Story 3: Valour
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Jorgin stepped back and took a long look around his forge. The light from the morning sun winked off of metal of all shapes, from swords to ploughs; as he grabbed a rag to clean soot and grease from his hands, the big man nodded his head with satisfaction.
He pulled the large heavy leather apron over his head and tossed in onto the anvil. Stretching, Jorgin heard his spine click and he bent backwards, revelling in the feeling of worked muscles. He cricked his head and cracked his knuckles as he walked back to his house, just across the square.
As he got to his front door he paused and listened, his good mood failing. Even from here he could hear the pounding and thumping of the infernal machine, just a few buildings down from his home. It wasn’t enough that the damned engineers came here and took away his business; they had to keep him awake all hours of the night with the whistles and the banging. He shook his head; all the metalwork that came out of their amber-powered steam forge was inferior anyway, but people didn’t see it like that.
He let himself in to his small house and went through the motions of preparing lunch. It was early still, but Jorgin had been up since before sunrise working on the most recent order from up at the manor. Spreading a little butter on a thin slice of bread, Jorgin realised that it would probably be the last order as well. They were outsourcing their work to the engineers. The SIC.
Jorgin paused, knife still suspended over the jam jar, as a particularly loud creaking groan echoed through the room from the laboratory up the street. He scratched his ginger beard with one hand, tutted loudly and helped himself to a hefty dollop of raspberry jam. Sometimes, he reasoned, you just needed those little luxuries.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d had the right attitude. They had rolled into town about six months earlier, a big wagon filled with machinery and covered in a tarpaulin. Within a day it was all inside the vacant building on the end of the row and that was all anyone saw of them for the rest of the week. Two men, taller than the dwarves more common to Zar; one, an older gentleman with greying hair and a neatly-trimmed beard, his hands tucked into pockets of his fancy suit of clothes; the other, clearly the mechanically-bent one of the pair, a pencil stuck behind one ear, with brown hair balding on top and green overalls. Jorgin had looked up one morning, almost a week after they had arrived, to find the fancier-dressed man stood in the entrance to his forge.
“Can I help you, sir,” he’d said. The man had looked around with the air of someone reviewing the local pigsty.
“No. Just… looking,” the man had replied absently. He seemed to realise that he’d almost completely blanked Jorgin, and stepped forward with a hand outstretched. “Sorry; Myers. Franklin Myers. SIC.”
“Oh, SIC, is it? You’d be one of them engineers, aye?”
“Oh, no no. That’s Higgins’ job. I deal with the business side of things.” Myers had continued to look around, hands firmly in pockets. “You don’t look very ready, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“To move. To… to close, you know.”
Jorgin had looked at Myers with the same incomprehension that he felt sure Myers was feeling. He’d put his hammer down flat on the anvil and leaned heavily on the handle.
“I’m to be movin’, is that it? Why on earth would I do that?”
“You didn’t get the letter? It was sent quite some time ago.”
Jorgin had blushed. “I ain’t never got my letters. My readin’. I did get a letter o’some sort but no-one round ‘ere could read it and one day it just vanished.”
Myers had smiled a sickly smile. “Your forge is obsolete, dear man. You are to be moved on and your village is slated for an upgrade. We have brought with us the finest forging machine the SIC has developed, and your town is a test-case. Report to Fjornik for your redundancy payment.”
Without a further word he had turned and walked off.
In the half-year that followed, a stony silence had risen up. Myers had never visited again, never mentioned Jorgin moving on or anything of the sort. Nevertheless, they had opened up shop and soon attracted quite a following. The ability to turn out inferior quality goods, but at a far cheaper price and far quicker, was too much of a draw for the simple village folk.
Before long, he thought, it won’t matter. I’ll be run out of business one way or the other. Should have taken redundancy; the Blacksmith’s Guild might still have something going.
A knock at the door interrupted his revery. He looked over at the window, then placed his plate and mug of tea down onto the small bare table. The silhouette of a tall man was visible through the grubby glass. Jorgin stepped over and pulled the door open.
“Can I help you?” he asked. The man wasn’t at all familiar to him; judging by the clothes he wore, leather armour, hardwearing trousers, boots, a big pack on his back and a sheath on his hip. His hair was grey and cut short to his scalp, and deep wrinkles lined his eyes.
“You the smith?”
Jorgin straightened a little. “That I am, for now. Jorgin Smith, at your service.”
“Only, I passed the shop further up. SIC boys in there with their gear. Steam and that.”
Jorgin’s heart sank. “Well, sir, it depends on what you’re after, to be honest, and the size of your purse.”
“Money ain’t a problem. I need t’know you’ve got the skills, lad.”
The big man couldn’t help but smile. It had been many a year since the last person had called him boy, not since his da had passed on.
“Well, sir,” he said, dropping into a well-worn patois, “You find yourself at the door of a renowned smithy. My father, you see, was the guild-appointed smith to the Low King himself and I was lucky enough to be his apprentice. He liked to say that he taught me nearly everything he knew about the metal, how to make it sing, how to make it dance to any tune I played. I have crafted swords for heroes and shields that have withstood the boldest blows.” Jorgin felt himself relaxing as the words flowed from his lips. “Let that not dissuade you, sir, from my more prosaic skills; I can turn the most efficient ploughshare this side of Ortmund and quite possibly the other side as well. If your horse has thrown a shoe, why, I have the knack and can have it re-shoed in a matter of minutes. You could be on your way to wherever you need to be in under ten minutes.”
The man at the door took a long considering breath and then let it out slowly. He nodded and unsheathed his sword. He brought it around and laid it reverently across his hands.
“This is my sword. Needs sharpening’.”
Jorgin looked at the sword in the man’s hands and suddenly, impossibly, knew who stood in the doorway to his house. The scrollwork on the hilt was legendarily fine; the folded steel of the blade was of a type unseen in this part of the world for many a generation and, in some places, the secret of its making was lost forever. If he had needed any more confirmation that this sword was indeed the fabled Valour, wielded by Victor the Hero, the stylised V at the cross guard made it clear.
His smith’s practicality reasserted itself and Jorgin reached out for the sword. It was exceptionally light in his hands and, taking a step away from the man, he took a few practice swings.
“A well-balanced blade,” he said. He ran a finger along the blade; it was sharp, but there was room for improvement. “I could certainly do something with the edge, though. Come to the workshop.”
Victor, for surely it could be none other, followed him across to the forge. Not even bothering to put his apron on, Jorgin sat down at the grindstone and started to pedal it.
“Travelled far?” he said as he applied the sword to the stone.
Victor grunted in response.
“Nasty weather between here and Loknir, I hear,” Jorgin said, testing the edge. Still not enough; sparks flew and the wonderful spicy smell of tempered sharp metal filled the air as he bent to the task again.
“Not bad,” Victor said. “Some snow.”
The silence stretched. Jorgin searched for something else to say. Beaten any monsters lately? No. Too obvious… So, how was Lake Ferruco for you? No, too direct. What to say…
Victor coughed. “Having any trouble with those SIC?”
Surprised, Jorgin took a moment to answer, covering the pause with another test of the blade. It was about done. “Erm, a little. They’re trying to run me out of town.”
Victor grunted. “You have a way wi’ the blade,” he said. He took the offered sword back and tested the edge. “Nice job.”
“Weapons like that… it obviously has a story, and anything that has a story has a soul,” Jorgin said. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “Erm, that’ll be fifty copper.”
Victor reached into a pocket and pulled out a purse. He weighed it in his hand and then tossed it down onto the anvil. “Reckon that’s about fifty,” he murmured. “Be seein’ ye.”
“Farewell,” Jorgin called after the already-retreating man. He stared after Victor for a moment, the closest he would ever come to heroism, then shook his head.
“Still ploughs to beat,” he muttered. “Can’t all be fabled swords.”
It wasn’t until later, as he was watching the SIC mysteriously packing their amber forge back down into its wagon, that he bothered to check the purse and discovered that it did indeed contain about fifty large round gold coins.