flASH fiction: Volume 4: Brother Pratt’s Army (31)

Brother Pratt’s Army
By
Jason Pere

The warehouse was an unassuming rickety shell when viewed from the outside. It was little better than a hovel and most of Rustwatch’s people would pass it by without as much as a glance. The inside of the building was an entirely different story. While it was just as dirty and worn as the outside, it was not neglect that caused the disheveled state of the warehouse’s hold. Behind the rebolted sheet metal and timber patches sat the overflowing spoils of industry. From wall to wall the place was filled with freshly crafted suits of armor, or the tools to forge them.

“You can see that we have been busy. I and my craftsmen have nearly outfitted an entire brigade with fresh platemail,” Shibon said adoringly as she ran he hands over one of the cooling breastplates.

“Commendable, madam Highbrand but I do not see how this helps us in our cause,” said Brother Pratt as he took in the sprawling sight of the stockpiled equipment.

“Aye, this all looks like Iron Men business to me. I do not see what you were on about lass,” Sir Liam said as he boldly began to pock and prod at the assorted armor pieces that littered the warehouse.

Kalli and Tinaca stayed back and offered a pair of judgmental gazes for the horde of newly made armor. They said nothing but their eyes spoke their disapproval clearly enough. This was one of the first and only times since the two women had met that they seemed to agree on anything.

“You are not wrong, Sir Liam. This is Iron Men business and Iron Men politics to go with it. By my hand I crafted a new breed of plaitmail. It is just as durable as anything to come from the anvils of out mastersmiths but much less cumbersome or heavy. It could change the entire face of how Iron Men fight the chimera,” Shibon said zealously, picking up a set of bracers and rubbing at some barely noticeable blemish on their surface with an oiled rag.

“Again, madam you have my utmost respect for what you have accomplished. I am sure that your name will work it’s way into the Vermillion Council and Viros Archives alike but, how does this help us? Please enlighten me,” Brother Pratt said with a tenseness in his voice. The sun was setting over Rustwatch and he was not about to test the Iron Lord’s mercy. Slate Roarkwin had commanded him to leave the city by day’s end and he intended to do just that.

“Some of the Iron Men, almost a full brigade in fact, would abandon tradition and don this new armor. It was foolish of me to think that something like that could have been kept a secret for the Iron Lord,” Shibon said with heavy lamentation in her voice. “This armor will never see the field of battle, not under any Rustwatch banner at least. Any man seen wearing it will be considered a deserter and hanged on the spot. Words straight from the Iron Lord himself,” Shibon said as she cast down the bracers in frustration.

“Ah, I see your plight. It is starting to become clearer now,” Pratt said with a nod. He gave a look to Sir Liam who was similarly starting to show he comprehended where the discussion was going.

The warehouse door opened on squeaky hinges and all four of the travelers spun around quickly to see the source of the interruption. The three warriors in the group had their hands instinctively find the grips of their weapons as they turned while Brother Pratt’s mind prepared a flurry of reasoning and diplomatic phrases to quell any immediate danger. A lone Iron Man in an officer’s uniform entered the room. His arrival put everyone save for Shibon on edge. It was the dour grimace that the man wore which was the greatest cause for the shared apprehension in the warehouse.

“Please let me introduce Captain Gerard Tallhammer. He is one of the officers in the brigade I was just speaking of,” Shibon said to Pratt and his companions. She turned her eyes to meet the stare of the captain as she spoke next. “Captain, I am glad you could come. This is Brother Pratt, Kalli, Tinaca and Sir Liam Broadcliff.”

The Capitan brushed past Kalli and Tinac, offering them the smallest of acknowledging nods. He went straight up to Sir Liam and regarded the man with weighted eyes. “You are the Helm Breaker. I always heard the stories about you. I thought you would be bigger.”

“Stories never live up to what is real,” Sir Liam said as he held his ground against the weathering gaze of the Iron Man.

“So you are not the battlefield legend that everyone sings about?” Asked the captain with a soft edge in his voice.

“Oh no, I am every bit the legend regaled in taverns and inns far and wide. Beaten all the foes and won all the battles everyone says I have, never lost a war, eat a whole cow for every meal and I can not be killed. I am just not quite as tall as the tales make me out to be,” Sir Liam said with a toothy grin.

Though he clearly tried to restrain himself, the captain could not help but offer up some good natured laughter at the Helm Breaker’s boasting. He stepped back and turned so that he could speak to the entire group. “My men have no fear of the chimera, we will fight them with everything that we have got. It it’s just that we all have families that we want to come home to, the same as any other Iron Man. Madam Highbrand’s armor is something that makes it much more likely for a solder to live thought battle with the twisted beasts. I have worn it myself and I vouch for her and her craft but the rest of this city are not believers, which includes the Iron Lord.”

“I would not say that I am not a believer. Only a grand fool would bet against Madam Highbrand,” came the resonate voice of Slate Roarkwin. The Iron Lord strode thought the warehouse door like he owned the building. He was met with six astonished pairs of eyes as he entered the doorway. “Do not fret, you will like what I have to say.”

“My lord,” Shibon and Captain Tallhammer said in unison as they averted their eyes and she curtseyed while he bowed.

“Excuse me my lord, but I am thoroughly confused. You made it quite clear that you were done with us,” Pratt said cordially despite the evident befuddlement marking his words.

“Yes, that is what I said. I also said that no Iron Man would wear this armor while they fought under a Rustwatch banner. That is what I said but then there is what I can do,” said the Iron Lord as he leisurely walked the rows of platemail and assorted armor pieces. “I can not be seen to support this kind of radical change. Rustwatch is a city built on tradition and repetition. I believe in progress, yes but progress happens slowly here,” he continued as he gestured to the warehouse walls around him and the enormous metropolis beyond. “The conservative leanings of Iron Men aside, I am bound to serve reasonable requests made by the Vermillion Council. Say for example the requisition of a brigade of my men to be conscripted to fight the chimera far and away from Rustwatch. Just like the one I have here,” he said as he pulled an opened letter from his vest and handed it to Pratt.

The Junior Councilman read over the letter with a skeptics eyes while the rest of the group exchanged warry glances and utters various indiscernible things under their collective breath. “Captain Tallhammer, it seems that your brigade has been placed at my disposal. This correspondence is signed by Abbot Truesteel himself…though this hand is nothing like the good Abbot’s penmanship if I may say so. I suppose the Abbot must have been in a dreadful rush when he penned this,” Pratt said as he gave a soft and gratitude filled look right into Slate Roarkwin’s steely eyes.

“The Abbot is a busy man indeed. You are right, probably in a rush when he wrote it. Likely he has no memory what so ever of writing this letter as a matter of fact. Probably best nobody speaks of it to him,” Slate Roarkwin said with a subtle wink to Pratt. He drew in a long breath and savored the moment before exhaling and resting his eyes on Shibon. “I never once doubted you. I would like to believe your ingenuity can have our men and women come home to a hero’s welcome once the world is rid of the chimera. You lot will owe madam Highbrand more than you could ever hope to repay.”

“Thank you, my lord,” said a near blushing Shibon.

“Thank you,” echoed the rest of the group.

“I best get on my way before any wandering eyes notice me here. I supposed you lot have your work cut out for you, equipping and mobilizing a full brigade of Iron Men on the swift. I did say I want you out of my city by the end of the day after all,” said Slate Roarkwin with a sly grin before turning, raising the hood on his cloak and exiting the warehouse.

“Well lad, you have finally gotten us that army that we have all been after for so long,” said the Helm Breaker as he clapped Pratt on the shoulder, nearly toppling the flabbergasted young man. “What now?”

“I honestly don’t know. I have gotten so used to rejection, I have not been preparing for success,” Pratt said almost gasping the words.

“You have a host ready to fight the beasts of the red rains. So let us fight them,” said Kalli in a practical matter of fact way.

“I supposed that is right. Running into the chimera should be an easy task, seeing as the wilds are all but overrun. I guess we just need to pick a direction to march now,” said Pratt as he felt the heavy weight of leadership start to press down upon his shoulders like never before.