry!” The Smithy lumbered toward his forge. “We need those weapons.”
The trio huddled into the forge and its fading fire. The inviting aroma of an open fire settled Kannen’s nerves. It always had since her childhood on the farm.
The Smithy made quick work of sorting out his creations. “Here.” He passed a long sword to the Taverness. “And, for you,” he heaved a four-foot iron-tipped halberd from its perch, “a dangerous weapon indeed.”
Kannen tested its weight in her hands. Light and balanced. The labor of a true master of his craft.
He plucked a curved scimitar from his wall. His wet gaze found the Taverness. “Tell my baby I love her.”
“What?” The Taverness reached out to console him, then drew her hand back.
The man’s skin bulged as blisters of various sizes bubbled on his arms and face. His jowls shook under the immense strain of the demon forcing its way forward. His head reared back through a violent scream. The big man’s soul begged for release, but his tormentor refused.
The Smithy sniffled. “Tell her I’m sorry.” He fought back a growl and plunged the blade deep into his chest.