Thursday, May 14, 2020


Remant left his horse tied outside the shop and took a moment to survey the street. It was nearly empty and growing dark; a young woman glanced his way but hurried on, while an old woman pushed a small cart down a side-way. An even older man was moving down the street with a long pole, lighting the oil lamps that hung at regular intervals from the sconces where enchanted crystals had once filled the streets with light. Turning, he opened the door and went into the shop.

The woman inside turned. "I'm sorry, ser. We were just clos--"

Remant pushed his hood back and she stopped, studying him. "...Savior," she muttered, and swallowed. "You've come back for it, then."

Remant nodded. The room around them was carefully divided, with counters running around three sides, wide enough to display the blades inside... and to keep the over-curious from reaching for the longer blades on walls behind them. The counters were open in the back, and held heavy glass windows in the front; Westhill was rich in glassworks. Shelves behind the glass held various sorts of blades: scythes, carving knives, fighting knives, throwing knives. There were other things as well; Tamil was a weaponsmith, but he crafted what was needed, and the war was over now. There were clasps for cloaks, utensils for cooking and eating, hooks and even a couple of pulleys.

"Do you... will you come on back?" Hira. Her name is Hira. Hira was stout, and nearly as heavy through the arms and shoulders as her husband. Her hair was a bundle of neat curls, black touched with the first faint streaks of silver, but her face was young. She stood stiffly, uncertain but determined, and Remant shook his head.

"It's the master-crafter's shop," he said, and thought, and your home, "and this is business. I'm imposing already by coming in so late. I'll wait here."

She stood a moment longer, looking at him. Her expression was unreadable, or perhaps he very badly did not want to read it. "Thank you," she said at last. "I'll tell him you're here."

She turned and went out through a door behind the counters, leaving Remant alone with the weapons and the counters and the bright light of the glow-crystals. Those alone would have marked the shop as prosperous, or its owner as connected, or both; most of the newer crystals weren't so bright, and tended to fade and need to be recharged after an hour or two -- where they could be found at all. These were the old style, bright and perpetual; the only way to dim them was to cover them with something thick.

Uncomfortable at being left alone with his thoughts, Remant went to look at the blades. Even on the walls, not all were martial anymore. Some were clearly meant for chopping brush, or pruning trees. Though as the grey had discovered in attacking the farms, the difference between a pruning tool and a polearm was more a matter of attitude than design.

He blinked away that memory as well, and found himself admiring a slim, straight blade designed for use in a single hand: a courtly sword, a scholar's sword. It looked elegant and balanced, a fine example of Tamil's craftsmanship, and he wondered how it would feel in his hand. It wasn't a sword for the battlefield, but a sword for civilian life; likely it would feel delicate and out of place.

He was still staring at it when Hira returned. She was carrying a tray, with bread and cheese and sliced apples laid out on it along with a trio of pewter tankards. She set it on the counter, then stepped through the narrow hinged gate and put the bar across the door. Remant could have moved to help her, but this was her place and she handled the heavy wooden bar easily by herself; offering assistance would have been awkward.

When she had it in place she stopped, holding herself still for a moment; then, decisively, she turned back to him. Remant hadn't expected to find himself eye-to-eye with her, and stayed still himself as she regarded him.

Then she sighed. "He told me he knew you," she said, and looked away. "He told me, and I believed him. And yet somehow I didn't quite believe him until... well."

Remant nodded. He sometimes felt the same way about himself: as if he couldn't be quite real, as if he couldn't truly be here -- wherever here was -- doing this -- whatever this was. Is this really my life? "I'm sure it seems strange to him as well," he said, as Hira crossed the room again. "Some days it seems strange to me."

She stopped and turned, looked back at him, then shook her head. "Come over here," she said, and went back around behind the counter. "I don't trust myself to lift the tray, and you should have some refreshment while you're waiting. Tamil, he said you'd understand why he couldn't drop everything."

Remant sniffed, amused. "He's right. I've watched him work. It's like juggling, once you see it. Everything has to be in its place, and everything has to happen in its time or it all falls down." He tilted his head slightly, studying Hira's expression. "But you know that. Do you help him with it?" Her expression changed slightly, and a shiver of recognition went through him. "Oh. You do some of it yourself."

Hira tensed... then relaxed with a chuckle. "Yes. I mind the forge when my husband's elsewhere. I do my own projects." She pointed to the pulley. "That was mine. So are most of the carving knives, those awls, and a few of the hammers. And those clasps."

Remant nodded. "Tamil was always versatile, but he never had much interest in those things."

Hira tilted her head, studying him. "You knew my husband during the war," she said. "What was he like?"

"Invaluable," Remant said immediately, and she nodded with a small smile of recognition. "It wasn't just that he was supplying the best quality blades to the army, it was..."He hesitated, fishing for the word. "It was his faith. He had this relentless certainty that we'd all make it through somehow, and in some cases he was right... but even when he wasn't, it kept us going." He wasn't sure that made any sense, but that was how it had always felt to him. "And he was open, and friendly, always with a kind word. He made the things people needed, and he was proud of that; but that was the extent of his pride. He never let it slide into arrogance." He paused. "You know about my Santu?"

Hira nodded.

"There was a time, brief but vital, when your husband was more of a father to me than my Santu ever knew how to be."

Hira nodded again, much more slowly. "I have trouble picturing you as a squire," she admitted.

Remant actually chuckled at that. "Some days, so do I," he admitted. "Other days, I can't see myself as anything but."

Tamil emerged as Remant reached for a slice of apple. "Telling tales again?" he asked, salt-and-pepper hair catching the light. He had new lines around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth, but his dark eyes were still calm and reassuring and faintly amused. He carried a bundle in his arms, and set it on the counter to one side of the tray of food. "I'm glad to see you back."

Remant inclined his head. "I'm glad to see you still here." He felt stiff and formal and awkward, and wished he could find some way to just enjoy seeing the weaponsmith again. Likely that would require three or four days, and he didn't have time to stay in one place for so long. Instead of trying, he asked: "Is it ready?"

"It is," Tamil affirmed. He pulled the cloth back, revealing a blade resting in its sheath, and Remant smiled.

It was exactly what he had asked for: a straight-bladed saber with a hand-and-a-half hilt, the guard forming an abbreviated basket around the fingers. He held a hand out, sensing the enchantments.

"Lady Rexor ensorceled it herself," said Tamil proudly. "Came right down and did it as I worked, standing matter-of-fact beside the forge, despite her being Mordil and all. A good one, that."

Remant nodded. Lady Rexor had never stood on ceremony, and would likely have enjoyed Tamil's company and admired his craftsmanship. "You get any new orders out of it?" he asked.

"Well..." Tamil hesitated, then grinned. "Yes, I'm supplying blades for this order she's putting together. Or putting back together. She tried to explain it, but I was concentrating."

Remant reached down and wrapped his hand around the hilt, then slipped the blade loose. It stretched out from his hand, balanced and deadly, ready. It didn't seem right to hold it still -- this was blade whose design was so elegant that it could only be completed by motion -- but after a moment he slid it back into the sheath. "It feels perfect," he said.

"Remant," said Tamil, "I have to ask: why did you want it? With those things you carry, why would you need my poor work?"

This time Remant grinned. "You work is never poor, old friend. And this sword, for all that it can do, is just a sword. With this, I'm just another warrior, not some legend that everyone has to reckon with."

Tamil was silent for a long moment, then nodded. "It still hurts you, then?"

Remant lifted his left hand, regarded the smooth silvery metal where he'd once had flesh and bone. "Sometimes," he said. "And sometimes I just miss it."

"That wasn't..."

Remant ignored him, dropping his hand back under his cloak. "I know the sword was the extent of the commission," he said, "but I find myself in need of a new clasp for my cloak. Would you add those as well, and total the cost?"

Tamil looked at Hira, and Hira looked at Remant. Then Hira looked back at her husband, expectantly. "Of course," he said, and moved to gather the clasps and fold them into a strip of cloth.

Remant unclipped the purse from his belt and set it on the counter. "It was good to see you," he told Tamil, "and it was good to meet you," he told Hira. "If you ever need anything from me, let me know."

"Remant," said Hira. "...We don't... we don't tell people that I work the forge."

Remant nodded. "I don't tell people about what I've done either."

Tamil put an arm around his wife, and Remant buckled his new blade onto his belt. "I wish you both well," he said, and turned for the door.

"Remant," said Tamil, sharply enough to make the younger man pause. "You take care of yourself."

I can't promise that. Remant offered a tired smile. "Don't worry over me," he said, and went back out the door.

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