Zaniyah couldn’t help but to feel a little disappointed. She imagined the ocean to be like the back of a great beast, breathing in and out like a monster lying in wait. Oh, and it needed to have this look to it like it could rise up at any moment and devour the world. This… This was…
“This is just a lot of water,” she said with a pout.
“That’s what I told you it was,” replied Alton. He adjusted Bibi’s angle and started down the hill. “I can see the town from here. Let’s keep going.”
Meanwhile, Chickadee was in awe. The ocean was a beautiful place. There was an astonishing amount of potential. Within the waters was so much life, and yet it contained unknown monsters and threats. It was so much more than the caves of Carapace, which suddenly felt small and limited.
Herring was a bigger town than one would imagine. It spread far across the coast, and had multiple docks that spread into the waters. Fogbloom was a day and a half away by horse, and somewhat visible if one squinted hard enough. The fractured stones that jutted out of the harbor there left little room for boats or docks. This village served as one of the docking points for the northern half of the Violet Region.
Entering the village was easy enough, finding Bardsen’s forge was more difficult. Eventually, they located a small castle just outside of town that had a metalworks sign hung in front of it. Plumes of smoke rose from the rear, which was the detail that intrigued Chickadee the most.
There wasn’t a clear entrance to main castle, thus they made their way into the store front. The walls were lined with an assortment of crafted goods, with most having to do with fishing. Spears, pole hooks, weights used for nets. Zaniyah held interest in a strange cylinder of metal with a long handle.
“That’s for clam hunting.” A middle aged woman called out to Zaniyah from behind the counter. She was a thick woman with worn features and rough skin. “You stick it into the sand and up comes a clam. Overcrowding in Herring makes it tough to do much of it locally, but people like to take day trips to the north beaches.”
“Seriously? This goes in, food comes out? Whaaat? … Wait, clams are edible right?” She looked over to Alton, who gave a slow, worried nod. “Oh, wow. This thing is amazing.” Zaniyah marveled at the miraculous food supplying device. It seemed so much simpler than the fishing rapier she had seen Alton use.
Chickadee pulled Bardsen’s knife out from his sleeve and dropped it. A string of mana tied it to his finger, and he swung it gently back and forth a few times. It popped up and pointed in the direction of the sea, which made the boy’s hidden face frown. He had hoped that it would lead to a secret treasure within the castle itself. The idea of going on a boat and digging up something on an island didn’t appeal to him.
Looking over the limited weapon selection, Alton wasn’t all that impressed either. They were normal items. No blood iron, no moving parts, just regular metal and bits. He had visited Talwyn Cully’s shop once, and her store was much more impressive. Every item there held more use than any of these trinkets.
“Are you lot from Braytons?” The group looked over at the woman. Chickadee snapped the knife up and stashed it back into his sleeve. “A couple of you kids come in every year wanting new weapons before the exam. Don’t look at that trash though. We don’t put out the blood iron stuff because it’s rare in these parts. I can pull out some choice items if you tell me what you’re looking for.”
“The exam was done during Third Summer this year.” Alton stated. “I have a letter from our forgemaster. There were supplies that he is requesting.”
She took the letter from Alton and glanced through it. “Moontear Squad again? Sir Oceans is always particular on the materials their armor uses. Always pestering me to send some his way because he forgets to order it from the south. Lucky for him, the last shipment I got had extra.”
She pulled a ledger out from under the counter and opened it up, talking as she wrote down some notes. “I’m Estrid Bardsen. My husband is the forgemaster here, but he went down south with the kids to get some extra work done during the festival. You lot are also gonna explain to me what Ira meant by Chickadees. We only got seabirds around here.”
Zaniyah pointed over to Chickadee. “That’s Chi. He drew out a knife from the Volo Refuge and he came here to… Claim things I guess?” She looked over to Chickadee, who shrugged. “I mean, to do the old dead guy’s last request?”
“You're kidding. Someone yanked that old thing out?” Estrid scoffed in disbelief. “That thing must have been there for a good seven or eight generations, and now this kid thinks he can call the shots because he managed to yank it?” Chickadee raised up his hands and shook his head. “That scrawny little thing like that is the supposed match to legendary Skuti Bardsen? I’ll tell you what, that thing probably fell out after years of being tugged at. That temple needs to make sure those blades are in there nice and tight, or you end up with trouble like this.”
“Chi is a fantastic blacksmith!” Zaniyah freed her axe from her harness and swung it into the counter where Estrid stood. “He made this, and I couldn’t ask for a better weapon!”
Estrid didn’t bother to flinch. She simply folded her arms and glanced down at the axe embedding her precious countertop. “There’s a crack in it.” She nodded to the segment in it that had been filled with copper.
Zaniyah gritted her teeth loudly. She lifted up her axe and was about to swing it down again when Chickadee stopped her with a hand placed to her side. “I’m not going to let some grandma disrespect you!” Chickadee shook his head, implying he didn’t want a fight.
“We don’t need her help, all we need to do is complete his final request,” Alton reasoned. “The knife pointed to something when we got here. We’ll go get that and then head back to Braytons.”
Chickadee shook his head, gesturing towards the ocean. He didn’t think they had enough money to charter a boat, and he wasn’t going to do that even if they did have the funds. Alton scrunched up his nose, trying to figure out what his squadmate meant by gesturing that way. Meanwhile, Zaniyah placed her axe back in its harness and folded her arms.
“I don’t think anyone would loan us a ship,” she said, frowning.
Estrid let out a sigh. “Listen, I’m not for this at all, savvy? But my husband’s great, great, however many greats grandfather wouldn’t have left his knife enshrined if he didn’t have his reasons. During his day, the family didn’t have a legacy to follow. He probably wanted to make sure things were taken care of for them and nothing more.
Times are a bit different now. Sure, we took a hit when that Carapace wench, Bitch Cully, made a name for herself, but the Bardsen family have always recovered from rivalries. Blacksmithing itself has changed, and we’ve moved along with it. Old Skuti wouldn’t know his way around the forge anymore, but that don’t mean I’m not willing to cut you three a deal in terms of getting that request done. How long can you stay in town?”
The two students looked over to Alton, who reflected on it. “Five days.” Considering how long it took to get here, he wanted to give them plenty of time to get back.
“Nearly everyone has buggered off due to the festival, and I’m behind on work. If that bird,” Estrid gestured to Chickadee, “helps me finish my work load, I’ll give you the information you need to get started on your quest.”
“May I start now?” Chickadee asked, pulling his scarf down so he could be heard properly.
Estrid leaned forward on the counter. “The forge still needs some time to get up to the proper heat. Let me say right now that I won’t tell you anything if I find your work to be lacking in quality.”
“Nothing I make is lacking,” replied Chickadee in a flat tone. His hand extended outward towards Estrid. “Work order.”
She reached underneath the counter and pulled out another leather-bound book. “Page seventeen.” Estrid then gestured to the two others. “Get your animals indoors. There’s stables on the northside you can use and plenty of food and water for them there. The festival is going to hit in a few hours. You’re lucky you made it in time.”
They separated and went about their duties. Estrid showed them to their sleeping quarters, and Alton was relieved to know that he would have a room to himself for a change. He changed out of his armor and into a tunic, then made his way down to the forge to see what was happening.
Chickadee had stripped out of his layers upon layers, becoming settled in a plain gray tunic. His hair had been braided back, and he had a stern look on his face. He was tightening a set of leather gloves on his hands. Blood iron was embedded into the material in an intricate design, forming the letters of arcane writing. He then picked up the book Estrid had given him and double checked the order. Next to that was his notebook, where he had already drawn up a sketch and written down some notes.
Alton went to stand next to Zaniyah, who was perched on a stool near an anvil. He gave a nod to her and looked over to Chickadee. The mage had moved to the shelves and was now examining the different ores there. Alton went to say something, but Zaniyah gave him a tug on his sleeve to keep him quiet.
“Blood iron?” Chickadee looked over his shoulder to where Estrid was standing.
She gestured over to a shelf where glass mason jars had been set up. “Look for a jar with the work order number on it. There’s a limited supply, so don’t waste any. We also refine it to order. You know how to refine it right?” He gave a nod. “Good. If you waste any, I’m going to make your friends go out and get more.”
The mage went over to find the jar, giving it a shake once it was located. It was unrefined, with the blood iron still in jagged black clumps. He plucked them up and rolled them around in his fingers one by one, giving a nod of approval before placing them back in.
Chickadee then went to examine the ores again. He settled a small, bronze colored block and took it over to the anvil. His hands went over it, and the metal quickly began to glow a red hot color. Once it had reached the proper temperature, he started to knead at the metal with his gloved hands. This was stretched out into a long flat piece, folded over, and then stretched out again in a repeated process.
Estrid grimaced at the sight. She shook her head and started to hit at what she was working on with a hammer. True blacksmithing took sweat and muscle, which wasn’t something a scrawny kid like Chickadee could do. It looked like he was baking bread, not crafting a tool of war. At least, that’s what her opinion was.
“It takes awhile to do this part.” Zaniyah explained to Alton. “He told me once that some types of swords benefit from having layers hidden within them. It makes them more flexible or something.”
Alton nodded with some appreciation, but still didn’t understand the process much. “Seems like… Something.” Folding and making layers sounded his adoptive mother’s famous butter roll recipe.
“Can I see your bracer?” Zaniyah held out her hand.
His bracer was something that Alton only took off when he was going to bathe or when he was heading to bed. He gave a shrug and unclasped it from his forearm. Zaniyah looked it over, then leaned towards Alton so she could point out the maker’s mark on it. It was a feather lying over a spider’s web.
“That’s Caitlin's mark. You must’ve met her if you got this made, right? She’s taller than Chi and has this super grumpy face all the time.” Alton shook his head. “Or you at least met my mom? She runs the shop counter at their store and takes in orders sometimes.”
“My brother, Gideon, had that made for me for my fifteenth birthday. He wanted a matching set, since we were both in the squire program. Brotherly love and blah blah blah.” Alton thought about it. “I did go to that store to get some adjustments done before I went to Braytons, since the fit was getting tight. A young woman with purple hair took my arm measurements.” He thought her to be quite beautiful and charming. Nothing like Zaniyah.
“Yeah! That’s mom!”
Alton blinked. He looked down at Zaniyah’s flat chest and then up to her eyes again. His eyes squinted as he remembered that short woman’s curvy forms, and lack of freckles, which was basically the completely opposite of what Zaniyah had. Maybe some features of her face, like her nose and lips, but even the eye color was different.
“... Really.” Zaniyah’s head bobbled. “... Huh.” Choosing to not to start a possible fight about it, he turned away and watched the little blacksmith as he worked.
Chickadee kneaded the metal for nearly an hour, with it eventually taking the shape of a short sword. He held it up, examined the still red hot metal with his hands, then quenched it into a nearby barrel of oil. He then shined it with a cloth until the color of the metal shone through. Different bands of bronze swirled about the swords surface, similar to different hues of orange and brown paint that were dancing about each other.
He set it down so he could work on the blood iron next. Each piece was clasped tightly into the palm of his hand as smoke escaped from between his fingers. They came out as a smooth pebble, set down on the anvil once the impurities had been burned out. Then he took time to carefully mold them into the shape of fish and uses a fine chisel to imprint arcane writing to be hidden among their scales. Once in awhile, he checked a journal of his to make sure he was using the right symbols, but the majority of it was already memorized.
Zaniyah always loved to watch Chickadee work. Alton less so. He had taken off at some point to check the animals when thunder could be heard outside. Not Zaniyah though. She was transfixed by the process. It was something she had been doing for years, and there was an odd sort of nostalgia to it by this point.
Next was the mixing of different powders with alcohol. He took the concoction and carefully painted parts of the sword. As the sword was heated a second time for tempering, the chemical would react with some of the layers of bronze, staining them different shades of vibrant blue. The blood iron fish would be set in near the hilt, making it look as though they were swimming through the sword’s metal.
Chickadee set a smooth block of clay on the anvil with the sword on top of that. The blood iron was heated and set on the sword’s surface. Then he traced his fingers over the air above the weapon. Arcanic runes appeared floating over the metal, idling there as they worked their magic. The sword became red with heat and would stay like that overnight in order to let the metal temper slowly. In the morning, he would sharpen it. The blue shades would be worn away, and the sharp edge would have a bronze coloration to it.
Estrid wandered over, looking at the work with a frown. “Get started on the next one. Page nineteen,” she stated in a gruff voice, returning to her work area.
“Yes, ma’am.” Chickadee responded, wiping some sweat from his brow with his forearm.
He supposed that meant that it was at least acceptable. This was also the kind of work that Chickadee enjoyed. If he was going to continue to get simple designs assigned to him, he was going to be able to get everything done in a few days. Chickadee didn’t mind if this is what he had to do in order to finish his quest. In fact, he actually preferred it to adventuring or anything else.