Cozy Flash: “Iron Harvest”

Boric grunted and put all his weight on his plow, but it wouldn’t budge. He sighed. This was good, rich earth that normally took the plow with grace, but now and then it threw up stones and other oddments that caught the blade. The larger obstacles might even bend it, and when they did, Boric would curse and unhitch his ponies and haul the plow into town. Cadan the blacksmith would laugh and say “Growing rocks, Boric?” and hammer the plow blade straight again.

The ponies stamped and snorted. Boric glanced at the sky: darker than it ought to be this time of year. Clouds had come in thick and fast, auguring a spring storm. Rain would make his task no easier, should a trip to town be required.

Well, maybe it wouldn’t come to that. Boric knelt at the front of the plow and pushed his hands into the soil. They’d only gone a knuckle-length down when something bit into his flesh. He yanked his hands free with a grunt and sucked on a stinging finger, tasting coppery blood.

Boric dug again, gingerly this time. Soon he uncovered a strange object: a blade of rust-browned steel, with a wooden handle wrapped in the remnants of a leather grip. It reminded him of a scythe, if it were hammered into a straight line.

He rose with a grunt and tossed the thing away. The ponies were restless and weather was coming. There wasn’t time to ponder mysteries turned up by the tilled earth. Even as Boric had the thought, a peal of thunder cracked the sky. The wind kicked up and rain began to spatter across the earth. Boric cursed and set about turning the ponies for home.

Halfway around, his boot struck something hard.

With a sigh, Boric picked the bladed thing up and stuck it in his belt. Perhaps the smith could turn it into something useful, like a horseshoe. If not, at least it wouldn’t get in his way again.

The next day it was still raining. After the ponies were mucked out and fed, Boric wrapped himself in his wool cloak, pulled the hood over his bald head, and set out for town. It was only an hour past sunrise, but with the sky coming down and the sun hidden away Boric felt like some wanderer absconding in the night.

The few miles from his farm to town passed slowly, and Boric spent them cursing and grumbling. The last time Cadan straightened out his plow blade—“You ought to plant something softer than stones!” he’d said with a chortle—Boric hadn’t been able to pay. He had the coin now, barely, and it was well to make something of a day that would otherwise be wasted. But Boric longed to be at home in his cottage, feet up by the fire. The gods knew he was no layabout, but a farmer’s life was a hard one and Boric had dug his living from the earth for forty years and more.

The time went by, and eventually Boric stood under the dripping eaves of the smithy. He cupped his hands at his mouth and called, “Cadan! I’ve got your money!”

This brought the blacksmith out in haste. Cadan was as broad in the shoulder as Boric but a head shorter, with a great brown beard woven with trinkets like a magpie’s nest. The beard rattled as Cadan peered up at the sky. “Let’s have it, then. I’d as soon not get pissed on by the gods today.”

“Before all that, perhaps you’d take a look at this.” Boric pulled the strange object from his belt. “I turned it up plowing yesterday. Thought you might make something of it.”

To his surprise, Cadan accepted the thing without a word. Indeed his eyes shone with fascination as he examined its rust-scaled blade and rotting grip. “Do you know what you’ve got?” he asked without looking up.

“I thought it might be a sort of scythe,” said Boric.

“Aye,” said Cadan, “if you’re a harvester of men.”

“Men…?” Boric could make nothing of the smith’s words.

“This is a sword.” Cadan gripped it by the handle and swung it slowly through the air. “It’s a weapon for killing other folk.”

“Why would a body want to do that?”

Cadan made another pass with the sword. “These days, in this place? There’s no cause. But I hear rumors. Wanderers from the north speak of a war, a great killing of men by men.”

Boric spat on the ground. “Gods keep such a thing far from us.”

“Aye.” Cadan spat where Boric had, sealing the prayer.

“It makes you think, though,” said Boric.

Cadan raised his eyes. “Oh?”

“If this sword was in my field, men must have made war here, once. Maybe not so long ago.”

“Maybe so,” said Cadan.

“Well.” Boric cleared his throat. “Can you make something useful from it? I thought perhaps a horseshoe.”

Cadan sniffed and looked up at the rain. “Too rusted. As will I be, if I spend much longer out here.”

“Here’s your coin, then.”

“Ah—” Cadan held up a hand. “It occurs to me I can carry your debt a whiles longer. If you had some better use for the coin, that is.”

“I had the thought to take a bowl of stew at the tavern before walking home,” Boric said. He cleared his throat. “I’ll buy you one, if you can leave your work for a spell.”

Cadan nodded. “Aye. Aye, I could.”

The pair walked together to the tavern, talking of the weather and their hopes for the coming summer. They passed a midden heap on the way and Boric tossed in the sword, there to rust.

— Nathaniel Webb


5 thoughts on “Cozy Flash: “Iron Harvest”

  1. I like this! It reminds me of a short story by John Wyndham, where in a post-apocalyptic world, a boy finds an old wheel–a taboo object because it leads down the path of technology, which nearly destroyed the world.

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    1. Thanks! I was inspired by the so-called “iron harvest” in the fields of Belgium and France, where they still find World War I leftovers (including live ordnance!) when plowing each year. Of course, it’s the prerogative of speculative fiction to imagine a world where such things are forgotten.

      Like

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