The Shopkeep

“It’s great for cutting heads off,” Roc said hoisting up the axe onto the counter. “Magically enchanted, of course, can cut through bone and wood alike. Also comes with a one-year warranty for any nicks to the head or chips in the handle.”

“Not exactly pretty,” Daniel, the client, said closely examining the weapon on the counter. He’d been perusing weapons in the shop for the last two hours moving from blade to pike to cutlass to broadsword.

Roc’s patience with the boy was waning, but the clinks of his coin purse was enough for him to keep trying until he caved in and bought something for his quest. He scratched at his stubble.

He’d saved one weapon for a special occasion such as this. Hidden beneath the counter at his feet was a blade stronger than any he could forge himself. In fact, it was probably the most powerful thing he owned, but it wasn’t his… strictly speaking.

“How about this one?” Roc said reaching below the counter and into the secret drawer. He pulled out the shining, brilliant blade and placed it onto the glass.

“Oh!” Daniel exclaimed. “May I?”

Roc nodded and watched as the young swordsman picked up the blade. It shone in his hands as many of these magical items did to a human touch.

“What does it do?” Daniel asked.

“The runic inscription on the side reads that this blade cuts through steel,” Roc said. “It’s why the name on the tag says Steel Render. Want it? I’ll throw in a free scabbard for this one, but it’s going to cost you.”

Daniel’s eyes were lost in the glinting, magic metal. After a few jiggles of his coin purse and a quick custom branding of his name upon the scabbard’s leather, Daniel was out of the store and into the wilds of the world beyond.

Roc grinned looking down at the pile of gold coins sitting upon the glass. Inside the vault in the back of the shop, he tossed them into a small box. He checked a few boxes on a small clipboard and tabulated his gains whistling a little tune.

Blades like these were good business. It wasn’t easy to find magic steel and it was even harder to make it these days.

Back out in the front of the shop, night had fallen. The sparkles of weapons in the shadows were like the stars in the sky or the diamonds Roc kept in his lockbox. He lit a candle on the counter.

A hand reached out from the shadows.

“Cripes!” Roc yelled ducking below the counter and pulling up a crossbow. He leveled it unsteadily at the dark figure.

“Guilder,” Roc said with a sigh and lowering the bow. “What did I tell you about sneaking up on me like that?”

The robed man pulled out a large bolt of cloth from out of his bag. It landed on the counter with a clink of metal. He unfurled it slowly. The metal within glowed.

Guilder was usually full of chit cat, Roc noted. He looked at the weapons and then ducked his head to get a look into the hood. The man’s face was a blank slate, grey and unmoving. His blue eyes stared out into the darkness, but didn’t see anything.

“Guilder,” Roc repeated. “What’re these?”

“For sale,” Guilder said quietly.

“You got the paperwork for these? Deeds of ownership? Or are we doing this… under the counter like last time?”

Guilder nodded, so it was the latter.

The man wasn’t like the other traders who usually came in to flog their wares. They were usually stout, quiet fellows with hard faces and big scars. Most bought their won their blades in contests and tried to sell them for a quick buck.

Guilder always had something unique. He brought the weapons in with his eyes glinting and had a story to tell. Tonight, he seemed different. There was a shadow on him and it wasn’t not just from the hood.

The trader’s steady hand floated over the blades and he sorted them one by one. Each had a tag not unlike those on Roc’s goods, but these went into a little more detail.

Each weapon had a backstory of where they came from and who their ideal partner would be. The descriptions were just flavour to entice unprepared heroes looking to kit up before a journey. The weapons always had names.

“A dagger for slicing, a sword for cutting, and a blade for lighting the way,” Guilder said.

“Got a price for these?”

“A gold coin each.”

“Seems like a fair deal,” Roc said mulling over the trader’s demeanor. “All right, I’ll get you the gold.”

Guilder stayed at the counter as Roc went to his vault. He’d kept the crossbow on him. You never knew with these eccentric types. The gold coins clinked in his hand as he returned to find the room empty.

The front door swayed in the blustery wind slamming open and close. A tingle went up through Roc’s arm. The glinting metal sat on the table. He gathered up the blades in their cloth and stowed beneath the counter.

Roc clutched the gold coins in his hand and thrust them into his pocket. He quickly closed up shop. Outside, the cobblestones were frosting over from the cold.

The pub, and a stiff drink, beckoned.

***

Inside the Gilded Arse, Roc spilled his drink for the third time.

“C’mon Roc,” Charlotte, the bartender, said tersely. “You’re going to make the counters all sticky.”

“Sorry,” Roc said standing up. “About time I head on home anyway.” He belched and held his stomach a moment before taking off, but a thought gave him pause. “By the way, did you happen to see Guilder in here today? Quiet man in dark robes.”

“Early on,” Charlotte said. “Came in here, ordered a cider, sold some things under the table, and I kicked him out. The usual stuff from him. Why?”

Roc fiddled with the local paper on the counter. It was soaked up the booze well enough, but the print was running.

“Came into the shop today looking like he’d seen a ghost or something,” he said looking at a story about a murdered witch.

“Maybe the guard got to him. Made him give up his wares.”

“Could be.”

“What do you want from him?” Charlotte asked.

“Nothing much,” Roc replied.

“Dangerous times. Guards are still reeling from last week. They aren’t a fan of people selling things they shouldn’t be. Magic things.”

Roc put on his coat and finished up his drink. “Goodnight,” he said.

It was snowing outside. His thick coat kept Roc warm, but a few bits of metal provided him with more than just heat.

Weapons were as much part of him as they were part of his trade. He didn’t any himself, of course, but he had an appreciation for the subtle differences in each piece and how that factored into the valuation process.

Roc was by no means what one would consider an educated man. He’d lived on the streets his entire life until a good find and some devious clients helped him start his business. Those men were now under his employ, but he knew he was only a little fish in a little pond.

The guard usually left him alone. Sometimes they would make a surprise inspection and confiscate some goods. Other times they would come down hard on one of his traders to set an example.

Some called him an arms dealer, a soldier of fortune, and a huckster, but when someone needed a weapon to set something straight – whether it was a monster or otherwise – they came to him.

Roc shivered in his coat.

Guilder had set him on an edge sharper than any sword he’d owned. The blades he’d been given were nothing special yet he couldn’t get them out of his mind.

Climbing the stairs to the apartment above his shop, Roc jangled his keys. Once inside, he dropped everything on the floor and lit a few candles. The fire had burned out, but kept the room warm enough.

The mirror in the room reflected his tired eyes.

“Money can’t buy you looks or youth,” he said with a huff and then a sigh.

“It also can’t buy you a conscience,” said a voice.

Roc whipped around. Sitting in his large leather recliner was the Guard Captain; his face lit by the smoldering ember of his cigar.

“You’re the second bastard to sneak up on me today,” Roc said huffing and puffing. “What the hell are you doing in here at this time of night?”

Donald, the guard captain, flicked a few ashes off the end of his cigar. He took another pull before expelling the foul smoke. “Understand a trader by the name of Guilder was in here earlier today.”

“Can’t say I know a trader by that name,” Roc replied cautiously.

“Let’s say you do,” Donald said with a smirk. “This trader of yours is in a bit of hot water and might’ve fenced a few blades. It’d be a good idea to hand these into the authorities if you catch my drift.”

Roc remained silent. It was better to not say anything to guards like Donald. They could be tricky. The more you gave to them, the more they had to pin on your later.

“Wasn’t this a good chat,” Donald said as he stood up. “Hope you have a sound night, Roc.”

With that, the captain was gone. The smell of the cigar lingered in the air. Expensive stuff.

Roc unbarred the door to the shop below. Descending the stairs carefully and quietly, he went behind the counter and checked the secret drawer. The blades shone in the darkness. Their tags, well more like small pamphlets, hung from their hilts by string.

He wrapped them up in the blanket and carried them in his arms down into the basement. The words of the guard captain weighed heavily on Roc. He threw the weapons onto a table and got to firing up the kiln.

It wouldn’t be the first time he’d melted down some of Guilder’s weapons. It wouldn’t be the last time either. They were too hot.

With a pair of tongs, he placed each blade into the white-hot crucible. As they heated up to their melting point, Roc looked at the tags.

Chrysanthemum: 8 inches, 20 ounces, thin-serrated edge. Best used by those born in August under a full moon. Temperamental. Not meant for anything other than killing. Hilt made from leather interwoven with silk. Jeweled butt: pink.

Acacia: 15 inches, 2 pounds, double-edged. Best used by those born in the dead of winter. Beastly. Can slice through thick plate if used by the right person. Hilt made from dragon scales. Blade enchanted for lightweight use.

Diascia: 30 inches, 8 pounds, blunt. Best used by those born into highborn houses. Heavy, unwieldy. Can be deadly if used as blunt weapon. Hilt made from soft leather. Blade enchanted to emit light in darkness.

Roc looked to the blades now crackling with the flames. His eyes narrowed looking at the tags, but the thought soon passed.

Despite his better judgment, Roc let sleep in. His eyelids were as heavy as lead. When he woke, all that was left of the swords were the hilts. They would have to be burnt too. The fire had melted away the blades leaving only blackened remains.

Roc reached into his pocket and pulled out a small watch. It was opening time for the shop.

***

Drowsiness caught up with Roc during the day. Most of his customers had come in looking for butter knives for their pantry rather than weapons for questing. The winter months weren’t a good time for hunting monsters.

Near the end of the day, the door slammed open and Donald walked in. He’d brought along some goons with him this time. Putting his gauntleted fists onto the counter, he looked up into Roc’s face a man brought to the edge.

Donald looked to one of the guards who produced a sword. The guard placed it onto the counter. It had a tag, the same kind of paper as Guilder had used.

The shopkeep and the captain stood in silence for a moment eyeing one another.

“Found this while searching through Guilder’s lodgings,” he said. “Only clue we got on his whereabouts and maybe you know where he got the sword.”

“So you’re coming to me for information, captain?”

Donald gritted his teeth. “Look at the blade and spit it out, or I’ll have the guards impound every last weapon in here.”

The captain wasn’t bluffing this time, Roc knew. He shrugged and picked up the blade. It didn’t weigh much, but it was a strong blade through and through. The steel it was made of had a blue tint to it like Damascus. It sparkled in the dying afternoon light.

The tag, on the other hand, was a bit of an oddity. Only the words “Marigold for me” was written on it.

“Never seen anything like this before,” Roc said. “Could be from the east looking at the metal, but I can’t be certain.”

“Does it look like something Guilder would have sold to you? Don’t deny it.”

“Yes,” Roc conceded. “It’s his kind of blade.”

The guards exchanged looks behind the captain.

“What’s going on?” Roc asked desperately.

“People have been disappearing,” Donald said. “Some of the boys suspect Guilder was behind it, but we’re not sure what he did with the bodies. He had some kind of tome with him. Something evil.”

The guard to the left shuddered.

“His lodgings were a little strange,” the captain said.

With that the three guards left the shop, the door banging behind them as they left.

Roc frowned thinking of the night before.

Guilder. An evil tome. Weapons. Magic steel glinting in the night. Gold. Traded for nothing. Melted away. Not the first time either. Names for the weapons. Marigold. Guilder.

Downstairs, Roc checked the kiln. The hilts had been burnt away. Only dust was left of the blades.

Some people said that within each sword, each blade the owner left a little bit of him or herself in it. That was just a figure of speech, really, but it resonated.

Roc shoveled some of the ashes out of the cooling kiln.

Outside in the dark, snowy night he tossed them outside. They blew in the wind and mixed with the snow. The ashes glowed in the night.

He frowned. Blades like those were harder to find these days. More knock offs were showing up than ever before. The magic was gone before it had even manifested.

The ashes glowed.

Chrysanthemum, Acacia, Diascia. The names of flowers. Common names given to kids in these parts.

Something cold crept up on the shopkeep. It started in his toes and worked its way to his scalp. He shuddered and went back inside.

It was time he closed up shop, perhaps, for good.

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