Traitor’s Hilt – Chapter 09

Kridayan sat outside the royal armory, quietly, listening to the sound of the capital city.  He remembered the smells, the feel of the air, and the sound of the bustling city, but now his senses were much sharper, and he drank in all the sensation he could.  The mid-morning sun shone down on him, warming his hair and the cloth over his eyes.  The industry of the city left a certain grit in the air, but Kridayan had missed this smell – so many things being built, cooked, dyed, kiln-fired, and smithed, and all their odors combined in the air that hung over this part of the city.

The sounds he had missed most of all.  The silence he had grown so used to in the small villages had been a comfort at first, almost a relief.  But now, back in the great city of Njanotta, he realized how much of a part of his life the sound had been.  Now those sounds greeted him like an old friend.  The constant background noise, combinations of speaking voices, opening and closing doors, horses and the carts they pulled, the scraping and thudding of things being moved from one place to another, were to him a choir without a director.  Right across the street from him, the open-air structure that housed the forges and anvils he had spent so much time at almost beckoned him.  The clanging of hammers, the hissing of hot steel being quenched in oil, the grunts of the journeymen and the spoken orders of the master smiths, all called to him like a siren song.  He didn’t notice the passage of time, even though Gridnor had been away for more than an hour.

When the paladin returned, he was in a strange mood.  Frustrated, perplexed, exasperated, and angry, all at once.  He helped Kridayan to his feet, and the old smith sensed his friend’s mood before either of them spoke.

“It seems like half the world turned upside down while I was off looking for you,” Gridnor grumbled.

“Are you able to share any of it with me?” Kridayan asked.  He knew there were many reports the paladins wouldn’t be able to speak of.

“Oh yes, none of it is secret, but much of it hasn’t quite been made sense of just yet.”  The old paladin sighed, and was glad his friend couldn’t see the lines around his eyes.  “It seems that several groups of Asharidan soldiers have crossed the border, entered some of the small villages just on the other side, and seized a large amount of food and livestock from the markets there.  Our king sent a group of emissaries to challenge Tyalon on this, but they were murdered the night after their audience.  And from the report that they gave before they were killed, our king is wondering if there may be a coup underway for the Asharidan crown.  This confrontation on our border may be a cover for whatever the usurper is planning.”  He paused.  “There’s just not enough information yet to be sure.”

Kridayan shook his head.  “I don’t know what to make of any of that.  I’m just a humble smith.”

Gridnor laughed.  “At this point, your insight is a good as mine.  Come along, let’s go inside.”

As Kridayan crossed the threshold, he felt truly at home for the first time since he’d left the capital.  The heat of the forges swept over him, and the sounds of the hammering danced in his ears.  The smell of iron dust and coal smoke spilled out into the street, but it was far stronger inside.  As they passed one of the lit forges, he held one hand out toward the heat.  He took a deep breath, then continued on at Gridnor’s lead.

They had only passed three workstations when master of the armory called out to them.  “As I live! Master Kridayan!” He took Kridayan’s hand from Gridnor’s arm, squeezing it tightly.  “You were here when I had just started, master.  I am Delneryk  And master Paladin, welcome!”  He added, with a respectful bow.

“Good to meet you, Delneryk,” Kridayan said, a little embarrassed by the greeting.

“We’ve kept many of your teachings alive here, sir.  It is good to see you here again.”

Kridayan smiled in the direction of the voice.  “I regret I don’t remember you, Master Delneryk.  I fear my memory of those days has faded.”

“There’s many a smith here who could benefit from your teachings, even just advice – myself included!  I’ve missed the blades we used to craft here.” He paused.  “Are you going to be in the city for long, or are you only visiting?”

Gridnor cleared his throat.  “Kridayan has agreed to help us find a smith with the gift to make enchantable blades.  The kingdom has been without that skill for too long.”

“Excellent!  We have many gifted smiths here, and with the right training, perhaps we could…” he paused, mid-sentence.  “But how would he…” the master smith’s voice trailed away before the question could be finished.

Kridayan turned his head away, listening.  Some of the nearby smiths had stopped work to look at him, but they had gone back to hammering after a glance or two.  The noise of hammers falling on anvils had returned to its earlier level.  The old smith pulled Gridnor toward the sounds he sought, and the paladin guided him between two unused workstations and around a large bin of scrap metal. The two stopped beside a young man, forming a longsword over an anvil.  The hammer paused in mid-air as the smith took notice of his visitors, but he went back to work a moment later.  After listening for a dozen hammer strikes, Kridayan put his hand on the young smith’s shoulder.

“Young man, may I offer a piece of advice?” he asked, politely.

The smith didn’t quite know what to say.  The master smith gave him a smile and a nod.  “This is my old master, from many years ago.”

The younger man smiled indulgently, and nodded.  “Of course you may, sir” he replied.

Kridayan continuted.  “From the sound of it, you are working a rather wide blade, but working the flat of the blade first.  May I…?”  He slid his hand down the young smith’s left arm, then over his hand.  The tongs in their left hands twisted the blade just slightly, moving it around on the anvil for a moment under Kridayan’s guidance.  After a moment, the smith could tell the old master was feeling for the width and length of the blade as it rested on the anvil.  He smiled again, politely and patiently.  Gridnor watched, a smirk crossing his lips, and the master smith just shook his head- the old man could tell the size of the workpiece just by feeling its angle on the anvil!

“I believe you’ll have more luck with the shape if you hold it at this angle…” Kridayan twisted the smith’s hand slightly outward.  The tongs guided the unfinished blade to rest across the anvil again, but tipped just slightly to one of its edges.  “It will result in a slightly longer blade, but with this much steel you’ll end up with a longer blade by the time you are done, anyway.  Starting here, instead of flat, will form the blade much faster – the anvil underneath will help form one face while the hammer forms the other.”

He released the younger man, then turned back toward Gridnor.  He muttered to the paladin, who began to lead him amongst the smiths as they worked.  Several turned to watch him go by, then went back to their hammering.

One nearby them, just finishing the rough shape of her blade, slid it into a large tank of oil.  The steel hissed and smoked as it quenched, but then made a metallic ‘tink!’ sound, like a tiny hammer falling on the blade.  The smith swore, pulling the blade back out of the liquid, and sure enough, near the edge there was a visible crack.

“Any advice for this one?” Gridnor asked.

“Perhaps,” Kridayan replied.  The two approached, slowly.  The smith began wiping the oil off the workpiece, still shaking her head in frustration.  She looked up at the approach of the older men, nodding to them and the master smith.  She turned to put the piece back into the forge, preparing to start the entire piece over.  Then she turned back to her visitors.

“Leyna, this is Master Kridayan, who ran this armory when I began my apprentice-ship,” the armory master said.  “And this is Gridnor, one of the senior instructors for the Paladins.  Leyna here is one of our better smiths, and she is experimenting with a new blend of steel.”

“How hot did you have the metal when it entered the quench?” Kridayan asked. “It sounds as if it was either too hot, or quenched too fast.”

The woman tilted her head, considering the old smith for a moment, then replied, “It was hot enough to forge-weld, but the quench is happening faster than usual.  The metal I’m using is a new blend for me, and I’m not used to it.”

The master smith leaned toward Kridayan’s ear, and said, “The metal we’ve been getting from the mines of Lzanotta has been erratic lately, so we’ve been mixing it with a small amount of silver-steel from the high-elf smithys at Prajial.  This metal tries to cool slower than usual, so we’re using different oils, trying to speed up the quench.  We’re still getting used to it.”

Kridayan eyebrows rose, his face brightening with interest.  “Always an adventure.  And it cracks often?”

The woman nodded.  “One out of three blades turns out fine.  One out of three cracks during the quench, and the rest survive the forging but crack when they’re tested.”

“Interesting.  Have you tried re-heating it afterward, to ease the tempering of the quench?  The metal might end up being too brittle.  The technique used to treat armor plates, heating just until the steel turns blue, may work for this metal as well.”  Kridayan thought for a moment.  “The smiths at Pradjial don’t always speed up their quench – sometimes they slow it down.  That could be what this metal needs, like brass.  There were only a few times that they allowed us silver-steel here, and we often had to bury it in sand to temper it.  But that was when we were using their metal alone, not mixing it with anything else.  They do mix it with other things when making blades, but they never told us what – they only trusted us so far with their secrets.  When we made Santrellian blades,” he turned to the master smith, “we could never use just silver-steel – it rejected the enchantments.  The elven-smiths did share a little hint on that, though – they’d mix it with just a little gold, and to quench it they’d put it in boiling salt water, letting the sword and water cool for a day before moving on with the work.”   He chuckled, looking sightlessly back to Lenya.  “I can think of a dozen more experiments, so stop me now, unless you want me to double your work-load.”

The master smith looked as though he wanted to write all this down.  The young woman merely nodded, smiling.  “I can use all the help I can get with this.  I’ve tried everything I could think of.”  Kridayan nodded, returning her smile, then motioned for Gridnor to lead on.

The trio circled the armory twice, Gridnor guiding the old smith around to each of the workers and their stations, and for almost all of them, he had a piece of advice.  Some took his advice well, some just thought he was an old fool, but as they returned to the entrance, Kridayan shook his head.

“Gridnor, they’re all competent smiths, and their skills are good, but they just don’t have what it takes to make enchanted blades.  They’re going through the motions they were taught, not finding new ways to do things.  What I’ve been listening for, more than anything else, is someone doing something I can’t identify – but from right here, I can tell you exactly what technique is being used at every station around us.  I’m looking for someone to re-discover the process with me, because for every blade, it’s a little different.  I couldn’t just repeat the process for every blade, and I couldn’t teach someone who didn’t have that sense of adventure, of experimentation.”  He was trying hard not to sound exasperated, the old knight could tell.  “And they’ve got a gift of metal from Prajial!” The smith exclaimed, waving a hand in frustration.  “During the wars, the elves would never release their blend, or teach us how to make it ourselves.  What I wouldn’t have given for another chance to work that metal into blades for you!”

The paladin nodded, his hopes fading.  It had been a distant hope, but he had still hoped.  And there was still some hope left.  “There are other places we can look, as well.  Not every smith in the kingdom works in the Royal Armory.”

Kridayan sighed.  “We stopped at every village and city we could on the way here.  Where else should we look?  Shall we start posting flyers?  Start going through Asharida or Tradsina?”

“I remember you once telling me your opinion of the smiths in Iron City.” Gridnor threw his friend a sideward smirk.

The old smith snorted.  “Some of them are lucky they can get metal in the shape of a blade.”  Then he sighed.  “I suppose there are smiths like that everywhere.”

“The King has said he may invite the master smiths from the entire nation to come and try their hand.  And there are ways we could quietly invite men and women from other nations.  You always had respect for the smiths at Karhyzdia and Zhan’tiol, and these days…”

Kridayan had raised a hand, turning his head toward the far corner of the armory.  Then his hand pointed, and Gridnor led him in the direction he had turned.

Most of the armory was set up for sword-crafting.  Without a major conflict, the armor-smiths had found more orders for parade armor than for replacing pieces broken in combat.  Most of the smiths at work on this day were working swords, but in one corner were four stations set up for building and repairing armor.

They approached the far corner, where at two stations beside each other, two smiths were working together on the pieces of a suit of plate armor.  One of them, a petite woman with disproportionately large forearms and shoulders, was adding delicate ridges- flutes, Kridayan called them- to the center lines of what looked like the elbows.  The other, a large, burly man with soft blue eyes and a face covered in soot from the forge, maneuvered a thick disk of steel into place on the face of his anvil.  He hadn’t bothered to heat the plate in the forge, holding it with a gloved hand and working it cold instead.  He soon got it placed properly, and began beating it solidly.  Kridayan merely listened for a moment.  Gridnor watched as well, his curiosity awoken.  Finally, the old smith approached, and the younger man stopped his hammering.  He wiped his brow with his forearm, depositing more soot onto his face.

“I can tell a lot about your skills by listening to you work on that piece,” Kridayan said.

The smith smiled, and looked up from his work.  “Can you?  What hammer am I using, then?”  The challenge was cordial, and Kridayan smiled back.

“It sounds like a straight pein, and around 20 ounces, but that’s a guess,” the older smith replied.  “It doesn’t sound like any of the other hammers here.  I do know you’re working over one of the older anvils, one of the 300-pound anvils.”  Kridayan paused.  He reached toward the anvil, pausing just a moment to see if the metal was hot, then running his fingers along the dents of the work-hardened horn.  “I’ve worked on this one before, but it was near the front of the shop then.  We only used anvils this big for heavy forging- we didn’t even work swords over it.  Why use it for metal as thin as armor-work?”

The young smith smiled.  “They have a newer anvil near the front- they use that for the heavy forging now.  We just put this one back here to get it out of the way.  I work on it because I like it.”  He moved his workpiece aside, and ran one of the fingers of his hammer-hand along the anvil’s corners.  “One of the edges has been perfectly smoothed over by time, and you can’t get an edge on an anvil like this by filing it down… you have to just work it.  And for what I’m doing, having a heavier anvil helps a little.  The hammer is one I made myself – it’s a steel ball on the end of a long bar.  It’s about 15 ounces.”

“You’re swinging pretty hard, if you make a hammer that light sound like that.  You’re working this piece cold.”  Kridayan moved his hand over the top of the unfinished piece.  “Mind if I touch it?”

“Not at all, old friend.  The edges are filed smooth, but be careful, all the same.”  The smith smiled, wiping his brow again. “What is it you’re looking for?”

“I’m looking for someone who can make enchanted blades.” The old smith didn’t see the fleeting look in the younger man’s eyes, but Gridnor did.  Kridayan’s fingers gently slid over the place where the younger man had been working on it.  He tilted his head slightly.  “This is thick steel for armor.  What are you making?”

The young smith smiled, once more relaxed.  The pain and anger Gridnor had glimpsed was gone, replaced by pride.  “This will be a helmet.”

Kridayan turned his head up, his expression impossible to read.  Then his face turned back to the piece.  “It’s a small disk for a helmet. And you’re working it from the inside.”

The younger man shrugged.  “I know how to make them working on the outside, but I don’t like it.  Takes a long time.”

Kridayan’s face rose again.  “That it does.  The armor-smiths I worked with preferred that method because it thickened the steel, and hardened it at the same time.”

“I just start with a thicker piece of steel, and let it get a little thinner as I work.  And it work-hardens this way, too.  The anvil does half the work for me.  The only trouble is finding a hammer that will work the inside of the helmet properly.  That’s why I made this.”  He held the hammer out to Kridayan, and Gridnor got his first good look at it.  While he knew very little about smithing, he was certain he’d never seen a tool like it.  It looked like a small steel ball on the end of an 8-inch bar, sticking out at a right angle from the worn, hickory handle.  The paladin guided his friend’s hand to the offered tool.  The old smith turned it over in his hands twice, nearly dropping it once, then running his fingers along one side.

“May we watch you work?” Kridayan asked.  He ran his fingers over the workpiece again, memorizing its shape, then handed back the odd-shaped hammer.

“Sure,” the young man said, taking the hammer in one hand and re-positioning the misshapen disk over the anvil with the other.  When he started swinging the hammer again, he swung hard, precisely, and with a regular rhythm born of many years of practice.  Gridnor watched, half-smiling, as the piece between the hammer and anvil became more and more terribly dented.

He expected his old friend to pull him away at any second, but Kridayan was as still as a statue, his breath the only sign of life.  The two stood and watched for nearly an hour, as the dents in the disk of steel began to blur together, and the outside edge steadily curled downward to form an adult-size helmet.  The smith paused in his work, set his hammer down on the face of the anvil, then handed across his work.  Gridnor took it, then guided it into his friends hands.  It was warm to the touch, even through his gloves.  Kridayan ran his fingers over the inside and outside for almost a minute before speaking.

“This is very well formed for rough work,” he said.  “You’ll do the rest of the work from the outside?”

“Yes.  I let the apprentices do the finishing work, but the rough shape I can have finished in two hours, easily.”

Kridayan held out the piece, and the young smith took it back.  Gridnor looked from one to the other.  There was a long silence between them, and while the paladin couldn’t make out its meaning, his hope was returning.

Finally, Kridayan spoke.  “Gridnor, we make helmets out of one piece when we’ve got lots of time to make them.  They’re stronger, and far more attractive when built that way.  But when we’ve got a lot of them to make in a short time, such as when preparing for war, we use rivets to put them together from many pieces – because smaller pieces are easier to get into the right shape.  You remember the difference between the battle-helmets, and the ones we provided just after the wars ended?”

“I do,” Gridnor said, mentally picturing the differences.  The battle-helmets were often rough, always unsightly, and were happily replaced.

“This man could potentially make one-piece helmets almost as fast as we could make the riveted ones.”  He looked toward the younger smith again.  “Where did you learn this?”

“My father.  We grew up in a small village near the borders of Asharida.  During the wars, we were often called upon to make helmets for the army as it moved through, or for local militia.  We didn’t often have time to polish a helmet, let alone spend a few days forming it.  Doing it this way meant a single smith could build several in a single day.”

“Your father taught you smith-craft?”

The painful look was returning to the young man’s eyes.  “Yes, sir.  I was making helmets by the time I was 7 years old.”

Gridnor could feel the younger man’s grief at the mention of his father.  He could sense the question before Kridayan asked it, and dreaded the answer.

After a pause that seemed an hour long, the older smith finally asked.  “Have you tried your hand at blades?”

The young smith’s eyes dropped to the floor.  Gridnor forced himself not to react.  “Not in many years,” the man said, quietly.

Kridayan nodded.  “Gridnor, I think this man may be able to do it.  My young friend, we need your help.  The king has asked me to find someone who can make enchanted blades again, but the skill is rare.  But I believe you could do it.”

Alongside the pain in the smith’s eyes, a flare of anger appeared.  Gridnor almost missed it.  But in a moment, the smith had calmed himself, and looked at the paladin apologetically.

“I must apologize, my lords.” He set his unfinished helmet down on the anvil’s face.  “I made blades such as you seek many years ago, with my father.  Since he died, I have sworn never again to make a weapon.”

Kridayan’s mouth gaped for a moment.  Gridnor tried his best not to look disappointed.

“You’ve sworn an oath?”  Gridnor asked.  The smith nodded, still looking at the floor.  After a long pause, the paladin asked, “What is your name?”

The smith looked back up, into the paladin’s face.  “Haladryck.  My father made enchantment blades for the Tradsina army for many years, and taught me how to do it when I was a boy.  But the first one I made all on my own…” he paused.  His composure had been weakening, and he took a breath to steel himself, to regain control.  “The wizard who was enchanting it had a weak heart, I guess.  He died just before finishing the enchantment, just before he had named the weapon.  And because he didn’t name it, and didn’t call into it a spirit that would act according to that name, it drew a spirit of anger and spite.  It killed my father, and it…  it drank from his blood.”

“My gods,” Kridayan whispered.  He reached for the younger man’s hand, and squeezed it.  Gridnor was speechless.  He couldn’t stop his mind from forming the wry thought, We’ve found the one-in-a-thousand smith who has the skill we seek, and he refuses to make a blade.

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