A Weapon’s Purpose
Story 7 of Tales of The Wandering Blacksmith
by Vaughan W. Smith
Vincent held the completed sword up to the light. It looked flawless. He drew in a breath, amazed at how it had turned out.
“You have a real gift,” Oliver said. The blond weaponsmith was smiling, but Vincent could sense the disappointment in the man’s expression. Despite being good friends and the closest in age of the weaponsmith apprentices, they had quite a rivalry.
“Thank you. But you know, this is really the first one that I’ve really done to their standard. You’ve been at this level for a while.”
“I trained for years and years at other weaponsmiths before coming here. And I had to wait a year before I could re-take the test and be accepted. This is coming too easily to you.” Oliver shook his head and stalked off. Vincent could understand the youth’s frustration. Vincent’s quick learning and rapidly increasing skills had resulted in more praise from their two masters, even though in most areas Oliver was more accomplished.
“Don’t let him get you down.” Edvard stepped forward, stretching out his gloved hands. Vincent handed him the blade. The old weaponsmith held the steel close, examining it carefully.
“Masterful work, truly. I can see why the boy is jealous.”
“But not you?” Vincent said. Edvard laughed, a hoarse cackling coming from his throat
“Too old for that. Nothing good comes of it. There are some things you cannot learn by yourself, precious secrets. I’ve been a blacksmith a long time, and I know how hard these lessons are to come by. We are quite privileged, working with the masters.” Edvard smiled and handed the blade back.
He’s never talked about the past, maybe now I can ask.
“So that’s why you signed up to be an apprentice? To learn things you couldn’t learn elsewhere?”
“In a fashion. I had it all. Steady work, freedom to reject commissions I didn’t believe in, a good community around me. But it didn’t feel like enough. I wasn’t being challenged, I wasn’t growing.” Edvard paused and pointed at Vincent. “Don’t rest on your laurels. You need to imagine that you’re one of those performers spinning plates. Right now everyone thinks you are amazing.” Edvard mimicked the action of spinning plates and holding them up. “But if you take your eyes off, or you don’t keep up the pace….” Edvard mimed the whole thing crashing down.
“You don’t really, but keep it in mind.” Edvard nodded and walked back to his forge. Vincent set the blade aside and wandered off to get more materials. His attention was drawn by the masters conferring at the end of the hall. Something about their body language was off.
This is no normal conversation. Something is wrong.
Moments later they seemed to reach a consensus. Sylas stood tall and addressed the room.
“Tools down, everyone over here. Announcement,” Sylas bellowed. The remaining work slowed and stopped. Everyone know well enough to stop work if there was an announcement. The masters did not suffer those who ignored them. Vincent quickly made his way across the room. He was soon joined by Oliver and Edvard. But Vincent couldn’t see Miguel.
He better not push them this time. It seems like something serious has happened.
Just before Sylas spoke again, Vincent saw Miguel saunter over. He flicked his hair back nonchalantly. His darker skin was even darker from soot. He obviously had been in the middle of something and not even bothered to clean up.
“I’m not one to mince words. War is upon us. Our services are required.” Sylas talked in a matter-of-fact tone and paused to let the meaning sink in. There was a lot of confused murmurs, and a few grimaces amongst the weaponsmiths.
“Many of you haven’t been here long enough to be called upon, others may have forgotten. But we have a duty to Valrytir. It’s part of why we exist, why we are given the privileges that we have. When we our service is required, we must take part.” Sylas looked over the room and waited for the comments to die down.
“Therefore we will be sending a contingent to support the army.”
“In what capacity?” Miguel asked. A few around him shrank back. The masters didn’t generally approve of questions or comments from the crowd during an announcement unless specifically requested.
“A fair question,” Mason said, stepping forward. You are more valuable as weaponsmiths. Repairing and maintaining equipment, working on new commissions as time allows.”
“But you are also trained in the arts of war. You can be added to active duty at any time,” Sylas added.
“It has never happened yet,” Mason said.
“Yet, it is their right. It is completely wasteful, but it is their right.” Sylas sighed. He looked again at Mason, who nodded. Sylas retrieved a list from his pocket.
“We have a list of those who are going. I will be leading you, and Mason will remain here and manage our continuing work.” Sylas strode over to the noticeboard, grabbed a nail and hammered the list into the board.
“Review the list today and if you are nominated prepare for departure tomorrow. Dismissed.” Sylas stalked back to Mason and they left the room together in close discussion. Vincent saw the rush of people swarming the list. He had a bad feeling in the pity of his stomach.
I’m in the newest group of smiths. We are almost guaranteed to be going.
Once the crowd dissipated, Vincent noticed that Edvard was standing next to the list.
“I’m on it aren’t I?” Vincent said as he approached. Edvard nodded.
“We all are.”
“Even you?” Vincent couldn’t hide the incredulity in his voice. He immediately regretted it. Edvard stiffened and stood straighter.
“I’m older but not useless.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. Like Mason said, they’ve never required the smiths to participate in battle.”
“Why don’t you dig up?” Miguel said making a motion with an imaginary shovel. Vincent understood and stopped talking. He was just making things worse.
“I for one don’t intend to waste my time wading through Blighters. We just need to do such amazing work that they won’t even think about using us for anything else.” Miguel finished with a flourish of his hands.
“I don’t like the sound of this.” Oliver was uncharacteristically sombre. He stalked off before anyone could offer any other words.
“It’s what we are all thinking. Go make your preparations.” Edvard made a thin smile and headed off to his work space.
The next morning they assembled out the front of the shop. The smiths who were staying behind had loaded up a specially reinforced cart with a mobile forge. One person could ride in and keep an eye on everything, the rest had to walk.
Vincent looked around. It was just Sylas and them. The four latest recruits.
“So are we expendable?” Miguel asked.
“No, this is political,” Sylas explained. He sighed. “There should be no real danger, but accidents do happen. I can’t just offer up my most experienced smiths. By sending you, I’m giving them a message.”
“That you only get least experienced ones?” Oliver prompted.
“No, but they don’t need my top smiths to get what they need. You will all surpass their expectations handily.” Sylas looked turned his attention back to the cart, signifying that the topic was closed.
“Sylas will be driving the cart. We take turns riding,” Edvard said. He pointed at Oliver, “You first.”
“But…” Oliver started to say, but he caught the look on Edvard’s face and thought better of it.
“You’d think I was on my deathbed,” Edvard muttered as he walked off. Miguel shook his head and gave Vincent a disapproving look as well.
“I know you were thinking it. You’re not being respectful, or polite. You’re just judging him. Now, there’s no way his work can be as good as mine…”
“Yeah, we get it,” Vincent said and strode off towards the cart with the forge. He waved at Oliver to come with him.
“Look, I’m worried about Edvard too. He’s as strong as anything, but he’s slower than us. We’ll just keep an eye on him.”
“Aye. Maybe Sylas is bringing him to reinforce that we’re not soldiers.”
“Maybe. Do you know where we are headed?”
“No idea. Sylas said we don’t need to know.” Oliver shrugged.
“I suppose we don’t.” Vincent did a cursory look over the equipment, adjusted the sack over his shoulder and went to join Miguel and Edvard. It was time to set out.
The ride was incredibly slow, but uneventful. They headed out the main gates and away from Valrytir. At first there was no information, but they eventually came across supply drops along the way, and the soldiers were all too eager to talk. Nothing useful came out of these discussions, but Vincent did learn that it was a big army, and there were Shades present. That in itself was worth nothing.
That night, as they sat around the fire, Vincent decided to bring it up.
“So they say that Shades are amongst the Blighters. Working with them. Can you believe it?” Vincent looked around to watch the reactions. No surprise, since they had all heard the same chatter.
“What’s the big deal? They’re just tougher to kill right?” Oliver said.
“A magic weapon through the heart? There’s no such thing.” Miguel scoffed.
“Don’t be so rash. It’s not all stories.” Edvard spoke slowly and carefully. He had everyone’s complete attention. “You’ve heard of Runesteel, correct?”
“What kind of question is that? Of course we have!” Oliver countered.
“Well, Runesteel requires a wizard to assist with the forging in some fashion. That’s why it’s so strong. And also why it works.”
“And also why it’s so incredibly rare,” Miguel added.
“True, true. There must be some in the army who have them. I’m sure Sylas has worked with it before.”
“I have indeed.” Sylas stepped into the light, giving them all a curious look. “Aren’t you going to make room?” Vincent and Edvard moved, making a space for Sylas to ease himself down.
“Runesteel requires some care, but it’s not too dissimilar to what you’ve been working with.” Sylas spoke conversationally, while staring into the fire. The others waited for him to speak again.
“I know you’ve heard about the Shades. Nasty business. You know with these many rumours, there’s truth to it.”
“How many?” Vincent asked.
“I can’t say. But Runesteel is going to be required.”
“Do you have any?” Edvard asked.
“I do. A very small amount. I’d rather save it for repairs.”
“Repairs? I thought it was impossible to break?” Oliver said. Sylas chuckled.
“It’s legendary, but it can still be damaged. Especially by other Runesteel blades.”
“But why…” Vincent started to ask, but Sylas raised a hand.
“No, let’s not get into that now. I just wanted to warm myself a bit, and remind you all of the danger we will find ourselves in.” Sylas reached into his coat and retrieved a thick leather-bound book. “Who is next on the cart rotation?”
“I am,” Vincent offered. Sylas handed him the book.
“Read this carefully. Whoever is in the cart should be studying it.” Sylas rose to his feet. “Get some sleep, it’s a long ride tomorrow and then we’ll reach the main camp. He disappeared back into the night.
“What’s the book?” Oliver asked. Vincent didn’t know how to react.
“I’d say there’s more Shades than they’re letting on,” Edvard said softly. Nobody had an answer to that.
The next day passed quickly for Vincent, while he had his chance at reading the book on Runesteel. When his companions had their turns Vincent felt the time pass by incredibly slowly. With every passing moment he thought of other questions he wanted answered, or ideas on what to look for in the book. It was quite a comprehensive volume, not only going into the detail of the forging process, but also how to work the metal and finish it. There were very exact temperatures at which it could be worked, and particular techniques required. When at last he got his hands on the book again, he devoured it hungrily. Not sure where to start.
Deep in thought and poring through the book, Vincent didn’t notice that they had stopped.
“Vincent, get your nose out of that book!” Edvard called out. Vincent initially felt indignant and was about to throw out a terse rebuttal when he finally realised they had stopped. He looked up and saw a sea of tents.
“Oh, I see.” Vincent closed the book and stepped out of the cart. Sylas was suddenly there, holding his hand out. Vincent handed over the book with some reluctance.
“Lads, we have a spot picked out. Get that forge up and running and then you can have some supper. There’s no time to delay.” Sylas made eye contact to ensure they understood, and quickly walked off to discuss something with a soldier nearby.
“Follow my lead and this won’t take too long.” Edvard started removing some wooden planks from the cart as well as a series of thick ropes.
This is not going to be easy.
Vincent was right. Whilst the design was ingenious and Edvard’s experience saved them from some costly mistakes, it was a hard slog getting the mobile forge out of the cart and assembled on the ground.
“How’d you know about this?” Oliver asked breathlessly and sinking down to the ground to sit.
“I brought this to Mason. It’s a better design that what they were using.”
“You designed this?” Miguel burst out, not even trying to hide the surprise in his voice.
“These white hairs aren’t for nothing,” Edvard chuckled.
“Lucky for us. I think we’ll be using it soon.” Vincent pointed to Sylas. He was walking over with a sack over his shoulder.
“Good, you’re done. Now the fun begins.” Sylas reached into the sack and handed each of the men a rough ingot of metal. It was oddly light despite the size, and wasn’t perfectly formed like a normal ingot. It was almost organic.
“Is this it?” Miguel asked, turning the metal over and staring at it oddly.
“This is it. Not the best stuff, but I can’t have you starting with our finest stock. You are each to make a dagger. Figure out a roster, I want the forge going all night.”
“What about the book?” Vincent asked.
“You’ve had enough reading time today. You can ask me follow up questions in the morning.” Sylas paused for a moment, then started off again. He lingered and turned back. “Food is that way.” Sylas pointed to a nearby fire and then continued.
“They must be really desperate.” Vincent ran his hands over the metal one more time and put it into his personal bag.
“We’ll draw lots as we eat.” Miguel stood and started off towards the fire that Sylas had indicated.
This will be an interesting night.
Vincent drew the second rotation. He tried to nap, knowing he would need his wits about him, but it was pointless. Instead, he ended up observing Miguel at work. Despite his excitement, it was rather uneventful. Once the appropriate temperature and conditions were set, the metal seemed to work like any other steel. There were no odd explosions or mystical energies flying around. Not that he wanted any, but a part of him was disappointed. Miguel was somewhat satisfied with his progress, but was decidedly annoyed when his time was up.
“Go on,” Miguel barked and stalked off. Vincent looked over and saw that Edvard was napping nearby, and that Oliver was trying unsuccessfully. But the young rival ignored Vincent’s gaze and turned the other way.
Looks like I’ll be alone for this. It’s probably for the best.
It was a long night. Vincent barely slept at all. He was too excited. For some reason working the metal had been a much different experience for him. True, there were no mystical explosions or lights. But he seemed to experience a different type of flow when working, a more intense harmony with the metal than his usual work. The result was magnificent. The dagger that he created was beautiful in its simple lines, and had an amazing edge. He tested it on some nearby logs and it cut through them like butter.
This is probably the wrong thing to test, but I don’t know what else to use.
When Sylas came to observe their work, he immediately rushed over to Vincent, grabbing the dagger.
“This is your work?” Sylas said suspiciously, turning it over.
“Of course. It went quite well.” Vincent tried to keep in the excitement that was bubbling over. Oliver and Edvard rushed over, curious. They stole glances at the dagger while Sylas was examining it.
“This is perfect. We can start you on a more sophisticated weapon next. Show me the rest.” Sylas handed back the dagger and started observing the others. He made a few grunts and off hand comments. Then he addressed them all.
“Good, the work is satisfactory. We can take on orders. Keep those on you for now, they’re not quite suited to a battle setting. I hope you learned some lessons for next time.” Sylas acknowledged them with a nod, and set off to the main camp.
“You got the gift, that’s for sure. Never in a million years will I work Runesteel that well.” Edvard whistled his appreciation. Oliver nodded begrudgingly. Their efforts were not bad, but didn’t seem to have the grace and quality of Vincent’s blade.
“That’s your ticket right there. You’ll never be without coin from now on. You’ll see.” Miguel walked off into the night before anyone can respond.
“Thanks everyone. What a night. I think I’m ready to keel over.”
“As are we all. Best get some sleep before these Runesteel orders come through.” Edvard started off towards sleeping bag. Vincent did the same.
No dreams awaited Vincent, just the complete blackness that comes with exhaustion. He almost didn’t hear the shouts.
“Attack! To arms!” a voice yelled over and over. Vincent awoke groggily, and looked around. The camp was in an uproar, soldiers mobilising and arming themselves everywhere. Order and panic in equal amounts. Vincent reached for his Runesteel dagger and held it close.
I better not need this.
Sylas rushed over.
“Go find Edvard. He will lead you to a fallback position. Don’t engage and follow instructions.”
“Yes sir.” Vincent looked around and found Oliver. Together they sought out Edvard. He wasn’t far off, and was standing next to a solider.
“That’s them, let’s go.” Edvard pointed to the Vincent and Oliver and the soldier looked them up and down.
“Very well, this way.” The solider drew his sword and rushed into the darkness towards a far-lit beacon.
“Where’s Miguel?” Vincent asked.
“He’s with Sylas. Don’t know any more details.”
“I overheard soldiers saying that there’s some sort of general leading the army. It’s crazy.”
“Crazy is about right. They have never used tactics like this before,” the soldier said, his voice wavering.
That’s about how I feel.
“Not much further, there will be horses to use the rest of the way.” The solider urged them forward. As they pushed into a clearing, there was a dark shape ahead. The soldier stopped suddenly.
“I don’t believe it,” he whispered. His sword clattered to the ground.
“What is it?” Edvard hissed.
“A shade. Give me your Runesteel!” The soldier wheeled on Edvard, grabbed the smith with one hand and threatening with the other.
“Of course.” Edvard nervously handed over his dagger. The soldier slashed at the blacksmith and then kicked him down.
“What are you doing?” Vincent yelled.
“They know the smiths have Runesteel, it’s my only way out of here. Stand back or you’ll cop it too.” The soldier feinted a lunge and Vincent cowered.
“Only the strong survive.” The solider let loose a dark laugh and sprinted away.
“We should go after him!” Oliver said.
“We can’t. Need to tend to Edvard.” Vincent knelt and inspected the wound. It wasn’t fatal, but it was deep. The Runesteel had done its job.
He’s lucky to be alive. What kind of weapon is this?
Vincent ripped off part of Edvard’s shirt and starting binding the wound.
“Vincent, we have a problem. That Shade is advancing.” Oliver pointed with his left hand, his right brandishing his Runesteel dagger shakily. Vincent looked up, the shape did seem to be coming closer. In the hazy light it was hard to make it. Was a human-like shape, but he couldn’t determine any features.
“You two run, I’m done for. No point us all falling here,” Edvard said, the words unusually breathy. He coughed immediately.
“Maybe we should?” Oliver offered.
I ran before. I ran away and now my father is gone forever. I ran from William, who took me in. I can’t keep running.
“Sorry. I just can’t.” Oliver turned and fled into the darkness. Vincent couldn’t believe it. His whole body just started burning with anger.
“Don’t blame the boy. You should do the same.”
“I….” Vincent started but was interrupted. The sound of hooves thundered along. A man on a horse sped into the clearing. He stopped abruptly near them and dismounted quickly.
“You’re the smiths? Get on my horse.”
“He’s injured, I’ll need help,” Vincent said. The man nodded.
“Very well, let’s do this quickly. The Shades are curious beings, but it won’t delay much longer. The name’s Brady.”
“Vincent.” The two men carefully lifted Edvard up into the saddle. The smith swayed, but managed to lean forward and rest without falling off.
“You next Vincent.”
Edvard needs help, and I can probably save him with a horse. It’s not running away.
Vincent started to mount the horse when it suddenly moved. Before he could catch the reins it had darted away and was into a full canter.
“Dammit!” Brady cursed. “Horse got spooked. Stand back.” Brady stepped forward and drew his sword in a single smooth motion. The steel rang out against something hard, the clang sounding discordant and ringing throughout the area.
Vincent saw the creature for the first time. It was like a man, only with nondescript features and some sort of strange textured skin.
“Just run Vincent. I don’t have Runesteel, this can only end one way.” Vincent wanted to run. But he couldn’t. He was frozen still.
This is horrific. How do you fight something like this?
Brady battled on, but he was being pushed back easily. His weapon was not only doing nothing, but Vincent should see gradual damage.
His sword won’t last. It’ll break any moment.
“I have Runesteel,” Vincent blurted out. The statement distracted Brady and he paused, his blade hanging mid-swing. The Shade didn’t hesitate, and Brady’s blade shattered into three pieces. The force of it knocked him to his knees. The energy seemed to drain out of Brady. He sagged. The shape of darkness leaned in.
No. Not this time.
Vincent leapt forward with the Runesteel dagger. All his training was forgotten. It was purely instinctive.
Go for the heart. A blade is made for killing. Destroy this monster.
He couldn’t tell if he’d done it. But the blade did its work, sinking into the stone-like flesh. A horrific scream tore through the air, and he felt the creature writhing in agony.
At least I did this right. I’ve saved at least one life.
Blackness enveloped him.
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