The dwarf was sent off to the market to get something to eat while the giant worked the bellows and Hugh tried to work the Vulcan steel. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but after Hugh was positive that he had heated it up as much as he possibly could, it was still as solid as cold steel. He hammered it harder and harder, until he split the handle of the hammer.
He held it up before a shocked looking giant, wiggling it about on the last wood fibers still holding it together broke and the head clanked on the ground. The giant started laughing.
“What’s unfortune,” said Hugh, “Is that I might have the strength to work it… if I had a set of tools already made of the same material.” He pointed to a small dent he made.
“I wonder how they got this stuff in the first place,” said the giant.
“Generally, you get iron by heating soil that is rich in iron, then you usually have to work it a bit to get it to the point where it’s steel. Or, it can be mined from rock… but not in a huge slag like this.”
“Can we get the furnace any hotter?”
Hugh looked at it. “I can modify the forge to make it more efficient, and we would get a lot more heat if we had additional or bigger bellows… I guess that’s what we need to do, is have both you and your brother on the bellows.” Hugh shook his head. “I don’t even know if this will make a good weapon. It’s so hard, I bet when I hammer it out, it will be brittle and have no bend.”
“So make it thick,” said the giant. “He said don’t make only one weapon with this. You could make two big weapons from this.”
Hugh shook his head. “Three, at least, probably with a bit left over, maybe enough for a dagger… I’m thinking a sword, a mace and an axe. Then I guess the dagger, if we have enough left after the axe.”
“You have it all planned out,” said the giant, “Except for the part where we actually work the metal.”
“I have that figured out, too,” Hugh said. “If we have to, we’ll just keep adding people on additional bellows.”
“At some point,” said the giant, “There won’t be any room for more, and what then?”
“We’ll have to build a bigger furnace,” Hugh said, smiling.
“You’ve got it all figured out,” she said, grinning as she shook her head.
The dwarf came back with several small fish, as well as three star shaped fruits. After they were done eating, they set about making two large bellows. They finished around sundown, and decided to give it a try in the workshop’s furnace before retiring for the night.
Even with both the giant and dwarf, it was not enough. Everyone got sweaty, and the fire got white hot, but still the Vulcan steel remained unworkable. Before Hugh could break another hammer, he decided to call it a day.
The next morning they went about creating a furnace over twice as large. The first step was securing a space. They had Henry send a request to Walker, who immediately granted them a small tract along the Lys river on the outskirts of the city. When they got there, Hugh noted a strange contraption attached to the side of the building across from their lot. It was a large, wooden wheel that spun with the current.
They decided the best thing to do was just build the forge out in the open. It had seemed silly to Hugh that the other workshop was indoors. They went back to the barracks and began firing bricks. They loaded a wheelbarrow, and then the dwarf slowly brought it to the site. When he returned, he loaded the newly completed bricks and made another trip. This continued until the dwarf said they had enough.
They then brought shovels and plenty of wood with them to the new site, and when they arrived they began building the furnace. It would be only slightly larger than the one they had built at home on their island. When it was complete, they began to stoke a massive fire with fresh wood to coat the inside of the furnace with ash and tar, helping to seal it. By the time they began digging a pit to make charcoal, the sun was starting to go down. They abandoned work on it, deciding they didn’t have enough wood anyway.
The next morning they returned, dug a shallow but large pit, and filled it with all the wood they had. They went to get more, and ended up making two more trips. They covered it with the dirt they had excavated and sod they cut from the ground, creating a large mound of dirt-covered wood. They left a hole in the middle open, where they poured lantern fuel, then lit it. Once they knew it was burning, they covered the hole with a large piece of sod.
The dwarf was on mound watch first, as any breaks in the dirt that showed fire had to be quickly covered with dirt again. The giant prepared the forge while Hugh went to fetch an anvil, tools, and some iron and steel. He decided he would make a set of tools in the new forge while he waited for the charcoal.
Hugh crafted several hammers, swages, fullers, a few different sized punches, a couple broaches, some chisels, a handful of auger bits, and a chopping axe for felling trees, as he could see woods off in the distance that were actually closer than the walk back to the workshop.
As the axe head was cooling, the sun began to go down. The giant and dwarf brought the axe head to the workshop to affix a haft, while Hugh stayed to watch the clamp. The giant promised to come relieve him later that night.
Hugh sat in the grass watching the sun setting over the city. The moon was barely a sliver in the sky. The rushing sound of the river was enough to make Hugh want to close his eyes and fall asleep… so he got up and walked around the clamp, looking for any spots where the dirt had fallen through or rolled away.
“Hey!” someone shouted. It was distant, from across the river. Hugh squinted in the twilight and saw a woman waving at him. “How are you?” she yelled.
“I’m fine, how are you?” replied Hugh.
“What?” she yelled.
“I’m fine, how are you?” hollered Hugh.
“Great, now that I have a new neighbor!” she said. She went inside her house, the one with the strange wheel in the water, and came back with a bow and arrow. “Here, take hold on this,” she shouted, then shot an arrow across the river some ways away from Hugh. It landed with a thud. The arrow had a metal weight on the end of it, and was trailed by a rope. “Tie it off on that tree stump, I want to cross over.”
Hugh tied the rope to the stump while the women dragged a small boat into the shore, which she carefully set in the rushing waters. Using the rope, she pulled herself and the boat across, debarking and pulling the boat up onto shore when she got to Hugh’s side. “Sorry,” she said, “All the bridges have been knocked out for miles.” She pointed to a stone structure further up stream, and Hugh saw another just like it on the other shore.
“My name’s Theora,” she said. “What are you building over here?”
“A forge,” said Hugh. “And over there we’re making charcoal.”
“It’s wood that has been burned in the absence of air,” said Hugh. “When it’s ready, it will burn much hotter than a wood furnace.”
Theora nodded. “Interesting. So you’re a blacksmith?”
“What do you make?”
“Pretty much anything,” said Hugh.
“I’m glad you’re here, then,” she said. “I have all sorts of things that could use forging. I’m sick of changing the shaft on my water wheel, which is wood and breaks every few weeks or so.”
“Is that what that is?” Hugh asked, pointing to the large wheel.
Theora nodded. “I use it to turn a few large vats which I put gemstones into. The vats spin as the wheel spins, which causes the stones to rub against each other. I also pour in some abrasive materials like sand or little bits of marble. The constant rubbing causes the gems to become smooth, like river rocks. I call it ‘an infinite stream,’ and I end up with several pounds of shiny, lustrous gems every month or so.”
Hugh nodded. “Clever. I’m sure I could forge an iron axle for that. Just give me a length and diameter measurement.”
“How much will it cost?” asked Theora.
“Don’t worry about it. I can get the iron I need from Walker and have it forged tomorrow. The charcoal will take a few more days, anyway, so I have nothing to do while we just wait.”
Theora’s eyes went wide. “Thank you! That’s very generous of you… though if you know Chancellor Edward enough to still call him ‘Walker,’ I guess that’s hardly much of an imposition.”
“You don’t know me?” asked Hugh. He had gotten used to people staring at him and whispering knowingly as he passed.
“Sorry, I don’t get out much,” she said. “I’m what you might call a bit bookish. Should I know you?”
“No,” said Hugh. “I would prefer this was how you first heard of me.” He smiled.
“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you Hugh,” she said, walking back to her boat. “Would you like to come over for some tea?”
“I would love to,” said Hugh, “But I can’t. I’m watching the charcoal to make sure it stays covered in dirt. I will be relieved of my watch later tonight, but I fear you might well be asleep by then.”
“No need to worry there,” said Theora. “I don’t sleep well. Just come on over whenever you can, day or night. Odds are good I’ll be awake, probably reading. Just give one single knock at the door and I’ll know it’s you.” With that, she boarded her boat and pulled herself back across the river. On the other side, she shouted, “Better untie the rope so any ships that pass by don’t snap it.”
Hugh untied it and she pulled it back over to her side.
Hugh inspected the clamp again, adding more dirt to some areas that seemed thin to him. Late in the night, the giant came to relieve him. He walked into the waters of the river.
“Where are you going?” asked the giant.
“The woman across the river invited me over tonight,” Hugh said.
The giant shook her head. “Scandalous, Hugh, scandalous.”
“Just watch the clamp,” said Hugh, before diving beneath the water. He swam effortlessly to the other side through the current. When he got to the far shore, he removed him cloak and wrung it as dry as he could. He came to the door, knocked, and heard rustling inside.
“Hugh!” she said, looking him up and down. “You’re soaked to the bone! Come in, sit by the fire.”
They stayed up talking in front of the hearth. Theora had inherited the house from her father, who was a foreman for a company of lumberjacks. He had built the home himself. Theora’s mom died in child birth, and she was raised mostly by her uncle, who was a retired magician. She never took to magic, but she did see the value in harness nature without spooky words, fancy hand gestures, or sacred runes.
“Yet, it’s all I know,” she said. “These gems I make will be inscribed with spells and curses, or made into charms. I also make lead tablets, which people inscribe with the name of the one they hope will fall in love with them, or else the name of a charioteer they hope will win… or lose.”
“Do you think they work?” asked Hugh.
“I find that magic tends to favor the faster horse,” said Theora.
Hugh smiled and nodded.
“What about you?” asked Theora. “Who were your parents?”
“My mother was a water nymph, and my father was a cyclops. People say I look like my father but act like my mother, which I suppose makes sense, since she stuck around to raise me.”
“What brings you to Polity?”
“It’s a long story,” said Hugh. “Suffice to say, I didn’t really intend to be here. It just sort of happened.”
“You don’t miss your home?”
“Sometimes,” said Hugh. “But me, the giant and the dwarf are the only ones living on our island. I imagine some traders might wonder where we are, but they’ll just pass on through.”
“I wish I could do that,” said Theora, “But I’m not suited for independent living.”
“You seem to take care of yourself,” Hugh said, looking around her house, which had strange objects strewn across every surface, including on top of piles of books and tablets.
“I rely on the city,” said Theora. “If I went off to live by myself, even if I found a place safe enough, I wouldn’t be able to make my own food, let alone build a home.”
“It’s not that hard,” said Hugh. “You learn quickly when you’re forced to do something.”
“I hope I’m never forced to give up this life,” she said. “I make a very comfortable living doing very little work, and I get to spend my time on my own projects, like this.” She stood and picked up a strange looking object that looked like a bow with a large box running across the middle. “I made this to shoot the arrow across the river, though I’m still working on getting it to work well. I bet metal parts would help.”
She handed it to Hugh and he looked at it a bit. He noticed a little peg, which moved.
“Come on,” she said, going outside. Hugh followed her. She took the contraption, pushed something, stuck her foot in a loop at the end, and pulled up. She handed it to Hugh. He gripped it in his hand awkwardly, and she pointed to the movable peg. He fidgeted with it, and when he moved it, the string on the cocked bow released. It shocked Hugh a bit.
“That’s nothing.” Theora went back inside, brought back an arrow attached to a long length of looped rope. The arrow was very short and appeared to be made of metal. She took the contraption, loaded the ammunition, and aimed it over the giant. “Incoming!”
In just a few moments, the whole length of rope was out and pulled taut, the other end held tightly in her hand. The giant looked at the rope as it hit the ground near her.
“It can go twice this far, probably farther,” she said.
“You’ll have to show me how this works,” said Hugh. “I could definitely make you metal parts for this.”
They went back inside and Hugh looked at all her things, as she explained them. He learned about wooden puzzle boxes, which have a trick to opening them. He saw dozens of wooden, bone, horn, clay, and reed instruments. She played a few to show how each sounded, and Hugh took a crack at using a bamboo flute, to squeaky results. He inspected piles of glistening gems. In the candle light, their surfaces glimmered.
“I need to get going,” said Hugh. “I need some sleep. I’m sure I’ll be back tomorrow.”
As Hugh lay in bed that night, he had trouble falling asleep. His mind was racing.
To be continued…